Back in Blighty

12/9/16. After a leisurely morning we checked out of the hotel just before 11 and rode the 2 km to the ferry port. We breezed past a queue of cars and vans to join two other cyclists, Chris and Dave from around Bath or Bristol, who had had a long weekend riding to Paris along the Route Verte, for a natter about all things “bike” before leading the way onto the boat.

The sea was as flat as a mill pond so Christine’s precautionary seasick pill was probably unnecessary but it made for a very pleasant crossing which felt very relaxed compared to the hustle and bustle of Dover/Calais.

Arriving in Newhaven we groaned as we remembered the Sustrans route 2 had a tough climb out of the town. This was followed by a less than scenic weaving through the streets of Peacehaven before a steep descent down to the lovely, but all too short, ride along the Undercliff to Brighton Marina.  Here, we turned off and climbed to the only campsite in the area. It is a very nice site (sparkingly clean loos with seats and paper!) but they take advantage of the local “monopoly” charging an eyewatering £27 for a tent and two adults (although showers and hot water for washing up are included in the price). This is the most expensive camping we have had in Europe apart from Denmark, where we expected high prices and which included proper kitchens and common rooms.

Tomorrow we ride back to the Marina where good friend Jim will pick us up and take us to stay with him, Christine and Robbie in Walton (the next village to our home in Tadworth) for a couple of days. This avoids having to haul ourselves and luggage over the “mountains” of the South Downs and, especially, up the horrible Pebble Hill to Walton (it’s a real brute and on a busy, narrow road – not at all pleasant).

Just About There

9-11/9/16. ….. for now! (More of our future plans to come in a future episode. Stay tuned.) We have reached our final destination before the UK in getting to Dieppe – which completes the “circle” (sort of) in that this was where we made landfall in April 2015 when we first set off on this giant “holiday”. While there was no particular need to get back here it has a certain symmetry that appeals to the accountant in us!

Going to bed with the wind still blowing “a good ‘un” on Thursday night we were anticipating a tough day battling against it on Friday, only to find that, hallelujah, it died overnight! However, it was still uppy/downy and, as the morning went on, the wind started to blow a little. Nothing like as bad as the previous day but enough, with the hills to get off the bike and walk uphill (Christine) or to get the ticker going in Stephen’s case (because he wasn’t going to get off – absolutely no way!)

Arriving in Boulogne (admission time!) we were tempted by the thought of taking the ferry to Dover rather than plugging away into the wind all the way to Dieppe. However, our weakness was thwarted by the fact that ferries no longer go from there despite the signs to “Car Ferry”. We only found this out after a detour of 2 km, mainly downhill – which, of course, meant we faced 2 km back, mainly UPhill! That will teach us to succumb to temptation and weakness! (Maybe)

As we had almost no food with us and it was after midday we were hunting around for a supermarket but, according to the Garmin, they were all back in the centre (2 or more km downhill) so we pressed on, more in hope than in expectation. Suddenly we saw an Alimentation (old style grocer) and bought the minimum necessary to keep body and soul together (because prices were astronomical). Of course,  we then immediately came upon an Aldi!! The law of sod prevails!

After buying a few extras beyond the “necessary” we dined in Aldi’s car park (we know how to live!) before setting off again. Miraculously the wind eased off and so did the landscape, meaning that we could make better progress. To cap it all, some of the route was along cycle paths (courtesy of the EU, at least partly) so we had a much better afternoon than morning.

We made it to Berck (no sniggering!) and found a campsite located next to the beach. The location was excellent (a splendid sunset looking out over the estuary) but the rest left something to be desired. It was relatively expensive (€23 not including showers) and the sanatation facilities hit a new low for France – not only no loo seat or paper but also filthy and the nearest handwashing place more than 50 yards from the toilet block in a building that was locked between 10 at night and 8 in the morning! And pissoirs in full view of anyone walking past. Hmm.

The relative flatness and absence of wind continued for much of Saturday as we pressed on trying to get as close to Dieppe as possible so that we could accommodate Christine’s pill day (which effectively knocks out half a day of cycling at least) and still catch the ferry in the middle of the day on Monday as we had planned.

