East to West: Part One

I spoke to soon! Yes it was grey, even when I went down to the underground carport to load up Harley, but when the automatic door went up, behold it was pouring like it only can in the mountains!
Oh well, on with the rain suit again! More for a bit of extra hi-vis on the auto route actually, because it was still around 26 degrees centigrade.
Off we set and straight onto the A41 heading towards Chambery and Lyon. Clouds were caressing the slopes, particularly where the pine trees held the moisture in the air. I know rain is a bit of a nuisance sometimes, but it is only weather, and those clouds did look wonderful!

Soon we headed into the Tunnel De La Épine and a more forsaken hole you could not wish to find. It’s about three miles long and poorly lit. The temperature soared almost immediately plus the road was both heavily rutted, patched and greasy! Lovely…not, I hate road tunnels! I’d just about got over the Épine when along came it’s little brother about ten miles further down the road, not much better, deep joy!

Then a nice steady ride in the spray to the outskirts of Lyon, which to honest I was sort of dreading. I guess you know the scene, loads of traffic, all the locals know what they are doing and where to go and everyone else gets lost, because the signs are not clear or too late or the locals barge you out of the way? Well, it wasn’t like that at all! The signs were clear, well placed and sensibly simple, plus the locals, whilst a bit mad, they are after all French drivers, we’re sensible around folks with out of area number plates…it all worked like a dream! Then, on the Périphérique Nord, North Ring Road in Britannia’s tongue, came another tunnel, for which we were charged a Euro to use, it’s two for you car drivers! Yeah, great another blessed tunnel, but wait a minute, this one was different firstly it was incredibly well lit, then it was clean and did not smell like a sewer, but best of all the road surface was wonderful, not ruts patches or oil! Now I don’t know who owns what when in comes to French roads, but I suspect that the Autoroute is probably run by a power or telephone company or even a supermarket, I bet though that the tunnel under Lyon is run by the City Council who should go down the road fifty miles and show the Autoroute people how to do the job properly! Well done Lyon, if it is you!

You know the other day I said I was going to do the A72 Autoroute again? I didn’t! No, I came up with a much better idea. Leaving L’Arbresle I headed South West on the D389, then picked up the D81 to Feurs where it became the D1089. Now I often have a knack of spotting a nice French road from the Michelin Road Atlas and I’m pleased to say I did it again. What a nice road, everything I could have wished for. I have a theory that the best time to really enjoy yourself on a French road is between twelve and two, that’s when the whole country goes of to lunch and there is no-one at all on the roads, except British lorry drivers and French people with broken clocks! Yet again, today was no exception….I had a super time until about two o’clock when I found a nice picnic area near Chabreloche and had lunch myself. I then stayed on the same road all the way into Clermont Ferrand, which is a big sprawling mess that owes it’s existence to people who drive or ride vehicles with rubber tyres, yes it’s home to Michelin and a pretty good rugby team as well these days….who I think are sponsored by aforesaid tyre giant! Let’s hear it for rubber!

Clermont is also the capital of the Auvergne Region and if you never visit anywhere else in France go there! It’s got everything going for it, superb local food and drink, scenery to meet every taste, magic roads and really, really nice people…especially if you say you like the Auvergne! It’s also the fascinating site of one of the most populated areas of extinct volcanoes in Europe, they are everywhere and no, you don’t have to be a geology geek like me to spot one, honestly! One of the most famous is Le Puy de Dôme, just outside Clermont and it’s easy to tell what it is, just look at the photo, yes I know volcanoes don’t normally have TV mast on them, but you get the drift?

I dropped in to see how things were going with the new mountain cog railway that the French have been building, when I called last autumn, things were in full swing. I was amazed today, they have actually got trains running and most impressive they are to. There’s a photo below of one leaving the base station for the summit.

Another photo shows the track with it’s rack laid between the rails for the cog on the train to engage with and pull it up the steep gradients. On a technical note, I was surprised to see that both the running rails and rack are welded, very clever indeed, i’ve not seen that before. Mind you as the French taxpayer has spent over 80 million Euros on the new railway, it should be cutting edge! There might even be some European Government cash in it as well, so that will be some of mine and personally I’m quite happy to see it spent that way! Must go back and have a trip one day.

After Puy De Dôme we picked up another super road, the D941, which took us all the way to Limoges, via Aubusson. This is another part of France that I adore, I call it “Old France”, because everything takes on a mellow aged look. The buildings are generally fairly old, but the mixture of soft yellow limestone and granite for details and strength is very easy on the eye. Life seems to move at a slower, more sensible pace. The country is very agricultural here, it’s one of the main beef producing areas of the country, but it’s not at all intensive. There are lovely small towns just calling out for return visits, the sort of places you want to smell of Disc Bleus and Pastis. Bourganeuf is interesting, one of the first places in the world to go electric, whilst St Léonard de Noblat on the River Vienne, marks the start of the famous Limoges porcelain producing area.

So that’s it for today. Billet is in Limoges, a nice city as cities go….when have I said that before, not often!

Next we are off the Poitiers, Nantes and Brittany. You up for it?

Oh yes 321 miles today, pas mal!

Dookes

Le Puy De Dôme
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Le Petit Train

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The Rack and Running Rails

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This is the 12th century St Martiel bridge on thé Vienne, just near the hotel.

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