Category Archives: France

Tour de Manche: the English section

The official route

Just as in France the English Tour de Manche uses a combination of small roads and greenways. From the ferry port at Poole the route takes to a cycle path through Baiter park and then alongside Poole Harbour to Sandbanks.

Poole Harbour

The Sandbanks chain ferry crosses to Studland and then the route goes to Corfe Castle.

Cyclists on the Sandbanks chain ferry

The route is not flat and after Corfe Castle, Creech hill is climbed before a descent to join Cycle Route 2 just east of Wool.

Tour de Manche on Route 2 in Dorset

Flat riding through quiet lanes on Cycle Route 2 brings you to Dorchester and onto Martinstown. There now comes an unavoidable Cat 4 climb over Hardy’s Monument.

Hardy’s Monument

Hardy’s Monument

The lovely Bride valley follows, still following Route 2 to bypass Bridport and start a series of steep climbs to Axminster.

Route 2 near Bridport

The route continues West along the Jurassic coast of Dorset and into Devon.

We found a lovely traffic free route through the city of Exeter emerging at Haldon, well on our way to Moretonhampstead and Dartmoor

Now we were in Devon who could resist a cream tea?

Cream tea

We chose to go across the middle of Dartmoor on the B3212. There are a few steep ramps on the climb onto the moor out of Moretonhampstead but it was very scenic and memorable.

The B3212 across Dartmoor

Beautiful view from Dartmoor down to the coast at Plymouth

On arrival at Plymouth there was time for a small celebration before catching the ferry to Roscoff.

Well deserved.


Tour de Manche: St Malo to Cherbourg

The official route

We arrived at St Malo on a boat from Dinard. St Malo is a busy ferry port and we enjoyed cycling past the fortifications to the sea front. It was immediately evident that we had left the undulations of Northern Brittany behind us and we were now in flatlands. We detoured off the official route to visit the oyster capital of Cancale which was lined with busy cafes full of people swallowing down oysters.

Voie Verte in the Bay of the Mont St Michel

Ahead we could see the spectacular bay of the Mont St Michel stretching out in front of us. The character of the route changed now and we were to be on off-road gravel cycle-tracks for the majority of the route to Cherbourg.

Early morning mist at the Mont St Michel

Although the idea of cycling on traffic free Voie Vert sounds quite appealing, the reality is actually quite tedious after the first couple of hours. The cycle track follows an old railway line and for hour after hour we had only brief glimpses of any scenery beyond the tree lined route. The route was very flat but cycling on gravel requires a lot of energy,even on slick 28mm tyres, so progress was no quicker than on the hilly paved roads of Northern Brittany.

The endless Voie Vert gravel tracks around Sourdeval on the Contentin Penisular Normandy.

The route tracks up the middle of the peninsular largely following the River Vire and does not go to the coasts.

We had not expected the Voie Verts to be so rough and had only one spare inner tube each so we were delighted on the 7th day in France to came across a bike shop in Vire.

stocking up on spares at Vire

As it turned out we didn’t have any punctures in the 1200km tour. A vote for Continental 4 seasons tyres.

A point of interest to break the tedium of the Voie Vert was a dismantled Viaduct at Souleuvre. It was built in 1891 by Gustav Eiffel as a railway bridge. It has been dismantled leaving 6 pillars to leave a ‘unique work of art’. You can see that this area of Nomandy is short on tourist attractions! Anyway, apparently 10,000 people a year use it for bungee jumping. We didn’t make it 10,002. We did enjoy the steep descent into the valley and the climb out made a change from flat gravel Voie Vert.

The viaduct at Souleuvre

We followed the River Vire towards St Lo and there were some beautiful sections along the River but we also enjoyed a 10km stretch on little lanes with 3 really steep hills between Conde sur Vire and Pont Farcy.

Pont Farcy

We were making great progress up the Contentin Peninsular and the warm sunny weather helped a lot.

Cherbourg 179km

As we approached St Lo, still cycling along the River Vire, we enjoyed several sculptures.

Art along the River Vire

North of St Lo we were very aware that the area saw ferocious action in the Second World war and was close to the Normandy Beaches. We were crossing the marshes on our approach to Carentan and stopped on a bridge dedicated to the 82nd Airborne division of the United States Army. The Battle of Carentan was an engagement which took place between 10 – 15 June 1944 to consolidate the beachheads (Utah beach and Omaha Beach) which had been taken during the Normandy Landings on 6th June 1944. 74 years later there was not much evidence of the carnage from the war.

