Rhône Cycle Route – 2

Reaching southern France

We have had a good 12 days of riding along the Rhône route. The terrain has leveled out since our big descent on the first day from the Furka Pass, but still offers the occasional climb.

Cycling through the Valais valley in Switzerland was delightful—good roads, good signage, good weather, and beautiful scenery. Another advantage of being in Switzerland is that stores and restaurants tend to be open all day—no need to work around lunch hours or Sunday closings, which can be a challenge in France.

It was a milestone to reach Lake Geneva on day 3, but the ride along its southern shore of the lake was hard: much of it along a busy and narrow highway; pretty intense riding, although the drivers were good about giving us the space we need. In some places the route detoured through little villages, which was a welcome reprieve.

Saturday a week ago we reached Geneva. I’ve discovered I really enjoy rolling into big cities by bike. It surprises me how easy it often is: a trail, a few turns and suddenly, there you are in the middle of the city. It feels like sneaking in via a back-door.

We continue to have good weather: no rain and temperatures in the mid twenties. The last few days we’ve also benefitted from the Mistral, the famous (or infamous) wind that blows DOWN the Rhône. Yes, we have enjoyed a lovely tailwind the last four days making our two 80 km days pretty easy.

The cycling has been uneventful, which is a good thing I suppose. We have simply been enjoying the cycling and the country side, which varies from vineyards to agricultural fields, some industry and power stations, old villages and many hills with old fortifications.

Today we arrived in Avignon—another surprise entry into the city via a path along a little canal (more like a ditch) and suddenly, there we were. Tomorrow we head to Arles and then down to the Camargue on the Mediterranean where we’ll spend one or two days celebrating the end of our Rhône adventure.

Our original thoughts were to continue from the Mediterranean along the Canal Du Midi to Bordeaux, and then up the Atlantic coast to Angers, where we started August 1. However, we (especially me, Inge) feel we’ve seen enough canals and rivers for a while, so instead we’ll head back to Avignon next Sunday and catch the train to Strasbourg first thing Monday morning. From there we’ll make our way back to the Netherlands, via Luxembourg and the Ardennes, where we will continue cycling but combine it with visiting friends and family.

Geneva

 

Huge wooden sculpture in Evain

 

Street by Lake Geneva in Evian.

 

Flags on a street in Geneva

 

Chateau on the Rhône,
Red tile roofs in Lyon.
Roman amphitheater in Lyon.
Bridge over the Rhône.
Evening in Valence.
Setting off in the morning
Crossing the Rhône again.
Many ways to tour by bike.
Chateau Neuf de Pape

Speyside Way

Today we completed day 4 of our Speyside Way walk. We have two more days to go and then our walking in Scotland will be over. It is going by quickly.

Like the Great Glen Way, the Speyside Way is an easy six-day, (mostly) flat walk, that will take us to the town of Buckie on the North Sea coast. The average daily distance about 20 km.

After a 45 minute train ride from Inverness to Aviemore last Thursday, and a quick stop at an outdoors store where Roy was finally able to buy replacement tips for his poles, we set off.

The route takes us more or less along the Spey river and often follows old rail lines. Many railways were decommissioned in the early ‘60s, rails removed and stations abandoned. Since then, and I assume with tourism on the rise, some have been converted to walking routes, and some of the old station platforms or buildings have been restored. In some places, such as the line from Aviemore to Boat-of-Garten, the railways have been restored and historic steam trains operate as tourist attractions several times a week.

We are enjoying the walking and feel lucky with the weather—cloudy with sun and only the very occasional shower, most of which only last about 5 minutes. Much better than I had expected in Scotland in April.

Below are some pictures from the last few days.

Endless landscapes full of sheep

An odd grumpy Scottish walker in a kilt
Fishing in the Spey

Scissors gate
Whisky country

Old railroad bridge
Restored railway station
Trail beside the Spey
Very good lunchtime pub stop
Modern distillery
Wild flowers in the forest
Steep steps to street of our B&B!

Starting the Great Glen Way

After spending an enjoyable day off in Fort William last Thursday, we set off on the Great Glen Way, which runs from Fort William to Inverness.

The Great Glen is a different type of walk, much more “pedestrian” as one crusty old hiker described it, and indeed we had to shift mental gears to appreciate the much flatter valley walk after 9 days in the Highlands. The walk goes through a valley and follows a series of lochs connected by the Caledonian canal, but the easier walking does leaves more room for the mind to wander and reflect.

The weather continues to be reasonable—cloudy with showers, but no constant rain. Yesterday, day 4, from Laggan to Fort Augustus, was glorious with warm weather and sunshine. Fort Augustus was a good place to enjoy it—a small town where five locks form the major centre and source of entertainment. Like many others, we enjoyed a pub lunch at one of the picnic benches by the canal and watched a big cruise boat go through the locks.

