We were heading for a family holiday in St Valery-sur-Somme, Picardy, with the ‘cross bike loaded up and no real idea of what to expect. St Valery is less than an hour’s drive south from Calais, sitting in the Baie de Somme. The internet had given no clues about the riding in the area at all.
My first ride was to familiarise myself with the lay of the land. In this area it lies in rolling, crop covered hills. St Valery turned out to be genuinely pretty. I found myself rolling along slowly, peering over hedges and fences at none-more-French country houses. Every other building was a slightly run-down chateau. With shutters. Lots of shutters. From St Valery I headed inland up into the rolling hills. Here the scenery was a little more uninspiring, mainly vast fields of peas and beans and empty, dormant villages. Looping back towards St Valery I headed for the Somme canal cycle-path. This joins St Valery to Abbeville, roughly 17km away, and is completely traffic free. Unfortunately it is also arrow straight and very wide. As I pedalled onto the path I could clearly see the wind turbines above Abbeville, and that the cycle-path didn’t deviate at all. Did I have the patience to ride in a straight line for 40 minutes before turning around and repeating but into a head-wind? No. I swung off the cycle-path, climbed back up onto the low hills and pointed my bike back to the campsite.
Did you notice a brief mention of wind there? The prevailing wind howls up the Channel and hits the French coast at Picardy. I don’t think it stops until it gets to the Alps. The wind was a significant feature in all of my rides in Picardy.
Over the next few days I explored further afield. I found the battlefield at Crecy but lost a brake pad there. I found a seaside resort where the grey bleakness of the coast took my breath away, just before the wind took it. I toured the lighthouses. I found a long distance walking route – GR125 – where the surface seemed ideally broken for my CAADX. I found gravelly, sandy tracks out towards the bay of the Somme which I wasn’t brave enough to explore, my French not being good enough to translate the signs which implied a watery death if the moon was in the wrong place. I spotted tracks into woods and forests which begged to be explored but also suggested the presence of armed boar hunters. Or Asterix. I rode past war cemeteries and road-side shrines. I ate Moules Frites. I ate crepes. I ate flies.
So, the next time you are looking for a cheap foreign holiday, but one that is close to home, think of Picardy. Take the bike and explore. There will be good riding, even if the computer says no. The wind might even die down for you at some point.