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

Day 5 - Poix de Picardie to Chaumont en Vexin - 18 May

Having arrived in sunshine the previous evening, they had pitched their tents in the shade so not to be woken by the sun in the morning - but it was a cold night and their tents got moist and didn't dry out when the sun came up ! So they spread them out to dry and headed off for breakfast in Poix de Picardie before packing up the (still moist) tents and leaving the campsite and friendly staff.

Joe in action

The previous day was a day of Eoliens as they passed very close to a number of wind farms. This was a day of living creatures - they were chased and barked at by dogs, followed by a cow ( thankfully behind a fence ), investigated by curious horses and heard birdsong and creatures rustling when they rode through the forests. It was also a day of less steep, longer climbs topped by a view and then a long descent again. Joe achieved a downhill speed of 49 km/h ( had he looked at the dial he would have peddled a bit faster!) and Pierre overtook a tractor cutting grass!

It was a day of lovely picture postcard scenes - beautifully kept Normandy villages, with wood and wattle houses, straight spired churches and stunning countryside. A day of dirt tracks and fragrant woods, animals...and "reverse sleeping policemen" - ie signs, but there were hollows in the road rather than humps! It was also a day when they found somewhere to get lunch ( though they did have supplies this time in their saddlebags, just in case). The lunch in question for Joe was a culinary first for him - Hamburger Raclette Cheese Toasted Panini! - and gave some much needed energy. They even managed a quick panache in the afternoon ( well, you didn't expect them to have tea and scones?).

They're building up suntans (or windtans?) and although the clear skies clouded over and there were rain showers around , they didn't get wet. They cycled on wet roads and passed cars coming the other way with wipers still going but managed to dodge the showers. It's also getting warmer!

They arrived at Chaumont en Vexin where they were booked into a hotel as campsites in the area were scarce . The hotel doesn't currently have a bar or restaurant ( an application for a change of license has been submitted ) but the owner took pity on them and kindly offered to drive them to a local restaurant or said that they could bring a take-away pizza back to the hotel. They decided on the pizza and some cans from the pizza shop and ate back at the hotel, where they'd been given plates, cutlery, napkins etc, and a dining room to eat in. Imagine that in England?

For the first time on the trip, when they arrived at the stopping point, they felt that they could have gone on further that day...

Vital statistics : Poix de Picardie to Chaumont en Vexin 76Km, Average speed 13.2 km/h

Monday 17 May 2010

Day 4 - Sibiville to Poix de Picardie - 17th May

Another 75 km day, but this time back to climbing again, with a rural campsite the stopping place. They made a good start and good headway, but despite looking for many hours, they could find nowhere to eat. There were bars ( mostly smoke filled, in defiance of France's anti-smoking laws!) but no food was available. This was a real concern for them today, as they're burning lots of calories and need fuel ! It's one of the disadvantages of following a route on the minor roads - it's more pleasant to cycle on the small roads, and less lorries should make it safer, but no lorry drivers eating means no cafes serving food. Still they made it to the campsite late this afternoon and have plans to stock up with sandwich ingredients from the local shop for tomorrow. Pierre was pleased to arrive - as can be seen from the picture below! Next step was to check in and pitch their tents, which were small so wouldn't take long! Another steep climb today - the campsite is, according to Joe, " at the top of the world" but they've pitched their tents and headed off for a well deserved meal and no doubt a beer or two.

Vital statistics: Sibiville to Poix de Picardie 75km, Average speed 13.6 km/h

Day 3 - Haut Pichot to Sibiville - 16th May

After showering, clearing up and re-packing the bikes, they left Haut Pichot early and headed to a nearby village, Frencq for breakfast. The cafe didn't serve breakfast but directed them to the local boulangerie where they bought some large croissants which they took back to the cafe and ate, washed down with a couple of cups of coffee. The cycling would be further, but a lot less hilly, overall they'd be descending and it was a nice day so they were looking forward to this leg.

They were also looking forward to a good meal and some drink... as Pierre's parents would be in Sibiville! The journey went well and they arrived in the afternoon with the sun shining, as you can see from the picture of Pierre pointing out that they'd arrived!

Vital statistics : Haut Pichot to Sibiville 75 km, Average speed 17.3 km/h

Day 2 - Channel Tunnel to Haut Pichot - 15th May

Joe and Pierre made it to breakfast on time and munched their way through scrambled eggs, sausages, juice and hot drinks before donning clothes to suit the chilly start and then ensuring the bikes were packed up again.

Joe on right, Pierre on left.

