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More Refreshment Stops

The Refreshment Stops map has recently been updated with a couple more café stops in Sussex and seven in Seine-Maritime. I’ve decided to start adding some in France as I know that some Cycle Seahaven cyclists hop across the Channel to Dieppe for a bit of cycling in the Seine-Maritime départment and, of course, some continue to Paris.

This map may be of use to anyone who is planning a ride and looking for somewhere to stop for a rest and some nourishment. All the stops on this map, mostly cafes, I’ve found to be cyclist friendly. Some are better than others but I’m not going to grade them, suffice to say that they’re of an acceptable standard. However, I will start adding a bit more detail to the descriptions which may prove useful, especially if there’s something unique about the place.

For example the café we visited today on our Sunday ride is a gem of a place. It’s the Castle Cottage Tearoom by the castle in Pevensey. As you enter the café you feel you’re going back in time to the 1930/40s; the background music reinforces that feeling. The service is very good as well and there’s a lovely garden to sit in; well worth a visit.

The following link will take you to the map: Refreshment Stops

There are now 37 refreshment stops on the map. More will be added whenever we find a café, tea garden or bar that we like and is cyclist friendly. None are shown in Seaford as they are too close to cycle to on a touring ride.

I hope you find it useful.

Happy café wheeling,

Clive

Dieppe Channel Hopper

Four of us from Cycle Seahaven hopped across the Channel with three other cyclists last Friday to take part in a cycling trip organised by Phoenix-CTC, a member group of Cycling UK. We stayed at the Hotel de la Plage, a hotel I’ve used many times on cycling trips. There’s always a warm welcome, the staff are friendly and helpful, good rooms, excellent buffet breakfast and there’s a garage for the bikes. Also, it’s in a good location, being on the boulevard along the seafront and close to the town centre; the marina is nearby where there are cafés and restaurants aplenty.

We stayed at this superb hotel for three nights which gave us three full days of cycling through the countryside of Seine-Maritime. It’s a great place for cycling as the country roads are very quiet and in excellent condition; potholes are a rarity! Also, the French drivers are very considerate towards cyclists and allow plenty of room when passing. The only time a car came close to me turned out to be British. I have to say that much as I enjoy cycling through the countryside of Sussex, cycling in Seine-Maritime is bliss!

Cycle Seahaven members will be aware of the Avenue Verte, the London to Paris cycle route which includes the Cuckoo Trail and, of course, comes through Seaford and Newhaven and, includes the ferry crossing to Dieppe. Lesser known, I suspect, is the Veloroute du Lin which starts just outside Dieppe and follows a disused railway line for about 15 miles to St-Pierre-le-Viger, just a few miles short of St-Valery-en-Caux. It’s well worth cycling along. We cycled along it on our way to St-Valery. Fantastic!

Most of the surface is virtually billiard table smooth so the bikes just roll effortlessly along it; the surrounding fields were full of pale blue linseed wafting in the wind and the hedgerows and banks were full of wild flowers. Great cycling! The Veloroute du Lin will eventually be extended to Fécamp making it a 50 mile shared use cycle path.

Of course, no trip to Dieppe would be complete without a short spin along the Avenue Verte so we rode along it from Neufchatel-en-Bray back to Dieppe, about 23 miles. There’s a very gradual descent for most of the way so it made for easy cycling.

All in all this was a great three days of cycling not to mention the highly convivial evenings in the local restaurants.

If you like touring through the countryside then I can recommend channel hopping to Dieppe.

Bon voyage,

Clive

Avenue Verte is getting Popular

Cyclists on the the Avenue Verte near Dieppe

Cyclists on the the Avenue Verte near Dieppe

It’s great to see increasing numbers of British cyclists using the Avenue Verte between London and Paris. Ten years ago it was a rare occurrence to see a Brit cycling along the original 43 km (27 miles) section of the Avenue Verte between Dieppe and Forges-les-Eaux. However,  in 2012  a cycle route called the Avenue Verte,  which included the original section,  was signposted between the British and French capital cities. Perhaps not surprisingly,  this appears to have caused the surge in numbers.

