What to do when you turn 50 by Nicole Stewart
Last year, aged 49, I was pondering on a challenge to celebrate my 50th birthday in 2012.
Much, I believe, to the horror of certain friends, I decided I wanted to cycle from our home in Egginton to a little village called Massat deep in the French Pyrenees. And I wanted to do it with some ‘best friends’ who subsequently wished, no doubt, that they didn’t have that title!
Anyway, they were persuaded and a team of seven of us including three other Derby Tri members (Paul, my husband and Kathy and Hugh Carmichael) set off from Egginton on May 18th amidst a sending off party largely courtesy of Kathy’s village friends.
We took with us a rotund friend, not known for his sporting prowess, but very able to drive our car and carry all our bags. What a godsend.
So, off we went. Came across some cycling ladies in Barton (near the open water swimming lake) who asked us where we were going. “The Pyrenees” said Paul but we’ve only done 16 miles so far. They were just off to the tea shop for a cuppa – very sensible. And so we carried on with many similar conversations en route (in English and French) but thankfully the miles gone got bigger and the miles to go, less.
Having spent night 1 at the YHA in Stratford upon Avon, we then had a fantastic days ride down to a friend’s house outside Andover. Whilst we all expected the French part of the journey to be the most spectacular, this day was stunning taking in the Cotswolds and seeing how the ‘posh’ people live.
With the weather a bit dull and cold, but basically dry, we made it to Portsmouth to catch the overnight ferry to St Malo. Northern France greeted us with the French variation of English drizzle but the Gite, basically a chateau, that was our night stop, was fab and very welcome.
The following morning it was wall to wall sunshine and blue skies and that’s how it stayed for the rest of the trip. How lucky were we? Our route crossed Normandy, went through the Loire, then the Massif Central, then the Tarn and then into the Pyrenees. The trip was stunning. We stayed in some awesome places (never spending more than about £25 per head per night) and a couple of grotty ones. Word of advice – don’t think the French YHAs are anything like ours – they’re not!
We climbed up some big hills (I love them). They kicked in in the Massif Central and obviously rose to their peak when we hit the Pyrenees. The final climb was the Col de Port at 1249 metres. From there it’s downhill all the way (about 15 minutes) to Massat, fuelled, of course, with a couple of celebratory beers from the restaurant at the top.
We were aiming on averaging around 60 odd miles per day but, in the end, the average was just over 70. We saved the longest day till last – about 97 hilly miles. The grand total was 935.62 miles and it took us 13 days. Here’s the itinerary should you wish to have a go at something similar yourself, some pics, and a link that shows it all on Google Maps. It was so brill, we are now plotting next year’s adventure – across the bottom of France from the Atlantic Spanish border to the Italian Alpine border.
Day 1 - Egginton – Stratford upon Avon
Day 2 - Stratford to Stoke, near Andover
Day 3 - Andover to Portsmouth (overnight ferry)
Day 4 – St Malo to St Denis de Gastines
Day 5 – St Denis to Cheville
Day 6 – Cheville to Tours
Day 7 – Tours to Levroux
Day 8 – Levroux to Gueret
Day 9 – Gueret to Ussel
Day 10 – Ussel to near Aurillac
Day 11 – Aurillac to Rodez
Day 12 – Rodez to Castres
Day 13 – Castres to Massat
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