Ever since meeting Sophie a year ago, I’ve had ‘Cycle from London to Paris’ on my bucket list. I’ve envisaged the photo in front of the Eiffel Tower holding up my bike, feeling triumphant. Over New Year in France, some girlfriends and I decided it would be our group challenge for this year, and set about organising a 3 day girls trip to cycle the 200 miles over the first May bank holiday weekend. Whilst I would have loved to have been involved with Sophie’s 24 hour sportive, I just knew that my cycling fitness and ability wasn’t up to it yet, so four of us planned our own beginner’s trip.
Friday- London to Newhaven 70 miles
Saturday- Dieppe to Chassy 80 miles
Sunday- Chaussy to Paris 50 miles
We met at the London Eye on Friday at 11 to take our iconic picture before heading South out of London towards Coulsdon. Missing rush hour meant we easily navigated our way through the streets of London without too much traffic to contend with. We stopped at our favourite Coulsdon coffee shop for lunch – about 15 miles into our journey.
One of the main keys to success was to keep a steady pace on the bike, and to eat plenty to keep your energy up. We’d stocked up with bananas, cereal bars, energy gels, energy balls, and Nuun.
We stopped for a mini picnic after another 15 miles to top up our water, eat again and stretch the legs a little, before pressing onwards. We all started to hit the wall around the 45 mile mark and were desperate for a cup of tea plus something chocolatey. After passing a pub that turned out to be closed, we pulled in at the next place that was open. It turned out to be a rather grotty pub in North Chailey. I’d recommend holding off for another 5 mins, and you’ll pass a pub called The 5 Bells- it looks much nicer!
The tea and Kit Kat did the trick, and I found the final 20 miles into Newhaven easier (despite a minor detour onto a VERY busy road). We entered Newhaven as it was getting dark, and headed straight to Padella D’Oro Italian restaurant. The owner let us leave our bikes in his garden, charge our phones and served us some great garlic bread and lasagne! Definitely worth a visit if you’re stopping through Newhaven.
Our ferry was at 11, meaning we needed to check in by 10pm. After our original ferry was cancelled, we were upgraded to a cabin. It was so great to have shower, get into PJs and try to sleep for the 4 hour crossing. Sadly I’m not sure any of us got much sleep, and the 3.15am tannoy was a very rude awakening.
Leaving the ferry port, we followed a couple of other groups of cyclists making their way to the Avenue Verte. Then Helena got a puncture…
It was pitch black, cold and 4.15am- not ideal. We tried our best to change the inner tube before flagging down two other cyclists to help. Luckily one of the ladies used to teach people how to repair punctures! With our first drama of the day out of the way, we hit the road. The route to the Avenue Verte isn’t too easy, and includes some pretty major roads before the first signposts appear directing you to the path. It was freezing, and directing on the wrong side of the road in the dark wasn’t much fun.
Compared to the UK side, the 35 miles along the Avenue Verte are a dream. Flat, tarmaced paths with no traffic, a few loo stops along the side and the promise of pastries and coffee at the end of it. However, after little sleep this was still really tough and there were a few dark moments.
The coffee, hot chocolate and pain au raisins in Forges les Eaux were amazing. There’s literally nothing open in the towns before Forges les Eaux so don’t waste time and energy looking for shops before this. Luckily Sophie had warned me about this, but it was still tempting when we were desperate for a hot drink!
We spent about an hour in Forges les Eaux warming up and refuelling, before getting back on the bikes towards Gourney en Bray…
To be continued.