My Dad with his usual cheeky grin, trying the KTM for size.
After a few days with my parents, and a day out biking to some of my old haunts, it was time to start the return journey back to the Costa Banca in Spain. So it was with a heavy heart that I loaded my bike, had a last breakfast with my parents and then waved as I took to the road again. Setting off with mixed emotions, sad to be saying goodbye, not knowing when I would get the chance to see them again but pleased that I had managed the journey before my father's hospital appointments and treatments were due to start.
Thur 16th July 2020 383 Miles
My parents waving me off for my return journey
The return part of my journey, in the UK at least, was to be the reverse of my arrival making as few stops as possible and taking the quickest route to the Eurotunnel. The first 60 miles or so to the M62 was great fun on fairly well-known country roads, but then the motorway slog began, M62, M18, A1, M25, M2, M20. At around lunchtime somewhere on the A1, I started to think about food, I quite fancied a bacon butty as I hadn't managed to get one in my few days in the UK. Stopping for petrol I asked the cashier if there was anywhere nearby, ideally a truckers cafe where I could eat outside away from everyone. Unfortunately, the only places nearby were either a McDonalds or a Starbucks, neither of which particularly piqued my interest but I was hungry, so McDonald's was picked.
Unlike the two in France I had used, there was no inside or outside seating allowed although the toilets could be used and takeaway bought. Twenty minutes later, fast food? I sat on the curb, next to the bike tucking into two egg & bacon McMuffins and Orange Juice, and feeling thankful for the reasonable weather and dry roads.
Setting off again with a full tank and stomach, the sky started to turn a little greyer but the rain didn't come and I was soon at the Dartford crossing looking down at the ferry as I crossed the Thames. At this point, I managed to take the M2 instead of the M20 but it's easily corrected a few miles further on. Stopping at a Shell station on the A229 just as the gauge hit zero, I filled up again and bought some snacks to eat on the Eurotunnel, as I now knew the cafes would be closed.
Arrival and check-in at the Eurotunnel went without a hitch, unlike my attempt in France only a few days earlier, I again managed to get on an earlier train. There were about 5 bikes all heading for a few days in France while the quarantine restrictions were lifted, on finding out my destination they all thought I was mad. I had already decided to take a slightly different route back, with an extra day so took the time on the train to find and book a hotel for the night. It's sometimes good to do this mid-afternoon so you have somewhere to aim for.
During a conversation with my father, he had brought up a place called Arromanches-Les-Bains, in Normandy, France, that they had visited on a touring holiday a few years earlier. I checked the map, set a new route into my phone and then looked for a suitable hotel. It's easy at this point to overestimate your capabilities and book a hotel further than you are able to travel in the time available, especially when travelling from the UK with the 1hr time difference. I picked wisely though and only had around 85km to go.
Setting off from the Eurotunnel I waved to the guys I'd been chatting to and headed for my hotel along the French national roads. After a detour in a small village, due to misheard directions, I was pleased to arrive at Hôtel La Peupleraie in Nampont. It is a typical older roadside hotel, a little run-down but clean and tidy with lovely staff, who did there best to understand me and my very poor French.
Again check-in went well with gloves, screens, masks and hand sanitiser present, I was then asked if I would like the evening meal and breakfast, with no obvious options nearby, I agreed and went to my room to shower and change, it had been a long day.
Returning to the reception bar a little earlier than necessary I ordered a beer, Leffe, and sat in the evening sun awaiting a call to the restaurant. Ordering a second large glass as I went in for dinner may have been a mistake as I was immediately asked what wine I wanted as accompaniment. Instead of just asking for water I heard myself say "Rose", oh dear this could get messy.
I had assumed wrongly that there would be a menu for the restaurant, it was a fixed menu with no options however the food was delicious.
Fish Main Course
Exiting the restaurant, I ordered my third large glass of Leffe and went back outside for sunset. In the garden, I WhatsApped my parents and wife to let them know how I was getting on and slurred my way through the conversations before heading off for an early night. Maybe I should practice more or just remember to order water, instead of beer and wine.