It all went well until mid afternoon when there were a couple of long upward drags and the westerly picked up which, combined with aggressive traffic on a busy road, to make Christine go “twang”. She walked the last 5 km to the nearest campsite.

However, we had achieved the objective. We were about 40 km from Dieppe which meant that, even if it was as hilly as we feared, we should get there by Sunday evening leaving us Monday morning for Christine to have her pill before a leisurely saunter to the ferry port.

In fact, the final bit of the route wasn’t as bad as we feared although there was a real b**tard of a hill (up to 12%) to the top of the cliffs above the pretty little town of Treport. Perhaps we should have investigated whether bikes were allowed on the funicular that also went that way! Once up there the route only dipped down to sea level and back up once before the final descent into Dieppe.

Dieppe was packed with people attending the biennial kite festival but we found ourselves a “room at the inn” in a hotel on the promenade and an excellent seafood dinner to celebrate having made it all the way from Berlin to the UK (barring the ferry ride) – more than 2,500 km in two months (including a week’s break back in the UK with our sons and their ladies). Not bad for a couple of oldies. We feel quite proud of ourselves!

Bonjour

7&8/9/16. Nous sommes en France.

As it turned out we were within 2 km of the border and, if we had kept going, we would have found a campsite shortly after crossing into France. However, staying where we did meant that we avoided a night in the land of campsites without loo paper and seats!

We followed the road into Dunkirk and, avoiding the motorway to Calais, headed along the coast – straight into the industrial area, complete with steelworks and oil refineries. At least we can say it was different to the dunes of Holland and the promenades of Belgium! And thankfully there wasn’t much traffic either.

That last statement is, in fact, not entirely true because, as we approached the ferry port which is on the west side of the industrial complex we encountered two long lines of trucks from just about every country in Europe queuing to get into the port (avoiding Calais perhaps?). But at least they were stationary, or almost so, and therefore not so intimidating.

Then, all of a sudden, a stream of traffic started passing us, including a number of British vehicles. Clearly, the ferry had just started unloading. Again avoiding the signs to the motorway, we found ourselves on what was the old main road which, while not carrying the volume of traffic, was a bit of a race track. Not pleasant.

This led into the town of Gravelines which had signs saying “Ville Fleurie” which were well justified. The show of flowers beside the roads was brilliant.

By now it was mid afternoon and we were approaching Calais. We had seen on the map a couple of campsites “now closed” (presumably in response to the number of refugees and immigrants around the town) so we decided to stop while we could find somewhere to stay.

The next morning, Thursday, we went into Calais and out towards Sangatte but saw no sign of the notorious refugee camp, probably because the tunnel entrance is a little further inland. We wete also looking for a sight of dear old Blighty but it was very hazy – we did see a little bit of white that may not have been a ship but that was all.

By now the wind was blowing strongly from the west – and we were heading pretty much due west! In addition, the road turned upwards as it climbed to Cap Blanc Nez. Having encountered no hills since Japan, other than a couple of pimples just north of Berlin and the dykes along much of the coast, we had lost our climbing legs. It was tough going. To compound it Christine was feeling a little under the weather (lethargic and lacking in energy).

It all made for extremely slow going (although on the plus side, Christine did get her ration of walking in). By 3.30, Christine had had enough and was feeling a little unsafe, fearing that the gusts of wind and tiredness might lead her to wobble into the traffic. (On the subject of traffic, we noticed that many French cars were not giving us a huge amount of room when passing – unlike our experience 30 years ago. Indeed, the French were no better than the many British cars going past us.) As a result we stopped at a convenient campsite having covered only 42 km in the day. “Madame” allocated us a nice little plot well sheltered from the wind but we declined the offer of wifi – we thought €8 for a day was a touch on the expensive side!

Failed!

6/9/16. We failed to make France today. But only just! We are about 5 km short. It was gone 5 as we approached the border and we came across a good looking campsite so decided to stop, hunger pangs getting the better of Stephen in particular!

