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Old 06-20-2007, 06:41 PM   #46
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Excellent thread and thank you for bringing us along. Those pics
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Old 06-21-2007, 03:00 AM   #47
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Originally Posted by MikeO
Looks like the lions will have a lean time of it – although I suppose the slower ones will be easier to catch…

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Old 06-21-2007, 04:30 AM   #48
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12th June 2007

We wake early, to a bright sunny day, with a few clouds lurking around the horizon – this area certainly has a very active weather system. Without access to a forecast, we have started to take what gear we might need with us and just head on out – it certainly worked well for us yesterday…

We’re breakfasted and on the road just after 1030, heading down the valley, through the village of Lavoûte-Chilhac, and heading towards le Puy-en-Velay – or so we think…

We have a few domestic chores to look after – I need a new CamelBak and we need to buy some groceries.

Passing a moto-cross track near Brioude, we are side-tracked by an Intersport store. I manage to get a cheap CamelBak knock-off – not very well made - but it only has to survive the week, to be fair. Sylvia’s amused by the name of the Boules supplier…

Back on the road – we bypass the main signs to Le Puy – I’ve asked Bettie to take us via small roads, and I’m pleased to see she seems to be avoiding the obvious route.

Hmm... - we'll be out of town by the time this show's on - probably just as well...

Pretty soon we turn off the main road and enter some pretty little D roads, winding their way up into the hills. It should take about an hour or so to get to Le Puy…

We ride through a couple of small towns - spotting a market here...

...and some locals there.

We follow the course of a stream for a while – Bettie now tells me that we should be arriving at our destination in about ten minutes. I’ve been to Le Puy before and I know the terrain is nothing like this…

I re-check Bettie’s destination and find…

…I’ve programmed her to route to the wrong town…

I’ve accidentally routed us to the tiny village of Le Puy Chabrol – I obviously ‘fat fingered’ the wrong option back at the gîte…

Never mind. It takes but a moment to find that the Le Puy we want to go to is, in fact, an hour and a half away. Bettie gets us heading in the right direction, via some very pleasant forest D roads. The weather has stayed quite cool, up here at altitude (we’re at about 3,000 ft) – but I know from past experience that le Puy-en-Velay can be stiflingly hot.

We come across a restaurant in the little town of St Germain l’Herm and stop for a bite of lunch. There’s a small Labrador puppy tied up in the yard, with an older dog - off the leash – to make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble.

All puppies should be brought up with an older dog in the house – you could see the pup learning where the lines were drawn as he play fought with his mentor…

After a splendid lunch of vegetable tart (Sylvia) and fish pie (me)...

followed by chocolate mousse (both of us)...

...we waddle back to the bike, say farewell to the dogs…

…and follow Bettie’s directions. We ride through the town of le Chaise-Dieu (God’s Chair), home to a hilltop monastery…

...and we’re soon approaching Le Puy-en-Velay, and making the steep descent into the town…

The scenic overlook is great. Le Puy is home to several large rock outcrops, rising like buttresses from the flat valley floor. Over the centuries, these have been built on – there are two large statues and a beautiful church atop the most precarious looking precipice…

I drop Sylvia off to take some pictures and consider our options. As expected, it’s steamy and hot - 30 deg C – down here on the valley floor. Our original plan was to climb up to the church – but that was when we thought we’d be arriving earlier – before the navigation pigs…

Sylvia says she doesn’t mind not climbing today – it’s too hot.

Instead we ride around the cobble-stoned pedestrian priority shopping area, trying to get a good photo shot of the red sandstone Madonna & child.

I let Sylvia explore on foot whilst I wait outside the Hotel de Ville (not an hotel, to the confusion of many travellers, but the town hall) and watch the local meter maid ticketing the evil people who have parked and not paid…

Sylvia comes back having secured a couple of great shots in the tiny narrow streets...

...she’s also been accosted by a drunk trying to sell her jewellery. He comes up to me and asks if I’m British – I tell him I’m French. He starts speaking to me in French and I tell him I don’t speak the language. This confuses his alcohol addled brain for long enough for Sylvia to get on the bike and us to make our way off up the one way street. The wrong way.

