London to Paris- Day One- Unlucky 13

Discussion in 'Member's Travelogues' started by jonny jeez, 23 Sep 2014.


    A chance to reunite (in lycra) with nearly all of my Lejog pals was too good an opportunity to pass up and so at 11.00 on a beautiful September year since we all pedalled across Great Britain...we are each stood at the London Eye in Waterloo ready for a 300 mile ride to Paris.

    This time there are no first-time nerves, none of the awkwardness of unfamiliarity, we know each other well now and have all bonded since our shared experience a year ago. Some of us have continued to ride, some not so much and one or two (Craig the whippet) have gone on to complete amazing cycling achievements.

    The day started with some initial disappointment, on the train ride to Waterloo, we received word that Bryan had gone down with a viral infection and would no longer be joining us. As Bryan was to be our support for the ride, (driving the catering van, setting up lunch and tea stops and generally ensuring all of our gear is ferried from one place to another) this was a blow.

    However in an amazing last minute show of reorganisation and sacrifice, Andy (of the comedy Horn) chose to train it to Barnes, pick up the van, collect Bryan's Son, Ben and swap roles for the weekend, giving up his chance to ride to ensure that the rest if us didn't have to as well.

    Well done Andy and thanks to Ben too for stepping up at such short notice.

    Thanks to Maria's diligent planning we all met as arranged and loaded up the van. Shuffled about a bit, shared a few jokes and eventually set off across the broken glass strewn streets of central London.

    Progress was slow, with 12 riders each trying to stick to the one in front through traffic jams, congestion, roundabouts and busy junctions until we worked our way out of Vauxhall, Clapham and tooting and into the relativly quiet streets Coulsden before heading straight south.

    For the most part we are following the route set out by Donald Hirsch

    That takes us on a quietish ride from London to the ferry town of Newhaven from where we plan to take the overnight ferry to Dieppe, catching our first nights sleep in private cabins on board.

    The ride went well without rain or headwind and we wound our way through Surrey and west Sussex to our first lunch stop at the top of Turners hill.

    As we crested the hill onto the village green we were met with the splendid sight of Andy and Ben's lunch stop, set out on the green and adorned with bunting and golden faced balloons.

    We were all terrifically hungry and filled ourselves on hot soup, bread rolls, pasta bake, chocolate , pudding pots and all manner of snacks and drinks. There were food heaters, hobs, tables, bins, plates, cutlery...everything we needed. it was an amazing spread cobbled together by the now absent Bryan and fully appreciated by each of us.

    Maria doing her bit for the Stroke awareness campaign

    The too tempting assortment of food and goodies made for a much longer stop than was planned but eventually, with bloated stomachs we mounted our bikes and headed off along the undulating hills through Crawley Downs and onto Newhaven.
    The Donald Hirsch Route takes you across mostly small country lanes, some of which follow the classic London to Brighton route, winding off occasionally to track across to Newhaven and sometimes just to take in sights like Coulsden common

    Coupled with this quiet route, the unfamiliarity of riding together made the going slower than average and this gentle pace afforded an opportunity to chat and get to know the newer members of the group. The weather was kind without a hint of wind and despite a warm temperature, the sun was filtered by covering clouds.. perfect riding conditions.

    After a slightly longer than expected first leg we found ourselves dropping on a long swooping descent into Newhaven, with the surprise bonus (to those who are used to a Brighton route) of missing the south downs entirely.

    By 8.00 we were sat in the Ark pub, Newhaven, enjoying beers, some dubious pub fare and waiting for dark when we would slip onto the late ferry to Dieppe.

    Embarkation of the ferry was pretty straightforward despite the amount of luggage and gear we needed to move about. The passport control office was accommodating and customs passed up the opportunity of searching 12 sweaty cyclists in favour of waving us past and onto the ferry.


    Whilst the ferry offerd us smooth sailing (from within the darkness of our cabin the sense of movement was almost undetectable) it didnt come without its drawbacks. No sooner had we bedded down and dropped of to snatch the much needed 3 hours sleep that the crossing provided, than we were awoken with a prolonged health and safety French and English.

    To shorten the availability of sleep still further, we found ourselves fighting against the rotation of the planet and losing an hour in time difference. The result was that, after finally settling down just after midnight, we were awoken again at 2.30 for disembarkation.

