Le Petit Tour De Manche

So, France? Is it any good for long distance cycle touring on hybrid bicycles? We had no idea, but we do now. Read on…

The BoysGoneBiking planned to cycle “Le Petit Tour De Manche” this year for our annual long distance tour. It’s a 280 mile circular route which takes in Brittany and Normandy in northern France, and the Jurassic Coast of Dorset in the UK. It sounded deliciously tempting on paper.

The official web site has you travelling from Poole in Dorset across the English Channel to Cherbourg via Ferry, down through Normandy, finally then turning west toward St. Malo. You then hop back onto the ferry to get to Weymouth, and along the last leg of the trip back eastbound along the Jurassic Coast to Poole to complete the tour.

Last year saw a major spanner being thrown into the works. The ferry stopped going to Weymouth. The circle of the route was broken. The web site now suggests you return to Poole rather than Weymouth but the ferry timings meant we could not fit the Tour in within our available time. A rethink was needed otherwise we wouldn’t be able to do it, and we were super keen to have a bash.

After a long hard look at all the problems, the only way we could get it all in to our window of opportunity was to do the route in reverse! We planned to start at Portsmouth, which is of course not on the route, and travel to St. Malo in Brittany on the overnight service to get us there early in the morning. This is where the tour would start for us. We would travel the route in reverse from St. Malo to Cherbourg on the continent, and then ferry back to Portsmouth to pick up the car. We would then reposition ourselves to Poole using the car, finally cycling the UK leg from Poole to Weymouth and ending the Tour at the old Victorian Clock on the Esplanade; the same route done slightly differently, but still the full tour. Result!

The weather forecast leading up to the start of the tour was terrible. Snow was falling in various parts of the UK with temperatures just above freezing. The weather in Northern France whilst not freezing was forecast to be wet and still chilly with a stiff breeze. Not a very promising start to the trip. We packed for the cold just in case and said a little prayer to the cycling gods for things to improve. We packed up the car using our Heath-Robinson in-car cycle rack (cost a whopping £6.80 to make!) and set forth down the M6 under leaden skies.

We made good progress and arrived in Portsmouth in plenty of time for our crossing. It was freezing cold and windy. That little demon of doubt was creeping in despite us both keeping a British stiff upper lip. We boarded the ferry and settled into our cabin, hoping things would be better by morning. After a few beers and a bottle of red, things were looking up.

We awoke to the dulcet tunes of the Brittany Ferry morning call tune – Troellenn by Dremmwels. We opened the window blind very gingerly to reveal blue skies, a bright sun and perfectly smooth seas. Things were looking up even more.

After a hearty breakfast we unloaded our bikes from the ferry and rode along the quay side, through the passport checks and out into St. Malo. We were here and the weather was beautiful.

After the customary photos we set off through the streets of St. Malo beneath its fortified city walls to try to pick up the trail. What a beautiful town. After a little bobbing around to get our bearings, we located a signpost which bore the Petit Tour De Manche sign. St. Malo is not the official start of the tour so there are no official start posts like we see on the UK Coast to Coast routes. In fact the Petit Tour De Manche is the smaller brother to the Tour De Manche, which is a circular tour nearly 1000 miles in length – too much for us! – which starts is Roscoe, so St. Malo is just another town on the route.

[photo outside ferry terminal]

We just wanted to pick up the trail at some point in St. Malo and then get on our way. We found the sign we needed on an unassuming traffic light post on a street corner. We were on track so off we went.

The first section of the tour winds its way back and forth through the quiet streets of St. Malo and along its shoreline before heading into the surrounding country side. Often you were taken along three sides of a square as you circumnavigated field boundaries, until finally popping you out over a ridge to reveal the incredible Mont Saint-Michel Bay with Mont Saint-Michel itself in the distance. It seemed a long way away, and we planned to get there for lunch!