Oh well – no-one seemed to notice but me…

We make our way around the outskirts of le Puy and find an Intermarché supermarket. We park the bike (after filling up with nearly 34 litres of petrol) and get a trolley.

You have to insert a 50c coin in the handle – this is to encourage you to return the trolley to the trolley park (where you get your money back) and not leave it roaming about bumping into random cars…

Inside the air conditioned shop (Heaven), we start trying to find the various bits and pieces we discussed last night (but – critically – failed to write down ). There is a vast array of cheese, salami and other goodies…

Prices are marked by very Gucci LCD price tags. You can buy rabbit...


…but no milk.

That is to say, no milk except UHT sterilised stuff – you know the stuff that smells like emulsion paint…

We search high and low, but are forced to the conclusion that that’s the only milk the French drink…

Which is a bit odd.

We buy loads of cheese, bread, some fruit and other goodies, then…

…force it into the Adv’s panniers and head for home...

After a close encounter with a Mercedes Benz on a narrow bridge...

...we’re back at about 1730.

It’s been a good day – we unload the bike and I prepare Couscous, lentils and (very suspicious looking) Normandy Sausage for dinner. With a glass or two of red wine, the evening drifts into soft focus…

All text & original photos © Mike Oughton 2004 - 2015

MikeO screwed with this post 06-21-2007 at 04:39 AM
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Old 06-21-2007, 04:39 AM   #49
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Mike ,

Great writing , keeping the reader interested all the way .

Some of those D roads are great , I remember getting lost on one last time I was over there on my bike [ didn't realise that the road numbers change when you enter a different Department / county ] .
How many miles has the bike done now ?

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Old 06-21-2007, 08:47 AM   #50
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13th June 2007

We wake to a beautiful morning. We’re breakfasted, kitted up and on the road for 0900, heading west on some very twisty little D roads. At first, Bettie tries to direct me up a track which – quite clearly – hasn’t been used in years – it would be a challenge to walk up…

Never mind, we try the next road over, recalculate our route and we’re soon on track. We top the first rise and look back to get a good view of the village of St Austremoine, where we’re staying…

As we crest the second ridge, we see that the hilltop is well planted with windmills…

There’s nothing new under the sun...

...the locals have been making use of wind power here for at least 300 years – as this preserved moulin de vent at the town of Ally bears testament to.

Near Ally we see a road crew about to resurface the roads in the area, using tar and gravel ‘chip-seal’ – this will become significant later…

We continue west through a series of alpine meadows, filled with wild flowers, interspersed with fields of grain.

This must be hard country to farm, despite the EU subsidies paid to French farmers, and every available hectare of land is used for agriculture, whether grazing for cattle…

…or arable farming.

We make good time along the challenging, narrow roads that Bettie has selected for us.

Occasionally, she’ll throw a joker into the game and we find ourselves on roads with grass (which – bizarrely – looks like it has been mowed) growing in the centre. But mostly, we’re on good, twisty, fun roads with well maintained surfaces – and villages with comedy names...

We climb and descend a series of ridges and valleys, pausing to post a second batch of cards (maybe you were on this list – who knows?)... a post box in a small hilltop village, before hitting the road again.

I honestly don't think that we could get more amazed and incredulous looks from villagers if we had antennae sticking out of the top of our helmets and were riding a flying saucer – everything seems to stop as we enter a village and the locals stare after us.

But that’s what I love about rural France. In some ways, life hasn’t changed here for hundreds of years and we’re almost riding a time machine.

Now and again we surface, like a whale needing to breathe, onto a major road, or to pass through a large town, only to submerge again into the little D roads, back into the hidden France – our France – far from the bustle of big business, the engineers who build stupendous bridges and the air traffic controllers who go on strike each summer…

In the village of Champeix, we stop for a coke and a breather at a little roadside bar…

…where the owner’s twin 5 yr old daughters, Annabel & Isabel…

…are fascinated by Sylvia’s digital camera and squeal with delight when they see their pictures on the screen.

We walk next door to the Boulangerie (bakery), where Nicole (how can you work in a bakery and be that thin?) sells us a couple of large circular loaves of bread...

