My parents (Ken & Rosemary) are without doubt lovers of the great outdoors and have always been up for a challenge, must be where I get it from.
Although they tend to prioritise walking over cycling, climbing 50 Munros by the time they turned 50, they have completed a few short cycle tours over recent years including a self supported discovery with us along the entire 100 miles of off road trails that make up the South Downs Way. This is a guest blog by them on their latest, greatest and first international cycle adventure with the additional aim of raise life changing funds for The Turbo Trust (click here for their JustGiving page where you can still donate). Enjoy and please do post any questions or comments down below.
“Ken always said he would take me to Paris and now he has – by bike!
We read about the Avenue Verte route, got the handy Sustrans book, updated our bikes to something more suitable (thanks to Andy, Gumtree and the good folks at BikeULike), booked our tickets and set off.
Day 1 – London to Redhill – 28 miles
We loved our mini adventure, although our first half hour in London had its challenges! Crossing our first road, Rosemary’s rack slid off backwards! Fortunately we fixed it easily, as the screws were still there. London traffic was a shock to the system – too much, too busy, road works and confusion – but we got to the London Eye for the start of our trip.
“The next mishap was when Rosemary’s side bag (with phone and money) unknowingly fell off.
Thanks are owed to the kind lorry driver who hooted and waved and the city worker who rescued the bag! From then on, with the bag now secure to Ken’s rack, all went well. We crossed and re-crossed the Thames and cycled through parks, before settling onto the Wandle Trail and National Cycle Route 20.
This section meandered through housing estates and riverside, with occasional detours to track down the route. We passed through the lovely gardens of Morden Hall, where we conveniently used the conveniences. Eventually, heading uphill, we were suddenly out of London and onto country lanes with far reaching views.
Shortly after this we enjoyed a steep downhill run into Coulsdon and, very handily, Jo and Mike’s place (our daughter and son-in-law). We stopped to off-load the bags before cycling up the beautiful Farthing Down, some more country lanes and another speedy downhill stretch taking us over the M25 and our first sighting of Avenue Verte signs just before Redhill.
We returned by train from Redhill for a great BBQ/Braai and a comfortable night with Mike and Jo.
Day 2 – Redhill to Newhaven – 32 miles
We caught the train back to Redhill and took Route 20 through suburbs (with a stop at a bike shop to replace a broken bottle cage) before branching off onto Chris Smith’s route. Did we miss a turning? Where exactly were we? At the crucial moment an angel in the guise of a walker appeared, map in hand – which confirmed we had just missed our route. Picking it up, we found ourselves passing – and being passed by – London to Brighton runners!
It was a pleasure to relax and eat lunch, with good coffee and steam train enthusiasts, as the countryside sidled smoothly past.
Well rested, we remounted at Sheffield Park and biked on through pretty country lanes to the surprisingly hilly town of Lewes (famous for its bonfire night celebrations). Here we met several other cyclists heading for the ferry at Newhaven. On board we had a comfortable four hours sleep before arriving in France.
Day 3 – Dieppe to Gournay – 51 miles
Setting off in the early hours we tagged along with other cyclists through the sleepy town of Dieppe in the predawn dark, but once on the Avenue Verte we were soon on our own, enjoying the dawn chorus and cocks crowing as the sun rose to a hot day.
We past chateaux, deserted villages and bustling small towns.
This part of the Avenue Verte was easy cycling, along a rail trail for much of the time, with some rolling countryside and a couple of hills as we finally approached Gournay.
Arriving early afternoon, and not due at our first WarmShowers hosts until evening, we dozed in the shady town square and enjoyed pots of tea and coffee at a nearby café who kindly recharged our dead phone.
We hung around for a while until eventually our hosts arrived home – only to find we were not expected! Whoops!! (ProTip: book WarmShowers in advance, but always get back in contact and double check closer to the time).
“A quick prayer and a patisserie soon solved the problem.
A local hotel found us a room, we ate our first French meal at a restaurant across the road, then slept exhausted but contented.
Day 4 – Gournay to Chaussy – 39 miles
Cycling in France was a pleasure, with smooth, well signed and very quiet roads for most of the way. The route is popular, so there were always a few cyclists around and Avenue Verte signs to follow. The route is being added to and a new stretch of rail trail now runs from Gournay (signed to Beauvais) parallel to the N31, avoiding the Auchy hills.
Leaving the trail to head for the picturesque St-Germer-de-Fly, we passed a group of cyclists checking their maps
“How do we know where to go if we don’t know where we are?”
Shortly after, we had a photo stop at the lovely old abbey and again for a stork nesting on top of a pylon.
