Simply said, the London to Paris bike ride was one of the best things I have ever done!
The idea for the London to Paris was conceived in May 2009, not giving us as long to train as much we would have liked, but the hard work that went in to planning the trip was certainly worth it.
Apart from existing injuries to Dave's ankle and my knee as well as issues towards the end with navigation, overall the trip went smoothly and far too quickly in my opinion – in many ways I would have been happy for the trip to continue much longer.
Apple and I started out early from home, leaving our little ones with my parents and getting our bikes onto the tube with our eyes still half open. We arrived into London with that feeling of excited nervousness as we got on our bikes and cycled to the start line at Marble Arch in London.
Once there we were greeted by a good friend Omar Musa, who even on his day off from work made his way into central London to see us off and take some photos of this momentous event (momentous for us that is!!).
Minutes later Ed and Dave arrived. The reality had finally hit us, there was 200 miles between us and Paris and there was no way out of it now. After a few quick goodbyes, some photos and video away we went.
The route getting out of central London was stress free even with the very busy morning traffic. We decided to pass through Wimbledon common to get a break from the roads, and then before we knew it we had reached the M25.
Wanting to keep moving we continued to head south through Letherhead and onto Dorking where we took a short break at a glamorous petrol station, which turned out to be a continuing destination for our breaks. Cycling through the pain, we got to Shoreham-By-Sea and then Brighton much earlier than expected only to be greeted with lots of sunshine and warm temperatures. The early arrival mean't that we could reward ourselves with a much longer break than we had planned.
Having previously completed this part of the trip by car, we knew what was remaining ahead of us. Building up the mental stamina as we sit there eating fish and chips (why not!) we finally set off and overcome hill after hill before arriving into Newhaven just before sunset.
We straight away checked in to The Premier Inn, Newhaven, who were kind enough to let us store our bicycles in our room, had a quick shower and then went and had a well earned dinner at the attached Brewars Fayre restuarant to replace all the calories burned getting there. Feeling exhausted, yet very pleased with ourselves we immediately fell into a deep sleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow.
With day one out of the way, which was to be our longest day by far, we were confident of success as we sat their eating as much as we could for breakfast. As each of us mounted our bicycles, an “arrrggghhhhh” sound immediately followed. Even with all of our training over the last few months, saddle sore had already got us. We left for the ferry port 45 minutes before our 09:30 departure and cycled onto the ferry for our 4 hour journey over to Dieppe. You can view the Transmanche ferry timetable from Newhaven to Dieppe here.
This part of the journey seemed to drag a bit, which was not so good for Dave who suffers from sea sickness, but I think we all appreciated the rest time it gave us. Already hungry again once we'd arrived (well it was around 2pm), we passed through the border checks and got to the town centre and a very traditional looking restaurant for lunch. Shocked at the prices (the Pound/Euro exchange rate was terrible) we got through lunch and we were on our way out of Dieppe following the signs for the start of Avenue Verte or Green Way as it is translated.
After a few directions from the locals, we were soon on the great Avenue Verte and enjoying the traffic free route through some stunning French countryside. The weather was great and the views were beautiful, but I certainly struggled a bit here. The pressure on my knee from the first day of cycling was now taking it's toll and the very sight but lengthy gradience of the path was beginning to get to me.
I really enjoyed the idea of the Avenue Verte, but I have to say that after a while I was craving to be on the road again – maybe I missed the noise of the cars to much!
We'd originally planned to stay at Neufchatel-en-Bray – the famous cheesmaking town – but as we we're making good pace we decided to carry on up to Forges-Les-Eaux and we were certainly glad we did. We watched the sunset over the hills from Avenue Verte before arriving into Forges-Les-Eaux in the dusk. We'd booked the Forges Hotel in Forges-les-Eaux on the way and we taken back by the great value of this place. It took us about 15 minutes of cycling around the town to find the hotel but once we'd found it it was well worth the wait. The hotels sits up on a hill (the last thing we wanted after cycling from Dieppe) and has a large Casino in its grounds. The staff we're great and soon had our bikes stored together in a store room and we were in our rooms. This place was much more luxurious than the price tag suggested (we paid £50 for the room). The rooms were large and of a high standard and the hotels facilities equally good. Once we'd found out about the large swimming pool, jacuzzi and sauna we decided to skip dinner for now and make use of the money we had spent.
After messing around in the pool and generally having a laugh, we ventured out to the town in high spirits only to find that even at just 9pm, all but one restaurant was open – an Italian Pizzeria. So as we spenind our first night in France, we did as the locals do and had an Italian dinner before returning to the hotel or a luxurious nights sleep.
The day started slowly with a late rise by all followed by a slow ride into town for breakfast. With cash levels low, I went about a simple task of exchanging money. No bureau de change to be seen anywhere, even the bank didn't change money. Finally found the post office and then spent a grewling 30 minutes queuing and then trying to explain to the clerk what I wanted to do. Thanks to my small French phrase book I sucessfully managed to fill my wallet once again and get going.
