I first had the idea of cycling to Bourg-la-Reine after John came back from helping with an open day at Chesterton windmill and mentioned talking to some people from Whitnash who had cycled to their French twin town of Villebon-sur-Yvette. The problem was though, how to get my bike back to Kenilworth afterwards. I’d heard stories about having to take your bike to pieces and get it into a certain size bag to take on the Eurostar, otherwise they couldn’t guarantee getting it on the same train you were booked on and I really didn’t think I could cope with that. Then hearing that the 2018 visit by KTA was going to be by coach in conjunction with the Leamington twinning association, it seemed the problem might be solved, so encouraged by our youngest son I decided if I was ever going to do it,
Saturday 26th May – Kenilworth to Oxford – 61 miles
I set off on the Bank Holiday Saturday with Sally Hicks. Initially I had only planned to cycle as far as Woodstock on my first day, but then Sally asked if she could join me as she fancied cycling to her daughter’s in Oxford. As her daughter could put us up this seemed a good plan. The day started off with a few showers but by the time we got to the halfway point at Whichford potteries it was sunny. We had a pleasant cycle through the Cotswold villages to Woodstock where we stopped for a cup of tea before the final leg on the cycle track alongside the A44 into Oxford.
Sunday 27th May – Oxford to Twyford (Berkshire) – 36 miles
During the night there were thunderstorms and the forecast for the day was not good but fortunately turned out to be wrong and it was dry all day. Sally and her daughter cycled with me to Ewelme, where we sat and had coffee by the church and alms houses watching swifts flying around the buildings. They then headed back to Oxford via the Ridgeway and I cycled on to pick up Sustrans Route 5 which turned out to be a very pleasant route, down some very narrow lanes with hardly any traffic. I cut across to the east of Reading, to cross the Thames at Sonning, where being the Bank Holiday weekend they were holding a scarecrow event. It was great fun cycling through the village spotting the many different characters. Crossing the Thames, it was not long until I arrived in Twyford, where I’d lived from 1962 -1970. I spent the afternoon cycling round looking at old haunts, surprised to find that the house we had lived in was not at the top of a steep hill as I remembered but rather at the top of a gentle slope. That night I stayed at my first ever Air B & B, a strange experience as the owner was off at a music festival in Essex but had given me the key code and left the key for his shed for me to put my bike in overnight.
Monday 28th Twyford to Cranleigh – 46½ miles
To start with I was on routes I had cycled as a teenager although I can’t say I remembered them. I stopped at Sunninghill for a late breakfast, then cycled through many villages to arrive in Guildford where, passing under the A31 I came across a strange sight of tank traps, left from the war. It seemed an odd place to expect a tank invasion. After Guildford, I made a slight detour to visit Ladywell Convent at Godalming. I had arranged to meet up there with a friend from university days. On leaving university she had joined the convent and although we had kept in touch, this was the first time I’d seen her in 42 years. She was now head of the Convent but was still the bubbly, happy person I remembered. After a tour of the buildings and tea and cake, it was onto Cranleigh for the night.
Tuesday 29th May Cranleigh to Newhaven – 50 miles
My original plan was to cycle along Sustrans route 223, an old railway track which would take me down to Brighton but my hosts in Cranleigh, who were keen cyclists, said that was not a good idea as the track was not well maintained and cycling along the south coast was not fun. They helped me plot a new route and I only used route 223 to get under the busy A24 and they were right. Route 2223 was not a surface to cycle very far on. Shortly before arriving at Partridge Green, my luck with the weather changed and I got caught in a thunderstorm and sudden deluge which turned the road to a river in seconds. There was no shelter anywhere near, so I continued into the village, hoping for a café but only finding a co-op where I bought some chocolate and stood dripping in their porch waiting for the rain to ease. When it finally did, I continued but didn’t find a café until Hassocks, but it was a combined cycle shop and café, so they were prepared for dripping wet cyclists. While there the rain finally stopped and so onto Lewes where I stopped to look round the Castle. Starting off again, I soon realised I had a puncture. After two attempts I got a new inner tube in but still suffering from the drenching, I couldn’t get it to pump up properly so I went in search of a bike shop where they very kindly helped me out and gave encouragement to continue, saying it would be an easy ride into Newhaven, which it was, being nearly all downhill. If I’d been nearer home, this is the day when I could easily have given up and rung John to fetch me.
Wednesday 30th May Dieppe to Forges-les-Eaux – 39 miles
I caught the 9am ferry expecting to meet up with other cyclists as I was now on the official “Avenue Verte”, London to Paris cycle route. As it turned out there was only one other cyclist, a young Italian. Bikes go on the ferry first so after walking up the ramp and finding where we could store them, we both decided it was time for breakfast over which we exchanged stories of being caught in the previous days’ thunderstorms. Arriving in Dieppe my guidebook to the Avenue Verte said it was difficult to find the route through the town, so the Italian suggested I followed him as he was following the route on his phone. This was a lot easier and once through the town, the route was then along an old railway track, so very easy going. I had a hotel booked at Forges-les-Eaux but he was booking ahead each day, and thought that was a bit further than he wanted to cycle so I cycled on while he started phoning round. At the hotel I went down for a meal at 8.30 pm and tried to give my order to the waitress but she wouldn’t take it. My French is not good, but I thought she said something about monsieur coming in ten minutes and to wait. So, I thought in 10 minutes she’ll realize I’m on my own and maybe would then take my order. Ten minutes later a voice behind me said “Hello again”. The Italian had been unable to find any accommodation and had remembered the name of the hotel I said I was staying at so had tried there.