Cyclists can't travel as foot passengers with their bikes on the Channel Tunnel in the way that they can on the ferries, but they must use the Eurotunnel Cyclist minibus and trailer service that runs twice a day at 8 and 15.30. Time for a few photos and goodbyes and then they headed off to the Tunnel, though the driver warned that there would be delays due to a train stuck in the tunnel....

I then headed off for the station and the first of my four trains to take me to Kingston to spend the rest of the weekend with a friend - Joe and Pierre should be in France and en route to Haut Pichot by the time I arrived at Kingston. That was the idea - but as I travelled towards London, they were still waiting at Cheriton and I was comfortably installed beside the river with a glass of wine before they left England. The route to Haut Pichot from the tunnel exit is very hilly, and they were tired and hungry ( good thing they did make breakfast that morning, as lunch was cancelled!). They actually arrived in France at the time they'd hoped to be arriving at Haut Pichot, and still had a long hard cycle ride ahead. We contacted friends in Northern France to see if they could assist, but they couldn't transport the bikes, and cycling to their home would be the same distance as travelling on to Haut they had to battle on. They just reached Haut Pichot in daylight, having struggled up the hills and added to their journey with a few minor wrong turns - but they made it at around 9.45 french time!

Just time for a beer and a couple of sachets of Uncle Ben's instant rice ( better than Pot Noodle !) and then time to get into the sleeping bags...

Vital statistics : Tunnel to Haut Pichot 53 km, Average speed 10.5 km /h

Day 1 - Charing to Folkestone Channel Tunnel - 14th May

After catching a train that didn't stop at Charing, (so having to change trains and haul the bikes around) Joe and Pierre cycled off for Folkestone . Having already cycled from Ealing, Pierre was running out of fuel, so they stopped midway for a pint (and a jacket potato for Pierre). Pub was the Tiger Inn at Stowting, where the beer and surroundings were timely and welcome. .

Suitable refreshed, they headed on for Folkestone ,and the Holiday Inn Express Channel Tunnel Cheriton, cycling up a few "challenging" hills en route and arriving around 6pm.

Pierre on left, Joe on right

Showers, food, a bottle of Reserve Pierre wine and an early (ish) night were the order of the day, as breakfast next morning was scheduled for 7 am .

(Bikes and cyclists have to be ready for collection by the Channel Tunnel cycle minibus at 7.45 for departure at 8am from the hotel car park so an early night was needed) .

Vital statistics : Ashford - Holiday Inn Express Cheriton 27 km, Average speed 13 km/h

Friday 14 May 2010

It's Finally Started!

Joe and Pierre have just set off from Bromley. Pierre arrived from Ealing ( 30Km) and had a restorative coffee before they set off for the station. They're taking the train to Charing ( the end point of the "Dry Run") and then cycling to the hotel near the Channel Tunnel. I'm catching the train there later and will see them off tomorrow at 8 a.m. Spirits were high as they left - the extra couple of degrees in temperature this week have helped.

Joe on left, Pierre on right

Tuesday 11 May 2010

Only 3 Days to Go..

Well only 3 days to go and we are off.  First leg of the trip is take the train to Charing (our furthest point on the Dry Run - see below) and then cycle to the Holiday Inn near the Channel Tunnel terminal.  More details on this first leg here later.

I did a 38km run over Biggin Hill and Westerham Hill today.  It’s a bit late for training now, but felt I needed to do something.   Google Earth link below.   I know why they named it Biggin Hill now – it’s steep.  Still a restorative pint of Harveys Best Bitter at the Grasshopper on the Green at Westerham helped a lot.

Cycling route below : Note GPS lost signal for a bit of the trip, hence the straight line over the trees.

I’ve got my bike booked in for a service tomorrow at Bromley Bike – it will need a check over before setting off.

New pedals are great – highly recommended.  I can choose between a flat pedal or a clip-in pedal.  Flat pedal is great in busy traffic.

Also been busy route planning – trying to find a suitable route with easily available campsites or cheap hotels is proving a lot more complex than I thought.

I’m hoping my “Assistant” (Penny) can update this as we go along – so watch this space.

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Bit of light training

Been doing a little bit of cycling, mainly in the Loire Valley – our final destination on the “Big Wheel”  It’s only a week and a bit until the trip – so I suppose I’ll just stick to a number of short trips now until we go.  I don’t have the time to do any long trips and it’s probably a bit late by now in any case.

So I’ll try and do an hour a day (ish) until we head off.  Watch this space to see how it goes.

Two typical routes attached as KML files for Google Earth below.

Made a change to my Bike – I’ve altered the pedals so I can choose between a “normal” pedal and an SPD clip in. I've  found clip in pedals in heavy traffic to a bit too much like hard work.  I’ll try them out tomorrow.