After some confusion with the Avenue Verte and a couple of miles of easy cycling, we were hit with some pretty big hills before getting into Gourney-en-Bray for lunch. The town itself was small, and traditional with lots of boutique shops and restaurants. Problem for us was we seemed to arrive at the wrong time of the day, the morning market had closed and most places were only offering drinks and not serving food – well it was a Saturday I suppose. After some more amusing language confusion we decided to move on and get food at the next town – little did we know that the next food option was quite far away.
We tackled some more hills and simply tried to take as much of the beautiful scenery as possible, the weather was great and the road took us past lots of tiny little villages.
The next main stop was a town called Gisors, a stunning town with lots to offer visitors. Priority one for us was finding somewhere to eat and drink, we headed straight to the cafe's but again were surprised to find that they had all stopped serving food for the afternoon. We came upon a lovely boulangerie with some tasty baked treats and sat out in the town centre to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine and fuel our bodies and minds for the next part of the trip.
After a well earned rest we were back on the road again, heading for a town called Marines where we were planning to stay the night. This part of the trip was the one I found the most difficult. The pain from my knee was intense and mean't that every turn of the pedals sent a rather unpleasant feeling up my leg.
As soon as we arrived in the little town of Marines, we headed straight for the tourist office to try to find out where we could stay the night. Unfortunately all the main small hotels were either fully booked or only had one room left – which wasn't enough for us. We had no choice but to move on. I was really struggling to find the determination to keep going. To take a marathon runners term, at this point I had simply hit the wall. The painkillers did little to relieve me, but thanks to the support of the rest of the team, I just kept pushing and thankfully made it to Pontoise.
Pontoise is huge by comparison to all the other places we've stayed. Getting into the town took a long time, taking us through lots of industrial estates on some rather large and busy roads. Not the most pleasant experience, but a welcome challenge. We cycled around to find some accommodation for the night, firstly starting with a F1 Hotel, which looked by like a drug rehabilitation centre based on the look of it's guests. Thankfully the place was full and we cycled on only briefly to find a much better alternative, just a few hundred metres away in fact. The Campanile Cergy Pontoise Hotel from the well known European Campanile hotel chain, was certainly not the best place we'd stayed in but was good enough for a comfortable night's sleep and within just 5-10 minutes taxi ride to the rather nice port Cergy-Pontoise area. We all enjoyed a night in town, eating out and watching the locals fill the streets after the completion of a fireworks display. Whilst we were certainly tired from the last few days cycling, knowing how close we were to the centre of Paris and the fact that we would be there the very next day, put us all in an excited, almost celebratory state.
Day 4 started early, after a quick hotel breakfast we were out on our final leg to Paris. The Tom Tom Rider decided to not work which made navigation a bit of a chore. It wasn't long before we were lost and asking for directions. The locals were very helpful and we were soon back on track.
The consecutive days of cycling were now taking their toll, and my knee injury was certainly not helping. We only had 45 miles to cycle to get to our destination. After lots of short breaks for map reading we had made our way to the beautiful area of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. We stopped at the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, to enjoy the amazing views of Paris and relax in the stunning grounds with a well earned ice cream. The sun was shinning down on us as we excitedly headed down the hill into the outskirts of Paris.
Realising that our basic free printed maps weren't helping very much, it was time to get out the iPhone and locate ourselves on Google Maps. The road layouts for cyclists were very confusing to say the least and left us going round and round in an area of Paris called Le Défense. With us all starting to feel the pressure, it was a relief to get on the right route and be heading towards the finish line. A soon as we saw the Arc de Triomphe in the distance, our hearts lifted. We all started to realise just what we had achieved in the last few days.
We made our way through the congested streets of Paris to the finish line where after some cheesy photos and a crazy dash to stand under the Arc with our bikes the celebrations were ready to begin.
With our energy levels amazingly rejuvenated we cycled through the streets of Paris making our way to Trocadero to watch the sun as it started to come down behind the Eiffel Tower. A moment of contemplation for us all.
After a couple more miles of cycling we were in our hotel rooms, preparing for a night of celebration. After just a few months of training, us cycling amateurs had managed to ride around 220 miles, in 4 days from London to Paris, what more to say but we were feeling very happy with ourselves.
We completed the London to Paris bike ride independently, funding the trip ourselves but we also chose to raise some ‘hard earned’ cash for charity whilst doing it.
Here are the charities we chose to support for this ride:
- Multiple Sclerosis Society Head Office
- Mind National Association For Mental Health
- No Panic
We are pleased to say that out fundraising target was £500 but we managed to raise a total of £1125 (£900 excluding Gift Aid)
Thanks to everyone who were kind enough to sponsor us.
With it being the first long distance bike ride I have ever completed, I have to say it went very well indeed. In fact, the trip exceeded all expectations. So much so, I can't wait to get going on many more trips.