Montreuil Gateway Fressin Castle
Pedal Club Tour of the Seven Valleys – October 2018
The French term for pothole is nid de poule (chicken’s nest), but it’s surprising the term exists since there aren’t any. As soon as you put your wheels onto French tarmac you are aware that the experience is different from riding in England: very little traffic, great road surfaces.
Our ‘tour’ turned out to be a single day event which wasn’t exactly the original intention, but I think we all felt it was a good day.
As we set out for Montreuil on Saturday morning riding along the Crequoise valley your reporter, who was probably old enough to be grandfather to the fit looking youngest member of the party, was anxious about the climbing which he knew lay ahead. Certainly the first difficulty of the day, the climb out of Lebiez (about 300 feet) came much too soon for him. However by the next climb (out of the valley of the Embrienne) things settled down and our little group began to work well together. On the slightly busier road between Maninghem and Montreuil we singled out and pushed along at what seemed to me to be an exhilarating pace.
Montreuil-sur-Mer is actually nowhere near the sea, but it’s an attractive town with ramparts and a citadel (see photos): perhaps worth googling. We had a cafe stop and a quick look round before continuing along the Canche valley to Hesdin, a fairly flat thirteen miles. We stopped there to book dinner at the town’s premier restaurant before tackling the climb through the Foret Domaniale d’Hesdin (see photos). After a short stint on the relatively busy D 928 we turned onto another country lane into the valley of the Planchette, where we stopped briefly at Fressin to admire another Castle (photo). Just one more climb to Sains les Fressin left us with the steep descent to our home village of Torcy – in all a little under fifty miles.
We now had a couple of hours to prepare for what some would consider the high point of the weekend: dinner at La Belle Epoque. Any visitor to Hesdin will quickly become aware that this name does not refer to the present day; the place does have a faded charm, but it seems to have lost its reason for existing. It was once a military town, but that was long ago: think how Aldershot might look a hundred years after the army abandoned it. La Belle Epoque is a surprisingly bright spot in the town – always busy, it seems to owe its success to the vibrant personality of le patron, who will visit each table and succeed in making every diner believe that he is really pleased to see them. Judging by the food he must have the same effect on the staff. It should be mentioned here that we were most grateful to Steve Wright who had voluntarily assumed the role of driver and made himself very useful by taking us back to Torcy after this meal.
Sunday morning broke with good intentions of doing more riding, but somehow our resolve weakened and riding kit, optimistically put on, was removed. The main reason was that Keith’s party had booked a crossing early in the afternoon which meant time was short and it was decided to use what we had for foraging in my garden for walnuts and other fruit. I think we were all in agreement that more time would have been more fun.
It’s a pity that The Tour of the Seven Valleys ended up with more valleys than riders. It appears that a fundamental flaw in our planning was that our weekend fell immediately after the world championships which a number of Pedal Club members attended. Since they had only just got home when they would have needed to leave for this trip, it’s hardly surprising they voted with their feet and stayed put. I can only hope that this account may encourage more members to come on a similar trip next year.