By Rob Atkinson
Due to a last minute cancellation I was lucky enough to be invited to join Guy, Alan & Dave on their Annual trip to France. Given that Sienna was out of the country there was no requirement for any leave pass application & I naturally jumped at the chance. It also offered the opportunity to get some decent miles in my legs prior to my next adventure (more to follow…..).
We were headed to Thiepval, the site of the Memorial to the missing of the Somme, near the town of Albert. A ride of approximately 140km each way.
Dave & I met at the White Hart in Crowborough at 19:00 and headed off towards Halland to meet Guy. Arriving a full 20mins early we were just discussing the merits of sneaking in a cheeky pint when rather disappointingly we spotted Guy (also early) on the other side of the roundabout. The wind was strong & gusty on our way down to Newhaven, which was to set a precedent for the weekend.
On arrival at Newhaven we met up with Alan and, having been told the ferry would be boarding in the next 10mins, eagerly joined the queue of cars & bikes. 10mins turned into 90mins as we stood in the car park, the wrong side of passport control, the terminal building in clear line of sight whilst Guy steadily turned into a Popsicle.
We finally boarded at 11:00, found our cabin and promptly nipped to the bar for a beer before turning in….. 3.5hrs later the lights came on and the Tannoy announced our arrival in Dieppe so we wearily pulled ourselves of bed in an effort to get to the canteen before the breakfast queues got too big.
It’s worth noting at this point that timing on the ferry is critical. Get on early and you can beat the queues for the cabins, but on arrival your bike is buried under 100s of others & patience is required as everyone on top of you reclaims their steed (unless of course you are the shameless American who foolishly attempted to pull his bike out from the bottom of the pile, almost initiating a world record domino rally until he was set straight by your friendly Tri Club Coach).
It was still dark when we set off but as the sun rose we found ourselves riding on quiet roads through rolling countryside, with the wind at our backs. The weather was cloudy, but warm – perfect conditions for a long ride. As such we made good progress despite Garmin Express routing us down some rather suspect cart tracks which proved somewhat challenging on road bikes, surprisingly there were no mechanicals and the consensus of the group was that diversions were preferable to any further off roading.
We arrived at the memorial at about 13:00. It was a peaceful spot on a prominent hill in the centre of what had been the British Sector of the Somme during WW1. The sheer number of names on the memorial was humbling to say the least, to think of the lives lost in conflict over such a short period of time. As an ex-serviceman myself I found it to be a poignant experience & an opportunity to remember friends & colleagues.
Our hotel was in the nearby town of Albert, which was another 6km from the memorial. After a late lunch we checked in and immediately showered before going to bed to catch up on the sleep missed the night before, with the exception of Dave who instead opted to sit in the bar and fuel himself with coffee whilst chatting to a Harley Davidson owner from Fairwarp (small world).
Dinner was typically French, al fresco in the town square with live entertainment from a local group of Bagpipers!?!?! Wine was excellent, as you would expect in France.
The following morning was damp and blustery, the windspeed had increased & the forecast was for gusts in the region of 45km/h, only this time we would be cycling straight into it! Gone were the smiling faces & casual two abreast cycling of the day before as we formed an echelon, taking turns at the front to push through the wind. The effect was so huge I found myself freewheeling behind Guy occasionally touching the brakes to stay behind him whilst his legs were spinning constantly to maintain momentum.
About 10km all was well until… ‘twang, clank, clank, clank’ something was definitely wrong with my bike & I braked sharply, the others narrowly avoiding piling into the back of me. On inspection, I had broken a spoke in my rear wheel, probably as a result of our off road antics the day before, which was now resembling a banana – our hearts sank, we still had 130km to go!?! Luckily by releasing the rear brake cable I could ride on it albeit slightly more cautiously than previously. This lasted until 30km to go when my tyre punctured due to a slight rubbing on the frame wearing it through to the inner tube. As any avid GCN watcher will know this can easily be fixed temporarily using a 20Euro note to line the tyre and I was able to limp home the final few miles to Dieppe in time to eat before the ferry (I have subsequently discovered the existence of a ‘tyre boot’ which is far more economical than 20euros).
The crossing home was spent swapping cycling ‘war’ stories in the bar, whilst Alan kept a watchful eye on his mobile phone for any news of the now imminent 4th Grandchild. Thanks must go to Graham for collecting us from Newhaven at short notice as Sue was otherwise indisposed at the hospital.
Congrats to Alan & Sue on the arrival of Harry.
Thanks to guy for organising the trip, I would definitely recommend next year’s soiree to anyone considering it.