Day 3 started very early – nothing to do with cycling. More to do with a drunk middle aged house guest that was also staying at the Airbnb. As explained yesterday, this Madame had turned up to stay as she was attending a party in the area. Now, the house where we are now both staying is of very modern design with an open plan layout on the ground floor. Like most French houses, the ground floor is also tiled throughout and this combined with the owner’s minimalist tastes then results in a large space that can carry sound very well. I found this out at 1:37am when Madame returned from the party a little worse for wear after an evening supping côtes du Rhone and no doubt a couple of brandies after dinner etc etc etc. Anyway, through the front door she came with a clatter of heels that echoed throughout the house. I woke up and immediately thought we were being burgled. Then I heard Madame talking loudly in slurred French before clattering up the laminate floored staircase and into her room. Ten minutes later, with heels now removed, off again. First to the bathroom where she knocked over a load of toiletries and then rather swiftly downstairs to the only toilet in the house where she proceeded to eject all of the evening’s food and drink. Once again, this solo performance resonated throughout the building and after 10 minutes of this, I began to think surely there can be any more and yet, there she goes again singing yet another verse!
She finally drew her performance to a close after several encores and settled into a death-like stupor. I never heard from her again.
The following morning, following the usual French brekkie, I made my way southeast towards the town of Marle. The winds today were favourable mostly which enabled a steady rolling average over gently undulating countryside. Being a bank holiday in France, it was always going to be tricky finding somewhere open for food but I struck gold in the town of Marciennes and even stopped there for coffee too. In the chiller they had some wraps that were made on the premises. One variety was labelled ‘Bresilien’ or Brazilian as we know it. What on earth could be in that? No hares I hope (boom boom). Turned out it was what we British know as coronation chicken. Very tasty even if it had warmed up in the French sunshine!
The route chosen this time differed slightly to miss out some so-called cycle paths and a quicker way taken. I did then later on pick up the original route at Le Cateau Cambresis. Out of here is a long, long climb that I remembered from before and a climb that I struggled to complete with a bit of a gammy knee. This time though, a much different story as I got to the top in one go and was bearly out of breath. At the top of the hill sits the WW1 Highland cemetery. I stopped here in September where the winds were so strong, the surrounding trees were bent over like the postman at Christmas. Today though, a complete contrast as the same strees were bolt-upright (much like my postman on Valentine’s day!).
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.
I’m currently sat in the Executive lounge on a Danish Seaways ferry. By ‘Executive’ it means you get your own keycode to get in, a complimentary pastry and unlimited vending machine coffee. As an added bonus today, we are joined by a German film crew led by an 18 stone Frau who is constantly barking orders to her minions! All this for a bargain £10.99!
Well yesterday’s ride down from London caught me by surprise as soon as I stepped outside the door of the Airbnb just off the Edgeware Road. It was bitter! 2 degrees max. Failing to consider this possibility! I had only packed shorts, fingerless gloves and no warm top. Out of the wind it was ok but once moving the wind chill dropped considerably. Downhill bits made me teeth hurt and I was relieved when the relatively flat route from central London produced a decent hill to pedal up.
By the suburb of Eltham I was frozen and sought hot coffee in a Tesco Express. Whilst in there, I approached a young spotty youth who was replenishing the Mars Bars and asked,
“Excuse me, do you sell gloves?”
There was a pause……. Not a short one but a verging on awkward one. He then averted his gaze upwards and squinted slightly as I waited with great anticipation for his reply. You could hear the cogs turning here. You could see here was a chap that didnt really pay attention at school. Without a word, he disappeared for 20 seconds and then returned clutching a packet of bright yellow Marigolds. Well I guess technically he was right. I asked for gloves and he produced some from aisle 3. Obviously my reply was lacking context. I then explained that I was after the type of gloves that keep your hands warm. His reply being,
“Oh right! I fawt ya were cleaning or summink!”
Cleaning? Dressed as I was? Cleaning?
I pressed on and out into suburbia. The sun was trying its hardest to percolate the morning mist without much success. By 9am it still wasn’t showing any sign of warming up and by Dartford I’d had enough. But wait! What is this? Like a shining light by the roadside there appeared………….. a Halfords! 20 minutes later I was kitted out in cheap Chinese-made cycling apparel in the form of leg warmers (lycra type tubes), gloves and another top. Not the best quality (in fact, with it being the end of the season, it was all the crap they couldn’t sell over the winter or even in the spring sale!). Beggars can’t be choosers and I was warm at last!
Yesterday, Kent played host to some Scando-Baltic headwinds. Nothing too strong but enough to make a difference and to keep things cold. All the way down the A20 from Maidstone, I did battle with this bloody wind.
