OBSERVATIONS from the SADDLE of a BIKE 2019.
FRANCE: NEVERS TO BRAIN SUR-L’AUTHION ALONG THE EUROVELO 6
From Nevers we took a train. Instead of riding the hooked part of the river to Orleans and back south to Tours we decided to go straight across to Tours and continue riding from there. The route followed the very picturesque Loire Valley, famous for its numerous castles. We rode along the river, past nature reserves, hillside vineyards, and through troglodyte caves. Nine days and 350kms later we arrived in Nantes, 50 kms from the Atlantic coast.
Circumstances that I cannot recall meant we did not stay in Tours, we simply passed though and rode thirty kilometres to Savonnieres and camped there. The following map puts you in the picture.
Passing through so many historic towns along the Eurovelo 6 almost meant a cultural overload. There were times when we thought ‘not another cathedral, church, abbey or town hall’ and it would have been easy to ignore them but every one had different features so we couldn’t resist taking another photograph. Following are a few taken as we rode through the town of Tours.
The female supports either side of the clock face are known as caryatids (Greek karyatides) and relates to the ‘maidens of Karyai’ an ancient town of the Peloponnese.
Atlas the Titan was forced to hold the sky on his shoulders for eternity. The pose and expression of Atlas very often shows the effort to bear the heavy load of the building above and the head is bent forward with forearms lifted to provide additional support.
From Tours we rode 20kms to Savonnieres, a small town at the confluence of the Cher and Loire Rivers and a gateway for exploring the castles in the Loire Valley.
The above permanent tent was the most sensible and practical camp accommodation we had slept in so far. There is no doubt that areas with square corners are generally more space efficient, much better than the barrel pods we stayed in. Unfortunately we could only use this tent for one night, the second night we had to pitch our own tent.
This was a good setup. Erecting the fly over the front of our tent provided additional dry weather shelter. Each time I set it up I had to find a stake or stick to use as a pole. In this case, however, I used a steel post attached to a heap of square section weld mesh panels. Perfect.
The reason for the two-day stay in Savonnieres was to take a look at the Chateau Villandry. The following images show the lavish gardens and chateau. Gardens such as the one at Chateau Villandry came into being because King Charles VIII during his war-mongering efforts in Italy during the 15th century spotted for the first time the Italian Renaissance gardens and he decided to bring the concept back to France.
Anybody who has attempted to keep a family in vegetables from their home garden know you need a substantial garden to even keep a few mouths fed but to keep a complete household, including hundreds of servants, a huge garden was necessary. This is what the chateau had.
Prior to the 13th century the only gardens to be found were the medicinal gardens of monasteries where the monks investigated the curative qualities of plants.
The main feature of the French Renaissance garden was symmetry, geometric planting, plants in pots and gravel paths designed to illustrate the ideals of proportion and measure. The idea was to remind those who wandered in the gardens the virtues of Ancient Rome. Also the gardens were an extension of the buildings that surrounded them.
Before I take you inside the chateau think for a few seconds what it would have been like living in such a place. A hundred servants to tend all your needs, dress you, do the laundry, make your bed, cook your food and even empty the chamber pot. There would be no need to lift a finger, your every minute whim catered for.
Interior decorations included many statues and paintings.
One of the most painted scenes of all time relates to the crucifixion or resurrection of Christ and if you were of the faith and could afford it you had to have one adorning your wall.
The ride from Savonnieres to our next night’s camp was picturesque and followed the river. The Loire is classified as a wild river with other rivers and streams flowing into it and islands midstream.
A pleasant photogenic stop was in the village of Candes-St-Martin at the confluence of the Loire and Vienne rivers.
In France there is something to see around every corner. Not all buildings are perfectly restored either and this is what makes France so appealing. An example is the battered Chapel of St Martin showing years of conflict and neglect.
Take note of the narrow loophole part way up the castellated tower on the right. The following image shows the battering it has taken over the centuries.
The stonewall protection was no guarantee to safety for the bowman on the inside of this loophole. Over the centuries projectiles from outside have no doubt scored direct hits through the vertical slit.
If you are interested in reading more of the story of the Way of St James there is a very informative web site https://www.cicerone.co.uk/an-intro-to-the-way-of-st-james-france
From Candes-St-Martin the picturesque route passed through tiny villages, up narrow alleyways and eventually onto a hill with vineyards for as far as the eye could see. The land in this vicinity was very productive viticulture land and the cycleway led us through vineyard after vineyard and on to the 11th century Church of St Pierre de Parnay.
