Very hard day with terrible weather and tough hills. We started quite like, despite knowing that afternoon is going to bring scattered rain showers into the area. This was to be our longest day so far, around 62km. We were to stay at the Fermes du Florence, a small B&B 9km short of Vimoutiers, a large town in the Orne department of Normandy. The first 35-45km of cycling was uneventful. Road leaving Caen is a very busy D road, turning into a highway at times. Around 5km after Caen we turned onto a much quieter country road and followed the same for the next 35km (D40).
After a brief stop 3km short of St. Pierre sur Dives where Dianna had her lunch, we continued to St. Pierre to have lunch ourselves. This part of Normandy seemed a bit dull. The people around are rough and don’t smile. Towns and villages don’t look very rich. Many were destroyed during WWII and rebuilt to a much lower standard. The town centre of St. Pierre sur Dives turned into Saturday market for bikers. There were two brasseries in town and both around the biker market. It seemed that everyone around smoked. It started raining very hard when we sat down for lunch. The rain passed and we continued towards Vimoutiers. The next 20km should have been quite hilly. Instead of continuing towards Trun and then NE to Vimoutiers we took small side roads to cut some distance.
The rain finally caught up with us on one of the small roads where we also got the news that we will not be able to stay at the Fermes Florance (no baby bed and 48 hour prior notice to server us dinner). We had to cycle 9km past this B&B to Vimoutiers, where luckily I’ve found a vacancy at the Hotel La Coronne.
Thereafter it rained on and off, sometimes quite hard until we got to Vimoutiers. It also became quite hilly, with the next 10km giving us almost 500 meters of climbing.
Last 9km to Vimoutiers were downhill. Hotel La Coronne is a story worthy of a separate post 😉 With most of its staff drunk and rude, smoking bans not really having an effect on neither the staff nor the guests and rooms looking as this was a roadside trucker lodge somewhere in Laos. It took some time for Dianna to finally go to bed.
High-speed ferry for Ouistreham departs Portsmouth at 7am. As a result, we had to wake up at 5:15am to pack, cycle 5km to the ferry and be there ready for boarding 45 minutes before departure. Dianna was very surprised to see her parents wake up before she did for once.
Once packed, we cycled over to the ferry terminal. It was quite windy, SW at 30-35km/hr. Once boarded, we were told that the seas will be rough for the crossing. Normandy Express takes 3.5 hours to do 170km Channel crossing. According to my GPS it averages just over 60km/hr, quite fast for a big boat like her. First 2 hours was quite a bumpy ride. Once we got closer to the French coast the seas became more calm. Dianna slept for about an hour on the ferry. There were a lot of kids on the boat and everyone had trouble putting them to sleep 😉
We disembarked and took the voie verte (dedicated cycle path) along the Ouistreham – Caen canal. It is just over 17km and leads directly to the centre of Caen. There was a strong headwind all the way to Caen and it took us more than an hour to get to our hotel. The cycleway is a dedicated path going from the port direct to Caen. It’s smooth tarmac all the way.
Bad weather scheduled for today by the Met Office didn’t materialize. It was hot and sunny with calm winds all the way to Fishbourne, where we boarded a train to Portsmouth. Not a drop of rain or a hint of thunder. We should have cycled all the way to Portsmouth, but I had to take a train to Waterloo in order to pick up our passports from the travel agent with Dianna’s visa.
The ride began with a a steepish climb leaving Midhurst towards Cocking hill. The road to Cocking hill is quite busy. The remainder of the ride was slightly downhill/undulating through South Downs national park. Very scenic and authentically British.
Tomorrow at 7am we will board the ferry to Caen.
Woke up at 6am today. We did think that Dianna will sleep a bit longer since it took 2 hours to get her to bed last night. No chance. Early bird she is, 6am sharp. We left at around 8. It takes a while to pack Dianna’s stuff (and our own), feed her breakfast, etc. She was happy to be back in her Chariot. Something we didn’t expect from her. It seems that she is enjoying this.
The route to Midhurst took us through some wonderful British countryside. It is here where you start to understand that London doesn’t really represent Britain. Tourists flow into London in their thousands assuming that they are getting a taste of Britain. They aren’t. They are getting a taste of London.
From Crainleigh we took small back roads towards Plaistow and then traversing a small ridge to Easeborne and Midhurst. Total 450 meters of climbing with some hills at 12%+. Midhurst is a lovely, picturesque village with quite a distinct character. We are staying in the Spread Eagle hotel. Nice little hotel, built in the 15th century.
The weather forecast for tomorrow is not looking that good. We will be going to Portsmouth, and to avoid the weather and 15km of urban cycling, we will take a train from Chichester to Portsmouth harbor.
