It’s All Over Now

As the boat came in to Portsmouth, the tannoy announced that “due to congestion in the docks” we would be 20 minutes late. However, as cyclists we were the first off the boat.

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When we emerged from the dockyard we found that not only had Tony come to pick us up, he had also arranged a small group to greet us.

So it really is all over. We feel very lucky to have been fit and well enough to enjoy this unforgettable experience. The blog has helped us remember what happened (at our age remembering what happened yesterday can be a problem). But we hope you have enjoyed hearing of our progress. I hope I did not whinge and moan too much, but I am sure we were incredibly unlucky with the amount of head wind we experience and incredibly lucky that the weather was so good otherwise.

As I said much earlier we did this for fun, not as a fundraising effort. But if it encourages you to support the work of Jane Scarth House please feel free to do so.

Best Regards to All

Elaine & Paul Grainger
14 June 2017

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Tuesday – On the boat

This was the only day on the journey when we had to get somewhere at a certain time. We had 70km to cover and needed to check in by 4:00 pm. So we were on the road soon after 7:30. The forecast had said the day would start windless and get stronger in the afternoon. What we had not expected was fog. Not quite fog but a heavy morning mist – enough that we were concerned not to have useful lights.

The road was busy with people going to work, but we soon began a long gentle descent. Not enough to stop peddling but enough to make the work very easy. Eventually we were able to turn off into lanes that promised to take us down by the river. We were nervous of getting lost but it was worth it to be out of the traffic.

All went well and before noon we were alongside the Seine and underneath the Pont de Normandy.


We went up the ramp to be met by a sign saying – no way for pedestrians or cyclists and pointing down a couple of flight of steps to get to the walkway on the far side. Leaving the bikes and Elaine where they were, I went across to be met by an identical sign on the other side.

We discussed the situation with a non English speaking French couple and eventually decided that the sign saying – pedestrians please stay on the pavement – took precedence and that we would walk over together.


At the far side we followed a blue path for almost a km to the toll booths. The path ended at a long stairway climbing to a footbridge over the roadway. So we cycled back to the bridge because at this end there was a tunnel underneath the road that we could cycle through. Then back to the toll booths. At this side there was a ramp to the footbridge. And blessedly a lift to take bodies and bikes down to ground level. I still have no idea what they were trying to achieve.
Immediately past the bridge we joined a bike path which turned left and led us alongside the very busy main route for trucks going into the port. Then being French it stopped. No choice but to dice with death for 5 km till we could turn right towards the city. After that we were mostly able to avoid the trucks by riding on the pavement.


We made our way into Le Havre elated that we had actually done it. We thought we would have a nice lunch and a bottle of bubbly to celebrate. We did not choose very well. We had the worst meal of the entire trip and the did not even serve champagne.

 
Never mind. We rode the last couple of km to check in at the ports at 2:45 and spent half an hour chatting to an Australian motorcyclist coming back from Morroco.

Once on board and in our cabin we feasted on cheese sandwiches and half a bottle of bubble bought in the ships bar. As usual within 20 minutes of eating we were fast asleep.

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Monday – The last hotel

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We knew we had 90 km to cover so we were on the road at 8:00. As often happened we had the pleasure of a walk up the he hill to get out of town, the next 30 km were across open countryside. Again the fields were full of ripening corn. The occasional field of blue rape? added a nice touch of colour.


We think the road was rising steadily but it was probably just the wind. Normajjy it did not get too strong until lunchtime but today it was hard all morning. It was 11:00 by the time we had covered 30 km.


Then the road turned a little south and we made better progress for 20km until we dropped down into the valley with the Seine and Eure rivers.

On the way we stopped in to visit Jean Paul. Satire for lunch


The road here was crazy, truck after truck ruining the small town.


Fortunately there was an alternative running parallel, winding a bit and passing between houses and gardens. We even managed to find a bar open on a Monday. A few miles before Elbeuf we joined a cycle track running alongside the Eure and taking us safely into town.

From here we were just 20 km from the hotel but with my usual genius, I had chosen one which required a 3 km walk uphil. And then a windy stretch across a rising plateau. We were constantly expecting a long downhill as payback for the climb but we were at the hotel before it happened.

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Sat and Sun – Long

Saturday and Sunday were quite a drag. From Soissons to Compeign, Compeign to Clermont and Clermont to Gisors. As it was the weekend, the main roads between places were busy and we spent our time and too many miles working our way from village to village. The strong west wind continued to blow and Sunday especially was full on sun and baking hot. The  scenery is undramatic, mostly ripening fields of wheat and barley right up to the edge of the road with trees off in the distance.