    Today our numbers dropped from unlucky 13 to a now sweaty and Dirty Dozen, tomorrow would be a long day, with an extremely early start...starting in total darkness.
    Last edited: 24 Sep 2014
    Dave 123, Crackle, Brandane and 7 others like this.
  2. OP
    jonny jeez

    jonny jeez Guru

    Day Two- Dark Times

    Rolling off the ferry at daft o'clock in the morning was a shock to the system. Tiredness made us feel cold and faced with the surrounding mist and darkness, everyone set about layering up in preparation for the gloomy cold ride ahead.

    However, as we stepped off the ferry we quickly realised that it wasn't at all cold, it was fact it was pretty hot. Hot enough to work up a sweat just moving about. Despite the dark and the chilly looking fog, it was close to 16 degrees and warming every minute.

    Without the privacy of our cabins many of us took to the nearest bush to strip off bib tights and swap for shorts. At the last moment an illuminated toilet was spotted and the passing truck drivers entertainment was cut short as those in need scuttled off to the loo's to change.

    Whilst some swapped clothing, I was busy swapping out the tube on my rear tyre that was starting to show signs of a slow puncture, it made sense to take a pre-emptive strike on this puncture before it took hold some-place on the dark foggy main roads of Dieppe and the lights of the dock proved as good a place as any.

    After stocking up on fruit, drink and nerves from the Ben and Andy (Bendy) Wagon, we set off into the pitch dark to climb the long hill out of the dock.

    The darkness served to shelter our appreciation from the true gradient and proportions of this first climb out of Dieppe; and after a chest busting slog, even hotter now, we all reached the top to be greeted with a main road where we stopped to catch our breath, washed in the luxury of sodium street-lights once more.

    The route out of Dieppe is a little counter-intuitive, at times feeling as if we had backtracked and returned to the coast on the D485, The streetlights came and went without logic, plunging us back and forth into pitch black. This, the time of day, lack of sleep and the speed of descents added to a general confusion that matched the foggy roads. The remedy was to faithfully follow the glowing line set out on the Garmin and pedal on into intermittent darkness.


    The hills started to level out and the road became predictably straight, on the horizon to our left. the sky began to turn a dark shade of blue...dawn was approaching.

    We pedalled on and the group began to break up as we each found our own way of dealing with the sensory deprivation of night riding. In the distance the lead group spotted flashing lights and were soon at the scene of an early morning crash. A driver had inexplicably driven off the road into an unforgiving fence post and was receiving attention from a passer by, blue lights flashed on the navy horizon and so we pushed on confident that professional help was on its way.

    Unfortunately we hadn't given a thought to the following group who, upon reaching the scene of the crash, expected the worse and assumed that some of the lead group were involved in the accident. We all eventually met again in a well lit lay-b, sharing our relief at finding ourselves all in one piece. After a short while, we moved off once more, instinctively drawing back together into a secure group.

    Dawn broke fast and within a matter of minutes we were once again riding in daylight, surrounded by low mists that made delicate work of enveloping the views to the side of the road.


    The grass began to attract the mist which converted to a heavy dew, dropping the temperature to a slight chill but feeling twice as cold. In the chilly light, our speed increased, allowing our body temperatures to compensate for the dropping temperatures.


    At around 5.30 just outside Neufchatel we gathered to seek out a breakfast stop and found ourselves in a truck stop at the side of the road on the junction of the D928 and D915. But this was a french truck stop were drivers ate jam and bread while sipping fry-ups to be had made a pleasant change and once more, we happily stayed far longer than we should have.


    Eventually re-mounting and re-layering against the surprising drop in temperature, we shuffled out of the cafe. There was talk of riding on into the pretty and now close town of Neufchatel but with a diversion of approximately 7 miles (there and back) it was decided that other pretty towns would surely sit closer to our route along the way. We rejoined the D915 and headed off towards the town of Gournay en Bray...focussing already on our lunch stop


    The main roads in France are so much better to ride on than in the UK, they are not only well built with smooth predictable tarmac but are swept clean with no roadside (or centre) residue of loose gravel, glass and other assorted detritus. However, as a yin to that yang, they are also prosaically really straight. I'd experienced long straight roads whilst riding in Belgium but these weren't just straight, they were hilly too.


    The cocktail of daylight and now straight roads served to illustrate the hills ahead with a constant reminder of the ups and downs that were to come as we undulated along to the town of Gournay De Bray. The light grew stronger, the mists cleared and we picked up our pace. At times were tracking along at an impressive 25mph, each taking turns to lead the group and allow the rest to draft behind. It was good riding and the hills, whilst advertised on the horizon for miles, were munched up . After some impressive drafting and spinning, we hit the town of Gournay en Bray and nearly missed the Bendy Wagon lunch stop, spotting the bright colourful bunting and smiling moustachioed balloons just in time.

