Day 96 – Andover to Home

Today is the last day of the trip and it’s a big ride. It’s about 100 mile back home and goes through the Cotswold Hills. The plan was to meet my dad at 14:30 halfway in Burford, as he wants to cycle the remaining 53 miles with me. I’d told friends and family that I’d be back home at 7pm so I had a bit of a lie in and went for a coffee in Andover.

back_home_smallerThe route I had planned was really nice. Staying off many of the main roads I pieced together a route through some really small country roads. I was in good spirits with the sun on my back and knowing I was on my way home.

When I got to Burford I stopped for dinner and met up with my dad. We rode the Cotswolds together and met up with my sister a few miles before the end.

It had been a long day but I had made home. I got a fantastic greeting from my friends and family who were waiting for me on my drive. Thank you to all those who came to see me arrive. It was a nice end to an absolutely amazing trip.

I worked out that I’ve completed around 6,300 miles in total, the enormity of this still hasn’t sunk in. To me, each day was just a ride, free time, seeing new landscapes and meeting new people you wouldn’t normally get to meet. Some parts were tougher than others but not one day was so hard that I felt like giving up. I’ve always had the support of my friends and family, this has always been on my mind when times have been hard, like climbing some very long, steep mountains in Slovenia, or several days of constant rain through Sweden, Denmark and Germany.

What I have enjoyed most about the trip is experiencing a continent from an entirely different perspective. On a bike all your senses take in the environment around you. Seeing some absolutely breath taking natural landscapes, exchanging glances with locals in remote villages, swapping stories with fellow travellers from every corner of the world, taking in the smells of the countryside, spotting wildlife I’ve not seen before, feeling the intense heat in the mountains on the Mediterranean coast and the cool breezes in Scandinavia. The list could go on and on.

I didn’t plan the trip meticulously but I was lucky that everything went smoothly. Although I must admit, everything i took with me (see my equipment list) was used at some point. I don’t feel I had taken anything with me that I didn’t need, or was missing anything when I needed it. In a way I wish more things had gone wrong, this might have challenged me more, plus everyone loves a story of peril and misadventure!

I would encourage anyone to do something similar. The experience is so liberating and each day so fulfilling.

If you have anything you’d like to ask me about the trip feel free to email me.

Day 95 – Brighton to Andover

Camping was expensive in Brighton. I asked why it was so expensive and the most justifiable answer I was given was “because it’s Brighton”. I won’t be camping there again.

It had rained most of the night and it was still raining when I left the campsite. I got absolutely soaked cycling along Brighton’s sea front. I could feel the water in my shoes and my socks where squelching. So much for waterproof socks and shoes.img_1247

Brighton’s sea front seemed to go on for miles before I started to head North West towards Andover. The rain had slowed slightly but the damage had already been done, I was soaked to the skin.

I got another puncture today. Luckily it happened while I was searching for somewhere to stop for dinner, and the thorn punctured my front tyre just before reaching a pub. Puncture fixed and body refuelled, I continued on to Andover.

Tonight will be my last night in my tent. I’m going to miss it. I love camping; I’ve always preferred sleeping in my tent over any hotel room. I’m looking forward to getting back to my own bed, I just wonder how I’m going to adjust to life back home after being away for so long and living in such a different way than what I’m used to.

Day 94 – Folkestone to Brighton

I got up at 6am as I’d gained an hour. So this was in fact a lie in for me. I had a sausage roll and Cornish pasty from the post office as I hadn’t had chance to buy any supplies the night before.

The morning rush hour traffic was in full swing when I hit Folkestone. I then passed the entrance to the channel tunnel and made my way onto the quitter roads. At a set of traffic lights I bumped into David who I had met in France the day before. We chatted for a bit before I continued.

I hit a diversion on one of the roads which must have added another five or ten miles onto the journey.

Just before Brighton I joined the A27; a hideous road for cyclists and a completely useless attempt at cycle lanes. I was now in with the traffic going past me at 70+ miles an hour, it was pleasant but it only last ten miles before I got to Brighton.

Day 93 – Brugge to Folkestone

Brugge is a beautiful city, not dissimilar to Gent and Antwerp. I’m not sure why Brugge seems to get so many more tourists than the other cities though.