[photo of Mont Saint-Michel bay]

Once down on to the coast, you hug the coast line right along the bay, passing through small sleepy villages. The first thing that struck us about cycling in this part of France was how quiet it was. There were literally no people or cars around. The cars that did appear were incredibly courteous to cyclists, slowing down and giving the right clearance when passing you. It was a refreshing change from the aggressive and selfish driving style of the average British driver. We were relaxing into the trip.

The route joined an old railway line which kept along the course of the coast until finally heading a little inland and crossing the River Couesnon which lead to the sea via the Barrage due Mont Saint-Michele, which was like a mini version of the Thames Barrier although perhaps not as grand.

We cycled along the road that leads to Mont Saint-Michel and over the new causeway which allows access at all times, irrespective of the tidal flow. The place was huge and full of tourists, which was to be expected I suppose. There was nowhere to lock up the bikes apart from underneath a wooden stair case, which we did and then sought out some lunch, lugging our heavy panniers with us. Everywhere was busy and full. It seemed to be mainly full of school kids on school trips and overweight tourists from cruise ships. The prices were also very expensive but this was to be expected as it is one of the major tourist sites in this area, and where there are tourists there are overinflated prices. We grabbed a baguette and a rather large lemon meringue pie each and ate outside on a table under the fortified walls. We desperately tried to keep in the sunshine to avoid getting too cold but struggled, so we soon left without looking around. We found refuge on some rocks outside the walls where we basked in the sun to warm up and watch the world go by. On another day, without bikes and luggage, we would love to explore more. It is an amazing looking place with soaring walls and towers clinging to the rocky outcrop.

[photo of Mont Saint-Malo]

We re-joined the trail and headed eastward towards our first proper stop for the night, Ducey. The route from Mont Saint-Michel to Ducey was largely small quiet country lanes, passing through villages, all perfectly manicured with no litter or graffiti. France is very clean and tidy, and it is clear that people take pride in their homes as they are all well-kept and maintained. We also crossed the border from Brittany into Normandy whilst cycling along this section of the route.

We rolled into Ducey in the late afternoon and found the hotel which was a converted water mill. We had completed 60 miles on day 1, passing through towns and villages, along coastal pathways and greenways created from disused railways. There was a real mixture of terrain and it was pure joy to cycle it. The view from our room showed the river in all its glory. We headed out into town and found a lovely restaurant serving great sirloins steaks and refreshing beer. We were tired but happy. It was a great end to a great days cycling.

[photo of the view from the room]

Day two and the view out of the window revealed more sunshine with a few wisps of cloud. The forecast was for a spot of rain later in the afternoon so we planned to get on the road to head out as soon as we could to keep ahead of it. A further 60 miles was the plan for the day, heading to a small town called Le Bény-Bocage, via Mortain and Vire. The route would turn north and head up towards the Normandy Peninsula; starting off on an old railway line made into a greenway for much of the way it would finally re-join country lanes near the end of the sector. The area we travelled through was very green and lush, and from the signage seen around the many farms it was clear that apples and pears and the resulting cider were big business in this area. The route travelled gently along the greenway, stopping only to cross larger roads as we criss-crossed through the area known as the Bocage Normand. All of the old station buildings were still there usually converted into a lovely looking home whilst still retaining their station like character. We cycled off the trail into a town called Sourdeval for lunch. It was about halfway between Mortain and Vire, and the only place open was the Zebra Café. The lunch menu consisted of one option: hamburger and chips followed by apple crumble. It sounded like a good option so we ordered. Thankfully the burger and home cut chips were great and the apple crumble very satisfying, as was the hot chocolate, but it was the cushions around the benches that really helped us out; day 2 and our posteriors were already feeling the result of too little training in the run up to this ride, so we lingered a while perched on piles of cushions as we packed in some calories. And so it was with full bellies and revived spirits (and bottoms!) that we cycled back to the trail to continue along the route north. Just out of Sourdeval the heavens opened with a sudden down pour. We took refuge in a small round tunnel which passed under the busy motorway. It was like hiding in a hobbit hole. Typically, just as we put on the last of our waterproofs, the rain stopped, so off they all came again. We re-joined the greenway about a half mile further down the road. It was on this greenway after lunch that we clocked up our 100th mile of the trip.

