Dieppe to Deutschland

1/7/18. Today was the day when we finally finished the crossing of France by cycling the few kilometres from the centre of Strasbourg to the The  Rhine and across a new bridge into Germany. But first Christine had her ‘pill day’ consisting of 2 hours sitting still before we headed to the cathedral where Stephen enjoyed a couple of coffees in a pretty square whilst Christine attended the morning service. She loved the stunning singing and organ playing in the beautiful old building.

It’s now a good time to reflect on the last 2½ weeks crossing France.

First and foremost, we have had a great time! We would thoroughly recommend the Marne valley and the Marne-Rhine Canal as a cycle route from Paris to Germany. Or even as a driving route.

It is almost two years since we were last in France, other than a couple of days in Alsace (not  “real” France quite yet, even though it is becoming less Germanic every time we visit) last year. We have visited old friends, Marie-Claire and Christian, and seen parts of the country, Champagne and Lorraine, which we haven’t been to before.

The weather has helped. We had drizzle on the first afternoon out of Dieppe and a few spots the next morning. Other than that we have had blue skies all the way and, although there have been a few moans about the wind (well, quite a lot really!) It has been good in keeping us cool when it might have become unbearably hot.

We have enjoyed the bread, the cheese and the wine. The French ambience has been great. We have found the campsites to be extremely reasonable but do fear for the future viability of some of them and most of them have toilets that leave something to be desired! (Why, oh why, do so many not supply seats and paper for goodness’ sake?)

The countryside has been generally pretty rather than spectacular, other than our brief foray into the Vosges, but we have enjoyed it. In fact it has been such a lovely cycle that Christine is already thinking how good it would be to do the ‘Velodyssey’, a cycle route from Brittany down the west coast to Spain. We passed many barges and boats and even a few cruises, but having looked at the prices will definitely stick to our bikes (>$6000 for a 6 night cruise through Champagne). We were delighted at the number of storks we saw, with the highlight being 8 in one field! We both enjoyed speaking French and felt we got more fluent the longer we were there. Now we have to suddenly flick a switch and change to German.

Tomorrow we intend to take the train up into the Black Forest, as one of us refuses to cycle up into the mountains!

Avoiding the Vosges

29/6/18. (Almost.) For those who don’t know the Vosges are a range of mountains running parallel to the Rhine that separate the main part of Alsace from the rest of France. While not as high as the Alps or the Pyrenees they are still a sizeable barrier as we discovered 35 years ago when we went over the Grand Ballon (1,400 metres) on a day ride, having left all our luggage other than waterproofs and lunch back at the hotel. This ride was memorable both for the difficulty and for Stephen overtaking a car for the first time (on the descent, of course) – exhilaration for one of us and cold shivers for the other!

We (well, Christine if truth be known) had plotted our route from Paris following the canal reasoning that it wouldn’t involve long, steep climbs. The theory was fine and had has largely worked out in practice. What we didn’t expect was a strong easterly wind. It had has become increasingly annoying and growing in strength over the last few days with the previous afternoon having been quite hard work as previously noted.

However, Stephen used extra pegs when erecting the tent last night  which seemed to do the trick and the wind died overnight! So we thought we were going to be all right.

Wrong!

By the time we got going (after the visit of the mobile boulangerie with still warm baguettes and croissants) the wind was starting to blow again. As the morning progressed so did its strength to such a point that even downhill stretches became a struggle requiring pedalling rather than freewheeling. It was tough going and we were more than ready for the mid morning snack of croissants after 20 km of battling against the wind.

The saving grace was that the route we were following was mainly very quiet country roads with the occasional dedicated cycle route – if it had been along busy roads it would have been too depressing for words.

As mid afternoon approached we were conscious that we did not have much in the food bag for dinner or breakfast and our intended campsite was not near a town so we headed into Sarrebourg to find a supermarket to top up on supplies.

Getting out of the town was a bit of a slog uphill. It wouldn’t have been so much of an issue if we hadn’t had such a tough start to the day and a slight drop in the wind’s strength went almost unnoticed as our legs tired.