We had made slower progress than expected because (a) we made a later start than usual through a combination of later opening supermarkets (for breakfast rolls) compounded by messing about rying to downliad podcasts on a ropey wifi connection and (b) we went on a wild goose chase following cycle route signs that depended on a ferry that now only runs at weekends! Grrrrr!

Apart from these hiccups we had a lovely day. Occasionally the route was alongside the major coastal road, but there were long stretches along the promenade looking out over lovely golden sands (which were quite empty – it is September after all!) or on quiet roads running parallel to the main road. And, of course, it was still pan flat. It was 20 km before we had even climbed a single metre!

Forgot to Mention

5/9/16. On what we thought was to be our one night in Belgium we indulged in some of the local street food when we walked into the nearby town of De Haan – chips with mayonnaise followed by a waffle with either chocolate sauce and ice cream (if you were a glutton!) or whipped cream (if you were restrained and figure conscious!!! Wink.).

Not the most healthy of evening meals but a delicious indulgence.

Crossing the Rhine Delta

1-5/9/16. Leaving Katwijk it was a short day (only 33 km) through the dunes, around The Hague to The Hook of Holland. The last part was familiar to Stephen as he has ridden that way several times when waiting for the ferry after visiting Intertek’s operation in Rotterdam.

We found a small campsite that was very reasonable (€14) a couple of km from the town and harbour. After doing the laundry in a facility attached to the supermarket across the road for a less reasonable €5 (or €6 if you use their powder) we walked into town. The signs to “Engeland” (that’s how it is spelt in Dutch) made us feel quite homesick and it was tempting to just jump on the next ferry to Harwich! (We found out later when talking to a cyclist who had arrived a couple of days early for his boat that the sailing that evening was fully booked and he was not sure he would find a space before his scheduled trip).

To cross the first of many arms of the Rhine we had to cycle about 15 km inland which was rather depressing as it felt as though we were going in completely the wrong direction. Crossing by ferry (only €2.10 each, including bike), we managed to get ourselves a little lost in a housing estate when the knooppunkt (a system of numbered points used for guiding along cycle routes) dried up temporarily.

We spent the night just outside Ouddorp on a site that was clearly very much a sideline for a farm. This is something we had not seen before, perhaps because we had been sticking to the coast where commercial sites prevail and appears to be called “minicamping”. The €10 fee disappeared into a pile of notes in the farmer’s overall pocket (never to be seen by the Dutch taxman, we suspect!).

Saturday saw the wind blowing strongly from the south west – and guess which direction we were headed! It was tough going at times, particularly when crossing the three bridges on our route to Middelburg. We had left the dunes behind us and the countryside was similar to that in Friesland – pastural – but more densely populated, and, of course, pan flat!

Middelburg was a busy, pretty place that clearly attracts a lot of visitors and was a convenient place to have excellent ice creams in the town square. The campsite, another minicamping affair, was just outside town and, although 50% more expensive than the previoys one, had excellent facilities up to Aussie or Kiwi standards including a gas hob, microwave, cutlery, plates, and a large sitting room. Also showers and excellent wifi were included in the price. Again, excellent value!

On Sunday we went our separate ways as usual – Christine walked into town for a church service while Stephen had his constitutional bike ride (a ride of two halves, Brian – easy first half with the wind followed by a real slogfest to get back “home”). The afternoon was given over to pratting about on the internet, catching up on things that have slipped since we returned to Europe.

In the morning, Stephen took us by the “scenic” route (i.e. we went 13 km rather than the 8 km it should have taken us!) to the ferry in Vlissingen. This ferry was an impressive operation – a bike deck but no space for cars and cyclists outnumbering pedestrians by about 5 to 1.

The last 20 km in The Netherlands were similar to the previous 750 – not particularly remarkable but extremely pleasant – and, to repeat ourselves, dead flat. As we approached the border there was a diversion in the cycle path for building works with a map explaining that it would take an extra 8 minutes and involve the expenditure of an extra 59 calories!

