Orleans to Cherbourg – staying with Trappist Monks and reaching the beaches of Normandy

After our string of 100km days we felt we deserved a restful morning so we didn’t leave the campsite until the afternoon and we used the time to sort out a few things for when we move to Cornwall in late August. Thanks to a good tailwind we manage 60km despite the late start and followed more cycle routes before camping in a lovely spot on the banks of the Loir again. We’ve been passing lots of French chateaus. They litter the countryside around here with their quintisensial round towers and many windows.


Comical penny farthing photo along another cycle route!

The next afternoon we reached Orleans giving ourselves enough time to visit a dentist because Paddy’s filling, which he had done in China (along with the root canal), fell out. We’ve had good weather in France but the next day was spent dodging the thunderstorms as we skirted round the bottom of Paris towards Normandy. We managed to find shelter for the majority of the downpours and just got the tent up under the shade of a great oak tree before the evening rain started -we were forced to cook our pesto and ravioli in the vestibule followed by delicious French eclaires in the tent.

This part of France has been pretty flat and we’re both starting to tire of looking at the miles and miles of golden wheat fields. They were fun to start with and we enjoyed making this video about Theresa May. 

Thankfully the golden fields soon turned into forests of oak trees as we reached the Normandy border at La Luppe and cycled through the north section of Parc naturel regional du Perche. The thunderstorms made a come back that afternoon and we stop at Abbaye de la Trappe to fill our water bottles at the healing spring there dedicated to St Bernard. We have to wait in line – clearly it’s the done thing for local worshippers to fill large 5l containers with the water to take home with them! While we refill we get chatting to a nice Frenchman from Paris who invites us into the Abbey’s art gallery where his Japanese wife has an exhibition of her paintings. 

Needing no excuse to stop and hide from the rain we gladly follow him in and really enjoy chatting with them and looking at her work. By the time we were ready to get back on the bike an extreme downpour had started. Resigning ourselves to another damp camping spot we prepare to mount the bike. 

We end up not having to camp though. Within the hour we’re settled in the private sleeping quarters of the Abbey’s monastery instead. It’s a long story which involves some very nice French ‘Trappist’ monks who essentially took pity on us and offered us a place to stay for the night! 
We’re offered the use of the kitchen and a hot shower and shown to our own room by the head monk – a cheery man of 80 years who looks a bit like Albus Dumbledore in his long white robes and matching beard. 

The view of the ancient Abbey buildings from our bedroom

While we’re preparing dinner we notice the cathedral service times on the wall and decide to head along to the last service of the evening. The monastery complex is very beautiful and the Cathedral itself is an amazing building. After the short service we head down to the lake and walk around the forest grounds. The skies clear and we laugh at the fact we probably could have camped after all… We will definitely miss finding ourselves in these random situations once we are back! 

There are a few other people staying in the same building as us – mostly worshippers who have come for a few nights. We get chatting to a nice guy called Sebastien who is here with his son and godson for a few nights -in the morning we find a little handwritten note from him tucked into our frame bag inviting us to stay on their Christmas tree farm. We leave the abbey feeling very humbled and glad that we have found people in Western Europe just as kind, friendly and open minded as they are everywhere else we’ve been.

They wear the same outfits today
The Abbey’s Cathedral

The next day was another rainy one but we managed to hide from the worst of it by sheltering in various farm buildings. Sometimes the farmers catch us munching our lunch next to their tractors but they don’t seem to mind, in fact they are normally very amused. We reach a town called Falaise and I decide to check the warmshowers ap to see if there might be any hosts in the area who might be able to welcome us on such short notice. Jean-Marc answered our plea almost instantly and so we end up having a lovely evening with him discussing everything from cycling to politics. We are well looked after considering we gave him just 30 minutes notice!! 

The next two days we have some long days in the saddle as we head west and into the Contentin peninsular. The World War Two landings and military action which took place here are heavy in our minds as we head towards the coast where we decide to stop at one of the landing beaches – Utah beach. 

It’s a stunning day and it’s hard to believe that this peaceful, sandy long beach was once a place of such atrocity and suffering. While we walked around the various monuments we also come to terms with the fact that we have finally reached the English Channel. 

With only 35km left to Cherbourg and our ferry not leaving until the evening the next day we felt it was fitting to check-in to a nearby campsite and celebrate properly – we had done it! We had reached the other end of the Euro-Asian landmass!

Ireland here we come! 

Utah beach

Stunning view from the waterside restaurant
Celebrating with fresh oysters and prawns
Boarding our ferry ‘The Oscar Wilde’ to Roslare
Paddy finishing the last of the brioche to make room for the brack, black pudding and soda bread which we will soon be storing away in the panniers.

