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