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Cycling in France on a Tandem

    Despite advancing years veteran CTC members, Ken and Pat Brown, still tour abroad each summer on their Claud Butler tandem, which they bought over 50 years ago.

Pat stands with the tandem before a large snow field on the Col d'Allos in the Alps

Crossing the Col d'Allos in the Alps

    For 11 years after Ken's early retirement he and Pat organised occasional CTC cycling weeks based at their home, a farmstead with stunning views over the Elwy valley. During this period they ventured abroad for the first time on the tandem. Since 1989 they have spent a total of 90 weeks touring in Spain, Majorca, Portugal, Crete, mainland Greece, Cyprus and above all France, including Corsica.

    Here is their account of their trip in the summer of 2003 when they covered over 1000 miles in the north of France.

    Our most recent tour was planned around the international rally organised by the Tandem club, based at an idyllic camp site near Lisieux in Normandy and was attended by 437 people, including 100 youngsters. 


Barbeque during the British tandem club's rally in Normandy

    It was an inspiration to see the various equipages for transporting children too young to pedal independently: trailers, kiddy seats, trailer bikes and of course tandems and triplets adapted or designed for small 'stokers'.

    At the end of a week spent touring from our base in a large gite, we pedalled west to explore Brittany, which we entered via the old fortified towns of Fougeres and Vitre dominated by magnificent chateaux.


The Nantes-Brest canal

The Nantes-Brest canal.

    On reaching Redon our enquiries at the Tourist Information Office confirmed that the Nantes-Brest canal provided a splendid route north by west, its towpath being well-maintained and open to cyclists as well as walkers. Not only that, but it wound through beautiful countryside and, unlike much of the Canal du Midi, it was well away from main roads.


Large stone-built chambre d'hote in Brittany

Ken and Pat do not book accommodation in advance but hunt in the late afternoon for a chambre d'hote to spend the night, such as this comfortable one in Brittany.

    We spent the next three days alongside the canal, leaving it at Mur-de-Bretagne to stay at an excellent B & B recently opened by an English couple, which we'd seen advertised in Cycle magazine. They also have an excellent website.

    We were now in western Brittany with much granite in evidence and elaborately carved church spires and other sacred buildings in the parish churchyards ('clos'). There was still much to explore and we had not yet seen any of the Breton coast.

Bilingual sign at entrance to a village twinned with St Asaph

Ken & Pat were given a great welcome when by chance they happened upon the village of Begard (Bear in Breton) which is twinned with St. Asaph near where they live.

    We made our way back to St. Malo and the ferry, leaving the Pink Granite Coast for another time. Instead we followed the gentler coastline of the Cote Emeraude with its expansive sands backed by verdant vegetation.

    Out of the high season accommodation in May-June was easy to find. We only booked ahead at holiday weekends, such as Whitsun. 

    We modified our itinerary to avoid main roads as much as possible as they have a lot of heavy lorries on them. There are plenty of quiet lanes away from the coast.

    Ken and Pat joined the CTC in the late 1940s when they lived near London. They moved to North Wales with their young family in 1966. 

    A chance meeting with Roy and Joyce Spilsbury with their daughter June (in a kiddyseat) when Ken and son Alan were cycling the lanes led to some joint family riding and to the eventual formation of the Vale of Clwyd Section of the CTC in the early 1970s. The Section flourished for a few years and both Ken and Roy served on the committee of the Chester and North Wales District Association, of which Ken was elected hon. secretary in 1974 at a time when the D.A.'s activities were at a very low ebb.

Large group of child cyclists in a provencal village square

Arriving in the square of the provencal village of Les Grembois at the same time as a young cycling club called Les Petits Loups - The Young Wolves.

    During Ken's 17 years as D.A. secretary there was a revival of interest in cycling, particularly on the Wirral. Many retired and early retired folk took up - or returned to - the pastime of cycling. Ken and Pat were jointly awarded the CTC's Certificate of Merit in 1992.







Looking down into the Gorge de Verdun

Ken & Pat cycled the length of the famous Gorge de Verdun in Provence. Here is a view of the start of the gorge.

Useful Websites: Tandem Club & North Wales group of Tandem Club