Saturday, 19 October 2013

Avenue Verte London To Paris, 21st – 25th September 2013

The Avenue Verte is a long distance cycle route from St Pancras Railway Station in London to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  It was meant to be opened for the 2012 Olympic Games.

There are however quite a number of slightly different routes to get between the start and the finish.  I had stumbled across a description of the Avenue Verte whilst sitting on a hot summer evening in the garden just browsing.  It was attractive as it wasn't too far, had a distinctive start and finish point, it involved a bike ride there broken by a ferry crossing and a fast train ride back.  Distances range from about 340 Kms to 450 Kms depending which route is taken.  Due to not having enough holidays left I had basically around 3 1/2 days to get to Paris and back to London on the fourth day.  I had decided to camp rather than stay in hotels, to test the gear I have and just to see how hard it was, never having done such a ride like this.
The route I took from London to Newhaven was loosely based on Chris Smith’s route:  

The remainder of the route was based on Donald Hirsch’s route, which we basically followed fairly accurately, although my Garmin  Track seemed to up with a lot more distance for both sections.

Thanks to both for their excellent work on the routes, it made it a lot easier.

Surly Ogre 29"

The bike I used for the trip was a specially built for long distance touring and this was to be its first serious outing;   its based on a Surly Ogre 29 steel frame with the other components from all over the world, tyres from Germany, rims from USA, hubs from UK, drivetrain from Japan and seat from Italy.  The build is reasonably light, but essentially a mountain bike, but with no suspension and very chunky tyres with 30 gears.  A Tubus rack and Ortlieb Classic panniers complete the build.  Overall weight is around 14 kilo unloaded.  Navigation is by Garmin 810.   Camping kit is basic but fairly basic, tent and sleeping bag by Tesco and sleeping mat by Decathlon.

When everything was loaded the bike was very heavy, the load added probably another 15 kilos to the eight, so doubling the weight of the bike, I seriously need to get the weight down for next time.

Day 1 Saturday 21st 2013 100 miles, 160 km

Start St Pancras Station
The start for me was to be the 21st September 2013, a very early ride to Manchester Piccadilly Station for the journey to Euston.  I left home at 03.45 to get the 05.25 train.  It was the first time I had actually ridden the bike with the panniers fully loaded, I was very nervous indeed, but the bike behaved perfectly and going uphill, al least not steep hills seemed possible!.   By the time I got to Manchester City Centre for me it was Saturday morning, but for lots of other people it was still Friday night, the clubs and pubs just closing, taxis everywhere and people on every corner, felt very strange that I was setting out on this long journey and everyone else were just going to bed.

The train journey went quickly and soon I was unloading the bike from just behind the drivers cab.  a few minutes ride down Euston Road to St Pancras and the start.

So for me the actual ride started in Midland Road, just round the corner from the main entrance, this is the exact place I will come out of the station on my return.  The first part was obviously through the city centre roads to Islington and then to connect to the Regents canal and down to the River Thames.  It was slow going at first, the GPS hardly keeping up with the number of twists and turns.  Finally I reached the Thames and crossed by the Greenwich Pedestrian Tunnel to the Cutty Sark.  From Greenwich the route follows Sustrans Route 21 through South London.  It was just a case of following the GPS through parks, housing estates and woods.  It seemed to be slow going, though the route was very quiet and for most of the time I didn't exactly know where I was, long roads, undulating through Surrey.  I passed under the flight path at Gatwick  which was one point exactly when I knew where I was.  Finally Lewes came and the main road to Newhaven.  By now it was wet with sea mist and blowing, though warm.  I contemplated finding a hotel, as it was already 19.30 and I had been riding for many hours.  However I made my way to the campsite just round the bay, set up camp for the first time and cooked some food.   Luckily the showers were warm and I had a good first nights sleep.