So what was good. We were getting shade in the wall by a driveway entrance as the owner returned, she invited us to go sit on the seats in her garden. We tried the door to a restaurant at about ut 11:00 looking for coffee. The lady came to the door, said they did not open till noon but come in and have a coffee anyway. The man in the pizzeria where Elaine went just to get extra water made a huge effort to go find some chilled bottles for us. The meal on Saturday evening, no restaurant at the hotel but he provided a superb meal chosen from a reasonably wide menu and delivered in sealed glass containers. I had mussel soup, beef bourginion and prunes in Armagnac. We had seen the race marshals but it we still had to dive for the verges as a peloton of over 100 riders swept towards us in full race mode. But best of all was that the road for the last  15 km into Gisors was arrow straight and pretty much downhill all the way.


So we made it into the hotel in time to watch pretty much all of the French Open final.

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Friday – Boris kept his seat – why?

Like yesterday the morning was very different from the afternoon. The forecast was for rotten weather and when we woke it was raining heavily. So we had breakfast and then just hung around until nearly 10:00. Then the rain stopped but there were still ominous clouds above and of course a strong wind blowing in the wrong direction. 

We left Epernay on a busy hilly road but in a few km found ourselves riding on a posted bike path along the Marne. Being by the river felt very natural after the Danube but this time the river was going the same way as us. Down by the river we were nicely shaded by from the wind.

The surface was great except for the long stretches where a new surface was being laid. They had put down the gravel undersurface but not yet rolled it and it was too soft to ride on. Then a longer stretch still where they had put a temporary topping over the gravel. This was uncomfortable but rideable. But then we got onto the wonderful smoother new surface.By noon we had covered 30 km and the road turned away from the river.


At first the road led away from the river steeply up through a village then even more steeply up through the vineyards. From the top we rode through trees with the satnAV strongly suggesting we rake every left hand turn. Unfortunately most of them were unpaved tracks. We eventually turned left and followed a nice surfaced road up then down for 2 km before it changed first into a rough track then into a steep field of long grass. Like intrepid explores we pushed our bikes up the slope composing the letter to Google Maps telling them how good their bike routes were. 


But it was stressful and tiring. We eventually arrived at a farm in the middle of nowhere but within 3 km we were eating our lunch on a bridge over a motorway. 5 km further and we were back on roads that had signs to places we wanted to go.

35 km in the afternoon and they were misarable. Mostly slightly uphill, strong wind in our faces, too much traffic and tired from the fracas before lunch. We were delighted eventually to drop down the hill into Soissons.

The Ibis hotel was in one of the huge retail/industrial parks the French use. As we rounded the corner to reception, we found there were over a hundred British cyclists on An organised ride from London to Paris. Needless to say reception was chaos. We finally decided it was best for the bikes to sleep in the room with us.

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It wer’ a day of two ‘arves ‘arry

The morning was spent on the D3 heading into Chalons en Champagne. This is a busy road with a white strip only some of the time. We were supposed to move on to quieter less direct roadshow but seem to have missed the turn. The countryside was open and rolling up and down. The wind which hardly existed when we started was growing stronger all the time. So we were very pleased when we arrived in town just before lunch.
We took lunch sitting in the sunshine with the Marie 


The sat nav kept pushing us towards a canal path we tried to avoid it but eventually ended up on the towpath along The Canal du Marne. This started as a nice clean asphalt surface but it slowly deteriorated to a single narrow mud track. Then after a few km suddenly back to good asphalt. Our only problem was the tree debris from the winds of the last few days.
But the riding was great, we were sheltered from the wind, it was flat, we were alternatively in sunlight or shade from the trees. And so we arrived in Epernay. To our amazement we were within 7 km of the town before we saw the first vine.
There were lots of hotels available but either very downmarket or very expensive. So we ended up in the Premier Classe. Definitely Notclassy but almost OK. To keep up the tone we walked to the nearby MacDonalds for dinner.

view of train s and many vines from our window

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Wednesday – Half a day

The forecast for today was at least dry and the head winds were now threatened as 20 to 40 km so it was marginally better than yesterday.

Can we get a train to Reims? Yes you can take bikes on some trains in France. But not on the service between Verdun and Reims.

Can we hire a car? Yes of course but Hertz do not have a depot in Verdun. The Avis website refuses to work on the iPad, the EuroCar does not work at all and Leclerc do not do rent it here leave it there.

So an even less ambitious target. Just 45 km to Ste Menehould. The forecast was right it was not as horrendous as yesterday but it was hard work. We rode along past lots of sites associated with the Battle of Verdun in the Great War. 


There was no way to ride up the hills into the wind so it took a long time. Along the way we stopped in Clermont for a beer on the narrow 2 way street. As we sat the a huge 38 ton truck pulled up opposite us. The driver jumped out as his truck leaving it running completely blocked traffic. He strolled to the nearby boulangerie and returned carrying his baguette.

