Friday, May 22, 2015

Avenue Verte - Day 5 (La Inseine)

Day 5 - Boisemont to Paris (May 6th, 2015)
42.5 miles +/-, 1928' of Elev. Gain (Click for map info)

After a very good nights sleep, in fact almost too good since we all slept through the alarm, and had about 30 mins to get ready for breakfast. 30 minutes may sound like enough time, but when there is only one shower/bathroom, it's not long. Like a military operation we all rotated using the bathroom, and ended up only being 15 minutes late for breakfast. The breakfast had a slightly more "English" flare to it, boiled eggs, toast, local jams, and cereal - but very good still, the strong French coffee was much needed!.

The weather looked promising, some cloud cover but no sign of rain or wind, and pretty mild temperatures. The last leg of our journey had finally arrived, and it was exciting but also sad at the same time. From the Ferme Rose Gite to Paris is only about 20 miles as the crow flies, but our route today using Donald Hirsch's directions would take us into Paris from the West, for about 42 miles total.

The view looking East from Ferme Rose

So off we set from the B&B straight up a steep paved path (for pedestrians), but quickly joined the main road. We did not quite realize how much of a hill the Ferme Rose sat upon, until we got going on the main road and descended for 3 miles to the Seine. So our first real taste of Paris came at only 3.5 miles into the days journey, we were in the Suburbs, and it was quite a shock having been in the countryside for the past 3 days!.

Donald's route from hereon has alot of twists and turns, I had loaded the route on my GPS, and also made a paper copy of Donald's route guide. The GPS worked well for the most part, but there was the odd occasion I broke out the paper guide too, mainly for specific guidance on how to join particular trails etc. The paper guide became useful at mile 4.7, where we had to take a short paved trail that connects to the first major bridge over the Seine for the day. This was the first of 5 crossings of the Seine we would make today, and possibly the least scenic crossing along a 4 lane highway. After exiting the highway, negotiating our first big roundabout, and me nearly biting the dust trying to read the GPS whilst ploughing into the curb, we were back onto quieter lanes.

We followed the Seine on quiet roads for about 3 miles, which was very pleasant after the initial shock of the suburbs. But at mileage 9 the fun began, and the Hirsch route started to get associated with a few choice words. Instead of continuing to follow the nice flat Seine valley, the route takes you up and over some steep hills, and winds its way though burbs and five of the Paris forests and parks.

One of the forest sections in the Saint Germain area

Another forest section before Versailles

Besides the numerous hills associated with this route into Paris, the forest sections really were exceptionally nice and peaceful, and made you forget you were within the boundaries of a bustling international City.

After several forest sections we reached Versailles at mileage 23, a very busy area understandably with tourists and buses everywhere. There is no entry fee for bikes to get into the grounds, so we decided to pedal through and see if we could see the Palace. You can only get so far on a bicycle, before they require you to lock it up and walk - as we found out after unknowingly (well partially unknowingly) breaking the rules. We did get a glimpse of the palace though, but after 30 mins we were getting people overload, and decided to continue on.

Palace of Versailles

For the next 10 miles or so of the route you drift in and out of suburbs and forest parks, never really getting a sight of central Paris, or even a clue you were getting close. But finally at mileage 32 you get a glimpse of the City, and a true sense the end of your journey is getting close.

a glimpse of Paris from Parc de Saint-Cloud

You leave the forest parks behind really at Saint-Cloud, and the city riding really begins in earnest; but 7 miles of city roads out of 42 for the day is not bad really. Paris is certainly not flat though, and one last sting greeted us at mile 33.5, a short steep hill that takes you up to an old aqueduct called the Passerelle de l'Avre, now a foot bridge that crosses the Seine. It was actually at this point we had to break out Donald's paper guide again, my GPS had mapped the route taking us UNDER the aqueduct, with no obvious way to get up onto it. We eventually figured out the only way was up, up another hill, and then we found the access point to the bridge, and also our first sight of the Eiffel tower!.

Eiffel tower as seen from Passerelle de L'Avre

The old aqueduct was a wonderful way to cross the Seine, and even though it is supposed to be for pedestrians, we did not have any issues cycling across it.  The bridge ends across the Seine opposite the Hippodrome de Longchamp (horse racing course) in Bois de Boulogne. The route takes you right around the edge of the race track, there must of been an event or race meet the day we were there, since it was mighty busy outside the entrance.

