Thursday 23 September 2010

Big Wheel Part 2 – September 2011

Now planning the next stages of the cycle ride across France.

  • Angers (Loire) to Bordeaux in Sept 2011
  • Bordeaux to Banyuls sur Mer on the Mediterranean coast sometime in 2012

Links below


Wednesday 26 May 2010

Back Home

Well here I am back in London having covered 701 km on a bicycle in a week with 19Kg of luggage on board.  Pierre did a few more Km’s having cycled to Bromley (30K’s + the bit from St Pancras back to Ealing).  For me, legs are a bit “heavy” and feeling a bit saddle sore but otherwise I’ve emerged unscathed from the trip – on the upside I’m quite a bit fitter than when I left, just need to try and keep it up now.

When I cycled from St Pancras to Victoria station, it was the first time I’ve cycled in London.  Won’t do that again by choice.  Taxi drivers seem to regard cyclists as legitimate targets, pedestrians walk into the road without looking  and the roads are full of potholes.  The country roads in rural France were in far better condition.

Anyway, some data about the trip for those who are interested.  Google Earth required for the routes and the Altitude graphs are just JPG files so can be viewed in most browsers.  You may get a few warnings dependant on your security settings.


Google Earth file : Day 1 Charing to Folkestone

Altitude Graph : Day 1 Charing to Folkestone


Google Earth file : Day 2 Tunnel to Haut Pichot

Altitude Graph : Day 2 Tunnel to Haut Pichot


Google Earth file : Day 3 Haut Pichot to Sibiville

Altitude Graph : Day 3 Haut Pichot to Sibiville


Google Earth file : Day 4 Sibiville to Poix de Picardie

Altitude Graph : Day 4 Sibiville to Poix de Picardie


Google Earth file : Day 5 Poix de Picardie to Chaumont en Vexin

Altitude Graph : Day 5 Poix de Picardie to Chaumont en Vexin


Google Earth file : Day 6 Chaumont en Vexin to Coulombs

Altitude Graph : Day 6 Chaumont en Vexin to Coulombs


Google Earth file : Day 7 Coulombs to Nogent le Rotrou

Altitude Graph : Day 7 Coulombs to Nogent le Rotrou


Google Earth file : Day 8 Nogent le Rotrou to Yvre L'Eveque

Altitude Graph : Day 8 Nogent le Rotrou to Yvre L'Eveque


Google Earth file : Day 9 Yvre L'Eveque to Sermaise

Altitude Graph : Day 9 Yvre L'Eveque to Sermaise


Google Earth file : Day 10 Sermaise to Angers Gare St Laud

Altitude Graph : Day 10 Sermaise to Angers Gare St Laud


The GPS totals are slightly less than those on the Cycle Computers as the GPS was not on for local journeys to the restaurants, bars etc.

Route Summary

A summary of the route above (Ashford to Angers) as a screenshot from Google Earth.

So conclusions.  well I think I’ve achieved something and very glad I did it – just over 700Km on a bike with all the camping gear etc is quite something.  I really enjoyed the trip although some of the steep hills were a bit of a challenge and we certainly got to see areas and villages (well) off the beaten track in France. 

Would I do it again – yes - so maybe time to start thinking about another trip in the future (if Pierre is up for it that is !).

So thanks for following the blog and I hope I didn’t waffle on or bore you too much. 

Finally thanks to Penny (aka Support Assistant) for updating the blog when we were on the trip – she did an excellent job of translating my mumblings into a readable piece of text.

Time to sign off.

Cheers for now

Joe Willis

Email :

Sunday 23 May 2010

Day 10 - Sermaise to Angers, Lille, St Pancras, home

Early start as the train at Angers Station wouldn't wait and they couldn't risk missing it. The cycle ride would take a few hours and they had to allow time to mend a puncture. The run was a good one and they made very good time - they were drinking a cafe creme at the Cafe de la Gare Angers at 10.30, in plenty of time for the train ( see pic of Pierre with bikes on the platform).
Staff at the station were very helpful, and bike-friendly. There was a dedicated space on the train for bikes - clearly signed as such - but maybe the party of french women who boarded just before Joe and Pierre couldn't read french? They stacked their luggage into the space for the bikes (ignoring the compartment for luggage) and so Pierre and Joe had to load their bikes in front of the women's cases. When the train stopped at Charles de Gaulle airport the women were peeved to see the bikes there and had to move them in order to reach their bags. Joe would have helped them - but the scowling women were blocking his path so he left them to it.