One last long uphill (not really very steep but the wind made it hard work at the end of a tiring day) took us to the top of a gorge where we rejoined the canal which suddenly looked uncared for, with reeds choking the channel and lock gates missing. We realised to our amazement that we had reached the high point of our crossing of the Vosges! We were at the top of a series of 17 locks which had been rendered redundant by a high tech lift which takes boats up and down the eastern edge of the Vosges saving water and manpower (one person per lock v. only 2 at the lift) .

There was a campsite conveniently placed at the bottom of the disused locks which we were more than ready to use for the night with Christine in need of a good night’s sleep while Stephen went to the adjacent restaurant for a glass or two of Alsatian wine.

In the morning we continued our descent from the pass on the towpath alongside the canal. Although the wind had again dropped overnight, by the time we reached the wide valley floor of the Rhine at the pretty town of Saverne it was starting to build in strength and we were grateful for any shelter from trees as we continued heading east.

The towpath continued all the way into Strasbourg and, even better, it started to head southwards which made the wind more of a crosswind.

With our major objective achieved (and very limited options on campsites around the city) we decided to celebrate/treat ourselves by going to a hotel and so we headed for the one we had stayed in about 11 months ago when riding down the Rhine.

Crashing on the bed we started to crystallize thoughts we had both been having over how to fill the week before the house rental on Lake Constance with the “kids”. It quickly became apparent that both of us wanted a rest and a wander round the Capital of Europe rather than to move on the next day so we have extended the hotel reservation by an extra night.

And Into Lorraine

26/6/18. Despite having been to its “partner” Alsace many times we have not been to the second half of Alsace-Lorraine other than perhaps passing through on a train. It has a reputation for being industrial and full of (ex) coal mines but, because we steered clear of the major cities of Nancy and Metz, this has not been our experience although we have been following a number of canals which are presumably part of the legacy of the region’s industrial heritage.

We set off from Bar-le-Duc on Monday morning somewhat apprehensive about what the second half of the day would bring. This was because although we were following the Marne-Rhine Canal we knew that we were going to be crossing from one river valley (the Marne) into another (the Meuse). The canal went south/southeast for quite a long way before suddenly turning north and disposing into a long tunnel which was impassable to bikes.

We followed the superb voie verte along the towpath until Ligny-en-Barrois where we headed due east up the hill on the old road which had been replaced by a nasty looking dual carriageway full of large lorries and speeding cars. Although the road surface had deteriorated a lot in places we were more than grateful not to be on the new road.

And the hill, although long, not was not as steep as it had appeared on the route profile we had looked at. (These profiles can exaggerate low hills as they use the full vertical space to show the highest point whether it is 10 metres or a 1,000 metres up.)

Then the countryside became more rolling once we reached the top. After an excursion into a service area on the new road (unsuccessfully looking for a toilet) we headed back to the former route pushing the bikes across a grassy area when suddenly Christine felt a sharp pain behind her right knee. Although this swiftly passed she felt the occasional twinge thereafter. As the campsite for which we were headed was still some 40 km away we decided to head for the nearest town, Commercy, which was a more manageable 12 km, discretion being the better part of valour and all that.

It turns out that Commercy’s claim to fame is that it is where the little cakes called Madeleines originate from although we couldn’t find out why. Unfortunately Commercy did not have a campsite that took tents so we went for the cheaper of the two hotels, declining the breakfast at €9 each, Stephen being sent out to one of the 5 supermarkets inn the town to buy a picnic salad, Orangina and beer  for dinner, and croissants and orange juice for breakfast at a total cost of €10! (Although Stephen did take a walk into town the next morning before Christine awoke to get his caffeine fix for a further €2.50!)

Christine’s knee behaved itself overnight and she noticed it only a couple of times the next morning so we decided to risk heading back towards our original route and for the campsite we had originally being aimed for meaning that we had two days of about 40 km rather than one day of 70 km. This is not a problem as we have the luxury of time to get to Lake Constance and it was always our intention to take the train part of the way anyway!

Leaving Commercy we found that we were following the route of another canal and river valley (both called the Meuse) and, although the towpath was not rideable, we used quiet roads. It was all very lovely.

Eventually we reached the major road which we had been paralleling the previous day and again took the old road into the town of Toul. With only 10km or so to go and with the day having warmed up we headed into the centre and found a bench conveniently situated in the shade right outside a little bar which formed a very pleasant lunch stop for our baguette and cheese while patronising the local business for cold drinks.