Old windmill next to the Hippodrome de Longchamp

From the race track our route started to follow cycle paths running parallel with the main roads heading into Paris; although we were clearly in the hub of the City now, at least we were out of the traffic. With one mile to go though (from the Eiffel tower), we did have to merge with Paris traffic, and take our own lives into our hands. The road surface was slightly damp from a quick heavy passing shower, and traffic was hectic, being on a bike was scary to say the least!. We had survived the journey though, and reached the end per Donald Hirsch's route - the Tour Eiffel!.

Eiffel tower

The official Avenue Verte route actually finishes at Notre Dame, since it comes into Paris using a different route. We decided we would also make our way there to "officially" conclude our journey by bike, so we had another 3 miles of Paris traffic to deal with, in fact slightly more since we also had to drop off the bikes at Gare du Nord!. Well, we had not anticipated that the roads running parallel with the Seine from the Eiffel tower to Notre Dame, are One directional (depending which side of the Seine you're on). Lets just say, we had to do some bike and hiking.

Pont des Arts bridge

We crossed the Seine on the Pont des Arts bridge (pedestrian bridge), a tourist attraction in its own right due to all the "love padlocks" attached to the railings. Having crossed the bridge, we were now in a position to cycle on the road in the direction of Notre Dame. We noticed that the bus/taxi lane was also the designated cycle lane - scary thought having a bus up your backside, but what was even more worrying, was that Parisians were ignoring the fact that the "separated" lane was for buses etc ONLY. Little more walking was involved again, and a bit of scooting along on the pavement (sidewalk), much to the annoyance of bucket loads of tourists. We eventually got brave enough to ride in the bus lane, and make it in one piece to Notre Dame.

Cathedrale Notre Dame

The area in front of the cathedral was heaving with packs of tourists, probably a mecca for pick pockets I would imagine. We scooted our bikes through the chaos as fast as we could, and found a bridge to once again cross the Seine. Our final destination was Gare du Nord, which fortunately was a straight shot from Notre Dame, and fairly well signposted. We only had 2 more miles of crazy Paris traffic to negotiate, but even that was enough to encounter more kamikaze scooters, weaving taxi drivers, and buses up your backside.

We opted to use the Geoparts Eurostar courier service to transport the bikes back to London, they put the bikes on the next available train, and you collect them at St. Pancras, all for only £25. The trick we found was actually finding the Geoparts office at Gare du Nord, not even the station Gendarmes knew were it was. Luckily, good ole Donald Hirsch had some directions in his route guide, so for only the the 3rd time that day I used my printable copy. We found the office, unloaded the panniers, paid the fee - our cycle journey had officially come to an end!.

We had skipped lunch, mainly due to not actually finding anywhere to eat (we'll blame all those darn forest trails), so we were starving by now (late afternoon). Now bike free though, our first stop was the Buffalo Grill opposite Gare du Nord; we ordered large beers and burgers, and toasted our accomplishment.

We had decided when we planned the adventure, that we would spend one night in Paris, then get the Eurostar back to London at lunchtime the following day. So we took the Metro to our hotel, which unknowingly we had actually cycled past on route to Gare du Nord earlier. The hotel was a typical VERY small boutique hotel, with a lift the size of a postage stamp - the 3 of us with panniers in the lift was VERY cozy!.

We picked the Chatelet-Les Halles area to stay in, knowing it was a little less touristy, and had more of a everyday Paris feel to it. Although, Notre Dame and the Pomidou centre both were within easy walking distance. 

The view from our room at Hotel des Halles

John aka the Kebab Kid had busted his razor a day or 2 before, so had started to look a little like Grizzly Adams by now. I think he figured since we were now in slightly higher class surroundings, he better shave before dinner; luckily the little convenience store opposite the hotel sold razors, and wine too of course :). After a little chilling in our hotel room, showering, and John juggling with soap dispenser in the bathroom, we were ready to take a wander and check out options for dinner.

We did not have to wander far though to find "restaurant row" as we named it, every restaurant packed with locals. After checking out a few menus, we were coaxed into a restaurant by a couple of local girls sitting outside drinking wine, they assured us this was the best restaurant. We chose to sit outside to soak up the atmosphere, forgetting that almost every Parisian smokes; so I think all 3 of us smoked a pack of cigarettes each that night. The 2 girls, whom were sitting 2 tables away, spoke very good English, and told us Brits NOT to drink Beer, and told Pete the American NOT to eat a hamburger :). So taking their advice we ordered a carafe of red wine, snails (a little gritty for my taste buds), shrimp, salmon and Frogs legs (for the Kebab Kid). It was a fabulous night and great end to our Journey through southern England and northern France.

