Last summer, three friends and I cycled from London to Paris over three days. It was tough but it was a lot of fun. We cycled a maximum of 86 miles in one day, staying at a cute B&B in the French countryside on our way to the capital. We decided at the end of our trip that we wanted to make it an annual thing. So months ago we planned to cycle to Amsterdam.
To say I was underprepared is an understatement, but I think I’m pretty fit, and Halfords had offered to kit me out with a brand new road bike, so I felt good to go and excited for my first proper ride in months (eek).
I picked up my Carrera Zelos on Thursday morning, just hours before we set off. A silly mistake as the bike wasn’t properly set up for me, and I definitely suffered from very sore shoulders because of this. I’ll definitely take it back to get it properly sorted before riding too much more.
I had the bike kitted with Gator Skin tyres ( I didn’t want a repeat of the multiple punctures I experienced on the way to Paris), water bottle holders, pannier rack (but sadly no mud guards, the bike style couldn’t have both). It was light, easy to change gear, and fairly comfortable for the journey – although I was more than a little saddle sore after 150 miles.
I hopped on the train and met Helena and Anna (our cycling guru and leader- donate to her ‘Ride to Rio’ here) at the Olympic Park, the starting point of our journey. Things were a bit fraught, and we were running late so no leaving photo sadly.
Our goal for the day was to make it to Harwich for the 11pm ferry to the Hook of Holland. We cycled out of London into Essex, through and out of the city and into the countryside.
Lunch was a pub pit stop for jacket potatoes at a pub in a cute village that we’d cycled past, when tummies were rumbling and it looked like we were going to miss our pre-booked lunch at another pub further along.
Unfortunately, things went a little bit downhill (sadly, not literally) from here. I was ambling along…ambling being the operative word, rather slowly. I’m not sure what happened, whether I was in my head or feeling sluggish after lunch but I could not pick up the pace. Anna actually had to kindly say to me that if we continued on at my speed (about 9mph) we weren’t going to make our ferry crossing…
I had two choices; cycle faster or head to a train station to meet the girls at the ferry.
But what would I write on the blog if I got the train? How would I explain it to myself, friends, readers?
I told Anna to cycle at the pace we needed to go, and I would keep up. I just had to. We made a mini peleton, and for the first time ever, I felt confident enough (actually it was just totally necessary) to sit at the back and try to use the reduction in drag to pull me forwards. I concentrated solely on keeping my wheel a couple of inches behind Helenas wheel and not much else.
And somehow it worked, my legs turned over more quickly, and we upped our pace significantly to 16mph.
We had 51 miles to go.
I ran out of water and began dreaming of ice cold water, it was hot and we were sweaty. Shops appeared like a mirage, until finally a real life corner shop where we could buy two 2L bottles of icy Evian. The best water has ever tasted.
And on we cycled.
Making it to Colchester for a coffee at our target time was a real high point, as were the iced lattes and coffee cake in the sunshine. It was reassurance that we would make it to the ferry, to our pre booked dinner. With only 20 miles to go, it finally felt manageable, like we were going to make it!
The next 10 miles were beautiful, through the Essex countryside, small villages and through fields. I’ve never seen Essex look so gorgeous. Most of the roads were quiet country roads, with few cars and a couple of other cyclists nodding a friendly hello as they pass.
The final 10 were a little painful, we all grew quiet, ready to be finished, knowing that we weren’t far from Harwich.
Finally, finally we arrived, 90 miles later at the The Alma pub (highly recommended), and ordered all the food, including a 1.5kg lobster and chips to share, plus obviously a celebratory beer.
After a slap up dinner, we hopped back on our bike to cycle the mile or so to the ferry terminal, dumped our bikes and found our rooms. Our bunk rooms were small but comfortable, with a great (amazing) hot shower and a TV where we watched some of the Olympics before passing out.
The best difference between our Paris ferry and this ferry was that we got a full nights sleep. Rather than being turfed out into the dark in the middle of the night, we were woken by the Happy Song at 6.30am in time for a big breakfast on board before setting off at 8am to cover the 60 miles to Amsterdam.
The route is amazing. The fact that The Netherlands is a bike friendly country is well publicised, but I didn’t realise just how friendly. There were bike lanes pretty much from ferry to our Air B&B in Amsterdam.
It was also pretty flat, not pancake flat, but small undulations to keep things interesting along the way. We cycled along the coast, through gorgeous sand dunes, and small seaside towns. After 1.5 hours of cycling we stopped for coffee and cake (are you sensing a theme here?) in The Hague. We enjoyed macchiatos and traditional apple cake at a super friendly coffee shop, where they gave us free cake, filled up our water bottles and wished us well.
We pressed on, back through the sand dunes, spirits high. Our next stop was lunch in the beachside town of Zanvoort. The sand was white, the sea turquoise and the restaurants reminded me of those you find in the French riviera. It was gorgeous, and I’d love to come back to spend longer than an hour next time.
Our lunch included Bitterballen – a traditional snack of fried fish balls, cheese balls and chicken gravy balls, open chicken and avocado sandwiches, crudites with dip and coffees. With only 20 miles to go from Zanvoort to Amsterdam, we felt pretty fab.
The last few miles weren’t overly scenic, turning off from the coastal path and heading inland through Haarlem and into Amsterdam. We cycled over very straight roads through industrial estates, luckily still along designated cycle paths.
Then Anna let us know that she was literally falling asleep on the bike, so we made a quick stop before arriving into the city for her to load up on caffeine and sugar! Snacking and hydrating on the bike is crucial. My personal faves on this trip were Rice Krispie squares, strawberry laces, Cliff bars and Naked bars, and Nuun!
It always seems to take longer to cover those last few miles, to reach your final destination, than you think it will. You enter the city and yet it seems to take forever to make your way through it. We finally arrived at the IAmsterdam sign around 4pm, and it was packed. Unlike the Eiffel Tower, it was hard to capture our iconic photo, but we managed.
We then cycled the 9 minutes to our Air B and B, and zonked out. 150 miles total, London to Amsterdam. Done!!
My top tips;
- You could take 2 or 3 days to cover the distance, stopping en route to Harwich if you want to break the 9o mile day up.
- It’s great for beginners – the terrain isn’t tough, there are plenty of spots to stop, and the roads aren’t too busy once you’re outside of London.
- There’s plenty of places to stop for food, drinks and importantly, cake! Don’t forget to fill up your water bottles every time you stop.
- I’d recommend getting a cabin on the ferry, they cost around £50 for a 2 bed, as you’re on the ferry for a good 8 hours. The rooms do book up quickly, we had to change our itinerary because we couldn’t get any berths on the Friday crossing! If you want a big cooked breakfast, book it in advance to save cash, or bring your own and buy your morning coffee at the bar.
- The coastal route is easy to follow, however there are areas where there aren’t signposts, so it might be worth having it on a map, phone or Garmin. Also if it’s very windy it might be quite miserable, so you might prefer the inland road if that’s the case!
- Get your bike checked over before you go, whether you take it into your local shop for a service or do it yourself, make sure your breaks are working, tires are pumped up and you have everything you need to make your journey as comfortable as possible (yes, I brought a seat cover with me!).
I highly recommend this trip for cyclists of all levels for an awesome trip!