Monthly Archives: June 2015

27 & 28 June 2015 – a bit of a rest and into the woods

Before I recount tales from the last couple of days, here’s bit of a stats summary for the tour so far, which includes today (29 June). Slight warning; this post may have been compromised by the introduction of Sangria this evening, courtesy of the very friendly staff at Camping du Lac in Ondres.

Distance pedalled: 3,441 miles, or 5,538km
Days since Nordkapp: 55 (including a couple of rest days)
Average distance per day: 100.69km, or 62.5miles (includes rest days)
Number of punctures: 5, but none recently, touch wood
Number of punctures in Thermarest: 3 after thorny ground last night (d’oh)
Number of new chains: 1
Number of new rear cassettes: 1
Number of new saddles: 1 – changed to a Brooks in Sweden and it’s now worn in, very good decision
Min temperature: About 0 degrees Celsius – have cycled in a snow storm
Max temperature: About 33 degrees Celsius, supposed to be hotter tomorrow though
Did I bring too many pairs of socks: Yes, as well as a few other clothes I’ve never worn
Favourite city: Hamburg or Bordeaux, with Paris and Stockholm very close behind
Favourite leg so far: Current leg down from Bordeaux to Spain proving excellent, Scandinavia also fantastic, but parts of it very hard work with headwind

Let me know if you’re interested in any other info.

Here are my routes and stats for the last couple of days:

27 June: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/818715809
28 June: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/818715885

–> 27 June
I was up early at the campsite just outside Bordeaux, mainly because the Spanish motorcyclists were up early and it was a very small camping area. I thought I may as well get up and on the road to maximise my rest day opportunities later.

Surprisingly it had rained slightly overnight, and was still overcast in the morning, with a slight drizzle which kept everything cool and fresh. I packed up and pedalled off by 08.30, slightly nervous about the route which involved using one main road marked red on the map. You’re mostly allowed to cycle on these, but they can be very busy, and I was hoping there was a cycle path running alongside it. I didn’t really have much of a choice in any case, roads being less common South West of Bordeaux.

Pedalling to Biganos

Pedalling to Biganos

As it turned out the road was fine, and did have a cycle path running alongside it for some of the way. Compared with the E04 in Sweden it was positively heavenly! Although there was a fair bit of traffic it was pleasant riding in the cooler temperature, through some forest, and the sun came out by the time I made it to Biganos. I pedalled 44.5km today, however about 10 of these were once I got to Biganos as I had a quick ride around the town once I’d checked into the campsite, before having a siesta.

Charlie - the friendly campsite dog

Charlie – the friendly campsite dog

I’d arrived at Les Marache Vacances campsite by 11.00, so had plenty of relaxing time left, but needed to get my washing done first. I was greeted enthusiastically by Charlie the campsite dog, who then decided to have a nap too.

Les Maraches Vacances is an excellent campsite, and I was able to set up my tent in a partially shaded pitch, leaving enough room in the sun to dry my washing!

Washing done and drying at Les Maraches Vacances

Washing done and drying at Les Maraches Vacances

After that it was down to the serious business of chilling out, starting with a Grimbergen beer.

Grimbergen beer - best beer of the tour so far

Grimbergen beer – best beer of the tour so far

This was closely followed by some reading, whereupon I dozed off again, but roused myself for a swim a bit later on on the afternoon; it’s a hard life sometimes.

Swimming pool at Les Maraches Vacances

Swimming pool at Les Maraches Vacances

After doing some planning I went to the campsite restaurant for dinner, splashing out a bit on a very nice meal, served by a singing waiter.

There were several other cycle tourers at the campsite, included one family all on bikes; two adults and 3 children, all kitted out.

I think the cycle route down the coast from Acarchon is very popular; the Velodyssey. Over the next few days I saw loads of other cyclists, most just out for the day but a few tourers too. It’s not surprising as the Velodyssey is a fantastic cycle route, passing through lots of forest, right next to the coast and lots of beaches.

After a bit of a blog update and some Rose wine, I fell asleep very quickly!

–> 28 June
It was a bit of a longer ride today, covering 118km in 6hrs and 40 mins. As the crow flies it was probably half that from campsite to campsite, however I was following the coast and Velodyssey route, which isn’t very straight, plus I enjoyed a few detours.

Leaving Les Maraches Vacances

Leaving Les Maraches Vacances

Bidding goodbye to Charlie, the campsite dog, I was on the road by 09.30, and headed to Arcachon first, through a bit of forest and past a big canoeing centre.

Through the forest to Arcachon

Through the forest to Arcachon

In Arcachon I picked up the Velodyssey route, which is also Eurovelo 1, down the Atlantic Coast. Arcachon looks to be very popular spot for a holiday, with a busy harbour and lovely beaches.

After Arcachon I followed the trail South, mostly on dedicated cycle paths, with occasional bit of road thrown in to keep things interesting. The route weaved its way down the coast, through nice shaded forest where the smell of pines and lavender permeated the air. I passed some enormous sand dunes in Pylar, before arriving in Biscarrosse where I stopped for some lunch; just fruit and biscuits after yesterday’s spending!

I went down to the beach and watched the surfers for a bit, enjoying the sea breeze. This part of the coast appears to be a surfing hotspot, and I can see why with all the fantastic beaches and a decent swell. I was definitely starting to feel like I was on holiday too; a feeling that is persisting but might come to an abrupt halt when I hit the Pyrenees and higher temperatures.

Post Biscarrosse the trail went a little bendy, heading inland and slightly back on itself to go around a military training area. This is mostly why I ended up doing 118km; I could have stayed on the road and cut a few km off the route, but it wouldn’t have been anywhere as nice a ride – the forest trails are lovely, despite a few hills.

I cycled past two big lakes, packed with people enjoy a hot Sunday afternoon, both in the water and on the beaches; loads of water sports too. Just around the corner from the beach there was a nice harbour with sailing boats moored up. A little further on I missed a sign and accidentally diverted to another smaller lake, where it was good to see the Union Jack flying.

After a long ride I made it to Mimizan-sur-Plage, where I had my eye on the Camping Municipal du Plage. It turned out to be a huge campsite, packed full of kids learning to surf for the most part. The Wifi was rubbish so I could do any planning or blogging, but ended up chatting to a retired Scottish tourer, Ken, who has cycled down from Roscoff; good to swap a few stories and tips. I also didn’t need to do much planning, as the route to Bayonne is well signposted along the Velodyssey trail.

Dinner was pizza from the campsite snack bar, as well as a new concoction made up of leftovers; Camembert, bread, raspberry jam and Tabasco goes surprisingly well together! Ken was finding the heat a little over the top, however I’m enjoying it so far; as long as I remember to drink plenty of water it’s fine, and I’m going to start setting off earlier in the morning to avoid the heat later on. The hottest part of the day isn’t midday, it’s more like 15.00 or 16.00, so I’ll aim to stop around then, and do a few shorter legs when the hills get bigger.

One minor issue today; I didn’t notice the thorny ground where I pitched my tent, so my Thermarest mat ended up with a few holes in it, as did the bottom of my tent. They were both however already a bit compromised, the tent by Scandinavian varmint incursions, and the sleeping mat just has a slow leak somewhere; nothing to be majorly concerned about.

Tomorrow it’s onwards towards Bayonne, before turning inland towards St-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the Spanish border; getting close to starting the Camino de Santiago, as well as a visit from my parents.

