Avon Advanced Motorcycle Club’s Tour of the Massif Central

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All fifteen of us enjoying ourselves and posing artlessly!

We gathered on a lazy Thursday at Warminster Services for our trip to France. We were a larger group than in former years, consisting of 12 bikes and 15 club members and as we made our way towards Portsmouth for the first half of the journey it went seamlessly.

Unfortunately approaching Portsmouth the motorway was backed up and a certain amount of filtering was required, which split the group and caused us to slow considerably. After we all had caught up we had lost some so much time that our evening meal was a somewhat rushed affair.  We had a ferry to catch and they stick to timetables!

After a fuel stop, we made our way onto the ferry and the maze that is the Brittany Ferries cabin system. Safely on board we made our way to the entertainment lounge to have a quiet beverage and watch an excellent magician, who to be fair, set the tone for the humour on this tour.

Early morning music greeted us in our cabins at 0600, where we alighted to a breakfast consisting of the smallest sausage known to man and the hardest bacon. Disembarking the ferry at 0815, we started to make our way to the first hotel,  leaving the crowded city behind and getting onto some much quieter and scenic roads with seemingly deserted towns and villages. One of the group commented that French shops never open, and from this evidence it may be true.

the route of our journey

At this stage, Simon was relying on his recently-purchased satnav (never had one before) to find the best route, and obviously becoming increasingly agitated with its choice of roads. It was taking us away from those nice twisty ‘yellow’ D-roads onto the more heavily congested and straighter ‘red’ N-roads.  I was following Alex whose riding style was precise and relaxed: very touring. This was going well until white helmet 1 (WH1) passed us both at a pretty rapid rate, soon he was joined by another white helmet (WH2) who sped off after WH1. The group stopped for fuel but Alex was nowhere to be seen; until our backmarker for the ride came up and informed us all that Alex was having a chat with the Gendarmerie. Alex arrived and explained the lovely French policeman had been unimpressed with one of the WH who had passed. He was told the rider was “Trop Vite Monsieur” (too fast Sir). Unfortunately Alex also has a white helmet and had been mistaken for one of the speeders. An interesting conversation ensued, where it was agreed that the group would slow down but not before Alex had given the local copper his secret masonic handshake, which had a special name on the tour. The mood was slightly more ‘relaxed’ for the remainder of the ride to the IBIS Hotel in Chateauroux where we spent our first night on French soil.

A night on the town took us to a local hostelry where we experienced the most ‘charismatic’ waiter in France: his style was an unsubtle amalgam of a prison warder serving food for British Rail. That said the food was good but the beer, expensive.

Next morning we rose to very bright and warm weather which was to be with us for the next 5 days. We transited towards Murat and our second hotel on some stunning roads with amazing scenery and, once again, passing through villages that were seemingly empty and devoid of any people.  We had our coffee stop in another stunning town – Chénérailles.

Unfortunately our lunch stop at Ussel was a long drawn-out 2 hour + affair, where our German hostess took her time to prepare some very slooooow food. The ‘top box gastronauts’ were quick to point out how good their ‘buffet foraged’ comestibles from the breakfast table had tasted and offered a few crumbs of comfort; but no actual food!

our galette “pancake”

The fifteen hungry and weary riders arrived at Murat in the late afternoon after Simon had a violent argument with his Sat Nav and decided to completely ignore it for the rest of the trip!

The evening meal in this excellent Logis Hotel set the tone for the food for the remainder of the trip and was stunning in quality and speed of delivery. The dessert (a local speciality Galette ‘pancake’ made from buckwheat) was amazing.

We spent three glorious days travelling in different directions around this ancient volcanic area of France and, on one day, went to see the Viaduc de Millau, which is one of the wonders of the world. The wonder is , as in, I wonder how they built that! Luckily at the visitor centre we learnt the answer to this question. We also learnt that: ‘Hauteur totale au sommet de l’ouvrage’ is 343 metres – Good to know!

The Viaduc de Millau

We spent these heady days looking for and riding on what one young scamp on the tour described as ‘road p*rn’. There really did seem to be no end to the twisties in this region (without the Sat Nav doing its best to spoil everything) and the whole groups’ cornering was noticeably smoother and quicker by the end of this sojourn.

The roads, scenery and food were faultless in Murat so it was hard to believe that the best hotel and cuisine was yet to come. On our last night our intrepid tour leader and chairman had one last surprise up his sleeve.

But every tour has its low point and before we could experience the last fine hostelry we had to negotiate a very long day in torrential rain travelling from Murat to Guéret. The ride was very wet and proved to many that Rukka kit is the way forward and that it is possible to get 13 hairdryers going full tilt ‘drying wet kit’ in a French hotel without the power tripping out! Some of us learnt how watertight our luggage was as well! Hot showers (as opposed to the cold ones a few days previously) and radiator pants were the order of the day.

glove drying

Patent Pending glove drying arrangement courtesy of the air con in the Kyriad Hotel, Guéret.

The next day was a lazy affair with more kit drying action for some and an afternoon ride out for others. The evening meal was taken in what could best be described as ‘one up from a McDonalds’ or as the French call it ‘Le Buffalo Grill’. It was basic fair, to say the least, but what made it for us all was our chairman’s face when his limp food arrived; salad was thrown in for some of us!

The next morning we were greeted with a treat for the ears and eyes in the shape of five gorgeous 1920’s Type 35 Bugattis that had overnighted in our hotel’s underground garage.

For car-luvvies, I must make some comment about these beautiful machines. Others can skip the next paragraph.

drooling over one of the Bugattis

The original Type 35 model, introduced at the Grand Prix of Lyon on August 3, 1924, used an evolution of the 3-valve 2.0 L (1991 cc/121 in³) overhead cam straight-8 engine first seen on the Type 29. Bore was 60 mm and stroke was 88 mm as on many previous Bugatti models. Ninety-six examples were produced. This new powerplant featured five main bearings with an unusual ball bearing system. This allowed the engine to rev to 6000 rpm, and 90 hp (67 kW) was reliably produced. Solid axles with leaf springs were used front and rear, and drum brakes at the back, operated by cables, were specified. Alloy wheels were a novelty, as was the hollow front axle for reduced unsprung weight. A second feature of the Type 35 that was to become a Bugatti trademark was passing the springs through the front axle rather than simply U-bolting them together as was done on their earlier cars.

the Chateau en Mayonne

We travelled to our last destination – La Marjolaine. A stunning location out in the wilds of rural France – as promised earlier, our chairman had left the best till last. The food was sublime and the generosity of our host unsurpassable. Great company, exquisite food, fine wines and vintage champagne put the final flourish to an excellent tour.

It just requires me to say a massive thank you to Simon for all his hard work and fortitude, in the planning and execution of an outstanding tour of the incredibly impressive Massif Central…and in the end proving it is possible to heard cats, if you have enough patience!!

But you can never legislate for all. From the 14 of us to our tour leader: ‘Merci pour les souvenirs et le vin, et la persévérance’

Footnote: Simon explained to me that the French language has far fewer words in its vocabulary than English.  Merci pour les souvenirs et le vin, et la persévérance. Actually means “Thanks for the memories and the wine and for putting up with all our cr*p”.

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