I left La Guillemardière with great relief, even though the disappointment of my arrival the previous evening had to a certain extent been repaired by the subsequent hospitality of the owner. My haste had more to do with the terrain and the location of the accommodation than with any very serious lack of quality. There is an atmosphere to salt-marshes that doesn’t agree with me.
I always seem to be visiting them in dismal weather and this atmosphere of desolation and bleakness seems mixed with a vague threat of obscure danger, perhaps of blundering around in the mist and failing light and drowning coldly in the turbid gurgling waters of some oozing channel. This after all is the Pays de Retz, stamping-ground of the notorious Gilles de Retz, the medieval serial child-murderer and thoroughly bad hat. There are far too many marshes on the west coast of France, stretching down from the Grande Brière in southern Brittany, through the Marais Breton and the Marais Poitevin to the marshlands that are found to the south of both La Rochelle and Rochefort. On a bicycle, the going is easy since marshes have by definition few hills. But this advantage is often cancelled by a thin wind that in my experience is rarely at one’s back. Yesterday’s experience had confirmed my negative opinion of marshland with a vengeance and I was anxious to leave it all behind me. There is no point in cycling that has become a disagreeable chore.
The desire to put as much distance as possible between me and the marsh gave me the energy to battle against the wind which was still from the west though a little more from the north-west than so far. Since I was heading almost due west, it was firmly in my face and continued so until Saint Gervais. There my route began to veer more to the south and the wind became increasingly more of a help than a hinderance. The drizzle continued to soak me and my original plan to head for the coast as soon as possible and join it just south of La Barre-de-Monts, gave way to the desire to keep the wind more or less at my back. So, in tune with the generally wet and watery theme of the day, I continued on the D59 to Le Perrier, through the attractively and encouragingly named Le Pissot, and from there to Sion sur l’Océan where I hit the coast. Once again, I was annoyed at having used the roads, but there was nothing to be done: the fault lay in choosing the wrong place to stay the evening before.
The weather was still foul and the coast at this point not a pretty sight with the grey spray from the rocks filling the atmosphere.
Nevertheless, the cycle-tracks were good and along the sea front, the wind, now from the north-west, blew me along at a respectable lick. I arrived in Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie almost before I realised it and as I removed my rain gear, the sun suddenly appeared and everything changed.
From Saint-Gilles, the cycle-tracks went through woodland and the surface, though mainly of grit, was fast.
The wind, continued to be at my back and I progressed rapidly through Brétignolles-sur-Mer,
and Brem-sur-Mer before hitting yet more marshland to the north of Les Sables-D’Olonne.
The sun continued to shine and the marshes were less forbidding on that account. I arrived without too much exertion in Les Sables-D’Olonne at around four-thirty. I took a look around the port area and the sea-front.
The old town and the old port resemble in many ways a southern Spanish town with low, whitewashed buildings and narrow streets.
The sea-front, beach area, however, is similar to La Baule – another long wall of high-rise hotels and apartments stretching along the gentle arc of the bay for as far as the eye can see.
I located my hotel, the Hôtel Arc-en-Ciel [see: http://www.arcencielhotel.com ] and from my hotel room watched the next band of wet weather arriving from the west.
The evening was still bright, but the western sky promised a damp start the following day.
I went out for a meal and a quick drink and retired to bed in my multi-coloured room
as soon as the light began to fade.