Back in Blighty Again

22/8/17. The ferry trip was yet another one of mill pond calmness (thank goodness says Christine) but otherwise unexciting. We had booked the campsite a couple of weeks beforehand and it was only 3 or 4 km from the ferry port, albeit via what must be one of the very few hills in Essex. It was located in the garden of a pub and was extremely busy – when a group of 5 Dutch motorcyclists turned up at about 10 o’clock it was starting to get “cosy”.

On Sunday morning Christine reverted to her normal travelling-by-train mode to ensure we caught our train from Paddington to Taunton (with mandatory bike reservations) at 2 pm. This required us to get up at 6.30 a.m. to arrive at Harwich station nearly an hour before the first train to London left to ensure we had enough time to cycle across London (because we might get lost in the Big Smoke!). As a result we had a two hour wait at Paddington! Which at least gave us time to get lunch!

Taunton is where Christine’s parents live and where our car was waiting for us. So we had a very pleasant couple of nights with them before heading up to north Wales to see Conal and Tamsin (our son and daughter in law) who were back from Bahrain for a couple of weeks. They were staying at the Rees-Jones family holiday home and it was lovely to see her parents, Diana and Hywel, again too. We were joined by Alaric and Annabelle too.

While we were there we were delighted to receive an email from our solicitor with a copy of the Possession Order from the High Court requiring our tenants to vacate our house by this coming Friday! That will “only” be 4 months after the lease officially ended! We are just hoping that they have enough common sense to realize that “the game” is up now and that they do, indeed, get out. (They seem to have a sense of entitlement that the world exists to fit in around their needs and everyone else will adjust to accommodate them.)

Last weekend was spent back in our old haunt of Southampton meeting some of the many friends and relatives in the area while joining a golden wedding celebration.

On Sunday afternoon we headed back to north Wales as Diana and Hywel have very kindly said we can use the house (which is on the lovely Lleyn Peninsula near Criccieth and Porthmadog) for the week where we are keeping our fingers crossed that we get our house back.

Ambling Across Alsace

1/8/17. We are back in Alsace, our favourite part of France – an area that Christine first visited more years ago than she cares to remember when she worked here for eight months while at university. It was also the site of our second cycling holiday together straight after we finished our accountancy exams in 19mumble,mumble.

It has become more French over the years that we have been visiting (it was part of Germany during the war and for 50 years until the end of WW1). When Christine worked here many of the old people still spoke Alsatian, a  dialect of German, but that seems to have died out although it looks as though efforts are being made to preserve it with it being used on some road signs.

However, it looks more prosperous than much of rural France that we cycled across 2 years ago which appeared rather “ run down” and neglected. Alsace is more similar to Germany in this respect at least.

From Huningue we followed a cycle path parted from the Rhine or, rather, the wide canal used by barges by a large dyke. It was only after about 10 km that we found our way to the smaller, disused canal alongside which we had cycled previously. This was very busy with cyclists – both touring and recreational – and briefly forms part of three Eurovelo routes – EV5 from London to Rome, EV6 from the Atlantic to the Black Sea and EV15 along the Rhine from source to sea.

The heat of the sun must have got to Stephen because not long after lunch as we approached the town of Neuf Brisach where there were signs to two campsites he voted to stop for the night. His excuse was that he looked at his bike computer for the time. He saw the figures 16.30 and, because the next campsite was some way past the town, figured it was better to stop rather than have a really grumpy wife! About an hour later he realised his mistake when he again looked at the time and saw 15.25. The first time he had been looking at his average speed! (You will notice that Christine raised no objection to calling a halt to proceedings so early!)

However, the positive side was that it was a lovely little campsite run by a couple who took pride in offering a pretty and relaxing place for their guests with a large area for cycling campers complete with a large gazebo/tent with tables and chairs exclusively for their use. And all for an extremely reasonable €13.50. Bargain!

On Monday the route initially took us on paved farm tracks through large fields mainly filled with tall sweetcorn. It had been very sunny first thing but some high cloud blew in on the helpful tailwind which took the edge off the heat, thank goodness. Then we joined the towpath beside an almost dead straight canal which had long stretches under the shade of large trees.

We made excellent progress along the canal with the kilometres to Strasbourg on the many signposts coming down fast. With about 25 km to go we stopped for lunch and while munching, we heard a couple of rumbles of thunder from the direction of the Vosges mountains off to the west, the tips tops of which were in the dark clouds.

Soon the rain started and we dashed for cover under the eaves waves of a nearby building. We were joined by a French couple, Christine and Richard, out for a ride from Strasbourg, who were fascinated by the story of our adventures (or at least they were polite enough to appear fascinated!) It was interesting to see the look of shock on their faces when we told them we well will not receive our state pensions until we are 67. In France the retirement age is 62!

The rain did not last long and we made our way into Strasbourg. The last few kilometres seemed to drag even though they were mostly along the towpath. Perhaps we were not looking forward to being in a big city – even one with as attractive a centre as Strasbourg’s.