25 & 26 June 2015 – to Saint Christoly-de-Blaye and Bordeaux

I’m writing this on 27 June, from a small town South West of Bordeaux called Biganos, near Arcachon, where I’m having a day off cycling; although that’s not strictly true as I pedalled about 40km to get here this morning, but have had a siesta since then. It’s cooler today, and I’m lounging next to a swimming pool which is most pleasant. In fact, I think I’ll go for a quick dip before starting to write this, but in the meantime here are my routes and stats for the 25th and 26th.

25 June: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/814790274
26 June: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/815605832

–> 25 June
I covered 94km today, in 5hrs and 20 mins of riding, mostly through more vineyards; not unpleasant but it does give one a bit of a thirst. I awoke slightly disoriented as I’d slept the wrong way round in my tent, due to a gradient, however once that was all sorted out I was on the road by 09.30, bidding ‘au revoir’ to my friendly hosts and riding on to Chateauneuf-sur-Charente.

Ready to leave Sireuil

Ready to leave Sireuil

It was already hot by 10.00, and only got warmer as I cycled up and down hills on my way to Archaic, then on to Jonzac. One thing about this part of the world, aside from all the vineyards, is that a lot of the towns and villages are built on hills, which would no doubt originally have been for defensive purposes, and certainly gives cycle tourers a good work out nowadays.

Vineyards near Chateauneuf-sur-Charente

Vineyards near Chateauneuf-sur-Charente

I pedalled through mile after mile of vineyard, with workers out in the fields tending the vines, as I made my way towards Bordeaux through Cognac country. The grapes are only just appearing on the vines, from what I can see anyway, but it’ll no doubt be a good harvest/vintage if the weather carries on likes this. The people tending the vines were all heavily tanned from long hours working out in the fields, and sometimes surprised me by appearing from between the vines and saying ‘bonjour’ as they made their way along the rows; a lot of the work seems to be done by hand.

More grape vines

More grape vines

I nearly went up to Cognac, but it would have added about 30km on to the day and I’m trying to force myself to slow down a bit, in preparation for some hard work over the Pyrenees.

Hotel de Ville - Chateauneuf-sur-Charente

Hotel de Ville – Chateauneuf-sur-Charente

As with yesterday I managed to zone out a bit as I cycled along, whilst still remembering to drink lots of water. This helps the kilometres fly by, as well as the hills, and meant I could give more thought to book writing; got a few ideas coming along nicely.

After Jonzac it was on to Montendre, through more wine country, and then some forest which provided a nice change. The countryside as well as architecture is really looking like the South of France now; the smell reminds me of living just outside Marseille near the Calanques – dry and pines.

I stopped at a supermarket in Montendre for some lunch, enjoying the cold aisles for a bit, and downing a litre of chocolate milk which was absolute bliss. It must have been over 30 degrees, and it’s due to get hotter, however at least I’m acclimatising to it and when cycling you always have a breeze. It’s strange to think that a month and a half ago I was in Northern Scandinavia with temperatures just above freezing; bit of a contrast.

My destination today was Le Maine Blanc campsite, however I pedalled past it to Saint Christoly-sur-Blaye to get a few supplies first, before returning, setting up, and going straight to the swimming pool. I could definitely get used to campsites having swimming pools, long may it continue! Le Maine Blanc is an excellent campsite, in the countryside with lots of shaded pitches, and fairly peaceful aside from the faint noise of the autoroute which isn’t that far away.

Dinner consisted of Camembert and baguette, fruit and biscuits, with a glass or two of Rose to wash it all down with; would be rude not to sample the local wine after cycling through so many vineyards. I did some planning, then retired for the evening listening to the sound of frogs ribbeting in the surrounding woods.

–> 26 June
Today was a shorter day, covering 78km in about 5hrs as I wanted to spend some time in Bordeaux. This proved a good decision; Bordeaux ranks up in the top 3 cities I’ve visited so far on this tour.

The temperature definitely went over 30 degrees today, hitting 33 at one point but I think it topped even that. Someone at the campsite mentioned it’s due to go up to 40 degrees Celsius next week, around Bordeaux anyway, but it might be cooler in Northern Spain around the mountains; although that might just be wishful thinking. I’m very much looking forward to starting the Camino de Santiago in about a week’s time.

I’d slept well in my shady spot at Le Maine Blanc, and as a result was up and on the road by 09.00, keen to make sure I made the 10.30 ferry across from Blaye to Lamarque, just down from Fort Medoc; Medoc being the next wine region on my route. I’d decided to take the ferry over the Gironde, rather than stay East of it and go down to Bordeaux that way, as the Western side looked quieter and was purportedly good for cycling.

As it turned out I made it in plenty of time, as it was only 16km to Blaye, and mostly flat, so I stopped at a boulangerie and bought second breakfast; France is very good on the second breakfast front.

I had a quick pedal around Blaye, and arrived at the queue for the ferry just as the boat pulled in; another advantage of cycling is you can go straight to the front of the queue. There’s a big citadel in Blaye, presumably built to defend against English ships coming up the Gironde to attack Bordeaux; I wonder if I should call them British ships or English ships? Whilst looking at the citadel I had a chat with a French cyclist out for day’s ride; he wished me ‘Bon route’ et ‘Bon courage’.

I boarded the ferry along with a number of motorcyclists, and lots of cars, for the short crossing over the Gironde. It must have been about 3km in total; nice scenery and a pleasant break that gave me a chance to eat my croissants and pain-au-chocolat before Lobster finished them all.

From Lamarque, where the church bells tolled 11.00, I rode through more vineyards, each with their own sign; there are loads of them and I wonder if some are owned cooperatively, with everyone pitching in to take care of the vines. I also spotted a group of young workers, who might’ve been travellers earning a few quid before going on to their next destination; pretty hard work in this heat – at least I get a breeze.

I passed a lot of buildings called chateau, but not all of them looked chateau-like. Perhaps that’s just what each building that’s central to a vineyard ends up being called, whatever it looks like. I enjoyed riding through the flat countryside, and spotted lots of wildlife today, including buzzards, Goldfinches, Black Kites, Swallows, cows (thanks for the reminder Lobster) and two Coipo – one alive and shuffling into the reeds next to the river, and one unfortunately dead, probably hit by vehicle.

It was a hot ride down to Bordeaux, some of it alongside the Gironde, and then the Garonne, and some of it on back-streets as I followed a diversion around road works. I had to negotiate a lot of bumpy cobbles again, which always fill me with fear that something is going to break, however there were no issues on this occasion.

The ride down the esplanade alongside the river to the centre set the scene for Bordeaux, a magnificent city, and one that I knew little about beforehand. According to Wikipedia it was founded by a Celtic tribe, then the Romans came along and introduced wine growing, which has persisted in the area ever since. I believe there are still Roman remains in the city however I’m not sure if I saw any as I meandered about its narrow streets, then wide boulevards and squares.

I think I prefer Bordeaux to Paris, which might be a bit controversial, but it has the same appeal from a historical and architectural point of view, and was far less packed when I visited; much easier to relax and take it in. I enjoyed a walk around the antiques quarter, then had a ‘Baguette Steake Frites’ at the Esplanade Des Quinconces. The square is massive, and home to the Monument aux Girondins; a tribute to a group of ‘deputes Girondes’ executed during the French revolution, and regarded as heroes of the republic.

After a quick trip to the tourist information, where I acquired  map, I headed down to the Miroir D’Eau, next to the river, which is essentially a large open area where water slowly trickles up from the paving stones, and occasionally mists the area; very refreshing on a hot day and the ‘miroir’ was packed with people relaxing in the sunshine. I had a paddle, and was spotted on a webcam by the ‘stalkers’ from Norwich; good job!