I visited the city on a Saturday in August. As you can imagine it was really busy. Too busy in fact. I hate queuing a long time to get into things so I just wandered around the cobbled streets for a while before taking a boat trip around parts of the city.

img_1237It was pleasant day sightseeing, but more importantly I got my last clothes wash of the trip completed for some fresh undies for the dahs home.

I met a Spanish cycle tourer in Antwerp and bumped into him again in Brugge. He is from Valencia and taking fifteen days to work his way around Belgium and Holland. There seem to be a lot of Spanish in in Belgium.

I got up early this morning. I wanted to get to Calais as quickly as possible to get an early ferry back to England

It was a Sunday, so I hardly saw a person whilst cycling through the city centre. Once out, I was passing through lovely little villages with something I hate most of all while cycling; a headwind. The wind was so bad I almost got the ferry from Dunkirk instead, but I battled on to Calais, sticking with my original plans.

I came across another English cycle tourer fighting the wind the other side of Dunkirk. I think his name was David. He’d been cycling much of France for a month and was also heading to Calais. We rode together for a while exchanging stories of our trips. I eventually left him and fought my way on to Calais.

I got straight on the 3 o’clock ferry and met a lovely family from Canterbury. All seven of them had cycled from Paris and back within a week. A cycling family, I thought this was brilliant and brave, especially on some of those busier roads.

From Dover I continued towards Folkestone where there was a campsite. Cycling on the left seems absolutely bizarre, I found myself being drawn to the right hand side of the road and I had to make sure I went the right way around islands.

After a quick shower I went to the local pub where I drank a real ale and had a Sunday roast, bliss!

Day 92 – Antwerp to Brugge

Another short ride today of about 100km. The pigeons had gone to town on my tent in the night, by morning it was absolutely plastered in pigeon sh*t! I got as much of as I could before packing up to go. The weather was grey so I put my waterproof shorts on just in case.

img_1226The route I took to Brugge went from Antwerp to Gent. Gent is easily as beautiful as Antwerp. I got a little lost in the centre but was soon out on the country roads to Brugge. The sun was out at this point which really lifted my spirits, especially knowing that when I get to Brugge I’ll have another rest day to do my last clothes wash before home.

I think of all these cool things to put in my blog on my bike and forget them by the time I come to write it, so that’s it really. I’m in Brugge and I’ll be here until Sunday, when I ride to Calais and hopefully jump on a ferry to the last country on my trip, England.

Day 91 – Rotterdam to Antwerp

I had a nice day walking around Rotterdam. The city was pretty much flattened during the Second World War but there is still plenty to see like some of the modern buildings, peaceful parks, ferry trips and the Euromast, a 185m tower in the centre. I went up the Euromast for an eagle’s eye view of the city. I also went to the zoo. I don’t care how old you are, zoos are always great fun.

The next morning I was off in the direction of Antwerp, Belgium. I thought my route would have to take me inland to cross some of the many rivers, but I managed to plan it so it used the handy bridges and tunnels that are all accessibly to cyclists.

I went wrong a few times but it didn’t matter, I knew it would be a shorter ride today. It rained quite a lot, heavy at times but as soon as I crossed into Belgium the sun came out.

When I reached Antwerp I took img_1216the pedestrian tunnel to the other side of the river where the campsite was. Setup my camp and walked into the city centre for evening where I tasted the Belgium beers and had some food. Italian of course as that’s what most of the restaurants in Antwerp seem to be. I do love a good lasagne.

Day 90 – Kampen to Rotterdam

I set my alarm 30 minutes earlier to get a good start on the days ride. Would you believe about 15 mins after I’d got up it starts to rain. So the day started by packing up a sopping wet tent.

I’d meticulously planned my route the night before, hoping that I wouldn’t get any problems with cycle routes. I’d basically planned the route to stick close to towns, these usually being linked by cycle routes.

I started with a guess route down a road that I thought was in the right direction. Turns out I was correct, not only that but the sun had started to come out.

From here on in everything went to plan. I followed all the cycle route signs perfectly all the way to Rotterdam. The good thing about doing it this way is that the signs show short distances between towns, so you think “That isn’t too far” and of course it all adds up. The cycle network really is good here. I take back what I said previously. Although the odd sign missing here and there is a bit of a pain.

I went through some lovely little towns with the typically painted window shutters and miniature windmills in the front gardens. As well as riding along part of the network of canals.