At Limehouse River Thames
By The Cutty Sark Greenwich

Day 2 Sunday 22nd September 2013  44 miles, 70 km

The ferry leaves Newhaven at 11.00, so I had a very leisurely ride back to town and breakfast in McDonalds, where I charged up my phone and the GPS.  I made my way to the port, just round the corner and checked in.  In line was waiting another cyclist, Bob from Camberley, it turned out he was doing the same route as me.  We decided to ride together at least for the first section.  The ferry crossing was smooth, a couple of cups of coffee and four hours later we were in Dieppe.  Bikes are carried by the way right at the front of the ferry in a small alcove, we tied them down with the ropes that were  left there.
Leaving Newhaven

On Board
On Board

Just off the ferry
Start of the Avenue Verte
 Unloading was quick and soon we were riding south out of town to join the official Avenue Verte.  This section is a disused railway line that has been turned into a cycle route.  Its wide, straight and smooth for the next 35 miles to Forge-les-Eaux, which we some accomplish just before it starts to get dark.  Bob rides off to his hotel and I ask directions to the campsite, which was just past the hospital on the way out of town, Municipal La Miniere camping.  By now it was just about getting dark, the camp office was empty, but there was a British registered camper van in one of the spaces, I went over and spoke to them.  They were from Scotland and had been south to Spain and Andorra for the three weeks and were on their way to Dieppe and the ferry.  We were talking ad they insisted I had a glass of wine with them, which I did and I was happy to sit on a comfortable seat.  Next time I looked at the time it was 11 pm, I hadn't had anything to eat yet!.

Day 3 Monday 23rd September 2013 70 miles 120 km  
Left the camp site nice and early at 08.00 after paying my 4.5 euro.  Excellent value, good showers and toilets on the site.

I had arranged to meet Bob at 08.30, I called him, but he was still in bed, he said it was only 07.30, he hadn't changed the time on his phone!  I tried to find a cafe to have some coffee, but couldn't find one, however on the way out the town I found one open,  there was a guy just locking a bike to the railing as I pulled up.. Inside I found this was Mark, from Chichester   who had just that morning rode down from Dieppe after arriving on the night ferry.  We had a couple of coffees together and agreed to ride together for a few miles, he was going to take a week to get to get to Paris, so wasn't in such a rush as we were,  he was going to stop not far down the route. We then rode down to Bob's hotel to pick him up.  We stopped at St Gerber on Fly for a snack and coffee. 

Mark eating his breakfast
The weather was excellent, warm and sunshine, it was nice to sit outside the cafe in the sunshine.  The route we were taking was made up of very quiet roads, almost no traffic, though lots of junctions, twists and turns.  At the village of St Coudray we waited in the square for Mark to make his mind up about whether he would stay there in a hotel or carry on.  He decided to stay so we said goodbye.  Here we made our first major mistake on the route. The written description indicated turning right at the abbey, which we did and this was confirmed by the  GPS.  However it became a little confused and was constantly trying to re-calculate the route, which with hindsight should have told us there was something wrong.  Basically we didn't realise till we had ridden another 5 miles that we were wrong, so another 5 miles back to the village where we had left Mark one hour ago.  Nothing left to do except carry on in the best sprit we could muster.   With Bob's one hour in the morning, another one lost en route we were now two hours behind schedule and a long way to go.  The afternoon was spent slogging up the long long hills, we seemed pass every water tower in Northern France and as everybody knows water towers are always at the highest points.       We split up just past Marines, Bob had a detour to his hotel and I was on my way to the campsite at Triel sur Seine.  I got there just after dark, had some trouble finding the campsite and had to ask a few people.  Finally arrived at the fairly scruffy second campsite alongside the river, right on the route though:  lots of longstay "campers" there, seemed a lot of people stay there for months at a time, working in the town I suppose.  
Day 3 Tuesday 24th September 2013 42 miles 62 km
Bois De Boulogne Campsite
Crossing the Seine
After a night of not sleeping, people coming and going at all hours I was up and broke camp before dawn and set out along the banks of the Seine, found a tabac open in the small village of Villennes by the station and had two coffees and two croissants.  Lots more hills this morning and some complicated riding through housing developments till I arrived in the first of five Royal Forests on the way to Paris, lots of trails off road until Versailles.  The forests will take us to within one mile of the centre of Paris. I never managed to see the palace however.  One very steep hill later and I arrived in the Park of St Cloud.  I called Bob to find out where he was but he was still about 2 hours behind me, I was really moving this morning.  From the Park I got the first view of the Eiffel Tower across the river and the city.   A long descent down to the River Seine and crossed the river for the second time this trip.  Arrived at the Hippodrome, hundreds of road cyclists going round and round very quickly.  I peeled off at the Bois De Boulogne and headed to campsite.  Brilliant a major campsite basically in the centre of the city!  I had stayed there years before so knew where to go.  I arrived just before lunch, so exactly as scheduled, I set up camp, 17 Euro per night and called Bob.  He was still some way behind, so I told him I would wait at Eiffel's Aqueduct  bridge and meet him as he came down from the hill.  An hour later I was still waiting and no sign of him.  He called me and said he was 5 minutes from the Tower, but didn't know how he managed to get there.  

