After breakfast we carried our panniers etc down the road to the lock-up garage. It had filled with cars since we left our bikes and we had a very tricky job unlocking them in the gloom at the back of the large garage, then gently easing them between the cars. Of course, the garage door closed, cutting out more light, long before the task was complete. We were pleased to get out into the sun and ride down the one way street to the railway station which marked the start of our day’s route. We probably took more care with this day’s instruction book than with the previous days. Partly, this was based on the experience of the previous day and partly because we had a page of errata for this day based on “road works”. So in a vain attempt at following the route to the letter, I was ticking off the directions and writing down the odometer reading at every turn. This worked for 8 steps in the instructions book then we found a ‘road closed’ not in the book! I investigated closely and looked for a way round this obstruction, even going into a shunting yard, but the road was not only closed. It had also been gouged out to a depth of about 5m. The workmen seemed to be making a new stream bed. There was no alternative we had to turn round but managed to find a diversion that took us to the other side of the closed road. As a result, it took us about 3/4 of an hour to go 400m. From then on we were able to follow the route directions into a small town, Bezouce. Along the way the roads and tracks continued to be lined with wild flowers that were a feature of the whole trip.
At Bezouce the route instruction book offered 3 options. We selected the easiest option taking us more directly to Pont du Gard and crossing over the bridge. The mistral had been screaming all morning and we were anxious to spend time at the Pont du Gard. The easy option path took us right past the local Bezouce arena where French-style bullfights are held. This video explains what is involved using an example of a “fight” filmed in the Nimes arena https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0VWKGgbTs0 . The Pont was about 15km further on and we reached there without a problem in time for some lunch.
I found the Pont du Gard truly amazing and one of the main highlights of the whole trip. It has a spectacular setting and is a magnificently staggering ancient engineering feat. It was built by the Romans, without using mortar, to take water from a spring in Uzes to Nimes, a distance of 50km. The height difference between the aqueduct start and finish is only 12.5m so the engineers needed to build with a gradient of only 24cm per km. Then the Pont itself is 275m wide and nearly 50m high, the highest in the Roman Empire. We crossed over a lower bridge built in the 18th century by the side of the aqueduct, walking our bikes. This World Heritage site is very large, and gets over 1.5 million visits per year. There were an enormous number of swifts, alpine swifts, swallows and martins swooping with staggering speed around the structure, which was an added attraction.
We stopped at a buvette, in the shade, near the Pont and had a drink and a bite to eat, as it was just about lunch time. Pictures do not really do justice to such a big structure but the header picture attempts a panoramic view. The river Gard passing under the bridge was the main attraction for many of the visitors who were swimming, paddling and sun bathing.
While researching this blog I found this startling picture of a flood on the river in September 2012. It left the Roman aqueduct unscathed but swept away a visitor centre at the Pont du Gard and completely swept away a railway bridge in the vicinity.
After crossing the bridge under the aqueduct, we called into the new visitor centre then relocated ourselves on the trail and set off for the small town of Vers. Beyond that, on the outskirts of Uzes, we rode past the Haribo Museum which is housed in a former sweet factory that was bought by the German company Haribo in the 1960s. Until about 50 years ago, liquorice was grown in the local area and the essential ingredient is extracted from the plant’s root. About 2 kms later we arrived around 5pm at our Hotel: The Best Western with an inviting swimming pool that I soon took advantage of.
We had about half a kilometre to walk into the centre of Uzes that late afternoon. It had probably been our hottest day and it remained so into the evening. Uzes is only a small town but very attractive. We ate in the Place aux Herbes, the pleasant market square
There were also several interesting old buildings including a cathedral with an unusual tower