Thirteen of us started this four day cycle tour (with a fifth day off the bikes planned for sight seeing in Paris) at Clapham Common and headed south towards the evenings destination of Lewes near the Sussex Coast. To get out of London we used the very popular Wandle Trail, which as the name suggests is a trail/path, most of which can be used by cyclists that follows the River Wandle, from the Thames in Wandsworth to the river source near Croydon.
Not only is this safer than the rush hour south London traffic but it is also much more picturesque, as the route takes you through the some beautiful parks along the route, like Morden Hall near Merton Abbey Mills, which is a park tucked away at the end of the London underground rail network Northern line, that like much of the trail turns what would be a rather hazardous and it has to be said not a particularly pretty road ride (I'm sooooooo sorry Morden, but pretty you are not) into what is a ride that many local to the area, myself included will actually chose to visit on a leisurely Sunday ride. Now when was the last time you ever heard someone say that Morden is worth a visit?
The Wandle Trail gate 86
We left the trail to join the famous London Brighton cycle route taking in the short climbs over the North Downs in Surrey with most of us stopping for lunch at the ‘Dog and Duck’ pub not far from Smallfields; just to be sociable of course, cycle touring is as much about the stopping bits as far as I am concerned! Shortly after Turners Hill we headed Eastwards meandering through the pretty lanes towards Lewes and slap up meal at the local Inn where most were also staying for the night. Next morning we all cycled to Newhaven to catch the morning ferry to Dieppe, which would have enabled us to spend the afternoon cycling thirty or so miles to the first night hotel in France; it’s here our adventure really started to go all Phileas Fogg! For the first time in three months the Newhaven-Dieppe Ferry had been cancelled; we thought “oh well that’s it, we all have to go home, the end“!
Fortunately the ferry terminal put on a coach that would take foot passengers the 100 miles to Dover, the tour organiser, Kevin White, of Bike Adventures, taking all our bikes in the support vehicle, another coach we were assured would meet us in Calais to take us a similar distance to Dieppe. With the shorter Dover-Calais crossing that would only put us back a couple of hours, but if all went to plan this would not be a complete disaster as we would still just have enough time to the ride the thirty miles to the Hotel, most of which along a new cycle track that starts just outside Dieppe. The modern ferry smoothed out the rough seas enabling us all to get a hearty meal inside us in preparation for what was now to be a late afternoon ride.
Unfortunately on arrival at Calais the promised for coach was nowhere to be seen, although a very nice French lady on the answer machine repeatedly told me that my call was important to her and to remain in the queue while my mobile phone battery plummeted, I, indeed we all, remained optimistic that all would be well. Sure enough, quick as a flash, two hours later a chirpy garçon arrived with shiny coach to whizz us off to Dieppe. By this time we all realized that we would not arrive in time to do the ride so a plan was hatched to persuade the chirpy Frenchman to take us what would for him be an eighty mile round trip from Dieppe to the Hotel
After much pleading; ok bribing (thankfully later paid for by Bike Adventures), he finally agreed. Although we had detailed route sheets, he was a bit of a spoil sport and completely refused to take the coach onto the new cycle network, so we quickly found him a map, all be it a not very detailed one which resulted in us getting lost 200 metres into the journey, note that I am now rather impressively referring to distances in metres; continental fashion. Not to be deterred chirpy garçon simply stopped the coach on major roundabout, blocking the dual carriage way, hopped out with engine still running and simply stood in front of an oncoming car to stop the driver to ask directions, strangely they didn’t seem to mind at all as if this was common practice, so after a quick smile and a wave we were on our way … only in France!!
We arrived at about ten o’clock, just in time to book into the hotel and head straight for the Local Chinese restaurant; not very French admittedly but we were all relieved to just be there! The morning route briefing was given in lovely sunshine and we all set off in cloudless sky. The wind however was still very strong, a mile into the ride this wind had changed the cloudless sky into a big black cloudy one and we were all soon to enjoy riding at forty five degrees with one eye closed in protection against a horizontal downpour
The shower was very short lived, plus we could often see each downpour arriving on the open landscape, so on many occasions we were able to take shelter, allowing for the short and very violent downpours to pass. By lunchtime a few of us decided to stop in a village that had a typical ‘locals’ restaurant, as in this case these often provide superb value meals, for fourteen Euros we got four courses, each delicious and well presented, all washed down with some good value yet very agreeable red wine. This for me is all part of cycle touring, absorbing the atmosphere that the local French people enjoy, I much prefer this style riding to the higher mileage tours, the food stops become a holiday memory, as opposed to simply a stop for fuel.