At some point somewhere, I stopped off at a filling station and was lured to the hot food counter. In the display cabinet were a couple of sausage rolls. Hot pastry containing a few ounces of processed ‘meat’. They looked good, they smelt even better. The fact that pastry induces indigestion in me lasting days didnt even occur. I snapped them up, tucked in and they were………..bloody awful. Why do we do these things to ourselves? We know it’s going to be bad but still, time after time, set ourselves up for a big disappointment! I departed once again feeling pretty sick and kicking myself for not just having a simple ham roll!
25 miles later, the town of Folkestone appeared over the last of many horizons where a warm welcome and bath awaited. All in all a good but chilly day and glad to get this part out if the way.
Mileage for Day: 76.3 miles
Total so far: 76.3 miles
Today is 65 (+ 11miles to the ferry) or so miles from Dunkerque down to the south of Lille. Should be much flatter than yesterday with less winds too with any luck.
Wow! What a scorcher the Easter weekend was! Easter in the UK normally signifies the start of the holiday season down here in Devon. It usually kicks in on a Friday evening literally hours after the school bell has rung. The main link road down to the south-west of England soon becomes a slow-moving mass of vehicles conveying umpteen thousand wired children, tripping sky-high on Haribo whilst Dad sits at the wheel silently kicking himself regretting not electing to stay at home and re-tile the bathroom! What usually happens here in Devon is that the weather is fine up until the day after the tourists arrive. Then the heavens open and stay that way for the duration. This then leaves relationships strained as the parents are now under every obligation to keep their little one’s amused and out of the rain. Of course, this also then comes at great cost to the wallet and severely dents the holiday budget! However, this weekend was to be an exception to the rule. The weather was glorious. The tabloids had been banging on about an Easter heatwave but then they always like that sort of thing – snow at Christmas, sea-levels rising for lent, potato shortages on St.Patrick’s day etc etc. Anyway, turns out they were right. It has been the best! This meant for the first time this year, the cycling shorts have seen the light of day! No base layers, no overshoes, no thermal socks and not a glove to be seen! That was on Saturday and three and a bit hours into the ride with 40 miles down, I was feeling wretched and all I wanted to do was get home. The diagnosis? Too much sun! It must have been a shock to the system after months of damp and cold weather. Nevermind, a nap and a trip to the local Indian (restaurant that is, and not a local sort of faith-healer!) certainly did the trick.
Yesterday was better…….much cooler and some cloud cover with a gentle south-easterly breeze. It was to be the last chance to get some good miles in before my little jaunt across France which starts next Monday. Anyone that has read this blog will know that I attempted this ride from London to the Mediterranean back in September but had to call it a day on day 4 due to a knee injury. Since then however, the knee has recovered and I’ve built up the mileage slowly over the ensuing months. Yesterday’s ride was a good 68 miles and carrying the kit I’ll be taking to France with me. (all in all, it’s about 6 – 7kg ) when packed). Everything felt good, felt strong and the bike appears to be doing everything it should be doing.
Those interested in following me in my quest to pedal to the Med, can view the route details here.
There’s also a tracker that can be found here but I’ll be posting each day for that.
Also, if there’s any cyclists that fancy joining me for a mile or two, please look at the route and let me know. I know there’s a good few cyclists in France (2 of which are joining me at some point). Would be great to have some company.
Finally, the reason I’m doing this is for the Brain Tumour Charity so if anyone wants to throw a few pounds/euros/dollars into the pot you can do so by clicking here.
The Iconic Marble Arch in London’s West End. Completed in the 1830s and a little reduced in size (and cost!) from the original design, this monument once stood at the entrance to the then, newly built Buckingham Palace. When Queen Victoria sat in the ‘big chair’, she soon realised that Buck House wasn’t going to be big enough and had the whole place extended (more than just a conservatory and a bigger kitchen methinks!). As a result of the this, the Arch was dismantled and relocated to the top of Park Lane at the end of Oxford Street.
It’s from here on Monday 29th April, I’ll be wheeling off once again in a bid to cycle to Montpellier in the South of France. All being well, I’ll be dipping my toes in the Mediterranean on 10th May after 11 days and 820 or so miles of pedalling. The route will initially take me out of London and southeast through Kent to Folkestone for an overnight stop (70ish miles). The following day will be a quick 10 mile sprint to Dover to catch the Ferry to Dunkerque. After a breakfast of pastries and coffee ‘à bord le bateau’, I’ll then have a refreshingly flat 65+ miles to a little town southeast of Lille. More details on a daily breakdown of the route can be found by clicking here
Some of you that followed the blog last September would’ve read that I came to a reluctant halt and had to abandon the ride due to a knee injury after 260 miles. So here I am again getting prepared to do battle once more. Anyone that didn’t read it, I think if you scroll down on the blog page, you can enlighten yourself there. It wasn’t all bad and there were some laughs!
