Safe in the Ardennes and the race to Strasbourg

The evening before I had watched as hundreds of Mayfly's desperately sought mates during their short winged life. I'd been struck by their certainty of purpose. Well my purpose as I awoke was equally simple; cycle into the Ardennes, reach the city of Revin for lunch before following the river Musee south and east back into France. Not quite as elegant perhaps, but almost.

A leisurely breakfast saw us depart at 08:15 heading for Baileux at a brisk pace before turning south-east towards Roeroi through thick forests interspersed with logging sites and new growth. Last nights rain and the early morning mists left a chill but also a strong smell of life and  growth as we hurried through the woods.

I'd decided on the route the night before mainly because the evocatively named Valley du Miserè would be our gateway. As we made our way through Roeroi a persistent drizzle settled in but it was not to be prophetic fallacy. Rather than the hard climb we expected, the hills fell away beneath our peddles; accelerating into an exhilerating downhill with water whipping into our faces. The best shower ever.

Going the opposite way would have been miserable indeed but for us it was joyous.

My acting may need a little work

In no time we had arrived in Revin and enjoyed an early lunch and were rewarded with sun breaking through the clouds. Before long we were back in the saddle and descending the Vallèe du Musee enjoying some of the most beautiful and carefree cycling of the trip so far.

Not a car in sight. Just us, the river and the birds calls.

As we moved down the valley picuresque riverside towns greeted us.


As if to add to the magic we were entertained for much of that stretch by the graceful acrobatics of countless swallows. Too lovely for words, too quick for pictures.

Looking back to the hills

As the landscape flattened our pace hardly slowed as we traced the rivers route towards Charleville Meziers
Although we made time to stop and admire these incredibly doecile Fallow Deer grazing by the trackside.

Despite having come a long way that day already we pressed on due east skirting the Ardennes' southern foothills towards Sedan before finally finding a perfect wild campsite at the end of a long dirt road which we gambled on following near St Meneges.

By a river, with a picnic table, off the beaten track - Perfect

100 kilometres covered, it was time to reward ourselves with as much food as we could manage. Although we did attracte some attention from the locals.

Wait, That's not a cow, that's a bull!

We survived and I fell asleep to the gentle sound of lowing and dragonflies buzzing. 

One amazing day deserved another and with the prospect of staying with another warm showers host the guantlet was set down - could reach Luxembourg City?

With that aim in mind our kit was packed and breakfast eaten by 07:00 hours and I set a stiff pace for the first two hours averaging over 11mph as we skirted through Sedan, to Brevily and worked our way north east toward Florenville.

The climbing was hard as the last of the Ardennes foothills came back to haunt us. But we stuck to our task. A quick stop for water and we struck out east aiming to cover the 33k to Arlon in time for lunch. We were back in Belgium for this stretch and off map but it mattered not as we stuck to the main road running straight a true to Luexembourg.

The kilometres fell away easily and teh going was good. The weather was less so. The gathering dark clouds broke over our heads just as we arrived in Arlon so we took shelter in a local cafe and settle in for it to pass. It was at this point that on checking my emails we realised that our host in Luxembourg had cancelled last minute. Now this was prophetic falacy!

After three hours the rain had only got harder and so we donned our water proofs and set off to find a a place to camp. But the rhythem of our cycling was easy, the rain was invigorating and as early evening came we continued to pass decent places in an unspoken pact to carry on as long as it felt good.

Before we knew it we were rushing into Luxumbourg, then Luxembourg City. We had a quick nose around but the weather wasn't hugely suited to sight seeing so off we went again. Into the rain, no map taking our directions from compass bearing and generally following out nose south east to get far enough from the city to be able to camp. We travelled 15k and back into France before my legs started to tire. We needed a place to camp but we were on a main road and the rain was worse than ever.

Spying a likely looking turn off we rolled into a small farming hamlet and decided to ask at the first farm if we could camp on their land. We must have looked sufficiently bedraggled a he happily offered us the use of his barn and made us some coffee depite my Frangalise.

Unfortunatley barns and cows don't photograph well with camera phones

Warm and cozy with more cows and calves and entertaining bats for company I was sure things couldn't get much better.

Then the clouds broke and in an instant the light changed dramaticaly. It felt like morning despite being 21:30. Heading round the barn to investigate (and have a ciggarette) I was rewarded by...

...a stunning sunset.

Which seemed to get better...

and better

A grand way to end an epic day travelling well over 120k through three different countries. The cows were noisy bed fellows but I was so tired I didn't care.

Heading south the next day the country side smelt fresh and good as we cycled south into broad vistas.

Before entering the beautiful medieval village of Rodemark

Encircled by tall stone walls you could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled back into the high middle ages.

Looking back at the village

The time had come to part company with Mattias as he headed east and I contnued south towards Strasbourg.

A shake of the hands and a bon chance and he was off. I had enjoyed cycling with him and enjoyed his quiet company but a selfish part of me was pleased to have my complete autonomy back.

I arrowed south awaiting my chance to cross east into the Rhines floodplains at Saverne. The signs told me it was 133k to Strasbourg, through St Avold, but the number no longer held any ability to faze me.

Though for a second this village's name did

By 20:00 had cut the distance to a much more manageable 60k but I was dog tired for the first time in the trip and all but crawled into a likely looking camping spot.

Another pretty pink sunset, this time accompanied with the need to rapidly explain myself to a passing farmer, and I was back on the road after a sleep filled with dreams of time travel and dark forests.

The Poppies were out to greet me as I climbed towards Saverne

As was the sun

And finally I was free wheelinginto the Rhine's broad flood plain and into Strasbourg where every town was suddenly a 'heim' not a 'chappelle'. The Germanification was palpable. The first milestone reached and I was looking forward to a shower and a days rest after 6 days camping.

My host Pascal prepared a vegan feast in his unique apartment. I had foolishly missed lunch so when dinner arrived after 21:00 I made an utter glutton of myself.

Pascal is an ethnographer and bibliophile whose love for books (his walls are filled and he tells me it's only 1/5 of his collection) is only matched by his passion for hammocks. Which is where I spent a very comfortable night. 

Pietro another of Pascal's and Pascal himself relaxing in the hammocks.

1 comment:

  1. That barn looks terrifying! Surprised you got any sleep at all. The hammock on the other hand - very comfy looking. The vegan feast looks somewhat gruel-like. I guess you must have been hungry!!! K xxx