We would have crossed the border without knowing it if it wasn’t for a road sign with a .be website address. Entering Blankerberge, the coastline became much more “developed” with a large promenade and a clear orientation towards holidaymakers. We also saw the De Lijn trams which run all the way to De Panne (close to the French border) more than 70 km away. When looking at the map we have found it surprising how short the Belgian coast is in comparison to the Dutch. We expect to be in France tomorrow evening!

Meeting Maaike & Jawing With Josie

30&31/8/16. And spelling her name correctly this time! (Apologies, Maaike, for omitting one of the “a”s last time.)

The campsite in IJmuiden was a little gem. We had ridden out of the town towards the sea through an industrial area thinking “This doesn’t look very promising or inspiring”. Suddenly the factories and warehouses came to an end and the dunes started – and there was the campsite. The map of the site had various bits of information, one of which was to keep food and shoes tucked away because of the foxes.

In the middle of the night Stephen woke to a rustling in the “vestibule” of the tent and, looking out, saw a head disappearing through the half unzipped door and a trail of items leading through it. He gathered everything back in but could only find one of Christine’s sandals. It turned up the next morning, 30 feet away in the middle of the grass. Obviously Mr Fox decided it wasn’t as tasty as he first thought!

What did not turn up was a packet of 6 small cartons of orange juice all wrapped in cellophane. We find it difficult to believe that a fox would be attracted to this but they were definitely by the door to the tent the previous evening and by morning they were nowhere to be found. Bizarre!

With Amsterdam so close (less than 25 km) we decided to take another rest day and to do the touristy thing for a change. The bus stop was dead convenient being within 10 metres of the gate to the campsite in IJmuiden. The only problem was that the bus whizzed past as we walked out the gate – the timetable in the campsite was an old one and the times had been brought forward by 3 minutes! Grrrrr!! Still, it wasn’t a major issue as they went every half hour.

We hadn’t been to Amsterdam for about 15 years but it was as lovely as ever. We enjoyed just mooching around looking at the old buildings and canals – and, of course, all the different sorts of bike.

A couple of days earlier we had received an email from Maaike – the young lady from Oxfordshire who we had met in Germany about a week ago. She was staying with her aunt in Haarlem (her mother is Dutch) and suggesting we meet for coffee and lunch. With Haarlem only about 15 km away this was too good an opportunity to miss so we had a leisurely start to Wednesday before a pleasant but somewhat circuitous ride to the house.

Maaike had been roped into helping with the decorating (singing for her supper!) and I think she welcomed the break. We had a most enjoyable time with her and her aunt (whose name is the unpronounceable and unspellable Dutch equivalent of Mathilda!) talking about her plans for the next part of her trip (to France & Spain), her aunt and uncle’s motorbike holidays in Scotland and, inevitably, Brexit.

All too soon we thought we ought to let Maaike return to her painting and we set off again.  Despite the uppy/downy nature of the route through the dunes, it was even busier than other rural bike paths in Holland, probably because it passed through several seaside towns that are clearly popular resorts.

We found a nice campsite at Katwijk and, after we were set up, a lady turned up with her three children on a collection of tandems, bikes and trailers. We were impressed with her “bravery” in undertaking such an enterprise. All of a sudden Christine recognised her! It was Josie Dew who has written several books, which we have read, about her cycling exploits (before children) in various parts of the world. Not only did these books partly inspire this jaunt that we are on, but she also has a Roberts bike like us!

We had a lovely chat with her and her children, Molly, Daisy and Jack (ages 3 to 10) about their 6 week camping holiday in Holland. Not surprisingly they are not covering the heroic distances that Josie wrote about in her books – just a gentle 5 to 10 miles a day so the kids can also enjoy the sea and sand as well. Interestingly, Molly, the oldest, is not a chip off the old block – she doesn’t really like cycling, preferring walking and swimming. Daisy does like it but apparently also enjoys sunbathing on the back of the tandem while Mum does the pedalling! Jack was racing around the campsite on his balance bike (which is strapped to his buggy when they are cycling).