...and – for a snack now…

…pain au chocolat…

We get back on the Adv – feeling oddly lethargic after such a sudden dose of butter and chocolate – and continue north.

We find a particularly pretty twisty section of road and Sylvia dismounts to take a few pics of me riding the bends…

Onward. We eventually start to follow the path of the Monn river for a while – the air down here in the valley is much heavier and the temperature higher, but we’re mostly riding in the shade and the river’s burbling along over its rocky bed at the roadside – it’s a pleasant way to spend a day…

We arrive in the town of St Saturnin and decide to stop for lunch at a roadside restaurant which has Ouvert pour dejeuner (open for lunch) signs put out on both sides of the road.

We park the bike and go to open the door – to find it locked…

…The owner opens the window above and explains that we’re too late for lunch.

It’s 1320.

Never mind, we get kitted up again, then ride over the ridge into the next valley and the town of St Amant, where the Café des Touristes (where else?) beckons us to its outdoor tables.

We have a splendid meal of entrecote et frîtes (steak & chips) – followed by a bowl of pistache et chocolat glace (ice cream)…

It’s very humid and oppressively hot down in the town. The roofers…

…are moving slowly and, on the other side of the street, parents are teaching their children how to play Boules in the shade of the trees…

Eventually we get suited up again and head north…

…and are soon in sight of our target for today…

Puy de Dome…

This extinct volcano, surrounded by several other ancient calderas, rises some 1500 metres from the plain, to the west of the city of Clermont Ferrand.

We buy a ticket from the booth (€4 pour un moto - €6 pour un voiture) and look at the weather forecast on the sign to our right, showing what the weather is like at the top – 1500m higher…

We ride the clockwise spiral route up to the top. For most of the route the view is hidden behind a series of bushes, but occasionally the vegetation thins and you can get a good look at the surrounding countryside.

Reaching the top, we park the bike and decide to hike the last few dozen metres up to the summit…

There is a huge transmitter assembly at the top of the hill - with a ruined Roman temple (to Mercury) halfway up.

On the way up, Sylvia sees a grandmother and her two grandchildren picking wild flowers…

…and is surprised and delighted when the little boy presents her with his bouquet…

Sylvia decides this is why Rallye 2 suits have that little pocket.

I take a photo of Sylvia and her new beau in front of a monument commemorating a spectacular feat of early aviation.

Apparently, on 7th March 1911, E. Renaux (they appear surprisingly formal in not mentioning his first name) took off in a Farman aircraft from Paris, with A.Senououe, and, after 5hrs and 10 mins flight time, landed atop the Puy de Dome. By doing so, they won the Grand Prix de Michelin. Quite how they landed on what is, to all intents and purposes, a mountain top, is not recorded…

Some brave souls are continuing in the spirit of Monsieurs Renaux & Senououe…

…they wheel around, getting lift from the thermals in complete silence. It must be like sitting in a deckchair on the edge of a cloud…

We have a look around, but the heat haze means that we’re not getting the best of the panorama.

We repair to the bar and, over a glass of iced water and a diet coke, watch a spectacular cumulus cloud building over Clermont Ferrand...

I decide that it’s time to go – that kind of cloud activity means only one thing in this part of the world – and we want no part of it.

Bettie provides us with directions for the quickest route back to St Austremoine and we set off.

Once we’re on the main A75 south, I crank the Adv up to 135kph and leave her there, slowing to about 110kph for the bends at the Couze de Chambon, before speeding up again...

I can see the sky darkening to the south and east – right where we are going – and I want to press on as fast as is safe, to get home.

We leave the A75 at Espalem and join the D588 for a few kilometres. I pass one of the ubiquitous camera units located on the left side of the road – thankfully angled (I hope) to catch a frontal shot of a speeding vehicle – if it was switched on, it definitely got a good picture of me as I went past at 30kph over the limit…

I’m soon on smaller D roads – the sky ahead looks like hell and I’m wondering if we’re going to make it back to the gîte before the heavens open.

Lightning now regularly splits the black horizon and the crash of thunder is easily audible above the engine noise and through our earplugs.

