Freddie and I set off from Torquay on 17 August, riding to Plymouth in the rain to catch the ferry to Santander in Spain. This initial 35 miles was certainly the most dangerous as UK drivers tend to be less courteous to cyclists than their European counterparts.
Arriving in Santander at lunchtime, the first 70 miles proved challenging with a three hour long climb into thick clouds and a precipitous drop beside the narrow road. Near the top we were applauded by the only car driver to pass us in 25 miles.
Heading South East toward Vitoria and Pamplona on empty rolling roads proved to be fun and fast with rapid progress, each of us taking short turns leading.
By day three we had reached the green foothills of the Pyrenees. A magical climb on a ribbon of switchback tarmac began in small Basque country villages before entering dense forests and rising to open moorland and mountain. Breath taking views continued across the top and into France. The tortuous climb out of Spain was rewarded by a long descent toward Bayonne and the coast.
Southern France was hard cycling. Although the roads were flat and straight, a headwind slowed our progress dramatically along with monotony. The Romans may have done a lot for us, but arrow straight roads are not much entertainment on a bicycle. In Aquitaine, surrounded by vast pine forests, we took a short detour to the Atlantic coastal dunes. The golden sand of empty beaches stretching to the horizon and clear blue surf promised a long rest in the warm sun. However, after 10 minutes luxuriating in the emptiness (This was not Dawlish Warren) we resisted and continued toward the Vendee crossing the River Gironde by cycling directly onto the car ferry. No queuing for cyclists!
We had covered an average of 110 miles per day which meant a ride, eat and sleep routine. Sightseeing was not an option and rest stops were short with an opportunity to eat from the less healthy, faster side of the menu. We did meet some helpful cyclists and were able to practice our (very) limited French. The language of cycling usually proved sufficient with a few added Gallic nods and approving grunts.
Nantes signalled arrival in Brittany. This vast province took a further three days to traverse, but returning to hills and bends was a great relief with a rewarding view at the top of every climb.
On the penultimate day we experienced our first deluge having been fortunate with the weather. We were soaked within 30 minutes and spent another 8 hours riding in torrential rain. It was helpful to be able to draw on all the support we had received from friends, family and all of our sponsors. Riding in pouring rain has never felt so worthwhile.
Approaching Roscoff reminded us of why we had not missed UK car drivers once more. This, together with only one puncture and some sore limbs, were our only minor problems en route. After 900 miles, eight days and some map error detours it was good to see the channel once more.
We have raised £1900 for Rowcroft Hospice so far and feel a great sense of pride in our achievement.
If anyone would like to sponsor Paul and Freddie for the arduous journey through Northern Spain and France, please visit their JustGiving page: www.justgiving.com/paul-clark50/