London to Paris by bicycle

This is the story of my solo bike ride from London to Paris to raise funds for Ty Gobaith children’s hospice between May 2nd-6th 2012. The journey was undertaken in response to a £50 donation by the HSBC bank who asked for the money to be used in a legal and ethical way to raise further funds for Ty Gobaith.

Having heard that the Avenue Verte had been created so that people could travel from France to the 2012 London Olympics, I decided to cycle the route in reverse. The £50 donation would be used to cover the cost of getting across the channel by ferry from Newhaven to Deippe.

The total cycling distance  was roughly 250 miles and my personal goal was to raise £250, enabling a 5 fold return on the £50 donation. Whilst I approached people at work to support my efforts by donating £1, my wife Storme ambushed friends, family and neighbours for their sponsorship.

Day 1: Wednesday May 2nd 2012

With Panniers packed, tyres fully inflated – mobile telephone, GPS system, lights and camera battery charged and all moving parts oiled or sprayed, the journey began.

To reduce the cost of travel from home to my starting point in London I wrote to Arriva trains and Virgin trains, asking if they would donate a free return travel ticket. They both agreed and by way of thanks to Arriva trains, I sent them the  attached photgraph of me and the conductor taken at the start of the journey.

Leaving home on an ‘Arriva’ train from Harlech railway station, getting to London  is a 200 mile train trip that follows the scenic Cambrian coastline to Aberdovey, then cross-country through Welshpool to Shrewsbury arriving 3 hours later, 80 miles away in Wolverhampton.

Changing trains, the Virgin ‘Pendelino’ took less than 2 hours to travel 120 miles into London. Virgin trains have a secure storage area for bicycles just behind the drivers cab. I even managed to get a single seat next to the door of the storage area from where I could see out of the window to check that nobody would make off with my bicycle.

Arriving at Euston station I pushed the bike off the platform and through the crowded station concourse to a seating area outside.

When outside the station I programmed my bike GPS system to get me to St Pauls Cathedral.  When trying to get on my bike the weight of rear paniers caused a loss of balance and catastrophe happened – I fell off the bike, clattering to the ground in front of dozens of people who must have recently passed their first aid exams. Although I was more interested in getting back on my bike and away from them – steadying hands held me and the bike still until they were satisfied that no bones were broken. I checked my bike and noticed the bike stand plate had snapped off, apart from that – the bike seemed undamaged. Thanking those that had helped me I made a hasty get-away and arrived outside St Pauls in plenty of time for a meeting with a photographer from ‘Cycling Active’ , a cyclists magazine that agreed to publish my story and invite readers to make an on-line donation to support the valuable work of Ty Gobaith children hospice.

At the end of my 1st day I had arranged to stay at my sisters’ daughters’ apartment by St Pauls’ in central London. She was staying on the top floor of an apartment close to the Cathedral and although there was lift access to her upper floor apartment, the lift was not big enough for a bike. Carrying the bike up 5 flights of stairs was more painful than falling off at Euston Station.

Day 2 Thursday May 3rd 2012

The following morning I made the short bike ride from my overnight stay to the starting point of St Pauls Cathedral.  Turning on the GPS system and pressing the ‘where to’ button I selected the destination that was over 200 miles away. The route was calculated and I took the attached photograph at 8:08am, and then set off.

Over the years I have learnt to trust GPS systems and even when the direction seemed a little odd, the route is usually the best. On this occasion the road signs were taking me north rather than south of London.

After several miles I decided to stop and scroll down the route map that I was being taken along. The towns of Bicester and Oxford appeared. The GPS system was taking me back to North Wales. Turning the bike round and returning to St Pauls in the rush hour traffic going towards central London, I had discovered the hard way that St Pauls Cathedral is roughly half way between Bangor in North Wales and the Eiffel Tower.

Cycling out of London in the correct southerly direction was much easier with less traffic and less traffic fumes. This time my GPS system was correctly programmed.

The route took me along Buckingham Palace Road, then over the Thames and through Clapham Common. Cycling is the preferred mode of transport for many people and there are lots of designated cycle paths, although cycling habits are less impressive. I tend to stop and wait at red traffic lights – in doing so I was the odd one out. Nevertheless, it’s better to be odd than to cross a red light and risk being squashed by a bus, taxi, car or lorry.

Despite the cycle behaviour of others I felt that cycling through London is safer and easier than driving.

With a close eye on the GPS my cycle ride to Brighton lead me out of Central London into Greater London and on to Gatwick, passing departure terminals and along a cycle path under the runway flight paths.

Some 35 miles from St Pauls I stopped for a lunchbreak break on a bridge over the M23 motorway. It didn’t seem that I had spent over 3 hours cycling and had certainly enjoyed those 3 hours far more than I would have done if driving for that amount of time. When continuing my journey towards Brighton I joined safer cycle paths and wondered how many people would make a daily commute between London and Brighton by bicycle. It was certainly something I would do – but not on a daily basis !

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That afternoon the heavens opened and I eventually arrived in rainy Brighton at 5pm, having ridden for 9 hours, covering 92 miles – 30 miles further and later than expected because of the false start.

Day 3 Friday May 4th 2012

Leaving Brighton at 8am for the Ferry at Newhaven, much of the route follows a cycle path alongside the coast. Going out from the centre of Brighton, Regency styled buildings overlook the sea. The buildings were designed by a property developer and politician called Thomas Kemp who fled Britain to escape creditors and later died in Paris. To the rear of the Regency styled buildings, a residential area called Kemp Town is where I stayed at my sister’s house.

