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To Bordeaux and Beyond

For my first summer holiday as a teacher I played a bit of golf, did some school work and planned a major trip to France on my new motorbike. I planned to drive out to Bordeaux where I would collect Zoe a day later at the airport. We would then head further south to Bayonne via some friends near Bergerac. We decided to stay in Bayonne as it is a stone’s throw from Biarritz and far less crowded. I spent quite a lot of time pouring over maps and re programming my Sat Nav so I could avoid all the highways and toll roads. I wanted to see a different side of France as opposed to the quickest route between 2 places. After booking Zoe’s flight I realized that if I was to meet her at the airport at 10am I would have to ride for an hour and a half after disembarking from the ferry, find a campsite and then set off at a very early time in the morning, especially if I was going to keep to the plan and not use motorways. Total distance from ferry terminal to Bordeaux was 540km. Easy I thought; as I would catch the 13:30 Poole ferry to St. Malo arriving at around 7pm leaving me an hour and a half to get past Rennes, camp and be on my way early the next morning to complete the remaining 400km. It was always going to be an early start, but when the ferry only docked at 21:30 due to engine trouble it became a very early start! I never had enough time to make it to my intended stopping point after Rennes. As it got darker on the smaller dual carriageways, I decided to call it time and make camp before getting lost around Rennes. I actually did find a campsite, but I had to beg and plead with the site owner at 23:00 to open his office and let me through the gate. Great start; pitching a tent in the rain! Good thing I took some cous cous and packet soup to at least make a hot meal. 
Having not made the distance on day 1, it meant I had to leave at around 04:30 to reach Bordeaux anywhere near 10:00. All the route planning and scenic rides soon became a thing of the past as I had to make use of big dual carriageways and a small section of the toll road. At around 8am it stopped raining and riding became easier on the quick drying surface. Even though the road was a major through route to the south, I have to say that it was very quiet and scenic. Very little traffic and no knucklehead truck drivers. In France, the trucks are not allowed to overtake on most dual carriageways between 06:00 and 22:00. They stay in the slow lane and give you plenty of chance to overtake. Although the drive was long, it was pleasant to be touring on a big bike. I got to see and smell all the different regions as I went further south. I passed cereal factories, with the smell reminding me of Pro-Nutro, fields resplendent in sun flowers and then the wheat farming areas recently harvested. Okay, I did go past some smelly places too with fresh (or not so) manure laid down but I won’t dwell on that. Ever worried about the Gendarmes and their “on the spot” fines paid in cash only; I kept within the speed limits and enjoyed the experience. 

I met Zoe in the centre of Bordeaux as I only managed to get there at 13:00, so thought she could at least have alook around the city while I was late. Meeting her was the hard part, after trying to enter foreign street names into a sat nav (ever tried to find Rue St-Amelie et St Denis or something like that? You keep getting addresses in Paris. Anyhow, after lunch we headed into the Dordogne area and through the beautiful countryside with huge Chateau’s and vineyards, similar to Stellenbosch but on a much grander scale. We stopped off at St Emilion before heading to friends in a small village near Bergerac. At this point I was absolutely knackered. Up at 04:00 and having finally driven around 600 km I finally got to take my biker clothes off. We had a great little walk around the old rustic town of Aimee's (pronounce aim) and then Peter and Frank cooked us a typical French meal. Delicious. They have beautiful 16 century house that they have converted with all the antique furnishings and tiles, comfy antique sofas, high ceilings and shuttered windows. Very French and truly peaceful and oh so quiet! 

