I’ve just completed a six-week 4,000 km European tour on my Brompton bicycle.
My brief tour diary entries are below. These were daily updates, blogging from my mobile phone.
In the next three days I’ll post a blog with some more technical information which I hope will be of interest and help to anyone thinking about going on a similar kind of adventure. It will include things like the bike set-up, equipment, navigation, camping and things I learned about cycle touring along the way. If there’s anything you’d like to know in particular, please add a comment or get in touch via the contact form.
I went to bed around 1am on the ferry, and wasn’t looking forward to getting up at 5.45am to have breakfast and get ready, but then in a Phileas Fogg moment I realised I had the extra hour from going from France to the UK.
Today’s navigation was a bit of an issue. I had found a route online that someone had posted of a nice way to get from Portsmouth to London by bike, but I had no way of getting it onto my Garmin satnav, so it remained on my phone. However once I’d got into the countryside, I couldn’t use my phone as I had no reception, so I stumbled my way towards London just generally heading East and North.
The UK countryside between Portsmouth and London is very picturesque, and I saw many nice villages on the way.
I took a few breaks to have sandwiches, but millions of breaks trying to figure out which direction I should be heading.
And lots of hills in West Sussex and Surrey too. Nothing major, and a few other cyclists out enjoying the morning.
My geography knowledge of Surrey and South London is completely lacking, and by pure chance I found myself going past the foot of Box Hill which is much used by cyclists. I’d never been here before so thought I’d have a go at going up it. It’s not actually steep at any point along it’s route, it’s just persistent, so I found it easily manageable after all the hills I’ve been doing for the past 6 weeks. I might try it again soon without all the touring gear. The toilets at the top were out of action with a note saying ‘sorry for the inconvenience’ – not sure if this was an intended pun.
It was nice to pass over the M25 – now officially back in London.
After bumbling my way across South London, I eventually found myself on Cycle Superhighway 7 – this is a painted blue lane which meant I didn’t have to worry about navigation any more as it would guide me into central London. I’m not sure what the ‘super’ refers to – I think it is the number of obstacles in the bike lane such as parked cars, people and broken glass.
Once I got close to the river I made my way across it, glad to be in an area I was more familiar with.
I headed East along Millbank to Westminster.
Then North up through Camden towards Enfield.
Traffic was awful across the whole of London as it was Saturday evening. It was only when I reacheded Palmers Green that the traffic petered out and I could cycle without interruption.
I had a nice welcome home, with champagne celebration and dinner with tasty veg from the allotment. Cycling adventure over! What next?..
Portsmouth to London, 160 km. Total distance cycled = 4,154 km.
One of the old barns at the farmhouse I am staying out now houses a heated swimming pool, so I was up early to take advantage of that. Then breakfast was at a large table with the other guests – an American couple and three French couples. After the Americans had left I managed to comprehend a large part of the French conversation and also contributed a little (in French!). No doubt I’ll still continue to be saying ‘pardon’ after bumping into people when I get back to the UK.
After checking out I headed to Bayeux. I thought the cathedral was impressive.
The organ sounded really good. I have a video clip it didn’t record well on my phone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8naTQmgfzQ (A decent digital sound recorder was on my list of things to take that didn’t make the final cut).
I then popped to see the bayeux tapestry. No photos allowed, sorry! I think you have seen the pics before though..
Afterwards I went to the British war cemetery.
I then cycled up to the coast and cycled along the area of the D-Day landings and invasion. History becomes realistically imaginable when you are in situ.
Seeing the geography of the region and the distances involved from the beaches to the defences brings everything to life.
I spent the afternoon cycling along the coast, visiting the various invasion sights. The following house came as a bit of a surprise though. It had a poem by Rabalais on the front of the house. There were lots of dragons on the side. Steer clear I reckon!
I reached the port about 3 hours before my ferry was due. A man I had met at the British military cemetery had recommended I visit Pegasus Bridge, a key part of the D-day invasion so I cycled along the canal to Caen and back.
