"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things
you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe
harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover."
-- Mark Twain
And so it begins................
Friday 6th July Dumfries to Penrith Daily distance 58 miles Total distance 58 miles Temperature 20C
I eventually headed off from in front of my school at about 9.45am after doing a few circuits for the tv cameraman who had mysteriously turned up. The run into Carlisle (35 miles) was reasonably OK although the wind was on the left front. From Carlisle onwards the wind was better as it was coming from the side but the hills drained my energy. I stopped at a burger van for a cup of tea and the couple who were running it gave me a large chocolate muffin when they heard what I was up to. Cycling is a great leveller. Everyone wants to know where you've come from and where you're going to. Had I been in a car, nobody would say anything. I met a group of guys in Gretna who were cycling 'end to end' ( John O' Groats to Lands End) and we stood by the 'Welcome to England' sign chatting for quite a while and taking photos.
I'm staying a few miles south of Penrith at the Lowther Holiday Park. It's a great site as (a) it does a 'backpacker' (cheap) rate (b) it has a supermarket so I don't have to go in search of food and (c) it has a pub/restaurant - what more could you want! I've got the climb over Shap tomorrow and I'm not looking forward to it.
Saturday 7th July Penrith to Bolton-le-Sands Daily mileage 47 miles Total mileage 105 miles Temperature 24C
Max speed 45mph with the brakes on!
A very interesting day. No sooner was I awake and out of the tent than a man came over and said “Are you the guy
cycling to Majorca? We saw you on the telly last night”. We had a brief chat about what I was up to and he then asked for the name of my website, saying that he would sponsor me. Not only that, his son runs the site supermarket and he
would donate money and food. Because of the weight I only took the money!
From Penrith the road climbs, gently at first and then more steeply once you leave the village of Shap. During one of my rest breaks at least 200 Harley Davidsons passed me, complete with police escort. Shap is deceptive, you climb up and up and just when you think you must be at the top, you go round a bend and find there’s more to climb. The descent down the other side was a bit hair-raising. I was whizzing along when the rear wheel skipped to the side. I have no idea why it did it, it may have been oil on the road but, either way it’s a bit disconcerting at 45mph on a loaded bike.
On arrival at Kendal I stopped for pie and chips (One of the great things about long distance cycling is that you can eat what you like!) and got into conversation with a couple of guys who were riding Harley Davidsons. Apparently they come to Kendal once a year from all over the UK to meet up and explore the area – hence the 200+ I had seen earlier in the day. Anyway, the upshot of all this is that I’ve now been sponsored by the Bridgwater Chapter of the Harley Davidson Club!
My campsite tonight is Red Bank Farm and, as the name suggests, it’s a working farm using a few fields as a campsite. The facilities are very good and the views across Morecambe Bay are stunning but there are no shops nearby so I’m having to make do with some of my backup food.
Sunday 8thJuly Bolton-le-Sands to Simister, north of Manchester Daily mileage 60 Total mileage 165 Temperature 20C
Quite an uneventful day really. It started off well enough with a Sunday morning ride through Lancaster. It’s a really nice city with some beautiful buildings and I’ve promised myself that Karen and I will return when we have more time to explore. The city is built on a hill so it’s a steep climb through the town but it’s well signposted and easy to negotiate.
As I’d set off without any breakfast, I was on the lookout for somewhere serving hot food. Three hours later I found a burger van where I had two bacon rolls on the basis that I needed the carbs and I didn’t know when I’d find more food. That had to keep me going until later in the afternoon when I pulled into a McDonalds to use their Wi-Fi and had a McFlurry ice cream to cool me down (not very nutritious!). Not long after leaving the burger van the guys who I'd met at Gretna doing the 'End to End' drove past in their support car with their bikes on top - they'd given up. I always think that that's the problem with having a support vehicle - it's much too tempting to give up when the going gets rough. I, on the other hand, have no option but to keep going.
I spent the night at my dad and his wife, Helen’s house. It’s always great to see them and I’m always assured a great meal and a comfy bed. My dad’s 92 now but still fit and active and can often be found digging his allotment – I suspect the Queen already has the telegram written! It also gave me a chance to use their Wi-Fi to upload some photos. (Apologies for the first couple of days of my log – before setting off I set my camera to take HD photos, however when I tried to upload them my website informed me that anything over 5mb would cost extra and so I’ve had to find time
to resize them before uploading. Consequently you’ve got two days of text followed by two days of photos. I may sort it out later).
A few weeks before setting off I was emailed by a guy named Jim. He’d found my website and contacted me because he also owns a Saracen Skyline (obviously a man with great taste) and uses it for touring. We exchanged mail discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the bike. He and his wife then offered me accommodation at their home north of Manchester, as I cycled south. I apologised, saying that I would be staying at my dad’s. It turns out that Jim lives very close to my dad and had cycled past the end of his road that same day! What a coincidence and what extreme generosity to a stranger.
Today was the first day I tried to use a map to see where I was. I’ve torn pages out of a map book to keep weight
down and just keep the current page in my see-through map case on top of my handlebar bag. However, when I checked, I realised that I’d cycled off the edge of the page in the case two days ago (could have been painful). It says a lot for British road signs that you can cycle for nearly three days without needing a map.
Monday 9thJuly Simister to just south of Stoke on Trent Daily mileage 62 Total mileage 227 Temperature 19C
Well if yesterday was uneventful, today was the opposite.
My route took me right through the centre of Manchester and so I deliberately set off late to miss the rush hour. I’d only
been going about half an hour when a guy of about my age came over with his bike for a chat whilst I was stopped at lights. He’d finally persuaded his wife to go cycling with him but unfortunately she’d fallen off and broken her leg first
time out. Needless to say, she was less than enthusiastic about future rides.
I must have missed my turn in Manchester city centre and was checking my map when another guy came over for a
chat. He’s a keen cyclist and is training so that he can follow the Tour de France next year. Back to the map, I discovered that I was close to Chorlton, a part of Manchester where I was brought up until I left home at the age of
eighteen and so I decided that, if I’d gone slightly wrong with my route, I might as well go slightly further astray and set off to find my old family home. It was strange standing outside the house where I’d lived so long ago (over forty years) and yet it has hardly changed. I took a photo and headed off.
