Socks and drugs and Pomerol

 “A cold wind was blowing from the north, and it made the trees rustle like living things.”
George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

Whilst in Toulouse, I added to my sock collection with a rather striking pair of calf-length, German hiking socks. I may not be allowed into all restaurants wearing them but I think they look rather snazzy with the Rapha 3/4 trousers. I had a late start yesterday (Tuesday) because I decided to try the nearest bike shop for a fix for my squeaky crank. I arrived at 9, only to find that the didn’t open until 10. Impatient, I decided to live with the problem and headed out of town. However, having missed breakfast, I stopped at a patisserie for a bun. Another bloke, buying his sandwiches, opened a conversation by commenting on the socks. I’m not entirely sure what he said, but it was friendly enough. I explained the small problem with the bike and he enthusiastically recommended a bike shop to sort it out – Velo Station. I rolled up, had a new cotter pin fitted in a few minutes and set out without the squeak – for 5 more minutes. It is the axle that’s worn, not the pin, but I think it will hold out.

It took the owner of Velo Station in Toulouse  just a few minutes to replace my cotter pin.
Unfortunately, it turned out that it was the axle that was worn, not the pin. Nevertheless, great service, with a smile.

The day was spent traveling about 90 miles along the Canal du Midi. It’s about 5 times the width of our canals and the typical boat is a big white-and-blue cabin cruiser. I saw a lot of them in the moorings near towns but during the whole day saw just 3 boats moving along the canal. At this time of year, it is staggeringly quiet. A handful of other cyclists, a similar number of anglers, and a few dog walkers – that was it. I cycled for miles without seeing another soul – often with vast apple orchards adjacent to the canal. The was some very light rain, but nothing of significance. I’d had no particular destination in mind when I set out – the original target had been Agen, but I knew I would go further. At 7:30pm I found the town of Aiguillon. I walked into the only hotel in town, La Terrasse de L’Etoile, and booked a demi-pension: dinner, B&B. A 3-course dinner with wine and coffee, a very nice room, plus free WiFi and breakfast, set me back £50.

La Terrasse de L’Etoile in Aiguillon: superb value and
very close to the Canal du Midi.

This morning, there was another 30 miles alongside the canal to La Reole, where I stopped for coffee to warm up – I don’t think that the temperature had risen above 7 degrees. The ‘Springwatch’ total for the canal was loads of coypu (which I’d originally thought were beavers – and are known as “little beavers” in some places), two cuckoos, quite a few herons, two green woodpeckers, one cormorant and a host of unidentifiable little brown birds.

North of La Reole are rolling hills and we’re back in wine country. I stopped in Sauverttere-de-Guyenne for a snack lunch and to make a few adjustments to the bike. I ‘d been suffering from some pain in both knees since yesterday morning and, whilst I am generally against drugs in sport, I succumbed to Ibuprofen to ease the pain. If this means a ten year disqualification from professional cycling, so be it. I’ve never done any anyway. On the way out of town I was flagged down by an enthusiastic Frenchman who explained that he owned owned a vintage Humber British bike with a 1926 Sturmey Archer hub on it. He also explained that Sturmey Archer enabled the first multi-geared bikes by introducing their original hub in 1904. Sometimes you find knowledge in the most unexpected places.

I continued cycling north, north-west. The wind was 5 to 10 mph north, north east. Not head-on but near enough to make things a bit challenging.

I tried to divert around Libourne by going through St Emillion then via the Pomerol vine plantations. However, I got lost, losing the best part of an hour in Libourne before getting back on route towards Montendre. Nice town. No hotels. Struggled another 12 miles north to Jonzach. Found a room immediately and ate very well here in the hotel. An English couple in the restaurant told me it’s due to be cold and wet for the next couple of days but 5 days into the trip, I’ve covered over 500 miles, including 110 today, so at least I’m ahead of plan.​

St Emillion
A Mexican couple kindly took this photograph of myself and the ‘velo’ on the edge of Saint Emilion.
It’s one very smart town with cobbled roads and is and surrounded by smart chateaux, including those that produce Pomerol.

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