    Snoozing on the soft grass and overeating seemed to be the order of lunch and after another long stop (what was the rush after all?) we eventually set off in search of loo's at the locally advertised MacDonalds

    The Sun was now fully awake and began to hit us hard, soon the temperature had risen to 26 degrees and was accompanied by one of the longest, winding uphill sections of road that I have not experienced since climbing Shap Fell, in Cumbria. It went on so long that pretty soon we had adjusted to the constant climbing as a new way of life and just got on with it.

    Almost by surprise we found ourselves harvesting all of our hard work as we peaked the summit and then swooped downhill, rushing through tall maze fields, farmers busying themselves with their own harvesting on either side of us.

    After such long climb and with our lunches fully worked off, we relished the down hill, wheels buzzing and cranks stationary for an infeasibly long way until we rode into the town of Bachivillers turning right across open fields towards the Hotel Granges.


    We had ridden 130 miles broken by 2 hours sleep (for some) and had made it to our destination for the night, the splendid Hotel Granges at Haillancourt.

    After showers, carbs, beer and more carbs we settled in the garden for alfresco dining, chat and more than a few well earned laughs.



    It was an excellent days riding, with some lifetime experiences earnt along the way and the quality and comfort of the hotel felt like a perfect reward.
    Last edited: 24 Sep 2014
    Dave 123, Crackle, Brandane and 6 others like this.
  3. OP
    jonny jeez

    jonny jeez Guru

    Day three- Peekaboo

    Today was our last days ride and pretty soon we would be swapping the clean, country air for the congested streets of Paris.

    Or so we thought.

    After a slight delay fettling with gears and outfits we set out across open flat countryside.


    France felt a lot more French today. The main roads had given way to smooth rolling lanes that swept through the middle of vast well stocked fields. It was warm but not uncomfortably hot and the wind had left us to get on with it.

    With so much more agricultural space available we were struck by how large the farms were compared those in the UK, stretching for miles at a time and ending in less defined areas of scrub rather than abruptly at a hedgeside. There was land to spare and so, inevitabley, spare land all around.

    It all added to the sense of openness and we were visited by so few cars that at times, we forgot that we were riding on roads at all and at times, were so busy chatting that we had to scuttle to the side of the road on the rare occasion that the last rider called out "CAR UP!"

    Small towns were starting to appear but seemed unoccupied and deserted, nothing in these inland areas of France seems to get moving much before 10.30 and so we rode on through picturesque ghost towns in search of a 30 mile coffee stop.

    At the elevated village of Mairie we struck black gold and found a patisserie and a coffee shop within a few buildings of each other. The patisserie was guarded over by an unimpressed ginger tom, sat on a throne of pampas. He stared at us as if we were the 100th lycra clad riders to take pictures of him already that day.

    we took pictures all the same.

    seemed a shame not to.


    Riding on through more fields interspersed with small villages (each starting to busy up with the bustle of day to day life) we moved along at a good pace, sticking together up the long hills and swooping drops.

    we were aware that, at some point we would stop climbing and descend with a cliff edge drop down to the banks of the Seine. The distance to the "drop" became the hot topic of conversation when Vajrin happened to mention its exact distance away. I was intrigued to know how he knew with such accuracy and he promptly went on to instruct me on yet another glorious function of my beloved Garmin that I was totally unaware of.

    I spent the next two miles giggling at the thought of knowing exactly what incline and decline was ahead and sat back and reeled it all in.

    We met the "drop" with eager anticipation and the group shot down at breakneck speed.

    A while ago, whilst riding with many of the same riders, I inadvertently took the group up a tortuous hill without any need, only to have to stop at the top and send us all back down. The irony of this misadventure wasn't lost on me today... as I watched the last rider speed off down the "drop" the wrong direction, missing the planned left turn and heading off in blissful ignorance.

    A small shiver crept over my spine and I hurriedly scanned the screens of my Garmin hoping that the impact of this diversion would not result in a climb back UP the "drop"

    I was in luck, about half a mile later the "proper" route seemed to rejoin the diversion and so I span on with my fingers crossed and headed down to the Seine to meet the others.

    At the bottom we regrouped...back on course and crossed the wide flat river in search of our lunch stop.

