Newsletter - 2001 Archive

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BC Randonneurs
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Old Roads And New - Continued.

Harold Bridge


Before leaving for UK I bought some Michelin maps. Not certain which sheet covered the route for the Randonnee de Montagne de Reims I bought both 237, Ile de France, & 241, Champagne/Ardennes. In readiness for my ride to Calais I also bought 236, Nord, Flandres-Artois Picardie. When I plotted the figure of 8 route of the randonnee I found the whole thing was covered by both 237 & 241. I thought I didn't need both & decided to leave the Ile de France sheet behind. Big mistake!

Going by memory I decided that as Reims wasn't quite on sheet 236 I would follow roads covered on Saturday with Maizy as a lunch stop again. When I found myself confronted with the wall that is Ville Dommange I realised I had been following Sunday's roads, not Saturday's. Still off the bottom of the map I turned right on D26 & at a guess left on D27 thereby bypassing Maizy. I stopped in a village for lunch at a bar. Had a beer & sat there after ordering lunch. I sat & sat & had another beer . Finally I asked about lunch & was led out the back, across the courtyard & into a big hall for a waitress served meal. Very reasonable price too.

Got to Fismes, mailed some cards but forgot to say "Par Avion". Headed up RD967 to Laon. It was a beautiful ride. However, as I was travelling north & all the valleys go east west I was either grunting up on the little gears of floating down on the freewheel. In Laon I found the Hotel Commerce by the railway station & was surprised at the reasonable price for a room of 235FRF. Went for a meal & depite being very good it was, I thought, only 16 FRF. The waitress got very excited at the 20FRF bill I gave her. The 16 was Euros! The real price was about 10 times that.. 78 km for the day.

Came down in the morning to a flat back tyre. Spare had a patch over the cut & I wasn't happy about continuing on worn tyres. Enquires led me to "le Boutique Velo" where I bought 2 new Michelin Axial Pros & a new pair of tubes for 448FRF. He stood & watched me put the first one on to make sure I knew what I was doing & lent me a track pump. I didn't leave until he had lubricated my frame pump. It made such a difference. But why the ghastly green colour for the tyres? They should be reserved for Bianchi bikes.

About 10 kms NW of Laon I rode through a village, Vivaise, that was adorned with flower beds & baskets all over the place. I can't think why I didn't stop of take a photo, it was beautiful & I wonder if the name Vivaise comes from the same roots as Vivacious & the residents feel obliged to live up to the name?

Original plan had been to ride to Reims & return in the bus. But I realised that I wouldn't be ready in time & was glad to change my mind. David had the head wind, I had the tail wind! Apart from a detour caused by a "Camp Militaire" cutting off the road north from Vivaise I found it easy to follow the white roads (Ed: small back roads are white on Michelin maps) into St Quentin. The impressive Cathedral sitting high on the rock should have been the subject of a detour but I was pressing on.

More white roads led me to the little village of Ytres, about 16 kms north of Perrone. It was about 18:00 & I thought it time I found "le Chambre". A fairly big house with it's own walled courtyard looked a likely haven & I went to the open door. Madam came out & was sorry but… Then an idea came into her head. She bussled me into her car & drove me about 3 km to the next village, Lechelle. From there we went along a track reminisent of Paris-Roubaix to an isolated farm house. Le Patron in his wellys & shorts was about to go in the house & madam came out. A brief conversation was followed by the lady saying she would have to ask her Daughter, the Mother of the two blond children. The young lady said in fractured English," Bed no problem, food no problem" I was taken back to my bike even though le Patron offered to come in his 2cv to pick it up. The stables had been converted into a form of hostel where students go to learn French. I was offered the choice of eating alone in the common room or with the family. It was a lovely evening with us all trying to master the tongue with which we were not familiar. Git des 4 Vents, 62124, Lechelle, France. 99 km for the day.

The next day's objective was the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge. Le Patron wrote, from memory, all the places I should pass through to get there. Arriving about lunch time was not a good plan (or lack thereof). It meant I spent about 2 hours there & when I left there was no food available. The trenches, the tunnels & the Memorial itself are a worthwhile reminder of the stupidity of war. All through my ride I had noticed signs to cemetries & it was quite late on I realised they were written in English. I was aware of the mamouth war grave cemetries but had never realised before just how many small ones there were, each village having it's own. But perhaps the most moving form of homage is the mind boggling task of engraving the stone base of the Memorial with the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers of WW1 who have no known grave.

Vimy is situated about half way between Arras & Lens. As I was heading for Calais I needed to leave Lens on a north westerly route. I had been sailing along with a tail wind & I continued thus beyond Lens. I hadn't noticed the wind's change of direction, coming more from the west. Thus I found I was heading north east & finished up close to Lille, in Carvin. Hotel was full & French directions were not too much use to me. However I finished in at a bar with rooms above, Tacky, but cheap, 150FRF!

