Bayeux – Coutances – St Malo

Waking up in Bayeaux on Sunday to find that the wind had dropped was a pleasure. Everything was quiet. And I do mean everything. France on a Sunday is the most spooky place, coming from a country where Sunday is no longer a special day. The streets are deserted, everything closed.

I wolfed down a breakfast of croissants and jam before hitting the road. One last look at the stunning Bayeaux cathedral and then it was time to tackle the 41 miles to Coutance.

The ride to Coutances was uneventful and I rolled along, just enjoying the weather, bright but not too warm, and the rolling countryside across central Normandy.

To say that my time in Coutances was also uneventful is an understatement. The town was closed. I couldn't get into trouble if I tried here! In general it's a pleasant market town, with a spectacular cathedral, but nothing too much to write home about. When I arrived even my hotel for the night was shut and I had to do something I dread...make a phone call in French. Being so rural here, there was very little English speaking - but I managed to get by and find a creperie for a bite to eat and a bottle of Norman cider before retiring for the night.

The next morning I declined the offer of hotel breakfast and headed to the local Boulangerie to stock up on French breads for breakfast and pack the panniers with supplies for the ride.

The ride was to be a long one - 72 miles. The wind had also made a reappearance, but bright blue skies and a warm sun were very much welcomed.

Most of the morning was spent riding through small country lanes, tiny farming villages before Google struck again, sending me up a farm track only fit for quad bikes and tractors.

My bike was caked in mud by lunchtime and once I found some real Tarmac again I decided to break for lunch at a town called Pontaubault with a beautiful bridge spanning the river Sélune which Pattern's VIII Corps had crossed during the breakout from Normandy in 1944. Sitting by the river etching French bread and enjoying the sun was perfect.

From there I had a further 37 miles to St Malo. Thankfully for the most part Google maps behaved, only sending me down one grassed track and the rest on at least gravel tracks if not hard surfaces.

It's impossible to talk about this leg of the trip without mentioning Mount St Michael. Rising up out of the sea/mud flats in an otherwise flat landscape, it's difficult to describe just how impressive and imposing it is. My route didn't take me right down to it, but even from this distance I could see how it provided the inspiration for the city of Minas Tirith in Lord of the Rings. It certainly does have a fantasy feel to it and one could well imagine the armies of Sauron attacking it. Or maybe that's just the geek in me talking.

The riding after the mount was pretty straight forward, long sweeping hills and hard surfaces meant that I was a able to ride into St Malo around 17.30 and check into my hotel.

To say I am impressed with St Malo is another understatement. It's a visually impressive walled town, dating back to 1st century BC, overlooking the beach of Sillon. Set on an outcrop of rock is the fortress of Fort Nationale, designed by Vauban, France's foremost military engineer until his death in 1707

Today St Malo is a ferry port and thriving tourist town. I shall hopefully be returning here at the end of the week to catch the ferry back to England. For this evening though, a wander around and a meal of fish soup, followed by Chateaubriande, accompanied by a rather good Breton organic beer.

It was only when I stepped outside into the slightly cooler air in the shadows of the hotel, I realised how much I'd caught the sun today. My neck is red raw. A trip to the pharmacy in the morning I think...

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