From there I walked through the shopping district, which was positively bustling, then headed to the Cathedral before making my way out of the city.

Bordeaux is definitely worth a visit, with lots to see and a great atmosphere. One thing I realised latterly; I didn’t see anyone begging or homeless, which is in stark contrast to other cities I’ve passed through, and I couldn’t tell you why this is the case. Maybe Bordeaux is too remote, or the authorities move people on.

My intended destination for the night was Gradignan and the Beausoleil campsite, about 10km outside Bordeaux. To get there I rode through the university district, arriving at the campsite about 17.00, and feeling very hot. Whilst the small campsite was fine for one night, it didn’t have any shade, and was lacking the swimming pool I’m getting used to, so I decided I’d move on in the morning rather than take a rest day.

Beausoleil camping, Gradignan

Beausoleil camping, Gradignan

I nipped up to a local shop and bought melon and taboule for dinner, as well a couple of Grimbergen Blonde beers just to keep my calorie count up, then managed to find some shade to relax in for a couple of hours. Two Spanish motorcylists arrived at the campsite, on their way to Kiev, and I chatted to them for a bit, before calling it a day once the sun had gone down and my tent had sufficiently cooled to permit sleep without slow-cooking myself.

Tomorrow I plan a short ride down towards the coast near Acarchon, rather than follow the Eurovelo 3 route inland which seems to bend about a lot and I’m not sure why. The coastal route down to the border with Spain, near Biarritz, looks very pleasant, with a marked cycle route and miles of forest and beach to enjoy. I’m also more likely to meet people and maybe find some fun activities to do if I go that way. Whatever happens it’ll be an interesting side-trek before I cut back inland to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and the start of the Camino de Santiago. Tomorrow is also a bit of a rest day, which’ll hopefully involve getting some washing done in-between doing some lounging, however the next few days will, touch wood, be pretty relaxing as I slow down in order to rendezvous with my parents in Spain.

Hope all is well back in the UK, and summer has properly arrived; I haven’t looked a the news in a while, and intend to try and avoid it for the most part, but let me know if it all goes bad for Greece; fingers crossed it won’t but can’t see how they’ll get out of the current crisis.

23 & 24 June 2015 – Poitiers & Angouleme

Routes and stats from the last couple of days, not including today which I’ll do tomorrow:

23 June: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/813009251
24 June: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/813683185

Pedalling 70 miles a day seems to be becoming the norm, however I need to slow down a bit so as not to overshoot a rendezvous with my parents in Northern Spain in about a week. I think I’ll have a day off in Bordeaux and enjoy some wine.

–> 23 June
A bit of overnight rain freshened everything up, and washed the dust off my tent. I awoke to another gorgeous morning in the grounds of Chateau Rolandiere, and got away by 09.00, heading down to Pouzay where I stopped at a boulangerie for breakfast; two croissants, and a pain-au-chocolat which I saved for later.

After that it was a case of riding down quiet roads alongside the Vienne river to Chatellerault, passing fields of young sunflowers, and being passed by quite a few road cyclists who all said ‘Bonjour’.

I was riding at a good pace, averaging 20km/h in the morning fuelled by a couple of Grimbergen beers from last night; a slight tailwind also helped. I passed a number of chateaux,  however this one in Dissay was especially impressive.

Dissay - downhill to the Chateau

Dissay – downhill to the Chateau

Dissay - Chateau

Dissay – Chateau

For the first time I wore my summer cycling gear, as it’s getting pretty hot, and applied judicious amounts of sun-cream to avoid burning my rather pasty arms.

I cycled past the ruins of Old Poitiers, and the site of the Battle of Poitiers. I’m not sure if the latter is the site of the battle of 1346, during the 100 Years War, or the previous battle in 732 when Charles Martel defeated the Umayyad Caliphate, thus turning back the tide of Islam and preserving Christianity in Europe. The battle of 732 is regarded as a major turning point in European history, and laid the foundations for the Carolingian (Frankish) Empire. The 100 Years War Battle of Poitiers was won by he English lead by ‘the Black Prince’, who won the previous Battle of Crecy and the next battle at Agincourt.

After passing a large golf course and enjoying cycling alongside the river I reached Poitiers, and found it one of the easiest cities to get into so far, albeit with a steep climb to get to the centre, up some lovely narrow streets.

As it was lunchtime I stopped for a couple of panini; some might call two excessive but not when your burning 3,500 plus calories cycling each day. I had a walk around, enjoying some shade, then continued heading South through lots more farmland, dotted with chateaux and old ruins.

Heading South from Poitiers

Heading South from Poitiers

South from Poitiers; lots more Farmland

South from Poitiers; lots more Farmland

I arrived in Couhe, my destination for the day, and found the campsite had a swimming pool and water slide, as well as a jacuzzi. The Peupliers campsite has got to rank in my top 5 of the tour so far. I nipped to the supermarket to get some food, et du vin Rose, then took the plunge. I grinned all the way down the water slide, several times, feeling like a kid again, and a swim post a hot day’s ride was blissful. I practically had the pool to myself, and with free wi-fi the campsite was definitely winning.

I spent the evening, post swim, catching-up with things on the Internet, as well as my blog, and bought a ticket for Bellowhead’s Farewell Tour next April; sad that they’re calling it a day but don’t want to miss their last gig.

Whilst I coped with the sun and heat well today, and am continuing to drink lots of water to stay hydrated, I had a few equipment fails. My tent zip broke again, but I’ve since mended it, and my rear panniers partially came off over a speed bump and had to be re-attached. I lost two of the spacers from the pannier rack attachments, which I’ll need to replace at some point, but they’ll be alright for a bit longer; just means they’re slightly loose and might detach more easily over bumps.

–> 24 June
It was a bit of an effort getting up this morning, after a good night’s sleep and it being a very comfortable temperature in my tent, shaded by trees. Perhaps the broken zip was a good thing, as it lets cooler air circulate, but I don’t want the circulation to include mosquitos!

Peupliers - Smaug packed for another day

Peupliers – Smaug packed for another day

I probably should have taken a rest day at the Peupliers campsite, but as usual I felt the urge to be on the move. A few of us cycle tourers have been discussing ‘Why go cycle touring?’ and what drives us to keep going, or what pace to go at. It’s an interesting topic and can depend on whether you’re cycling solo or as part of a group. Tony wrote a blog post on it here – http://gillandtony.co.uk/why-go-cycle-touring/

I tend to travel quite fast, relatively speaking, and bank time to use in the future in case I find somewhere I want to stop, or divert to. It would probably be different if I was touring with other people, as I’d spender longer in places, maybe, I don’t know, will have to give it a try sometime. To an extent it can depend on how you’re feeling, and usually the battle is a mental one not a physical one.

Feeling pretty good, mentally as well as physically, I got off to an early start and pedalled off through lots of countryside and small villages, passing old churches and fields full of ripening corn and growing sunflowers. You get the impression not much has changed around here for hundreds of years, aside from the fact they’re using combine harvesters now, a few of which are already seeing some action.

I headed down to Ruflec, then on to Verteuil-sur-Charente, a delightful small town with a beautiful château, and very picturesque streets and buildings built alongside the river. I stopped for lunch and was reminded that Camembert doesn’t travel well in the sun – it was a bit runny but still tasted fine, and the bananas complimented it well.

Then it was a long ride down to Angouleme, involving quite a lot of hills and many more small towns. I went through a lot of water again as the temperature approached 30 degrees, and may well have exceeded that. It was pretty dusty too, and the pollen count is still a bit high which can cause irritation; lovely down by the river though.

