Cycling: Belgium Trip September 2011

On the weekend of the 9th until the 11th of September I organised a cycle trip to Belgium as part of the LCC/Bromley Cyclists. There was quite a lot of interest, however due to various things turning up at work, and schools going back, only one other person came along, who I’d never met before.

On the Thursday late morning I headed out to cycle as much of the way to Dover as I could manage within a reasonable time without tiring myself too much on my own. I randomly chose my route to some degree as I went, with as little help from my GPS map as possible. On the way I poped into Bromley Cycle Repair to have a little natter with a couple of friends and a lovely cup of tea.

When I got to just before Rainham I decided to take the train to Canterbury as otherwise I’d arrive in Canterbury far too late to be able to meetup with Gregory Williams, an OSMer and local cycle campaigner that I hadn’t met in ages. He gave me an interesting tour along a new cycle path out to the West of Canterbury, that I had walked part of the way along a couple of years back with another friend. After dinner I headed back on the train down to Dover to the guest house that I was staying in for the night, so that I could add an extra day of cycling, and also not have to get up too early for a train to Dover. I cycled a total of about 50 miles on the first day.

On Friday morning after breakfast I headed down to Dover Priory station to meet my cycling companion for the trip for the first time, before heading down to the docks to check-in and get on the ferry. The ferry journey was pretty uneventful. We set off north up the coast. I took a little diversion off the routes that I have used in the past and went a little further inland and found this lovely cycle path that ran parallel to the main road, however it seemed to be going too far in land for where we were going.

A little further down the road my companion had a little mechanical failure on his bike with the crank arm coming loose. We needed an allon key a size larger than either of us had. While we were stopped to take a look at the problem a French cyclist came past and took a look. He had a check to see if he had the tool that we needed, which he didn’t, he was then helpful in miming directions to us, with some help from my companion’s broken French.

We found a garage (though not the Renault one he directed us to) and managed to ask to borrow the tool needed. About 10 minutes further down the road, the same problem reappeared, so we found another garage and properly tightened it this time. We came across a Decathlon so popped in and bought the tool needed, just in case the same issue occurred again.

 Next mechanical issue was a puncture in my companion’s bike, where something had gone through the sidewall of the tyre. We stopped and changed the inner tube, then about ten minutes later he had another puncture at the point of the split in the tyre, thus we stopped again and replaced the tube. As we were pumping up the tyre, I noticed it bulging, so decided to put some cardboard from the inner tube packet inside the tyre at the split in the tire to stop it bulging. This allowed us to get the next 30 miles to Oostende until we could get a replacement tyre the following morning.

The cycle into Dunkirk is a much nicer experience than cycling in the UK as there are cycle lanes of a reasonable width most of the way, motorists are a lot more patient and closer to the town centre there are cycle paths separating you from the motor traffic. We grabbed lunch in Dunkirk from a nice little sandwich shop.

  We continued heading up the coast to our accommodation in Oostende for the next two nights. We timed it quite well for arriving in the hostel, as another cyclist had just checked-in before us, and was also looking for dinner, so once we’d parked our bikes for the night in the hostel and dumped our bags, we headed out. This guy was pretty insane with the amount that he knew about bikes, and the amount of cycling that he done. He is a Dutch postman, and was pretty shocked to hear that the Royal Mail in the UK were getting rid of bikes for their posties.

It was a pretty pleasant 65 miles that we cycled on the Friday. Route taken.

  On the Saturday after breakfast in the hostel we headed up the coast from Oostende and stopped at a Steak restaurant overlooking the beach in Zeebrugge. It was quite interesting to spot a real pub bike with beer on tap, unlike the pedibuses in London. After lunch we continued up the coast into the Netherlands until we hit the LF1, otherwise known as the North Sea Cycle Route, at which point we started following it south and headed inland towards Brugge.

 At one point just after turning onto a canal towpath I stopped to take a photo of a sign and my companion wasn’t looking where he was going crashed into the back of me breaking my chain case clip. We managed to find some elastic string on his backpack which allowed the case to be strapped together and me to continue using the case for the journey back home. After a few more days the string broke and I had to use masking tape to hold it together until I could get a replacement.

As we were cycling south it suddenly got noticeably colder, further on my companion noticed a flash of lightening. Then it started getting very dark rapidly and ahead we could see it raining. As we were passing a village on the other side of the canal the first drops of rain started. As we stood by a bridge deciding whether we should continue on to Brugge and probably get soaked or to find shelter in the village the rain started to come down more. We headed to the nearest restaurant and sat the very heavy thunderstorm out as it took half an hour to pass over us. We were very glad that we didn’t try to continue.

 From there into Brugge was pretty dry, with just the odd spots of rain. We pretty quickly found the central square to get our dinner. On sitting down and being handed the menu the waiter gave a long passage which just sounded like garbage, my companion was just nodding along going yeah, yeah, we’ll have that. I had to ask the waiter to repeat in English, and he said “Oh sorry I thought you were French”, thanks to my companion’s constant broken French whenever he was talking with the locals.

After dinner I decided that it would take too long to cycle back to the hostel that we were staying, such that we got there at a reasonable time and were still awake the following day for the cycle back to Calais. The guy behind the counter wasI cycled 57 miles on the Saturday. Saturday’s route.

Sunday was fairly uneventful. We took a more inland route for the first part back that took in some canal and part of the North Sea Cycle route. It was a very strong head wind, which I found rather tiring and found it very difficult to get any speed going along. The strong wind did mean that we ended up taking the ferry after the one that we were originally booked out, which wasn’t an issue since we had open return tickets.

Whilst we were waiting to board the ferry, we got talking to another larger group of cyclists that had been over in France for the weekend on longer cycle rides than what we done. They were surprised at the size and weight of my Dutch bike, and started a game of see who can lift it. They all found it much heavier than their own bikes, even without the panniers. They were missing a little trick in lifting things like a bike in a way such that the weight is balanced across both hands works better, so if they’d picked it up differently, it would have been easier.

We had just missed a train so had over half an hour to wait for the next one back into London due to be late evening. On the final day I had cycled about 60 miles. Sunday’s journey.

Full set of photos from the trip on Flickr

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