My journey to The Canal Du Midi started a good few years ago when my good friend Barry Woolley from the LIA UK, asked me to be a speaker at the UK annual convention in Birmingham. After the meeting we had a lovely evening with plenty of good food and a fair share of wine consumed.
A number of the UK members had organised a cycle later on in the year around The Ring of Kerry and they asked me if I would care to join them. Naturally I agreed straightaway although I hadn’t sat on a bicycle for about 40 years!
As soon as a bit of decent weather arrived that spring in Ireland I bought a bike and started to do a little training as I didn’t want to disgrace myself in front of my UK friends by falling off my bike when they came to Ireland.
I met them for the cycle the following September and we were blessed with wonderful weather for our weeks cycle. We started at Molls Gap, which is about 15 miles from Killarney up in the mountains. We cycled first to Sneem and then on to Caherdaniel. Then we cycled over the mountain pass of Coomakista to Waterville and then to Ballinskelligs past St Finian’s Bay and over the mountain into Portmagee and across the bridge to the wonderful tranquil Valentia Island. Then by ferry to Renard Point and on to Caherciveen. Day three was over Bealach Oisin a demanding mountain pass to Glencar and on to the beautiful seaside village of Glenbeigh. From there we cycled through Killorglin to Tralee and our final cycle took us over the Conor Pass to the wonderful town of Dingle.
Since that adventure I have continued to cycle each summer and I will always be grateful to my friends in the UK for including me in their trip around Kerry as it got me back on my bike.
Recently I received a birthday present from my daughter Oonagh of a copy of a book about the life of Irish broadcaster Donncha O Dulaing who created a very popular Irish radio and TV programme called “Highways and Byways”. I noticed when finishing the book that a writer called Declan Lyons had helped him with the writing of the book. I then read that Declan has a house near Beziers in the South of France quite close to my brother Martin’s Chambre d’Hote. Through the magic of LinkedIn I contacted Declan who knew of Martin and subsequently bought a copy of a wonderful guide book, through Amazon .com that Declan had written on the cycling attractions of The Canal Du Midi.
Last June I had done a cycle along a small part of the canal with my son Owen and his girlfriend Marina when we stayed with Martin and so I was really interested in finding out some more about this wonderful cycling and boating amenity.
For anybody thinking of doing such a cycle, make sure you buy Declan’s book before you book the flight as it is simply a wonderful tour book for the experienced cyclist or the novice cyclist like me.
The building of The Canal Du Midi was started in 1667 by Pierre Paul Riquet and originally the canal was built so that commercial shipping could move from Toulouse in the Haute Garonne to Agde and Sete on the Mediterranean Coast. The 240 km towpath along its banks is now, according to Declan, a cyclists dream.
The arrival of railways in the 19th century and the later construction of truck-carrying motorways meant that the canal went into commercial decline but now, thanks to pleasure boating and cycling, the canal is once again a busy place, especially in the summer months.
The canal is part of a water system that links The Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean and the cycle goes from Toulouse to Carcassonne and on to Beziers, where we joined it, and then on the sea where it finishes at Sete.
We didn’t have any bikes with us when we stayed with Martin but we were able to hire very good bikes very reasonably in a bike shop in Beziers and so one fine morning we headed off along the canal heading towards Agde on the Mediterranean, a nice gentle cycle of around 18km.
The wonderful thing about cycling along the towpath of a canal is that there are no mountains or hills to be climbed, it is flat as a pancake and it’s so peaceful without a car in sound or sight. We cycled into a gentle sea breeze coming from the sea at Agde our place of destination and as we cycled we started to appreciate the wonderful cycling facility that is the Canal Du Midi as we admired the canal itself and the natural beauty of the flowers and the birdlife on display. We were also able to watch the boats as they cruised along the canal and the locks along the way that allow the boats to pass from one level to the next.
When we reached Agde we had a well-earned dip in the sea and then had lunch in a charming restaurant close by and then headed back aided by the gentle breeze helping us back to Beziers. Along the way we stopped at one of the little restaurants on the canal for a coffee. I had a half empty bottle of water with me and straightaway the kind waitress asked could she fill it for me which she did and promptly returned with my bottle full of water in an ice bucket that she placed on the table. A nice French touch of class!
So as we approach the end of January and start to plan some holiday adventures abroad, keep the Canal Du Midi in mind if you fancy a special cycle. You can always stay in the brother Martin’s wonderful Chambre d’Hotes called “Le Presbytere” situated at the top of the circulade village of Thezans-Les-Beziers a village surrounded by vinyards. Who knows but if you mention that Ted sent you, you might even get a little discount while he wines and dines you. Hope springs eternal!
Ted Dwyer Family Business