The knee took a while to get 100% right but I’m glad (and relieved) to say that it is now 100% and stronger than ever. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and looking back now, I was ill-prepared and hadn’t done anywhere near enough training. The injury happened a week before I’d even left London and together with 70+ miles on a loaded bike and strong headwinds, it was bound to go wrong somewhere (that somewhere was a bus shelter in a village in Eastern France!).
Also, the bike, was only a few months old and I hadn’t covered anywhere enough miles on it. It performed OK and it couldn’t be faulted. The problem was really the bloke perched on top of it! However, since then I’ve invested time and money in getting a ‘bike-fit’. The bike is now correctly set up and after a couple of hundred miles, I’ve settled into the new riding position and for the first time, there’s no aches, pains or pins and needles. And, as a bonus, there’s much more available power going through the pedals now (handy for the hills!).
Its all for Charity! The UK’s Brain Tumour Charity will be sole beneficiary of any funds raised and so far. So far, via the JustGiving site and cash donations, there’s already over £1250 in the pot so many thanks to all those who have donated so far.
So, between now and the end of April, there’s plenty of miles to get in locally to get my ageing legs into a state to pedal 70+ miles a day, everyday across France. It’ll be easy in places I’m sure and tougher in others. I’m under no illusions on that front but after reading the accounts of some people who are or have suffered from Brain Tumours, the discomfort of propelling two wheels and a bit of luggage across France really isn’t anything worth remarking on. The courage shown by these people on a daily basis is extraordinary even when, in some cases the prognosis is nothing but bad.
So, 29th it is! 11 days, 800+ miles, One Bloke, 2 legs, One Bike and a fistful of Euros for them french bakeries!
Thanks for reading folks and if you want to throw a few pennies in the pot, you can by clicking here
Just thought I’d pen a little update on what’s happening. A few weeks ago, as you probably know, I had to call a halt to a ride I was undertaking from Central London to the Mediterranean in Southern France. This was due to a knee injury which left me no choice than to stop after only around 260 miles out of the planned 800 and something. To be brutally frank, it was probably down to not enough training and preparation. My fitness levels were fine and I did feel strong on the bike. My left knee however, had other ideas.
Anyway, the knee recovery is well under way after numerous evening ice packs, support bandages and unsuccessful pleas for sympathy! A fortnight ago, I visited a ‘bikefit’ specialist. For those who are none the wiser, they clamp your bike onto a stationery trainer, sit you on it and let you pedal for a wee while. After much scratching of heads, sharp intakes of breath through teeth, they analyse your technique and then question as to how on earth you ever got past the bit where you took your stabilisers off!
After 3 hours of tweaking both me and the bike, I left and 24 hours later, found myself on a gentle spin in the New Forest on a very different feeling bicycle. Much advice has been sought regarding recovery and over the winter, I’ll be rebuilding stamina and strength in this left knee with the target being to ‘Re-leave’ Central London and head down through Kent bound for the South of France. All being well, kick-off will be at dawn on Monday 29th April 2019.
One good thing is that I’ve learnt a few things from last month’s attempt. One of them being that the route through Kent needs looking at and to keep off the unbelievably crappy cycle routes – namely The Pilgrims Way. I think the person that deals with the classification of cycle routes is actually a 4 wheel drive off-road route planner who just walked in and sat down at the wrong desk one morning.
Anyway, there it is. I just want to say a massive thankyou to all those who have donated to my chosen charity The Brain Tumour Charity. Sorry that I didn’t make it the first time. Nobody was more disappointed than me but all it has served to do is make me more than determined to complete job next April.
