Club France Trip Travellers Reports
Meridian Cycle Trip – France June - By Paul Hills
SCROLL DOWN FOR 10th and 11th
Arriving at the docks early on the Mon morning, with my 22lbs of luggage, in the form of two panniers and a top bag, I was amazed to see others coasting in with small saddle bags, back packs, or even no bags. How can they be travelling so light? Then I discovered they were “lightweights”. Apparently someone else was taking their luggage by car to France. I would have been concerned about my luggage being held to Ransom by these car owners, and some extra levy applied once in France for the bags safe return. I had complimented Dave Collier about being a real “cyclist”, only to find ten minutes later that he had succumbed to the lure of these bag traffickers. Other dishonourable mentions go to the likes of Alan Leggatt, John Thompson, Steve Birkin, Chris Simms and ½ a Ken Dean (one pannier). Instead of me receiving adulation from the “lightweights”, I was accused of having a battery pack in my panniers, or that they were full on my incontinence pads.
Breakfast on the Spirit of France was very welcome by our time of sailing, 10 minutes early at 9.15. Supplies of surplus drinks, biscuits and croissants continued to appear for the rest of the day out of various Meridian bags. A plague of locusts could not have stripped the tables more bare. We decided the best way to tell when the boat was actually leaving was to watch for the cliffs moving, a case of continental drift? People tended to travel in their cycling groups, with appropriate levels of conversation. The A`s were talking about pedals and gears. The B`s were talking about maps or shopping (the only group with female members). The C`s as usual were talking b------s. There was a suggestion that Barbara might need to ride with the C`s following her break from cycling. This led to much debate amongst the C`s about her eligibility.
Leaving the docks in Calais, the C`s as usual let the other groups have a head start so that they could mop up the stragglers, and help when there are navigation errors. The A/B`s had managed to lose Emrys before they even left the docks. To get their own back the A/B`s then told us to watch out for psychopaths. These turned out to be either side of the road, and the safest place for cyclists. We had one minor navigation error which saw us taking the slip road onto the A16. Exciting! Thanks to all the French motorists who pointed out our error. We stopped briefly in Guines, searching for another N and S to make it a much nicer place for a drink stop. Tony Poore seemed to insult Anton, starting a conversation with, “Anton being dim”, but it was only a Robert Peston of the BBC style delivery, that needed a comma “Anton, being dim I have just realised…”
The cockerel we heard about 1.30, once we had cleared the Guines climb over the TGV track, made us realise that everything in France is more laid back, and it happens when it happens. By this time some of our group were tiring and coming out with gems like “when we get to the top it will go down the other side”, and “I don`t know where we are, we have just gone off the edge of the map”. Despite this, we arrived safely at our Hotels in Boulogne soon after 5 pm. The first things I did were put my battery pack on to recharge, and stack my incontinence pads on the shelf, which is the only storage available in the “Budget” Ibis. Where people ate seemed to reflect age and fitness, so the Alan`s and I ate right up in the walled town at La Pierre Chaud, so good we tried to throw people its whereabouts by giving it another name La Jean Froid. On Tues evening some people walked through the town looking for it!
9th June – The four Ibis “Budgeteers” met for breakfast at 8.15, and no complaints from myself, Bernie, Emrys, and Dave Collier, about what was on offer, or the quantity. As usual breakfast items were to keep appearing later in the day as little treats along the ride.
Meeting at the posh Ibis, the B`s were off first to tackle a day of about 60 miles. The C`s were last out of the blocks at 9.30. Once again proving to be the most sensible group we headed towards Le Touquet with the wind behind us leaving us to face the ever strengthening winds on our return journey. Initially I had thought we really were going for an incredibly short days ride, when people were talking about what I believed to be a 2k ride. After a mile or two Anton confided that he thought he might have his cycle shorts on inside out. Also that it would have more effect on him than me because of my more ample rear. Thanks.
The majority of the ride south was on cycle paths, and with the following wind this made it a very enjoyable ride. We stopped just short of Etaple to visit the War Graves site. Always moving, to the point I felt I had to remove my helmet out of respect.
After two hours and 16 miles we stopped for lunch in Etaple, abandoning the Le Toquet plan for two reasons. Unfortunately there had been an accident resulting in a motorbike under a car which we did not want to venture past. Secondly our sensible approach of going with the wind meant we had to return into the 70 kph winds. Basically we wimped. Heading back we heroically tucked in single file behind Tony Poore. We had too as he knew the way, even if it was just a duplicate of our ride out! Tucked in behind Alan Leggatt, I had time to admire his calves, surely the biggest in the club. Ask him to demonstrate his sign for going over a bridge. Commodore Hawker sailed away up a particularly stiff climb with headwind, before laying up in the lea of some trees to await our arrival. But then a mechanical problem for him, which he managed to sort out, despite help from Alan Major. The cold wind was having an effect on the cattle. We saw a field of black and white cattle which were obviously shivering. They must have been “Friesian”. They need to be cross bred with jerseys.
