In a lull between a hectic period at work and the frenetic chaos of NaNoWriMo, I took my bike on the ferry to the Netherlands in late October last year—mainly so I could decompress by being forced to do nothing but concentrate on the road.
This time I went a bit further south than I had before, staying with a friend who lives near ‘s-Hertogenbosch before heading south into Limburg, a region which spans the Netherlands and part of Belgium. The Belgian part of Limburg has made a significant effort to attract cycle tourism, and this has meant the creation of two attractions: Fietsen Door Het Water (cycling through water) and Fietsen Door De Bomen (cycling through the trees.)
I’ve passed through Paris a few times en route to somewhere else. All I’ve had the chance to explore has been in the context of a cramped RER train, a missed alarm and a dash to Gare de l’Est to catch an early morning ICE to Germany, and (a few times) a gentle pootle, on foot or on a hired Vélib’, killing time between connections.
Spending a week there with my partner has strengthened my resolve to go back. As someone who’s spent the best part of a decade living in London, it was fascinating to compare and contrast the two cities; the shared problems (pollution, poverty, inequality) and the differing scales and solutions. I was especially interested in Paris’s streestscape and might write another blog post about that in future. For now, these are some of my favourite pictures from the week.
I am not a sports cyclist at all. I am slow. Most days I ride a Gazelle (a Dutch granny bike with a massive crate on the front) to work, at an average speed of around 13km/hr. That’s fine. But I’m also someone who likes doing stupid things occasionally.
I first heard about the Dunwich Dynamo, an annual, semi-organised overnight ride from London to Dunwich in Suffolk several years ago. This year seemed like as good a time as any to actually attempt it: I had a free weekend, I’d done some longer rides in the run-up and wasn’t concerned about my ability to not complete the ride. Paul Battley’s and Nat Buckley’s write-ups of the 2016 ride were helpful, as was the advice I got from various folks on Twitter when I sent out a call for suggestions.
It was fun! It was exhausting. It was also a bit of a disaster for me: it took me longer than I expected to get to Dunwich, I took more than I really needed, and I left later than planned, so I only arrived at around 11:45am. But I made it. I’m writing these notes up for the benefit of anyone else who wants to try it, and for myself when I inevitably try and do it again.
Every year, my company downs tools for a week and decamps to a hotel for a week of training and an internal conference. Usually, if it’s in mainland Europe, that involves flying.
I try to avoid it. I hate the rigmarole of flying. Partly because airports are awful places seemingly designed to induce maximum stress; partly because I’m increasingly concerned about the environmental impact (there’s a case for the Swedish flygskam movement becoming more widespread.)
Cross Paris to the Gare de Lyon, and take a TGV to Barcelona;
Take an overnight ferry from Barcelona to Palma.
I left my flat just after 8:15am on Saturday, taking a suitcase and a backpack. I live in Stratford, which means I’m very lucky to have the High Speed 1 service to St. Pancras. Getting to the Eurostar in time to check in was pretty easy, even if the security check was a pain.
We started by heading up the River Lea navigation, an annoyingly narrow towpath with far too many sharp corners, and steep inclines, and unnecessary ‘cyclists dismount’ signs. The poor surfaces were also the source of (at least) our first puncture of the ride.
I took my new Temple Cycles bike on the ride (now the dynamo has been fixed, after it broke down in Brighton.) The bike’s brilliant for this kind of light touring! It was better on the gravelly towpath than I expected on 28mm tyres, but I was glad to get back onto bonded gravel and asphalt. I was also grateful that I could easily turn the lights on for extra daytime visibility in some tunnels on the towpath. Dynamos are great.