The day was hot and the shade of the church vestibule was a relief for us both.
The vestibule being an add-on means the building block stones were not keyed to the original structure therefore some movement had occurred. To the left of where Bev is standing the wall had started drifting to the left, not a satisfactory event when you consider the church was on the edge of a cliff and there were buildings at the cliff base below. The next photograph shows the device used to monitor the movement of the vestibule.
The first clue that the vestibule had moved in the direction of the cliff was the eight-millimetre gap (black gap) between the mortar and the left block of stone. After this gap appeared the Mesure et Suivi was placed in position, no doubt set on zero. Now, according to the scale, the gap has widened by about one and a half millimetres.
And here is where the ride gets really interesting! From the church we wound our way down through more vineyards and narrow village lanes and entered a troglodyte cave complex giving rise to the most fascinating day we have had so far during this Observations from the Saddle of a Bike experience. The Eurovelo 6 went straight into the cliff face and we found ourselves in a labyrinth of tunnels and caves.
The word troglodyte, which dates to the 1500s, comes from the Latin troglodyta (“cave dwelling people”). Today it is used to describe a person who is a hermit, or an ill informed person with out-moded or old-fashioned ideas.
An interesting find in a most unlikely place was an e-bike charging point in the caves. The following image shows the battery charger.
To charge your battery you simply place it in the locker, shut the door and lock it and head off to taste the local wines at the nearby cellars while the battery is charging. Note the key attached to a wine bottle cork, very appropriate for a wine producing area.
The caves are tufa limestone and were formed over 90 million years ago when the Loire Valley formed the floor of a great ocean. During past centuries the caves were used as places of residence by the Loire Valley’s less wealthy and during modern times they are used for storing wines and for the houses of what appears to be the more affluent of society. Outside one cave were parked two Porsche cars and a BMW.
Today many people throughout the world are still living the troglodyte life. In Australia people live underground at Cooper Pedy and White Cliffs opal fields where disused mine shaft workings have been converted to homes for those wanting to escape the extreme summer temperatures (excess of 47 degrees) outside. Sometimes their active working mine face from which they are extracting opal is basically off through a door in the bedroom.
Up until the mid 20th century in Sydney there were people living in caves along the sandstone cliffs around Sydney Harbour. In some cases rickety ladders led down the cliff faces to the entrances. The Sydney Harbour troglodytes were mostly homeless people. They may have been short on cash but their million dollar views of the harbour made up for any financial shortfall. Unfortunately time marches on and foreshore councils saw fit to rid the caves of the residents. It may have been a case of wealthy house owners nearby complaining that they had paid exorbitant prices for homes with million dollar views and the homeless were getting the same view for free.
Both images above have some interesting features: In the former, the thing to be said is ‘you wouldn’t want to go out at night for fear of walking off the edge of the path’, and in the latter, the hessian bags slung between poles to form a mattress would not have been the most comfortable to sleep on. Cave dwelling may make a comeback in the future by people wanting to get back to basics and escape the highly technological world of today.
There is a distinct lack of public toilets all over Europe and when you find a free one it’s best not to go past it. I refuse to pay for a natural act and I have found many discreet spots to attend to the call of nature.
The town of Saumur where we found a camping area a little out of the town is nestled adjacent to the Loire River and dates back to the fourth century. The ride from the troglodyte caves along the river and surrounding hills gave us time to think, mostly about the incredible experience of riding through this underground world.
Our next day’s ride along the Loire river took us past tufa cliffs and through picturesque villages with ancient buildings and churches.
In the villages of Treves and Cunault we found a tower and two centuries-old churches, a chance for more photographs.
In the village of Cunault we visited the Notre Dame church, built during the 12th to 13th centuries. It was formerly a priory from the 10th to the 18th century and the age could relate to some of the wear and tear evident in the architecture and adornments. A priory is a monastery or a convent governed by a prior or prioress while a church is a building where religious services take place.
The cross bracing (X) gives the door its strength. The following image shows the wicket door close up.
A surprise for the day was meeting two Australians in Gennes, Lorraine and Jim, from Alice Springs riding Tern foldup bikes, identical to ours, however their bikes were not electrified. We considered they were doing it tough!
Further on from Gennes we crossed to the northern side of the river and rode on to our next camp at Brain-sur-l’Authion. Due to the inclement weather we chose to stay in a permanent tent for two nights, most welcoming.
That the end of another post. The next post deals with us continuing west along the Eurovelo 6 to Nantes, close to the Atlantic coast. Make a comment if you wish.