Velorail Des Andaines at Bagnoles De L'Orne (Guest Post)
A couple of days ago I was chatting to Jo from Mum Friendly about the Vélo-Rails of Normandy and I posted up a picture (at the end of this post) of when Simon, myself and the very young boys had a exceedingly wet day on one of our local ones. The following blog is written by Paul Willis (Worthing Wanderer) about his day out in Bagnoles De L'Orne and it's local Vélo-Rail this October.
Vélo-rail Des Andaines at Bagnoles De L'Orne – Paul Willis
Whenever we go to France these days we try to look out for a velorail. These operations are run on disused railway lines where the tracks have not been lifted and it is possible to use a specially adapted bike that takes up to four people. There are a few such operations in Normandy and we have already tried the ones at Val de Maizet and Pont Erambourg. We saw one at Bagnoles De L’Orne and weren’t sure whether it would be open as the website was a bit coy. Nevertheless we thought we would try and if it wasn’t open we could still enjoy the scenery around this old spa town.
It was immediately obvious that Bagnoles De L'Orne was rather different from others around the area. It was grandly laid out for the type of discerning clientele you might expect of a place where people come to take the waters. The railway station was still intact although trains have not run here since 1992 when the branch line from the nearby town La Ferté Macé closed down. This would once have provided direct access from Bagnoles to Paris by train. There was a sign up at the station suggesting that we would be in luck early in the afternoon and so we decided to have a look around town and head for a leisurely lunch first.
Bagnoles is built around a beautiful lake, and this acts as the focal point of the town. At the time of our visit it was at the zenith of autumn and the colours of the trees were a fantastic palette of yellows, reds and browns. Judging by the colours on show I rather suspect that the planting had been planned to ensure maximum impact. Someone clearly had a lot of foresight!
The station is a two platform terminus that has clearly seen better days. It wasn't always a terminus as a line continued on to the nearby village of Couterne but this appears to have closed in 1941, probably as a wartime measure that was never reversed and any trace of the onward line has disappeared.
We paid our money to the young lass in the booth and mounted our vélo. The daughters had really fancied a go at pedalling and so far have not been able to because they were too young. They were very excited when the lady invited them to have a go and reduced the size of the seats to accommodate them. Us parents were pleased to have the youngsters do the work for us!
Initially the cycling was easy as we headed through beech forest. We soon passed the hippodrome, a rather different looking racecourse to ones that we might be used to seeing in the UK. For one thing it was a much smaller facility with some pretty tight looking corners for the horses to run around.
As we passed the hippodrome we picked up a bit of speed as we headed through the forest. On the right was a pretty looking large house that was done out to look like some kind of castle and was large enough to suggest that it may be some kind of country house hotel. That was pretty much the last civilisation that we saw for a while as we descended through the forest. It was pretty murky in there as the density of trees was such that the low autumn sun struggled to penetrate through the wood.
On our way down through the woods our passage was interrupted at a level crossing. As is customary with velorail operations, cyclists have to give way to cars and this is quite effectively enforced by stringing a bungee cord across the line with a big stop banner attached to it.
Eventually we came out into more open countryside and passed underneath a large arched bridge, the only engineering structure of any note along the route. Cycling became much harder now as the gradient was against us and we shuffled around to make sure that others could have a go. It wasn’t long before we saw a crowd of other velorailers and found that we had come to the end of the line. The rails came to an abrupt end and the onward passage was only available on foot. The main reason for this is the construction of a by-pass across the line of the track. This was probably the death knell for the railway in the first place although it was interesting to see that it had been constructed in such a way that the authorities could reconfigure the routes to ensure that both could co-exist.
At the end of the line we quickly discovered that we were the last of this contingent of cyclists to head out and all the others were therefore waiting for us so they could head back. We used the turning wheel to turn our cycle and without further ado we headed back to Bagnoles. The whole route was probably no more than about three miles in each direction. Heading back took rather a lot more effort for the route was more uphill than down but we soon rolled into Bagnoles station where we saw another crowd of people waiting for our return so that they could do the trip.
Did we have fun? I think this picture says it all!
This was a short vélo rail by comparison with others we have been on and a little short on railway engineering structures to look at. It was a very pleasant ride through the forest though and especially in autumn (although I imagine that spring would be good too). Combined with a day out and lunch/ looking round the shops in Bagnoles and you make for a mighty fine day out if you are in this part of the world.
It sounds like Paul and his family had great fun and distinctly better weather than we we had a go on another vélo-rail a few years ago!
Have you ever ridden a Vélo-Rail or do you think you'd like to?
Links to local vélo-rails:
Pont-Erambourg - Vélorails des Collines Normandes
Bagnoles-de-l'Orne - Vélorails des Adaines
Condé sur Vire - Vélorail de la Vallée de la Vire
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