Sacre Coeur the morning before we boarded the Eurostar

Back on English soil

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Avenue Verte - Day 4 (Il pleut à verse)

Day 4 - St. Germer-de-Fly to Boisemont (May 5th, 2015)
58 miles +/-, 2668' of Elev. Gain (Click for map info)

The morning began with sunlight streaming through into our shared bedroom, Colorado blue skies, but a fair old breeze blowing. Breakfast was included within our B&B price, which is not always the case these days. It was another lavish spread though, including cheeses, meats, cakes, homemade jams and yogurts - enough to keep us pedaling all day long.

The lavish breakfast at L'Abbaye

By the time we had devoured the breakfast, paid our dues, and got our gear together, the blue skies had disappeared and clouds and a threat of rain had moved in (showers were forecast in the morning). Our route for the day would start off with a climb out of St. Germer up above the Epte valley, which with the breeze and threat of rain we were not looking forward to. Well the rain arrived after only 6.5 miles into the days journey, and boy did it rain!. We had to take cover under a metal bus shelter that we had spotted 0.25 mile back, we were already soaked at this point. The wind and rain was battering the tin roof of the shelter, sounded like someone was playing a drum kit on top of us. After about 10 mins of the drum symphony, the rain eased and we were ready to brave the elements once again. It was time to climb the first hill of the day, a 1.5 mile slog, but once crested, that would be the last of the hills for another 20 miles.

Some kind of farm ruins on the top of the first hills of the day

Great signage for "most" of the route

After leaving the hills, the route descended on quiet roads until we reached the town of Gisors at mileage 20. The town sits on the border of Normandy and the French Vexin area, and was a focus of struggles in medieval times. An opposing castle sits at the edge of the town center, and provides a stunning view over the town and countryside.

Castle at Gisors

Gisors seemed like a perfect spot for some refreshments and lunch, especially since we would not be passing through many other towns or villages for the next 38 miles. We found the main town centre, the sun was shining, so a nice cold local beer had to be our first priority. We found a bar next to the river "L'Epte", and with the backdrop of the cathedral too, what better way to enjoy an Abbey beer. Of course being beer loving cyclists, we ordered the largest sized glass they had; it wasn't until we stepped outside we realized the beer was a mighty strong brew. We opted to push our bikes across the square and found a patisserie serving up hot food, and sandwiches, that helped soak up the beer a little.

Mighty fine Abbey beer in Gisors

Having replenished ourselves with beer and food, we departed Gisors and promptly joined the Epte Valley Greenway. This greenway was the first "off-road" route we had seen since the morning of Day 3, and was a welcome surprise. The greenway follows the Epte river valley for about 12 miles, through small villages, and past hill top castles. We generally had the trail to ourselves, until it's terminus at Bray-et-Lu.

Epte Valley Greenway, along a crossing of the Epte River

Fabulous scenery and colour along the greenway

At Bray-et-Lu the Avenue Verte route starts to head Southeast through the Parc Naturel du Vexin region, an optional out and back heads south west to Giverny (Monet's house and garden). Unfortunately we did not have enough spare time to make the detour, so we opted to stay on the main route. The route through the Vexin area once again joins quiet roads, passing through quaint villages. We had an amusing conversation with a local at the pretty village of Chaussy, a few miles southeast of Bray-et-Lu. In the middle of town is a water trough and fountain, that we had gathered around to snap some photos. The water in the trough was very much non-potable, but a couple of locals seemed to think we were going to use it to fill up our water bottles; after some sign language that probably could of been used as a comedy sketch on Monty Python, we eventually convinced them we were not going to drink the water.

Village of Chaussy

At around mileage 38 for the day, we came across a magnificent sight, the Domaine de Villarceaux. The Park consists of a Chateau, water garden, and other structures, dating from the 17th-18th Centuries. The site is located on the site of a 11th century castle built to defend the region from the British; with free entry though, and bathrooms and water, it couldn't keep us British out on this particular day.

The stunning park at Villarceaux

Villarceaux water gardens

The Chateau at Villarceaux

From Villarceau we had just under 20 miles to cover to reach our overnight stop in Boisemont. The route became much more rolling than it had been for most of the day, and followed some wonderful farm tracks (some definitely not suitable for road bikes, or if muddy out).