Last week four of us from Cycle Seahaven,  Joe Hamilton,  David Tyler,  Derek Thorne and me cycled from Dieppe to Paris and back on a route loosely based on the Avenue Verte. We rode on the original section and I was amazed to see more British than French cyclists riding along it. Admittedly,  there was a charity ride on our return trip but there were still plenty of other British cyclists using it,  often in small groups like us. The Avenue Verte is certainly getting popular!

We chose to short-circuit the Avenue Verte about halfway to Paris to reduce the distance,  partly because we were travelling with panniers so inclines were hard work but also because I knew that some parts of the signposted route need improving.

Our trip started with an evening crossing on the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe where we stayed overnight at the Hotel de la Plage. Next morning,  after a good breakfast,  we set off to cycle about 80 kms (50 miles) to Gournay-en-Bray almost entirely along the signposted Avenue Verte route.

In Gournay we stayed at the Hotel le Cygne (super evening meal and breakfast) and next morning set off to cycle a similar distance to Cergy Ham,  just south of but avoiding Cergy Pontoise. After a few miles of cycling we were surprised to come across a newly constructed section of the Avenue Verte. This is a shared use path along a disused railway line between Gournay and Beauvais and,  just like the original section to Forges-les-Eaux,  is several metres wide and has a tarmac surface which is as smooth as a billiard table! It’s good to see the Avenue Verte being improved;  I was quite critical about some parts of it in my Review of the Avenue Verte last year.

Cyclists near the Eiffel Tower

Cyclists near the Eiffel Tower

At Cergy Ham we stayed at the Hotel Au Week-End for two nights which meant that we could leave our panniers there whilst we spent the next day cycling to and from Paris,  a round trip of about 70 miles. We entered Paris via Versailles,  through Parc St Cloud and the Bois de Boulogne and made a beeline for the Eiffel Tower. (This is an entirely different route to the Avenue Verte which finishes at Notre Dame). We only spent a couple of hours in the centre of Paris but long enough to have an excellent lunch at the Café du Trocadero.

Our return route to Dieppe over the following two days was modified so as to include a large part of the new section of the Avenue Verte between Beauvais and Gournay. It’s superb;  must use it next year in a trip to Paris.

Now that the ferry has been saved,  more cycling trips to Paris are possible!

Cyclisme heureux

Clive Aberdour

Ferry Saved

Since posting an item on the blog a week ago ‘Last Chance to Channel Hop to Dieppe’ it’s been announced this week that the Newhaven – Dieppe crossing will continue after the end of this year. That’s good news for Newhaven and the people who work on the ferry; also it maintains the vital sea link in the Avenue Verte cycle route between London and Paris.

The Syndicat Mixte de Promotion de l’Activité Transmanche (SMPAT) will run the service from 1 January 2016. (The SMPAT is comprised of the Departement de Seine-Maritime, the city authorities in Dieppe and Dieppe Chamber of Commerce). It says that it will continue to subsidise the route, but in the long-term is seeking to reduce the cost to the French taxpayer by attracting more investment from external partners.

The two vessels serving the route will be rebranded, but DFDS will continue to handle bookings and marketing until the end of March 2016, to ensure a smooth transition.

So, although there may not be the same urgency to hop across the Channel, an Autumn cycling break based in Dieppe still sounds like a good idea.

Happy sailing,

Clive

Last Chance to Channel Hop to Dieppe

We’re lucky to have a ferry Port on our doorstep, so to speak, as France is only a four hour ferry trip away. Dieppe is arguably the most attractive of all the French channel ports and the surrounding countryside is ideal for cycling. The country roads tend to be quieter than on this side of the Channel, road surfaces are better (potholes are a rarity) and cycle paths are in far better condition.

Unfortunately, there’s uncertainty over whether the ferry crossing will continue after this year. However, DFDS have two ferries on this route at present; there was only one until May. Presumably DFDS are trying to stimulate more business to make it worth continuing next year.

Therefore, it’s a good time to take your bike across the channel. There are three sailings to Dieppe each day and the price is usually only £35 return with your bike. Those over 60 years of age get a 20% discount if they buy their ferry ticket at the ferry terminal in Newhaven. This offer is not available online.