I was awoken by the noise of rain hammering on the Velux window in my room. My heart sank. The winds were already up and raging too. I stood up and immediately my knee started where it had left off yesterday. After breakfast I waited an hour as the Beeb weather app had set the rain was soon to stop. I wheeled out of the B&B at shortly after 9 to wet roads, no rain but high bloody winds for the 4th day on the trot. It started with a good climb out of the town and once out into open countryside (it is very open in these parts!) the wind was howling once again but thankfully was now from the West. This was a bonus as it was now coming directly across me. I just had to be careful not to be blown into the path of passing traffic. The next 15 – 20 miles or so were on a dead straight D946 through undulating countryside and it was literally a case of pedal up a hill, freewheel down the other side. Pedal up, freewheel down. Repeat for the next hour and a half. Eventually I rolled down into the town of Marle in Hauts de France and in some discomfort. Crossing the railway line and river, then, yet another climb up and out of the town (Normally, if you descend to a town with a river, you’ve got to ascend on the other side – they do it this way in Devon too!). By the time I’d hoiked myself and my bike up, my knee wasn’t in the best of shape and it was a struggle to put any downforce through the left pedal. I left the main road and turned west for a short while into the wind. With the knee problem, I could bearly make progress. I eventually limped the bike into the village of Autremencourt just as the rains returned. Seeking cover in one of France’s fine bus shelters, I took out the camping stove and made a brew. It was decision time. Do I carry on? Can I carry on? I resolved to dose up on Ibuprofen and continue forward some 20+ miles to the town of Laon and see how things were from there. An hour later, dosed up, I packed up my pannier and wheeled away. The route immediately took me west out of the village. The pain was so intense on pedalling, I immediately turned tail and headed back to the bus shelter. It was hopeless. All these months of planning. researching routes, accommodation, equipment. All the sponsorship I’d received. Here I was on day 4 only! Stuck with a shagged knee 3 miles from the nearest town. I had no option but to walk the bike back to Marle, the last town I had passed. I then had to work out how to get home. I phoned my Boss who is from Lille to sought some advice (and a little comfort and reassurance if I’m honest). He very kindly offered to contact his family to meet me if I could get a train back to Lille. They would even put me up for the night if necessary and hang on to my bike there so I could get home easier. I managed to get a train with the bike to Laon and a quick check on google meant I was less than 2 hours from Paris where I could get a Eurostar home. Time was getting on though and I envisaged getting to London and missing the last train to Devon. I also didn’t relish having to keep loading/unloading the bike from train to train and taking off/refitting panniers.
Eventually, whilst at Laon station, I researched a 1-way car hire to Roscoff in Brittany and then a simple ferry crossing to Plymouth. This seemed to be the best option. The bike would be safely deposited in the car and it was just a case of a 700km drive across France to Roscoff for an afternoon ferry the next day.
I left Laon at about 1530 and the car’s GPS navigated me straight towards Paris. Paris on the peripherique (it’s M25) at 530pm on a Friday evening isn’t for the faint-hearted I can tell you . Mind you, I did see some sights – Eiffel Tower in the distance, the Sacre-Coeur, Mont-Martre, oh and 2 Parisian tramps fighting on the hard shoulder – there’s always something to see in this country!
I made it as far as the town of Dreux and after consulting Booking.com, I found a motel for 40 euros. It looked quite pleasant on the webpage. Brightly lit, nice bar and restaurant. welcoming reception area. On arrival however (I should’ve twigged as this place was at the back end of a scruffy trading estate), it couldn’t have been further from the truth. I think the pictures must’ve been taken when the place was within its prime and not within an industrial area. The restaurant and bar were long closed down and bricked up. I was greeted by a dour french/indian gentleman whose white t-shirt looked like one of those ones you’d long discarded but your mum kept under the sink for taking the polish of your shoes with. A ashtray brimming with dog-ends lay on the counter with a smouldering cigarette resting on top slowly burning those filter tips underneath. The place was stinking. Exhausted, I reluctantly paid my 40 euros and was presented with a key. “Dix-Sept!” he barked (17 to non-frenchies). He then pointed to the stairs and barked his second and final instruction of the evening ‘a la gauche!’ (to the left). My immediate remark to myself was ‘Hmmm I wouldn’t recommend the charm school you attended!’
Anyway, into the room! Hmmmm well, it was about 8ft square with twin beds and a table (no chair) that measured about 18 inches by 10. High on the wall in one corner and quadrupling the value of everything within the room was a flat screen telly although the remote was long gone – I’m amazed the TV was still there! The bedding on one bed didn’t look too bad but a quick look at the other one was a different story. I dared to pull back the bottom sheet and look at the mattress. It looked straight out of a field hospital in the crimean war. What was on there was anybody’s guess. It’d keep a forensics lab busy for weeks!
I was at the stage now where the ridiculousness of the situation hit me. Eight hours ago, I was cycling through the french countryside. Now here I am in some sort of ‘$10 Bates Motel’, tired, sore and with a long drive in the morning. I laughed out loud to myself, said F-word a few times to emphasise certain phrases and duly fell into the cleaner of the 2 beds and tried to get some sleep.
An hour later, I was awoken by the noise of someone shouting at the top of their lungs. There was only one voice. Now, he was either mad and addressing himself, speaking to a individual who is dumb, or on the telephone. I’d like to think it was the latter. He was clearly annoyed and in a state of disagreement with the other participant of the conversation. He continued speaking loudly and then moved out into the hallway. Then, from where I can’t be sure, a second voice joined the proceedings. Whether the poor sod on the end of the phone was still part of it, I don’t know. The two voices were now at full tilt arguing in the hallway before, yep – a third voice appeared. 3 french men (I’m assuming they were men. You can never tell these days!), bellowing at each other in the hallway of a hotel at 1130 at night. Then, it got a tad physical as the noise of body-body contact could clearly be heard and then the paper thin walls began to shake as bodies and arms impacted into it. I’ll freely admit I was scared. It was the sort of place where the sound of a gunshot wouldn’t be out of place. I waited for the furor to die down and quickly packed my panniers and got out. At reception, Monsieur ‘White’ T-Shirt had finished his shift and had been replaced with what could’ve been his brother. Similar looking but with a slightly cleaner shirt! I made up some rubbish about catching an earlier ferry and left whilst congratulating him on what a delightful establishment he’s running here!
