European cycling trip on my Brompton

Rough outline of route
Rough outline of route

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 five 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.

Thanks for reading. You may want to go from the first entry or see the blog entries in date order.

p.s. If anyone knows of a small flat to rent in the Kentish Town that has at least two of, ‘is interesting’, ‘is cheap’, ‘has a garden’ – please let me know!

Day 43 : Am I There (epilogue)

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.

Carry on abroad
Carry on abroad

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.

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Ahh – the English coutryside

The UK countryside between Portsmouth and London is very picturesque, and I saw many nice villages on the way.

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“A lifetime of laughter is wished for you” – a bit weird.. laughing all the time like a mad man..

I took a few breaks to have sandwiches, but millions of breaks trying to figure out which direction I should be heading.

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Dapper horsey

And lots of hills in West Sussex and Surrey too. Nothing major, and a few other cyclists out enjoying the morning.

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The Brooks leather saddle is actually rather comfortable for long distance touring

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.

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Cycling up the short road from the Rheinfall in Switzerland.. now that was a hill

It was nice to pass over the M25 – now officially back in London.

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Traffic looking good on the M25!

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.

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Tate Britain

I headed East along Millbank to Westminster.

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Big Ben just about to chime 7

Then North up through Camden towards Enfield.

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Nelson’s column

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.

The final 10m
Made it!

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 = 4,152 km.

Day 42 : Last day in France

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.

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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).

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I then popped to see the bayeux tapestry. No photos allowed, sorry! I think you have seen the pics before though..

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Afterwards I went to the British war cemetery.

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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.

 

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Seeing the geography of the region and the distances involved from the beaches to the defences brings everything to life.

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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!

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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?

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Here’s Pegasus Bridge (or rather a more recent replica):

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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.

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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:

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Then a nice sunset to conclude the holiday!

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And as I neared the ferry port, I passed this auspiciously named boat.

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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 = 3,992 km.

Day 41 : Normandy (is not flat)

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.

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Yes! Downhill!

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.

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Bit careless leaving that big gun there

My no. 1 gripe with cycling in the rain is the bike gets super mucky.

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Another downhill. Just as much fun with wet brakes.

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:

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Where’s the cider?

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.

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Bringing back the fish

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.

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Nice and bright

Avranches to Mosles, 116 km. Total so far = 3,897 km.

Day 40 : Scrabbling North

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.

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The secure bike storage area under the hotel was immense. A bit like the batcave, but without the gadgets. Saw a huge spider down here.

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.

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Pleasant cycling

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.

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Head down and pedal

Most stretches of road have no hard shoulder so you keep as close to the edge as you can.

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Head down and pedal

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).

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Better than lemon and sugar, not as good as banana, peanut butter and jam

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.

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Mont Saint Michel – another time

Tonight’s accommodation is in Avranches. Dinner was at a small restaurant in the centre of town. The entrée is always the best bit!

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Eat me

Rennes to Avranches, 92 km. Total so far = 3,781 km.

Day 39 : Long day in the saddle

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.

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In case you haven’t seen fog before..

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.

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A good spot for a sandwich

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.

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This church isn’t leaning over in real life

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.

I thought these clouds looked nice around the sun
I thought these clouds looked nice around the sun

Pornichet to Rennes, 152 km. Total so far = 3,689 km.

Day 38 : Loire valley? Tick.

Awake to a comfy bed. The Brompton got a good night’s rest too.

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Hotel more than happy to have bikes in the rooms.

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.

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Nantes cathedral

I found a few Eurovelo signs and did my best to follow them out of town.

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Like a mini HMS Belfast

I had to catch this ferry over the river at one point. It was free, which was nice.

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This ferry also takes horses across

I found a supermarket to buy some lunch from.

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Brompton touring bag has a handy baguette retention strap

And here was my lunch spot:

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French weather vanes (like the one on top of this old lighthouse) denote N E S O

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.

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Next stop New York

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:

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A bridge too far?

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 ;)

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Left of the middle

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 = 3,537 km.

Day 37 : Puncture!

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!

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Bike wash and air point

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 :)

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Zut!

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.

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No teeth left..

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..!

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Those black dots in the river are cows..

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.

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Liking Nantes already

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.

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That’s a church in the centre of Nantes. In the street was a guy playing accordian..

Dinner was Vietnamese. With a half bottle of the local wine, Muscadet.

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Underneath the chicken was Vietnamese dressed salad

I can’t resist seafood!

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Squid..

After that I found an Irish pub where I could practice my English.

Angers to Nantes, 120 km. Total so far = 3,441 km.

Day 36 : Loire-de-dah

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:

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Pain au chocolat – breakfast of champignons

Then things got a little hillier as I headed towards Saumer.

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Yes it’s a small bike, get over it

Found an appropriate place en route to get lunch. A kind of beef casserole with pasta. Good cycling fuel..

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Lunch

I cycled past a lot of grapes destined for Saumer Champigny:

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Mmm

The Loire is wide, slow and shallow. I wonder how it changes in Spring time.

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The Loire near Saumur

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.

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Adding a new tower

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.

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Eurovelo 6

Some bikers were visiting a cave of the non-wine variety. All Harleys except one Triumph.

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I’d have leaned my bike against the end one for a photoshoot, but feared a Pee-wees Big Adventure scenario..

There are some interesting boats here with foldable masts and presumably retractable keels to navigate the shallow waters.

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Loire sailboat

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 = 3,321 km.