Anyway, we arrived at Le Havre at 8 am in very thick fog and I was disappointed that I couldn't see the Pont de Normandie as I crossed it - just the soggy tarmac a few metres in front of me. This fog continued till I got as far as Bernay, where I thawed out with an excellent coffee and beatiful (free) choux pastry puffs with crystallised sugar. Then I continued as the sun came out and the weather improved to stay at a Logis de France in Chenonceaux just east of Tours.
I had no fixed route or destination but did want to see the Millau bridge, and as always to avoid motorways and major roads. This is easy in France as the D (Departmental) roads are of excellent quality and virtually traffic free. This shows one of the long straights looking in one direction, this in the other - straight to the horizon both ways. These straights are usually joined by well cambered sweeping curves, often dropping into small river valleys, which are a joy to ride. I don't know whether the straights are due to Napoleon or the Romans, but they're certainly a contrast to the rolling English road made by the rolling English drunkard as Chesterton put it.
I've never seen the point of GPS on a bike but prefer to use the IGN 1:1,000,000 map which has the whole of France on one sheet, and is to my mind far clearer than the Michelin equivalent. Although it doesn't show the smallest country lanes, you get a good impression of the quality of the roads from the colour coding and width. My usual method is to imagine a line in my approximate direction, then to identify the towns and villages en route - this is usually easier to see on the road signs than road numbers, although the kilometre stones beside the road show the road number for confirmation. Using a map gives a good idea of the overall shape of the country, frees you from fixed targets and allows you to take that interesting side road. It's easy enough on a bike to stop by the side of the road just before the junction / roundabout to check the route.
The next day took me down over the Plateau de Millevaches (which apparently means 1000 springs rather than 1000 cows), then rising into the foothills of the Massif Central to stay at a lakeside hotel west of Aurillac. I never book in advance, but wait till mid-afternoon and start looking about for somewhere to stay. The Logis de France guide is a good standby but France is full of reasonable quality hotels at excellent prices, and I've never had any trouble finding a bed and an (often great) meal. I generally stop for lunch at small café/restaurants, where the plat / menu du jour is generally excellent value - €12 or so will often get you four courses.
The next morning dawned fine and clear for the run down to Millau, which was another excellent ride across the Causses which is a high limestone plateau intersected by ravines. Of course, I wanted to ride across the bridge which meant joining the autoroute (and a toll of €3.50!) However, traffic was light and the ride across the bridge was stunning, as you can see right down into the valley with its tiny houses and roads. Well worth it. This is a view of the bridge from above Millau
And this looking towards the Chaos of Montpellier.
At the southern end of the bridge I left the autoroute to drop down to the edge of Millau then into the Gorge du Tarn. Lots of people rave about this, but neither on my first visit about 10 years ago on a Norton Commando, nor this time, have I enjoyed it. It's far too crowded with tour buses (mostly with GB plates), the food is overpriced and fairly dismal, and the road itself, although spectacular, feels to me claustrophobic.
I was pleased to leave the gorge at St-Enimie and take the high road
to Mendes and the Lozere region, where I stayed at a lovely auberge for a total cost of €50 for 4-course dinner, bed and breakfast!
As madame waved me off from the auberge the next morning, a few preliminary rolls of thunder echoed across the hills, and the roads were damp with previous rain.
As I climbed into the Auvergne, the thunder became more frequent and heavy showers started, even though I was above much of the cloud
and the Tiger was still clean at this point.
But it wasn't to last. As I turned westward, the thunder became almost continuous, with lightning flickering around and torrential rain mixed with deluges of hailstones. I struggled into a café for lunch to wait it out for an hour or so. When I came out, the rain had temporarily stopped but we were now in thick cloud, which after a few minutes was again replaced by rain and hail. I decided to stop for the night early in St Nectaire and take photos of the hailstones from my window.
The next day broke damp and cold, but not actually raining. I splashed off towards the west, heading towards Mont Dore,
but the clouds were thickening again ahead so veered off towards the north-east with a vague intention of heading towards Auxerre, an area I didn't know. But a stop at a café and a quick browse of the paper showed that the weather was turning for the worse in that direction, so I looped off west again and ended up in Argentan sur Creuse. I'd bought a book by Richard Binns at a charity shop a couple of months previously , and he'd highly rated le Cheval Noir in the town - this had, for some reason stuck in my mind so I decided to stay there. Big mistake. The clientele was almost exclusively British, of the loud whinging variety and all bearing their Daily Mails, and the food was more like you'd find in a second rate gastropub in the UK. A real disappointment, and expensive to boot. I'll keep the Binns book but use it as a guide to places to avoid…..
On leaving Argentan to the west, I noticed a little sign pointing to a wooden covered bridge - "Unique en France"
Perhaps a model for the Bridges of Madison County? Nearby was this chateau.
The route was then up to the south bank of the Loire, which I crossed at Saumur
Then continued northward to stay at a riverbank hotel at Noyent sur Sarthe. The next day was an easy trip up to Caen, but as I'd missed seeing the Pont du Normandie on the way out I couldn't resist a detour to cross it in both directions.
Then a good-value Logis de France in Ouistreham with an excellent meal - my only pre-booked accommodation as I was on the early Brittany Ferries boat the next morning.