GLME Bike Camp at Limeuil, Dordogne, France, August 2005
Text and photos © and by squaddie John: squaddieJH@milism.net
( faces in photos are deliberately blurred)
Lots of hard work by the people of AMA resulted in more than 160 bikers riding to the small village of Limeuil in the Dordogne department of France. I left London on a day that had started with a thunderstorm and heavy rain. The storms were passing generally north-eastwards so I outran them on the way down to Dover. Despite arriving on time at P&O at Dover I was bumped on to a later ferry crossing than that I had booked. On the good side, the waterproofing had held out on my boots.
Not much better in northern France: the rain became noticeable as I rode up the small hills away from the port of Calais and the English Channel. Not much fun on the autoroute. I arrived not particularly dry at my mate’s place near Marne la Vallée… The television weather forecast that the stormy wet weather would remain in the north and a drier day for the ride southwards on Saturday.
Actually that wasn’t entirely the case: Saturday dawned dry but the birds weren’t singing and there were dark clouds to the North but also to the West, my intended direction. I started off hopefully in just leathers but the number of black clouds intensified and 200km down the road at a petrol stop I put on the waterproofs. Another GBMCC biker from England stopped at the same place so we had a chat but moved on separately: he passed me a few kilometres down the road in the middle of the anticipated heavy shower.
Turning off the autoroute in Perigord led me onto the first French road with any amount of traffic that needed real riding, this was something like 800km / 500 miles away from the Channel! The roads were still wet so it wasn’t much fun. I checked the tyre pressures at the next fuel stop and all was well…
The camp turned out to be based in the chateau of the Domaine de la Vitrolle set magnificently on the side of the river Vezère amongst vineyards and apple orchards. AMA had set up banners at the stone gateways at the end of the driveway and there were rainbow and leather pride flags flying from the windows. Anyhow it had stopped raining and the waterproofing on my kit had held out.
The anticipated split between several locations, necessary because of the large number attending the camp, turned out not to be a significant irritation. I was accommodated in a three-bed apartment of the chateau; others were in the riverside building “Le Redon” and others were in “La Tour” adjoining the dining room and bar. A minibus shuttled between the locations, driven by AMA members and this proved a novel means of mixing with people.
The first evening’s apero (aperitif) was chateau-bottled Monbazillac white wine. The menu was truly gastronomic in the renowned Perigord style: a full soup, pâté de foie gras, magret de canard, local cheese and salad. The rush to sign up for the following day’s ballades resulted in groups of more than ten. Not a great problem as the roads in the Dordogne, Lot, Gironde and Midi-Pyrénées departments wouldn’t stand a fast bike run and anyhow the police and radar speed camera boxes were, as usual, out to catch speeding motorists to fill the local coffers whilst professing to have concern for the environment or road safety…
Next morning dawned promisingly dry and after our driver of the day had mastered the gearbox of the navette (first downwards then second to the right and to the front….) and we’d had breakfast, it was time to set off. Quick visit to Monbazillac and then a lunch stop to buy and eat picnic lunch at a town with a market.
Some more riding and we arrived at Chateau Biron. The river Dordogne was the frontier and front line between the English and French areas of France in the Middle Ages. Much of the chateau had been destroyed and then rebuilt during the Hundred Years war. A king of Savoie had been beheaded there. Quite enough history for everyone in our group… And one donjon was set out with a large amount of medieval torture instruments and metal cages.
The rain was again threatening, though it held off for a coffee or ice cream in the nearby the bastide of Monpazier before returning to Limeuil for another pleasant evening in good company amongst the vineyards.
Next day I signed up for a ride to Saint-Cirq Lapopie set strategically and scenically on the banks of the river Lot. Another mixed group with Spanish, Italian, French, English, Swiss and German bikers. A great meal outside underneath the branches of a vine in the old village. And another stop and some camp frolics on the stone bridge in the medieval Quercian capital of Cahors before returning back for a meal of tartiflette and four other courses!
Tuesday, unfortunately, began with rain. Myself and three Italian bikers from the new club GAM decided to remain very local and to enjoy some coffee quietly in nearby Les Eyzies. Then lunch: I enjoyed some snails. A low speed day! Then a memorable visit to the small Grotte de Bernifal. Limited to a dozen or so per visit, this isn’t one of the big caves and you have to climb through atmospheric woodland. It can’t be much different compared to when it was inhabited between 13000 and 30000 years ago. We were shown around by a guide with torches. Bike leathers were ideal for the 11°C temperature underground.
Outside in the daylight, an ice cream in Le Bugue and a return to the chateau for a dip and ball game in the pool, the evening’s apero more gastronomic fare, followed by a very creditable party and disco.
Wednesday was a rest day. In my case this meant 280 miles / 460km direct using the small roads to Arcachon and the dune of Pilat on the Atlantic coast. We enjoyed many summer holidays there as children whilst my father was working nearby on aplysia (marine snails). Of course the town has now changed but the pier, the sea front the casino, railway station and the other central landmarks are all distinct and worth a trip. I wrote some postcards while enjoying a salad in the brasserie opposite the Marine Biological Research station and aquarium by the pier.
Thursday was a good run to St. Emillion through the Foret du Lanais and the interestingly signposted St Martial D'Art., actually St Martial D'Artenset.
The chataigne leaves were beginning to change colour to autumn golds and browns and there was the distinctive autumnal mist in the morning air. At St. Emillion we eschewed the four star restaurant and the group took up places under umbrellas in the village square. Another memorable salad amidst the premiers grands crus and then a trip around the subterranean church and the cave underneath the present village square where Emillion is believed to have lived.
But after the tour the rain really started. Deceptively gently at first but relentlessly it became torrential. Back on the bikes it seemed that every direction would be brighter except the one I was headed. I arrived back at the chateau soaked and I wasn’t the only one by any means. And this time the waterproofing hadn’t held out; wet bum, leather jacket dye migrated to t-shirt, soggy boots: the bikers’ bad dream…
More nice food at La Tour and another disco party raised spirits somewhat but the kit was still wet for an excursion to Brantôme and Perigeuex on Friday.
In the evening, there was the traditional group photo, with bikes lined up in rainbow flag order, and of course the thanks to our hosts at the Chateau and AMA.
What remained of the official camp was a riotous last night when the chef and his staff excelled themselves, and then the sad departure on Saturday morning. Sad, because it was the end of this camp, but knowing there will be a other GLME camps in 2006 in Normandy, France (hosted by GMC) and Grisons, Switzerland hosted by GMZ).
Thanks again to our hosts AMA as a group and to all the individuals who helped make this another memorable GLME camp.
Fortunately I never made a public speech of thanks, but if I had done so I would have congratulated AMA on finding a location with so many place names that gave so much confusion and amusement to the non-francophones. Limeuil, Excideuil, Perigeuex, Les Eyzies all occasioned some hilarious renditions….
For me the return journey was saddened by this probably being the last time my orange CBR600 crosses the English Channel. It’s now run more than 38000 miles without any serious problems except replacing service items like tyres and chains: now it’s time to change it.
Happily, I didn’t get soaked on the way back; indeed we enjoyed some sunshine on the Sunday and on the cross channel trip. Those returning to Clermont Ferrand and Lyon weren’t so lucky.
3250 miles / 5200km total including the runs.
(The views expressed are my personal opinions, which are not necessarily those of the clubs mentioned)
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