Monday, 10 September 2007

Day 18-19 – Pont-la-Ville – Langres – 53 km

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I have to report that once again we have been caught by a storm to beat all records since records began. Just as before (and this degree of repetition is perhaps even more disconcerting), we wave a jaunty farewell to our friends and because we are feeling so up and optimistic, give the leaden sky only the briefest of glances. Big mistake.

Heavy showers are bearable and we bear them for a good section of the route, because it is through relatively sheltered woods and sufficiently distracting landscape, but thunder and lightening are something else. Still, we battle on because the only accommodation we know of is in Langres, some 50kms from our starting point, with not even a café in between. We are in open, totally exposed countryside, the rain is hammering down like fists in a fight and then a flash of lightening tears the sky apart somewhere far too close over our heads. It’s almost prayer time, but then a roadside hut suddenly emerges out of the spray and we literally cycle straight in. Now it really is prayer time. Thank you, thank you, I won’t forget you for this. Hey, I might even stop reading Richard Dawkin's 'God Delusion' if you manage a few more miracles just when we need them.

We are all soaking, frozen and scared, including Vasco, who has been riding in the basket, sheltered by Paul’s cape, but in a sorry state nonetheless. We can only wait in our little hut and watch the sky outside. Half an hour later, the rain has abated and not long after the sun has the audacity to show itself – where were you when we needed you?

For all these reasons, we are taking a day out in Langres (staying in a not-half-bad hotel), which is probably best described as St Malo without the sea (copyright – Philippe Bernard). A magnet for tourists like us and what appears to be most of Holland and Germany. Better still, the sun is still up there, so we can do our washing, sort out the bikes (one brake pad already worn down to the metal), drink one or two beers too many, mooch round the maze of streets and then delve through the aeon's of history threaded in between, for example the life of Diderot who was born here and later became the philosopher and writer of l’Encyclopaede.

We travelled from Pont le Ville to Chateauvillain by pleasant minor roads, where our map told us to enter the forest via the Parc aux Daims. However, we were told by the Mairie that the Parc was now closed (we suspect it has been bought and “privatised”) and we would need to find a new route. This we did, picking some wonderful forest roads with wildlife all around (Philippe had told us the region was the richest in France for Sanglier, deer and wild orchids). The forest was truly huge with no signage and lots of opportunities to get dreadfully lost, but mercifully the GPS got us through. We had initially thought Langres too far to travel in one day, but perhaps thanks to the good forest roads and despite the torrential rain we made it and were assured of bed and liquid sustenance in the wide range of hotels. We are staying at the 2 star Hotel de Poste at the usual 2 star price - it is being refurbished and so I guess a price increase will follow. Nonetheless the owners are friendly and the accommodation fine, but we are in serious need of WiFi and so must go search elsewhere. I have also noted that there is an inexpensive Hotel Marmotte (40 Euro per room on the Dijon side of town, just outside the outer walls). It would be very difficult for walkers to cover the distance that we achieved from Pont la Ville, but we were unable to find any intermediate accommodation. However, if you are prepared to go “off-piste” there does seem to be a reasonable choice at Arc-en-Barrois.

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