London to Paris
About six weeks ago a work friend and I decided it would be a great idea to hop on our bikes after work one evening and ride them until we got to Paris.
Our plan had several merits, chief amongst these being its simplicity. We would ride in to town on a thursday morning and, after a day’s work, would spin down to Newhaven in the evening sun to catch the ferry to Dieppe. The next morning would see us, eager and refreshed, cruising across northern France to arrive triumphant in Paris.
Inspired by how easy making this plan had been, we booked tickets for the ferry (“we won’t need cabins, let’s just doze in the chairs”), booked rooms in a Paris hotel and engaged Parcel Force to deliver some clothes out ahead of us.
The day of departure came around surprisingly quickly and, sure enough, I soon found myself throwing a leg over my ’94 Vigorelli for the English part of the trip. Of all the decision making required, the bike choice was certainly easiest. The gently rolling terrain ahead of us was ideally suited to riding fixed wheel and the Mercian is the best bike I own for covering a decent distance.
The trip down to Newhaven went exactly as planned. After the usual drag riding out of London we soon found ourselves rolling along mile after mile of beautiful sun-dappled Sussex lanes with a particular highlight being a traction engine parked outside a very tempting looking pub... sadly we felt it would be prudent to get to the coast before having a beer!
Twilight met us as we began to approach the coast with a chill mist rolling in off the sea. A quick visit to Sainsbury’s ensued for supplies before we boarded the ferry for the all too brief trip to France.
We soon decided that forgoing a cabin was an error. The seats, albeit reclining, were almost impossible to get to sleep in - even with the assistance of a beer. We both managed to doze for a while but after what felt like a deceptively short time we were dashing to the toilet to slap on more chamois cream before being thrown off the ferry in France.
Pulling away from customs and into a deserted Dieppe made us realise that, just possibly, the trip wasn’t going to be quite as easy as we’d imagined. It was 5am, pitch black and rather chilly. We’d hardly slept and already had 60 odd miles in our legs from only a few hours earlier. The was also the small matter of 130 miles separating us from the Eiffel Tower.
The plan was to join the Avenue Verte just outside Dieppe (following the excellent Donald Hirsch route - http://www.donaldhirsch.com/dieppeparis.html). For those that don’t know, the Avenue Verte is a disused railway that has been turned into a cycle path and runs for approximately 30 miles to Forges-les-Eaux where we planned to breakfast. Our enthusiasm was damped somewhat when Schalk got the first puncture within 100 yards of joining the cycle path. Shortly after we were dampened further by a thunderstorm during which I decided, sympathetically, to get a puncture as well. The Avenue Verte was very pleasant but once the novelty of riding past old signals and through disused stations wore off, we began to find it rather repetitive and were relieved to get to Forges-les-Eaux for some strong coffee and obligatory pastries.
After breakfast the sun came out and spirits lifted along with it. Our jerseys began to dry out and our tires stayed inflated. Buoyed by our success we pulled into Gourney-en-Bray to dry out our gear in the centre of town, much to the amusement of some bemused locals.
From Gournay-en-Bray we rode 35 miles on to Marines where we planned to stop for lunch. The conditions were fantastic and the terrain likewise as we cruised past enumerable wheat fields along almost deserted roads. We occasionally caught up with other people riding to Paris, most of whom were sensibly taking their time to enjoy the experience. The legs weren’t feeling too bad but mental tiredness was definitely beginning to catch up at this point.
Marines was a very welcome stop where the dual pronged attack of spaghetti carbonara and beer took care of our hunger. After twenty minutes sitting in the sun we felt ready to take on the final 40 miles.
We soon found ourselves in the urban sprawl that extends so far to the west of Paris and before long came the nasty realisation that the Donald Hirsch route, so good to us until that point, was not going to work for our bikes. The route dived off down forest tracks we didn’t feel up to traversing, especially after our earlier punctures, and were soon having to navigate on the hoof - poor planning on my part
not to have investigated the route more thoroughly.
not to have investigated the route more thoroughly.
Nevertheless, with the clock approaching 7pm local time, we found ourselves underneath the Eiffel Tower almost exactly 24 hours after leaving London. We were tired, hungry and mud splatted but elated. The trip really is a great experience and I’d heartily recommend it - either in one go or as a more leisurely trip over a few days.
We got back on our bikes for an agonizing few miles to the hotel for a quick shower before getting straight back out for steaks and beer. Fully refueled we gave in and headed to bed.
In the early hours of the next morning Paris was hit by one of the most severe storms in its history. Gale force winds and torrential rain battered the buildings as a large electrical storm engulfed the city, with lightning striking the Eiffel Tower three times. I didn’t hear a thing.
Thank you so much Tim for your great write up and pictures