On arrival at the hotel, most had managed to dodge many of the showers and some commented that they even had the start of a tan! I managed another slap on French meal in the evening with my new mates, something of a miracle as far as I was concerned; not the having new mates bit, but being able to manage any food at all after four courses earlier in the day!The next day had us crossing the River Seine several times as we headed through the beautiful country side and Paris suburbs to our final destination at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The sun shone and we even had the occasional tail wind to help us on our way, the rain holding off until the Tower was in sight. Bike Adventures had found what was a relatively quite route into Paris, that included cycle routes, very impressive parks and suburban back roads.
My friend Alistair and I were admiring the Eiffel Tower as we crossed the River Seine on a footbridge, pushing our bikes, the tower suddenly disappeared in another short lived downpour, with nowhere to hide we pressed on as we could see we were near the end. However the adventure for me had another twist, at the end of the footbridge I recall my last words to Alistair being “be careful this ramp may be slippery” as I held cycle in one hand and banister in the other I began pigeon stepping carefully down. A moment later I slipped on the wet decking surface, instinctively I tightened my grip on the banister, pulling my shoulder eight inches out of the socket as a result.
As is common in moments like this I knew straight away that this was more than a simple slip on my backside and that I had hurt myself, confirmed moments later when little fountains of water appeared in each eye and my upper lip appeared to not be as stiff as a British man abroad should display; sorry Britain I have let you down! I immediately sent a text to Bike Adventures and some other friends ahead of us on the tour, unfortunately as I pressed send my mobile phone battery went flat; so I could only assume they had not been received! Alistair, who had managed to stay on his two feet, kindly asked some passing French people to phone for an ambulance, who then sheltered me with their umbrellas until it arrived
Even the ducks dine well in Paris.
There I was lying in the stretcher in the ambulance shaking (in a rugged stallion like fashion of course) merrily away in shock, by this time feeling a tad sorry for myself; when Sue appeared in the doorway, I have never been so pleased to see anyone; ever! They had received one of my messages after all and came back to help! I must say that my fears of being treated as a result of an accident in a foreign hospital were completely quashed. The care I received was magnificent, they allowed two of the group, Cliff and Sue to come with me in the ambulance (the rest of the group Kevin swept up in van, I mean the Broom wagon; very Tour De France), at no time was I left alone, at no time was I made to wait, they were actively treating from the moment I entered the hospital to the moment that it took the four staff to pull my shoulder back into the socket; one pulling my good arm straight out as I sat in a chair, another pushing down on my shoulders, another trying to pull my bad arm straight out with the fourth also trying to pull my bad arm down, as my shoulder had popped under the socket, so it had to be pulled both out and down at the same time. The doctor pulling my bad arm down was sitting on the floor, her legs up on the seat of my chair, eyes closed and grimacing and groaning (although it sounded sexy in French) as she pulled as hard as she could, all of which as you can image was pure joy :) hoorah for Morphine that‘s what I say! Within five minutes of it going back in I was in the taxi on route to the hotel, modelling a trendy blue sling and rather fetching blue cape, the four staff all came to say goodbye and even the I cannot speak any French I was able to make it very clear to them how grateful I was; a job well done.
The next day Bike Adventures transported all our bikes back to London Waterloo Station by van, meaning the rest of us had a free day in Paris to take in the sights, buy some souvenirs and have yet another slap up meal in a quaint Paris restaurant, before catching the late afternoon Eurostar to rendezvous with our bikes at Waterloo. This tour may have been short, but it was action packed, as usual I met up with friends from previous tours and made some new ones. I may have to do it again next year; although with a few tweaks methinks.
Group Photo somewhere in France, John and Liz, Me, Steve, Cliff and Sue, John, Bob and Eveleyn, John and Alistair
This group tour was organised by www.bikeavdentures.co.uk ; please note that since this write up Bike Adventures has become a limited Company with new management, so the tours on offer may differ, although I have no experience with them under the new ownership I would hope they still offer quality tours; for anyone interested I have included a link to their website below:Tour organised by :www.Bikeadventures.co.uk