Wonderful quiet roads & farm tracks through The Vexin region

The published Avenue Verte guidebook takes you into Paris from the northwest side, and mainly follows the route of the Seine. We decided when we planned our trip that we would follow an alternative route into Paris designed by Donald Hirsch. So at mileage 54 we split from the official trail and headed south to Menucourt, making an all important stop for beer and wine. We had to back track slightly from the supermarket to re-join the route to reach the B&B, which of course involved another 2 mile long hill through town.

We were stopping for the night at the wonderful Ferme Rose, a 15th Century old Farm house. On arrival the host had left a sticky note on the door to say let ourselves in, she had to pop out and would be back at 9pm. We locked our bikes up in the old stables, and made our way to our accommodation for the night. This B&B is more of a Gite, so we had a large bedroom with 3 beds, and shared a large kitchen area with other guests (except we were the only guests on this particular night). We had also opted to pay extra at this B&B and have a cold buffet provided on arrival, it was another fine spread of home made food, along with wine.

The host, Claire, is a British expat originally from Cambridge. She has been in France many years, and uses the old farm to breed French horses. The B&B is in a beautiful location, and hard to believe only a stones throw from Paris. The final push into the big city awaited us the next morning.

La Ferme Rose Gite
Link to DAY 5

Friday, May 15, 2015

Avenue Verte - Day 3 (Legs like Lead)

Day 3 - Dieppe to St. Germer-de-Fly (May 4th, 2015)
62 miles +/-, 2430' of Elev. Gain (Click for map info)

After what seemed like only a few minutes of sleep, but in reality was maybe 2 hours (yes a whole 2 hours), the Ferry was docking in Dieppe. The time was 5am European time (4am British time), and it was still very much nighttime. Disembarking from the Ferry seemed like it was a free for all, which is slightly scary when big trucks are offloading next to you. Luckily by the time we had loaded panniers, handlebar bags, and attached lights, most of the vehicles had already unloaded. You have to quickly adjust to the darkness upon exiting, and make your way to passport control, which involved a quick glance at the photo page. We were now officially on French soil!.

Whilst on the ferry we came to the conclusion using the GPS in the dark was not going to help much, so our game plan was to follow the large organised group of MS cyclists out of the port to the start of the Avenue Verte rail trail. They had cleared passport control before us, but were then hanging around waiting for their support vehicles. We were of course very anxious to get going,  so off we went, (Mike the Solo UK to Croatia rider, myself, Pete and John aka the Kebab Kid). There appeared to be only one logical road to take out of the port, and of course it had to be straight up a hill. Up the hill we slogged, legs feeling like Lead. Upon reaching the top it was clear we were heading in the wrong direction, so we had little option but to go against our male nature and pull out a paper map. Luckily very early morning in Dieppe means little to no traffic, so taking a dual carriageway back into Dieppe was not too bad. After a few roundabouts, some more map reading, we eventually found the start of the Avenue Verte trail. 

Welcome to the Avenue Verte

The MS riders passed us shortly after we stopped to read the official map, they were aiming for 80 miles that day, but were not carrying panniers, and were riding regular road bikes. We managed to follow them for a little while though, but found ourselves getting intermingled with them and decided it would be better to just ride again as a threesome (foursome briefly with Mike). 

Daybreak slowly arrived once we were well clear of Dieppe, and we were now rolling gently along the excellent paved Avenue Verte rail trail; a lush river valley to our right, and rolling farm country to our left. It was still slightly cool and refreshing out, peaceful, and it was just us and bird song.

The excellent paved section of the Avenue Verte rail trail

One of the many old restored stations along the trail

The impressive Mesnieres Chateau

The last time we had eaten was in Newhaven, so come daybreak we were starting to feel pretty hungry, and also tired. Looking at the guidebook, the first town we would come to was Neufchatel-en-Bray, 25 miles into our Day 3 journey, we figured this was our best shot at finding food. Luckily we were making good progress along the "flat" paved trail, which surprised us since up until now our average pace had been around 10mph. As we got closer to Neufchatel, the Kebab Kid started to fidget more on his saddle, we soon discovered his "Gel seat cover" was no longer attached, he suspected someone had pinched it when the bikes had been parked on the ferry. 

