River ride redux

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Cycling has been a sporadic thing of late. There was winter, of course. And so much rain. Plus my bike developed an electronic fault that the manufacturer, Gitane, isn’t interested in solving (more of that in a coming post). That coincided with the good weather in March.

I have a new bike (more of that later, too). The first rides were local, short and hard on the sit bones.

And then came a Friday when the sun finally appeared and the work schedule was light enough to be ignored. It was obvious we were going to ride, but where? Pootling around the local roads seemed a waste of such a glorious day, so it was back to one of our favourite routes – the towpath along the river Mayenne, starting at the town of the same name.

With all the recent rain, the water was as high as we’ve ever seen it, roaring over the weirs.

The surface of the water also had a strange, lazily rippling surface, more like mercury. It made for fascinating reflections.

The towpath was in some respects better than ever. There used to be rough spots, with large gravel that threatened to pitch you off your bike, and certainly made for uncomfortable riding. Our previous ride along the towpath (which we didn’t blog about) was when I discovered the problem with my bike. The electric assist simply didn’t function so I was reduced to riding a 26kg, sit-up-and-beg bike with only muscle power. Over these rough sections, that wasn’t funny. It was a short ride.

But these sections have been repaired and it was pretty much smooth sailing all the way. We could instead concentrate on envying the people who live along this beautiful river in gorgeous houses.

There were plenty of signs of the recent storms that ripped through this part of the world. The path was liberally littered with leaves and twigs. But here and there it was more serious, with whole trees down.

Above is a robinia – a robust tree but probably too close to the edge of the water for safety. Poplars had copped it, too, as they always do. We even saw an oak that had succumbed.

Some of the trees had come down across the towpath. These had been cut through as though some monster had taken a giant bite out of them, although one still seemed to be menacing a phone line.

The trip was also a kind of nature show.

Dragonflies and demoiselles flew formation alongside us at times. Whenever we stopped, the bright fluorescence of my hi-vis jacket drew clouds of small pollen beetles – at one point, so many of them that I had to flee. Trish saw a lizard of some kind. We encountered a squirrel not much bigger than a fat mouse, other than for its huge tail. There were many crows who seemed to want to lay claim to ownership of the path until we got close enough to change their minds (and one pair mating in the cut grass at the edge of the path – literally having a roll in the hay). A heron stood in the middle of a field, contemplating whatever herons think about. Fish, I suppose. There were wheeling and squealing bands of swifts, quieter but no less energetic swallows, and a frantic, astonishingly acrobatic dogfight between a dragonfly and a wagtail. For all the darting and dodging abilities that make dragonflies such remarkable creatures, the wagtail won.

We stopped and watched some sheep frolicking on the opposite bank. They might end up as lamb and mutton, but life is good while it lasts. None of us gets eternity.

Many of the fields contained horses, often in pairs standing alongside each other, nose to tail. We concluded that they do this so the tail of one horse can brush flies from the face of the other. It’s a theory.

I pointed out a cute ‘pony’ in one field, only to be told with ill-disguised (and well-earned) derision that it was a shire horse. My equestrian knowledge is limited. Lots of cattle, of course – limousins and normands. And at the start and end of the ride, there were alpacas munching their way around someone’s garden.

It’s France, what else would you expect?

Near one of the locks is a wider stretch where the water near the towpath is very still. This was largely covered in lilies. I looked for frogs but saw none.

All of this took place below a rich blue sky with just the right scattering of decorous clouds.

On the return leg, we briefly considered stopping at a café but decided instead to press on.

However, Trish did stop to steal some fennel growing outside a (currently unused) lock-keeper’s cottage.

So that was the first really decent ride of the year – and it’s already June. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

1 thought on “River ride redux

  1. John Lott

    Steve, I loved that and despite my cyclophobic (if there isn’t such a word, there is now!) tendencies, I was with you every turn of the wheel. Beautifully descriptive and, as one would expect, gorgeous photographs. Thanks for sharing your experience so vividly.


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