Dedication on the bridge near Carentan

We continued across the marshes enjoying some excellent single track on our approach to Carentan.

Approaching Carentan across the marshes which had seen fierce fighting in 1944.

Carentan was quiet and peaceful.

After Carentan there was more Voie Vert as we headed west to La Haye du Puits.

Voie Vert near La Haye du Puits

As we got closer to Cherbourg the Voie Vert gave way to paved roads. We enjoyed the downhill run into the city where we easily found the ferry port. We boarded Barfleur in the late afternoon and enjoyed a smooth crossing to Poole.


Sunset in Poole harbour

Tour de Manche: Roscoff to St Malo

The official route

The overnight ferry from Plymouth brought us to Roscoff on the North coast of Brittany.

We had planned the route we were intending to follow in advance. There is a Tour de Manche website which provided some information but generally it wasn’t very helpful. One of the main problems was that we were riding it backwards, in that we had decided to ride the French section of the TDM with the prevailing wind and the route is described on the website from Cherbourg to Roscoff, which is against the wind. The downside of this idea was we would have the wind against us in Southern England.

The route is mostly well signed. However, the signs did tend to peter out just when we needed them most.

Signage on the Tour de Manche

We were riding our normal touring bikes which have sturdy steel frames with 28mm Continental 4 season tyres. We carried the small amount of stuff we needed in panniers.

Our trusty steeds

We were not camping or applying heat to any food and that meant we were travelling light.

Travelling light (on the gravel tracks)

We expected to be riding on good surfaced roads the whole time and had only brought one spare inner-tube each. We expected to pass plenty of bike shops in France if we did need help with any mechs.

As it turned out the route alternated between tarmac and off road sections some of which we would have been more at home on our mountain bikes.

Nice bit of single track!

There were no bike shops! Luckily the Continental 4 seasons did not let us down and we did not have a single puncture despite the rough tracks we were riding on.

The route along the coast of Northern Brittany was very scenic but constantly undulating with some challenging hills. We took time to enjoy the scenery and points of local interest.


Near Cap Frehel

On the fifth day we decided to take the waterbus across the Rance from Dinard to St Malo rather than riding up to Dinan on the Voie Vert where the official route went. We did this because a boat trip was more interesting than a city!

Ticket office for the Water bus from Dinard

On reflection  the first five days of the TDM from Roscoff to St Malo was the best bit for us. The cycling was interesting and the coastal scenery spectacular.

After St Malo we detoured to Concale and then we started the ‘Petit Tour de Manche’ which is much flatter with long sections of Voie Verte – the green roads.

Our introduction to Voie Verte near Le Mont St Michel. Beautiful.


An introduction to the Tour de Manche

The official route

The Tour de Manche is a 1200km cycling adventure which links the coasts of Brittany, Normandy and the Jurassic coasts of Dorset and Devon. We live a few metres from the route as it goes through Dorset, so we thought it would be a good plan to ride from home to home over a couple of weeks.

The Tour de Manche passes close to home.

The English section of the Tour de Manche goes from Poole to Plymouth. The route follows quiet roads and lanes.

Arriving at Plymouth for the overnight ferry to Roscoff

West of Weymouth the English section of the Tour de Manche follows a route suitable for more experienced cyclists, with some challenging hills.

The Tour de Manche in France has 2 distinct sections. From Roscoff the route follows the coast to the crossing of the Rance to St Malo and is very scenic but constantly undulating with some steep ramps.

Scenic coastal roads in Brittany

From St Malo to Cherbourg the route is less challenging with long sections of Voie Verts which are gravel tracks along disused railway lines.

Flat straight gravel tracks in Normandy

On the face of it this sounds quite attractive, but it is actually quite slow and tiring pedalling along the rough gravel and, when enclosed in a cutting for long stretches, much less interesting than the hilly, open, scenic roads along the coast of Brittany. The Cherbourg to St Malo section is a stand alone route called Petit Tour de Manche and is more suitable for families – with just the occasional hilly bit to catch the unwary.

The route is signed throughout. We didn’t follow the prescribed route religiously and occasionally went off route to visit places of interest. We carried maps and had the bones of the route on the GPS.

Just off the ferry we were pleased to find the tour de Manche on the sign posts.

We used Brittany Ferries for the channel crossings. We went overnight from Plymouth to Roscoff on the Pont Avent.

Bicycles secured for the overnight crossing from Plymouth to Roscoff

After cycling through Brittany and Normandy we came back from Cherbourg to Poole on Barfleur.

Returning to Poole on Barfleur