The next day we rode on a south easterly diagonal through plentiful tree lined villages, huge expanses of forest comprising gorgeous biker roads with open spaces, clear views, nice corners, more forest canopies and river scenery with very little traffic. Brilliant road surfaces and clear indicators as to the route made it a real pleasure to ride in France. You could actually relax as the traffic was so minimal. We must have driven about 300km and only been held up in traffic once. So completely different to the UK where you really have to look for quiet roads to enjoy (and then they only last about 15km!).
We spent the next 5 days in Bayonne in a hotel which was superb. Big sweeping views over the river Adour and a 4th floor room with big shutters. Bayonne itself was a little bit of a letdown, with not much going on as all the students were away and the shopkeepers were keen to enjoy their own summer evenings. Pubs were even closed on the Monday!
It was a great base to get to and from the different beaches and made for some nice walking in the evening. The weather was a bit hit and miss with rain, wind and then sun all in a day. Rather bizarre. I bought a Boogie Board to occupy my time as sunbathing was patchy. Great fun to finally have a proper board after my years as a teenager with a really poor excuse for a boogie board. I mean, it had cracks and tears all over the place, no rigidity and absorbed water like a sponge. I did have a cool board bag though! My new board is awesome and allows for better paddling and I can even get on the face of the wave now!:)
All too soon our week came to an end and Zoe caught the train back to Bordeaux to return to the UK for a few days work. I in turn packed up and headed up along the coast about 200km north towards Biscarosse with the aim of camping around Mimizan. I had a great drive along the small country roads checking out the surf as I went. Half way there I thought it might be good to try to find a campsite that would act as a base for the next 3 nights. You’d think it is a simple thing to find a camp site with availability for a motorbike and a single tent, uh uh. 8 campsites, 5 hours later and all the way back in Biarritz is where I ended up. Some sites were just plain closed for the summer, others had absolutely no space and others were hired out solely to certain companies as part of their social programme. I really struggled. Sites don’t know their availability before 2pm, nor can you pre book and so you have to take a chance. I was so glad when I found one and got the last place at 9pm that I forgot it was only a road away from the airport and opposite a massive highway!

They sell you a whole pitch big enough for 5 tents so you actually pay around 25 pounds a night to camp. They do not take into account that you are a single person with a single tent. Anyhow, next day I checked out early and drove to one right opposite the beach and tried my luck. Sure thing, she had 2 nights space for me, 18 pounds a night! All in all it was great to be camping but quite tough on your own as there really isn’t any need to cook. You get a croissant in the morning, some fruit and a baguette at the beach and then in the evening I’d stop off at the supermarket and get some food from the deli. All the campers look at you as some strange unsociable phenomenon who goes out in the morning, comes back as it is getting dark, and then eats dinner in 15 minutes with no washing up required. 
I took a day out from surfing to go riding in the Basque country to the foot of the Pyrenees through Cambo les bains, St. pee Sur Neville and the surrounding area. Again, it was hard to believe I was riding in a country with people! The roads are so empty compared to the UK and they wind up and over through the most amazing valleys with waterfalls and open vista’s. Here at times I must admit I did open up and get into the cornering but well within my comfort zone. Man, the BMW 1200GS rides like a dream. Direct power on tap from my shaft driven motor, whenever you fancy and with an awesome sound to match!
The next day I packed up and headed to Spain to a small peninsula and a place called Noja between Santander and Bilbao to meet up with a friend. Another scenic drive along the coast with some parts very similar to Cape Town. Very popular with cyclists, motorbikes and walkers with very few cars and trucks. They were all on the motorway and toll roads! Ha ha I like it!

I spent Friday surfing and catching up with Bruce and his family and then camped at a very reasonable campsite with its very own Tapas bar. All for the measly price of 10 pounds! Even petrol in Spain was 30p per litre cheaper. We had a good catch-up and nice quiet surf. The beach was deserted, or so I thought until everyone came back from their siesta at 4pm and suddenly the beach was packed. Nice as long as you like loud Spanish families. On Saturday Zoe arrived at Santander airport to continue her holiday and we had a good drive along the coast with lots of open sea views, boats in the sunshine and lovely rolling hills on the other side. Nice as Noja was, we found it a bit busy and crowded at times, although it was a pleasant change to be crowded by Spanish families and kids running around on their own with ice cream all over them and lots of laughter. We walked around the headland had tapas a few times with some swimming and sunbathing thrown in for the weekend. The weekend passed all too quickly and then we were off again back towards Saint-Jean-de-Luz for the final night. It did now begin to feel a bit like Charlie and Ewan, always off to the next place, never chilling out, just making headway for the next town. Next time I think it will probably be a drive to a destination and a week in 1 place and then tour on the way back again. Our hotel was brand new and a hundred metres from the beach. Sleeping with the curtains open listening to the ocean at night was a good change from Noja. 