Click on the map to show the route on Google Maps
Fri 17th July 2020 573km
After a basic but equally nice breakfast, I loaded up and set off on my day's adventure, heading in the direction of Arromanches-Les-Bains, to check out the remains of the Mulberry harbour used in WW2. I had been told that there was a good amount you could see from the shore but over the years some had washed up on the beach. The roads in this part of France are a bit boring as the land is relatively flat, so the roads are straight, this is OK however it does encourage you to go a little quicker than you would normally. During one of these longer, straighter sections of lovely tree-lined road, I spotted a roadside speed camera, between the trees. Not knowing whether I spotted and slowed in time I dropped my speed for the remainder of the journey, cursing myself for not being vigilant enough.
Mulberry Harbour Section On The Beach At Arromanches-Les-Bains
Rolling into Arromanches-Les-Bains you can see the old Mulberry harbour out to sea, but there is so much more to see here and in the area. I only stayed about an hour, walking down onto the beach and along to take some pictures before heading back along the promenade. It is a lovely place and worth a return trip in the future when I have more time to explore.
Mulberry Harbour Sections On The Beach At Arromanches-Les-Bains
Bailey Bridge Section Near The Beach At Arromanches-Les-Bains
Museum At Arromanches-Les-Bains
After my brief visit, and an ice-cream I set off again, heading south this time on a mixture of National roads and motorways, heading towards Le Mans. This is somewhere that I have been near many times but never actually stopped. My plan was to ride the Mulsanne Straight, and then stay nearby to have a look around. The journey went well initially with some great national roads, a bit boring in places but not too bad then I got stuck in traffic near Le Mans, I crawled through using the advantages of being on a bike as much as possible but still lost an hour or more. Eventually, once on the famous straight, I pottered along looking at the chicanes off to the side and some of the signage leftover from races gone by, but really I just wanted to find a hotel for the night. By the time I stopped to check for availability, most of the Le Mans ones were back in the opposite direction, and not wanting to get stuck in traffic I decided to make progress and head to Tours instead, Le Mans will have to wait for a proper tour rather than a journey, maybe next time.
Stopping at the side of the road I pulled up Booking.com and selected the Brit Hotel in Tours. On arrival the staff were great, allowing me to park my bike by the entrance so I could chain it to a solid drain pipe, check-in was painless, all masks, gloves, screens, etc were in place. It is a budget hotel but the rooms are well equipped for my purpose, clean and comfortable, great shower too.
The hotel had no evening meal option although I did book breakfast, next door there is TablaPizza which served a superb Calzone and one of the best Tiramisus I have ever had. I sat outside in the evening sun for maybe a couple of hours, but avoided the beer,
Calzone at TablaPizza
Tiramisu at TablaPizza
Click on the map to see the route in Google maps
Sat 18th July 2020 643km
The day started with a lovely breakfast at the Brit Hotel, usually, this would be a buffet arrangement, however, due to Covid restrictions they had decided not to go down that route, instead, asking each guest as they checked in to choose what they wanted and a time. Unfortunately for me, I couldn't actually handle the menu, due to covid restrictions, it was done verbally, but the young lady at reception did her best and between us, we had managed to come up with a superb selection. After waiting at the entrance we were called in and a tray with our selection was delivered to the table, great service, and a way around the restrictions.
Tours is another place that I would quite like to go back to at some point, a well-organized tour of France could be in order, however, I tend to prefer riding through the countryside and staying in smaller places rather than cities. With all of this in mind and a desire to cross the Pyrenees in a different place, I set course vaguely towards Toulouse and would head to the mountains from there. Initially getting stuck in a bit of traffic I was soon out onto the motorway away from the city before reverting back to more rural roads, the scenery was fantastic in places, I just had to remember to keep checking the fuel gauge as the KTM has a small tank, see part one.
Around lunchtime and whilst on the motorway the traffic suddenly turned very heavy, coming to a standstill in places, this was surprising for a Saturday however, it was the first Saturday of the French holiday season and there were many vehicles loaded up with canoes, bikers, luggage, and people heading south. At one particular point, I was being overtaken as if I was barely moving, by 3 estate cars, towing trailer tents each with a full boot, at least 4 people, and bikes on either the roof or on top of the trailer. Suddenly in front, all of the traffic came to a stop, again, and the 3 cars fishtailed to a stop, just managing not to hit each other. I slowed and filtered through the carnage for about 5km before turning off at a service for a break.
Sitting on a curb in the car park eating my hastily purchased lunch selection I was reminded of Maidstone services, by the number of people, however, the majority were following the rules with the odd exception. Luckily I was sitting well away from them and enjoying my chicken salad sandwich, crisps, Coke, and the sunshine, which was getting warmer the further I went south.