[photo of our 100th mile]

As we headed along the greenway, the skies progressively darkened and we feared the forecast heavy rainfall may arrive earlier than we had hoped. It did. All of a sudden the heavens opened and the rain lashed down. We ran for cover under a tall and thick leylandii bush so we were out of the rain, and munched on an energy bar to lift our spirits. The rainfall eventually slowed to a more manageable pace and we decided to go for it, otherwise we might never arrive at our next overnight stop in Le Bény-Bocage. We put on our wet weather gear again and headed out into the rain.

The rain eventually stopped after about twenty minutes of wet cycling, something that neither Mike or I like to get involved with normally, and we carried on along the greenway. This ended at the village of La Graverie and we re-joined the once again quiet roads. After passing through Carville, stopping at the overly large church for such a small village for a glucose sweet and a photo, the rain started again albeit at a slower pace. We were already pretty wet through following our earlier soaking so we carried on regardless.

[photo outside church in Carville]

The distance from Carville to our hotel in Le Bény-Bocage was only 1.5 miles but with a hill to climb, tired legs and sore rear ends, it felt like a million miles away. We finally arrived at La Maison De La Fontaine in Le Bény-Bocage around 7pm. It had been a long day for some reason. Probably the rain and the long lunch. Sandrine, one of the owners of the guest house, greeted us at the door and helped us get our bikes into the garage to store safely overnight, and then up to our room. It was a large room with two ensuite bathrooms! Great news as we both desperately wanted a bath to soak our aching limbs.

All soaked and changed into dry clothes, we headed down for dinner. It was one of those guest houses where everyone sits down for dinner at the same time around a huge table. We were sat with our fellow guests; about twelve of us in total. Nobody spoke English apart from Sandrine, and then only pigeon English, and our French was rubbish so we spent a surreal meal with everyone talking around us whilst we sat and chatted quietly together. Sandrine tried to interpret the conversation as best she could but it was difficult. We used our mobile phones to translate some of the conversation.  One of the guests spent about half an hour desperately trying to find the English word for Courgette. She looked rather down trodden when I announced the English word for courgette is courgette! That all said, Sandrine’s husband, Christoph, used to be a chef in Cannes, so he served an amazing six course fine dining type meal. We had horsderves first, followed by a cauliflower soup with truffle oil and fois gras – it might be cruel to produce but it does taste amazing. The main course was poached cod fillet with a tarragon and beurre blanc sauce, a stuffed courgette (hence the courgette conundrum) alongside a rich and tasty risotto. The next course was a cheese course with various soft and hard French cheeses and bread, which was followed by dessert which consisted of an orange sponge cake with real orange slices in the centre, drizzled with a delicious toffee sauce and cups of strong French coffee. The starter and main courses were served with a tasty local cider and the cheese course with a delicious local red wine. What an unexpected and amazing meal and all for only 24 euro! We’d thoroughly recommend staying here if you do this ride – the food was a highlight of the trip.

After a great night’s sleep and breakfast of the usual French fayre, we headed out to our bikes to find Mike had a puncture in his front tyre. So after some quick bike repairs, we were under way for day three.

[photo of La Maison De La Fontaine Guest House]

Day three started slightly overcast but no rain at least. The trail continued north and we had to pass under the huge Viaduc de la Souleuvre, which is a part of the disused railway track we’d been following, now given over to a terrifying looking ride where you are strapped into a sling and “fly” across the gap between the old viaduct pillars. These pillars are almost 205 feet tall. You can also swing from them or even bungee jump if you are so inclined. “Unfortunately” we needed to press on so it was not for us. It was a fast decent down the side of the valley, but what goes down had to go back up and it was so steep and rough that we had no choice but to push the heavily loaded bikes up the valley to the top. We were baking hot after the long push to the top, and then just to add to the discomfort, the sun came out. Not that I am complaining you understand. Plus there was a loo by the visitors centre at the top which is always a bonus to find when you are on the road.