Suitably refreshed we headed up a long drag out of town before going down a steep (13%) hill down to the campsite on the Moselle river (the wine is made where it crosses into Germany).  

The river was wide (and deep, we realised,when a large barge chugged past) and flowed very slowly, with undisturbed reflections of the wooded area on the opposite bank. The cost may have been more than double that of Bar-le-Duc at €20 (v €9) but it was worth every penny for such a glorious setting. And the tent site was in prime position right on the river bank! The only disturbance to the peaceful setting was two French air force jets practising their manoeuvres overhead and seeming to take great delight in buzzing the campsite!

We saw 4 British cars, a couple of Germans but the overwhelming majority of visitors were Dutch caravans – the lady in reception even owned up to speaking a little Dutch!

The next morning (Wednesday) we were spared the slog back up the steep hill because Christine, when going for a walk the previous evening, had found an excellent cycle path on the other bank back with a way across using the lock gates just a kilometre downstream.

We passed through the next village, called Sexey-aux-Forges which made the smutty schoolboy amongst us snigger, and on to the suburbs of Nancy where the short canal we had been following joined our old friend, the Marne-Rhine Canal. Unfortunately, the voie verte had not been developed along this stretch and so we were back on the road which proved to be a bit of a racetrack.  This went on for about 10 km although we were grateful that the traffic seemed to calm down more the further we went from Nancy.

Eventually the main road veered away from the canal and we joined much more pleasant quiet, minor road which tracked the water. The only downside was the wind which had been getting stronger throughout the day and, now we had turned a little north of east, was blowing into our faces and making even the flat road hard work on exposed stretches. (Cyclists are like farmers aren’t they? There’s always something to moan about!)

About halfway to the campsite the voie verte started up again and,with lots of trees providing shelter from the wind, Christine was content. It reminded Stephen of the old adage “A happy wife means a happy life”.

After an ice cream stop (more happiness!) we soon reached the campsite which was another gem – right by the canal, peaceful, extremely reasonable (€10.50, showers included), toilet paper – but again almost empty making us fear for its future viability.

However, if “they” get their act together and convert more of the towpath into voies vertes and then sell the route to the Germans as a cycling holiday from Strasbourg to Paris through Champagne it will be an absolute cast-iron winner assuring the future of small businesses (such as the campsites) along the way. It is relatively flat, passing through lovely countryside with attractions of both an alcoholic and historic (WW1) nature joining two major well-connected cities which are each attractive in their own right. They might even attract a few more Brits!

Bubbling Through Champagne

24/6/18. You have been spared the usual drivel for the last few days because Stephen’s tablet, on which it is mostly written, has not been behaving itself – as in, the screen keeps dying suddenly and won’t come back to life for ages despite all efforts but then, suddenly, it works for no apparent reason. Strange. Still, it is working at the moment so let’s see how long it lasts.

Thankfully the weather has cooled a little since the scorcher on Wednesday and the wind has increased – which has been a blessing most of the time but a pain occasionally.

The route has been a mixture of excellent voies vertes (green ways) alongside first the Littoral Canal du Marne and then the Marne-Rhine Canal and quiet roads which have been centrally flat or flattish as we followed the Marne valley. For a large part of the time we were going past vineyards clinging to the steep hillsides. At one point the chalk escarpment reminded us of the North Downs near Box Hill where there is a large vineyard (Denbies) that produces some fine English sparkling wine which had beaten “proper” champagnes at some tastings.

More recently the countryside has been more given over to cereals, rape, sweetcorn and sunflowers although there are still many signs announcing small producers of the famous tipple.

We have again had mixed success with finding campsites. In Épernay we stayed at the large municipal site which was pretty good although it was quite a long walk out of town – and the town was not particular inspiring unless you are in the market for buying champagne in various sized bottles (in one shop window we saw a 7 litre bottle!)  from many different vineyards.

We found the municipal site in Vitry-le-François but we were told by the tourist information office that it closed two years ago. So we had to resort to a hotel again but we’re pointed in the direction of one that was a very reasonable €51 for the night. Incidentally, the lady in the tourist information asked Stephen which departement he was from (for her statistics) and, when he said he was English, complemented him on his French! He wasn’t convinced she was being entirely truthful but was happy to take the complement for his schoolboy language skills!