End of the journey
End of the journey
I then set off the last 5 miles to meet him.  Crossed the Seine for the third and last time and finished the ride under the Eiffel Tower.   Lots of tourists, scam artist and beggars wandering around, kept a close hold of the bikes, had a coffee, ate some chips!  I made my way back over the hill to the campsite and Bob went off to find his hotel and book his bike onto the train.

Day 4 Wednesday 25th September 2013 30 miles 48 km
 It was about 8 or 9 miles form the campsite to Gare Du Nord, I rode along  the south bank of the Seine, well before dawn, my train was at 10.20 but the bike was booked on the 09.17 as there was no space on my train, I had to be there an our before to hand it to Eurostar Logistics, which a very long walk along Platform 2 to their office.  The route from the Bois De Boulogne wasn't the easiest at that time of day, no daylight and virtually no road signs, after a couple of wrong turns arrived at the station.   I was disappointed that the panniers could not remain o the bike, it was very difficult to manage them through the station, unbelievably there are no luggage trolleys in Gare Du Nord.  The station was a let-down as the terminus of Eurostar, nothing like St Pancras, lots of beggars, dirty floors and no nice places to sit and get a coffee.  Checked in with no problem and waited in the departure lounge, again a let-down, crowed and nowhere to sit.  Met Bob there and we boarded on time.  The train ride soon passed at 186 miles an hour, collected the bikes from the logistics office, again a long walk and said our goodbyes.  My train to Manchester was not till 8 pm so I had quite a long random ride around London, stopped a few times and generally hung around till it was time to go.  Two hours later set out on the last 18 kms to home and arrived at 23.45.

This is what 186 Miles an Hour look like from the train, Eurostar


Bike was the right choice, build was correct and no matter what the surface we were on it dealt with them all with confidence.  It is ready for more adventures in the future.
The Garmin 810 was awesome, but turn by turn directions are a little slow and if moving fast it’s easy to get too far in front of it.  I will take more getting used to, especially when it’s lost, which it doesn't seem to be able to tell you properly, but still absolutely essential.
The weight carried is vitally important, Bob on his lightweight bike and no camping kit left me standing on the climbs.  Although my choice of kit was generally OK, there could be improvements, stove, sleeping bag, tent and sleeping mat.  Problem is that to lose weight costs a lot of money.
It was a big mistake to arrive in France on Sunday, all France is totally closed, and remains so on Monday also, so no shops, no cafes, nothing.
I would recommend a slightly later Eurostar departure from Paris, the station is very crowded at rush hour.

All in all a great ride, pleasant scenery, not too many serious hills, but enough, a reasonable distance for 4 days, but ferry times could be better.  Ideally a couple more days would make it very easy and allow more time to stop and look round and generally not be as rushed, doing the ride before the end
of September would also be better as the daylight is longer, not an awful lot of fun arriving somewhere after dark and leaving before dawn.


Distance                       286 miles          460kms
Elevation Gain               26,412 feet        8,127 metres

Pedal Revolutions         67,129 

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