Angouleme itself is built on a hill and dates back many centuries. It commands an important convergence of several roads, and because of this has been the site of many conflicts over the years, coming under siege a lot. After a fierce climb in the heat to get to the centre, I paused for a look around before heading West.

It took me a little while to find but I joined a cycle path alongside the Charente post Angouleme, which took me towards Sireuil, my destination for the day.

Latterly I passed quite a lot of grape vines, an encouraging sign, before reaching Camping du Nizour. I stopped at a shop on my way there and bought some strawberry milk, which hit the spot. I think milk, and flavoured milk, is going to become a new staple, it being cold, and full of calories and protein. I drank loads on my Bike around Britain tour but had forgotten about it until now; it really is perfect for long distance cycle touring, and recovery from any sort of exercise.

Grapevines in Sireuil

Grapevines in Sireuil

The campsite was another good’un, with a swimming pool and bar/snack cafe, and not expensive. The pool was a blessing after hot day, and really revitalised me, having pedalled slightly further than intended due to a bendy route. The friendly and helpful owners gave me another chance to practise my French as I tried to decide on my route for the next few days; they also supplied reasonably priced cold beer.

Planning session in Camping du Nizour - where to next?

Planning session in Camping du Nizour – where to next?

As I may have mentioned already I need to slow down a bit so that I don’t overshoot a rendezvous with my parents in Northern Spain, in about a week’s time, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ll definitely have a day off before then, probably near Bordeaux, and will try to have couple of slower/shorter days which might be a bit of a challenge given earlier comments; it’s really hard to slow down sometimes. I’m on track to get to Salamanca for my birthday, which  looks like a great city to visit, and whilst I have time on my side I don’t want to get too distracted and end up not getting there in time. I think it’ll all work out fine, but I must remember there are some rather large hills/mountains coming up!

One other thing from today; I’m finding it easier to get in the zone, and not keep looking at my odometer and how far I’ve pedalled since breakfast. Cycling for hours gives me time to think about lots of things, especially when I’m ignoring my Garmin, whilst keeping one eye on the route; I’ve neglected to do that a few times and ended up in a few odd places – usually fun but sometimes frustrating. Stuff I’ve been mulling over recently includes writing a book based on my journey, but a parallel fantasy version thereof involving an adventure, trolls, no doubt a quest or two, and giving people, places and events I’ve encountered a slight twist. For example Helsinger in Denmark might turn into a place where monks sing day and night, to keep the demons escaping from hell. I probably ought to think about writing and trying to publish a factual account of my tour too, but one thing at a time.

I also keep thinking about what I want to do with the rest of my life, the eternal question that so many ask of themselves. I envy those people who seem to know exactly what they want to do when they grow up, although I don’t think there are that many who are certain. Maybe I just haven’t grown up yet! I’ll keep mulling possibilities over, but one thing’s for sure, more adventures either by bike, foot, or otherwise, are on the cards.

I pedalled 113km both on 23 and 24 June, but it took half an hour longer on the 24th (6.5hrs) due to more hills. My total miles since Nordkapp, including today (25/06), now stands at 3,233 miles; that’s over 5,200km!

Apologies for any spelling errors, I’ve had to write this a bit more quickly than normal due to wi-fi limitations. I’ll also try to re-label some of the photos more accurately at some point.

20, 21, & 22 June – cyling La Loire

Firstly, Happy Birthday to my brother Will, hope you’ve had a great day! (okay so that’s 24hrs late as couldn’t publish this on the day, but it’s the thought that counts yes?)

Secondly, in this post I’ll try to cover 3 days, quite quickly. I say quickly but we’ll see how that turns out; cycling the Loire along some of the ‘Loire à Vélo’ trail is another highlight of the tour.

Here are my routes and stats from the last 3 days.

20 June: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/810720516
21 June: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/810722368
22 June: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/812011726

Also, I passed the 3,000 miles since Nordkapp today; about 4,880km, averaging 102km a day including rest days which I’m pretty chuffed about. I’ll do another vital statistics post at some point, maybe tomorrow; more punctures to add to the tally!

–> 20 June
I was awoken by a roaring sound, which I kinda recognised, but needed to get out of my tent to check; hot air balloons going overhead in the morning sunshine.

Hot air balloons in the morning - Grez-sur-Loing

Hot air balloons in the morning – Grez-sur-Loing

Once the balloons turned their burners off it all looked and sounded very tranquil. I gave them a wave and got on with breakfast, then packing up (evicting more ants), and saying hello to even more climbers who’d turned up during the night; there was some audacious trampolining going on, as well as some tight-rope walking attempts which appears to be the new ‘thing’ to do.

It was easy riding pedalling South to Montargis, aside from one cobbly bit. I stopped for some lunch at a boulangerie just outside the town, consuming a couple of fine goats cheese tarts and a chocolate roule; French boulangeries really do compliment cycle touring perfectly, and have cut down on my visits to fast food establishments!

I joined a canal path for the ride down to Coudroy, which was a bit off-road but very pleasant chilled out cycling. For the first time on this tour I listened to some music whilst riding; the soundtrack to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode followed by some Bellowhead and Greenday. I didn’t have my earphones in, just quietly played it through my phone which was being charged by my dynamo, worked really well and no-one else around to annoy.

As well as a family of swans, I pedalled past some ducklings and their parents, and added a new bird to my ‘spot it jot it’ list, a Black Woodpecker which I’ve never seen before, and pretty amazing with its red crest; too quick to photo though.

Cycling pots

Cycling pots

For some reason I’d been feeling a little down, however the ride really perked me up, and listening to music or singing always helps. After the canal path I rejoined roads down to Chateauneuf-sur-Loire, and the Maltournee campsite on the southern side of the Loire.

The campsite proved pretty average, and I couldn’t connect to the Wifi which was annoying, but no-one else could either, however Chateauneuf-sur-Loire was excellent and it was great to finally be on the Loire.

After setting up I headed into town and discovered there was a music festival on, with bands located on the streets which had all been closed for the evening. Although a day early this was to celebrate midsummer, and throughout France there are similar music festivals happening today and tomorrow. After meandering through the town listening to various bands, all pretty different it has to be said, I stopped at a restaurant and sat outside having a pizza, listening to a two-man act – guitar and jambee, who were very good. I think the band were called Sadyra, with a Senegalese influence; I loved the acoustic guitar, drum, and impro nature of the music. The crowd all joined in for various bits as well, with a few people taking up a jambee on occasion; I was too focussed on my Calzone pizza and wine to participate overly.

The street bands finished about 20.00, whereupon the main act kicked off in the central marketplace. They were a 6 piece act complete with accordion, trombone, trumpet and guitars, creating a great atmosphere for the next couple of hours. I filmed a bit of it but still haven’t quite worked out if I can insert a movie into a blog post without having to link to Youtube.

I headed back to the campsite feeling pretty relaxed and happy; the Rose probably helped but the atmosphere and music definitely put me in a good state of mind. I was ready for tomorrow’s ride down to Orleans, and then on to Tours alongside the Loire.

Dusk falls on the Loire

Dusk falls on the Loire

I covered about 96km today, in 5hrs and 45 mins, accompanied by the sound of crickets for a lot of it, which I’ve realised has recently become a permanent feature in the countryside.

–> 21 June
It appears doing quick posts isn’t easy; I’m too verbose for my own good, however I’m enjoying writing this in my tent with a cold beer, listening to what’s either light drizzle or insects hitting the canvas. I think it’s insects, which reminds me of the midges in Scotland, however there was a small shower earlier which was refreshing post a very hot day’s ride.