By Saturday we had made our way to Bar-le-Duc where the municipal site is simply delightful! It is small (25 spaces), adjacent to the chateau and has great sanitary facilities. The showers are incredibly spacious, free and the pushing the button gives 30 seconds of hot water at a time (much better than the usual 5 or 10). And, wonder of wonders the toilets actually have seats and loo paper!!!!!! This is almost unheard of in French campsites. The only downside is that it is not very busy which makes us fear that it will go the way of the site in Vitry and close which would be a real shame.

We have stayed here for two nights so that Christine can have a “pill day” and go to church (surprisingly lively compared to other French churches she has been to) while Stephen went for his statutory bike ride which followed some of the Voie Sacré (or Sacred Way) which was the road that supplied the French defenders during the horrendous Battle of Verdun in World War 1 which saw the deaths of hundreds of thousands from both sides.

Bubbling Through Champagne

24/6/18. You have been spared the usual drivel for the last few days because Stephen’s tablet, on which it is mostly written, has not been behaving itself – as in, the screen keeps dying suddenly and won’t come back to life for ages despite all efforts but then, suddenly, it works for no apparent reason. Strange. Still, it is working at the moment so let’s see how long it lasts.

Thankfully the weather has cooled a little since the scorcher on Wednesday and the wind has increased – which has been a blessing most of the time but a pain occasionally.

The route has been a mixture of excellent voies vertes (green ways) alongside first the Littoral Canal du Marne and then the Marne-Rhine Canal and quiet roads which have been centrally flat or flattish as we followed the Marne valley. For a large part of the time we were going past vineyards clinging to the steep hillsides. At one point the chalk escarpment reminded us of the North Downs near Box Hill where there is a large vineyard (Denbies) that produces some fine English sparkling wine which had beaten “proper” champagnes at some tastings.

More recently the countryside has been more given over to cereals, rape, sweetcorn and sunflowers although there are still many signs announcing small producers of the famous tipple.

We have again had mixed success with finding campsites. In Épernay we stayed at the large municipal site which was pretty good although it was quite a long walk out of town – and the town was not particular inspiring unless you are in the market for buying champagne in various sized bottles (in one shop window we saw a 7 litre bottle!)  from many different vineyards.

We found the municipal site in Vitry-le-François but we were told by the tourist information office that it closed two years ago. So we had to resort to a hotel again but we’re pointed in the direction of one that was a very reasonable €51 for the night. Incidentally, the lady in the tourist information asked Stephen which departement he was from (for her statistics) and, when he said he was English, complemented him on his French! He wasn’t convinced she was being entirely truthful but was happy to take the complement for his schoolboy language skills!

By Saturday we had made our way to Bar le Duc where the municipal site is simply delightful! It is small (25 spaces), adjacent to the chateau and has great sanitary facilities. The showers are incredibly spacious, free and the pushing the button gives 30 seconds of hot water at a time (much better than the usual 5 or 10). And, wonder of wonders the toilets actually have seats and loo paper!!!!!! This is almost unheard of in French campsites. The only downside is that it is not very busy which makes us fear that it will go the way of the site in Vitry and close which would be a real shame.We have stayed here for two nights so that Christine can have a “pill day” and go to church (surprisingly lively compared to other French churches she has been to) while Stephen went for his statutory bike ride which followed some of the Voie Sacré (or Sacred Way) which was the road that supplied the French defenders during the horrendous Battle of Verdun in World War 1 which saw the deaths of hundreds of thousands from both sides.

Go East Young Man

20/6/18. (Or not so young man and woman!)

Reading a cycling blog, Christine had learned of a canal leaving Paris to the east which was (sort of) the direction we wanted to head and so we made our way there next morning. It was a good choice as it had good segregated bike routes and forms part of the Eurovelo 3 route (which goes from Trondheim in Norway to Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

Just after we passed close to Charles de Gaulle airport the main cycle route turned north (towards Trondheim presumably). At this point there was also a sign on the towpath indicating that cycling was not allowed. We decided to be well behaved and joined the road for a while which was OK.