Once they arrived at Lille Europe, their next hurdle was to see if they could take their bikes back to St Pancras on the same Eurostar train as themselves! When booking the tickets back in the UK, Rail Europe had booked the bikes onto the SNCF train from Angers to Lille Europe, but said that we would have to take the tickets up to Eurostar at St Pancras to book the bikes on. (The original plan had been to change at Paris for Eurostar, but Rail Europe had told us that it wasn't possible to book bikes onto the SNCF trains from Angers to Paris.) When we went to St Pancras, finding the correct office was challenging, and then the man told us that he couldn't book bikes on Eurostar trains from Lille, only from Paris and Brussels! Apparently they don't have the staff there... So he said that all he could do was put a note on the system ( which no-one would read) and Joe and Pierre would have to try their best on the day.

If the bikes couldn't come on the same train, Joe and Pierre could not change their train without incurring huge costs and as the bikes were valuable, for them to be sent unaccompanied afterwards was a worry (and they would have to carry all their panniers and tents with them). With this in mind, Pierre's father Dave had kindly driven to Lille from Sibiville to make sure that all was ok, and assist by taking the bikes with him to Sibiville if it was impossible to take them back.

At first the answer was "no, not on this train" - but they could come on the next train. Joe then asked if they could move their seats to the next train - again the answer was "non" - unless they bought new tickets. They persisted however, explaining the position to the very helpful SNCF lady who tried very hard to presude her computer to do as they had asked, and eventually after getting assistance from a colleague, the computer printed out two bike tickets for their train at 30 Euros each. Dave in meantime had ascertained that new tickets for Joe and Pierre for the next train would have been 250 Euros as they were " on the day"! After a celebratory beer, Dave then left and it was time for Eurostar security with the bikes..

Despite the fact that the bikes were bigger than the machines, the security people insisted that the bikes be put onto the belt, with all luggage removed and the seats put down. First to go was Pierre's bike - which still didn't fit - and in the process, his handlebars were damaged and will need to be repaired. As the frame is metal, all that would have shown on the screen was the metal anyway so it was a pointless exercise. Joe's bike, being bigger , wouldn't go onto the belt at all.

Then it was onto Eurostar and home for the bikes was the guard's van and so to London. After leaving St Pancras, the two cycled to Marble Arch and then Pierre headed home for Ealing and Joe headed for Victoria Station and a train to Bromley. They'd made it! Joe's bike programme said 701 km (and Pierre's would be more, having cycled 30 km to Bromley at the start, and then from Marble Arch to Ealing at the end).

Another one is on the cards at some point in the future - but not travelling with a bike on Eurostar from Lille Europe!

Day 9 - Yvre L'Eveque to Sermaise

It was an early start, as the aim for this day was to get to Jarze , (the nearest village to Sermaise with shops) and get ingredients for a BBQ, then have a BBQ in the courtyard. They therefore concentrated on this, stopping briefly at La Fleche for lunch.

Again, it was a very hot day to be cycling, and the lizards were again to be seen enjoying the sun. Sleepy villages, open roads and green countryside - the kms flashed by and the lure of the BBQ and beer beckoned.......

They DID make it in time to get their sausages, lamb steaks and baguettes etc and the butcher was bemused when he asked where they'd cycled from and he received the reply " England"! Joe then added that the meat was good!!

When they cycled into Sermaise they were delighted to have reached their goal. It was very very hot - 28 degrees in the shade in the courtyard.

Vital Statistics : Yvre L'Eveque to Sermaise 92Km, Average speed 16.4km/h. Cycling time 5hrs 40 mins.
Cumulative distance was about 660 km.