This town is not huge and our hotel ‘Le Cheval Rouge’ does not look too prepossessing but they have an extension which is brand new and we have the nicest room of our trip so far. As we arrived here at 2:00 we are enjoying a lazy afternoon. Not tried the restaurant yet but that appears to be good too.

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Tuesday – It’s horrible

We had done 3 long days. The weather forecast was not bad it was seriously horrible. The TV forecast for France was showing 70km winds. The regional forecast on the web said 32km with gusts of 50. Thunderstorms were threatened for 9, 12,and 3. So we went out anyway.

We made it to the bottom of the driveway before running for an awning to shelter from a heavy burst. 10 minutes later we were able to ride down round the hairpin into the town centre for our daily visit to Lidl. We spent the next hour dashing from tree, to bus shelter to doorway as the heavy showers went through. They eventually stopped and the rest of the day stayed grey and threatening but dry.

Given the conditions we were only aiming for Verdun just 50 km away. Despite the strong head winds we made reasonable progress until we got to Etain. It was coffee time and we walked all round the town centre without finding a single place to get a drink. In fact there were pretty much no commercial operations at all.

The wind was getting stronger and stronger, it had passed the point where it was difficult to cycle. It was now difficult to stand up. At one point, Elaine claims she was blown off her bike but I reckon she just wanted a quick rest.

We eventually made it to Verdun, not quite as depressing a town as Etain but it is trying to catch up. Our choice of hotels had not been great and the one we had was just OK. Also the wifi in every room certainly did not reach our room. But for dinner they directed us round to the Italian on the next street which advertised ‘Specialities Savoyard’ (funny I thought Savoy was in France). They served us the best tastiest Tartiflet I have ever had. So we retired to bed at least feeling well fed.

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Monday – much quieter

The wind was gone when we woke, but the hotel blinds had done too good a job and it was 7:00 before we surfaced. By the time we had eaten and I had done a couple of repairs to my bike we did not leave till nearly 9:00. Knowing how closed France can be on a Monday, let alone a bank holiday we had again pre booked our accommodation. 

Yesterday it was cyclist who entertained us, today it was vintage British cars, all bearing a Europe Tour 2017 sign. We must have seen over 50 of them over a 2 hour period.

With quiet winds and roads which seemed to be slightly more down than up we got along well until we entered Metz.

We did not have just a bus shelter for lunch, we had a whole terminal to choose from. We were in the middle of a school complex and of course neither the schools or the busses were in business. 

As we were finishing lunch we both spotted that Elaine’s back tyre was flat – our first puncture of the trip. Sorting this out and getting underway again took the best part of an hour. Crossing Metz with the guidance from the phone was fun. We cycled on dedicated bike tracks through deserted parks, through crowded pedestrian precincts, alongside busy roads and eventually alongside the Moselle.

Our route eventually left the riverside and we entered the biggest collection of cars I have ever seen. A village was holding its “Vide Greniers” street market and the roadside for at least 2 miles either side was wall to wall parked cars. Getting through the traffic was bad news but what was worse was that the road went uphill for 15 km. not too steep but a major drag.

We eventually fell into our hotel at about 5:30. Once again we seem to be the only residents but the restaurant was open and the meal was truly superb. I noticed that the local Rotary Club meets here – but have no idea what day.

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Sunday – Lola est mort

To be accurate she is mortally wounded. It has been increasingly difficult to see the screen throughout our journey. The drenching we got on Friday evening made things much worse. But the total washout yesterday evening seems to have done for her. She got us to the hotel in the storm yesterday and this morning I was just able to enter our destination but out in the sunlight I could not see a raging. So all day we have been guided by a disembodied voice. Now the screen is just blank and I can’t enter anything else. So we will have to trust the sat nav on my phone. Thank goodness free roaming is now in place. (And God bless the EU for forcing it).

When we saw the wether forecast and looked at the map we knew today would be hard. We had strong headwinds and lumpy territory NW from Saverne towards Metz. To avoid the risk of being homeless On a holiday weekend we had booked a hotel in Morhenge about 80 k from Saverne.

 It was one of those days when you realise just how big and empty France is. Mile after mile of open rolling countryside with only small villages dotted here and there.


Elaine did find some company for our roadside lunch


Our afternoon was enlivened by about 8 or 10 groups of cyclists. All in full race mode, preceded and followed by cars with flashing lights. They were in groups of 20 to 30 and all seemed to be in very good mood, shouting hello and urging us to join them.

Finally getting to Morhange we followed the directions to the hotel and were horrified to find a very rundown large house on the edge of a campsite and behind a faded and falling down sign. Fortunately it was the wrong place. Ours was a quarter mile away. It was brand new and totally empty. The bad news was that the restaurant was not open so we had to get back on the bikes (so much lighter without the bags) and cycle the short distance into to for an excellent meal at an Italian reastaurant.

They did open the hotel restaurant for breakfasting we ate all alone in the huge room with seating fora hundred plus.

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