The night had been muggy however it was a cooler morning to wake up to, and slightly overcast which was nice. Unfortunately there’d been no rain to dampen down the pollen count and dust. I could also do with a shower to give my tent a wash; the outside has got a bit sticky from camping under trees – sap and aphid residue I think. Trees do provide welcome shade though so that isn’t going to change.

After a good evening in Chateauneuf-sur-Loire I was enthusiastic about the ride along the Loire towards Orleans and Blois. Unfortunately I’d forgotten to buy any breakfast so had to make do with a banana, cheese, and some biscuits; not actually too bad considering, however I need to get better at shopping.

Leaving Chateauneuf-sur-Loire

Leaving Chateauneuf-sur-Loire

I was on the road by 09.00, and spent most of the day on cycle paths, or small roads shared between bikes and the occasional car.

Good cycle paths on Loire à Vélo route

Good cycle paths on Loire à Vélo route

Heading South West it was easy riding, it being mostly flat. The only annoyance was the number of small flies swarming about. They weren’t midges, but were a similar size, and got everywhere. My arms and legs ended up covered in them as I cycled along, and I’m sure I inhaled more than a few; dunno if that counts as valid protein intake? It wasn’t long before I reached Orleans, where I decided to take a look at the Cathedral rather than cycle straight past.

I also had an ulterior motive; second breakfast. I found a good boulangerie doing 4 pain-au-chocolat for the price of 3, and tucked in. Lobster was more impressed with this than the cathedral, however I liked Orleans, and would return for another look around; this tour is a bit like a scouting trip finding cool places to come back to really. I did have to dodge the tram lines, and actual trams a bit, but made it safely out of the city.

From Orleans I continued on through the countryside next to the Loire. The route encompassed a lot of farmland which was a bit monotonous, but also small towns with markets going on, the occasional cafe, lots of people fishing, and a power station just to make things different.

I passed a lot of cycle tourers as well as day cyclists going both ways along the Loire à Vélo route today, the trail along France’s Royal River being extremely popular; I think it’s over 800km all the way to Nantes. Just before Blois, which I’d decided was far enough for one day, I met up with Ben and Alex who were on the first day of their tour along the Loire, having started in Orleans.

Cour-sur-Loire

Cour-sur-Loire

We ended up staying at the same campsite South of the river in Blois; Val du Blois. It was good to meet up with a couple of Brits, and the campsite was swarming with cycle tourers from all over the place; French, German, American, to name but a few nationalities. After setting up, plus an icecream, and realising the wi-fi was once again crap, we headed into Blois for some food, and discovered another ‘Fete Musique’ celebrating midsummer.

There were bands situated all through the town, in a similar fashion to Chateauneuf-sur-Loire but on a bigger scale. One metal band was enjoying their moment in the limelight, scaring the locals slightly, however there were a few stalwart metal fans flinging their hair about. The steak dinner I had, whilst not particularly in budget, was very fine, and I reckon necessary to ensure a balanced diet that will enhance my cycling ability.

Bridge across the Loire in Blois

Bridge across the Loire in Blois

Blois is another picturesque town on the Loire, one of many, and good for a visit. After dinner and a wander about we headed back to the campsite before it got dark. It was good to chill out for a bit before cycling on to Tours and then South towards Poitiers tomorrow.

Relaxing in Val du Blois as sun sets

Relaxing in Val du Blois as sun sets

I covered 98km in 5hrs and 38 mins today.

–> 22 June
Today was a bit of a longer ride; 114km in 6hrs and 40 mins, taking me down to a campsite innate grounds of a Chateau.

Up early and packed, ready to head to Tours

Up early and packed, ready to head to Tours

I’m always slightly surprised when I’m up in good time, not really being a morning person, and ready to start pedalling before 09.00. This turned out to be one of those days, and I think I need to adjust to earlier starts as it gets hotter; start early, have a longer lunch break, then a short ride in the afternoon. It’s probably easier to be a morning person when you don’t have to go to work.

Morning view of the bridge over to Blois

Morning view of the bridge over to Blois

Ben and Alex hadn’t quite surfaced by the time I left, so I left them a good luck note and got underway; good luck guys, hope the wheel issue is fixed, and the rest of the tour goes well.

Cycling through more farmland - corn and poppies

Cycling through more farmland – corn and poppies

I followed the Loire past Blois, as the Loire a Velo route took me South West, occasionally turning away from the river through small villages; this ended up adding on quite a few kilometres to the day’s ride, however it was much better being off the roads, and nice saying hello to other cyclists.

Loire a Velo sign - these appear at regular intervals

Loire a Velo sign – these appear at regular intervals

I passed through Chaumont, and continued on the road to Amboise.

Amboise had been another possibility for a campsite, however I was glad I hadn’t pressed on yesterday, as it would have taken me at least another 2 hours to get there, probably more on tired legs. It was pretty full of tourists, and I could see why with a picturesque chateau, and the home of Leonardo da Vinci; Clos Luce. It was once home to the French Court too, and I think it was King Francis that invited Leonardo to live here.

After Amboise it was on to Tours, where I turned away from the Loire to head South, following the EuroVelo 3 route; I haven’t seen a sign of EV3 for a long time, but think I’m going roughly the right way. I paused in the city to visit the Cathedral, which was on route and nice and cool.

I like old buildings like castles, cathedrals and churches. The latter two are often quiet and peaceful, and offer a moment of quiet contemplation away from an otherwise hectic day, in the same way a tranquil spot in a forest does. Tours Cathedral, as well as being nice and cool after being out in the sunshine, was pretty impressive. It was built in the 12th century, and they needed to knock down some of the old Roman walls to fit it in.

Heading South to Trogues

Heading South to Trogues

I headed South from Tours, and it got hotter, which combined with a bit of a headwind could have led to dehydration. I drank all three of my water bottles and a cold can of pop, and am contemplating adding a 4th water bottle to my array, just in case. This is all good acclimatisation for Spain and Morocco, where it’ll be hotter. It’ll be manageable as long as I drink enough and don’t get sunstroke; been wearing a bandana or my lightweight buff, both of which keep the sun off my head, and I can soak them in water when I pass a clean source, which is very pleasant.

Eventually I made it to Trogues, after some dusty riding whilst navigating my way through a bit of a maze of country roads. I arrived at the campsite, based in the grounds of Chateau Rolandiere, about 17.00, hoping they had the snack bar/restaurant as advertised on the ACSI app; sadly they didn’t meaning I had to get a bit creative on the dinner front.

The bar was open though, so I had a nice cold Grimbergen beer as a recovery drink.

Cold glass of Grimbergen to end the day on

Cold glass of Grimbergen to end the day on

The campsite owners were very friendly and helpful, providing me with chair to sit on next to my tent, and complimenting me on my French which I think might be getting better; good to practice lots anyway. I guess I’d better start learning a few phrases from the Spanish book I brought with me!

The Chateau Rolandiere campsite was a peaceful destination for the night, and allowed me to catch up on my blog a bit. It also rained slightly which cooled things down and meant I slept very well. Tomorrow it’s on to Poitiers and beyond.

–> Okay, so that wasn’t that quick a blog post, but to does cover 3 days, and means I’ve only got today to write to be up-to-date now!

19 June 2015 – a day off in Grez-sur-Loing

Whilst France is great, I’m not having much luck getting decent Wifi, so am a bit behind with my blog posts…I know…shocker…at least I’m not as behind as I was on my Bike around Britain tour, and will hopefully catch up with some ‘brief’ posts tonight. Here’s one about my rest day in Grez-sur-Loing, a lovely place for a stop.

