You may have read the blog entry when I talked about my concerns about the day Issoire to St Paulien. We looked at lots of options including hugging the valley but decided to stick to a variation of the planned route and still take in the high plateau and La Chaise-Dieu, (the seat of God). Anything less would have been pathetic.
We set out from our strange castle in cooler weather after the rain and, as usual, missed a turning and went up to a hill top town rather than round it. The cynical reader will blame my navigation but I have to formally complain about French maps.
Monsieur Le Cartographer has some annoying habits:
- Putting the place names somewhere different to the spot that actually marks where the village is.
- Using different road numbers on the map from those on the road, or changing them when ever he feels like a laugh.
- Failing to embrace the idea of contours like our superb, British Ordnance Survey maps. Instead he randomly puts little arrows on the road that can mean up or down depending where you're coming from.
Add the peculiarities of Les Cartes to the technically challenging and risible Garmin who, even when on the agreed course, will frequently announce 'off course'. I look upon the Garmin as a backseat traveller with an opinion that it's sometimes right but is most certainly not to be trusted without the map..
Anyway, full of energy after a 14km run along the flat valley on the D16, we turned onto the D588 towards God's Seat. Coffee in Auzon and then we found a mini shop with chickens rotating on a spit and bought a Demi Poulet and four bananas as life insurance. Then after fixing a chain issue, we surged upwards.
We climbed for ages through woods until we broke out into pasture land and I felt confident that we were at least halfway to La Chaise-Dieu, only to look at the map and see that we had progressed about 1mm. So, we had the sort of chat that Sir Edmund Hillary and Serpa Tensing probably had and ground on thinking of England.
Cheering ourselves that we had climbed higher than Snowdon by 12.30, we were only too aware that we we burning through the calories and it was Shut Sunday again. So, following a command decision by Emma, we took the risk to leave the 'plateau (!)' and follow a sign to a restaurant. This involved a 2km drop down a 10% hill trying to brake, with fingers crossed that the place would be open; it was and spirits soared.
We were the only customers in a room that looked like it doubles as a school but had a great lunch of tomato tart (no soggy bottom), pork and pasta followed by home made strawberry crumble. It is amazing what quality food lurks in remote places.
Refuelled, we regained the lost altitude and set off again. Miles and miles of climbs and then frustrating descents to even more climbs. It is depressing how long it takes to make any distance on the map when you are grinding along at 5 mph in bottom gear. Time was running on and a quick time and space evaluation did not bode well for arriving at our goal at a civilised hour.
So, having considered the options and having earlier discussed the topography with Monsieur of the restaurant (who on reflection had probably never left his valley) I decided to 'cut the corner' and avoid the hill top town of God's Seat.
This decision, was of course, an error. The next two hours were amusing. It began to rain and the climbs were, in some cases, 12%. At one stage it began to rain so hard that we pulled into the side and made a space under a big tree and ate our chicken au hobbit.
Both bikes were making nasty noises but Marjorie in particular was constantly 'grishing'. The problem was the rear mudguard and every few miles I had to manfully make with the Allen keys, but it was not helping moral.
Setting off again we finally came to Sembadel-Gare. I had reckoned that somewhere with a Gare would not be on a precipice and I was sort of correct except it was a logging station in the woods. It was now 5 pm and it looked like several more hours to go. Moral was flagging and I was feeling the heavy burden of leadership. Decision time, map appreciation, Red 906 or Yellow D13? Logic and my uncanny map reading skills gave weight to D13. Thank Dieu that this time, I was right.
We zoomed along on the simply superb new surface of the D13. It's the sort of road that Top Gear find to showoff cars and we sped along, blissfully. Miles rolled away and all my wrong decisions were (mostly) forgotten.
Arriving at St-Paulien at 6.30 we were minutes away from our B&B and all was well with the world. Except that some joker had decided to build Rachat at the top of a hideous hill.
It took a very emotional hour to crawl up the unexpected hill but, finally and with me taking advantage of Emma's misery by taking a moral boosting video, we finally, finally summited.
Our B&B was superb and we had a whole apartment to ourselves, a great dinner and lively conversation with the lovely family. Madame was decent enough to apologise as she had meant to warn us of the hill and recommend an easy alternative...