Today we had a short walk—only about 12 km—to Invermoriston. Looking at the forecast, which predicted 60% chance of rain by 11 a.m., we decided to leave early and stay ahead of the rain. We had the option of a high- or low-route and chose the high-route. It was described as more scenic with great views of Loch Ness. We are glad we did; it was absolutely worth the extra climbing.

Finally, apologies for initially posting the pictures without any text; the post got published by accident. Blogging from an phone can be a challenge!

Starting the Great Glen Way
Walking through a sheep field near Fort William
Steam train, the Jacobite, still in daily service from Fort William to the west coast.
Tow path on the Caledonain Canal
Neptune’s Staircase, a series of eight locks at Banavie
An historic two-part swing bridge across the canal
Roy gets to operate the swing bridge
Hauling a boat that wouldn’t start through the lock at Gairlochy
Wet morning starting out from Gairlochy
Sunshine!
Waterfalls running from the rain
Emptying tiny pebbles from boots along the rail trail
Looking back down Loch Oich
Series of five locks at Fort Augustus
Boat in the lock at Fort Augustus

Looking back at Fort Augustus

Photographing Loch Ness
Loch Ness
Wind shelter on the high route above Loch Ness
The high route
Trees on the high route

WHW Days 1-3: Milngavie to Rowardennan

Today we walked day 3 the official WHW and so far we’ve only had a couple of brief light showers. The skies are grey, as you can see in the photos, but the visibility is good, so we are pretty happy with the conditions.

The walking feels good. It was fun starting in Milngavie (pronounced Mull-guy). When we walked to the start of the trail we saw several other hikers appear. It reminded us of the pilgrims setting out on the Camino in St. Jean Pied de Porte. When we asked another hiker to take our picture at the obelisk it turned out he and his girl friend were Dutch. They’re doing the walk too, but are camping! Brave souls to be backpacking and camping in Scotland, but we’ve met several other (mostly 20-something) folks who are doing the same thing.

The trail has been good and the scenery is lovely, despite the grey skies, and the walking comfortable.

The first night, in Drymen, we met three other hikers at the B&B, a couple from Fairbanks, Alaska and a guy from Spain. There are also several German, Swiss, and French folks on the trail. Along the way we’ve also met several locals walking their dogs and are able to get our “dog fix” in on daily basis.

Yesterday was a cold and windy day. The temperature was around 8 degrees, but with the wind chill it felt like only 1 or 2 degrees, as you can tell from the picture of Roy. The last part of yesterday’s walking was climbing Conic Hill, near Balmaha, and I sometimes had to use my poles to not get blown over. As soon as we got to the top, we saw a crowd of day tourists walking up from the other side. Going up Conic Hill is a popular day trip from Balmaha, which is accessible by road. It was a funny contrast to go from a quiet trail with only 3 or 4 fellow hikers, to being in a swarm of tourists.

After our first day, Milngavie to Drymen, which was 20 km, we’ve had two easy days of only 12 km each. Tomorrow will be 22 km again. It’s been nice to walk at relaxed pace and to take it easy, but we are both looking forward to a longer day again, even if the guide describes the stretch as the most strenuous part of the WHW. We’ll let you know how it works out!

 

Start of the West Highland Way

 

Hikers on the trail.
Oaks
Snow on the hills.
Cute sign approaching the beech tree cafe.
It is lambing season. They are both timid and curious.
Gate—sometimes a dozen a day.
Chatting with a dog-walker
Conic Hill
“It’s cold wet and windy!”
Day hikers ascending Conic Hill
Tourists
Island, Loch Lomond
Waymarker

Day 85 & 86 Texel and Heading South

Wednesday, August 5 and Thursday, August 6
Wednesday morning we headed to the ferry that would take us to Texel with 20 minute ferry ride. Although we were one of the first cyclists to show up for the 9:30 sailing, we sure weren’t the only ones! Most cyclists were Dutch, but we spotted an English speaking group and went over for a chat. They were mostly Aussies and Americans and part of an organized “Bike & Barg” tour. It was fun talking to them and hearing about their experience of cycling in Holland.

Once we reached Texel our first stop was at the Zegel Fietsenwinkel (Zegel Bike Store), which has been in the family for 4 generations. Later in the day we met for a very nice visit with the one and only other Inge Zegel in the world. Inge had contacted me a few years ago via Facebook wondering if we’re related; as it turns out she is a very, very distant cousin of mine. It was fun to finally meet her in person.

This morning we cycled from the hotel to the dyke in Den Helder to start the last stretch of the North Sea Bike Route which will take us south right along the coast. It’s been a good day of riding with warm weather, flower bulb fields that still had some bloom, beautiful dunes, good food, a nice visit with friends, and a comfortable B&B for the night. Only two more days to go!