Last September, six of us from Cycle Seahaven hoped across the channel to Dieppe and had a very pleasant weekend of cycling in the Seine-Maritime department, see Channel Hopping to Dieppe. Recently, I stayed in Dieppe on a Phoenix-CTC event and visited some different places such as Mers-les-Bains (Art-Nouveau buildings along the seafront), St Valery-en-Caux (an attractive place with a fishing port and marina) and cycled along a new cycle path, Veloroute du Lin. It was opened earlier this year and starts at Pourville-sur-Mer, a few kilometres west of Dieppe, and continues for about 25 kms to Saint-Pierre-le-Viger which is about 10 kms from St Valery-en-Caux. Eventually, the cycle path will be extended to Fecamp.

There are certainly plenty of interesting places to visit in the Seine-Maritime area of France, not to mention cycling along the Avenue Verte! It’s well worth a visit.

There’s a good choice of accommodation in Dieppe; I usually stay in the Hotel de la Plage which is cycle friendly and has a garage for bikes. Also, there’s no shortage of bars and restaurants in the town; many are by the marina. It’s a great place to be based for a cycling break.

Hopefully the ferry crossing will continue but, in case it doesn’t, it may be worth hopping across the Channel with your bike within the next two or three months.

Happy Channel Hopping,

Clive

Review of the Avenue Verte

AV Seaford SignI recently cycled from London to Paris with a few friends by following the signposted Avenue Verte route. The signposting was completed in 2012, just before the start of the London Olympics. Some of it was a joy to cycle along but other parts were dreadful and sometimes dangerous. Parts of the route were poorly signposted but, fortunately, we took the excellent Official Guide to the Avenue Verte with us; without it we would have been well and truly lost on occasions.

The best section is the first 88 miles in France, ie from Dieppe to Bray-et-Lû. The worst section is from the start of the Avenue Verte at the London Eye to the beginning of Worth Way (just east of Crawley), about 45 miles. A lot of this section is not cycle friendly. For example, London Eye to Clapham Common is on extremely busy roads. Later on, some parts are on dirt/gravel tracks and one part is on a severely rutted farm track. Had we been on mountain bikes then these parts would not have been a problem but one is unlikely to cycle from London to Paris on a mountain bike; we were on road ‘touring’ bikes.

That said, just after Coulsdon, is a very pleasant section which goes across Farthing Down and continues for several miles. Unfortunately, a few miles later, the Avenue Verte goes through the built-up areas of Redhill, Horley and Crawley. Bizarrely, it goes through Gatwick Airport. Why cycle through an airport? Did some planner of the route think cyclists would be so fed up with the Avenue Verte by this stage that they’d prefer to hop on a plane to Paris!

I feel a more cycle friendly route out of London would be to start at Tower Bridge, go along the comparatively quiet NCN Route 4 eastwards and then head south along a route based on NCN Route 21. Turn off Route 21 as it approaches the M25, go through Godstone and cycle along quiet country roads east of the built-up areas of Redhill, Horley and Crawley. Also, Gatwick Airport would be avoided!

The section from the start of Worth Way to Newhaven is better but it’s not great. Worth Way is a shared-use path following an old railway line from Crawley to East Grinstead and then there’s another such path called Forest Way to Groombridge. These tracks provide about 18 miles of traffic free cycling, apart from a mile through East Grinstead. However, the surface isn’t ideal for road bikes as it comprises chippings and cinder so requires extra care on road bikes with fairly narrow tyres. Also, these paths are often quite narrow and their sides overgrown with vegetation so it often feels like cycling through a green tunnel. Unfortunately, you can’t see the countryside so cycling along these traffic-free paths is rather tedious.

The Cuckoo Trail, another path based on an old railway line starting at Heathfield, is a better stretch as, unlike the other two, this one has a tarmac surface. It’s a gradual descent for almost 11 miles to Polegate so makes for easy cycling. The next bit isn’t so good as the Avenue Verte goes through Oggs Wood on a rough surface which is quite muddy in places.

In sharp contrast, the first 88 miles of Avenue Verte in France between Dieppe and Bray-et-Lû is superbAV Sign (at Germer-de-Fly we took the shorter Western Option in preference to the longer Eastern Option). There are no busy roads, no dirt tracks and no dangerous junctions. The route is very well signposted; the small bright yellow Avenue Verte signs between Forges-les-Eaux and Gisors are easily seen and appear at every junction. There’s no chance of getting lost on this part of the route; if only the entire Avenue Verte could be signposted in this way.