[photo of Viaduc de la Souleuvre]

The trail then went back onto country lanes and passed through some very pretty country side. Unfortunately, these pretty roads also went up and down the contours of the surrounding hills, so we had a slow and tiring morning, mostly pushing up and then riding down the hills. We don’t do hills!

All this climbing was sapping our energy, combined with this being our third day in the saddle. The thing about long distance cycle touring is that you start each day with sore legs and bottoms, but more of an issue is that you also start the day with a lower energy reserve. With all the hills to climb  and only a light continental breakfast to fuel our efforts, our energy was used up very quickly and we started to fade relatively soon into the day. It is called “Bonking” in the cycling world, which is not as good as it sounds – it’s a bit like hitting “the wall” during a marathon. Your spirits dive, rational thought starts to leave you and you get to a point where you cannot cycle any further.

So limping along on oaty bars and glucose tablets the pace slowed to a crawl as the trail winded its way north, slowly towards Caretan, the destination for tonight. After a slow three hours on these hills we finally hit another greenway cycle track, which was a blessing as it was relatively flat being an old railway bed. Our plan was to get to Saint Lo for lunch but because of the strenuous morning we were behind schedule and running on empty. We made an executive decision to come off the trail early into Sainte Suzanne-sur-Vire, a small town just adjacent to the route. Like the previous day, there was only one place open that we could find. A creperie! We thought that would be a great idea to “carb up”. We both tucked into a savoury carbonara pancake – sounds weird but it was lovely even with a raw egg yolk on the top, although that could be something to do with the lack of energy at this point. We would have eaten a scabby dog! We also had another one; a sweet pancake for dessert. I had a banana split pancake which was huge and very tasty, and certainly hit the spot. Mike had something with bananas and rum in it which was flambéed. It was all very exotic for lunchtime.  A rest, a warm up in the cafe and full of sugar, bananas, and carbs, our spirits and energy levels soared. Reinvigorated by our adhoc lunch we headed back to the trail in glorious sunshine to see if we could catch up on ourselves. It was around 3 in the afternoon and with only 20 miles behind us; we had another 40 to do before we hit our rest stop for the night. We said nothing to one another, but put our heads down and started to cycle with renewed determination. It transpired in conversation in the bar later, that both of us doubted we would make the overnight stop that day, but in the true style of the British storming through Normandy we kept our heads down, our mouths shut, and got on with the job.

Once we hit Pont Farcy (don’t bother – nobody is home), the trail hit the valley floor by the side of the river Vire, which we followed for a good long section. This ran all the way up to Saint Fromond, a distance of 25 miles. The river side path was beautiful, with lots of flowers and wild life to see, and some amazing houses; some appeared like fortified houses or castles perched on the mountain sides as the walls of the valley rose up around you. All very dramatic. The sun was shining once again as we meandered with the river.

[photo of “castle” on the river side trail north of Saint Lo]

We met up with an organised cycle tour of Brits following their guide along the same route. It reminded us of a mother duck and string of ducklings following along – some getting distracted now and then along the way. They made their way past us as a brisk pace, with a few Bonjours and Hellos as they passed. They pulled ahead of us – a mixed group of men and women, mostly middle aged – and all carrying massive panniers on their bikes. We felt they were showing us up a little, so whilst we speculated that they didn’t have the best part of 150 miles “on their legs” consent was tacitly sought and wordlessly given, as the “BoysGoneBiking” picked up the pace a little. They’d gone around a bend and as our speed increased to close the distance, we rounded the corner to find them all stopped all over the track. Brakes! “Thought they couldn’t keep that pace up” we chortled to one another as we left them in a trail of our dust and once again slowed the pace to our usual long distance steady rhythm, now that no-one was watching. 10 minutes later and there was another round of “hellos” as the group shot past us once again with a nod and a knowing smile – we’d been rumbled! And so it continued for the rest of the afternoon – they would race ahead, and then stop for drinks and gasping – we would continue our rhythm – picking up the pace a little whenever we passed them again. It became a bit of a game, but it lifted our spirits on what had undoubtedly been the hardest day of the ride so far, with the prospect of “doing it all again tomorrow” as this was day 3 of 4 for the French stages. Before we knew it, we’d notched up another 30 miles or so.

