(Yesterday’s blog, not posted due to lack of internet)
Day 9: Gaillac to Castelnaudary
Trip total: 997.38km
Peacocks: difficult to tell, many, noisy.
Squashed snakes: 1
Squashed lizards: 1
Today has probably been the most enjoyable day’s riding of the whole trip so far. I set of from Gaillac shortly before 9am, climbing into the hills and heading south past Peyrole, then descending and crossing Le Dadou at Briatexte, over another set of hills and across L’agout at near Fiac. The morning was relatively cool, in the mid-20s, but it has been noticeably more humid for the past couple of days, and the humidity today made it feel a lot hotter than it was, and I drank far more water than I usually would.
The afternoon’s riding started on high, undulating ground with amazing views, and was hot, peaking at 45C in the sun, the highest temperature of the trip so far.
My original route would have taken me from Albi (instead of Gaillac) down to Castres and then on to Carcassonne, which would have involved a massive climb of around 1000m over a large range of hills. Today’s route skirted round those hills, and as I was traveling south towards Mouzens I could see them towards the south-east, and was relieved I’d made the decision to skirt round them. They looked huge and intimidating, and in the high-30s/early-40s would have been hell.
Before long I was cycling through the valley in which Carcassonne sits, headings towards Castelnaudary. The valley is huge (around 30km wide I think), bordered by hills to the north and south, which I could see as I headed towards the town. From what I can see on the map, the valley leads all the way out to Perpignan and the Mediterranean, meaning no more serious hills for me to climb over the next couple of days.
I arrived in Castelnaudary at around 3pm, finding the municipal campsite quickly, but also finding that I was a week early – it was not due to open until next Monday. Fortunately, someone on site saw me arriving, called me over, and when he saw the blank look on my face in response to his French, asked if I was English. Once we’d established that, he spoke in perfect English and explained that the campsite was closed, but that there was another site 4km away in Saint-Martin-Lalande, writing down the name of the site, the street it was on, and the telephone number for me. I can’t remember his name, but during the brief conversation we had he told me he had lived in England in the past, working as a barman in Leeds and Skipton, and had a friend in Lincoln. He was also sweating profusely despite apparently not having been doing anything.
After stopping off at a supermarket for supplies, I found the campsite, which has turned out to be the nicest I’ve stayed at during the trip. It’s hidden away in the middle of the countryside, and is a beautiful site with unmarked, shady spots for tents among the trees. As I write I can hear peacocks peacocking from across a field, and not a single cuckoo.
It seems this campsite is a bit of a cycle-camping hotspot, being located only a few km from the Canal Du Midi. I’ve spotted a few other cyclists here, and as I was pottering around outside my tent a couple on two bikes, one towing a trailer with a young child in, pulled up and pitched near me. They’re Connor (Irish) and Alba (Spanish), with their young daughter Molly, and they’ve been touring the canal since last Tuesday. We chatted for a while when they arrived, and they’ve had a lot of the issues I’ve had this week, running out of water and finding one or two campsites closed, forcing them to cycle further than planned.
Tomorrow’s plan is for a leisurely 35-40km to Carcassonne in the morning, giving me the afternoon to explore the town, before my final two days of cycling to the Med and then Ceret. I’m feeling relaxed and under no pressure without any more really big days ahead of me, and can’t wait for the next few days. But for now, I’m going to crack open a hoegaarden and not listen to cuckoos.
(Can’t upload photos for some reason)