I then had a pleasant ride through country lanes until I came to Stoke on Trent. I should have remembered Stoke as
I’d cycled through it a few years ago but unfortunately I didn’t. I suspect that the council have come up with a plan to increase the population of their city. It’s simple; all you do is signpost the city in such a way that visitors go round in
ever decreasing circles until eventually they give up and stay. I cycled round for two hours – up a steep hill, turn right, down a steep hill, turn right, up a steep hill, turn right, down a steep hill, turn right. Surely I must be back where I started! I was beginning to lose all hope of escape when I passed a police station and decided to turn back to ask them for directions. It was then that I saw a signpost for my way out. I thought maybe it was me but I went back and checked
– there had been no signpost in the direction I had been travelling. The last part of my escape from Stoke was down a bypass – the same as a 70mph motorway but without the hard shoulder to hide on – it’s not a recommended pastime.
As I was making good my escape and checking my map, another cyclist came over for a chat (you're never alone for long as a touring cyclist). He was thinking of taking up touring and came over to ask where I’d come from/where was I going to/etc.
Not long before reaching tonight’s campsite I stopped to ask directions from a man who was cutting his lawn. He
asked where I was going/etc. and as soon as I told him I was cycling for Macmillan he rushed off and reappeared with a £10 donation. It’s random acts of kindness such as this that make you realise that the world is full of really nice people.
Tonight’s campsite is at The Raddle Inn, just south of Stoke. The pub itself is great and does good food at a good price but the campsite is pretty basic. The toilet block is a portacabin and has only one shower. Fortunately there’s only
one other tent on the site at the moment so it’s not a problem but I wouldn’t want to be here when they’re busy.
Tuesday 10thJuly Rest Day Temperature 19C
Before setting off I decided that I would cycle for four days and then have a rest day to let my legs recover (Is it
a coincidence that my rest day is at a site with a pub?). It’s a bit of an experiment really as I don’t know whether I’ll benefit or not. How I feel tomorrow will dictate how often I take breaks in the future.
12.00hrs – Just my luck – one of the reasons for staying here two nights was because they
have WiFi. However, apparently they had a lightning storm recently and their hub caught fire! They’ve got a new one but it doesn’t seem to be working properly yet and so I’m back to typing into a Word document. I’ll try and find
internet access and load up my notes to date but photos may take longer – sorry.
2.00pm - Because I'd told the owners that I was banking on their WiFi to update my website they went off and fixed (kicked?) it. It's somewhat slow and keeps dropping out but it's working.
Wednesday 11thJuly Just south of Stoke on Trent to Kilsby (just south of Rugby) Daily mileage 67 Total mileage 294 Temperature 16C
I’ve had quite a good run today, which is just as well as according to the computer, I should only have done 60 miles instead of the 67 that I’ve actually done. I don’t know where the seven came from. I can account for a couple when I was finding my way back onto my route this morning but the rest is a mystery. Fortunately the wind has changed direction and was almost on my back for most of the day which helped considerably.
I’ve had a sore backside for several days now and the skin has worn through. My newly fitted gel seat cover has self-destructed and so I’ve adopted the design philosophy that ‘less is more’ and thrown it away. Also it dawned on me that all my underwear was of the same basic design with a seam running right across where the skin is worn, so today I’ve tried ‘going commando’ and it appears to have worked. There’s still pain but it’s considerably reduced.
Some of the roads were a bit hair raising today, the A50 and the A5 being the worst. Just after Hinckley the A5 was closed because of a serious accident but they agreed to let me through (rather than going on the six mile diversion) provided they walked me past the scene. A German articulated lorry had skidded when braking and slewed across the
road wiping out a Land Rover. It made me realise how vulnerable I am. It’s a terrible thing to say, but I benefitted considerably from the accident as I had miles of traffic free road to myself.
Tonight’s campsite is a little strange. It’s very small, with only about six pitches, and the woman who owns it doesn’t live on site. When I telephoned ahead to book she waived the fee when she heard I was cycling for charity. A short while later she phoned back to say that she also keeps animals on the land and had just had some ducks stolen – she
thought she ought to let me know just in case the thieves come back. So here I am, on a campsite up a track in the middle of nowhere, on my own (there’s no one else staying) waiting for the ducknappers to return. Of course it’s always possible that she made the story up and she’s a bit quackers.
I’ve avoided rain virtually all day but as soon as I put the tent up the heavens opened and it’s been tipping
it down ever since.
Thursday 12thJuly Kilsby to Kennington (south of Oxford) Daily mileage 52 Total mileage 346 Temperature 18C
If yesterday was a good day, today was a really bad day. Firstly, the wind had changed round overnight and I had a
stiff breeze head on all day. With all my bags on board my bike is as aerodynamic as a brick so I even had to peddle when going downhill. Secondly, whilst the scenery was lovely it was mainly rolling hills. This translates to up and down all day with virtually no level cycling. None of this was helped by the fact that I passed no shops and so had nothing to eat until 12.00.
The upside is that I’ve found my missing seven miles from yesterday. Today was supposed to be sixty miles – I’m
guessing that the computer got the postcode for last night’s site in the wrong place. Also, in all fairness, I came through some lovely countryside and villages so today wasn’t all bad. As I approached Oxford I was in RAF base
territory and was kept entertained for ages by low-flying transport helicopters, Apache helicopters on training runs and other aircraft doing ‘circuits and bumps’ practising takeoffs and landings.
Rather than take the Oxford bypass which is horrendous for cyclists, I decided to go right through the city centre
and I was glad that I did. I can’t remember the last time I was in Oxford city but it was a dream come true for a cyclist – sensible width cycle lanes everywhere that aren’t full of debris and broken glass. As you can see from one of today’s photos, there are bikes everywhere – literally thousands of them, but I didn’t see a single mountain bike – presumably because there aren’t any mountains!
Tonight I’m staying at my aunt’s in Kennington (my dad’s sister) and, once more, I’ve had a terrific meal and, as it
rained heavily for the last few hours of today’s ride, it’s given me the chance to dry out.
