Wednesday 11th March
Miles on a bike: 22
Nautical miles: approximately 54 (thank you Google)
After almost a week of visiting (leeching off of) my family in Eastbourne, the time had come to take the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe and begin our lock-up-your-eclairs tour of France (with a stop off at Eric’s parent’s house).
It was an early start… we had about 12 miles of the South Downs to cover before our ferry left at 10.30AM, so to be on the super safe side we left at 6.30 (argh!).
It was another sunny day and the views were very beautiful… what was not so appealing were the three enormous Hills Of Pain we pushed the bike up in order to see the views.
I only got to take one picture as we (Eric) were worried about not getting to the ferry on time. That’s the Cuckmere river which you can see in the distance.
We made good time and arrived at the ferry port by 8.30. A few hours later we were on board and setting sail.
Stowing the bike on board.
Aboard the ferry.
Just arrived at Dieppe.
However, we didn’t stick around long. After a snappy visit to Auchen to get some supplies for dinner we quickly headed out of town to look for our first WILD CAMPING spot!!
After a grind of a hill we were of course greeted by acres of completely flat, exposed fields – no good for being sneaky at all. A few miles on, however, we saw some promising-looking trees and turned off the main road to investigate.
After I declined Eric’s suggested spot of behind a small pile of mouldy hay, he agreed to go and take a look at a field a bit further on. He returned a few minutes later giving the thumbs up.
- Tucked away from the main road
- Not near a farm house
- Had no gate or animal footprints (so no surprise cows in the morning)
After some shifty glancing around for signs of disapproving French farmers we settled down, heated up some water on the camping stove and had pot noodles and chocolat chaud for dinner.
As the light faded Eric set up the tent while I washed up and packed away the food bits. It was all going very well, and I was beginning to feel a bit too pleased with myself.
We zipped up the tent and were in bed by 8.30.
Cue one of the longest, and definitely one of the coldest nights of my life!
I was wearing socks, trousers, a base layer, a fleece, gloves and a wooly hat, and was tucked inside an inner liner and a sleeping bag, and god was I freezing!
After what seemed like an age I looked at the time. It was 10.30.
I lay in the dark, cursing the ventilation patches on the tent, willing the morning to come.
Thursday 12th March
At 2.45AM I made the executive decision to go for a wee. I also took the opportunity to do some jumping jacks and knee-ups to get the circulation going (I thought about burpees but didn’t go there).
Doing jumping jacks in a French field at 2 in the morning certainly makes my top ten of strange moments.
The alarm went off at 5.20AM, and I tell you what, I was feeling ROUGH. The sleep which I did get (not a lot) was punctuated by dreams of angry French farmers.
Eric confirmed that he too had not had a good night’s sleep, though I had heard a suspicious amount of snoring from him.
We ate a breakfast of bananas, bread and chocolate biscuits before working up the courage to get out of our sleeping bags to pack up and go.
When we got out of the tent we saw frost on the ground and had an “Oh, it really was cold” moment.
The sun rising over our sneaky camping spot.
We were on the road by 7, and one by one our fingers and toes returned to life as we got moving.
It was another beautiful clear day, and spurred on by the thought of not wanting another cold night in a field we set ourselves the target of making it to Eric’s parent’s house today, with many repetitions of the phrase: “It’s possible.”
It was not possible. But more of that later.
We had a lovely cycle through Normandy, which has some long hills but is for the most part very flat and scenic, and full of very pretty little villages.
We stopped off in Yvetot for a lunch of baguette, brie and ham, and several French people wished us “Bon appetit” as they passed by. It turns out French people are very nice and friendly.
We crossed the Seine and were making decent time.
Puncture number one happened!
Then about 15 minutes later, guess what?
Puncture number two!
This time it was a trailer wheel. We found the offending thorn (actually I found it, which made me feel very pleased that I was being so useful)… and then proceeded to find four more similar thorns stuck in the wheel. The trailer tyres might as well be made of plasticine! We quickly decided to buy some new, reinforced ones when we reached Eric’s parents.
20 minutes later we were off again. This time the phrase “it’s possible” had turned into “let’s look for a hotel”. We weren’t all that hopeful as we hadn’t seen any all day (the night in a field option began to look ominously realistic) but a visit to a boulangerie to ask for directions turned out very well. Not only did we get instructions to the nearest b&b, but we also got 2 chocolate eclairs!
Not long later we were lying on an actual bed, stuffing our faces with eclairs. Life does not get much better.
We popped out for dinner later and had galettes.
Eric didn’t want a picture. I think he was jealous because his galette was not as good as mine.
Then it was back to the b&b. I have never felt such gratitude for central heating and hot water.
Friday 13th March
We had a slower than normal start and were off by 9. The day began with a Hill Of Pain, reminiscent of the South Downs.
It wasn’t long before Eric had a sugar crash and became alarmingly hangry. He hadn’t had a lot for breakfast (unlike me, who had practically molested the breakfast buffet). I fed him our remaining bananas and dried prunes and he seemed to recover a bit, but we were both tired and couldn’t summon up much leg power.
We had now officially run out of snacks, and there wasn’t a boulangerie or a Carrefour in sight. The closest village was Varaville, 20KM away, where there would surely be a baguette and 2 eclairs waiting for us.
20 slow, mostly uphill KM later we arrived in Varaville at 1PM, stomachs empty and bottoms aflame… ready – so ready! – for food.
But there was literally not a sausage. It turned out Varaville was a glorified through-road. This was confirmed by some locals who told us that the nearest restaurant was 7 miles away (in the wrong direction).
And then, with what in hindsight was some classic pathetic fallacy, the rain started.
So we found a bus shelter, and I dug out our last supplies: a tin of tuna each, jaggedly cut open with a Swiss Army knife. I ate this having flashbacks to just a few hours before when I had been lying in bed eating an eclair (how the mighty have fallen).
Eric’s dad Stephen came to meet us on his bike to guide us to their house. Despite pedalling as slowly as he could he was still whizzing ahead, while we puffed along behind like two really tired people on a tandem.
And we arrived! Here’s a photo of us rolling into the garage, taken by Eric’s mum, Christiane. Achy, tired and hungry (this sounds familiar) we were greeted by Eric’s parents, a baguette, and about five types of cheese. Vive la France!
We’ll relax with Eric’s parents for a few days, and then go bike-less and take the train to Paris – ooh la la!