Cycling from Roscoff to Brighton via Paris

I'm having a bit of a whirlwind romance with my bike.  My bike and I have just got back from our first holiday together, 11 days in France.  At the moment we need a bit of 'space', slightly sick of the sight of each other, but I'm pretty sure that the French adventure has created a bond which we will want to enjoy again in the not too distant future.

The French cycling adventure was great fun and in many ways surprising.
The Route
My trip involved: a train journey down to Plymouth; a ferry across to Roscoff; a cycle ride along the Eurovelo 1 to Nantes; from Nantes to Orleans along the Eurovelo 6; from Orleans to Paris along the Eurovelo 3; from Paris to Dieppe along the Paris London route; and then home to Brighton via the Dieppe Newhaven ferry.

Pierre who used to sell onions from his bike in Leeds
The biggest revelation was the number of people cycle touring in France - there were hundreds/thousands of them - all ages and surprisingly cosmopolitan.  People in their 50s/60s and 70s were particularly well represented, but despite the fact that the main holiday season had not yet started, there were families as well. There were also a lot of campers and cyclists with bikes (four panniers and more) fully laden with gear.
On the Brest Nantes Canal
I'm sure it's the quality of the developing network that is driving the enthusiasm for cycle touring in France - although I suspect I was lucky with my choice of route. Excluding crossing Nantes and Paris I would guess that 60 percent of my trip was on cycle only paths and much of the rest of it on roads which were virtually empty.  The paths were flat, sheltered, often tree lined and cycling mainly from west to east the wind always seemed to be behind me.  If you like pottering along in a stress free way - this was pottering paradise.
Lock and associated cottage on the Brest Nantes Canal
I planned my route using the Bicycle Routes and Tours website (www.biroto.eu) which has member provided GPS trails for all fifteen 'Eurovelo' routes supported by the European Cyclists Federation.  Once in France, however, I discovered that the Eurovelo network overlapped with a national network of véloroutes and voie vertes. The three categories relate to different levels of minimum standard in terms of traffic, width, surface, facilities and maximum climb, although all of them are designed to ensure that the route is safe and accessible. The highest standard, the voie vertes is not only traffic free, it has a surface that is good enough for inline skating!

Because routes have to meet minimum standards to achieve full designation many of them are still in the planning/development stage.  The Eurovelo 3 which I followed from Orleans to Paris (using the GPS trail from the Bicycle Routes and Tours website) is not waymarked but was an excellent nonetheless following canal towpaths for most of the route.
On the Loire
If I had to choose a favourite stretch it would be Roscoff to Nantes.  The initial part (relatively hilly) follows the beautiful north coast of Brittany east from Roscoff to the Morlaix (which features a medieval town centre and an enormous Victorian viaduct).  The route then joins an old railway line and heads south across Brittany to Carhaix-Plouguer where it picks up Napoleon's Breste Nantes canal and follows it along the towpath nearly all the way Nantes. Most of the 383km route is traffic free and off-road.

The route from Nantes to Orleans was a mix of minor roads and dedicated paths sometimes following the Loire and sometimes heading inland.  It visited classic Loire château, towns and vineyards and crossed many of the amazing river bridges.
A Loire château
Perhaps the stretch which is best known to English cyclists is Dieppe Paris (I followed the Donald Hirsch route as the véloroute is still being developed).  It's a great route, particularly the 30km stretch out of Dieppe which follows a high spec voie verte path, but compared to the rest of the trip this section was hilly and more exposed.

It's easy to follow a towpath down the side of a canal, but navigation gets harder when you enter a town or a city and the choices increase.  I had the whole route, with maps, loaded on the ViewRanger app on my smartphone, and this worked a treat and I was able to find my way through Nantes and Paris without any real problem (from a navigation perspective at least).

I didn't book any accommodation preferring to stop when I had had enough cycling.  This was OK, but with just a little effort I could have worked out what the accommodation options were at the likely stopovers.  I seemed to spend a long time aimlessly cycling around trying to choose somewhere to stay (a nightmare in Paris). A bit of research might also have revealed better places. After all the time I've spent in Spain recently accommodation in France felt less interesting and expensive.
Wheat fields of northern France

Gear wise things worked well.  I had a derailleur disaster at the end of a very wet first day and a multiple puncture attack on another day, but with the help of French bike shops I survived.  I think my travelling light hiking experience helped and I carried all my gear I needed in one pannier.
Waiting for the ferry

Since I've got back, I've been asked the question 'are you going to give up long distance walking to take up cycling'.  Well, it's not an either or.  I do like the easy cycling I've found in France.  I love the physical sensation of rolling along a flat path - for instance, under a thick canopy of trees along the side of a canal - and almost passively watching the world go by.  Walking, on the other hand takes me to places I couldn't go on a bike and at a pace which means I see more.  I will definitely be taking my bike out again before too long, but on my next trip, already planned, my feet will be on the ground.

I blogged as I went along and if you're interested in how it felt at the time go to the following:

Day 1 Rostrenen
Day  2 Pontivy
Days 3 and 4 Blains and Ancenis
Day 5 - Saumur
Day 6 Bois
Days 7 and 8 to Nemur
Day 9 - Paris
Day 10 - Gournay-en-Bray
Day 11 - Brighton

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