The canal is a nice cycle path. And it was a pleasant sunset. There was even a chunk of rainbow. A good omen?
Here’s Pegasus Bridge (or rather a more recent replica):
And here’s the café by the bridge which was possibly the first French house liberated on D-day. The owner of the café now was living as a small boy in the house on D-day.
I saw two kingfishers, which are amazing to see in real life because of their vibrant colouring. I also saw a cormorant catch an eel and eat it. Not pleasant, as the eel was eaten alive and refused to give up quietly. The cormorant is just about to swallow the eel in the pic below:
Then a nice sunset to conclude the holiday!
And as I neared the ferry port, I passed this auspiciously named boat.
I boarded the ferry as a foot passenger to avoid having to queue up with the cars. I’d booked a berth so was able to drop off my bike and bags and then head to the bar for a quick drink.
À tout à l’heure France!
Mosles to Ouisteham, 95 km. Total so far = 3994 km.
It rained a lot overnight but had stopped by morning so it was dry when I set off, but after an hour or so it started again and then rained for the majority of the day.
The day was spent either cycling up hills or down them – Normandy, from what I’ve seen, does not have any flat bits.
I travelled along Liberty Road for a couple of hours, and my destination for the day was just a few km inland of Omaha Beach.
The thousands that lost their lives and impact of the Normandy landings and invasion are remembered well in Normandy.
There were plenty of shops open and I stopped off a couple of times for bites to eat along the way.
My no. 1 gripe with cycling in the rain is the bike gets super mucky.
My last night’s accommodation in France is in a converted farm, and my room is huge. The bike is garaged where they used to use horses to run the apple press:
After checking in I cycled to the local port town of Port-en-Bessin-Huppain. It’s a small fishing town and there were some boats coming in and out whilst I was there.
I had some dinner there, then headed the 10 km back inland to the farmhouse along the very dark country roads. I’m glad I don’t believe in ghosts as there would be many around here. And I’m really happy to have decent bike lighting and my satnav to show me the way back.
Avranches to Mosles, 116 km. Total so far = 3,899 km.
After having breakfast at the hotel I headed to the local bike shop to a) see a little of Rennes and b) see of they had some suitable gloves as I could do with some that have a little padding below the base of my thumb, which the current ones don’t. The shop turned out to not have any fingerless gloves at all, but the walk was good.
I set my satnav for Avranches where I’d booked a night’s accommodation (given up with the camp sites now), via Mont St Michel, and headed North. The route out of the city centre and first hour or two’s cycling was really nice.
The route joined busier roads. Like England’s ‘A’ roads, France’s ‘D’ roads can vary a lot in terms of traffic and traffic speeds. The following stretch had a 120 kmh speed limit, and the hard shoulder part didn’t make pleasant cycling. Though better than some of the road from yesterday. Very glad I had my hi-vis with me for these sections. The vast majority of motorists give space, especially the professional goods lorries, but you get a few that drive too close.
Most stretches of road have no hard shoulder so you keep as close to the edge as you can.
Lunch was a Mars bar and cola from a petrol station shop (most petrol stations here are self-service with no shop). Just before I reached Mont St Michel, I passed place selling a local speciality of crêpes so popped in. Other local specialities here are cidre (served in the cup) and calvados (but I’m cycling).
Mont St Michel was impressive, but I couldn’t get close as bikes aren’t allowed over – you are expected to lock your bike and head over on a coach. As I have ssouch luggage, I didn’t fancy leaving the bike for over an hour, so passed on the opportunity to see the abbey.
Tonight’s accommodation is in Avranches. Dinner was at a small restaurant in the centre of town. The entrée is always the best bit!
Rennes to Avranches, 92 km. Total so far = 3,783 km.
Breakfast at the hotel was pricey so I visited the boulangerie instead. Having checked the ferry times and because the camp sites around here appear to have shut up for the Winter, I’ve booked my ferry for Friday night crossing and will be making my way North instead of heading around the coast.
So today I cycled back to Saint-Nazaire and then up towards Rennes.
