The other day I wrote about how we’d spotted a new voie verte (greenway) under construction. It was clear that this was a part of the award-winning Vélo Francette cycle route that runs 617km from the Normandy beaches at Ouistreham (Caen) to La Rochelle.
Although we walked only a small section of the new voie verte, I speculated that it might go as far north as Torchamp. It turns out I underestimated it – to a significant degree.
First a little background. A significant proportion of the Vélo Francette is on greenways – mostly former railway tracks. South of Mayenne it also runs a fair distance beside the river on a former towpath. But inevitably there are sections where the route switches to roads (routes partagées). While these are generally minor roads with very light traffic, and sometimes have cycle lanes, they are not as safe, quiet or scenic as the voies vertes.
A case in point is – or rather was – the section running south from our local town of Domfront, in the Orne department of Basse Normandie (Lower Normandy). If you’re travelling south from Flers, you’re treated to a beautiful section of voie verte. When you arrive in Domfront you find yourself with the option of continuing south on the Vélo Francette – towards Ambrières, Mayenne, Laval, Angers and ultimately La Rochelle – or perhaps switching to the Véloscénie. This latter route begins in Paris, to the east, reaching Domfront mostly by routes partagées (although there are stretches of greenway). From Domfront, though, the Véloscénie is voie verte all the way to Mont St Michel, 96km away to the west.
Heading south, staying on the Vélo Francette, was a less attractive proposition. Not only were you on the road, but the route was somewhat haphazardly signposted – mostly via hard-to-spot hand-crafted notices. Now that’s all changed.
At Domfront, you travel the existing Véloscénie route for about 100m before coming to a fork. The last time we checked out this location, the route to the left was just a mud track that led nowhere. You could see where the former railway ran, diverging south from the track that had already been converted to the Véloscénie, and even the remains of an old platform, but the muddy path didn’t see to go far before disappearing into undergrowth.
Now there’s a spanking new (though not yet finished) greenway. This runs for about 500m before coming to a fence beyond which is a small road. It looks like the Vélo Francette will switch to that road, but only for a couple of hundred metres before getting back on to a new greenway.
As we were on foot, we kept getting back into the car and heading down to where we thought the new voie verte might terminate. And at every point we found that it kept going.
At one point, just outside Torchamp, it winds up a bank to cross a road.
From this point there’s a nice view of Domfront.
On the other side is a converted crossing guard’s cottage, now a private dwelling, which still uses the old level crossing gates.
From there the greenway appeared to become a farm track. But in the distance we could see new gravel had been laid.
Something like a year ago we tried to trace the Vélo Francette in this area – not entirely successfully. At one point we stopped the car in a tiny village with an abnormally large car park and peered down a track that looked like it should have had something to do with the railway. Apparently it did, because there’s a voie verte there now.
At many points along the track were orange nets marking where the route crosses a road. In many cases, these ‘roads’ were nothing more than access tracks into farmers’ fields. Eventually, these nets will be replaced with wooden barriers.
So, this new piece of greenway runs for about 12km from Domfront to Céaucé. And as mentioned in my earlier post, a study of the map shows a potential continuation that would allow it to join up with an existing voie verte just north of Ambrières.
If that is, indeed, the plan, this would create an unbroken stretch of greenway from Flers in the north to Mayenne in the south – roughly 35km. (In Mayenne you have to go onto roads to get through the town. After that, though, there’s a lot more greenway.)
Having only just been hacked through overgrown tracks, the greenway is looking a little rough and ready at the moment. But by the time summer’s here, this route will be beautiful.
The route is tree-lined for most of its length. In fact, you can already see how it will turn into a green tunnel in parts.
We can’t wait for this section of voie verte to be finished. It’s going to be a beautiful ride.