The quiet country lanes and cute villages returned once the river side trail ended at Saint Fromond. We didn’t see the group again as they had apparently conceded defeat – fables of hares and tortoises sprung to mind.  There was a discrepancy between our GPS and the signage at one point, sending us in completely the wrong direction to where we expected to go, but we followed the signs anyway as they had been pretty accurate up to that point. The new direction took us along a new length of the trail which avoided a busy on road section! Hoorary – we hate busy roads. Looks like the GPS files on the official web site need to be upgraded to include this route change. So if you find yourself at this cross roads, follow the signs turning left rather than the GPS turning right.

The new section ended at a canal which lead us straight into Carentan. Once there we headed along the main road until we arrived at our third overnight stop – the Hotel Kyriad. This hotel had a bar so a refreshing pint of beer was quickly consumed as we cooled down. We had a welcome shower, nice meal with another beer or two, and then we both slept like logs until morning.

[photo under the sign at Carentan]

Day four was very sunny with blue skies up above but very cold – there had been frost overnight. The legs were not so joyous, feeling the strain of 3 days and 180 miles clocked up so far. And day 4 started with a sense of trepidation – we had made slow progress on Day 3 and arrived late – not that it really mattered. However, day 4, and that ferry was leaving with or without us at 5:15pm – if we missed it, we couldn’t complete the whole challenge, and as this was a charity ride for the Joshua Tree – a remarkable charity that supports children and their families fighting Cancer – failure was not an option. So we’d arranged with the hotel to have breakfast an hour early which was very nice and included sausages and eggs – it might sound like small things, and that we’re being typical “Brits abroad” but you need protein when doing these long distance cycle rides – a couple of croissants in the morning simply doesn’t provide enough fuel for a ride like this.

So we saddled up by 7.30am in bright sunshine and a “character forming” 5oC.

We cycled back down the main road to where we had left the trail the following evening, and it seemed the signs wanted to send us in the wrong direction. We thought we were getting lost for the first time! What we think it was doing was sending us around the centre of town, past the bars, restaurants and tourist shops in the hope that any cyclists on the route would stop and buy something. We couldn’t buy anything anyway as in the typical French way, everywhere was closed. After too much seemingly unnecessary cycling around Carentan we finally hit the greenway heading west, which eventually curved north. It was another disused railway line. Today was not the day for getting lost! We headed along the greenway with renewed enthusiasm, to make sure we caught the ferry back to dear old Blighty.

The greenway curved and twisted its way along, all very flat apart from the odd road crossing where we went down to the road and back up again. Flat terrain was very welcome after 180 miles.

The sun blazed and the temperature started to rise quickly. We started shedding layers as our renewed brisk pace saw us munching through the miles. Passing through the village of La Haye-du-Puits saw us clock up our 200th mile. We took photos of our achievement in glorious sunshine. We’d somehow managed to cycle 25 mile rather quickly for us and had only 35 miles of the French part of the tour ahead of us now for the day; it all seemed rather possible to do having got this far. Noting it was “coffee time” Mike cast a look around rather hopefully for a suitable cafe …… but as the shops and cafes were shut (again) we celebrated with a glucose sweet!

[photo of our 200th mile]

We arrived in Bricquebec at lunch time. It was quite a sizable town compared to a lot of the other towns we have been to on the tour, and was very handsome looking. Bold buildings stood adjacent to the main street and everything was very clean. Men were cooking chickens in huge mobile barbeques at the road side. It must be a local speciality as there were several along the main high street. We found a café with a nice looking menu. It was Sunday, and despite being open and displaying the menu, no food was being cooked today. Just drinks. So we went over the road and found another café. Expecting the same greeting, we were pleased to see a couple inside the café tucking into steak and chips. We sat outside in the sunshine and gobbled our way through a gammon steak and chips. It was really tasty. The couple eating came over to us and pointed out their pannier laden touring bikes. They were heading for the same ferry and left to get back on the trail after a short discussion on the best route and likely terrain.