Leaving Dreux, I phoned my wife to let her know I’d made it out of ‘Le Bronx’ and was back on the road. I was going to try and find another hotel but was so tired I was just as content sleeping in the car. After about 40 miles, I found a lay by and managed a couple of hours’ sleep. The drive across to Brittany was arduous. I didn’t know the route at all and not trusting my judgement, I left it to the car to guide me. Between Dreux and St.Malo, I didn’t see one dual carriageway. I thought the N12 was going to be the obvious route but it was closed and I was quickly diverted well away from it.
Roscoff couldn’t have come soon enough and I was so so glad to get onto the ferry, get the right side of a pint of John Smiths and retire to a cabin to sleep. What a 24 hours it had been. Not the way I’d planned it that’s for sure but so, so bloody glad to get home!
Although, this trip was cut short due to injury. Plans are already afoot to return to finish what I’d started. I’m looking to return in April 2019 to finish the job. Whether I’ll start where I left off or do the whole lot again, I’m not sure. Gutted that I didn’t complete the ride but this experience has made me more than determined to nail it next year. Many thanks to everybody who has sent such kind messages of support and of course to those that have donated to the Brain Tumour Charity.
I awoke to bright sunshine this morning and a brief glance outside at the nearby trees promised that the winds had finally dropped. Breakfast was the typical french thing of croissants, fresh bread and homemade jam etc etc. Just the ticket! Today was to be a shorter day of 58 or so miles so a bit of an easy one after the last three.
I’d managed to fix the GPS last night after my dear daughter had emailed me the route files. The thing was working perfectly now. Why it had occurred yesterday, I don’t know. Hopefully, that would be an end to it playing up.
10 or so minutes after wheeling out of the town and into open countryside, the wind soon made its return. South/South-westerlies once again and almost as strong. My route today was going to take me south-east(ish) but then turning south later on. After about 15 miles or so, I was ready for a cuppa but also keen to get off the bike for a few minutes as I was getting pain in my knee (not a good sign as a cyclist!). I’d had a few twinges in the days leading up to leaving London but dismissed them as nothing. After a cuppa and malt-loaf fix, I carried on and the pain had susbsided. The temperature was certainly starting to warm up as I ventured further south and I stopped to stock up on water (more bloody weight to carry!). Again this area of France was blessed with great cycle lanes keeping traffic well away from you. These were also shared with pedestrians. I was stopped at one point by a french dog-walker (I’ve never seen anyone walking a dog in France before – they’re either running free near where they live and try to bite your shoes or are confined to their gardens barking as you pass to the point of near exhaustion!). This chap waved, shouted at me to stop and then struck up a conversation. He was obviously a past-finalist in the French Speed-Speaking National Championships and was averaging around 250 words per minute. I didn’t catch one of them! He could’ve been saying anything – he probably was. “Lentement Monsieur s’il vous plait” (slowly please),I protested. I attempted to explain in my best pigeon french what the ride was all about whilst he cast me a stare that told me he hadn’t a clue what I was going on about. In his response (and he’d clearly forgotten my request to speak slowly) he was back up to 250 words per minute. I also couldn’t help but notice that his eyes blinked at the same speed as his jaw, almost like those disco lights you buy that flash in time to the beat of the music. It was most fascinating to watch. He also started pointing in both directions – at what, I haven’t a clue. I simply nodded and interjected the odd “oui” when I thought it appropriate. Eventually and as we had exhausted our vocabularies, there the conversation ended. I did hear a ‘Bon Courage’ though right at the end which sounded more like ‘BoCrage’ The phrase taking a whole microsecond to complete. What he hadn’t notice whilst all this was going on that his spaniel was feasting on a dead rabbit with a Michelin tread pattern across it’s hind quarters. Now my french does extend to “Monsieur, your dog is eating a dead rabbit” but the dog was having such a good time, I just didn’t have the heart. The dog on the other hand, had the heart, the liver and probably the kidneys!
Time was getting on and after being navigated through a woodland path, I was eager to find somewhere for lunch before the whole of france shut down for the afternoon (as was the case in every village I had passed through so far). I eventually stumbled up on a ‘Fritterie’ – french style fast food type place. Not the Macdonalds/Burger King rubbish but a small privately owned business serving the usual pro-obesity type foods. I mentioned I was hungry and ordered a Galette Anglaise (Turned out to be an egg, bacon and tomato wrap! – Delicious!) and what looked to be enough chips to feed a family of 6. It was immense and although I was 30 miles in, I really couldn’t do it justice.