This section of the Avenue Verte includes two paths along old railway lines but, unlike the British paths such as Worth Way and Forest Way, the French ones are much wider, have a tarmac surface and are properly maintained. Also, the vegetation at the edges of the paths is kept under control and you can see and enjoy the surrounding countryside as you cycle along.

That said, the route after Bray-et-Lû leaves much to be desired. It crosses Le Vexin, a regional nature park. The roads are quiet and it’s easy to devise a cycle friendly route through Le Vexin. Yet, on occasions, the Avenue Verte makes use of rough tracks. Fortunately the official guide recommends alternatives on roads in most cases.

After Le Vexin comes the large new town of Cergy-Pontoise. This is poorly signposted and easy to get lost. Eventually, the Avenue Verte approaches Paris by following the meandering Seine and then a canal with a rough path. The final few miles are very confusing and the chances are you’ll finish up cycling along some very busy roads.

The choice of route into Paris is strange as there more cycling friendly ways into Paris by going through forests just south of Poissy, through Versailles, Parc de Saint Cloud and the Bois de Bolougne, finishing at the Eiffel Tower.

I met many other cyclists on the signposted route who were similarly disappointed with some sections of it. It’s a shame that more thought wasn’t given into the signposting of the Avenue Verte but hopefully improvements will be made.

 

 

Cycling to Paris

2014-06-07 Notre DameThree of us,  all members of Cycle Seahaven,  recently cycled to Paris along the Avenue Verte. We were part of a group of nine cyclists from the Phoenix Cycling Club whose aim was to follow this signposted route between the British and French capital cities. The signposting had been completed in 2012,  just in time for the London Olympics.

A few of us started in London,  at the London Eye and were joined two days later by the others at Newhaven. The distance was 99 miles.

In France we took three days to cycle from Dieppe to Paris,  a distance of 148 miles which included overnight stops in Dieppe,  Gournay-en-Bray and Cergy. The finishing point in Paris was Notre Dame. We could have done it in two days but decided to take a more leisurely pace,  ie our usual touring pace with lengthy café stops.

I would like to have said that the entire Avenue Verte from the London Eye to Notre Dame had proved to be a good cycle route but that would have been untrue. Certainly,  the first 90 miles in France,  between Dieppe and Chaussy were great. The route was well signposted,  there were no busy roads and the scenery was superb.

In sharp contrast the first 40 miles in England,  between the London Eye and the start of Worth Way,  just outside Crawley,  left much to be desired. Sometimes we were on busy roads,  at other times on dirt tracks and much of the route was poorly signposted. I won’t go into detail here but suffice to say that I’ll never do that part of the Avenue Verte again!

The section from Worth Way to Newhaven was much better with the Cuckoo Trail being the best part of the route that day. However,  it fell a long way short of the first 90 miles in France.

After a rest day in Paris we cycled back to Dieppe on a largely different route with overnight stops at Chantilly and Gournay-en-Bray.

Each cyclist had a copy of the Official Guide to the Avenue Verte which I reviewed in March. It proved to be a great help,  especially when we found ourselves off-route which was on numerous occasions when leaving London and also on the entry to Paris.

It had been a largely enjoyable ride and although some parts of the Avenue Verte couldn’t be described as cycling friendly,  we had had some great times,  both on and off the bikes. And, of course,  a ‘chill out’ day in Paris was a bonus.

I’ll be writing a review of the Avenue Verte which will be posted to the Cycle Seahaven Blog soon. It should make for interesting reading for anyone contemplating cycling to Paris.

Avenue Verte Official Guide: Review

Avenue Verte Book Review_0001Since my previous update about the Avenue Verte I have studied the official guide in more detail and would advise anyone thinking of cycling to Paris along this route to take this excellent guide with them. 

It measures 17 x 12 cms and has 144 pages so is small enough to fit into a pocket yet is full of useful information. This includes directions,  route profiles,  accommodation addresses and detailed maps (1:10,000,  1:25,000 and 1:100,000) covering the entire route.