Tomorrow I have a decision to make. A few weeks before setting off I went onto the ferry company’s website to double
check times and prices, only to find that my intended ferry (Saturday) was already fully booked. As a safety net I booked Sunday night’s ferry. So I have three options (1) I can go to my next campsite and spend two nights there and
get the ferry on Sunday, (2) I can attempt to ride the 90 miles to Portsmouth and try to get on tomorrow night’s ferry (no mean feat on a fully loaded bike), (3) I can spend one night at the next site and then ride into Portsmouth and again try
to get on the ferry. The last two options are preferable but if I can’t get on the ferry then I’m stranded at the port for one or two nights. In the end, my body will decide for me – it will just depend on what it’s physically capable of.
Friday 13thJune Kennington, Oxford to a few miles east of Winchester Daily mileage 58 Total mileage 404 Temperature 18C
I should have known that Friday 13th would not be a good day. In theory it should have been easy – Oxford to Winchester – if you look at it on a map it’s A34 all the way. The problem is that it’s a very busy, 70mph dual carriageway, with no hard shoulder. It would be safer cycling down a motorway where at least you've got a hard shoulder to hide on. I did try it for a while, but after you’ve had artics go past you two abreast at 70mph a few times, you tend to start thinking about your survival chances. After about five miles I gave up and started using side roads. The only problem with this strategy was that the roads wander all over the place and call for lots of stopping and map checking. During the day, two local cyclists came over for a chat and to ask if they could help. The first was indeed helpful, the second less so. I was trying to decide which of two possible routes to take and he suggested “I should take this route. There’s lots of nice scenery. I often go on that route on my motorbike”. Now the sharper of you will have immediately spotted the clue here, but I missed it. Although he was on a bicycle whilst chatting to me he rode the suggested route on his motorbike! Needless to say, it was all hills, and you definitely know you’ve taken the wrong route when you come across a ‘viewing point’ – usually the highest point for miles.
By lunchtime I’d already given up on the option of trying to get to the ferry, so I took an hour out in a Burger King to update my website and didn’t push too hard in the afternoon. I think that the highlight of the day for me was as I was cycling down a county lane. I heard it before I saw it. That unmistakeable sound of the V12 engine. ‘What was it?’ I hear you ask. ‘A Ferrari or Lamborghini?’ No, as I looked up, there she was. A beautiful World War Two Spitfire flying low and passing almost directly overhead. Although they made over fifteen different models of Spitfire, the vast majority were fitted with the Rolls Royce Merlin engine that has such a distinctive sound. As it was a Friday I’m guessing
it was flying somewhere for a Saturday air display. My only regret was that by the time I’d go my camera out she’d
I'm on quite a nice site, a few miles outside Winchester and, as usual, it's raining. As I’ve said earlier, I’m booked to
go on the Sunday night ferry, but tomorrow I plan to go into Portsmouth and see if I can blag my way onto Saturday’s ferry. If they turn me down I’ll probably spend the next 24 hours in the ferry terminal!
Saturday 14th July Just outside Winchester to Portmouth Ferry Terminal Daily mileage 27 Total mileage 431 Temperature 18C
I've come up with a new definition of unlucky. I woke this morning having had a great sleep and, realising that I didn't have far to go, was in no rush to get packed. I was just about to start breaking camp when the heavens opened and it started to tip it down. "Never mind" I thought, "I'm in no rush, I'll wait it out". An hour later it was still tipping it down so I thought that I'd better make a move. I packed everything away and loaded the bike, getting soaked in the process, and started to wheel it out of the campsite. It was then that I heard the dreaded noise - the squeak of a brake block on a wheel rim. I've got the brakes adjusted right up close to the rims so that I've got maximum braking. If a spoke brakes it puts the rim out of true just enough to catch on one of the brake blocks. I had no choice but to unload everything and replace the spoke - in the still pouring rain. As soon as I'd finished the repair and reloaded the bike, it stopped raining!
Mind you, the rain didn't stay off for long and it was soon hammering it down again. I've adopted the philosophy that once you're totally drenched to the skin, you can't get any wetter!
I've managed to get my ferry ticket changed and so I'm currently sat in the ferry terminal at Portsmouth (having replaced a second broken spoke on arrival!) and should be in France about 8am tomorrow.
Sunday 15thJuly Le Havre Ferry Terminal to Neufchatel en Bray Daily mileage 70 Total mileage 503 Temperature 19C
Bonjour mes amis – je suis en France! The ferry crossing was quite good and I managed to get a few hours sleep but I would have to say that the LD ferry was not a patch on the Brittany ferry I was on a few years back. Whilst I was waiting to board the ferry at Portsmouth I thought that I was the only cyclist as they had me queuing up with the motorbikes. However once on board I was joined by about a dozen other cyclists – a group of four cycling from London to Paris and another group who I never did speak to.
We arrived on time (8am) and disembarked to – rain. In fairness, it gradually lifted during the morning and by the afternoon the weather was quite pleasant.
I’ve spent the whole day cycling down a road that, according to the map doesn’t exist and I’m now camped in a
place that I’m not supposed to be going to! That’s just the way things work out. I set off from Le Havre along my preplanned route, which in itself was a stroke of luck – I still have memories of cycling round St Malo three times before I managed to find an escape route that did not involve a motorway – but soon realised that the road numbers on the map and those shown on the road were different. I soon figured out that I was on the right road as I was checking off the towns and villages as I progressed but the road numbers never did agree. I think it’s just the way the French work - “Yes we know that you don’t want to go to Amiens but everyone knows that it’s in the same general direction that you want and let’s not get hung up on road numbers”. Anyway, despite their best attempts I managed not to get lost and actually had a good day’s cycling. The French roads are generally better than ours – not only are they better maintained, but they are built using a smaller gravel size, resulting in a smoother surface and so a lower rolling resistance and so I was able to freewheel on gradients that in the UK I’d be pedalling on.
