Greenways everywhere

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This year we plan to ride more of the greenways (voies vertes) in the Grand Ouest – an area that covers Normandy, Brittany and the Pays de la Loire.

It’s easy to get lazy and keep travelling the same stretches – especially as they’re so beautiful. But we need to explore more, so I grabbed our map of France’s voies vertes and started running a highlighter pen over all the greenways in our department and the neighbouring ones. It took quite a while. These things are everywhere.

With a beautiful day forecast, we decided we’d try out a new stretch. Alas, for various reasons to do with the fact that cars are unreliable heaps of crap, we weren’t able to take the bikes. So this had to be just a recce. But oh boy were we in for a pleasant surprise.

The map showed two voies vertes that meet just above the Breton town of Fougères, and then running down right into the town itself – effectively forming a Y shape (see green line, right).

We joined the eastern arm about half-way down. We knew where the track would be because it’s on the route to one of our favourite local gardens, the Parc Botanique de Haute Bretagne. We’ve been visiting the garden for years and always remarked on the small railway station house we’d pass on the way. We’d even talked about trying to walk down what appeared to be some sort of track. This was long before we discovered the voie verte system.

The station house that we’ve passed so many times.

It was a beautiful spring day, which is saying something for mid-February. As we headed south, the track climbed what is, for a voie verte, quite a noticeable gradient. In the 3km we walked, only one serious road crossed our path. Clearly this was always a crossing point because there was the classic little house for the crossing guard. You find these every kilometre or two along the track and they’re always built to the same pattern. This one, alas, is derelict.

Nearby is a large château. Having lived a long time in a 16th Century house, these grand buildings no longer provoke feelings of desire or envy, but they do pique one’s curiosity. This area of the world, though, is thick with châteaux, so we didn’t investigate.

Eventually the climb levelled out and then the greenway started its slow descent towards Fougères.

Most of the track is bordered by trees, although also providing some great views across the landscape. The former railway seems to have paralleled the road (or vice versa) so there was a little traffic noise. But that’s never bad around here.

When we got back to the car, we gazed down the track as it headed north from where we started and wondered how far it ran. The map I’d studied before we came out wasn’t that detailed (it covers the whole of France). So as we drove home we tried to gauge where the voie verte was going. At one point the track veered away from our route. We couldn’t resist – we turned off from our normal route home and followed it. And it just seemed to keep going.

Signs appeared for something called the Tourbière de Lande Marais (tourbière meaning bog and marais meaning marsh). So, again on a whim, we followed the signs down ever-smaller tracks until finding ourselves in a car park. The Tourbière turns out to be a nature reserve – an area of wetland whose water perfectly reflected the stunningly blue sky.

On the opposite side of the voie verte from the tourbière is Le Château du Bois Guy which we did briefly visit (no photo, alas). This is now an hôtel and restaurant. At €40/head (€45 if you want the cheese course) it’s expensive for these parts, but I have a hunch we’ll find a reason to go.

It turns out that this stretch of voie verte runs for 22km. It’s well-surfaced and must be a great ride in summer when all those trees will offer excellent shade. We’re going to be returning soon, and next time we’ll definitely take the bikes.

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