At the next village the road came alongside the canal again and there were more “No Cycling” signs. These ones we chose to ignore as the road appeared to veer away from the canal for quite a way and Christine had read in a blog that it was cyclable. Coming the other way we met several other bikers who had obviously read the same blog or, more likely, were locals.

Climbing over a hill on a rough track took us down into the valley of the River Marne and to the town of Meaux. Neither of us had heard of Meaux before despite its beautiful looking cathedral. Unfortunately we did not have time to look around as it was 5.30 and all we really wanted to do was head for the campsite which the tourist information office pointed us towards some 5 km beyond the town.

We passed a sign to another campsite but, as it looked tatty, we thought we would keep going to the recommended site. When we got there we were less than impressed. It was mainly static caravans, many of which looked as though they had been abandoned, and there were several piles of old bikes, furniture and goodness knows what else around.

But we were tired and there was a small reasonable looking area with two other tents so we paid our €15 and settled in for the night. We had to forego showers as the water was unbearable – not cold as you might imagine but scalding hot with no temperature control – just a button that delivered a 5 second blast. We made do with using the basins where we could at least allow the water to cool a little. All in all, it was one of the worst sites we have stayed at in all of our travels (although it does have some way to go before it plumbs the depths reached by the one in East Palatka in Florida!)

The next morning (Wednesday) we were glad to be on our way, although even that was not straightforward as we spent 5 minutes trying to operate the gate! And then we joined a reasonably major road which was a bit of a racetrack with quite narrow stretches. We were very glad to turn off it onto quiet country roads that gently undulated along the valley of the Marne.

It all became very pleasant apart from the weather – someone had taken a leaf out of the campsite shower manual and had turned up the heat while hiding the temperature control! However, we found nice shady spots to have our mid morning snack of some turnovers and lunch of filled baguettes.

As the heat approached its peak we came upon a convenient little bar where we indulged in a couple of rounds of extremely welcome cold beer and Orangina (depending on your taste) while the locals watched the World Cup (Portugal v Morocco in case you’re interested).

We had been making slow progress because of the heat and our intended destination was still quite a distance away. It was time for Plan B! Stephen spotted a small campsite on the map about 5 km further on and,  as we are in no hurry, we decided to spend the night there.

The best laid plans of mice and men……!

The map might say there was a campsite but all we could find was an open field. We trudged back to the road we had been following  and headed on thoroughly dispirited. We could see no more campsites on the map for a long way ahead and so agreed that we would take the first (reasonably priced) hotel we came across.

We had just entered the Champagne region and started passing numerous vineyards and caves offering the local product. We resisted temptation and as we approached the town of Chateau Thierry, an Ibis hove into view.  Sorted!

After lovely, refreshing, cool showers we ventured to the nearby Aldi to buy a picnic tea to have in our room – smoked salmon salad washed down by a very nice sparkling wine from our favorite French area of Alsace (€5 compared to the cheapest champagne at €16 – we may be retired but our accountant instincts are alive and kicking!)

We’ll Always Have Paris

18/6/18. About 10 km from Marie-Claire’s house Stephen’s saddle suddenly went “Twang” and, on inspection, it transpired that a bolt which tensions the bit you sit on had snapped. The saddle was still rideable – just – but the resulting way in the leather made it much more uncomfortable. Stephen, being an absolute trooper(!), carried on riding for the rest of the day but ended up a tad saddle sore.

Since this was a new, relatively expensive and iconic British Brooks saddle we were hopeful that there would be a shop in Paris that could help. The Brooks website listed 8 or 9 dealers in Paris but most seemed to be shut on Mondays. However, there was one, close to the centre, which was willing to sell things on the first working day of the week so we headed for that.

The initial part of the route was very similar to that which had gone before – quiet roads with some undulations – and all very pleasant.  This took us to Cergy which is a large town, perhaps similar to Watford or Croydon. (That may be doing Cergy a disfavour – we didn’t really get a good enough look at the place to form a proper judgement!)

After Cergy, the route wiggled about a lot, as do cycle routes in London, sticking to shared paths and quiet roads including a long stretch through a wood near Maison Lafayette.