I didn’t look in my Michelin Guide for a campsite until the middle of the afternoon, only to discover that there was nothing within a considerable distance. I resigned myself to a marathon day but, on entering Neufchatel, I spotted signs to a campsite. Following them I discovered a really nice campsite with excellent facilities and a very good price (7 euros). It has a good restaurant which I’ve checked out (beef bourguignon with frites – yes, I know chips don’t do it justice but I need to load the salt on to replace that lost by sweating and chips are the only thing that I can take lots of salt on) and I’ve already ordered my 2 pain aux raisin for the morning!
16/7/12 am - I've downgraded my opinion of the site slightly - no toilet paper!
Monday 16thJuly Neufchatel to just west of Soissons Daily mileage 103 Total mileage 606
OK, so it wasn’t supposed to be 103 miles today but as there are no campsites shown along my route, I just set off
in the hope that I would come across an unlisted one (Not as daft as it sounds; the Michelin guide charges for a campsite to be listed and so quite a large number of successful sites don’t bother). In the event, however, I came across nothing and by lunchtime I realised that there was a definite possibility that I would be camping wild and so stocked up on food and water at the first supermarket I came across (A Carrefour Market – they seem to be in almost every small town - a bit like our Co-op). As the day progressed I was still physically OK and calculated that I could still make it to this site just outside Soissons and so that’s what I did. I turned all my lights on so that I looked like a mobile Christmas tree and carried on into the night, finally arriving here at 11.30pm (I didn't set off until very late this morning). The only problem with that was that, once booked in I then had to put up my tent using only the light from my torch as the site was in complete darkness. Once successfully achieving that, I simply made myself a mug of coffee and got into bed, and slept soundly.
I must admit that I expected to hate this site. It’s massive (about 80 acres) has loads of pitches (520) and is, according to the guide, expensive at 31 euros. However, I was completely wrong. The site is very well designed so that you aren’t aware of more than about a dozen other campers. The land is actually the estate of a chateau, and as it borders the river Aisne, is a beautiful location - I suppose it's a good way to finance your chateau. The site has a supermarket with separate bakery, a bar, restaurant, very large indoor swimming pool with retractable roof, tennis court, and even a shop where you can hire bikes. From my point of view, its best feature was when they told me this morning that they were only going to charge me 8 euros, because I was on a bike. Consequently, I’m staying two nights. I need to get
some washing done (there's only so many days that you can wear the same clothes for!) and I want to preplan a few
The French really respect cyclists. They are always very courteous when overtaking and treat a bike like a small car. Generally speaking, this is great as you never worry about being ‘cut up’ by a French car but they can sometimes take it a bit too far and occasionally you’ll get someone sat on your tail for ages when, in reality, there’s loads of room to overtake. This attitude may have something to do with the fact that if you knock a cyclist off his bike in France there’s a fair chance you’ll end up in jail. After all, you’re the one with the ton of metal and you’d better know how to control it. Nevertheless, the French are always friendly towards a cyclist and I’ve already lost count of the number of waves and friendly toots of the horn I’ve received.
A Dutch woman came over for a chat this morning (Tuesday 17th). People suss out that you are British from clues like the writing on the bike, tent, and even carrier bags. As usual, she wanted to know why I was in the middle of France on a bike. She was amazed that anyone should be cycling from Scotland to Majorca. I replied that I thought everyone in Holland cycled everywhere to which she replied “Yes, but not that far!”
A while later an Irish guy came over for a chat. He's a keen touring cyclist although he's in France in a big motorhome with his family. He's off on a tour as soon as he gets back. It turns out that he lived in Castle Douglas for eleven years and I used to teach at the school his daughter went to! What a small world.
Wednesday 18th July West of Soisson to Montmirail Daily mileage 60 Total mileage 666 (is this significant?) Temperature 29C
Today is one of those days I’d rather forget. From the moment I left last night’s campsite until the moment I arrived at tonight’s it’s been all up and down hill. If I were to put the bits of level road end to end I doubt if they would come to
more than a couple of miles. Also I’m back to a very strong headwind so that I even have to peddle going downhill – sometimes in quite a low gear. If you could have seen me putting my tent up tonight you would have thought I was auditioning for a hangliding competition. The other problem has been the weather. I got so used to it being mild but overcast that I didn’t really notice (or consider the implications) when the sun came out today – so now I’m burnt as well! The only consolation was when I pulled into a garage looking for an ice cream or a cold drink and came across a Canadian cyclist making jam sandwiches (perfectly normal). He was as burnt as me and apparently making less headway. The one thing that really put a smile on my face today was the price of tonight’s campsite – 3 euros –that’s about £2.40 at today’s exchange rate. It’s quite a big municipal site in a good location but there’s only three tents and two caravans on the entire site and so I have perfect peace. I went to the shops to pick up supplies and noticed another broken spoke - typical. Never mind, as they say, tomorrow is another day.
I’ll try for Troyes tomorrow. I just hope the wind dies down a bit.
Thursday 19th July Montmirail to Troyes Daily mileage 56 Total mileage 722 Temperature 16 - 22C
"If I'm not there it's because I'm dead" - Sean Connery in the film Entrapment
I was nearly seriously injured today as I was cycling into Troyes. I was going round a roundabout when a guy overtook me at speed and then cut across me as he left the roundabout. Whether he had underestimated my speed or not I don't know but is only by slamming on the brakes and swerving that I managed to miss him literally by inches. All good fun.
The day started off quite cool and I was even regretting the decision to cycle in my shorts, although I had at least put my yellow long-sleeved cycling shirt on. It's a great shirt in as much as it's highly visible to drivers but it has the downside that insects seem to think it's a flower and keeping trying to pollinate me whenever I stop! The wind is still very strong although it has fortunately moved round slightly overnight and is now mainly on my right hand side. The terrain was also much easier today with gently undulating hills rather than the ones of Wednesday which required bottom gear. Another spoke broke! Mind you, I'm getting quite good at replacing them.
I'm staying tonight at the municipal campsite at Troyes. It's quite expensive for a municipal site at 11 euros but it does have a swimming pool, restaurant, bar, games room, WiFi, etc. This marks the end of my easting (although, in reality I've been south easting for the last couple of days) and from tomorrow onwards I'll be on my southern track that will take me all the way down to Avignon.
