The Journey - France
I spent the overnight crossing to Roscoff in a drug-induced haze, and struggled to the campsite in Huelgoat. Next day saw me in the tiny town of St Nicolas, twinned with Manorhamilton in Leitrim for some reason (but the food's way better in St Nicolas). I got wet on the way to Jugon les Lacs, but I began to find my rhythm as I ride towards St Malo, where Columbanus first came ashore. I meet a helpful old cyclist in another rainstorm, but I'm only focused on food, shelter and washing cycling shorts.
In my second week, I was shaken down for francs by a twelve-year old as I headed south towards the Loire. A lovely hotel in Nort-sur-Erdre restored my spirits, where I was encouraged by a winsome waitress wishing me 'Bon courage'.
Roads melted as the temperatures hit 37 degrees centigrade, and the gorgeous chateaux kept coming (I remember Villandry's gardens and Chinon most of all). The river retains some traces of earlier times with ruined amphitheatres and tiny Romanesque churches. My digestive system cracked under the pressure in la Varenne, and I accidentally stayed in corporate hell in Angers. Some blessed early-morning cycling moments, but I almost barged in on a couple having sex in the showers in a campsite in Montsoreau.
On a rest-day in Tours, I knelt at the tomb of St Martin in the crypt of the Basilica of St Martin, where Columbanus held an all-night vigil. The Tours to Orleans stretch offered more chateaux (Blois for time-travelling madness. Chenonceaux for beautiful unity), but the Carolingian church in St Germigny beats them all. I got soaked overnight in St Benoit, and outside a bakers in Sully, meet a mad Belgian who's riding his bike to South Africa
Central and Eastern France
Leaving the river, I accidentally bared my buttocks to an innocent young chambermaid in Bleneau. The hills increased towards Auxerre, and I slogged to the monastery at Vezelay in the now daily rain. Avallon was full of people attending a wedding and there was no room at the inn, so I listened to England beating Germany 5-1 tucked up in my tent.
I enjoyed a great rest day in cool and substantial Autun, except for the the worst meal on the trip - toxic sausage-type things. A trip to the Temple of a Thousand Buddhas turned out to be a rainy detour and I ended up in a roadside business hotel in a mining town. The next day into Chalon-sur-Saone the bike started creaking, but I was getting close to Columbanus' town of Luxeuil, so I wasn't going to stop now. In handsome Besancon, I fell for a baker, and in Vesoul I was the only diner of the night in a lakeside restaurant.
After 1600km I reached the stern statue of St Columbanus outside the church he founded in Luxeuil. The tourist office adopted me, and all was well as I clambered up to the cave Columbanus used for quiet contemplation. It was September 11th, 2001, and the first hijacked plane was crashing into the World Trade Center.