Another observation I made was the road markings denoting a cycle path – cycling must be very popular with the cast from Close Encounters of the Third Kind in these parts (See below!)
Note the baguette in the top of the shot. Fallen out of someone’s basket no doubt. You’d think they’d have noticed!
The afternoon part of the route, guided me south which, like yesterday turned me into the wind and it strengthened as the afternoon progressed. As the wind increased, so too did this damned knee pain. I made it to Le Cateau-Cambrésis where I stopped at a Pharmacy for some advice. The lady who served wore an immaculate, pressed white coat and was probably in her late 50s. She walked out from behind the counter to examine to defective knee (or ‘genou’ as it is called here). To onlookers entering the shop, it could not have looked any worse. Here we had a chap in his late 40s, clad in lycra shorts, whilst a middle-aged woman in a white coat was crouched in front on her knees. She then whipped out a tape measure just as someone walked in. I turned my head to look and got the most alarmed look from an old pensioner. Anyway, after measuring my knee, Madame disappeared for 30 seconds and returned with an elasticated sports bandage. I thought she would just hand me the box, take my money and I’d say my Au Revoirs. No, she insisted on stooping down once again to fit said bandage. Now these support devices, they’re not supposed to be loose and can be a bit of a chore to fit (especially on someone else). However she did her best and managed to get it 99% in position. The final 1% though was her undoing as she pulled this bandage in an upward direction, grasping it with only her fingertips. As quick as a flash, her fingers lost their grip and her knuckle shot in an upward direction to catch me clean in the parts that should never be hit by anything travelling at high-velocity Even through the padding of the cycling shorts, it still smarted a bit and my eyes did water. Embarrassed, Madame repeatedly cried “Pardon”. All I could muster was a quiet , yet strained “It’s OK!”. So, there I was in a small French town with a knackered knee and I end up getting punched in the nuts by a pharmacist! Now that’s not something that happens every day!
The bandage did help. It got me to the end of the day but the pain was a worry. I made it to Guise over undulating road against this wind. Hopefully a rest tonight would do the trick and things will be improved on the morrow.
Hi, Day 2 started in Folkestone, Kent. I pedaled away under overcast skies with great optimism as the winds from the previous day had subsided. It was actually like being back in Devon as immediately I was faced with a 500ft climb out of the town. I was warned about Dover Hill being steep and they were not wrong. I actually walked the bike up the last bit. I could see little point in exterting myself unnecessarily as there was a long way to go today (10 miles to the ferry and a further 77 on the French side!).
At the summit of Dover Hill stands the pub, The Valiant Sailor and I can only think it was named after some old seadog who used this drinking house as his local but lived at the bottom of the hill. You’d have to be bloody valiant to make that trek every day- although, it would make you build up a thirst!
The remainder of the trip on the English side was a quick downhill all the way to Dover. I arrived on the seafront to a glorious sunrise, a calm sea state and a feeling that today was going to be a good day! This optimism was maintained with a thoroughly painless check-in process and being a two wheeled customer, I got priority boarding along with other cyclists and motorcyclists. I’d also payed an extra supplement (£12) to access the ‘executive lounge’ onboard which enabled some decent seating, unlimited pastries and hot drinks.
Crossing the channel gave me a little down-time and enabled me to write up yesterday’s blog on the trip through Kent and time passed quickly. Soon enough I was back below decks amongst umpteen lorries waiting to be spewed out into France and the lack of passport control meant it was a very speedy exit from the vast Dunkerque port. Speedy that is, even though the winds had resumed – that part of the French coast being so flat and open, it offers no shelter from winds of any bearing. Cyclists are again well catered for straight off the boat with dedicated cycle lanes to keep the 38 ton ‘artics’ away from your wheels.
About half a mile out of the port, I then realised that my Garmin GPS wasn’t on. I could’ve sworn I’d switched it on whilst waiting to disembark. The screen was blank so I switched it on again and it booted up to a unusual screen and then locked. You could get no response from anything. I powered it back down and up again but still it was the same. I took the memory card out (a micro sd card) and switched it on but still no good. I then dropped the damned memory card in the grass verge and had to find it again. Things were fast turning bad. I then googled about resetting the Garmin and without thinking, I did a hardware reset which, whilst restoring its full functionality, I had inadvertently wiped all of my routes for passage across France! All that work in the planning stage now gone. I had them backed up at home obviously on a hard drive but that was no good me on a hard shoulder in Dunkerque. Then I had a bit of a thought – On my webpage, I’d posted google map links to the routes each day. If I could retrieve the link for that day I could use the phone. However, I couldn’t hold the phone and refer to the map all day whilst cycling one-handed for 70+ miles. So, I just plugged in the headphones and listened to the Google instructions guiding me step by step. The software Google uses obviously reads the street names phonetically as written as some of the pronunciations of the French roads were hilariously bad. Anyway, it worked and got me to the destination.