Friday 20th July Troyes to Chatillon sur Seine Daily mileage 49 Total mileage 771 Temperature 17C
As I was packing up this morning a young Dutchman came over for a chat. He wanted to see if we could do a map swap but unfortunately I didn’t have what he wanted. He’s doing a 1500 kilometre trip from Holland to Spain – walking with his dog! He’s already done 700km. I know dogs like to be taken for a long walk but I think that’s taking things a bit far. It had started raining during the night and he’d decided to stay put for the day (He was saying that he'd had bad weather all the way from Holland). As it turned out, that was probably a wise decision as it rained the whole day. In the morning it was a fairly light rain where you can’t decide whether or not you should stop and put your cycling jacket on as (a) the rain’s keeping you cool and (b) it’s evaporating just about as fast as it’s falling. However in the afternoon it was a downpour and it hasn’t stopped since (it’s still raining now as I’m typing up these notes in the tent). Hopefully better weather tomorrow.
Quite a short day today at 49 miles but up until now the length of day has been dictated by the location of the campsites of which there haven’t been many. Now that I’m on the main ‘north south’ route sites should be more plentiful. The cycling was quite good today. I’m now in the Bourgogne region and my route takes me along the river Seine but rather than take the main road I took the old back roads and I was so pleased that I did. Beautiful little villages lined the road and some stunning views of the river. The only thing that surprised me was the number of empty houses being left to fall down. Some of them were potentially beautiful period houses with gardens running down to the river and they all seemed to be within commuting distance of a large town. People in the UK would sell their souls for such properties.
Tonight’s campsite is at Chatillon-sur-Seine (7 euros). It’s quite a nice site and will soon be vastly improved with the addition of a new toilet block. The town itself is very attractive and dates back to Roman times.
Tomorrow I’m heading for Dijon (of mustard fame).
Saturday 21st July Chatillon to Dijon Daily mileage 56 Total mileage 827 Temperature 20C
I think that the Chatillon site was the first one where no one came for a chat but this could be to do with the fact that it was raining hard and everyone was hiding from it – I was in bed by eight o’clock. This morning was dry but cold and so I put on my long cycling trousers (This virtually guarantees good weather!). My diet during the day consists of pain au raisin and/or pain au chocolat (I've had so many I should probably have written a guide) and those that I had in Chatillon were without doubt the best so far. The cycling was generally good up until about midday when the road forked – to the left for heavy goods vehicles and to the right for everyone else. Now the moral of this story is to always engage your brain before making a decision as the reason they were directing the HGV’s to the left is because the other route, whilst picturesque, is all up and down – and I mean up and down – the only consolation (apart from the scenery) was that it was good training for the Pyrenees. Oh, and the final four miles into Dijon where I hardly had to pedal once because it was all downhill.
I’m at the municipal site (10 euros) called ‘Camping du Lac’ – I haven’t got a clue where the ‘lac’ is. I can hear water but there’s no way that it’s visible from the site. I wouldn’t recommend the site – the facilities are a bit basic considering how much they charge. To be honest, I don’t know why I’m here, apart from the fact that when I was planning the trip, I put cities into the computer to get an approximate route. As I’m sure all cyclists will agree, unless you have a specific reason for visiting a city they are best avoided. They are like small planets, with a gravitational pull all of their own and if you get too close they suck you in and are then reluctant to let you go. You are best to steer well clear of them and stick to the more scenic route.
Another spoke broke today. They don’t really bother me any more. It takes about half an hour to unload the bike, take the wheel out, replace the spoke, true the wheel, and then reload the bike. Provided I’m not on a busy road, it makes quite a nice forced break. However, I am now running short of spokes, having replaced six on the same side of the rear wheel (Who designs bikes that require three different lengths of spokes?) and so I’m going to keep my eyes open for a bike shop to buy some more.
The computer says that I’m more than half way to Majorca so is it all downhill from here?
Tomorrow is serious wine country – Gevrey Chambertin, Nuits-St-Georges, Meursault, Beaune – It may be necessary to do some quality control along the way! I may not get as far as I intend to!
Sunday 22nd July Dijon to Tourus (North of Macon) Daily mileage 63 Total mileage 890 Temperature 29C
What a great day! I managed to escape from Dijon without too much trouble and had a really good day's cycling. I'd looked at the route and tried to plan roads without the hills of yesterday and, in the main, it worked. Just undulating low hills until the end of the day when I had one steep one to climb. A few miles from the site my chainwheel gearchange started playing up and by the time I reached the campsite it would only stay on the small chainwheel, which gives me top speed of 13mph with me cycling like a demented idiot! Once I'd set up camp and investigated further I discovered that the outer casing of the cable has split. I can probably get it replaced at a bike shop but that obviously wouldn't help me in the short term and so I've put a splint on it using a tent peg and duct tape! It seems to work - we'll find out for sure tomorrow.
This is quite an interesting campsite. I turned up at about 4pm and had to join a queue of about twelve people booking in. Since then the site has completly filled and is turning people away. Interestingly about 98% of the people here are from the Netherlands - I don't know why. I'm hoping that all the sites from now on are not as busy. If they are I may have to replan my route slightly.
9.30pm I've just heard on the news that my intended crossing into Spain is currently closed due to about 20,000 acres of woodland being on fire. Hopefully they'll get it sorted before I get there.
Monday 23rd July North of Macon to north of Lyon Daily mileage 52 Total mileage 942 Temperature 29C
Today was another good day’s cycling with only a few steep hills to contend with. I thought that last night’s site was only a few miles north of Macon but it was actually about 23 so I didn’t get quite as far tonight as I thought I would. The
wind is still very strong at times. The Dutch couple in the tent next to me were woken in the night as their tent was ripped down one side.
For my route today I’ve used the main road. There’s no real option other than very winding side roads. It does mean duelling with the big French trucks but as they say, if a truck’s got your name on it, it’s a pretty silly looking truck.