I come through the village of Ally, where we photographed the windmills this morning, and find that the road crew has been busy.

I ride through several kilometres of loose gravelled chip-seal, which concentrates my attention very effectively. Although hours before sunset, it’s now so dark that Sylvia – valiantly trying to take pics even now – finds that the camera automatically resorts to ‘flash’.

Bettie is now starting to get a little temperamental – I think her power cable may have worked slightly loose. I come to an unfamiliar junction and Bettie chooses that moment to switch off and on again – leaving me with no option for a few seconds than to guess the right route.

We ride down a series of switchbacks, the Adv singing in high RPMs in first and second gear as I use the engine to brake on the sometimes treacherous road surface. We feel the first few raindrops, huge cold and fat, hit us and the temperature drops sharply as the wind whips around the bike one way and then the other as the storm front moves in – only a kilometre to go – the back brake on the bike has failed completely – I’ve been riding it most of the way down the last few klicks – my foot travels straight down with no effect – no matter – nearly there.

Suddenly the house comes into view and I negotiate the descending right turn into the tight driveway and stop on the hard-standing outside the steps to the front door. I hold the bike upright whilst Sylvia gets off and grabs the tank bag from me – there’s just time to get the sheepskin covers off the seats and scramble up the steps into the dry, when the clouds burst.

It’s completely dark inside the house. We first get torrential rain - it turns the road outside into a river and water pours from the roof – then it starts to hail.

Big, nasty hailstones fall (here are a few pictured alongside a US Quarter, for size) and the noise makes conversation difficult.

That’s OK though, because conversation isn’t necessary. We get our riding kit off, open a bottle of Château-neuf-du-Pape and eat bread & cheese and listen to the night going wild.

After an hour and a half, the rain slowly peters out and the skies clear. Looking up the valley, the evaporation of the rain has created a rising mist that makes the scenery look like an illustration from Tolkein…

What a great day.
All text & original photos © Mike Oughton 2004 - 2015

MikeO screwed with this post 06-21-2007 at 08:54 AM
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Old 06-21-2007, 08:55 AM   #51
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O..... don't do that again.
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Old 06-21-2007, 09:48 AM   #52
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................they wheel around, getting lift from the thermals in complete silence. It must be like sitting in a deckchair on the edge of a cloud….......
A wonderfully descriptive line there Mike.
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Old 06-21-2007, 02:15 PM   #53
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Originally Posted by MikeO
After an hour and a half, the rain slowly peters out and the skies clear. Looking up the valley, the evaporation of the rain has created a rising mist that makes the scenery look like an illustration from Tolkein…

What a great day.
That is a teffific picture. Great timing on getting back ahead of the rain.

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Old 06-21-2007, 03:05 PM   #54
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14th June 2007

Today we decided to take a day off the bike. Sylvia walked in to Lavoûte-Chilhac to buy 2 litres of milk – and returned with 258 pictures…

So, in place of a ride report, here’s a (very) small selection of them…

All text & original photos © Mike Oughton 2004 - 2015
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Old 06-22-2007, 12:26 PM   #55
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If you come through Paris, give us a shout. The wife and i would be happy to have you over.

some photos from Mr.Head's wild ride with me a few weeks ago.

we are out in the country about 20 min west of Paris. Wife took this photo a few weeks back.

give me a shout (pm).



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Old 06-22-2007, 01:07 PM   #56
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i'll say it again
simply incredible

is Sylvia shooting the D200 from the pillion all this time?

how one earth is she able to control that large camera from ALL angles, at speed?
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Old 06-22-2007, 01:57 PM   #57
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15th June 2007

The dawn breaks on a dull and overcast day.

More thunderstorms bundled through the area yesterday evening and overnight, leaving a legacy of wet roads and rising mist. However, if this week has taught us anything, it’s that the weather can be completely different in the next valley.

So we get kitted up – Sylvia doing her best to imitate Bibendum (the Michelin Man), wearing her Rallye 2 as well as her oversuit.

We are on the road at about 0920 heading south and east towards the Allier river.

Sure enough, the cloud starts to clear as we ride through the comedy village of Longprat and we’re soon enjoying the cool but pleasant weather.