This was my first visit to the Eastern side of the country and I was eager to see it as from what I had read and seen online, it looked very different to other areas I had been. The route was also going to take me into Belgium for a few miles also which again was new for me. The parts of Dunkerque I saw were very industrial. I have to say that the place was an array of different smells as I passed through its outskirts. Food processing, I’ve found out is a bit of thing there and also chemical industries and oil refining. I’m sure there are some nice parts to be seen in France’s third-largest port but my route afforded me nothing remarkable.
Soon enough, Google had guided me south/south-east and the next town I stumbled upon was Bergues. This was once a big trading port as the English Channel covering the lands to its north had not yet subsided or yet to be reclaimed. Its a pretty place and worth a further visit I think. The architecture is typically flemish with the belfry dominating the town. This place was the setting for the french box-office smash ‘Bienvenue chez la Ch’tis’ or ‘Welcome to the Sticks’. Bergues has had its share of bad luck as like most towns in this part of France, it was ‘in the thick of it’ with respect to both world wars – On June 2nd 1940, 80% was destroyed by bombardment – You’d not think so looking at the place. In England, it seemed to be the common assumption that anything blitzed in the early forties would be replaced with concrete. Not here! The town looks to have been restored to its former state. The previously mentioned belfry whilst being the city’s most celebrated attraction was actually started in the 13th century, rebuilt after the French invasion in 1383, again in the 16th century, again during the 19th century, wrecked by fire in 1940 and destroyed by dynamiting in 1944, it was again rebuilt in 1961. Tenacious folk these Frenchies.
Onward then and across the border into Belgium along beautifully lain cyclepaths keeping traffic well away from you. These belgians seem to have got it right when looking after us two-wheeled travellers and all through the villages, provision for the cyclist was made and well signed.
Ypres was a place I’d been looking forward to seeing due to its history – namely the First World War. The city took several hits during 1914 to 1918……..
The first battle that occurred here between the Allied and German troops started on 19th October 1914 and lasted a little under a month when the allies managed to capture the town from the occupying Germans. It was here also that the first use of chlorine gas was used on 22nd April at the town’s second major battle which again lasted around a month. Both Canadian and British troops were on the receiving end of these chlorine attacks as well as Senagalese and Algerian infantrymen (French-africans).
The third (and probably, the most famous) was also known as the Battle of Passchendaele. This bloody conflict raged from the end of July until November 6th 1917 and saw the first use of mustard gas. This became known as Yperite by the allied troops. named after the city. During this battle the allies captured the famous Passchendaele ridge to the east but at an astronomical loss of life. During these 5 months of fighting, over half a million perished for the sake of a few miles of ground. Incredible to think about as it was only 100 years ago.
In 1927, the Menin Gate was unveiled. A beautiful gateway that stands on the Eastern road out of the town. Troops would have marched through this spot en-route to battle – many of which never to return. Within the gate are the names of every allied soldier that never returned home yet has no known grave. To stand there and see such a list of names is somewhat sobering and really brings home the scale of this conflict. Every evening at 8pm, the road is closed to traffic and a bugler from the local fire service plays the Last Post. This tradition has been religiously practiced since 1928 with the exception of the Second World War where the occupying Nazis forbade it. However, it was resumed immediately on 6th September 1944 – the day the City was liberated by the Allies.
Leaving Ypres, I headed for Lille on the N336 and soon arrived at Bedford House Cemetery. I wanted to visit this once I’d realised it was on my intended route. This is just one of the numerous war grave cemeteries dotted around this area of Belgium and France. Out in the middle of nowhere beside the road was this immaculately kept burial ground. Here, arranged in neat rows, were the headstones of those that fell during conflict. Many stones carried no name – just ‘A Soldier of the Great War’ inscribed on each headstone.
There was an almost eerie air of peacefulness about the place. All that was heard was the wind in the nearby trees. All of the lawns were beautifully manicured, each headstone immaculately clean with fresh floral tributes planted at each grave. An atmosphere of peace, and order. An almost serene calm. A striking and stark contrast to the loss of life, bloodshed and bloody mayhem that occurred here a century previously. Again, a very sobering and moving experience. Such an incredible loss of life. This cemetery alone, held over 5000 innocent souls. The majority of which were even yet to reach their prime.