Anyway, so far so good. The road surface was good and I was able to make good progress throughout the day. I had one broken spoke and, as it was my last of that size I’ve bought ten more at a Decathlon store, so now I don’t
I could have gone on further today but, in reality, I chickened out. Lyon is just down the road and it’s huge. If I’d carried on I would have hit the city in the rush hour and would then have had to have got about 20 miles south before the
next campsite. I decided to tackle it tomorrow. I’m making better than expected progress anyway so a few miles more or less each day won’t matter.
Tonight’s campsite is at Anse, about ten miles north of Lyon. It is NOT recommended. It appears to be a holiday destination site rather than a proper campsite – there are people here who have obviously come for the summer (caravan, awning, gazebo, potted plants - I kid you not) and there are hundreds of kids everywhere. There’s a swimming pool filled to capacity with them (you can barely see the water) and a big water slide. There’s also live entertainment every night. Not my sort of place at all but worse than all this was the price - 20.50 euros – I couldn’t believe it and left them in no doubt that I thought the price was outrageous for one person on a bicycle. If it hadn’t been for the fact that I didn’t want to tackle Lyon I would have cycled away.
I’m in the Rhone-Alpes region now. The Rhone sounds OK, not sure about the Alpes! I’m heading for Valence tomorrow. I won’t quite get there but there’s a cluster of sites north of the city so I’ll just cycle until I’ve had
Tuesday 24th July North of Lyon to north of Valence Daily mileage 58 Total mileage 1000 Temperature 36C
OK, so now it's officially hot. I've had clear skies all day and not much in the way of a breeze to keep me cool. I've been putting on factor 30 sun cream but, whilst they may be able to produce creams that are waterproof, I don't think they can produce creams that are sweat proof. Not long after I set off each day the stuff is streaming down my face and into my eyes. The net result is that I'm quite burnt and peeling and looking like I should be a bit-part actor in a Michael Jackson 'Thriller' video!
The ride today was quite good but Lyon was the expected nightmare. It's about ten miles across and I was still in the city at 12.30. It's also in a big hole so that you dive down into it and then have to climb back out. The signs were as useless as ever and in the end I just used my compass and headed south. I came out of the city on the wrong road but as it ran parallel to the one I wanted it wasn't a problem. I have to say that I found the Lyonnaise people to be very friendly. As I approached the city a lady in a very nice Mercedes stopped and flagged me down to ask if I wanted a coffee or a cold drink and later on another lady ask me if she could help me with directions.
Once out of Lyon I made pretty good progress and I'm now at a site north of Valence which is much better than last night's, is only 8.40 euros, and has free WiFi. I've now completed exactly 1000 miles and so I should get to Majorca in plenty of time although I've heard no more about the Spanish border being closed because of the forest fires - I'm sure they'll have it sorted by the time I get there in about a week.
Wednesday 25th July North of Valence to north of Montelimar Daily mileage 51 Total mileage 1051 Temperature 34C
Another great day's cycling with smooth roads and few steep hills. The temperature was a couple of degrees cooler, the wind has dropped away completely, and the miles just flew by. I've spent most of the day cycling alongside the Rhone and when I took the photo of the barge below I stood there and took in the view and thought "Can there be a nicer place?" Later on I cycled past not only Cotes du Rhone vineyards but also fields of peach and apricot trees and in the heat of the day the aroma was superb. I ended up stopping quite early today (I had the tent up by 3pm). Two reasons really. Firstly, I needed to do more washing and secondly I'd quite like to stay in Avignon tomorrow night before turning west towards the Pyrenees. I'm still unsure as to whether or not I can get over because of the forest fires. I keep seeing glimpses of TV news and the devastation looks pretty bad but I can't tell what they're saying. No doubt I'll find out! Tonight's site reminds me I'm in the south - large ants and ground so hard I had to use my 6 inch nails - the tent pegs were useless.
Thursday 26th July North of Montelimar to Avignon Daily mileage 59 Total mileage 1110 Temperature 40C
I was up bright and early this morning, keen to get on the road early and get a few miles in before it got too hot, and managed to be out of the campsite by 8.30 am. Within a few miles I stopped at the first boulangerie that I came to for my pain au raisin where I met a Dutch couple on a tandem with a trailer. It was quite an outfit - longer than most cars.
Montelimar was negotiated without any problems but I must admit that I was disappointed. As a child I'm sure that I remember the roads around the town being littered with stalls selling nougat (For which, of course, Montelimar is famous) but I saw none, just a couple of factories.
Later in the afternoon I was overtaken by a Welsh couple who were also cycling south (Yes, I admit they were going faster than me, but I suspect that they were 'credit card' travellers, going from hotel to hotel , as they were very lightly loaded).
Orange has a nice entrance to the town (see photo) but again I was disappointed. I was expecting a nice historical town but all I saw was quite ordinary - maybe I missed it.
By Orange I was beginning to feel quite tired and started thinking that I might have to take a rest day. I pulled into a petrol station for an ice cream and noticed the shop next door had one of those signs that shows date/time/temperature - 40C! I thought that maybe it was faulty and so I checked the one that I keep in my handlebar bag and it was showing 38C.
So I'm now at Avignon and this marks the end of my southerly ride. Tomorrow I head southwest towards the Pyrenees and Spain. The site that I'm at is not a particularly good one from my point of view. It's another that I would call a 'destination' site. It's full of people who've come for the summer. The site has loads of facilities but is consequently expensive (16 euros).
Friday 27th July Avignon to just ouside Montpellier Daily mileage 56 Total mileage 1166 Temperature 34C
A very mixed day. It started well enough. I cycled into Avignon to get the photo of the bridge that I wanted (Of "Sur le pont d'Avignon" fame), although I cycled about five miles down a motorway in the process. I then left the city without too much trouble and after about an hour or so met a guy from Amsterdam who was cycling to Arles (on a Koga of course!). His English was perfect (isn't it terrible how poor we are at languages compared to our neighbours?) and as he was going my way we cycled together for about ten miles. It turns out he's cycled in many countries and tends to get his wife to drive ahead, as she doesn't enjoy cycling, taking the luggage with her.