As we neared the centre, we lost the signs but could see from the map that the route joined the route path along the Seine – which is nice in theory but, as you may well know, the river meanders about a lot making the trip much further. As time was moving on (riding through urban areas is generally slow – traffic lights, stop signs, traffic, complicated junctions all take time to negotiate – so we decided to take a more direct route.

This worked out ok although it did mean short stretches on some busy roads. At one point we were headed straight for the Eiffel Tower which was an inspiring sight in front of us.

It was mid afternoon by the time we reached the bike shop and the guy took one look at the snapped bolt and shook his head. However, to his credit, he did have a go at mending the saddle and even got some grease on his nicely laundered shirt. When it was clear that he wasn’t going to be successful we decided to buy a new (cheap) saddle which was more comfortable than the saggy damaged one but not a patch on the real McCoy. Stephen is half expecting to develop a bow legged walk over the coming days!

As the time was nearing 4 o’clock it was not a difficult decision to spend the night in Paris rather than trying to find a campsite or a (probably) grotty hotel on the way out of the city. We found a reasonable (for central Paris) hotel and set about enjoying the unexpected stay. As we have been to the city several times we did not feel the need to view any particular sights and simply relished walking around soaking up the atmosphere before finding a nice restaurant.

We are so lucky to be able to do this sort of thing spontaneously!

Bonjour France, encore une fois!

17/6/18. The trip from Surrey to Newhaven seemed to take forever – but a lengthy stop in Epsom to run a number of “errands” plus a quick return trip to Nicky’s to pick up a shirt left behind by one of us (no names, no pack drill) was a large part, as was a wait while some trespassers were cleared from the line near Gatwick.

We camped at the same site in Seaford that we had used three years ago – a reasonably priced, clean little site conveniently positioned 5 km by pleasant off road cycle route from the ferry check in.

A 9 a.m. sailing, combined with Christine’s caution (some might say paranoia) to ensure we were checked in before the deadline, meant that the alarm went off at stupid o’clock followed by a swiftly munched breakfast and rapid striking of camp.

While waiting to board we got chatting with a fellow cyclist, an intrepid chap from Moscow who was going from London to Paris by folding bike. His main observations were the poor route out of London and the high cost of hotels in France.

The ferry crossing was unremarkable (a good thing, in our view) and we again stumbled around in Dieppe and its suburbs trying to find the start of the Avenue Verte to Paris. Once we had located it it was a lovely ride along a tarmacked old railway track although the weather did take a little of the shine off as it was spitting with rain most of the way – that really fine rain that quickly renders Christine’s glasses almost opaque.

Thankfully the rain eased as we approached the campsite at Neufchatel en Bray (another revisit from the years earlier) and we settled back into the old routine of Christine getting the bedding ready while Stephen exercises his culinary skills on pasta, tomato sauce and tinned vegetables (we only have a one ring stove).

The next day (Friday) the route continued along the old railway track for the first 20 km before joining mainly quiet roads which, to Christine’s disappointment, were quite undulating.

A tourist information office had told us about a potential campsite at a place that provided yurts but, as far as we could tell from the address we were given it was up a steep hill on the other side of the valley so we decided to purses on even though it was past 5 o’clock. We continued through Gisors and joined another old railway track to reach a lovely site by a large lake where we were told to pitch the tent on a promontory where we could watch the ducks, swans, geese, and grebes bobbing about on both sides of us.

Because we had gone between 10 and 20 km further than we had expected the previous evening we could have a lie in as our bed for the weekend at the house of some friends was that much closer. Christine was more than ready for this after an 80+km on day with no riding since we returned to the UK last August. Breakfast was croissants and half a baguette bought from the baker’s van which visits the site each morning sounding his klaxon at each of a half dozen places around the place.

Another short stretch on the disused railway was filed followed by more quiet roads through the very pleasant countryside of the Vexin (an area that was the scene of many battles in the medieval period, a lot of which involved perfidious Albion naturally, as it is the gateway to Paris –  as we have discovered from listening to The History of England podcast). These led us to the village of Longuesse, the home of our friends Marie-Claire and Christian. It was with Marie-Claire that Christine discovered her love of cycling when they rode from her home in Dorset to Southampton while they were penniless students nearly 40 years ago.