Stephen had reserved a room at a hotel recommended by Derek and Linda, the couple cycling to India and beyond who we meet in Waldshut. €48 for the night in a room with a small kitchen area and including breakfast 10 minutes walk from the cathedral was just our sort of place! The man on reception could found no trace of the booking and Stephen, when checking the confirmation email, noticed that he had booked it for the previous night! Oops! Luckily there was still “room at the inn”.

After showering, a little laundry and a quick blast on the internet we wandered into the centre where Christine was extremely disappointed to find we had faffed around too much so that we arrived at her favorite tea shop in the whole world (which offers about 10 different kinds of hot chocolate) just as it was closing at 6 o’clock!

It was nearly 11 by the time we left the next morning with Stephen having been on a shopping expedition to buy more gas for cooking while Christine had her “pill day”. We thrashed around a bit heading vaguely north east towards the “European Institutions” until we found the signs for EV15. These pointed us through a lovely wooded area on the Piste des Forts although we didn’t see a fort.

 

We spent most of the day on off road cycle paths with the on road sections being, strangely, mainly in towns and villages. It was all rather lovely. We have cycled the length of the Rhine, in stages, before but apart from the wooded area just after Strasbourg it did not look familiar. We decided that this was because previously we had been using a guide book which took us along the river bank whereas now (with the guide book collecting dust in our loft) we are following the cycle route signs which are not the same.

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!

A Sojourn in the UK

2-7/8/16. As mentioned in the post about our plans, we have spent the last few days with our sons, Alaric and Conal, and their partners, Annabelle and Tamsin, in Didcot. And a lovely time we had too! We also took the opportunity to visit our parents on Saturday, Christine taking the train to Taunton and Stephen driving (for the first time since April) to Hampshire and managed to see three of our four siblings on the same trips.

(Very) early on Sunday, we returned to Hamburg where we looked around the city before going to Heike and Volker’s house where we had left the bikes and most of our bags.

Hot, Hot, Hot

Somebody turned the temperature up over the last two days (Monday and Tuesday) as it has been over 30 – not bad for the first half of May.

The trip back to the canal from Altkirch was a pleasure being the reverse of the previous evening’s climb. We then sauntered into Mulhouse along the canal before losing the EV6 signs somewhere around the station. We followed our noses through the suburbs even though it involved some climbing (grr! Wish we’d stayed on the towpath.) before refinding the canal as it made its way through a large forested area.

Soon we had our first sight of the Rhine itself with a large barge steaming towards the sea. A trip along the disused Canal de Huningue took us past a “planet path” (always good fun and jaw dropping to see how small the planets are in relation to the distances between them – particularly the outer ones). This took us into Huningue, a suburb of Basle but in France, where there is a small but well equipped (I.e. loo seats and WiFi!) campsite right on the banks of the Rhine.

Tuesday was the designated rest day and so we took a bus into Basle to see the sights. As expected everything in Switzerland was prohibitively expensive – almost £8 for an iced americano and a bottle of water in Starbuck’s. But we did get our own back on the (alleged) tax avoider by making the drinks last a couple of hours while we recharged phones, Kindles, iPads and Garmins!

We move on tomorrow along the Rhine – on the German side because (a) it will be cheaper and (b) a Canadian couple on the campsite tild us that it is much nicer than the almost continuous industrial estate on the Swiss side.

Hello Alsace, my Old Friend

(With apologies to Simon & Garfunkel.)

The last two days (Saturday and Sunday) have been wonderful cycling and seen us into Alsace, a region of France that we have been to many times over the years. Indeed, Christine first came here as an Assistant as part of her languages degree more years ago than she cares to remember!

Saturday was overcast but warm as we set out from Besançon up the Doubs valley. If anything, the scenery was even more beautiful than the day before as the sides of the gorge got higher. The canal was increasingly sporadic and was sometimes only a lock gate to let boats past a weir.

Eventually the valley opened up and the countryside became more pastoral as we approached the night’s stop at the campsite in L’Isle-sur-le-Doubs.

We went looking for a church service for Christine for the next morning. In a town of 25,000 souls there was a Catholic church where there was a mass every other week (and we were there in the “off” week of course) and a protestant church with every sign of having been defunct for many years. It transpired that it was operational when we went past the next morning on the other aide of the canal but by then it was too late – we were under way.

The campsite was another one that was popular with cyclists, there being 6 sets including the young German family and an English couple who we had met in Decize. This was almost certainly because there no other sites for 20 or 30 km in either direction on the EV6.

Sunday dawned with barely a cloud in the sky and the forecast rain for the previous night had stayed away thankfully. Slapping on the suncream we set off continuing the gentle climb alongside the river/canal and enjoying the best weather of the trip so far.

Leaving the Doubs river which we had been following for more than 2 days but still beside the Rhône-Rhine canal we headed for Alsace. Christine was a little disappointed that the entry was low key – no marching bands or greetings from the local mayor, not even a sign saying “Welcome to Alsace”! But she soon perked up when she caught sight of the Vosges mountains and, a little later and even further away, the Black Forest.

We then started descending having crossed the watershed between the Rhône and the Rhine. As previously, the descent was much steeper than the ascent had been and we swiftly lost all the height we had gained earlier in the day (but it was only 90 metres! Not bad for more than 40 km of cycling.)