We called into a petrol station to pick up some bottled water, but, of course, it was closed so we carried on regardless. We picked up the trail again on the other side of Bricquebec, and kept on pressing northwards towards Cherbourg.

The trail remained on the greenway for a good section of the 35 miles ahead, finally ending onto the usual quiet country roads. We saw virtually no traffic at all on the roads. There were some climbs on the roads but they were not too arduous even with tired legs.

The miles rolled away beneath our wheels as the coast got ever nearer. We climbed a steep sandstone ridge just outside Cherbourg, zig zagging our way up the steep gradient. As the legs started complaining we crested the hill and were rewarded with our first glimpse of the sea, as a wide, blue vista opened up before us. We were nearly at the port and we had plenty of time to spare.  We talked of cafes and chilling by the waterfront waiting for the ferry – possibly with cake!

The road down to Cherbourg itself falls off the top of the ridge, so it is a long and much welcome downhill glide. On the way down to Cherbourg we came across a beautiful country house which was picture post card. It had a moat and a huge crunchy gravel forecourt. It was a beautiful looking place against the back drop of a deep blue sky.

[photo of the fortified house]

We carried on down the hill and hit the main road though Cherbourg, which wound its way down to the ferry port, where we arrived with two hours to spare before the ferry departed. The picturesque waterfront we had expected was not to be seen – at least not in this area – simply a very industrial looking port. We found a greasy spoon van in the ferry port car park run by a Scottish lady and grabbed a drink, whilst the over-weight lorry drivers quaffed coffee, smoked cigarettes and gobbled down fatty bacon butties into their huge swollen bellies. Heart attacks waiting to happen. They all made me feel quite thin.

We boarded the “Normandy Express” which was a fast catamaran craft of the type affectionately known as vomit comets!  Luckily the sea was dead flat so there was no vomiting on the crossing. We settled down for a quick bite to eat and a snooze. We’d covered 235 miles by the time we got on the boat, and with a few hours rest during the crossing we were feeling that the 280 mile total was achievable.

We arrived back in England to typically and predictably freezing cold weather  with a blustery wind, but at least there was no rain. It is amazing how only a few short miles across the English Channel the weather conditions could change so dramatically.

We found the car, loaded up the bikes and all the gear and drove over to Poole to check into our final nights’ accommodation.  It was getting late so we grabbed a kebab on the way into the hotel and ate it in the room, although we did find time to pop down to the bar for a beer or two in the name of planning as we transferred the final leg of our trip to the Ordinance Survey map we had left behind in the car. Any excuse for a beer!

We had a good night’s sleep – we could probably have slept on a bed of nails at this point – and a proper English breakfast which set us up for the last 45 miles across the Jurassic Coast.

We set out into a leaden grey morning with a strong headwind, conditions which would stay with us for most of the day.

[photo of Parkstone Bay in Poole]

We picked up the official trail on the sea front and headed east and then south around the circumference of Parkstone Bay and into Sandbanks. We knew we were back in the UK as, apart from the weather, the terrible driving and general disregard for any other road users was blatantly apparent.  Oh, how we’d missed the UK roads – I don’t think!

Sandbanks is famous for its overly expensive luxury houses along the coast road. They are all amazing looking properties with glass balconies and posh cars on the drive. I’m not sure they are worth the millions that people pay for them but that is probably because I could never afford one. We kept on through Sandbanks until we arrived at the chain ferry crossing which would take us to Studland which is a Nature Reserve and is managed by the National Trust.

We boarded the “Bramble Bush Bay” chain ferry and took the four minute crossing to Shell Bay on Studland. The trail continued down the toll road (cyclists are thankfully exempt from payment) until it takes a sharp right hairpin bend onto rough trails more appropriate for mountain bikes than hybrids, and I certainly would not fancy my chances on a road bike.

