In a word: BRILLIANT!
In more than one word: 205 miles from Greenwich to the Eiffel Tower, wonderful countryside, quiet low traffic route, fabulous weather, good company.
If you are not a keen cyclist, that’s probably all you’ll want to read of this post! But for the sake of anyone out there in the internet world searching for info on this wonderful route, I offer the following report. (slide show of photos at the end if you’d prefer)
Sunday: we were not able to get away till 5pm from Greenwich. We stuck to the Sustrans London to Brighton route as far as New Addington (NCN Downs and Weald Cycle Routes 21 and 2) but by the time we diverted off towards Sevenoaks for a free overnight stop with Grandma we were clear of London and deeply committed to getting over the North Downs. Several very scary ups and downs just before Biggin Hill and long, long wonderful down just before Westerham told us we were over the North Downs. We got to Sevenoaks about 8.30pm just before the chip shop shut – fab! 29 miles on first day
Monday: we left Sevenoaks by 9am and headed through Weald and heaps of tiny villages and hamlets east of Tonbridge Wells. We reached Uckfield by lunch-time. I had planned the route to pass Compton Station as I still wasn’t sure I’d manage the whole day (see previous post on virus). My legs were good but my chest was wheezy. Maybe I should be sensible and not push it? I prayed for wisdom about what to do. As it turned out the station was at the bottom of a very steep hill and we whizzed past it at high speed and straight up the next hill! ‘Blow it’ I thought ‘I’ll just keep going’. By the time we made it up over the South Downs to YHA at Telescombe, we were seriously puffed. Big, big hill at the end of the day. 45 miles. Lovely hostel, self-catering and possibly the most uncomfortable bed I’ve ever slept in.
Tuesday: left hostel at 8am, supposed to be at ferry port at 8.30am for 9.30 ferry from Newhaven. Panicked after leaving remembering that I’d not checked the time for the ferry, what if it left at 8.30? We didn’t stop to check, we just steamed it all the way down hill to Newhaven, the fastest 6 miles of the whole trip! And the ferry left at 9.30am.
A four hour crossing plus one hour forward meant we weren’t getting off ferry till 2.45pm. With 45 miles to do before our overnight stop, I was seriously twitchy but knowing how hard it can be to find little shops in French villages I insisted we stop at a supermarket for food before leaving Dieppe. We had been joined by a delightful solo female cyclist called Charlotte. Lovely to have her along but that’s the last time I ever send Matt into a supermarket with an attractive blonde and instructions to buy sustenance – he came out with a bunch of bananas! Yes, just a bunch of bananas. So that was it, no lunch as such. Just 33 beautifully flat miles along the Avenue Verte to Forge les Eaux. As disused railways go it was a lot more interesting than many I’ve used in Britain as you could see lots of scenery on either side.
After stopping to eat a meal and then say goodbye to our companion, we pushed on the last 12 miles to Gournay en Bray. Went as fast as we could to try to beat the sunset but rolled into our destination about 20 minutes after sundown. Beautiful evening ride, we saw owls and deers and nothing over took us for 8 miles! Brilliant little hotel with excellent breakfast, and a safe garage to lock away the bikes. Hotel Le Cygne (http://www.lecygne.c.la/)
Our route guide was a man called Donald Hirsch, or rather a 20 page pdf produced by said enthusiast. We met several other cyclists clutching his instructions so at every tricky junctions there were cries of ‘don’t let us down now Donald!’ He didn’t. Fab instructions, you can download them from here: http://www.donaldhirsch.com/dieppeparis.html
Wednesday: Our longest day and the most beautiful, stopped at Marines for lunch and then reached the outskirts of Paris around 4pm, very busy around Triel Sur Seine so very glad to reach the first of the five forests you cycle through to reach the Eiffel Tower. Bit of a mix up in Versailles as I had booked the right hotel for the wrong night. Thankfully we found another room nearby albeit that we had to pay quite a bit more, but after 60 miles we were bushed. The young man behind the desk at the hotel Mecure refused to store our bikes inside which was a bit galling as the original hotel would have stored them safely for less money. AFTER going to bed, I decided I just would not sleep knowing our bikes were in the car park so I pulled on some clothes over my PJs and returned to the lobby ready to plead unashamedly. Thankfully the night porter had arrived by this time and he totally over-ruled the objections of the day staff and cheerfully loaded both bikes into the lift down to the cellar. Very relieved, I slept like a top.
Thursday: What a surprise – only 10 miles to go! (miscalculation on my part) Allowed ourselves a lie in and lazy breakfast. Got going at 11.45 and made slow progress because of stopping to take photos and follow the route closely. Arrived Eiffel Tower at 1.45pm. Fab!
Warning: it is VERY VERY hard to find a budget hotel willing to store bikes in Paris. Even the railway stations won’t let you leave them as left luggage and I also rang parking garages. We were just about desperate when Hooray! some friends of a friend who live in the centre of Paris kindly allowed us to park them in the underground garage below their apartment. This was a huge help. Thank you Sophie and Bruno.
We stayed in a little hotel in Les Gobelins, just south of the Latin Quarter, called Residence Les Gobelins. Very pleasant hosts. Great location, just 20 minute walk up to Notre Dame and lots of little restaurants for an evening meal.
Friday: sight-seeing (more tiring than cycling!) till 4pm then back to hotel to collect panniers then to Sophies to collect bikes. Set off at 5pm through rush hour Paris traffic to Gare du Nord, fairly hair-raising! There are bike lanes but they are also bus lanes! Eurostar home. If you want to guarantee your bike is on the same train as you, you have to pay a little more. Follow the signs for registered baggage to deliver your bike and then the Eurostar check in is on 1st floor off the station concourse (very badly sign-posted)
Arrived back in London at 8.30pm, gaining the hour, short ride to Euston station, short wait for train. Rolled off train around 11pm, met by beloved who carried our panniers home in the car leaving us to pedal the last 2 miles in joyful triumph
As I said: BRILLIANT!