France Day 5: Héric to La Possonnière
The night before, in the hotel restaurant, Matt 2 and I had argued. A battle of wills began over pudding. We’re old friends. Our kids grew up together. But touring is demanding. It’s especially hard if you have different ideas and while I was anxious to cover as much ground as possible, Matt 2 wanted to relax. He didn’t like me pressurising him and I didn’t like coaxing him. On this at least, we agreed.
By morning something had shifted because we set off early. After marking out the route on the map, we navigated our way along the minor roads towards Ancenis. We made good time. The smooth tarmac was a relief after the grind of the canal path. In Couffé, at the tabac opposite the church we stopped for coffee. A few kilometres later we joined the Eurovelo 6 and crossed over the Loire.
Compared to the enclosed tree-lined canal, the Loire River is wide and open. By then the sun had burnt through the cloud. Away from the coast it was noticeably warmer and we were unused to the heat. We followed the route along the southern bank of the river, passing tanned retirees travelling in the opposite direction. At St Florent-le-Vieil we stopped for lunch. The climb up to the town was steep. Halfway up I got off and pushed. At the top, at Place Jeanne Buissonnière, we admired the views of the river and the flat landscape stretching out in front of us. We chose a restaurant nearby, where we met an English couple, and stayed there a few hours waiting for it to cool.
Setting off again the route led us onto Île de Chaconnes, the largest of three islands in the river. On the deserted road we passed fields of wheat and barley, a copse of hornbeam, then a shady café with tables and chairs outside. Matt 1 and I cycled past.
‘Why don’t we stop there?’ came Matt 2's voice from behind.
‘I think we need to keep going,’ Matt 1 replied.
‘I don’t suppose a quick drink will matter,’ I suggested, hot and thirsty, ‘it’s not too far to Angers.’
We turned around. The café with a museum attached was filled with Russian antiquities and pictures of Lenin. Later we learned it was an artists’ collective set up by a local tax collector. Inside I ordered three ‘Karma Colas’. On the door outside were posters advertising gigs. When we’d finished we got up to leave.
‘Why don’t we just stay here the night.’ Matt 2 suggested.
‘Come on,’ Matt 1 said ‘let’s get going.’
‘I don’t understand why we don’t just stay here,’ Matt 2 said grumbling as he got on his bike.
We left the island, crossed over onto the north bank of the river. At the port just passed La Possonnière, after another 15km, tired and hot, we stopped again at an open-air café next to the water. It was cool down by the river.
‘Let’s eat here,’ Matt 2 suggested. Matt 1 agreed. It was only half past five but I didn’t object. I was beginning to think I’d probably have to extend the trip by a couple of days if I was going to finish the route.
The staff were welcoming and friendly, the food tasty and inexpensive. They served local wine and fresh fish from the river. Matt 1 found a B’n’B for the night. I relaxed, drank more wine than I should. We stayed at the Guinguette Les Tourbillions until the sun set. Afterwards, feeling tipsy and in high spirits, we cycled along the railway line towards our accommodation.
About a 1km down the road, past a huge nursery we came upon a grand-looking house. Matt 1 opened the gate and we pushed our bikes along the gravel driveway towards an annex on the right-hand side. Our host welcomed us warmly. Suggested we store the bikes in the barn. As she switched on the light she explained she was in the process of converting the building into a gîte and workshop. She warned us to be careful as we stepped over open ditches and exposed pipes in the dark, part of the building works she explained, as we made our way to the house.
Inside Laure offered us tea and, after carrying our bags up to the attic, we settled in front of the fireplace in one of the many comfy armchairs there. She asked where we were from, where we were headed. We told her about our adventures, what we’d seen. Laure told us about the house, which she’d renovated, how she’d given up her job and was training to be an upholsterer, that she sold antiques online to generate a little extra income.
She also talked about her neighbour who she explained had inherited the main house from his father. The father had been the local hairdresser. He’d sold the business and bought the house, set up the stable at the back. She said the son had not been so fortunate. That he’d always had to struggle. He’d had to sell most of the horses and the property was falling into disrepair. As he’d got older, he’d become more insular. More fearful of the outside world and had recently built a wall around his side of the house. She told us he was threatening to build another, cutting off her view of the paddock.
It was late when we bid her good night and climbed the stairs. It was a warm night, and I opened the window, watched the last train rushing past. As I started to drift into sleep I heard the loud and surprisingly high-pitched croak of the frogs outside.