Friday 21 May 2010

Day 8 - Nogent le Rotrou to Yvre L'Eveque - 21st May

Setting off at 9.30 am, it was another v hot day. They got lost and ended up on an N road which had been renamed as a D road as part of the changes to the french road network and responsibilities. The additional traffic was not what they expected!

For much of the day, they followed the river Huisne, though this , unusually for a river, appeared to go up and down, so it wasn't a completely flat ride. Overall though the GPS showed it as a net downhill journey.

Lunch at Tuffe - rillettes sandwich and panache for Joe, ham and cheese sandwich and a panache for Pierre.

Overall, it was a fairly easy day and it was the first day that Joe didn't walk up any hills. It was just as well the going was reasonable though, as it was very hot throughout, and even in evening at 8pm the pharmarcie display was reading 26 degrees. At times, Joe was gasping for air.

The lizards were loving the weather, and Joe saw lots of them sunbathing and then scurring away from the roadside as they rode by.

They arrived at Yvre L'Eveque at around 3.30 and headed for the campsite and cold beers! Once the tents were up, Joe headed for a swim - this was a 4* campsite, with good facilities. Joe and Pierre were lucky to get in, as this weekend is the weekend of the Moto Grand Prix at nearby Le Mans and accommodation was full throughout the area. When booking, we begged and pleaded for a small space for the night ( their tents are very small, and the bikes take little space ) and the campsite were very kind and gave them one.

The campsite is in the back of this picture, to the right of the roman bridge from which it takes its name, le pont romain. Having explored the town, and found that yet again, there were no restaurants or bars , they headed back to the campsite's snack bar and fuelled up on sausage and chips and more beer. Then they discovered that the campsite was selling ice cold Rose de Loire wine for 3 Euros 50 Cents....... Having taken their disposable plastic glasses from the hotel the night before ( my usual ploy, as you never know when you'll need them!) they poured themselves some glasses and settled down for a pleasant evening. As did the big group of french motor cyclists who were canped nearby. The campsite started the evening with 30 bottles of ice cold rose and sold them all. Joe and Pierre accounted for 3 of them ( see photo below of Pierre) - well it had been a very thirsty ride! And then to bed.

Vital Staistics : Nogent le Rotrou to Yvre L'Eveque , 75 kms. Average speed 15.7 km/h

Thursday 20 May 2010

Day 7 - Coulombs to Nogent le Rotrou - 20th May

Today was a day when Joe and Pierre felt like they were travelling flat for the majority of the ride, with only a few steep hills at the end, though they did actually climb gradually throughout the day. It was a hot day, with a slight tail wind on occasions, and sunscreen was an essential. They have brown fingers and faces, with white hands and eye areas as they've been wearing cycling gloves and sunglasses. The good quality, long stretches of road enabled them to get their speed up , turn the legs and the kilometres dropped away. There were wheat and barley fields as well as the ever present rapeseed, and lots of ponds and small lakes. Crickets and frogs were very audible, and Joe and Pierre became accustomed to being croaked at when they passed by. Many of the villages still have their traditional lavoirs where the women of the village used to do the laundry, and many of these too are now populated by frogs.

The roads today were fairly quiet as they were cycling along small back roads, with only a small part of the journey on busier roads. Joe's been struck by the superb quality of the small back roads, which he's found to be smooth and well maintained with very few potholes. Those potholes that he has encountered have been at farm entrances, and have not been particularly deep or dangerous. ( Unlike the potholes near Ashford, where he was encountering 3-4 every 100 yds , many of them serious enough to unseat an unwary cyclist. ) There were some sleeping policemen, but the more traditional wide raised french ones.

They successfully found somewhere with an outside area for lunch, though sadly not with a terrasse over the river ( Pierre had optimistically hoped to find one!).

In the villages and towns, the public buildings such as the Mairie/Hotel de Ville/older schools were now made of Tuffeau stone and were immaculately kept.