The last day dawned with a cloudy start so instead of hanging around and then rushing to Bordeaux for Zoe to get her flight, we drove along the coast and bought some lovely fresh ingredients and bread (not hard to get in France, strangely!) and chilled out on a beach about 100km north of Biarritz. Wow, what a lovely coastline France has. We had a swim in the typically huge shore break that epitomizes high tide along this part of France and then it was back on the bike for the late afternoon trip to the airport. At this point, I should mention that my plan was to drop Zoe off around 5pm and get at least 250km north of Bordeaux to avoid a massive long ride the following day back to the ferry. Well, since the beach was so nice, this plan almost fell by the wayside with me only leaving Bordeaux airport at 19:45. Again, I had no campsite planned and wanted to make as much time (off the highways and toll roads) before dark. I drove west towards Bourg through some amazing countryside again lined with vineyards and chateaus all over the place. All so manicured and looking oh so French. As dusk settled my fuel warning light came on telling me I had 50 miles left in the tank. Petrol stations in rural France are not known for being open after about 9pm. Needless to say I never passed one as I started heading for what I thought was small campsite in a quiet village. Surely this campsite would have space. It was so quiet I couldn’t even find it! On to number 2 campsite near Blaye, 10 miles away, 40 miles of petrol left and all the time further from the big towns. I got to Blaye and found a citadel where there should have been a campsite. After more faffing I eventually worked out that the campsite is actually inside this citadel, across an ancient moat. So the Beemer had to ride across a moat and into a walled city. I felt almost like a naughty boy driving inside this walled fortress. I did find the camp site but no one to book as he’d gone home at 8pm. I thought of chancing it but a notice on the door mentioned something about the police and camping ‘interdit’. I did not want to be evicted or arrested at 03:00 in the morning so it was down the road to find a hotel. It was now nearing 21:30 and I had no food with me, no cash on me (had a card but just didn’t think to draw cash) and the only place I passed that had anyone outside it was a hotel and a restaurant. So, back to the hotel only to find it closed. I then asked the gendarmes and they sent me to another hotel 6 miles away. They were full and didn’t speak English so she gave me a list of hotels and told me to use my phone. Great. Have you ever tried to book a hotel room in a foreign language at 22:00 when I don’t speak much French and they speak even less English! I eventually found a lady that sort of said she had room, 10 miles away back from where I had just come! Urghh. Okay so en route I pass a MacDonald’s that has a drive through. So I park up and stand in the queue as I can’t really collect my food and ride a bike yet. They tell me I have to be on the bike to order. I get back on the bike and order, and then they insist I have to park the bike and they’ll bring the food to me. Bunch of jokers! Anyhow, I made it my hotel at 23:30 and had to hone her awake to open the door. I felt like I was in a time warp.
The final day dawned and I had to ride back to St Malo, only 472 miles! I did manage to start off on the smaller roads, but as time got closer I had to jump onto the dual carriageways to pass Nantes and Rennes. I got to the ferry terminal after a long and hard 7 hours ride. At the customs area they decided to search me again as I mentioned I went to Spain as well as just France. It got awkward when they found female clothing in the panniers and no female present! I tried explaining that my wife was with me but flew home and wanted to avoid sleazy jet’s stupid baggage policy after being stung £35 for a helmet on the way out. Some quick talking and funny glances from passing cars and I was allowed to board. Anyhow, after arriving in the UK I had a further 109 miles to ride before I could safely say I had made it. I got into bed at 03:30 after an epic days riding. I compared it the mileage Charley and Ewan did in the ‘Long Way Down’ book and on only 2 occasions did they manage to do the same distance as me! I now know what motorbike touring is all about and how cool it is, but also how tiring it can be. From now on, smaller routes and longer stops in towns will probably be the norm! See the photos in the gallery here..>