We arrived back at 3.15 with plenty of time for the older C`s to have a sleep. I went for a 2 mile run, which is longer than Le 2k planned earlier.
Gathering in the “posh” bar, some interesting comments were to be overheard. John Thompson, after a few strong beers talked about a recent holiday in Slurvenia. I like Leffe and was told if I went through the door into the Carrefour Mall a bar sold this. What they really meant was “if he goes through he doesn`t have a pass to come back”. Tony Poore talked excitedly about ice cream sundaes even if it was Tues, and that he had actually had ice cream on Sunday. Alan Major asked the bar maid if she was working the late shift. Trisha couldn`t understand why with all the luggage I was carrying I only had shorts for best. Trisha, just enjoy my legs.
Barry joined us for our evening meal. Another reason we had stopped short of Le Touquet was to rest up, and impress him by walking all the way up to the old town for our meal again at La Pierre Chaud. Later the restaurant was invaded by B`s having given up the search for La Jean Froid.
10th June – Firstly congratulations to those few lost souls who are still bothering to read this. After another quiet and good night`s sleep at the “budget”, we had our group breakfast at 8 a.m., again also laying in supplies for the days ride. One little point of excitement was that we thought thieves were making off with the hotel windows, only to find they were fitting replacements. I also had a couple of animal moments. Firstly noting that Bernie was cycling in crocs; cool. Secondly that my hearing was not failing me, when a couple, did indeed emerge from their room with a big dog. No jokes on that topic. The C`s were discussing a recce ride towards Guines ready for Thurs, which was going to be short. Initially I thought I would venture out with the B`s. Susan and David Ferguson had spent the Tues carrying out a survey for the B`s ride. Such a good idea, and very worthy of commendation. In the end I decided the C`s needed me, as we were down to five riders only. Peter Hawker was staying in town to recharge his batteries, and Anton was staying to practice putting his shorts on the right way round. Also I felt the need to give Boulogne the once over, and not just walk through on the way to our evening meal. When I let it be known I was not going with the B`s, it was worth it just to see the big smile on Ken Dean`s face.
The C`s duly set off via Nausicaa, and then up the big hill into the usual headwind, but meaning we would have it at backs later. Yeah! Tony was having a few problems with his gears so arrived at the top pushing his bike in the Asda shopping trolley mode, forearms resting on the handle bars. We arrived at Bevrequen for coffee, having stormed through our 9 miles in a jaw dropping 77 minutes. On our return journey, the wind was behaving, and indeed on our backs. We took a very slightly different route back to Wimereux, then to the hill overlooking Boulogne. We had seen a sign for a war graves site specifically stating 230 metres. After 220 metres the others started to feel the pull of lunch and a drink, plus we were into the wind for those 220 metres. After 320 metres, clearly a dyslexic sign maker, I arrived at the Terlincthun CGC site. I had my Ibis Budget packed lunch and drink, before looking around the headstones. Such history. I also ventured on to view the Column of the Grand Annee. Down to Nausicaa I met up with the other C`s again, enjoying the warm sun and their lunch on the front. Tony and Robin headed for the cycle shop, and the two Alan`s for the hotel. As it was still early I cycled round the port area. What a big hole the ferry closure must have left in the Boulogne economy. Road signs claim Boulogne to be France`s largest fishing port, certainly this does cover a large area, and the number of foreign lorries indicate its wider significance.
Back to the hotel late afternoon, I then set out for my town tour. The first oddity I spotted was Robin apparently cycling with the A`s, until the lights changed and reality set in. Other sights in summary –
1. The strange mix of memorial and underground car park entrance for Q Park. Also endowed with a statue of Marilyn Monroe. Such an odd combo.
2. The statue of admiring women looking up at Dr Duchenne. I thought he must have done something specifically related to women to receive such admiration. He apparently greatly advanced the science of electrophysiology, in particular the mechanism of facial expression.
3. A great walk round the ramparts of the walled town spoilt by the amounts of dog waste.
4. The Egyptian wooden boat replica. Is nothing made to last these days? Reminded me of a tour of Boston, when the guide proudly claimed that the 200 year old USS Constitution had at least 10% of its original timbers.