The E. Leclerc superstore was a welcome sight as we approached the town, but our sights were first set on finding a Cafe and Patisserie. We jumped off of the rail trail, and followed our noses to the town centre; there was Mike, outside the Cafe smoking a roll up, sipping on a coffee. Our first stop was the Patisserie; Pain au Chocalat and pastries in hand, we then crossed the road to the cafe. We ordered the largest coffee cups they had, which are still only a USA espresso size, but that is enough if you have ever experienced the strength of French coffee - you can stand a spoon up it in!. Just what the doctor ordered though!. It was a busy little cafe, perhaps the only one in town, there even were a couple of locals drinking Stella Artois (it was 7.30am) - it's Five O'clock somewhere though right :).

Neufchatel-en-Bray town centre

Mike was splitting from the Avenue Verte route at this point, he was heading towards the East side of Paris as he made his way towards Germany; so we wished each other the best of luck and said our goodbyes. John aka the Kebab Kid really wanted to hunt down some kind of cover for his saddle, he was not sure his butt could take another 40 miles without something. We set off back towards E. Leclerc, which happened to be right next to the trail. Amazingly the superstore was open (a rarity in rural France at 7.30am in the morning, in fact a rarity even at Noon often), but even more surprising was that they sold Gel Seat covers. The Kebab Kid was a happy boy, not only did he have a new seat cover, but also several bottles of French red wine, cured meat, and gooey cheese - all the essentials basically for a bicycle tour through the French countryside.

Our average pace so far on Day 3 had been higher than previous days, perhaps more like 12mph, so we were slightly worried that we would arrive at our B&B way too early. Our journey along the wonderful paved trail ended at around mileage 36 (from Dieppe), at the town of Forges-les-Eaux. Little did we know though, that after the paved rail trail ends, the route would take us through the rolling hills of Pays de Bray. 

Wisteria in Forges-les-Eaux

The next town of any size would come at around mileage 54 for the day, the town of Gournay-en-Bray would be our stopping point for a late lunch. 18 miles of moderately hilly minor rural roads took its toll though, our average pace dropped again, and it would take us 2.5 hours to get from Forges-les-Eaux to Gournay, or 4 hours since our breakfast stop at Neufchatel. The scenery was very pleasant though, rolling farm land and the occasional small village. The town of Gournay-en-Bray took quite a beating during WW2, and much of it has been re-built; the centre of town was attractive though, and we found a nice Bistro still serving up food.

Our destination for the night was Les Chambres De L'Abbaye in Saint-Germer-de-Fly, it is only a further 9 miles from Gournay, but with a couple of hills thrown in for good measure. St-Germer-de-Fly is a small village built up around a Benedictine Abbey, the Abbey was founded in the 7th Century, but destroyed and re-built in the 12th century.

12th Century Benedictine Abbey

Les Chambres De L'Abbaye

Our B&B for the night was an amazing experience, the hosts made us feel exceptionally welcome, and it felt more like we were VIP guests staying in their home. Monsieur was an exceptional Artist, and his work hung all over the house; and Madame was an exceptional cook. We had opted to pay extra and have dinner prepared for us at the B&B, we were certainly not expecting a 5 course meal though that included Aperitifs and bottomless red wine. The dining room walls was adorned with Monsieur's artwork, which primarily were nudes, not something you would see in England or the USA in a B&B - ooh la la!.

We slept VERY well having only had 2 hours sleep in the past 24 hours, cycled 62 miles, and had oodles of fine French cuisine and wine. Bonsoir!.

Link to DAY 4

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Avenue Verte - Day 2 (Mad Dogs and Englishmen)

Day 2 - East Grinstead to Newhaven (May 3rd, 2015)
52 miles +/-, 2728' of Elev. Gain (Click for map info)

The morning of Day 2 seemed to arrive very quickly, and a quick peak through the curtains revealed a misty, damp scene with intermittent downpours - there was the England I remembered. Since the route for today was a little longer, with hills in the mix, off-road sections, and potentially some bike n' hiking, we had no option but to head out into the rain.

Before tackling the weather on bicycle though, we needed some fuel, a breakfast of champions was in order, well a breakfast for 3 thrifty cyclists anyway. The Golden Arches glowed like a beacon through the mist, and breakfast muffins and hot coffee hit the spot.

Light drizzle was still in the air when we got back to the B&B, the forecast was for gradual clearing as the day went on though, there was a glimmer of hope we'd see the sun. We were all thankful at this point that we decided to pack heavier duty rain jackets, and helmet covers!. So panniers all loaded up again, rain covers installed, and off we set into the rain towards Forest Way. Forest way was the first of 2 rail trails we would travel along on Day 2; we were thankful for the tree lined trail providing some shelter from the rain, and for the only traffic being trail runners.

