This Easter we made another visit to our friends’ gite in Normandy (www.eco-gites.eu) and as has now become customary on our trips to France we explored another velorail operation, this time at Val De Maizet. This velorail operation is linked to the one at Pont Erambourg that we visited last time we were in these parts (see http://worthingwanderer.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/velorail-pont-erambourg.html for details of that trip). We were keen to see what another part of the valley looked like as that trip was so scenic.
The operation at Val De Maizet promises a length of trip of 22km, but sadly on the afternoon we visited only a shortened version of 9km was available. Unlike Pont Erambourg the operation at Val De Maizet is not based at a railway station but a former quarry. It is quite difficult to find, although a couple of teaser signs were put up in the area by the people running the scheme. As with all the other velorail operations we have visited this seems to be quite a homespun endeavour, operated from a former post office coach parked on a piece of line outside the old quarry and on the south side of an impressive looking viaduct across the Orne River. To get there take the road down the side of the river from the village of Amaye-sur-Orne and follow it until you reach the viaduct, more than a mile further south. Parking is just beyond the viaduct, taking a turn to the right that leads up to railway level.
Maybe it was because we arrived at the very beginning of the opening season (in fact it may well have been the first day of operation), but we were only offered the 9km outing for our trip. This would take us down the valley to the station of Pont de Brie (only a wayside halt), before we would be required to turn ourselves around and come back.
As with the velorail in Perigord this one ran to a strict timetable to try and reduce the number of manoeuvres on and off the rails. We were joined by a very lively and giggly group of youngsters who were rather surprisingly placed behind us in the queue. In fact there was only one couple put in front of us. That suited our two daughters just fine as they were in a hurry to get us parents pedalling them as fast as we could to the other end!
The route started through a very rocky cutting, with enough room for another track although only one was provided. The space for the second track seemed to be a popular route for dog walkers and we passed several on the way to the next river crossing barely half a mile from the last one. The engineers certainly provided some impressive viaducts to get across the Orne. I guess the narrowness of the valley left them little choice.
We paused on the viaduct to get a view of the river. As we crossed a man and boy passed underneath in their inflatable boat. I have to admit that looked another rather idyllic way of exploring the Orne. On the south side almost underneath the viaduct is a small chapel, apparently called Saint Anne. It seemed an odd place for a chapel, but legend has it that it was put there to mark the spot where a young boy was miraculously healed from wounds he sustained after an attack from a wild boar.
Across the other side of the river and the railway took a course down the shady side of the valley. In the early spring afternoon, the temperature instantly dropped a few degrees without the benefit of the sun and we were quite glad of our coats! The gradient of the railway seemed to be dropping as we headed south, which made for some nice quick pedalling. I think the thing I really appreciate about these routes is the fact that they are ‘real’ railways in every sense, with all the infrastructure still in place unlike those that have been turned into walking trails. From a velorail you also get a far better view of your surroundings than you ever would have done from a train!
We stopped briefly at a level crossing, guarded by a cottage built in the same style as pretty much every crossing cottage I have come across in France. I hope the designer got royalties from every one that was produced! The remaining part of the line took a course pretty close to the river and the air was full of the sound of rushing water and birdsong; the warmth seemingly bringing out all the bird life in the area. High above us we could see circling buzzards, some of them impossibly high!
At a bend in the river further on we passed the ruins of the Moulins Du Pray. I guess this was a water driven mill, but I have not been able to find much history of the old place, except to say that it ground corn and closed in 1952. Sadly it was the wrong side of the river to explore further, but apart from the shell of the building there didn’t look to be much left.
The rails were in quite bad shape on some sections of the line. I guess any trains that would want to use the line would have to travel at a pretty slow speed in order to continue safely. There are still some discussions about bringing tourist trains through here apparently, but the line would surely have to be relaid in order for it to happen? Much of the other infrastructure looked in pretty bad shape, including a platelayer’s hut that seemed to consist of little more than the metal frame.
All too soon and we reached the station at Pont de Brie. This looked like it was little more than a halt, with a low platform and not a lot else. Or so I thought – at the far end of the platform I later discovered that the old station building still exists as an auberge. The Google Street view picture shows rather an attractive looking place & I felt annoyed that I hadn’t taken the time to look further. Maybe next time we come? We all agreed that the 9km version of this route was lovely but rather less than satisfying as we all had the energy and enthusiasm to have explored a whole lot more.
We turned our velorail by the rather unsophisticated method of picking up the whole vehicle and manually turning it. No we found ourselves towards the back of the queue, which wasn’t so enjoyable especially as the youngsters in front had nothing like as much stamina as us and all struggled to pedal up the surprisingly steep line on the way back.
This is a very enjoyable stretch of line, perhaps equalling the Pont Erambourg section in terms of scenery. However, for history and railway features it was lacking the enjoyment of the other part of the line. At 9km it was lacking some distance and perhaps next time we come we should try and ensure we get to look at the whole section available.
For more pictures from our trip please see My Flickr Site
For more pictures from our trip please see My Flickr Site