Thursday 31st May Forges-les-Eaux to Villiers-en-Arthies – 65½ miles (including 6 miles going on the wrong route!)
Again, there was a huge thunderstorm in the night with heavy rain but luckily it had stopped by morning. I met the Italian at breakfast, so we decided to set off together again. It was a very pleasant cycle along country lanes through Gouray-en-Bray and the Epi Valley passing a beautiful abbey at St-Germer-de-Fly. Just before lunch there was along hill climb which I had to walk up. At the top we stopped for lunch during which he started phoning to find accommodation for that night. He was unable to find any close to the Avenue Verte so at Gisors we went off in different direction, I jokingly saying “well we’re going in the same direction tomorrow so who knows, our paths might cross again”. From Gisors, it was another stretch along an old railway line I was nearly at my destination when the rain came down and I rushed for a shelter I could see ahead. In doing that I missed a signpost so when the rain stopped, and I started off again I was going in the wrong direction, which it took me a while to realize. My accommodation that night was in the gatehouse of a chateau in a small village. The owner had said he’d shop for me as there was nowhere near for me to buy an evening meal. I’d explained I was vegetarian and when he arrived with my shopping, he had obviously had a fascinating time exploring areas of the supermarket he had not explored before. He also seemed to have catered for at least 4 people not 1. I did my best, making sandwiches for the next day and taking as many snacks as I could fit in my pannier but did have to leave some behind.
Friday 1st June Villiers-en-Arthies to Bourg-le-Reine 62 miles (Port Royal)
I knew this would be a difficult long day, so I set off early. The first part went well, but then on the edge of Cergy, it started to get harder to find the route. After a bit I stopped for a snack and to read up the next section in the book when who should come riding along the track, the Italian. We decided to join up again. There was a section through a forest and then a long section along the River Seine. After that the route got more complicated and around St Denis station felt unsafe, with refugees camping under the railway bridge and swarming around the cars when ever the lights were at red. To be fair, they didn’t approach us, but I was glad just to cycle through the area following the bike ahead and not have to stop to look for road signs. Having got through that area we were alongside the Canal-St-Denis and so stopped opposite the Stade de France for a snack before the final ride along the Avenue Verte to Notre Dame. I think we were both pleased to have got through the last section without too much problem. We wrote in each other’s diaries and I learnt that his name was Gianluca. Yes, he had told me on the first day but I wasn’t sure what he had said and didn’t like to ask twice. The final section was hard going, with pedestrians wandering across the roads, people on electric scooters weaving round us at speed and at one point the police pushing us off the road whilst a convoy of vehicles went tearing down the street but we finally made it to Notre Dame. Here we parted company, Gianluca to see the Eiffel Tower and find his hotel, saying he wasn’t then going to cycle for months and when he did another tour, he wanted a touring bike like mine. I was certainly able to go faster on my bike on the flat and uphill, but he beat me by a long way on down hills. As I said to him, you wouldn’t go that fast downhill in the UK due to all the potholes in the road. On leaving Notre Dame I found the V40 Paris to Mont St Michel cycle route which runs through Seaux park. I found the first few signs but then got lost around the Luxembourg Gardens and finished up at a huge road junction. Looking at my map to try and find out where I was, another cyclist stopped and asked if he could help. Fortunately, he spoke good English. I explained where I was going, and he replied that I could follow the main road I was on and it would take me about an hour to get to Bourg-le-Reine. Or, as I looked tired, why didn’t I cross the road with him to Port Royal Station and there I could catch the train which would take me there in 20 minutes. By then it was 6.20pm and knowing the coach with everyone else was due to arrive at 7pm, I decided to take his advice and took the train so didn’t quite cycle all the way!
In total I cycled 360 miles and had I not met up with the Italian cyclist again on the last day I wonder how I would have got on. I would certainly have been a lot slower through Paris, so I’m very grateful that he was happy to cycle with a woman old enough to be his Mum. I would like to think that he felt it was safer too and it did mean he could go to McDonalds on the last day for his lunch as I could look after his bike while I ate my packed lunch. I still wonder why I thought cycling in Paris would be okay when I wouldn’t dream of cycling in London.
Membre de la KTA, Rhoda, avec son mari John, fait partie des piliers les plus actifs et les plus fidèles du Jumelage entre Bourg-la-Reine et Kenilworth.
Pour ceux dont le tailleur est riche, mais l’anglais est pauvre …