We had a lovely, relaxing time with them and two of their daughters enjoying a rest and Christian’s excellent cooking as well as long chats updating Marie-Claire about the state of the UK (she is very definitely English despite her name and living in France for the last 30 or so years!).

A Stuttering Start

13/6/18. We eventually got our collective act together sufficiently by Saturday morning to leave Taunton and caught the train to Exeter where we set off heading for Weymouth (the larger of the two gaps in our Round The Coast trip).

It all started very pleasantly following a series of off road routes and minor roads to Exmouth where we stopped to get in training for Germany by indulging in coffee and cakes. While we sat stuffing our faces a young family (baby and toddler with Mum and Dad in tow) pulled into the market place on bikes + trailer so we went over for a chat. They were on their first long outing on bikes as a family and were suitably impressed when they heard we were on our way to Switzerland, although there was great merriment when they heard that we had started in Exeter, like them, which was less than 10 miles away!

The route to Exmouth had been alongside the Exe estuary and had been nice and flat. Once we started following the coast we were back in the Devon hills. It was a gentle introduction, particularly compared to the day from Ilfracombe to Minehead which, despite being where she originates from, Christine considers to be the most horrendous day on a bike ever! It was a series of 20+% hills which totally exhausted us with the downhills being equally traumatic with sharp bends and blind crossroads at the bottom meaning all momentum was lost and the next uphill was taken from a standing start. She has vowed never again to take a bike there!

Passing through the village of Otterton we saw signs to a camp site which, judging by the information from our phones, was the last one before Sidmouth so we headed for it. It was a good choice despite the 14% hill on the way and being a large “ holiday camp” type place. The lady in reception took pity on us when we pulled long faces at the initial price quoted of £24 and said that she could put us on a small site without parking (which we didn’t need of course) for £15. The only downside was the group of 10 twentysomethings on the next site who sat around drinking and talking until gone midnight – not that it affected us very much as we were both back in cycle-camping mode whereby we crash out quickly (just after 8 o’clock in this case) and sleep the sleep of the dead. They were still going when Stephen woke to answer a call of nature (courtesy of a rather nice bottle of Dartmoor ale from the camp supermarket) but he was asleep again as soon as his head hit the pillow.

The next morning we had to go back over the hill to Otterton which was just a loosener for what was to come. Stephen was more than a little nonplussed to find himself pushing up hills that were not as steep as those on that “horrendous” day in North Devon (all bar one of which he cycled up, albeit very slowly). It took some time for us to realise that we were carrying much heavier loads this time – full camping gear v. just enough for a long weekend staying in hotels.

As we made our way out of Sidmouth we followed the signs for National Cycle Route 2 (all along the South Coast) which pointed up a road called Salcombe Hill. We both had bad vibes. These were reinforced by the comment “Good luck with that one” from a couple of lightly laden cyclists tearing past us in the opposite direction.

It was a b*****d!

By the time we got to the top and a 10 minute breather in the National Trust car park, we were horrified to see that we had gone 12 km in just under 2 hours. Weymouth was starting to look an awfully long way away so we started thinking of alternative plans all of which involved trains!

The nearest station was Axminster which had a certain “call” for Stephen as it was here where he and a friend gave up on their attempt to cycle from Southampton to Exeter while at university when the rear wheel of their half renovated pre war tandem almost collapsed 40 years ago!

After a lot more pushing (and a very welcome consolation lunch in Seaton which involved large helpings of chips) we made it to Axminster nervous of our ability to get the bikes on the train (there being a limit of 2 per train on that line and the online reservation system being closed for the weekend). As it transpired, the bike spaces were unoccupied and the guard was unfazed by our lack of tickets or bike reservations.

We had investigated taking the train to Poole to at least complete one of the gaps (that to Southampton) but the combination of the Sunday timetable and the sparse cross country network meant a ridiculously long journey. Therefore we resorted to a successful last minute phone call to Stephen’s sister just outside Southampton “Please  can we come and stay with you?”

We had a very pleasant couple of nights with Jo and Steve before  decamping to Stephen’s other sister, Nicky and her husband Jonathan, near Leatherhead. Here, again, we had a lovely evening catching up before heading to Newhaven to catch the ferry to Dieppe mimicking the start of our retirement adventures 3 years ago as we set off to cycle down the Danube.

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.