According to the forecasts, it was looking like it would be the last good weekend before Autumn properly kicked in. So we headed off for the Mayenne river tow path again.
The tow path has been converted to a voie verte (greenway), and you can cycle between the towns of Mayenne and Laval while hardly ever encountering a car.
October has been a real surprise. The drought has meant that leaves are falling without turning colour. At the same time, it’s been unseasonably warm for this part of France – afternoon temperatures hovering around 20ºC. Our ride would turn out to involve constant re-configuring of clothes – jacket on; jacket off; gloves on; gloves off; and so it went.
Last time, we started in the town of Mayenne (in the département of the same name, in the Pays de la Loire region) and headed south. This time, we started further down, at the town of Montgiroux with its rather elegant château.
As we headed south, in the direction of Laval, we were still in familiar territory – ground that we’d covered on the last trip. Once again I was seduced by a poplar wood, spending several minutes taking pictures while Trish, oblivious to the fact that I’d stopped, sailed on regardless.
There was at least a bit more river in the river this time. On our last visit, the river levels were very low. Mainly, this was because of maintenance work that is carried out every three or four years – the river is said to be « au chômage », a term more commonly used to mean ‘unemployed’. Not that we could see any evidence of work underway this time (it’s due to be completed by 11 Nov). But it’s also to do with the drought. In spite of a few, scattered downpours lately, all the tributaries were still dry and even where sections of the river have been refilled, they were typically up to a metre below their normal level. This was clearly visible on the banks.
In many places, the filled sections were still not overflowing the weirs – all the water flow was going through the turbine gates.
Some sections, though, were full and gave us an idea of what the ride would be like in normal times – which is, to put it mildly, beautiful.
It wasn’t long before we were exploring new ground (for us). While cycling the upper section of the tow path, which we explored on the last trip, you could be forgiven for thinking you were navigating a river in the middle of wilderness, far from civilisation. Yes, there was the occasional house and bridge, but for the most part you are cradled in a river valley, sometimes cut steeply through rock, which pushes all signs of villages, roads and factories out of sight.
On this more southerly section, things started off like that, but it wasn’t long before private houses started popping up on the riverside and the valley began to flatten out, with the kind of open pasture land and crop fields that you might normally associate with the Mayenne. In parts, there were roads – and one golf course – running alongside the tow path. And there were more signs of industry, some of it long ago abandoned, that once exploited the river.
In particular, there was one former mill that, unlike the others we’d seen, hadn’t been converted to a transformer station. It was empty and got Trish’s Grand Designs fantasies fired up.
The nearer we got to Laval, the tamer, tidier and more suburban it became, but never unpleasantly so. We were gifted a cloudless blue sky that day, but with an autumnal haze that lent an air of mystery to some scenes glimpsed on the far bank.
After riding 14km we arrived at Changé where two large bridges, one of them a new railway bridge, soar over the river.
That’s where we decided to turn because we could see that the scenery was about to get decidedly urban. On the return journey, we had the sun at our backs and could almost convince ourselves it was still Summer.
However, in spite of it being still early afternoon, the sun was getting low, often filtered by trees on the tops of the river banks. And whenever we rode into shade, the temperature dropped dramatically.
All the same, I’m going to count this as the last ride of Summer – in mid-October! That’s not too shabby for round here.
This is likely to become a regular ride. We’ve now reconnoitred pretty much the whole path from Mayenne to Laval and so we know there are long sections where the voie verte is not interrupted by roads. That means we can bring the dog and give him a good run with no worries about traffic. He has no idea what fun he’s about to have…