The signage so far on the UK part of the Petit Tour De Manche was a bit tenuous, and where it was present it was ambiguous. We reached a fork in the road and the sign did not indicate clearly which way to go. Of course, given the choice of two directions, we chose the wrong one and ended up on a trail so rough and non-existent that we had to turn back. We’d obviously taken the wrong turn. We had travelled 235 miles in France and didn’t get lost once – even when we thought we may have been – and yet a few miles into the UK sector and we had no idea where we were.

[photo of Mike lost in Studland]

We back tracked and eventually located the correct trail. The trail lead us down a poorly maintained track and into a field full of mud where there were deep gouges in the path ready to whip your bike away from under you, and large cows with huge looking horns. We hoped the locals were friendly.

After slowly plodding down across these fields and through gates, avoiding huge boulders sat in the middle of the trail offering certain injury, we finally came upon some roads. Whilst busy by French standards, they were a welcome relief from the off-roading we had just endured. Then the rain started.

We pushed on towards Wool. The hills in Dorset are rolling hills due to the fact (so Mike tells me) that glaciation never got this far south. This means that you cycle up and down, up and down. Whilst the hills are not large or particularly steep, they do keep on coming one after the other, after the other, after the other. After five days of continuous cycling, the legs and back sides do find it hard to keep on climbing. Thoroughly tired and low in morale at this point, we just crossed the railway lines near to Wool station and made a left turn when “Rosie’s Tea Room” appeared with a huge sign “Cyclists Welcome”. We couldn’t let this opportunity pass us by so we stopped at Rosie’s Tea Room and ordered two cream teas. They served us huge scones with clotted cream and jam plus a pot of proper tea. It was lovely.

[photo outside Rosie’s Tea Room]

Reinvigorated and with the end tantalising close at 15 miles away, we pressed on through Moreton and West Stafford on country lanes which passed by pretty woods and fields, as we headed on towards Dorchester – the route meanders on winding small lanes in order to avoid the main A roads. We picked our way around the outskirts of Dorchester as our track turned south and headed back to the coast and towards Weymouth. The final push was upon us. The busy A354 was unpleasant but luckily there was a cycle path adjacent to it so we managed to keep off the road itself. As we turned south the heavens opened with aplomb and we received a thorough soaking. The wind was a south westerly so it was now full on in our faces blowing the rain into us all the way. The wind was about 20 mph so it took a lot of effort to keep on going, but keep on going we did all the way down the new road until we crossed over a road bridge and joined the old road into Weymouth.  The Petit Tour De Manche signs were still there if you looked hard enough and we followed them all the way into the back of Weymouth, across the river Wey and on down to the esplanade on the Sea front. Then our end point appeared. The Victorian Clock on the esplanade. We cycled along the front until we got to the clock, and suddenly, it was all over. We’d made it. Feelings of euphoria, relief and pride swept over us as we broke out the French and British flags for photos by the clock.

We met up with Roy Griffiths of Signpost Cycling whose wife Jacqui Gisbourne had a big hand in developing the Petit Tour De Manche off the back of the Tour De Manche. He took some photos for us at the clock to commemorate our achievement but we couldn’t hang around too long as the weather was still terrible and we were getting cold. We headed over the road to the King Edward fish and chip restaurant for a hearty feed before we caught the train back to the car at Poole – a fitting end to the biggest tour we had ever attempted.

So, France? Is it any good for long distance cycle touring on hybrid bicycles? It sure is!

Would we do it again? You bet, but give us time to recover first.

Should you attempt Le Petit Tour de Manche? Well if you want a long distance ride, through fabulous countryside, with some awesome views and great food along the way with a huge sense of achievement and adventure and memories that will last a lifetime – then you definitely should!

[photo and Ant and Mike at the Victorian Clock]

The final scores:

Miles cycled – 280

Calories burned >12,000

Calories consumed – probably a lot more than that if we’re honest J

Pedal revolutions 140,000!

Money raised for the Joshua Tree – £1200+ and still climbing ….