We soon reached the road where we were to leave the canal briefly to visit Altkirch, the town where Christine had spent 8 months teaching French school kids all those years ago. Unfortunately, it involved a bit of a climb, particularly as the campsite is situated on the hill above the town. Christine used her desire to rekindle memories as an explanation for her walking through the town. It had nothing to do with the upward slope of the road of course! Not surprisingly after ** years it all looks very different.

Tomorrow will be our last day of cycling in France as we will be heading to Basel and the Rhine. The campsite is (just) in France but all of the interesting stuff is on the Swiss side of the border. We are expecting to take another rest day although Swiss prices and the exchange rate after last December’s revaluation of the franc may cramp our style.

Unemployed in Dole

A campsite without WiFi and another one with a dodgy connection has meant you have been spared updates for a couple of days.

As the route from Seurre contained a number of stretches beside the river we decided to go off piste again – especially as the river went round a large bend, while the map showed a number of seemingly minor roads in an approximately straight line.

It turned out that they were not busy so we had a very pleasant ride through a rural countryside with a long section through a large wood which was full of birdsong. On a number of occasions we have been amazed at the volume of singing and have even seen our first peregrine falcon! (We weren’t very confident that that was what we had seen but a search on the Internet confirmed it.)

The Saône turned north and EV6 carried on north east along the Rhône-Rhine Canal which led us into Dole. We had heard that this was a pretty town and so decided to take the afternoon off. But before we could indulge ourselves there was some washing to be done!

With our “smalls” drying in the sunshine at the campsite we went for a wander around the town. The reports were right. It was pretty especially with the canal and the river (a different one called Le Doubs). Some photos were taken and are available here for those who are interested.

As soon as we woke on Friday morning, we were looking at the BBC website for the election results. Hmm. We might be riding our bikes for the next five years! The final three weeks of the campaign has pretty much passed us by – it has been great not having politicians thrusting their opinions and false promises at us all the time. And we have avoided that odious slimeball Farage too!!

Today (Friday) saw us following the river and the canal up into increasingly pretty and hilly countryside. The words ‘up’ and ‘hilly’ should not be construed as meaning it was a hard day – it wasn’t! The route stuck to the towpath in the valley and it was as gentle a climb as you could ever dream of. Only bridges and locks needed a change down in the gears.

Today (8 May) was a public holiday in France to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of the ear in Europe. As we entered one small village a band was forming a procession with about 20 firefighters for a short parade to the war memorial. A small girl laid a bunch of flowers at the base of the stone and then a list of names of the fallen was read out, each followed by “Mort pour la France”. It was really quite moving. There was then a long (well 5 minutes or so) speech by the mayor which Stephen found rather tedious as he only understood about one word in three.

The canal is not a continuous thing. It merges into the river for long stretches and then suddenly reappears – presumably where the river becomes unnavigable. It also cuts a few corners where the river indulges itself in meandering loops. One of these short cuts necessitated the only steep climb of the day for us over a small hill where the canal went through a tunnel. Initially we were a bit miffed that we were not allowed to use the tunnel but were relieved when we saw the other end as there was a built in shower or boatwash right across the opening. Most strange!

While going up the hill we reached a landmark in our first 1,000 kilometres.

1,000 kilometres!
1,000 kilometres!

A few more turns of the pedals saw us arriving in Besançon, the biggest place we have yet been through yet with a population of over 200,000. After a few nights camping, we decided to blow the budget for today and indulged ourselves with a hotel and a restaurant meal. Luxury!

Route Inondée

No way through!
No way through!

After a shopping expedition to Decathlon for various bike and camping related bits and pieces we ventured into the centre of Chalon to see what there was to see. Not a huge amount in all honesty although Place Saint Vincent, with a good looking church and some pretty old buildings, went some way to redeeming the town (or is it a city?)

We then set off up the Saône, initially on a busy road but then veering off onto quiet lanes heading towards a path along the river bank. But it was not to be! The flooding of the immediate area by the river was not restricted to Chalon as long sections of the path were underwater. We returned to the lanes and later to the main road which had, by then, thankfully quietened down.

It was clear that the sections of riverbank path on the map were going to be similarly inundated and so we ad libbed our way along more lanes that went in the general direction of the river.

As we were finishing lunch a German couple on an unusual looking tandem (a Hase if you’re interested – Google the name) with their 3 year old son and 9 month old daughter in a trailer went past stopping briefly to say Hi. We had met them a few days earlier on the campsite at Decize. The wife is on parental leave and the husband, nearing the end of 7 years studying medicine, has taken a “sabbatical” to spend 4 months cycling from Biarritz to home in Leipzig. That’s an unusual way of using maternity leave!

We arrived at our destination in Seurre mid afternoon and were a little nervous that the campsite, given its name “A La Plage”, might be closed because of the floods
However, all was fine although the water is only just below the level of the ground and there is a sizeable puddle right by the children’s playground.

After several campsites where motorhomes and caravans have occupied almost all of the pitches, this one is strangely without either with only cycling campers including the German family. It does, however, have other residents as we have encountered the first mosquitoes of the trip! We’re sure they won’t be the last ones we see before we get home!

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