The morning ride took us high up onto the plateau above the Epte valley, cycling on narrow, traffic-free country lanes, past fields and quiet farms; then a wonderful fast down hill section through woodland back down towards the riverside.
The morning countryside contrasted to our lunch stop in the bustling historic town of Gisors, with its abbey and castle. We could have stayed longer but only had time for lunch in a friendly café, relaxing outside over a ‘prix fixé’ three course meal – fulfilling one of our requirements of the trip (and for much less than we’d pay in the UK!).
We soon rejoined the Avenue Verte rail trail, beside the River Epte, traffic free and with plenty of families enjoying the outdoors. Ken practiced his French with one family, and the father enjoyed showing his kids he could speak English with us. We reached Bray-et-Lu surprisingly quickly, so settled down for a quiet read in the sun at an ‘11th November 1918’ memorial garden. Our guest house for the night, run by Gaelle and Oliver, was in the pretty village of Chaussy, just a little further up the road.
We arrived in time for a shower and cider in their sunny garden, while Gaelle kindly put our washing in for us.
“We were both surprised how far we could cycle in a day and still feel good.
In fact we realised we could complete the trip with days to spare, but then holidays are for taking time rather than rushing and we were certainly not in the race game. Things were going well and we enjoyed an evening planning our next day and emailing our next WarmShowers hosts to ensure they were still expecting us.
Day 5 – Chaussy to Poissy – 29 miles
What a lovely cycle through the gentle agricultural landscape of the Vexin, a Parc Naturel Regional. We wandered through more ‘deserted’ villages, past fields, on lanes and more quiet roads.
In later discussions in Paris, the general comment was on the depopulation of the region as folks leave for jobs in the cities.
We stopped at Théméricourt for lunch, in the grounds of the Museum of the Vexin, our second beautiful chateau of the day.
Here Ken found toilets in the crypt!
After leaving the Avenue Verte we headed down the D22 on Donald Hirsch’s route towards Paris. The countryside became urbanised as we neared the river, but we enjoyed the thrilling downhill ride into Thiel-sur-Seine. We were very grateful for Donald’s detailed directions which helped us navigate the bridge system –
“and for the French foresight in providing wide enough road edges on dual carriageways to safely walk back along when you miss your turning!
Once across the river we were at first on a riverside lane, passing shacks and allotments, which later changed to large gothic-style homes of the 19thC rich. We passed this ancient ‘launderette’
before stopping in a lively square full of children just out of school, to enjoy an ice cream in the sun and check our maps before our final few miles into the busy town of Poissy. We soon found our hosts for the night and were warmly welcomed into the family home, given a feast of a meal and shared good conversation in halting French/English. Now we were really nearing our destination, with open fields and country behind us and all of Paris ahead.
Day 6 – Poissy to Surenes – 23 miles
On our own once more, shortly before Versailles, we were a bit wary when the map took us onto a dual carriageway once more, but relaxed once we realised we were in a cycle lane (can’t imagine it in the UK).
“We enjoyed parts of Versailles gardens before being commanded to ‘Go’ by a guard as it turned out bikes were not allowed!
But we explored the extensive Park, passed Marie Antoinette’s house and sat in the sun by the boating pond for the afternoon.
Eventually time was pressing us to leave this lovely park and we set off amongst city traffic, but we coped with it and were soon entering yet more parks.
We lost our final directions to our host for the night, but knowing he lived near the highest point of Surenes we somehow found it. After another lovely French meal, homemade beer and chat, he took us to an exceptional viewpoint overlooking Paris, with our first sight of the Tower Eiffel floodlit in the distance. Here we shared the room with a python and a boa constrictor snake!
Day 7 – Surenes to Eiffel Tower – 4 miles
In the other direction was the Île-de-France with its own definitive towers.
Our host warned us not to try to cycle until after we had crossed the river, as in rush-hour traffic it is quicker to walk!
After crossing the Seine, Ken spotted this morning traffic jam!
We cycled past the Hippodrome, keeping well out the way of speeding packs!
“We coped well with the cobbled streets, noisy city traffic and cycle lanes – then suddenly journey’s end: le Tour d’ Eiffel towered before us like a filigree finger of steel.
We had done it!
Elated, we spent the rest of the day enjoying Paris in the sunshine, seeing the Arc de Triomphe; lunching in the gardens; relaxing outside Notre Dame Cathedral, where
“the police band gave a lovely concert with street dancing around the fountains in the city square.
Our host for our last night, who was conveniently near to the station, treated us to home-made pasta and an evening of wide ranging conversation, before Euro Star whisked us home in a flash the following day. Around two hundred and sixteen miles of brilliant weather, good company, French food and no punctures – what a super adventure!
Quelle bonne vacances!