Great first day. Although it took us nearly 4.5 hours to cycle 40km 🙂 The weather is beautiful, temp hovering at around 25 C with a light SW breeze (bit of a headwind). Rolling hills today with 400 meters of climbing. Dianna slept most of the way.
It turned out she likes her infant sling more than the baby supporter. She gets rocked to sleep very easily and it seems that she is more comfortable in it despite the lack of freedom.
Our hotel for today is Richard Onslow, a B&B in Crainleigh.
We are finally about to start our trip. Will be leaving Epsom for Cranleigh tomorrow morning. Doing some last-minute packing after the roundaround with the French visa for Dianna. Anna had to go back and forth twice to TLSContact: First they didn’t like the photos (it does matter whether there is adult’s hand on an a passport photo of an 8-month old baby, probably makes her completely unrecognizable to consular officials), then they have called and asked her to come back because they forgot to give her another form to sign. Mind that it’s an hour each way. Frrrrrrrr. Someone was a bit upset.
Dianna doesn’t yet understand what’s coming, went to bed at 7 sharp with a smile on her face. We really do hope that she will enjoy this as much as we will.
When we first came up with the idea to cycle to Nice with Dianna, we were thinking of getting a recumbent tandem – the Hase Pino. We did get the tandem, but after doing a few short tours on it, I realized that it will not do the job. It is a wonderful piece of German engineering. However, there are a few serious deficiencies in the design that make it a bit unreliable and really hard to climb with. It’s quite heavy (24 kg for the tour version), but at 12kg per rider it feels like climbing with a 30 kilo bike. Even 2-3% gradients seem like steep hills on a Pino.
After carefully considering this option, we decided to ride on two separate bikes. I have a Koga touring bike equipped with a Rohloff, pannier racks, etc. Anna will ride on her Kuota Kharma roadie, with the Chariot CX1 trailer attached to her bike. I will be carrying all of our luggage and Anna will be pulling Dianna in her trailer. We will have to equip the Kuota with SPD compatible pedals (currently Look, not the best choice for a long trip) and mudguards. At this point, I think that we’ll have 2 Ortlieb rear pannier bags and one large Ortlieb rack pack (89l) with Dianna’s travel cot, toys, nappies, clothes, food, etc.
As it turned out, the northern part of France gets quite busy in this time of the year. We had to work a few adjustments into the route to fit it into availability schedule of hotels/gites on the way. I booked the first 8 days lodging at this point. This however could cause a potential problem in case the weather stops us from completing one of the planned days. Anna is strictly against the camping option, even in an emergency. According to the new route we will need to stay an extra day in Normandy and shorten the distances for the 2nd and 3rd days. We will stay in a small hamlet 9km West of Vimoutier and then cycle to L’Aigle, Senonches and finally Chartres on the way to Orleans.
The trip will be what they call a “credit card” tour. We are going to stay in hotels, B&Bs and gites on the way. Therefore, we are limited to traveling between towns and villages large enough to have one for us. Basically, there are two route options to southern France out of the UK. One can take the Dover-Calais ferry and cycle through eastern France into Alsace and then to Burgundy and then enter Provance through Alpes-Maritimes. This seems a shorter route, however, it is quite hilly almost all the way. First the Ardennes, then Alsace, there is hardly a flat section in the whole route. We decided against this option. Our route will take us to Portsmouth and then to Caen in Normandy. From there we will cycle through Normandy to Orleans where we will join the Loire river cycle path to Digoin. From Digoin we will take it to Bourg en Bresse and Grenoble. Thereafter Gap and Barcelonette. We will cross the Col de La Coyolle in the Alpes Maritimes ad descend to Nice via Gorges Duluis.
We will take it slow at first. Planning 3 days from Epsom to Portsmouth with stops in Cranleigh and Midhurst on the way. In France we want to get into the rhythm and start doing 65-70km days.
So, for all those interested 😉 We plan to cycle from our home in Epsom to the south of France with our 8 month daughter Dianna. Crazy would you say? I think not. No one is surprised by our idea, but everyone is shocked to find out that we are actually going to cycle all the way. When we say that we are going to cycle to France, most imagine us taking our car and bicycles, or flying to France with bicycles, but no one can imagine a family of three to actually cycle from the UK to France.
Strange is it may seem, people are totally fine with driving to the south of France with their kids and having them spend 14-16 hours in a child seat of a car and are amazed and sometimes quite critical of those who are about to put their children into a bicycle trailer for 3-4 hours a day.
For those with similar ideas, we will be publishing a detailed record of our preparations, gear lists, travel diaries, etc. There are a few families that publish similar blogs, however, the information on cycling with babies this young is scarce. We are starting our trip on around the 25th of June, 2012 (weather permitting). In the next week we are going to write on what we are doing to prepare ourselves and Dianna for the long ride.