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Road to Rouen by Gavin Peacock
Posted by Timothy Pulleyn on
‘As usual I go the wrong way leaving Dieppe. This is somewhat of a tradition. I put it down to an inability to sleep on the ferry and then being kicked off it into France at 4:30am local time. I’m definitely not on my planned route but the last signpost said ROUEN so I followed it. Somewhere along the way I’ll work my way back onto my planned route. At the next roundabout Rouen isn’t mentioned on any signpost but the road directly ahead goes to Amiens and that is definitely the wrong way. I turn right. The road disappears into the darkness down a long hill.
I’m drawn towards a left turning, sensing it may go in the right direction. The emergency map gets called into action under a lamp post…yes, that way. The map gets tucked under the flap of thesaddlebag holster for easy access, as I know it will be needed again. More than once I expect.
I’m onto tiny lanes now, no cars or other sign of human life. The sound of tyres humming on tarmac, the whirr of the drive-chain, just me and the darkness, a small patch of tarmac lit in the beam of my front-light. There is enough moonlight to make fuzzy sense of the surrounding landscape. Hang on, moonlight? Thought today was supposed to be overcast, but it’s not yet dawn and the day is yet to unfold. Once through wooded climbs I’m on straight roads across the Normandy plains, heading for an indistinct horizon as light trickles into the sky to my left. There is a strong headwind and I suspect it brings a weather front with it.
Darkness fades from the sky and I can see a bank of cloud curving across the distance. A rainbow halo appears around the sinking moon, and then it disappears as I roll under the cloud-bank. I can no longer see the day drifting into focus over my shoulder, but the sound of a cockerel carried my way on the wind tells me dawn is getting close.
The dawn chorus gets louder and louder, I realise I can see without the need for lights. It must be day, it’s grey as forecast, but it’s dry. The day sharpens into clarity as I drop into the pretty village of Cleres, and I’m instantly hit by the smell of fresh bread. I turn a corner and, through an open window framed by shutters, see a baker in front of an open bread oven.
A series of long climbs and swooping descents through the Foret Verte pull me closer to the suburbs of Rouen, until without realising I find myself in the middle of the city unannounced. Through empty narrow cobbled streets I follow glimpses of a spire over rooftops to the cathedral. It’s still relatively early, before 9am, and the city is not yet properly awake. However I’ve ridden 45 miles into a brisk headwind and breakfast is much desired. I spot an open café within the shadows of the cathedral, where a breakfast of pastries and hot chocolate is most welcome.