Time was pushing on now and it had been a long day so I wheeled onward to Lille against a semi cross/headwind. Lille was reached during rush hour and it seems they are very good at traffic lights in this city. Again, excellent cyclist provision was made throughout my route through the city with only an abundance of red traffic lights to hinder any swift progress. Like London, Lille also has its own members of the cycling fraternity that are either colour-blind or are hell-bent on running red lights on a regular basis. I would love to have spent more time here but I was getting tired and needing to get off this bike. I cycled along Boulevard de la Liberté passing some wonderful buildings at the Place de la République. I’ll definitely be back for a further look!
The remaining few miles to Cysoing, my bed for the night were pretty uneventful with the exception of misunderstanding a couple of directions and which resulted in ending up in a farmer’s field face-to-face with some puzzled-looking livestock.
All in all a bit of a mixed bag. Hopefully I can get the GPS problem resolved tonight ready for tomorrow’s ride down to the town of Guise.
Many thanks to all of those who have donated and shown messages of support etc.
Day 1…….bit of a shock to the old legs. Kent wasn’t as forgiving as first thought. The day started with a bit of a logistical nightmare as I needed to get myself, bike and luggage down two flights of stairs at 530 in the morning in the dark. I couldn’t find any light switches and soon the early morning darkness was filled with profanities as I tripped here, banged my knee there, dropped my wallet etc etc etc.
Marble Arch is very impressive by day but when lit up during the darker hours, I think it looks even better. At 545 there were still people milling about around the monument. After a quick selfie (actually numerous attempts at a selfie until I got one where I didn’t look a complete burk) I wheeled off down through Hyde Park. Still dark but busy with early morning commuters.
Buck house was first and following a quick pic, my Garmin satnav decided to stop working – it’s amazing how much we’ve come to rely on technology. It’s also amazing how a few swear words actually improve a situation such as this and after a few minutes I was back on track heading for the Vauxhall bridge following one of London’s cycling superhighways (sounds impressive – they’ve just added a few kerbs here and there to segregate the cyclists from motor vehicles. A good idea as there is, in England a certain section of society that won’t think twice about passing a cyclist with inches to spare in a 2 ton lump of metal. However, I also experienced yesterday that the London cycling fraternity also has a similar thing going on. Now the risk from cars has diminished only to be replaced by complete arses on bikes who will cut you up as soon as look at you! Ok rant over!
This ride out of central London was a first for me and the provision of cycle-friendly lanes is excellent and far better than expected. Soon enough I had crossed into Kent following either the A20 or M20. Traffic going into London on this road is immense and it always begs the question, where does everybody park when they get there?
After crossing the River Medway, there was a steady climb on a recognised cycle route that was nothing but a poorly put-down bridle way. The surface was very loose, large stones and almost impossible to pedal on. I ended up pushing the bike most of the way until I reached to top at Bluebell Hill village. I’d also run out of water so I spied an old chap in his front garden who was just saying goodbye to a visitor. I politely asked if he would mind refilling my water bottles and his reply left me speechless. “I’m on a water meter! That’ll cost me!” I said ok and put my bottles back on my bike. The visitor obviously said something to him like ‘Don’t be so bloody mean!’ And as I was about to pedal off he had a change of heart and barked at me to give me the bottles. I replied with a curt “I don’t want your charity! I’ll try your neighbour”. The neighbour was a very sweet lady who filled the bottles in an instant and I mentioned my encounter with the chap next door and what he had said. Her reply was equally as shocking….in a classic Kentish accent, “eees a vile bostard that one! We doan even ave meters ere. Bladdy water bald won’t fittem!” She went on to give me other examples of his behaviour and personality before I took my leave and carried on. Why are people this way? Are they born like it or does it take practice? If it’s the latter then this chap has had buckets of practice or us just a natural!
Any cyclists considering a jaunt through Kent, read the following paragraph and take heed. I plotted the majority of the route on Google mapping and keen to get away from traffic I plumped for the signed cycle route known locally as the Pilgrims Way. Well all I can say is that these pilgrims must have had some pretty sturdy cycling hardware with thick chunky tyres and good suspension. For the touring cyclist, it’s not to be recommended. In parts, the surface is potholed – actually it’s more like landmine scars, filled with loose stones and almost impossible to navigate on a loaded touring bike. You take your life in your hands on the downhill bits and your bike in your hands whilst pushing the bloody thing on the uphill bits. Eventually I gave up and resorted to the A20 which, was surprisingly quiet. Lunch was taken in the pretty village of Charing at the Mulberry tea rooms. I got talking to the owner and ended up leaving with two huge complementary slabs of cake – coffee & walnut and lemon drizzle. Result!
One of the Pilgrims. Knackered from biking thru Kent. He’s been here for years and can’t face going any further. His bike has long since been stolen!
The remainder of the day passed without incident. 77 tough miles on legs that aren’t in optimum condition. I’m hoping it was the toughest day of the ride. Looking forward to the flatlands of northern France on the morrow.
Many thanks to everyone that has donated and for the messages of support.