I still cycled about 20 km, pedalling a very pleasant circuit to a nearby climbing area, and then back to Grez. Here’s the route I took:

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/810719721

So what to do with a day off? It’s been a while since I had one and I’d got to the point where I felt like I needed some time to relax, to recharge mentally if not physically. Ian, a friend who joined me for a few days on my Bike around Britain tour, had recommended this place and it was certainly a chilled out venue for some downtime. There are however always chores to do, so I started the day with some washing, then had a snooze whilst reading Alice in Wonderland, which could have led to some weird dreams, then hung my washing up and thought I’d better do something. Ian had suggested a climbing area called ‘Elephant’, that isn’t to far from Grez, down near Larchant, and offers lots of bouldering opportunities; this was convenient since I ‘stupidly’ hadn’t thought to lug all my heavy climbing gear with from the UK.

So Lobster and I headed off in search of Elephants. We found some gorgeous forest first, very tranquil.

Pushing on a bit further we discovered the famed ‘Elephant’ bouldering area, and I spent a couple of hours trying to remember how to climb, without hurting myself. Several years ago, and the last time I did any serious climbing, I fell off from about 2 foot up, breaking my elbow and dislocating my kneecap; apparently I turned an interesting shade of green. I’m all mended now, however I my elbow can tell when a storm is brewing – it aches.

Having looked around a bit, we found the Elephant itself.

Elephant! And a Lobster.

Elephant! And a Lobster.

And lots of Lizards.

Lizard - there were lots of them scurrying about

Lizard – there were lots of them scurrying about

I climbed up a rock and sat in the sunshine for a bit; relaxing in a forest is a good way to spend a day off, and very therapeutic.

Post elephant I cycled back to Grez-sur-Loing, via Larchant, with slightly aching arms. I was however quite pleased that my wonky hand hadn’t impeded any climbing activity; still a bit wonky due to all this cycling though.

Back at the campsite I did some bike maintenance, which mainly involved tweaking my gears; front shifter needed realigning slightly after chain and rear cassette change. As the evening progressed and I caught up on blogging and route planning, more and more people arrived for the weekend; mostly climbers by the looks of it. I spoke to a few who come here fairly regularly, just because the area is so good for climbing and getting away from it all, and it’s not far from Paris, with a great little campsite that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

All ready to get back on the road down to the Loire region, I hit the sack, after evicting quite a lot of ants from my tent again; varmint holes providing entry points, which I must gaffer tape up again.

17 & 18 June – Paris & Fontainebleau

Scandinavia and Nordkapp seem like quite a long time ago now, but they aren’t really, it just appears that way when you’re filling each day with new sights, sounds and experiences, and lots of pedalling. If I’d been at work for a month and a half instead I’m sure I find it difficult to distinguish one day from the next; on balance this is much better, however one does of course fund the other!

Nordkapp did look and feel a bit different though…

Nordkapp - Smaug made it - that's the name of my bike, from Oxford Bike Works

Nordkapp – Smaug made it – that’s the name of my bike, from Oxford Bike Works

Here are my routes and stats for the 17 & 18 June, which took me to Paris and then on to a little town and campsite South of Fontainebleau, where I’m having a day off; very pleasant it is too.

17 June: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/807014462

18 June: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/808001165  & https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/808001251

–> 17 June
Today was mostly about getting to Paris, where I thought I might spend a couple of days, however I changed my plans once I got there; great place to visit but expensive and noisy. I covered 123km in about 8 hours, so a long day, but worth it.

I left Vic-sur-Aisne pretty early, riding up to Attichy and Berneuit-sur-Aisne thinking about how the area must have looked and felt during both World Wars, when it was on the front line; there are lots of cemeteries and markers that testify to this.

Vic-sur-Aisne

Vic-sur-Aisne

I could have headed up to Compiègne, or to the nearby Armistice site, however I decided to cut through the forest to Pierrefonds instead. The Armistice site has a duplicate of the railway carriage – Ferdinand Foch’s railway carriage –  used in World War 1 to sign the agreement bringing an end to hostilities. The same carriage was used in World War 2 when Germany forced France to surrender; Hitler brought the carriage from Paris especially, to humiliate the French, then took it to Berlin to display before it was destroyed by the SS in 1945.

But I skipped all that, as thoughts of the War were leaving me feeling a bit chilly. Riding through the Compiègne Forest was much more pleasant, and then I turned a corner and saw the Chateau in Pierrefonds, which is just like something out of a Disney movie; I think it might have inspired the Disney Castles you see.

Pierrefonds Chateau is truly magnificent, and the surrounding town very picturesque. It was however quite tricky getting a good photo of it due to the sun being in the wrong place. Leaving the town involved a steep climb, followed by more ups and downs as a made my way through the forest and out into open farmland. It was very pleasant riding even if I was burning a lot of calories in getting anywhere; I passed several other cyclists out enjoying the shaded lanes and lovely scenery.

As I cycled slowly over the bumpy cobbles in Orrouy a Belgium tourer with fat tyres caught me up; he was having an easier time with the terrain. We had a quick chat and cycled together for a short while, before he turned off towards a campsite on the outskirts of Paris – probably better move than one in the middle of Paris but we live and learn.

My map ran out on the outskirts of Paris, before getting to the suburbs, so I was reliant on my Garmin to successfully penetrate the city’s outer arrondissements, and get to the centre. It was no easy task, with a lot of twists and turns, and pretty slow due to all the traffic and traffic lights. I was also feeling pretty tired, both physically and mentally, after a few days hard riding and the hot weather, and had to step up my alertness a few levels due to the crazy Parisian driving tactics; they don’t give you much space, are fast and pretty aggressive. I managed to get on cycle paths for some of it, Greenways I think, but not sure if any of it was the actual Avenue Verte; London to Paris route. I shared one section with a few rats out routling about for food; good to see them cleaning up after us humans.

I made it to the centre and slowly walked/cycled through to my campsite in the Bois du Boulogne, a story best told through pictures. Needless to say Paris was as impressive as ever, with stunning architecture, wide boulevards, and a great atmosphere. It is strange to think the last time I was here was with Lucy several years ago.

Riding up Les Champs-Élysées dodging buses, taxis and cycle taxis, all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, is an experience I’ll never forget; it was great to reach this iconic landmark in the centre of Paris. I spent quite a lot of time dodging people taking photos and selfies too – I wonder if they actually take the time to take in what they’re seeing; the street traders selling selfie sticks were doing well in any case.

After a long, hot, and dusty day I finally made it to my campsite in le Bois du Boulogne, the latter being slightly tricky to navigate through, and I did nearly go the wrong way down a one-way cycle path with pelotons coming the other way, which could have proved disastrous!

Camping Bois du Bologne

Camping Bois du Bologne

The campsite was expensive at €17, very noisy being next to main roads, and getting tent pegs in proved challenging to say the least, but I’d not expected anything less of somewhere in the middle off Paris. It has good facilities, as well as a restaurant, bar and snack van, although I couldn’t get the wifi to work. I enjoyed a ‘Rosbif’ dinner from the snack van, as well as a cold beer, and slept well despite the rock hard ground and noise from traffic.

'Rosbif' dinner - Camping Bois du Bologne

‘Rosbif’ dinner – Camping Bois du Bologne

I decided to head straight for Fontainebleau the next day; Paris was just too busy and expensive, although I want to come back without my bike for visit, to go round the catacombs and a few other bits I haven’t seen before; perhaps a visit to La Moulin Rouge!

