Travelling home from the garage the other day (don’t ask – bloody cars) we were passing through Laubrière when something caught my eye.
You don’t expect to find anything significant in Laubrière; it’s just a wide spot on the road. You couldn’t even call it a village. But clearly it was once rather more important.
I knew immediately what I’d seen – a voie verte under construction. A quick look at the map when we got home confirmed that it’s part of the Vélo Francette, recently voted the best cycle route in Europe. This route runs from the D-Day landing beaches on the Channel coast right down to La Rochelle.
The next day, we had to go back for a closer look.
At Laubrière it’s still a dirt path bulldozed through what must have been thick undergrowth, judging by the broken roots still poking from the surface. Although not completed, we weren’t the only ones already taking advantage of the greenway.
After about 500m we found where the construction workers had reached with the gravel. From then on, the whole track was stabilised I suspect it’s likely to get a further top coat of sand.
The track is tree-lined nearly all the way, albeit with some excellent views, too.
One surprise, given that we walked only about 2.5km, was the number and steepness of some of the gradients.
Yes, I know, you wouldn’t exactly call them hills, but the trains that plied this tracked must have puffed their little hearts out.
In the distance we travelled, the track was intersected by roads only twice.
Rather than just abruptly interrupting the voie verte, the planners have curved the greenway round into small farm roads at the point where they meet the main road. It’s a safe and attractive way of merging the routes as well as coping with the different surface levels.
We walked as far as the point where the construction workers had parked their machinery. They’ve also left a small reminder of the track’s erstwhile function.
As far as I can tell from the map, this stretch of voie verte is likely to run for about 4.5km. That may not sound like much, but it’s a definite improvement.
The Vélo Francette’s 600km+ length spends quite a lot of its time on voies vertes. We’ve ridden the beautiful section between Domfront and Flers a few times. And at Domfront it links up with the Véloscénie – another great bike route that runs from Paris to Mont St Michel. But heading south out of Domfront, the Vélo Francette is mostly forced on to shared roads until it gets to Ambrières. These roads are small country lanes, but they’re still not as safe for cyclists as the greenways.
On Google Earth, though, you can clearly see that some of these roads have been built over a former railway line, and that much of this line still exists. It’s possible the authorities may turn other parts of it into voie verte – in fact, for all we know it’s already happening. This is something we intend to explore. It’s unlikely that it will all become greenway – the roads have already stolen too much of the route, but the more off-road path there is the better we like it.
Back at Laubrière, where this new voie verte stops, we crossed the road and explored the other side. The map marks this area as gare, and indeed a few of the houses there do look like former railway buildings. There’s a large open area where concrete shows through the moss and grass. It has all the appearance of a marshalling yard. This could have been a large station – large, at least for this area – presumably serving the town of Céaucé which is 1.5km down the road.
Diving into the trees and bushes that line this open area revealed that the old line is still there, albeit without the track.
This is probably what the new track looked like before the bulldozers got to work. Let’s hope they’ll get busy here too.