Forest Way ended after 10 miles at Groombridge. The route between here and the Cuckoo trail would take us over Dale and Vale on quiet country roads, and the odd interesting "Bridleway"  - which barely were suitable for horses let alone bikes, in fact with the rain a boat may of been more suitable along one section.

Steam railway at Eridge station
NCN route 21 - hmmm
Misty and damp on top of the hills

The further south we headed the drier the weather got, the storm had passed over!. The Cuckoo trail began in the town of Heathfield, and was at about 24 miles into our Day 2 ride. The Cuckoo trail is a beautiful rail trail, and one of the most popular trails in Southeast England. For us, it was a much welcomed break from all the rolling hills.

Artwork along the old rail bridges of the Cuckoo Trail

Beautiful lush woodland scenery along the Cuckoo Trail

The Avenue Verte route stays on the Cuckoo trail for about 10 miles, we longed for more of that trail when we reached the split between NCN 21 and NCN 2, especially as we feared more hills were between us and the coast. There was a nice surprise though at mile 38, the Arlington Tea Rooms greeted us like a big warm cozy duvet. We sipped on a much needed pot of tea and a devoured a cream tea (Scone with jam and cream). The sun even began to peak out, we all of a sudden had a surge of new energy.

Arlington Tea Gardens

The portion of the route from Arlington to the coast was glorious, the route stayed on quiet roads following NCN 2. The views of the South Downs were a little intimidating from a distance, but much to our pleasure NCN 2 followed the river valley through the Downs, and saved us from anymore big climbs.

Wonderful old Pack Horse bridge

Reaching the coast was our first major milestone of this adventure, the glimpse of the English Channel appeared at around mile 45 by the Seven Sisters Country Park. We crossed over the Cuckmere river, then the official route proceeded to take another off-road excursion, this time through a grass sheep field. By this point we were starting to wonder, if the route had been conceived one late night in a pub, under the influence of many adult beverages. After climbing slowly up the grassy field, we were once again back on a road, the official route took a right turn towards Seaford and Newhaven, but in front of us lay a big steep hill (only a mile detour). With new found enthusiasm again, we decided to tackle the hill on the off chance the view from the top would be worth it. Well the view from the top was more than worth it, and possibly THE standout moment of the whole trip. The view to the Seven Sisters Cliffs was unbelievable, and the sun appeared right then and there as if it was waiting for "us" to reach the coastline.

Seven Sisters

We made it to the coast

After the fun and fast descent down the hill we had taken a detour up, we were back on the official route and hugging the coast on a great separated bike lane through Seaford and then onto Newhaven, our departure point from England.

We arrived in Newhaven with a few hours to spare, so familiarized ourselves with the ferry terminal, then went on the hunt for dinner. Finding dinner in Newhaven is no easy task, about the only choices are one Italian restaurant, a Kebab shop, Pub or a Sainsbury's Petrol station. John aka The Kebab kid, opted for you guessed it, a Kebab, and soon became the envy of all the other cyclists awaiting departure. 

The Kebab Kid

Pete and myself opted for the safe bet, a Sainsbury's sandwich, after all kebabs and sharing a VERY small cabin do not always work out well. 

Checking in for the Ferry was super easy, and boarding was equally painless; you ride on, strap your bike up, and C'est Tout. Awaiting the crossing with us were a group of friendly cyclists riding for an MS charity, and a solo cyclist "Mike" riding from the UK to Croatia, check out his own Blog.

We had booked a cabin on the Ferry, thinking we'd get at least 4 hours sleep between Newhaven and Dieppe, that calculation was off by a country mile. We slogged down a Cider waiting for the ferry to depart port, then turned in for the night. My guess is we got 1.5-2 hrs sleep, before being unsuspectingly awoken by techno dance music being piped through the speakers - abruptly followed by a banging on the cabin door by a member of the crew, who we had named "Hong Kong Phooey".

Day 3 arrived VERY quickly. Link to DAY 3

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Avenue Verte - Day 1 (May Day Mayhem)

Day 1: London to East Grinstead (May 2nd, 2015)
40 miles +/-, 2000' of Elev. Gain (Click for map info)

Our journey began in earnest on the morning of May 2nd in rural Oxfordshire, under grey skies, with the ever increasing threat of rain approaching. Our panniers packed to the brim the night before, saddle and pedals in a carrier bag, and excitement in no short supply. At this stage of the journey we were just 2 strong, a native Brit from Oxfordshire (myself), and a native Floridian (Pete) - both now residents of Colorado, USA. 

