You find me ensconced in an Airbnb in the town of Marle which is some 70 odd miles further south than Cysoing. I’m at the end of day 3 now but here’s day 2………
The Folkestone weather was similar to London’s the previous day with the continuing Baltic easterly wind coming in off the North Sea. Folkestone isn’t too far off sea level and the route to Dover ferry port involves a 2 or so mile climb followed by an 8 mile downhill. The climb up Dover Hill is brutal. Halfway up it feels like you heart is going to burst out of your chest and your breakfast burst from elsewhere! This hill concluded the climbing for England and it was a relief to start descending for Dover. However, the wind had other ideas which meant pedalling all the way down. I even stopped at one point to spin both wheels as it felt like the brakes were sticking.
Following the quick check-in at the port, I, together with a group of other cyclists boarded immediately and within minutes, I was in the exec lounge with coffee and croissants. I think I mentioned the German film crew lady yesterday so I won’t bother with it again.
The crossing was flat calm and within 2 hours, we were in Dunkerque. On arrival at the car deck where the bike was, I was soon joined by my fellow velo-ists. 2 of them were a retired couple off on a tour of the Western Front from Belgium down to Basle in Switzerland. The others were a group of lads who were pedalling up to Bruges for a night on the beer before cycling back the next day.
The temperature on the car deck was so, so cold. One of the Bruges group turned to me and in a broad London accent said,
“Fackin ‘ell! ‘ave we docked in Norway or what?”
This bloke turned up at the port in a puffa-jacket and flip flops in you so it’s hardly surprising he gave such a response.
Once out of the madness which is Dunkerque port, I was away from the traffic and making good progress inland towards the town of Bergues. I did pass through the small hamlet named Le Coq Hardi which the child in me found highly amusing. Translate it as you wish but I’m assured it had something to with a chicken!
Following lunch at Bergues, progress was swift on flat French/Belgian roads and the miles soon passed. Last time in September, I routed the ride through Ypres as I wanted to see the Menin Gate. This time I went via the town of Poperinge. This is the location of the not-so well-known Talbot House which was a rest and recuperation place for allied soldiers during the Great War. The name Talbot House was shortened by the troops to T.H. or Toc H (Toc being the Morse code saying for the letter T). Hence the name Toc H. We had one in the town where I grew up and I always wondered where the name was derived.
Anyway! Enough of such trivia. Again like last time, I passed a few WW1 allied cemeteries and stopped at the ‘New Commonwealth Cemetrie’ in Poperinge. You dont appreciate the scale of how many were lost until you see row upon row of white tombstones. Some identified, and many not. Poperinge cemetery holds in excess of 650 troops. Many of them lost between the 24th and 26th April 1915. This just one of numerous resting places for thousands of young men lost in Northern France during the conflict.
I arrived at the destination in Cysoing at around 6pm to find nobody there. My Airbnb host had actually forgotten I was arriving and thought it was next month! I envisaged having to ride on further in search of a hotel but within 20 mins she arrived, gave me a key, showed me where everything was and then promptly disappeared again. There was also another Airbnb guest staying. Her name was Lionelle (spelling?) who was in the area for a big party that evening. What happened on returning from the party however will have to wait until tomorrow.
All in all a grand day on 2 wheels mixed with baguettes, pastries and some strong French coffee.
Au revoir folks. Until next time!