France! number 23 and our last foreign country!

We reached the summit at Montgenevre by lunch the next day and we were soon crossing into France. It had been quite a stiff climb to get here with a few very long tunnels to climb through – especially the very last – we were glad to have got up here. France here we come! This would be our last foreign country and we both felt it was a bit surreal crossing the border. The views were fabulous and I got quite emotional!

Celebrating with still a bit to climb!

We needed to get to Lyon by the evening of the next day so I could catch my flight back to the UK for another interview. Although we had reached the border we hadn’t finished climbing yet – we still needed to cross Col du Lauteret which would be our last pass over 2000m. 

We celebrated reaching France in typical style by feasting on fresh baguettes, three types of French cheese and a bottle of French wine for lunch. Then we started tackling the climb and managed to brake the back of it by 7pm. 8km from the top we found a great camping spot off the road on top of a disused tunnel and we finished the wine while lapping up the view of the glacier dominating the mountain range across the valley.

The next morning we set off early as we had to reach Grenoble by mid-afternoon so we could catch a train to Lyon. It was a beautiful day and we stopped for a quick picture at the top. It was still early but the hotel and cafe was packed with bikers and cycle teams and there was a celebratory good atmosphere.

Cheese and wine!
At the top! Glorious morning

We enjoyed the downhill after that before reaching a reservoir where we had to endure another short climb before zooming down to Grenoble. The temperature climbs as we drop down and by the time we hit Grenoble it’s well over 30 degrees. The whole of France is experiencing an intense heatwave right now. 

Amandine and Jean were our kind warm showers hosts in Lyon and despite them having just moved into their new flat they were super welcoming. We enjoyed a dinner with them when we arrived and loved hearing about their cycle trip in Africa which they had completed a few years ago. 

The next day I flew home to London and started my epic journey down to Plymouth for my interview. Paddy enjoyed his few days in Lyon despite the weather which reached into the high 30s. It was the summer solstice the evening I returned and Paddy and Amandine had been out partying -enjoying the street music festival which takes place all over France every year on the longest day.

The next morning we had a late start as I was super tired from all the travelling. Paddy literally had to kick me out of bed in the end. It was incredibly hot and our departure was delayed because we left the battery pack in the flat… Paddy managed to retrieve the house keys from where we had just deposited them in the letter box by using the magnet on our tent lamprey. We managed 44km before pulling the bike up a wood lined verge where thankfully there was a running stream nearby for us to cool off before climbing in the tent. 

We managed an early start on the bike the next morning and we were cycling by 7.45am. I doubt we’ve been cycling this early since our dash across Turkmenistan… After an 8km climb we were soon crossing into the Loir region and making our way to Roanne. It promised to be very flat from now on so the 80km day average we have to keep to ensure we reach Cherbourg in time shouldn’t be too challenging. 

Day 3 saw us complete a 103km the first of what would turn out to be a string of 100km plus days! We’ve been following the canal routes and are enjoying teaming up with the great Loir river every so often. We see lots of birds of prey hunting in the fields many many herons and the canals are home to many ducklings who we spook out of their reed nests as we cycle past. 

There’s quite a few people holidaying on canal boats and we pass some impressive barges and boat houses. Soon we reach our first locks and enjoy watching the boats come through as we stop for lunch. We’re both tiring of the soft cheese and are dreaming about Irish cheddar already.

The good weather continues and we have been doing well at getting up early so we can escape the Suns high point for a long lunch. Even if the morning is cloudy the sun has been burning away the clouds by noon every day. There are lots and lots of camping grounds along our route but we’ve just been camping on the side of the canal mostly. Locks tend to make a good spot as there is always a patch of grass to pitch the tent and even sometimes toilets. 

By day 4 we were making really good headway and decided it was time for a shower and charging session. We keep getting caught out by Sunday’s in France. Everything closes on a Sunday and we were low on food and diesel. Annoyingly France has been the first country to impose a minimum fuel allowance at petrol stations – 5l – which means we have to wait for a diesel car to turn up and ask if we can pay them to fill our 75ml fuel bottle when they re-fuel. Luckily Paddy has enough French to explain why we need it!

We met up with the Loir again and found a beautiful campsite right on the banks of the river. Because we hadn’t been able to find any open food stores we had to just cook what we had in the bottom of the bag and the meal wasn’t the most appetising but we did wash it down with a lovely crisp bottle of white wine which we procured from the friendly campsite owner. 

Stunning evening on the Loir

Spinach pasta mess – not one of our best meals!

From here we head to Orleans and into Normandy!