Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Big Ben to the Eifel Tower - in Andy's own words...

Andy after he cycled to Paris, bank holdiay
weekend, 2011.
Andy Smith writes: Matt (Dixon), Richard and myself first talked about riding from London to Paris a year ago, but only recently did we start taking it seriously.

Richard found a route posted online from Dieppe, so it was decided that this would be our starting point in France for Paris. It would mean catching a ferry from Dieppe and arranging a view B&Bs. After that, all that remained was getting a day off work, booking the ferry and Eurostar and then just doing it.

Back in July, as a warm-up, we had a trip planned from Tring to the Cotswolds. This went well and boosted our confidence about tackling London to Paris.

Even so it was with some trepidation that we made our way to the start opposite the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben at seven in the morning. It was 26 August, the bank holiday weekend and the weather wasn’t looking good. Still, we took some photographs.

It was overcast as we set off, but the grey cloud was nothing compared to what came next.

We cycled through quiet pre-rush hour London streets and being as we were ‘counter-commuting’ there were no traffic problems. We were heading south and made it to the. Rendezvous cafe on the A22 in Kenley by nine. As we munched our much-needed breakfast, it started to rain and this set the scene for the rest of the day. The rain got heavier and heavier as the day wore on. The A22 is not the place to cycle in heavy rain with lorries throwing huge plumes of water all over us. Two hours in the pub at lunch time and still it was raining hard, but, an hour or so from Newhaven, it started to brighten up – and then, as we arrived in Newhaven and were looking for our first B&B,Matt got a puncture. Fortunately, there was a Halfords nearby.

The following morning we had an early start with a full English breakfast and then a short ride to the ferry where we queued up with around a dozen other cyclists. Some had support vehicles with them, but we didn’t.

It took four hours to reach France where there was no sign of the bad weather from yesterday.

Our plan meant a ride of about a dozen miles before joining a cycle path converted from a railway track. This was brilliant. No traffic, no map reading needed, and no hills. It was around thirty miles to our B&B. The cycle path still had the old stations along the way and yes, at times, I secretly pretended to be a train. En route there were some impressive chateaus, which made for good photo opportunities and by early evening, we reached Forges les Faux. 

In the morning we enjoyed croissants and coffee in the village square and prepared ourselves for what would be a much harder day. It was hotter for a start and while the countryside was pleasant enough, there were some pretty steep hills too. And being a Sunday, there weren’t many shops open for food and drink. We kept going until we found a bar in a little village where we enjoyed a couple of glasses of nature’s energy drink before speeding off to our next overnight stop at a hotel in Cergy.

Fortunately, there was a Chinese restaurant a walk away from the hotel where the phrase ‘Trois pour le buffet s’il vous plait’ tripped off the tongue. In English, that’s ‘three for the buffet, please’.

The next day we had more croissants, coffee – and some cake - for breakfast and this set us up for the last push to Paris.

After a few hours of riding on the road we entered the first of the parks that would take us to within a mile of the Eiffel Tower. The weather was great, and once into the parks there was no traffic to worry about. Who would be the first to see the Eiffel Tower?

We entered the centre of Paris on a converted aqueduct, which proved to be one of the highlights of the trip. We’d already had a glimpse of the Eifel Tower earlier on, but as we crept into the French capital it started to get really close. We cycled around the Longchamp Racecourse and out of the last park with only about one mile to go.

As we rounded the corner, there was the Pont d’Lena bridge and the Eifel Tower on the other side of the Seine.

We had done it! London to Paris on a bike and under our own steam. What could be greener? Matt and myself called home and Richard was able to wave to his family who were halfway up the Eifel Tower – all that remained now was a ride across Paris to the Gare du Nord and the Eurostar back to London.

Now, where are we going next year, I wonder?

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