    The Velo-Gods were with us that morning, as for the second time that day,we diverted from our route as we hit the banks of the river.The Seine had called to us like a siren and tempted us to follow its banks, whereas the Garmin screamed a different tone to shove us back on track. Matt decided that although the charming riverside path that i was keen to follow was close to the planned route, for the sake of potential missing lunch (which was impossible as lunch want for another 8 miles) we should back track and stay on mission.

    With a shrug and a tut I gave in and followed the group 20 feet back to a small underpass, through which we could immediately see, sat at the side of the road, the Bendy wagon ...and our lunch.

    close one!

    Perhaps I should give up this navigation lark!!

    Ben and Andy had outdone themselves with our last lunch stop location.. Set against the high flint walls of the Chateau De Medan on a small, gravel square. Even the local Mayor came out to welcome us.

    It was by now so hot in the sun that we each crammed into the limited shade of the high wall and stuffed ourselves on the last of the food and drink.

    Tired, fed and with only 30 or so miles to go, we prepared ourselves to enter the urban jungle of Paris and set off.

    Thing is though, Paris just doesn't work that way. Instead of busier and busier streets we headed off into woodland along firetrap roads, rode around parkland on smooth tarmac and rarely hit main roads or even houses for the next 20 miles.


    As we passed the enormous entrance gate for the Palace of Versailles, My Garmin told us that we were close...but once more we headed off again into sun speckled parkland

    This was starting to become worrying, whilst the rest of the group rode on and enjoyed the vast smooth private and car free roads, I became increasingly worried that we were getting lost.

    We were by now only 4 miles (allegedly) from the centre of Paris and instead of growing busy and congested, we seemed to be entering into wooded countryside.

    As the meters clicked away I grew more and more uneasy until we hit some sort of raised park with roundabouts manicured roads... and people, lots and lots of people. I started to relax and finally when a Kindly French chap suggsted we should all ride for 3 minutes along a quiet park lane to enjoy the view, I was rewarded with.

    My First view of Paris...and our destination the "Toure Eiffell".

    And as importantly, from this elevated position one more thing stood out to me....It was all downhill from here.

    The park road took us around the Hippodrome Lanchamps racecourse and ...finally...on into the centre of Paris where the parkland heroically succumbed to cobble and kerb stones.



    With little more than a mile of truly urban Paris riding we were rewarded with our first up close and personal view of the Tower as it played peekaboo from behind tall trees.

    Moments later we were again crossing the Seine and riding under the wrought Iron legs of our destination.


    After three days of riding, over two countries and through two capital cities, we were here.

    And what a fantastic sight to welcome us.
    Last edited: 24 Sep 2014
  4. Brilliant write up and photos, thanks very much for taking the time and trouble to share it with us all.
    crdf and jonny jeez like this.
  5. roadrash

    roadrash cycle chatterer

    Fantastic write up with great photos , i enjoyed that ^_^
    jonny jeez likes this.
  6. Fubar

    Fubar Guru

    Brilliant write-up, thanks for sharing - cool photos too, what camera did you use and what kind of effect is that? (I know nothing of cameras...)
    jonny jeez likes this.
  7. Keith Oates

    Keith Oates Janner

    Penarth, Wales
    I also enjoyed the read so a big thank you for that !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    jonny jeez likes this.
  8. OP
    jonny jeez

    jonny jeez Guru

    just my tusty phone camera. All my blogs are recorded on it, its a windows Nokia 925 and coupled with the inbuilt editing software it has proven to be the best snap camera i have ever used.
    Fubar likes this.
  9. Fubar

    Fubar Guru

    Some really nice light and filtering :becool:
    jonny jeez likes this.
  10. OP
    jonny jeez

    jonny jeez Guru

    Fubar likes this.
  11. Great read @jonny jeez - thanks for taking the time to write it up.

    Sounds like a great trip!
    jonny jeez likes this.
  12. crdf

    crdf Well-Known Member

    That looks like an amazing trip! Me so envious!
    jonny jeez likes this.
  13. Snizzlepops

    Snizzlepops Active Member

    Thanks. This is really useful as I am considering doing London to Paris for next summer, to eventually build up to LEJOG/JOGLE - You're blogs are most inspiring and useful :okay:
  14. StuartG

    StuartG slower but further

    SE London
    Hi @jonny jeez - do you realise you achieved the impossible - to find a civilised way into Paris!

    So may times agreat ride through France has been mitigated by the last 20 miles. Please, please do you have a GPX of the last day? Im trying to persuade my club to go up the Seine from Rouen so that would look an ideal entry route.

    BTW I recognised your town square with the worst coffee cafe I have ever tasted anywhere this September. Hope you didn't stop!

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