The Ibis lounge was full of people talking double dutch, i.e. a coach load from the Netherlands all talking at once and drowning at the Meridianites. Cliff Bell warned of a clamour to join the C`s. Not because of our wit and wisdom, but because Ray was offering the C`s first space for bags the next morning back to Guines. We decided on an evening meal in town. Robin was too exhausted to go up town from his encounter with the A`s earlier, even if it was only sitting at the lights with them. We decided on a large restaurant in the lower church square. We didn`t brave the al fresco set up due to the chill breeze, only to get wet inside. The table we were given was beside the lobster tank, and unsurprisingly they were putting up a fight, which resulted in several members getting a shower. Otherwise I have to say my carbonara was the most enormous meal, and set me up nicely for the ride back to Calais.
11th June – Any credibility I had, very quickly disappeared early on the last day. After breakfast at 7.30 a.m with the others at the “Budget”, I decided I might as well get round to the main hotel half an hour early ready for the C`s 8.30 a.m. departure. Then it all started to fall apart. I got a call from Alan Major asking where I was as they were just leaving! I headed round apologising profusely about my lateness, and then further reducing my credibility by letting my panniers go in the Ransom-mobile to Guines. The C`s had indeed left, and I am indebted to the two Alans for waiting for me, but there was a price to pay. Every sentence for the first hour included some reference to me being an amateur. We managed to catch the other C`s by the top of the hill out of Boulogne. We then settled into quite a nice ride, back past Bevrequen we had visited yesterday, and on to Marquise. At the top of the long climb out of Marquise we felt somewhat less heroic in our efforts when a relatively old lady runner sped past us as we dithered looking at a map. The D231was also a bit of a trial, with lots of heavy lorrys heading to and from a very large quarry. Comments about “Ferqueing lorrys proved correct as we soon found ourselves in the much quieter, lorry free village of Ferques. God bless by-passes. The patron of the coffee shop proved to be very sociable and helpful, once we had past the problem of wanting milk in our coffee. She had to “recherche”, disappearing out the back to eventually return with a small jug of milk, and a look of disdain.
Soon after we left Ferques, the C`s split into two. Robin was not sure of the whereabouts of his wallet, so while Alan`s x2 and I waited for him to confirm its location, Tony Poore led Peter and Anton in a tactical break. All joking aside they certainly pushed on, because try as we might we couldn`t catch them in the next 3-4 miles of gently rolling hills. Off to our right we could see the tower at the top of the Guines climb. We were first to arrive in Guines at 11.30, having ridden a generally pleasant 20 mile route. We had started to retrieve our bags from Ray`s car, when Alan Leggatt commented that even more bags would have fitted in if Barbara had been left behind! Sorry to tell tales, but with my reputation in tatters I`ve nothing to lose.
When I tried to thank Di for arranging the meal she said it had only taken a couple of phone calls. Sorry Di you need more thanks than that. Things don`t happen if people like you don`t organise them. Thank you. As usual there were some very interesting topics for discussion over the fantastic lunch. The C`s at one point were talking about petit bois and PYO, just prior to Tony Poore breaking his chair. Also I worked out that his version of GPS is so old it, doesn`t even show Roman Roads. The B`s were talking about language lessons, and phonetics until someone asked for her number. Another highlight of the restaurant was the usual arrangement by which men can be in the WC and hold conversations with others over the top of the saloon style doors. So French. As we returned to our bikes I worried for Linda Kemp, that her tyre would embarrassingly explode as it had in Belgium after a coffee stop. That`s why some people, mainly me, were calling her Ssssusan on this trip.
As we left Guines Barry was clear on his instructions about no one dropping behind John Thompson, nice slow ride ahead I thought. With A/B`s leading nothing could go wrong, at least not until the first roundabout. I think Barry was quite impressed about how I took responsibility to create a fire break, when in fact I simply couldn`t keep up with those in front. At one point I had tried to pass Di, but with her mirrors that meant going onto the other side of the road. We arrived at Calais at 3.50, to be greeted by lots of queueing traffic. Never not funny, when you`re on your bike. Lots of security, passport checks etc, which in the light of subsequent events was to be expected. We were lucky getting on the early 4.05 ferry which left promptly at 4.45 p.m. I was getting excited about checking how far the White Cliffs had drifted since we left on Mon. Ferry prices may have to go up to reflect this. To pass away the time Alan Major told us over a period of about 5 minutes about his phone/i.pad/smarthingy having voice recognition when he wanted to ring someone. He finished his explanation with “but I don`t use it”.
We docked soon after 5.20, and I then had the joy of Castle Hill, heading out of town back to my car near Aylesham.
I have already thanked Di for organising the meal, but also want to thank Ray and Barbara for their tremendous efforts on our behalf, and finally to the people prepared to lead rides.
See you with my notebook next year I hope.