I really liked the look of Utrecht – it was alive with students and looked a really cool place to spend a few nights. I got told off for cycling up the high street after 11am. Apparently I’m supposed to push it after this time. They were nice about it and I only had to push it a couple of hundred metres.

I’m not sure how far I did today but it seemed a very long way indeed. I’m glad I made it though and have a day to look around tomorrow. It’s an easy ride all the way back to England now. I’ll be covering shorter distances to Antwerp, Brugge and Calais.

Day 89 – Blijham to Kampen

I woke to the sun for a change, in fact it looked like it was going to be a nice day. I had managed to dry my shoes out a little courtesy of toilet paper from the campsite toilets.

I was a little worried that I was limited to certain roads in Holland. My worries were confirmed when I hit my first no cycling sign. In fact you can only cycle on cycle paths in Holland. I stopped at a tourist information to ask how I could get to my destination. The struggle but plotted me a new route. One town I couldn’t reach because they were all national roads or motorways. What I don’t get is the roads I can’t cycle on are only single carriageway. I’ve figured out now that anything starting in A or N I can’t touch, but just to make things even more difficult, some N roads do have a cycle path running alongside.

I pieced together a route and finally managed to work my way through lots of little villages and get to Kampen. Holland certainly is as flat as I’d heard and the little villages are quite pretty with their cobbled roads.

Tomorrow I want to get to Rotterdam. Another concerned face from the staff at the campsite. I’ve looked and it is impossible to get there without going on an N road, but who knows which ones have cycle paths or not. This is turning out to be a bit of a nightmare where planning is concerned, who knows where I’ll end up tomorrow.

Day 88 – Bremerhaven to Blijham

Just as I was getting ready to leave in the morning it started to rain again. On went the waterproofs and off I went. I’d cycled no more than 10km before I hit a no cycling sign. I had to divert the rout south, zigzagging around fields until I hit a dead end. Which was in fact a car ferry crossing and it was running. Once I crossed this I managed to get back onto my route.

Today I was hoping to get as far as Holland but the guys I was talking to at the ferry crossing had concerned looks on their faces. Either way I had no option but to carry on through the rain in the direction of Holland.

The weather didn’t improve all day. I had to wring my socks out when I stopped for food. I eventually crossed the border into Holland and made my way to the nearest campsite I could. Would you believe, as soon as I stepped off the bike the sun came out. The campsite has this bizarre policy of putting money on a key that I had to put a 25 euro deposit on to use the showers. Fair enough I guess but my charge for camping was over 40 euros and I only had 36. So I had to have a shower then give the key back and use the deposit to pay for my camping, stupid system!

Day 87 – Hamburg to Bremerhaven

My hotel was pretty budget and resided on a road called Reepbahn. Unknown to me this is the red light district of Hamburg and pretty sleazy it was too. This is the old port area and the sailors would come round the Pauli district for beer and sex, and nothing has changed since then, just no sailors and a lot more sex shops. Once you get away from this area and walk into the centrimg_1177e of Hamburg it’s a lot more pleasant. A third of the city was destroyed during the war so there aren’t many historical remnants but it is a nice city to walk around.

On the first night I got decided to have a walk around the Pauli district and check out a few bars. I got hassled so much buy prostitutes, literally pulling me to one side, that I decided to cut the night short and have an early night. I picked up a flyer for a three day rock festival on in the centre and thought I’d check that out the following evening. I stayed until halfway through the last band before I left. It made a change to see some live music, it was good.

This morning I left with waterproofs on yet again. It had stayed mainly dry for the previous day but the rain had returned. To leave Hamburg I had to cross the river Elbe. There is a tunnel but it is only open to pedestrians so I had to cross to the industrial side a few kilometres further down river. I used the GPS to aid my route and this is where it all went wrong. It took me the wrong direction, deep into industrial estates and into two or three dead ends. Then I got a puncture in my back tyre that resulted in me swapping for the spare inner tube. So far so bad, although the rain had stopped.

I did eventually get back on track, but I had been cycling for an hour and a half and got five miles up my root. So I pushed really hard timg_1175o make up the lost time. This paid off in the end and I managed to claw some time back.

I arrived in Bremerhaven tired and a little damp. Pitched my tent and went and got some fuel for my stove and food supplies.