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Seven Tractors

Almost-silence hangs in the mist. The only sounds are bird song and the gentle whirring of block and chain. The valley sides are obscured by layers of tracing paper haze. Silhouettes of trees and church spires look one and the same. Follow La Béthune for an hour before turning onto the clay hills. Rollercoaster bends through the Forêt d’Eawy and down to Vallée de la Varenne, the river that divides Pays de Caux and Pays de Bray. Sit and eat a pastry on a bench in front of the church in Saint-Saëns. I follow the Varenne back towards the sea for a few kilometres then climb west onto the limestone plateau. The rest of the day will be spent meandering on roads new to me up here.

Horizons are as lonely as they are wide, broken only now and again by rows of trees, telegraph poles, or the occasional wind turbine. Quiet roads drift across agricultural land, the gentle curves of the road mirroring the slight rise and fall of the landscape. I drop in and out of shallow valleys where rivers flow north to the Channel; La Scie, La Saâne, La Vienne, La Durdent. I’ve not seen a car for hours. It’s so peaceful I can hear a bee in a field. A skylark disguises itself in song. Electricity cables fizz in the air above, pylons marching south across the fields. Birds scatter into the air from a bend in the road. Small villages with huge churches. A route that double backs on itself, almost crossing itself but not quite touching, the same place names repeated on signposts hours apart. Doudeville appears many times, I must be circling it. No hedgerow to break the flatness, grass becomes road becomes ploughed earth. A field of rape just turning yellow. Unclip a foot and let the tractor pass, returning a nod and wave to the farmer.

Another slight hill and I sweep down to a junction. Turn left and I’ll be back in Dieppe in half an hour. Turn right and I can follow the rivers for a little longer. I’ve hours left before the ferry home so I turn inland following La Scie back towards an earlier patisserie stop. Up onto the ridge between the Varenne and Scie I turn north one last time, towards the sea like the rivers I’ve had for company all day. A road I’ve ridden a few times before, the D100. Previously I’ve ridden this road at sunrise on legs only just warmed up. Now it’s late afternoon and they have 185km in them, the road feels very different, looks different. I don’t remember it rolling quite this much. The other way round and the other end of the day this has been a favourite, I’m not so sure now. The last of the cashew nuts from that little shop that was unexpectedly open mid-afternoon. The road tips downwards to where the Béthune and Varenne combine with L’Eaulne to form L’Arques which flows the last few kilometres to the harbour at Dieppe. One last river to follow.

I retrieve the D-lock I left attached to a railing in the harbour this morning and head for a favoured brasserie to see if they are serving food yet.

“La cuisine, ouvert?”

“Non, six heures et demi.”

Glance at the clock. Forty five minutes.

“D’accord. Une café, s’il voux plait…une Leffe aussi, merci.”

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