–> 18 June

I was up early and on the road by 8 o’clock, keen to get down to South of Fontainebleau for a rest. I realised I was pretty tired as was finding it harder to speak French than a couple of days ago, so definitely time for a pause. Still covered about 100km, but it was slow going, especially getting out of Paris.

Leaving Paris - top of the Eiffel Tower in the clouds

Leaving Paris – top of the Eiffel Tower in the clouds

If Charleroi had been a akin to Mordor, then Paris is more like Minas Tirith, however I can’t help feeling it’s a bit under siege from the surrounding arrondissements, not all of which feel that friendly. It was a struggle to reach the outer limits, and took ages to finally reach countryside again. It didn’t help that it was a grey and drizzly day, however it was quite nice to be out of the sun for a bit.

I pedalled alongside the Seine for a bit, and generally followed it South to Fontainebleau, through lots of towns and villages, including Melun, where I think there must be a prison on an island in the middle of the town.

Fontainebleau proved to be a useful town; I reached it in good time, having started early, and checked Smaug into ‘A La Petite Reine’ for a service, as well as a replacement chain and rear cassette. I’d emailed the shop from Paris and they proved helpful, good value, and efficient; cost me about €75 for a new chain and cassette, as well as new rear brake pads, and the mechanic threw in a replacement part that I can fit to probably mend by bike stand. I just need a Allen key I don’t have with me to do so, however my parents are visiting in a couple of weeks so – Dad, will be in touch ref what tools to bring!

Whilst my bike was being serviced I had a wander around Fontainebleau, had a 12 inch Subway sandwich, followed by a Tuna baguette from a boulangerie, and a pain-au-chocolat for good measure. I also picked up a Michelin map for central France so don’t have to completely rely on my Garmin, which is a relief; I prefer paper maps, far more interesting.

It’s a relief to have a new chain and rear cassette fitted, as the old chain was starting to slip, and whilst I could fix a broken link it’s a messy job. I don’t think I’ll need to get them replaced again until I’m on my way back from Istanbul, and perhaps not until the UK, however I’ll need new tyres before then so might get everything done at once. The chain and cassette did over 3,000 miles which I don’t think is bad, however I’d be interested to hear opinions on how often you should change chains, cassettes, and the front chain ring for that matter, and also on how often people clean their chain, and how they do it, whilst on tour? I’m pretty amateurish when it comes to bike mechanics so advice is always appreciated.

It was only a short ride down from Fontainebleau to Grez-sur-Loing, and my campsite for a couple of nights; Camping Les Pres. It did however start rain quite hard, and that coupled with the spray from passing traffic left me quite damp.

By the time I reached Grez the sun had come out again, and I dried off quickly. The small town proved lovely, and has in the past been a place frequented by many artists. It has narrow streets, some cobbled, pretty architecture, a great small shop and boulangerie. In short I could probably spend at least a week here exploring, and doing some climbing in the surrounding area; loads of people come here for the outdoor activity, especially climbing. Les Pres camping is also a brilliant place to stay; fairly basic, but that’s fine, and only cost me €12 for two nights, which makes up for the wifi being expensive.

I’ll write about my day off in Grez-sur-Loing, and doing a bit of bouldering on an elephant tomorrow, however for now I’d better figure out where I’m going next; towards Orleans I think. I’ve also downloaded eBooks reader on my phone, as I’ve been missing a good book; been working my way through Alice in Wonderland as it was on 50p, and been ages since I read it. Might revisit LOTR next, so be warned; they’ll be more analogies with the landscape of Middle Earth. Thinking about it the area surrounding Fontainebleau is a bit like the Shire, without those pesky hobbits. A demain tout-le-monde.

14, 15 & 16 June 2015 – Brussels, Waterloo, et en France

Bit of a catch-up post as I should hit Paris tomorrow, and want to be up-to-date blog wise. I’ve come quite a long way in the last few days, well mostly today really, and am now firmly en France. Here are my routes and stats for the last few days.

There are 3 entries for 14 June, due to my Garmin crashing twice; it sometimes freezes when I’m using it to actually navigate somewhere, rather than just record my route.

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/803827972
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/803828064
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/803938255

15 Junehttps://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/805092925

16 Junehttps://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/805983261

–> 14 June
Last night I’d only been thinking nothing had broken in a while, so it wasn’t really much of a surprise to find myself fixing one of my rear panniers before setting off in the morning, or that my tent zip had broken; I’d have a go at fixing that later. Luckily I’ve brought some spare bits for my panniers, and could replace the bolt that had pinged off somewhere from the rack attachment.

Today was a sort of rest day anyway, in that I wasn’t intending to go very far; ended up covering about 70km, in 4hrs 30 mins, so still went a fair distance in the end. After mending stuff I packed up slowly and said goodbye to River and Eugene, who left for the airport & Barcelona, and Amsterdam respectively. Good luck guys!

First stop for me was Brussels, which is only about 10km down the road from Grimbergen. Getting into the city was pretty straightforward, and I had a good walk around, taking in the central square in the old town, and cathedral. It’s always tricky in a busy city, packed with tourists taking photos and moving about randomly, when you have a heavy bike to deal with, but I made it through. The Friteries smelt very tempting, but the queues were massive and not really an option with the bike; one of those occasions when you need a travelling companion – Lobster just doesn’t cut it in these scenarios.

As well as all the other people taking photos I took a few, here is a selection.

I might have labelled some of those wrongly, and would welcome any corrections; I’ll try to look them over again when I have more time.

Brussels is certainly a melting pot of cultures, and a great place to visit. I guess it puts Belgium on the map, it being the seat of the European Parliament and where Nato is based. There’s a buzz to the city, and it’s definitely on the list to come back to at some point. It was great to hear people speaking French too, as well as signs being in French; finally a language I’m more familiar with. To be fair though I heard all sorts of languages being spoken from Flemish and French, to English, German, Italian, Chinese and several others.

After a couple of hours I tried to extricate myself from the city, which was easier said than done. It took me about an hour to get to the outskirts and on the road to Waterloo, with a lot of bumping about on cobbles, and getting stuck in traffic. I also had to be very careful not to get ensnared by tram lines!

Tram lines - deadly for cyclists if your wheel gets caught in them

Tram lines – deadly for cyclists if your wheel gets caught in them

A strange thing happened as I rode South; I started encountering gradients, hills had entered the fray once again. It was actually very nice to pedal up and down a few hills after mostly riding across flat landscapes for several days, and you get more variety on the scenery front.

Nice church on outskirts of Brussels; in Alsemberg

Nice church on outskirts of Brussels; in Alsemberg

I rode on to the town of Waterloo, bumping about on the unfriendly Belgium roads, stopping briefly in the town where there are a couple of museums, before pedalling on to the Butte du Lion, the site of the Battle of Waterloo.

The battle site has a few signs showing you where Wellington set up the defences to stop Napoleon reaching Brussels, and where the French cavalry, about 8,000 of them, charged the Allied defensive squares; they were repulsed but after a lot of casualties, and some of the squares were broken. Then the French elite Imperial Guard attacked, but were driven back. Wellington sounded the advance and the battle was won. That’s a rough summary anyway, it’s mostly potato fields and coach loads of tourists now. These signs amused me:

I continued through the countryside, passing through Nivelles towards Charleroi, stopping at the Trieu du Bois campsite in Luttre, just down from Pont-a-Celles.