It’s spiral bound and folds back on itself so ought to be easy to use when on the ride. However,  there is a front cover which could prove to be a nuisance as it protrudes by about 3½ cms when the guide is folded back. It’s an attractive cover which opens up to show an overview map indicating the page numbers of the detailed maps so may be of use when familiarising oneself with the guide. It’s likely to get damaged on a ride when attempting to stuff the guide into a pocket so it may be better to dispense with the cover

The first few pages are the Introduction with the nitty-gritty starting on page 15 and continuing through to page 140. These pages are divided into twelve chapters,  each one being “based around a comfortable day’s ride” according to the guide. That’s not to say that it takes twelve days to cycle the entire route as it divides into two just south of Gournay. One branch,  known as the Western option,  goes through Gisors and Cergy. The other branch,  which is longer,  is known as the Eastern option and goes through Beauvais and Senlis. Therefore,  if you cycle from London to Paris using the shorter Western option it would take 8 days if you kept to the daily distances in the guide. They range from 23 to 42 miles so rather less than touring cyclists would achieve.

That’s not a problem as it doesn’t really matter where a chapter starts and finishes;  simply follow the directions until reaching your overnight stop which might be in the middle of a chapter. 

At the start of each chapter is ‘Route Info’ which gives information about the terrain and route surface followed by a diagram showing the ‘Profile’ of the route,  all useful stuff. The next section entitled ‘What to See &  Do’ makes for some interesting reading. This is followed by ‘Directions’ and ‘Accommodation’,  interspersed with clear and detailed maps which look really helpful. Also, there are some pictures of interesting places to be found en-route which may be worth visiting if there’s time.

All in all,  this looks to be an excellent guide to the Avenue Verte with just the right level of detail for route information. The fact that it is a compact size and spiral bound is a bonus although I’ll probably ditch the cover when I next cycle to Paris.

The guide is available from SUSTRANS for £12 plus £2.50 postage.

The Avenue Verte: An Update

The Avenue Verte, a route between London and Paris for cyclists and walkers was signposted along it’s entire length just over 12 months ago. Ideally, you should now be able to jump on your bike in London or Seaford/Newhaven and just follow the signs to Paris but the signposting seems patchy so you could well get lost. However, help is now available in the form of the official guide to the Avenue Verte which has recently been published by Sustrans. It’s a good little book and has a wealth of useful information including maps, directions and accommodation addresses so would be an essential purchase if you’re going to cycle to Paris, especially if you’re doing it for the first time.

Avenue Verte signpost on National Cycle Route 2

Avenue Verte signpost on National Cycle Route 2

The route is still being developed and, at present, only about 40% is traffic-free although this proportion should increase over the next few years, albeit gradually. Some of the route is on quiet country roads which is fine but, some is on of bridle paths which are not suitable for road bikes, especially if loaded with panniers. I haven’t yet read the book cover to cover but is seems that alternatives to these bridle paths aren’t always suggested which is a shame as cyclists may either have to walk or spend time trying to devise detours.

The start/end points in the capital cities are the London Eye and Notre Dame Cathedral. The route from London to Newhaven makes use of National Cycle Routes 4, 20, 21 and 2 and includes the Wandle Trail, Worth Way, Forest Way and the Cuckoo Trail. The total distance is 99 miles. Then it’s a ferry across the English Channel from Newhaven to Dieppe and a further 148 or 188 miles to Paris depending on which way you go.

The route from Dieppe to Paris is in three sections. The first, from Dieppe to Gournay is 51 miles and includes the superb 27 mile traffic-free stretch between Arques-la-Bataille and Forges-les-Eaux. The second starts just south of Gournay where the Avenue Verte splits into two. There is a 74 mile option which takes a westerly approach to Paris or a 114 mile option which goes eastwards for quite a long way before turning south westerly towards Paris. The two routes join at St Germain on the outskirts of Paris. The third section, from St Germain to Notre Dame Cathedral is 23 miles.

Having the choice of two routes could be an advantage in that you can cycle to Paris on one route and return using the alternative. This could appeal to those of us living in the Seahaven area who just want to cycle from Dieppe to Paris and back.

You can buy the Avenue Verte guide book from Sustrans. The link is: http://shop.sustrans.org.uk/products/6353-avenue-verte–london-to-paris-by-bike

Bonne chance!

Clive Aberdour