I had camped on the borders of Beaubourdel, in the commune of Lonrai (which I think has a certain fantasy book ring to it, ay?).
Midday, and I’m accidentally on the right road. I stop off for one of those quick, short and strong coffees in what appears to be the French version of a Trucker’s café. Time enough to complete a daily drawing of the tulips growing. The sun is shining for perhaps the first time this trip – and with the sun came butterflies, lots of what I’d call Brimstone butterflies but which I later find out the French refer to as Papillon Citron. As I pedal along, at least half a dozen are chasing each other along the side of the road and beating me hands down in the race.
I stop for lunch in the sun by an old water well, capped with cement, that became another daily draw, and I put out my tent to dry, which is just as well as it was sopping.
Just before Le Mèle sur Sarthe I spot a cycle path, but flew past it before realising what it was. About a mile further along the road, I encounter it again and turn onto it. It looks like it is part of a series of cycle-paths – this one designed to take one from Mont Saint Michel to Paris, by the look of the signs posted periodically saying ‘Eurovelo Scenie 40’. Would have been good (with the benefit of hindsight) to have had THAT map! Whatever, it’s going the right way, it’s relatively straight – looks like it must have been a railway line at one time – and, of course, it’s traffic free. On this path, places are numbered in descending order – Boëce is no. 36 for example and Courgeout is no. 34. which gives a delightful sense of progress.
So many shuttered houses in France: they look blinded, with green, grey, but mostly white eye shadow.
I got to Mortagne-au-Perche and found a café with wifi – 2 beers later, and no food, and no campsites or cheap hostels nearby that I can find on the internet, I decide to ride out of town. I am travelling in slightly the wrong direction so take off up a likely looking back lane looking for a place to stealth camp. I see a guy standing in his garden, but ride on by and almost immediately come to a bigger road. I turn back and ask this man (with the help of my ‘point it book’) where I could camp and he replies, very helpfully once he’s got the gist of my request, “ici”. He was called Bruno and went off to get his wife, Sylvie, who spoke better English. She writes English information for farmers for a living– but doesn’t actually speak it very often. I was also introduced to her son Quentin (and met her other teenage son Clement later, at supper).
YES! I was not only given a place to pitch my tent, away from Les Poulets, but I was invited to supper too – all three courses. I parked Rowenna the bicycle in the barn, nestled amongst the tractors, and pitched my tent (with Quentin’s help) next to the garage on the lawn. Sylvie explained she likes to cook all her own food from scratch – often from her own produce –vegetables, fruit, eggs. There was a picnic of pickled mackerel, rice, bread (of course), rilletes, boiled eggs, salad and ham for starter. Then came sausages and fried potatoes and courgettes. Finally came (Steve’s favourite) what I’d call Crème Caramel – a dish of wobbly egg custard in a sugar syrup – but Sylvie called something else.
Sylvie assured me that this was a typical French meal – and Bruno just smiled and nodded.
This entire experience was wonderful! Such generosity! And Sylvie refused to take any payment.