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Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Noirmoutier, the pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Philibert (Chavagnes scouts)


Noirmoutier, the pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Philibert:

It is generally accepted in scout circles that the January exit-weekend scout camp is the most feared in all the scouting calendar. It is cold, it is dark and the laws of science concerning combustion seem to have changed. For this trip our destination was the isle of Noirmoutier and to make things easier (oh the naivety!) we had bikes. Here we are setting out, all smiles and mouths full of apple:

Onward Christian Soldiers!

The first section of the journey (a small railway station in the heart of the bocage to a chateau just outside Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie) was completed fairly easily, though it became clear that riding uphill with a remorque was not an easy task.

Louis V-R lends a hand (and a leg) with a remorque.
Soon a first stop was necessary. Apples and chocolate make very good bike fuel:

We were very lucky that as the sun set over the fields casting a red light on the fields and calvaries of the bocage to come across a potential camp for the night. Our hosts were very hospitable and we soon had a campfire going:
A fine calvary in the light of the setting sun.
Arriving at the chateau.
The fire, a communal effort.
Armand and Mito enjoy the much-needed warmth.
A reluctant morning farewell to our camp

The next day we awoke to a beautiful but cold morning, more than a little apprehensive of the long cycle ahead. After a short, unplanned stop in St. Gilles (our first technical fault!) we took the coastal path towards the Marais Breton, stopping for lunch by the long, fine beaches:

Armand in the distance Louis surveys the strands Laurent and Armand Group photo
Despite the flatness of the terrain the strong winds made progress difficult, especially for those trailing the remorques, which now began to act like sails dragging the rider the wrong way. The weather was very bright and clear however, which made things much more pleasant. Then one of the remorques broke. Then it broke again. And then again....

Louis and Laurent use their technical nous and scout tools to fix the remorque.
This was the most trying part of the journey but with mutual support, the faultless (well, more or less) guidance of Max, patrol leader and navigator, and sheer determination we made it to the enormous humped bridge connecting Noirmoutier to the mainland. At this stage a mention must be made concerning the fine conduct of the younger members of our group who cycled hard and didn't complain.
Maximilian Micallef-Eynaud, peerless navigator and traverser of roundabouts.
Tired we made our way three quarters along the island to pitch camp, which was in the form of some rough common ground no more than a hundred metres from the beach:

Mito's tired legs allow him as far as the beach

Three intrepid adventurers on the promontory.
After a very sound sleep we awoke keen to explore Noirmoutier and discover what it was that St. Philibert had seen in the place. From the day before we had seen that it was a charming island of attractive villages and in the morning we were equally impressed by the lovely Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile. Of particular note is the whitewashed chateau which dominates the centre of town:

The group outside the chateau and the Church of St. Philibert.
Entering the church we descended into the crypt to pay homage to the saint:

The interior of the church and its beautiful pieta
The interior of the crypt was extremely atmospheric and encouraged silent contemplation.

Mr Crawford, Armand and Mito admire the crypt
After the church, we changed our itinerary and decided to spend the day exploring the island.

Another seaside lunch stop with plenty of birdwatching

We spent some time searching for a monastery shown on our map, only to discover it appears to have been changed into something else, but it was still a rewarding exploration. There can be no doubt that when the hire people arrived and took our bikes off us that there was a general sense of relief!


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