Back on the rural roads for a while D820 in particular I came across a small village/town of Souillac and spotted what looked like an old railway bridge and decided to investigate a little, well worth the effort as the bridge and view were superb.
Just off the D820, near Souillac
Toulouse came and went in a blur of roadworks and traffic jams, I stopped a couple of times to try to pick a better route but nothing really helped, Google Maps did its best to keep me on the bigger more congested roads no matter how I tried to avoid them. Once out of the chaos it didn't seem long until the mountains started to come into view, I stopped for some petrol and food and then using Booking.com again made a reservation for the evening in a small village in the Pyrennes.
Arriving in Cierp, I initially rode straight past the hotel, Les Deux Rives, which is on a corner just over a bridge, I parked and went back on foot to check things out and found the place. There was a great welcome by Ed who showed me to my room, which was lovely, the property is from 1865 but has recently been fully renovated and converted into a guest house by Ed and his sister Louise, lovely people and a great place to stay if you are in the area. After a wander around the village and a beer in the local bar, I headed back for an earlyish night in readiness for the last leg back home.
Click on the map to see the route in Google Maps
Sun 19th July 2020 649km
Waking to the sounds of the river running past the hotel was a lovely way to start the day, followed by a hot shower then a superb breakfast, prepared by Louise who had drawn the short straw for my relatively early Sunday morning departure. Loading the bike up for the last part of my trip, I started to feel both sad that my journey was coming to an end but also thankful that I would soon see my lovely wife again.
I had decided early on that I would try to cross the Pyrennes in a different place each way, as there are a good few routes but GPS / Google etc, tend to send you the same way and I wanted to explore a bit, even though I didn't really have much spare time. It was with this in mind that I had plotted a route taking in the D618A and the Col du Portillon at 1291m. The road up from Saint-Mamet was tight & twisty, tree-lined and a superb way to start the day off. The border with Spain follows the ridgeline at the top of the Col, but I stopped a couple of km further on at a lookout to take a picture.
Spanish side of Col du Portillon
Down the Spanish side, the road is mainly short straights interspersed with hairpin bends and the occasional cyclist to avoid as they weaved about struggling with the gradient. Turning right at the end onto the N230, I saw my first Guardia Civil car heading in the same direction, luckily they stopped before the road became more entertaining and I could open up the KTM again. Through a tunnel at the top and heading back down into Spain the road is awesome with sweeping bends and superb views, passing by Embalse de Baserca and then further down past Casterner de Les Olles on the Catalan/Aragon border, I stopped to take some more pictures, which don't do it justice.
Presa de Escales
Sticking to the N230 as it is a superb road, I enjoyed it more and more and certainly didn't miss the speed cameras that plague the French side of the border. Not to say that there aren't any, but there are far fewer. Near the small town of Amenar Google maps sent me onto the A-14, then A-2 motorways to Fraga before the fun started again on the A-242/C-45 which is a lovely cross country road. passing through a Guardia Civil checkpoint, without delay I suddenly started to think of my small tank again, looking down there was little left and no civilisation in sight. As before I just carried on, there are petrol stations everywhere right? Eventually stopping at a village called Mayals at an un-manned Cepsa station the KTM range indicator saying zero again, I was thankful that the pumps worked, it was by now mid-afternoon and in the 30s, not a good time to run out and have to push or wait for assistance.
Following the C-12 from Mayals to Flix and then continuing along until Rasquera the road follows the Rio Ebro, this section has some superb views, the Ebro is a large river in places that twists and turns down the valley, unfortunately, I didn't stop for pictures as I was ready for home.
The rest of the journey was quite uneventful and on roads, I have travelled many times, stopping at services on the motorway for a sandwich and coke I called my wife to give her the expected arrival time and then pottered along as the sun came down and the temperature dropped a little. Arriving home to a freshly made cup of tea and a warm smile made for a great end to a successful journey and one I would be happy to do again, obviously under different circumstances.
Click on the map to see the route in Google Maps
For those interested, my dad's treatment went well and he made a full recovery, so good news all around.
The KTM 790 did a superb job of looking after me and did the whole journey without a hiccup and I will be venturing out on another adventure soon, hopefully. There will be a review of the Power Parts used at some point soon.
It also appears that I wasn't as observant as I could have been as over the next few weeks I received three tickets from the lovely French traffic department, Oops.