The cycle path from Brighton to Newhaven covers a distance of just 10 miles and passes alongside Rodean independent girl’s school whose present fees are in excess of £10,000 a term. When cycling past Rodean a jogger exited the campus and ran in my direction towards Newhaven. I was cycling at an average speed of 12 mph and whilst going much faster downhill, I was considerably slower on the steep uphill gradients where she would pass me.

I arrived at Newhaven ferry port just before 9am in plenty of time for the 10am sailing.   Cyclists are allowed onto the Ferry before lorries, coaches, cars and foot passengers. By the time I was allowed to embark about 20 or so other cyclists had arrived.

The crossing was calm and took 4 hours. Before reaching France our watches had to be SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAturned forward by an hour. Breakfast on the ferry passed some of the time; poor visibility prevented any distant views. Arriving in Dieppe was celebrated with a cacophony of bicycle bells as the ramp to disembark was lowered. Cycles exited before vehicles and had to be pushed off the ramp. The ride in France began .

Directions from the Dieppe ferry port to the Avenue Verte cycleway were clearly signposted. The entrance was 6 miles from the port and cyclists,like other British road users, need to make a conscious effort to stay on the right side of the road and remember to do so when making turns and using roundabouts. Traffic lights are cyclist friendly; a secondary set of smaller lights are positioned at eye level on the traffic light post, allowing cyclists who have stopped to see when the lights are changing with greater ease.

Arriving at the beginning of the Avenue Verte those cyclists that had been on the Ferry with me had gone on their own separate ways. For the next 28 miles I  was cycling along a disused rail track. Because the continental railway gauge is wider than in the UK the tarmaced cycleway  resembled a single track road. Lakes and attractive buildings can be seen along the route.

At 7pm local time I arrived at my destination for the first night in France, a village called SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAForge Les Eaux and quickly came across the Sofhotel. In my best French I told the receptionist my name and that I had a room booked for the night. She  replied : “vous n’avez pas une réservation ici monsieur” – in other words, no!  I was very worried. I produced my reservation papers confirming the booking. The receptionist smiled, pointing to the name of the hotel. I had gone to the wrong place. She directed me to the correct hotel and a night sleeping under the stars had been avoided.

Day 4: Saturday May 5th 2012

I started out from the hotel at 8am to cover a distance of 84 miles to the outskirts of Paris. It was a cold morning and my legs took the best part of an hour to warm up and work properly – by which time I was nearing a small town named Gournay En Bray, some 15 miles from the hotel. My bike was also struggling. The gears were slipping and I began to wonder whether the fall I had at Euston had knocked the derailleur system out of alignment. I had experienced this problem once before and new the fix would be a messy one. I managed to find a mid-range gear that worked well and hoped that would take me to the hotel I was staying at that evening.

Cycling from Gournay En Bray to the next town of Marines 34 miles away, the weather worsened with cloud and heavy rain. For most of the journey towards Marines there were no buildings, no people and very little traffic. Apart from religious shrines that were dotted along the route it was really bleak. On a hill at the outskirts of Marines the chain came off my bike. The repair I was going to do that evening could wait no longer. The water bottle on the down tube of my bike was carrying a spare inner tube and a multi-tool device. Propping the bike against a fence I quickly put the chain onto its cog and aligned the derailleur system. Tightening everything, the gears now worked perfectly.

As lunchtime approached the sun began to shine. Empty country lanes led into several small villages leading to Marines, where a community defibrillator was cited in the town centre. After stopping for lunch and mid-day refreshment the afternoon bike ride was a distance of 35 miles to my destination for the evening at Poissy, an industrial town situated on the outskirts of Paris. The route from Marines took me through several very attractive villages and along a dirt track that went through the middle of several fields. The route then led me to the river Seine and followed a picturesque trail alongside the river bank.

This morning had been difficult due to poor weather and a chain problem; in contrast, the afternoon was really enjoyable with spring sunshine, lovely villages to pass through and the River Seine that runs into Paris. Having started from Forges Les Eaux at 8am and arriving in Poissy 84 miles later at 5pm, the hotel ‘publicised’ bike storage facility turned out to be my bedroom.

Day 5: Sunday May 6th 2012

 Although Paris was only 35 miles away from Poissy, I wanted to make my arrival into Paris on a Sunday. This is a safer day for cyclists as large goods vehicles are not allowed in the city on Sundays. I left my hotel on the outskirts of Poissy at 8am and planned to arrive at the Eiffel Tower by 11am.

The beginning of my final cycling day took me through large housing estates that were understandably quiet on Sunday morning. The route then entered several of the small forests that surround Paris and I was pleased that my bike was rolling on puncture resistant tyres; the tracks were a mixture of narrow footpaths or uneven tractor trails. In years gone by the forests were Royal hunting grounds. Now they are for walking, horse riding and cycling. The forest track eventually became a path that passed under the main motorway into Paris, along a road through the more affluent areas of Versailles and then into the centre of Paris.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERAArriving at the Eiffel Tower 30 minutes later than expected, it was the forests that had slowed me down. The tracks were difficult to follow and progress was slow. The bike ride was now complete.

I had covered a total of 255 cycling miles and had actually cycled for 26½ hours. I am very grateful to all those who gave support to my efforts for the Ty Gobaith children’s hospice.

I had hoped the bike ride would raise £250 for them; the actual amount raised was more than 3 times that amount. Thank you.

 

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