Crossing to Pont-a-Celles

Crossing to Pont-a-Celles

After a relatively easy day, despite the bumpy roads, it was nice chilling out at the campsite; a tranquil spot next to the Brussels-Charleroi canal. The campsite owner brought me a chair; a total luxury for a cycle tourer.

I also managed to fix my tent zip, which wasn’t easy but came as something of a relief.

I’d definitely recommend this small but lovely campsite if you’re in the area, good wifi too. I chatted to a couple of French cycle tourers from Lille, on their way to Namur, and a Dutch motorcyclist on his way home and intending to ride 1,000km tomorrow; bit further than I’ll manage. Also did a bit of beard maintenance, keeping it for the time being, and fell asleep listening to the sound of lots of frogs going ribbet.

–> 15 June 
Bit further today; 97km covered in 5hrs and 45 mins. I noticed my front tyre was flat when I emerged from my tent, so I had to fix that before getting on the road. I just used a new inner tube this time, but found the puncture in the old one, which is already patched; a tiny pin prick whole which I can patch later. I couldn’t find what caused it which is always a worry, as it might still be in the tyre.

Packed up post puncture fix - at Trieu du Bois

Packed up post puncture fix – at Trieu du Bois

The two French tourers left before me, as did the Dutch motorcyclist, however I wasn’t far behind them despite the puncture. i turned right out of the campsite onto the canal path, hoping it would take me to the centre of Charleroi; it looked like it should.

On the towpath to Charleroi

On the towpath to Charleroi

Canal connects Charleroi to Brussels and still used lots

Canal connects Charleroi to Brussels and still used lots

I caught up with the French tourers on the outskirts of Charleroi, as they tried to find the route to Namur. I was similarly confused in my attempts to get into the city. The cycle path signposts had vanished, and the canal path I’d been followed stopped at a factory. I eventually made it into the centre but really shouldn’t have bothered; it was a bit like making my way into a more industrialised version of Mordor, and I’m sure I passed a gateway to Hades at one point.

Charleroi itself wasn’t much better, but I felt a sense of achievement at having penetrated its defences and making it to the Crack of Doom; could’ve done with the Eagles coming to carry me back out of the city though. It’s a bit of a dead place, very industrial which harkens back to its origins, but now just dirty and smelly with not much greenery. Maybe the overcast day didn’t help, but I’d been hoping for a bit more as I joined up with Eurvelo 3; didn’t see any signs for that by the way.

I made my way out by roughly the same route, but on roads as opposed to the canal paths; they were busy, narrow, and had lots of lorries. Thankfully the situation improved when I reached a lovely canal path, starting at Landelies (I could have probably joined it earlier if there’d been adequate signage), and staying on it all the way to Thuin.

The canal path wound through forested hills, with the occasional lock, a few boats chugging along slowly, and no traffic; bliss after Charleroi, which on a good point provided an excellent contrast.

After lunch in Thuin I cycled South West to the  border with France, crossing at a small village called Bousignies-sur-Roc; there were no signs to suggest I’d entered France, however my phone changed to a new provider and I got a text alerting me to the fact.

Entering France via Bousignies-sur-Roc

Entering France via Bousignies-sur-Roc

The rest of the ride down to Fourmies was very pleasant, if a little hilly in bits (legs coped fine), however the roads were much smoother compared with Belgium, and it felt good being in France finally.

Solre-le-Château - spire looks wonky

Solre-le-Château – spire looks wonky

I pedalled through a big forest; Parc Departmental du Val Joly, where there are wild boar, wild cats, deer, and all sorts of other Flora and Fauna. I stopped for a banana break; Lobster spotted a squirrel but little else.

I stopped in Fourmies, and the campsite at Etang-des-Moines, having made fairly good time; only €9 for the campsite too. After setting up I nipped to le Supermarche then feasted on salad, pasta, bread and nearly a whole Camembert, fruit, chocolate, and a few Grimbergen Blonde beers; a worthy meal to celebrate a new country.

Etang des Moines camping

Etang des Moines camping

I’m glad to be in France, a country I’ve always been comfortable with, perhaps because I can speak more of the language, but also because I lived in Marseille for nearly a year. I like the lifestyle and people, and am looking forward to the next week or so as I make my way to Spain, then the leg along the Mediterranean coast post Tarifa. The campsite was quiet so I spent the evening route planning and relaxing listening to music; the North Easterly wind made it a bit chilly so it wasn’t long before I burrowed into my tent.

Lobster assisting with route planning, with beer, what could possibly go wrong

Lobster assisting with route planning, with beer, what could possibly go wrong

–> 16 June
Today’s been a great day; 142km in 7hrs and 20 mins, riding down smooth and quiet French roads – sorry Belgium, it was good to visit, and there were bits I liked, but I’m not sad to leave. I left the campsite in good time, at 08.30, feeling energised after last night’s feast and finishing off the Camembert for breakfast.

Etang des Moines camping

Etang des Moines camping

From Fourmies I rode down to Wimy, and stumbled upon a Eurvelo 3 sign, will wonders never cease?!

First Eurovelo 3 sign of the tour

First Eurovelo 3 sign of the tour

With sun shining it was a lovely ride down the cycle track, all the way to Guise. I had the path pretty much to myself, aside from many cows in the surrounding fields. It wound through woodland as well as fields of corn, and the occasional village. I’m wondering if it was an old railway track as it was pretty flat, and made for easy riding, aside from the gravel surface which was a bit grating and kept flicking up under my mud-guards.

My chain slipped a couple of times, probably because of the gravel, but it reminded me that I need to get it changed when I get to Paris. After Guise I continued on through the countryside to St. Quentin, and had a break for lunch; loving the boulangeries! St. Quentin is a lovely city, with a few poignant reminders of World Wars 1 and 2.

It was a bit of a diversion to visit St. Quentin, but worth it. From there I rode South West on a long but very enjoyable ride towards Compiegne, passing a number of war cemeteries which made me reflect on how lucky we are in more recent times, and how I can ride through countryside enjoying myself in an area which was once the front line in two fierce wars, with so many killed and injured; I realise there are some horrible wars going on in other parts of the world but this bit is nice.

I didn’t go all the way to Compiegne, instead turning South to Vic-sur-Aisne and the La Croix De Vieux Port campsite. Before getting there I had to negotiate a few particularly steep climbs, which were difficult in the heat and after 120km already done; a road signposted up the ‘Old Mountain’ (nears Cuts) filled me with apprehension, but it was lovely and shaded, and I stopped for a break at the top.

La Croix De Vieux Port proved to be a great campsite, with a €10 special rate for cycle tourers. The owner also complimented me on my French, so it can’t be too rusty, and showed me to a quiet camping area away from the masses; there are a lot of Brits on holiday here, and it’s been nice chatting to a few.

Tranquil camping spot

Tranquil camping spot

The site has a restaurant, pizzeria, bar, swimming pools, bowling and lots of other stuff by the looks of it, and would be quite a good place for a family break judging from all the children and their slightly exasperated parents chasing them about. I relaxed and had a pizza; could’ve eaten two and might go back for another in a minute.

Pizza at La Croix De Vieux Pont

Pizza at La Croix De Vieux Pont

I’m thinking about stopping in Salamanca for my birthday, a reasonable distance to pedal between now and 05 July. I could probably get further but need to throw in a day to get the bike serviced, and might incorporate a few detours when I get to Spain. Tomorrow it’s on to Paris and hopefully a campsite on the edge of Bois de Bologne; I shall probably have a rest day there to do some wandering about, and get a new chain and rear cassette fitted.

Does anyone have a recommendation for a good bike shop in Paris? There must be loads.