About ten minutes after our routes split and we went our separate ways I came across a police traffic control. A cyclist had been knocked off his bike by a truck and killed - they were just putting a sheet over him as I went past. The truck driver was sat under a tree in a very distraught state. It makes you think doesn't it? One minute everything's fine, the next minute one man's dead, another is likely to go to jail and will certainly lose his job - two families ruined in the blink of an eye. If I didn't feel vulnerable before, I do now.
Later on I pulled into a McDonald's (mainly to charge up my netbook - it's amazing how slowly you can eat a McFlurry!) and met a couple from New Zealand. They spend the summer in New Zealand (our winter) and then spend five to six months in France when it's summer over here. They fly to the UK, buy a camper van, travel around France and then resell it before they return home - sounds like a good plan to me!
I'm now just outside Montpellier and over the next couple of days I want to position myself at the base of the Pyrenees so that I have a full day to get over. There are no campsites up there, so I just have to get over into Spain.
Saturday 28th July Montpellier to Agde (close to Bezier) Daily mileage 61 Total mileage 1227 Temperature 34C
It's just not good enough. I've had some clouds in the sky for most of the day! I've got quite used to a clear blue sky so the odd fluffy white cloud is quite noticeable.
Just as I was finishing packing this morning a Frenchman came over for a chat. Well, I say a chat, as his English was about as good as my French. Nevertheless, we got by and he asked about the ride and where I was coming from and going to. When I told him he was very impressed, said "Just a minute" and rushed off. This has happened several times before and they usually reappear with a camera to photograph the mad British cyclist. However, when this guy reappeared , he presented me with his business card! I don't know what he thought I was going to do with it.
The cycling today was really good, the only slight downside being that I'm now cyling into quite a stiff headwind which is obviously slowing me down. I can't decide how I feel about headwinds. Yes, they slow you down and it is a bit like cycling into a fan heater but at least they keep you dry, whereas if you have a slight following breeze you're effectively cycling in still air and you end up sweating like a pig (Where does that saying come from? Do pigs sweat? Am I unjustly maligning pigs?).
The other slight setback is that my current route means that I've spent most of today on winding backroads - very pleasant but I'm not as far on as I should be and, with the heat and the headwind I may not make Perpignan where I wanted to be. We'll just have to wait and see.
Today was a 'four beep' day. Every day several French cars will beep their horns and wave. The French really respect cyclists but I have to say that I still see few French cyclists. I suspect it's a bit like the Brits and football. If you ask most British guys if they like football the answer is usually "Yes". If you then ask them how often they play the response will be "Oh, I don't play it but I watch it all the time on TV!"
Sunday 29th July Agde to south of Narbonne Daily Mileage 38 Total mileage 1265 Temperature 32C
I should have known that I was in for a bad day when I awoke to find ants eating my breakfast. I bought some chocolate croissants last night and, as they were in a sealed container, left them in the ‘living’ area of the tent which tends to
stay cooler. The ants obviously found a way in and there were several hundred of them tucking in.
Fortunately I had already decided that it would be a short day to get me into position to tackle the Pyrenees on Tuesday. Just as well, as I had a really strong headwind all day and for some of the time the most I could maintain was 7mph (under good conditions I’m normally cruising at about 16mph). It’s very draining when you have to slog uphill against the wind and then pedal hard to go downhill as well.
I can confirm that prostitution is alive and well in the south of France. The girls (I say girls but the age range is quite wide) sit at the end of their farm tracks dressed in high-heeled shoes, micro minis and low cut tops waiting for a passing client. Some of them are very organised and will have a folding table, chair and sun umbrella. Sometimes they call out to me as I cycle past but as I can't understand what they're saying I usually just call back "That's easy for you to say". I'm guessing that when governments told farmers that they would have to diversify to supplement their incomes that this is not what they had in mind!
I’d decided to stay at Narbonne, which would give me a reasonable ride tomorrow to Perpignan and the base of the Pyrenees. As I entered Narbonne there was a sign saying that there were three campsites in the town, one of which was supposed to be on my route, but I didn’t see any or any more signs for them and I was soon cycling out into the countryside again. I checked the Michelin guide only to find that the next listed site was hours away – I had visions of me cycling into the night again. Fortunately I saw the sign for an unlisted site and pulled in. Consequently I don’t know exactly where I am but it’s quite a nice site. It also means that tomorrow’s ride will be slightly shorter than expected and should therefore leave me in better condition to tackle the mountains on Tuesday.
I'm definitely in Catalan country now as many of the place names are in both language.
Monday 30th July North of Narbonne to Le Boulou (about 5 miles from the Spanish border) Daily mileage 55 Total
mileage 1320 Temperature 32C
A much better day today. The wind has dropped considerably and is now side on so I’ve been able to get a move on. I was up bright and early and on the road for 8am, allowing me to get a few miles in before the real heat of the day sets in. Because I can’t eat breakfast early in the morning I’ve established a routine whereby I set off and then a few miles down the road stop at a boulongerie for my pain au raisin/pain au chocolate. Unfortunately there were no shops and so it was 11.30 and 20 odd miles before I got anything to eat.
My original plan had been to get just clear of Perpignan and then camp but as I was making such good headway I’ve come on to Le Boulou. It’s a nice little town situated right at the start of the climb and so will make tomorrow potentially shorter. I had the choice of two crossings. There’s one by the coast which is much lower but several people have told me that it’s all up and down – which I hate. So I’ve opted to come inland slightly for the crossing which is much higher but is a more steady climb. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.
Tonight I’m camped in an olive grove (Am I right in thinking they were introduced by the Romans who nicked the idea from the Carpatheans?). It’s a nice setting and I suppose works quite well as the olives are harvested in November when I’m guessing there aren’t many campers.
Oh, and the award for the worst roads in France goes to Perpignan! They are really awful and I’m guessing the council have decided that they can save a fortune on speed bumps as anyone speeding through Perpignan would surely wreck their car.
Tuesday 31st July Le Boulou to south of Girona Daily mileage 53 Total mileage 1375 Temperature 35C
Hola amigos – Espana!