We ride a series of hills and valleys, eventually arriving in the hillside town of St Privat d’Allier.

As we’re riding into the town, I get a feeling I’ve been here before. Then I remember that I stopped here on my way to Gibraltar in 2003.

We stop opposite a statue, made from scrap metal, of La bête qui mangeait le Monde (The beast that ate the world). Apparently, between July 1764 and June 1767, an animal devoured over 100 people – exclusively women and children – in the area. There is a museum in Sauges-en-Gévaudan, which illustrates the history of the beast. Details of the exact species are sketchy on the pamphlets we read, so I'm tempted to think it was something other than a wolf. Such as a large pig. Or a macaw.

In the meantime, as he doesn’t seem to be interested in my earplugs…

…we decide to drop into the disarmingly named Kompost Café for a drink.

After a coke and a coffee, we get back on the bike and find that the road ahead is closed...

We came across a similar sign a few days ago and, on checking, found that we could get through without any drama. We therefore ride down the D30, only to find…

…that the Route is indeed Barrée.

Never mind – I set Bettie the task of finding an alternate route, but she decides to have her own comedy five minutes and tries to direct us down a series of overgrown footpaths. I ignore her and follow the Deviation (Diversion) signs back out of St Privat and we’re eventually delivered – after some very pleasant scenery…

…and several miles…

…to the other end of the road closure and can continue our route.

It’s now midday, so I suggest to Sylvia that we stop for lunch in the Hotel du Haute Allier.

We walk into the foyer and ask if the restaurant is open for lunch and are immediately shown to a table. The staff take our riding jackets and hang them up and it is immediately apparent that we are in an establishment of a different order than the café bars we have habitually been eating in.

Still – you only live once (unless you’re a Buddhist, I suppose) - so we open the menu and order a set meal priced at €28 (about £20 or $40). This is significantly more than we’ve paid for a meal thus far in France, but here’s what arrives over the course of the next hour and three quarters…

We eat it ALL!

After paying the bill – which suddenly seems like the bargain of the century - we both experience difficulty doing our jackets up. Clothing shrinkage during lunchtime is a phenomenon which deserves more research…

We get back on the Adv, which settles alarmingly under our new combined weight, and set off towards Grandrieu. The temperature’s cool and pleasant and I keep my visor open to keep me from slipping into a post-prandial torpor.

The excellent roads soon get the blood pumping, though, and the Adv is feeling smooth and well planted – perhaps the ‘Italian tune-up’ it got the other day trying to beat the storm home has done it some good.

We stop for a breather and take some pics overlooking the town of Le Nouveau Monde (the New World).

The railway line that runs through the valley here must be a spectacular trip. I make a mental note to enquire about it, should I end up staying near here again.

Further up the Allier Gorge, the river is showing the effects of the last few days of rain, as it runs over the rocks in full spate…

Sylvia tells me to bugger off again, so she can take pics of me riding back…

Eventually we reach the small hilltop town of Châteauneuf-de-Randon and decide it’s time to head for home…

Tonight is our last in the gîte – where has a week gone? There’s plenty of planning and packing to do – although neither of us feel we’ll need to eat until the middle of next week…

We stop at a supermarket in Langeac to top the tank off with Sans Plomb 98 ready for our morning departure and, on rejoining the main road, find ourselves following a slow moving vehicle…

As soon as he can safely do so, the driver signals us past and we carefully overtake and then set course for home.

There are still a few squalls wandering about like stray dogs – randomly attacking unsuspecting travellers – but this afternoon we’re fortunate and manage to avoid them all.

We arrive back at St Austremoine at about 1720 and start packing to leave in the morning…

All text & original photos © Mike Oughton 2004 - 2015
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Old 06-22-2007, 02:02 PM   #58
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Absolutely fantastic report and pictures! Thanks for taking the time to post for us!
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Old 06-22-2007, 02:05 PM   #59
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Great stuff, Mike - glad to see the master back in business

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Old 06-22-2007, 02:07 PM   #60
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Merci beaucoup Monsieur Mike!! Incroyablement beau!

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