In the morning I asked how far to Calais - 100 km. It was raining, as suggested by the shift in the wind. I sailed forth & followed my nose in the general direction of the coast. I noticed the change in the place names, definitely Flemish rather than French, & I found it to be gentle country despite it's savage history. Then I saw a sign; "Dunkerque - 45 km" & I was heading straight for it. I remember someone on the bus asking if we were going via Dunkirk or Calais. I thought I would head that way with more of a tail wind rather than fight a cross wind to Calais.

Shortly before reaching Dunkerque I came upon the beautiful little town of Berques. I had used up my film, a pity. In Dunkerque a gendarme said there was no ferry. At the information kiosk I was told there was, from West Port. It was on the way to Calais, I thought, & went there. It is in the middle of nowhere about 8 kms off the road. I got there to be told they didn't take foot passengers! What ensued was the worst ride of a lifetime. A long flat pebbled surface. I survived & checked into the Hotel Ibis at Calais. I was 100 km from whence I started that morning & had done 144 to get there!

Coming down to the reception desk in the morning wearing my Canadian Ranonneur jacket, a women pointed to the "Canadian" & said she was from Canada too. "Where", I asked, "Toronto" she said. I gave her the standard British Columbian's answer; "Oh well you can't have everything!" "Oh, she replied, you are from Vancouver?"

An uneventful 240FRF ferry ride to Dover & a fairly quick 12.40 quid (Ed: British pounds) rail trip into Charing Cross station in London left me with a traffic laden rush hour 28 km over the hills of North London back to Whetstone. In all it had been an enlightening and enjoyable eight days that had me covering a modest 633 km in that time.

During the following week I went out on the Tuesday with a section of the "40+" club. It was formed just after WW2, for what were then the elderly club folk in their forties. The same people, by & large, still make up the bulk of the membership! At 73 I was one of the younger members of the group. Did 94 km that day and that included stopping at a field gate to observe 2 of the late Sculptor Henry Moore's works set in the field close by his Much Hadham home.

At lunch, in a pub of course, I sat next to an 87 year old who had ridden out from his Waltham Abbey home & was going to ride back, a round trip of about 40-45 km. I was told that on a ride in the recent past he had suffered a rear hub QR skewer breakage while on his way home. Unperturbed he had walked the 10 km remainling to get home.

The following day The North Road (NR) mid-week ride was planned with lunch at the "John Bunyan" Coleman Green. That was to the northwest whereas the previous day had been north east. In both cases I was led on mainly quiet roads by people with more immediate experience than I possessed. But memory was restored as familiar bits of road & country came into view.

Hertfordshire is a beautiful county that suffers from being a yuppie dormitory for London. 59 km that day, including a detour to visit a one time editor of the North Road Gazette, Colin Brutey, in Brookman's Park. That cost me the guidance of NR captain Mike Christophers & I got lost finding my way back to Whetstone!

On Sunday Oct 8 it had been my intention to ride the "Andreswald" 200 km randonnee in Ashdown Forest. But I received a dinner invitation in Enfield for Saturday night. I was invited to stay the night & I didn't think it right to disturb my hosts early enough Sunday morning to get to Uckfield, East Sussex, for an 08:00 start. I compromised & decided to get there for the 10:00 start of the "100". Lucky I did, that was tough enough, the 200 would have been gruesome. We were lucky with the weather & I had never been in, through, round or over the Ashdown Forest before. I had a wonderful day with lots of grunting on the 26 ring. That was virtually the end of my cycling for the holiday. Did about 25 km in the Devon hills a couple of days later with lunch in the Church Inn, Rattey. It is a building that dates back to 1093. Nice pub too.

After leaving Uckfield I drove to Worthing to visit Ken Aylott & after leaving Totnes on the Thursday I had coffee with the Exeter section of the CTC (Ed: Cycle Touring Club) before descending upon Alan & Brenda Fowler in Cheriton Fitzpaine. Nostalgic look through photos & dinner before I headed for Tiverton & the M5. The following evening at St Ippolits it was deja vue as I was looking through Brian Hay's collection of photos, many of which I had been looking at in Devon.

I admit to enjoying the Vauxhall Vectra I rented. Bit of a disapointment when I saw the "Opal" label. Enroute to Gatwick Monday noon, approaching the roundabout at the top of Cat Hill I moved over for an oncoming truck & the sprung left hand mirror made a nasty noise as it hit a parked car. It was about a km up the road before I could park & I walked back in the rain to pick up the pieces of the streamlined fairing. I found it rolling around in the road in one piece. I clicked back in place & avoided extra charges when returning the car at the airport.

A varied & worthwhile month, I enjoyed & "Thank You" to those who helped.