Me, four blokes and my bike
London, UK – Calais, Fr – Bruges, Be – Rotterdam, Nl – London, UK, June 2009, 370 miles
“We’ll get a big group together and cycle to Holland. It’s flat on the continent and easy riding. It’ll be loads of fun. We’ll stop lots for food and beer, and we’ll have a rest day in Bruges. Go on, you’ll love it.”
That’s how I got sucked into bike touring. The way Paddy sold it sounded like fun. We’d spend a week of our 2009 summer holidays with friends ambling along the European coast of the North Sea. Sure the days would be long – 60 to 80 miles, but I had plenty of time to train and anyway, it’s flat on the continent. I was in.
Cycling with boys is tough, I discovered. They are faster than girls – they have those powerful man legs. They don’t have girlie metabolisms or sugar levels that drop suddenly. They also like to talk about boy things – constantly. These are all lovely blokes, but they were my greatest challenge of the trip.
The first day’s ride from London to Dover was hilly and pedalling along the A2 was hairy. However, the cycling on the continent was, as promised, flat and ambling. At one point we were all truly perturbed to have to cycle over a bridge.
The route is sign posted all the way and easy to follow as long as you avoid French towns, where you circle endless roundabouts. It takes in quiet country roads, canal paths and races through the countries. We started in France on day two and then crossed into Belgium for a stopover to explore the stunning city of Bruges.
There are other cycle tourists around on route, but in lycra we stood out from the locals, whose bikes amazed us. They carried children, animals and shopping on an array of bikes and made it look glamorous and effortless.
At least we were faster than them as we headed on to the Netherlands for our final stop before cycling to the Hook von Holland and the ferry back to Harwich. We struggled to work out how to get across the river in Rotterdam until realising you can take your bike on an escalator to cycle underneath it. Not the safest idea.
For our final leg from Harwich into the City it was back to the hills and no signposts, a shock after the luxury of the North Sea Cycle Route. But we made it back to London in good time to Tower Bridge where we’d started a week earlier.
We celebrated in a bar and starting planning where we’d go next year. I had, it seemed, fallen for bike touring. Oh well, there’s worse things in life!