I got an early start which turned out to be a wise decision as the mountains shaded me for almost the entire climb. The going wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be and I never had to use bottom gear, so either the climb wasn’t that steep or I’ve got fitter over the weeks. Actually, I think it was a very long climb rather than a very steep climb. Anyway, going down the other side was nice, although I stopped several times to take in the devastation caused by the forest fires – it will take many years to recover.
Due to me wanting to position myself at the start of the climb I took one more day than intended on the French side. However I think that I can get it back. I’ve pushed on today further than originally intended and now reckon that I can reach Barcelona and the ferry tomorrow night. That would mean that I would arrive at my destination of Alcudia on Thursday – exactly four weeks after I left Dumfries.
The going has been very hard today as the strong headwind has returned as well as many steep (and sometimes long) hills.
I’m at a very nice site, in the middle of nowhere, but it has a pool and a bar and they’re going to cook dinner for me so I’m quite happy.
Wednesday 1st August South of Girona to Barcelona Daily mileage 72 Total mileage 1447 Temperature 32C
To finish off yesterday’s entry, my meal was quite nice, the salad starter particularly (see photo), but I didn’t rush off once I’d finished my dinner as I was fascinated by the way the place was organised. The salad starter was done by the waitress behind the bar but the main courses were done up at their home (by whom I don’t know but I think it was the mother of the guy running the site) and they would be informed when they were ready via an intercom. One couple had ordered a paella in advance and that turned up in a car!
Anyway, back to today. It was probably the worst day so far. I set off from my site ‘in the middle of nowhere’ and set a course back across country to intercept my original route. I do this on a regular basis and it never fails – until today. I
don’t know what happened but my original road never materialised. As a consequence I did about two and a half sides of a triangle before I finally relocated my road. Things were then made worse by a very strong headwind again which reduced my average speed dramatically. On any other day, none of this would have really mattered, I would just have pulled into a campsite once I’d had enough but because I had it in my head that I was getting the ferry tonight I kept pushing on. I was very tired and very cross and pulling into just about every petrol station I passed for either a cold drink or an ice cream. I was at one of these stations eating an ice cream when a Spanish guy came over to ask about my ride . When I told him the details he said "Wow, that's amazing to be able to live your dreams!" and I thought yes, maybe I should stop feeling sorry for myself and just get on with it. By the time I finally arrived at the ferry office in Barcelona (and negotiating Barcelona is no mean feat) I was very tired and very hungry, having only eaten one apple and one banana all day (and thinking that I should have just written Macmillan a cheque!). Oh yes, I also appear to have a slow puncture in my rear tyre and so I was having to periodically stop and pump it up – there was no way I was going to unpack the bike and then do a repair on the streets of Barcelona. I’ll have a look at it tomorrow. Funnily enough it doesn’t appear to go down if I don’t ride the bike – is Sky trying to tell me something?
I’ve been without internet access for several days now and so my plan is to ride to a McDonald’s tomorrow and get up to date.
When I booked my ticket at the Barcelona ferry office they told me to come back at 9.45pm when a bus would take me to the ferry. When I asked about the bike they assured me that that could go on the bus too. I thought that maybe the bus was the sort that you get at airports and that I'd be able to simply wheel it on. When I returned at the designated time I discovered that it was just an ordinary coach and we struggled to lift the bike and manoeuvre it into the suitcase compartment underneath. We were then not only driven to the ferry, but the coach actually boarded the ferry and went up to the passenger deck where we all disembarked.
Thursday 2nd August Palma Majorca to Alcudia Daily mileage 55 Total mileage 1502 Temperature 34C
When the ferry docked at Palma the coach fiasco was repeated, only this time it was made worse as it was a smaller coach and the only way that the bike would fit in the luggage compartment was to take all the bags off it. We were then transported to the ferry office and unloaded. And so there I was, in Palma, with a bicycle with a flat tyre and a pile of bags! I took the rear wheel out and discovered a long metal shard sticking in the tyre, which I removed and put a new inner tube in (I was carrying two spares). I didn't bother trying to repair the old tube. I then reassembled and reloaded the bike and headed into the city centre where I stopped for a coffee and croissant at a bar and sat at a pavement table to watch the world go by for a while. I had time to spare. When the journey had been planned, a friend of ours who works in a restaurant, the Tivoli Terrace in Alcudia, had said that if I cycled from Dumfries to Mallorca he would buy me a pint (!) and so I had decided to cycle to the restaurant to collect that drink. In the meantime however, Karen and the staff at the restaurant had arranged a 'grand arrival' with a PowerPoint presentation on the restaurant's big screens describing the journey and all the customers being informed of my imminent arrival - however I wasn't supposed to turn up until about 8.30.
Consequently I had a fairly leisurely ride across the island (Still into a headwind mind you, which I find amazing as I was now going in the totally opposite direction!) to our apartment and a long-overdue shower, not having been able to get one on the boat. It was then a cycle round to the restaurant and the long awaited drink! Customers at the restaurant generously donated an additional 100 euros. I've also just heard that the HSBC event raised another £250 which the bank will match - so another £500 for Macmillan - thanks guys, that's great work and will bring the final total to over £2000.
"So", I hear you say, (I'm sure I heard someone say), "what earth-shattering discoveries did you make whilst on your four week ride?"
1. despite what physicists will tell you there are definitely more hills going up than there are going down - just ask any cyclist. Thinking about it, Dumfries, where I started from, is virtually at sea level and Alcudia is definitely at sea level so somebody with a big JCB could have saved me a lot of effort.
2. no matter which direction you cycle in, the wind will always be against you.
3. the world is full of really kind and generous people, not just those who donated money to Macmillan but also those who were so generous with their time and kindness. They helped to make it an event I will never forget.
Talking of people who helped to make the event what it was, I would like to thank my lovely wife Karen, for not only being understanding but for also working so hard to make sure the event was a success.
I now have just over two weeks to relax and try to even up my somewhat stripey suntan before flying back to the UK and during that time I'll take some photos of this part of Majorca for you all to look at.
If I can just chuck in one last quote -
“You don’t know how much you can really do until you stand up and decide to try”
Kevin Kline in the film ‘Dave’
Oh, but just before you put your purses and wallets away ladies and gentlemen, I've been looking at the maps and Scotland to Africa looks feasible............................