We arrived at Haddenham & Thame Parkway station in plenty of time to board the 8.30am to London. To our surprise we were not the only cyclists setting off from here that morning, a large group were gathering in preparation for a charity ride to Ireland over the Bank Holiday weekend, which quickly made our trip sound easy. The train arrived on time, and to our surprise there were free seats, we were quickly London bound - the "Inseine Chain Gang" adventure was finally officially underway.

Haddenham & Thame Pkwy

Our destination in London was "On Your Bike" at London Bridge, next to Borough Market. Pete and myself had opted to rent 2 Hybrid bikes for the tour (£60/week), the 3rd member of our party (John aka the "Kebab Kid") was meeting us at the bike store on his own bike. We had a little wait until the bike store opened, so wandered around Borough market, the smell of the street food really lures you in, and it was hard to even make it further than the market on Day 1. 

On Your Bike bike shop

On Your Bike is a great little bike shop, tucked right under the arches by Southwark Cathedral. The guys promptly set us up with hybrid bikes, brand new ones no less, loaded the panniers, saddle and pedals, and spare tubes were purchased (which amazingly were never needed!).

Our first stop was not far from the bike store, but the fact it was the May Day Bank Holiday weekend, and a very popular area, meant our journey started off by pushing the bikes. The Thameside Inn was our "unofficial" starting point; what better way to toast the start of the adventure than with a pint of London Bitter and some Fish n' Chips. We had locked all our bikes to the railings of the Thames side walkway, but upon exiting the pub came our first (and really the only) slight scare. The Kebab Kid had mis-placed his keys for his lock, after much searching they miraculously appeared in his pocket; we all secretly suspected the person dressed as a Pirate next to the Golden Hind boat, had cursed the keys or something.

View over the City of London from the Thameside Inn

So 2 pints later, and full of food, we officially got under way. I had loaded maps for each days route onto an older GPS etrex, which I quickly realized would only navigate properly if the routes had a maximum of 50 waypoints (not the 250 I had used to create them - a word of warning there!). After what appeared an eternity waiting for a satellite lock, and some swearing at the non-navigational maps, we were on route to the London Eye. Our first taste of London cycling was not as bad as we had suspected by long shot (well except for Pete having to very quickly adjust to riding on the left).

At the London Eye

We arrived at the London Eye in no time, and the "official" start of the Avenue Verte trail, a quick souvenir snap courtesy of a tourist and we were off again. The route starts off by crossing the Thames twice, and includes a peculiar cycle lane in the middle of a roundabout, where a young lady was getting very frustrated by us not paying attention to the hard to see cycle crossing lights. Note: The signage through this first section is a little lacking, well frankly actually almost non-existent (look for Sustrans National Cycle network (route 20) signs, NOT Avenue Verte signage). We were heading into South London pretty quickly though, and soon onto the Wandle trail. The Wandle trail provides a nice off-road route though Greater London, and often you could mistake it for being in rural England. The May Day Bank Holiday weekend meant half of the UK was on this trail, or at least so it seemed, and a 10 mph average would of been a dream pace, but this kind of average speed we would not gain until well clear of the M25 corridor.

Along the Wandle Trail

Cycling through the London burbs had plenty of unexpected surprises: streams, open spaces, parks, cafes, historic churches and even hills steep enough to make you want to cuss. It was nice though to finally reach the English countryside, and south of the M25 we had decided to deviate from the official AV route, following NCN route 21 east then rural roads south through the villages of Bletchingley and Outwood (Great windmill here).

On top of Farthing Downs - quite a climb

Outwood Windmill

We rejoined the official route again just west of East Grinstead on the Worth WayOur overnight stop on day 1 was at Cranston House B&B in East Grinstead, easy to find if you know your way around East Grisntead, not so easy if you forget to print out directions or load it onto the GPS - thank goodness for smart phones and Google maps!!. The B&B is in a great location, walking distance to town, and even has a lockable bike shed.

Curry was on the menu for night one, washed down with lashings of Tiger beer - we were pretty happy to have made it though our first day without incident, and to have had a dry day, albeit a cloudy one.

Link to DAY 2