Cycling With The Chain Gang – Part 1

Our First Ever Day

The very first day of our very first tour had enough incident to make it memorable. There were only 7 of us – one of them was Stéphane, the guide, one was me, and two were friends of mine who’d put their hand in their pocket to show real support for my new venture.

So, you’ve probably worked out we had 3 proper customers (if you exclude Sean and Dave, who paid, and were vaguely forced to come along), but we had a great week.

Castle at BeynacAll our bikes were brand new, of course, along with new panniers etc. We have never been so well equipped since. There were 2 bikes for every one if we wanted – a good job, as it turned out. We set off from Les Eyzies towards the village of Le Bugue just 10 Km away.

We didn’t make it. Not smoothly, anyway. Dave broke his bike – beautiful, brand new, hand-built road bikes, from Graham Weigh in Deeside, North West England. So I cycled back to Les Eyzies for a spare wheel.

The rest went relatively smoothly as we lunched for the very first time at Le Chais, a delightful place next to the confluence of the Vézère and the Dordogne. We’ve eaten there so many times since, they don’t care what time we turn up, and that is a rare thing in France. They’ve got us out of a pickle more than once.

We had a swim in the Dordogne, and then made our way to Saint Cyprien. We hadn’t found our current route along the south bank of the Dordogne, so we stayed on the shorter road North of the river. We’d managed to stop at every bar on the way, and Dave’s bike was broken again.

I was distraught. This was the first day my new company had ever traded in anger, and it seemed that our expensive equipment (because I’d always enjoyed road riding, I’d bought a dozen hand-built, lightweight race / touring bikes – they were seriously nice, but also seriously expensive) wouldn’t last a whole day, let alone a whole season. Not with Dave on it, anyway.

We arrived at the Hostellerie Maleville, right next to the Dordogne 500 feet below the incredible castle of Beynac. It really is incredible, by the way, I’m not aware of anything like it in the UK, built right on the edge of these huge cliffs. Stephane explained our problem to Mme Maleville, the 5th generation of her family to own this hotel by the banks of the Dordogne in this extraordinary spot. I followed as best I could as Stephane asked how could we get a taxi back to Les Eyzies to take back a broken bike and collect a new one? Before dinner, please?

She handed over a set of keys, described her car, and told us dinner would be served at 8.00, and ‘bonne route’. That was it. I’d only ever met her once, although she was the first person I ever met in the Dordogne. The 2nd time I met her I turned up with 6 sweating, tired cyclists, and she just handed over the keys to her car and said “see you at dinner”.

As I write this recollection of the first ever day of cycling for The Chain Gang, I realise I had completely forgotten this extraordinary act of kindness on behalf of this lovely lady. I’ve known her for 11 years now of course, and literally hundreds of Chain Gang cyclists have met her, but she’s always slaving away in the kitchen and running around. When you need her, though, there she is. Mme Maleville. Mrs Bad Town!

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