It was a foggy start, but it lifted by 10ish.
The first couple of hours cycling wasn’t too pleasant – rush hour in Saint-Nazaire, followed by cycling along busy roads with all the trucks from the industrial port areas. I also managed to pick a route that went by what looked like a Total oil refinery and storage facility, so oil tankers whizzing by every minute.
I did go through a lot of villages that were well provisioned with small shops though, so had no problem stopping a couple of times for snacks.
Not many pictures today though because it was mainly just a day of cycling along country roads. Also a few small hills, which brought the day’s total ascent to over a kilometre – the most climbing in a day of the trip.
When I got towards Rennes I searched for a cheap hotel and all the really cheap ones are booked up. Maybe there’s some cheapskate convension on. Anyhow, I found a room, checked in, then popped out and found an Indian restaurant not too far away. Tikka massala very different to that in UK. And to celebrate being in France I had a garlic nan bread.
Pornichet to Rennes, 152 km. Total so far = 3,691 km.
Awake to a comfy bed. The Brompton got a good night’s rest too.
Breakfast at the hotel, then a quick ride around Nantes. Nice town! It looks like cyclists are well catered for too with segregated lanes in the city centre.
I found a few Eurovelo signs and did my best to follow them out of town.
I had to catch this ferry over the river at one point. It was free, which was nice.
I found a supermarket to buy some lunch from.
And here was my lunch spot:
The route went past a lot of canal (which is popular with people fishing), before taking in some countryside.
I eventually reached the Atlantic, completing my East to West crossing of France.
With that out of the way I decided to head North and follow the coast round for a bit, but first I crossed this bridge on my bike:
It’s a busy bridge with lots of heavy traffic heading over, and the cycle lane is just 1.25 m wide and separated from the traffic just with a painted line. I took it easy, concentrated on the little patch of ground ahead of me and made it over in one piece. Not for the faint-hearted.
Saint-Nazaire isn’t that nice to cycle through as it has a lot of heavy traffic from the docks. Things got nicer as I went round the coast. I even found this short section of road where they drive on the correct side
I had a couple of camp sites on my route, but they’d both closed for the season, so I found a hotel room, had dinner in the hotel and got some reading done.
Nantes to Pornichet, 96 km. Total so far = 3,539 km.
Awake to a tent free from condensation! Warm night, and pampas grass at the camp site kept things cosy.
Started off, and found a café and boulangerie after 30 mins. Then I came across this bike service station. Admittedly it’s Sunday and this place is crawling with VTT (vélo tour terrain) bikes, so it has a lot of customers, but it’s great. I was able to rinse off 3,000 km of dirt and pump up my tyres to 100 psi (well 6.5 bar anyhow). I’d like to see more of these! This one had a wheel clamp that couldn’t manage holding the small Brompton wheel, but otherwise, fantastic!
I rode along a narrow track between river and lake for 5 km. This track was filled with Sunday walkers, joggers, runners and cyclists. I’d been travelling down it for about 20 mins and decided to switch on my phone to see how it compared with EV6 only to discover I’d been travelling up a spur of EV6 to Angers.
I double checked and realised I had to back track to get back to where I wanted. Gah.
Then after an hour I noticed the back end sluggish. I checked and saw the tyre was mostly deflated. I had been expecting this. Over the past 3,000 km I’ve ridden over all sorts as I’m sure you can imagine. I’ve ridden 100s of km alone where I’ve thought, “This will puncture my tyre, how did that not puncture my tyre?”. I find it amazing and a testament to Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres that I’d got this far without a puncture.
Anyhow, I am well versed in the art of Brompton rear wheel puncture repair, and I had come prepared (with 5 fresh inner tubes).
For those not in the know, there are no ‘quick release’ elements involved with a rear puncture repair on a Brompton. It’s even more involved when you need to remove your touring luggage!
