Its been one week since leaving drinks in London and slightly more than that since leaving Leamington, later than planned, about lunch time on Thursday the 11th of February.
That day I raced through glorious sunshine on route to the Cotswolds. And I have been in many amazing places since – Surrey, the South Downs, Brighton and along the south coast to Dover.
Since then I have been volunteering at the warehouse sorting through donations to the camps in Calais and Dunkerque, and came back from a visit to the Dunkerque camp earlier today, which was frankly a disgrace – a mudbath housing what seemed like 000’s of people to which no building materials, tents, and groundsheets are currently allowed entry. The tarpaulins we were transporting were confiscated at the entrance by police officers that sounded ashamed to be carrying out their orders. They kept the things they ordered us to leave behind at the side of the road and let us pick them up when we left. Yesterday, one friend said a police officer pretended he didnt see the tents in the back of his truck, and another person I met said she saw two police officers summarily demand two people do press ups at the side of the street.
The trip so far has been amazing and enjoyable. I’m just glad that I am writing this first post this evening, when my recollection is very different to what it was when I left Dover a few days ago. The privilege to travel through all of Europe on a bike, with all the gear I need, being welcomed into the homes of strangers, should not go unremarked. Hopefully I can raise money and awareness for what is going on as well as record lots of stories about things entirely unconnected.
So here is a quick functional recap before I go to bed and set off tomorrow into France. It is raining, my pannier and mudguard were broken by a very poorly placed post in a badly lit cycle lane, and im not sure if i can get a place to stay tomorrow. As an aside, I got a place to stay on Monday in Beauvais within five minutes of asking, having used google translate for my sins – “it is ok for monday. you eat with us.” Amazing!!
I am planning to take route one through France given the rain and try to get south relatively quickly. So first to Paris in three days. Calais-Abbeville-Beauvais.
Leamington – Hampton Lucy – Pillerton Priors – Fulready – Whatcote – Brailes – somewhere near Sibford Ferris.
Set off late and after leaving my home town of Leamington arrived in beautiful countryside, with scenes like this.
Didnt fully register the cotswolds were so hilly. Was committed to finding a place to wild camp. Found a great spot to figure out how to put up my tent and use my stove for the first time in the pitch black. Just before Hook Norton. You can’t quite see the muddy bog I trekked through in the dark to get there..
Hook Norton – Great Tew – Wootton – Bletchingdon – Kidlington – Oxford – Wheatley – Thame
Started with one cereal bar, the flooded gulley, and a massive hill. Arrived in Hook Norton looking like a space man and sat in the sun eating haribo and drinking coffee and lucozade. Then another massive hill, and I quickly cancelled any thought of getting to London for a 7pm appointment and made it to Princes Risborough through stunning country lanes before getting on a train.
Day three / four
Spent the weekend in London, alternating between my sister’s and my brother’s houses. Lovely weekend, extended by the decision to stay for Sunday and watch Arsenal beat Leicester. Good omen.
Followed route 21 out of London to Brighton. Found a great place to camp near Caterham. Weather forecast was for -2 but didn’t feel that cold with 2 jackets on and got a good night’s sleep.
Started frosty and sunny in big landscapes near Gatwick. Glorious.
Carried on all day to Brighton. I found an amazing place to stay on a cycle touring community website, like coachsurfing but for muddy cyclists… They had done a cycle tour through Latin America and day one was the highest peak in Guatemala. Put me to shame..!
Followed the number 2 coastal route from Brighton to Hastings along beaches like this.
Occasionally went inland onto some of the cliffs, which opened up to views like this.
Again found a great place to stay, this time on coachsurfing and had dinner with a cool trio of people, one of which was a junior doctor that had to get up at 5am but still let me stay with almost no notice.
Relaxed in a wonderful pub with this for breakfast to say goodbye to England.
Left at 1pm but probably best day cycling yet. No breaks for fifty miles and amazing coastal scenery as the sun went down.
Wasn’t quite prepared for Folkestone to Dover in the dark and attempts to find a quieter cycling route ended in brambles on the cliff edge in the pitch black. So strapped the lights on and went up Dover Hill on the main roads. Not fun but a good way to complete the UK.
Got on the ferry with three bottles of ale and enough cash for a large curry.
Day nine and ten in Calais and Dunkerque and day 11 about to start. Time for a bit more of a test in the wind and rain without any language skills… Wish me luck!