French Postcards 5

Bernie and I are creatures of contrasts. We will, on such a holiday, take a train some thirty kilometres to visit a highly recommended canalside fish restaurant.

Then, having taken our bikes on said train (an experience in itself), the meal over, and hopefully noted in our little book of highlights, we will spend the next six hours struggling back along the canal path in deadly temperatures!

I don’t understand it either, but it’s what we do…

If we were being unkind, I could say that the ville of Bram is a one-horse town, as the cowboys used to say.

From our very limited perspective it had one outstanding feature, which our hotel receptionist had pointed out to us: a restaurant called the Ile aux l’oiseau: island of the bird(s).  We never did get to the bottom of name’s origin as the quality of the food prevented further discussion for some time after it was served…

Bernie is allergic to much of what comes out of the sea – but not tuna! One sight of my freshly served giant tuna steak and her paltry cheese salad was forgotten.

We ended up sharing both, and both of us left the table stuffed, and wondering at the wisdom of then proceeding to cycle twenty-nine km ‘home’ in dry heat of thirty degrees plus…

Headwater, who operate these cycling (and walking) holidays know their client base well. Bouncing and bumping over an infinite number of tree roots, along the course of nearly two hundred miles of canal path is going to tire the appetite of the most avid two-wheeled explorer.

To compensate for this, they take you off the Canal du Midi at regular intervals to experience the villages and vineyards of the adjacent countryside along the, ultimately tedious, line of the canal- whose original function was to ferry cargo and not to entertain tourists…

The first of our diversions was to a village named Villesequelande. It comprised a very pleasant and tree- shaded centre which housed the local town hall (Mairie), a Knights’ museum and a Spanish lady cyclist, with muscles like elegantly knotted ropes, standing in the large basin of the public fountain, cooling herself, as we wished to.

As she was already calf-deep in the deliciously cool water I removed my helmet and ventured to stand on the lip of the fountain. I didn’t want to remove my cycling shoes and socks, as they take a while to bed in on a hot day.

Smiling in what I hoped was a winning way, I profered my ‘scalp-scraper’ which sits like a liner between my helmet and the endangered hair on the top of my head. This part of my anatomy burns to a crisp at the merest sight of bright sun.

The scalp-scraper has two functions: to prevent cycling sunburn through the slits of the helmet; and to provide the most delicious cooling at such stops, when it can be rinsed in fresh water and put back on.

Unfortunately, the lurid and fluorescent colours in which it is fashioned should not be part of any sixty-two year old’s wardrobe…
I began to get that sinking feeling when the said elegant and muscular Spanish cycliste grinned up at me from the waters. She took my profered scalp-scraper, and, showing more knowledge of its strength than I had, proceeded to hold it under the flowing spout and fill it with at least two pints of icy water.

Completely out-faced, I smiled and nodded before inverting it over my head and taking a shower… which would have gone well but for the fact that I was still wearing my cycling sunglasses, which disappeared off my nose and into the waters of the fountain.. Cool? Er,no…

Bernie had a much more elegant approach to the whole thing, as you can see, below.

Today we leave Carcassonne. It has bee our base for four days. Technically, we will be ‘homeless’ until we reach Homps, our next stop along the mighty Canal du Midi.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham 2016


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