I wheeled the bike to somewhere I could sit down, and took the time to do a timely but thorough job. In fact the first thing I did after finding the bench was eat my pain au chocolats! Nothing worse than working on an empty stomach! It took 42 minutes to repair the puncture and have everything back to normal, and I’m not a slow worker..! Brompton owners take note, I put the Marathon Plus tyre back on with my bare hands within 2 minutes
I’m glad I’d found the bike wash earlier, but also noticed the chain tensioner cogs have next to no teeth left. All the cycling in bad weather with no cleaning has taken its toll.
After repairing the puncture and getting on my way, it wasn’t long before I saw these cows standing in the middle of the river, which cheered me up..!
I decided to skip on lunch. I wanted to make it to Nantes today. I passed a few good lunch options, but they all looked like it would take at least an hour (as lunch should!) so I kept on pedalling. At around 5 I had an orange and a can of coke which I’d been saving in my bag for just such an emergency.
I saw a camp site 30 mins ahead of Nantes, but with no shops visible nearby I didn’t want to risk a night with no dinner, so I cycled on to the centre of Nantes then found a discounted hotel room to check into. My hotel is very nice, they even gave me a whole separate room to check the bike into!
Took a shower then took a walk around town. It’s very nice and full of life. Another city that gets my stamp of approval If you’re paying attention, that’s Münster, Landshut, München, Besançon and Nantes.
Dinner was Vietnamese. With a half bottle of the local wine, Muscadet.
I can’t resist seafood!
After that I found an Irish pub where I could practice my English.
Angers to Nantes, 120 km. Total so far = 3,443 km.
Clear night so outer tent soaked with condensation in the morning. Packed up wet tent, left the camp site.. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before..
Headed into the centre of the town and found a café for a coffee and and a boulangerie for some pain au chocolat to have later.
Rejoined the cycle route, for some more very pleasant cycling on a sunny day. Flat roads, mostly decent surface, though a half km stretch of unforgiving large cobbles that someone sneaked in.
After an hour or two I found a pleasant village square to eat my breakfast:
Then things got a little hillier as I headed towards Saumer.
Found an appropriate place en route to get lunch. A kind of beef casserole with pasta. Good cycling fuel..
I cycled past a lot of grapes destined for Saumer Champigny:
The Loire is wide, slow and shallow. I wonder how it changes in Spring time.
When I last visited Saumer over 5 years ago the town was a lot quieter. This time it was really bustling. Looks like they’re doing a bit of decorating on the chateau at the moment.
The stretch along the Loire to the West of Saumer is interesting. Lots of nice villages. My navigation is entirely reliant upon looking for the little green and blue logo on the bottom sign of this picture, which I’ve been following for over a week now.
Some bikers were visiting a cave of the non-wine variety. All Harleys except one Triumph.
There are some interesting boats here with foldable masts and presumably retractable keels to navigate the shallow waters.
I found a campsite near Angers. It has the hole in the ground toilets! But also some toilet seat less ones too, so spoilt for choice really.
The high street near the campsite had the option of a 7-11, a pizza place, and a pizza and burger place. I got a half bottle of wine from the 7-11 and a takeaway pizza to have at a bench at the camp site. Happy with that!
Langeais to Angers, 112 km. Total so far = 3,323 km.
Breakfast was a croissant and a coffee at the hotel, then back on the road.
Another easy day’s cycling, the majority of it on traffic free roads.
Lunch at Amboise:
Someone likes collecting enamelled tin tea pots:
There are a lot of these water towers about. I quite like them.
Lots more cycling by the Loire..
This is a photo of a French fighter jet
Lots more vineyards. Also seeing a lot of sunflower fields, but they’re passed their prime now and look a little sad.
Tours is a big town. Not too photogenic. I picked up a sandwich whilst there.
Another French car for the collection.
My first choice of campsite was closed, so I went to the municipal campsite in Langeais instead. After pitching the tent I cycled into town and found a pizza restaurant open. They had the normal 4 cheese pizza on the menu, but also a 6 cheese one, so I had to try that. Needless to say I didn’t want to see the cheese board after that.
Then back to the campsite to bed.
Blois to Langeais, 110 km. Total so far = 3,211 km.