Towards the end of the ride, they found themselves cycling up steeper hills and on one which was very high up, they found themselves cycling level round the curve of the hill, whilst the valley dropped further below them, affording some spectacular views.

They had originally hoped to camp at the town campsite at Nogent Le Rotrou but when we phoned to book, it was closed for renovations. Another was suggested by the tourist office, some distance outside town but when they cycled to look at it today, it was up a very very steep hill, had no snack bar/restaurant and would have meant a round trip of 20 km of stiff cycling in order to eat tonight. So they opted for a traditional hotel in Nogent le Rotrou ( which was actually my suggested option) next to a bar /brasserie in the centre of the busy bustling town. Again, their bikes were given a safe secure place for the night, in a locked storeroom used by the family.

Joe and Pierre drank a few beers in the bar and then had a traditional french meal including steak frites and a few carafes of cheap red wine. After the pizza and moroccan food of the previous two nights, their meal was solidly french. They headed for bed, leaving the brasserie still busy - more cycling tomorrow.

Vital Statistics : Coulombs to Nogent le Rotrou 90 Km, Average speed 15.3 km/h

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Day 6 - Chaumont en Vexin to Coulombs - 19th May

A day of contrasts - and a long one. One target today was to cross the Seine on the smallest road possible ( not so small unfortunately) and stop at the other side for lunch. The duo spent some time the previous night trying to minimise the pain of crossing the Seine - it had to be done, and it was going to be grim , so a longer route was chosen to avoid the bigger roads.

The day started with them cycling up and down valleys, with long sweeping S bends cutting a swathe through forests and beautiful countryside. As they neared the Seine the architecture changed, with timber houses giving way to stone cottages. ( Unlike drivers, cyclists have time to notice these things).

Joe elected to walk up a couple of the steeper hills and both Pierre and Joe walked up one which deteriorated at the top, became a dirt road and then turned into off-road riding for a km. A wrong turn probably, but one that two fellow cyclists also made. They followed the same route for a while - two dutchmen ( possibly retired) who were en route to Compostela in Spain, but whether they were on a pilgrimage or not wasn't revealed.

There were other cyclists on the road today, and bonjours and smiles were exchanged as they passed each other. Locals were friendly - waving and smiling and offering directions. Even car drivers seemed more considerate, allowing space, and Joe and Pierre enjoyed zooming down the S bends, Joe reckoning that he was going a sensible 30-35 km at that point.

Then at the base of the descent to seal level to cross the Seine, it all changed. The road chosen, at Gargenville, a D road, was chock full of lorries, all of whom seemed intent on making life difficult at the very least. The road was two lorrys wide - and yes, there were lorries constantly in both lanes. Joe was nearly crushed by two lorries and on seeing his wheel being squashed into the kerb, had to do an emergency stop and dive onto the footpath. He crossed the rest of the way walking on the footpath. Pierre however elected to cycle in the middle of the road, trusting that the lorries would not steamroller over him - and it worked!

Sarnies and a panache at a pizza place helped replenish the pair, but then they had to cross a series of busy roads and motorway links, with broken glass, murderous lorry drivers and smelly traffic fumes - all in all a very unpleasant 4 or 5 km, and they felt they were taking their lives in their hands.

Then it was onto small side roads and they were ascending away from the Seine again.It was now mainly tiny back roads to their destination. At the top of the valley, the sound of the countryside seemed to be different to that north of the Seine - in addition to the birds, there were now crickets and frogs, and Joe saw lizards scurrying away at the side of the roads.

More lovely villages, and then they finally reached their destination. No thoughts of being able to go further today - they were more than ready to stop. Their hotel was at the top of a hill at the edge of town , so it was a walk into the village downhill for food and then a climb back up the hill to bed. Dinner was Moroccan and was apparently superb - Lamb Tagine, Mixed Couscous, Beers ( there was a choice of restaurants, but moroccan won out over crepes!). Happily, after the long ride, even the bikes had their own quarters !

Vital Statistics : Chaumont en Vixen to Coulombs 101 km - yes that's over 100km , Average speed 13.4km
Cycling time 7 hours 17 mins