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London to Paris taking the scenic route

guyGImmediately after getting a new bike via the cycle scheme, ostensibly for my 2 mile daily commute, I set about planning a much longer bike ride. The scheme allowed me to get a bike I couldn’t otherwise afford, so I was keen to make the most of it. Two of my friends had also both recently cycled from London to Brighton and were looking for a new challenge. So we hatched a rather spontaneous plan to cycle to Paris one weekend before the summer was over.

Researching for the trip surprisingly easy- there are great websites, blogs and even podcasts all dedicated to the trip. We found a carefully prepared printable route online, from a man named Donald Hirsch, a volunteer for Sustrans, a charity dedicated to promoting sustainable transport. The route is designed to be as cycle friendly as possible, avoiding the busy main roads both sides of the channel.

We set off on Friday late lunchtime from Purley, Surrey for Newhaven. We arrived in Newhaven around 7.30pm in time for some fish and chips while waiting for the 11pm ferry, happy to be there but wary that the longest part of the journey was yet to come!

At 4am Saturday morning we arrived into Dieppe harbour. The first stage of our journey was a 3 hour stint along a cycle route called the Avenue Verte, or Greenway. The Avenue Verte forms part of a larger joint Anglo-French initiative, assisted by the EU, to develop a largely traffic-free route between Paris and London. The section we took was built in time for the London 2012 Olympics, and runs for 30 miles along the old Dieppe to Paris railway line. It was a lovely part of the cycle and completely car-free. As the London to Paris route develops I’d welcome more sections like this.

After a big breakfast of coffee, croissants and other baked goodies, we got down to cycling the remaining 90 odd miles to Paris. The rest of the day was spent following our map through some beautiful French countryside. It made a nice change from the hustle and bustle of London cycling (here’s my daily commute) and for much of the day we had the roads to ourselves aside from a few cars and the odd tractor.

En route we passed other cyclists doing the same trip. At lunch we chatted to an old lady who told us that she’d seen hosts of English cyclists passing through the village all summer. Great to see so many people are taking on the challenge and nice to see British people getting a reputation abroad for something healthy…

IMG_20130919_170301At 8.30pm, after a very long Saturday of cycling, we ended up in Paris, under the Arc de Triomphe. Cycling down the Champs Elysees to our hostel was a great experience- the legendary boulevard is the final stretch of the Tour de France so was the perfect place to end our bike ride. It was at this point that it first dawned on us what we’d actually done and the sheer distance we’d just covered! 200 miles in 29 hours was an incredible journey and one we’ll never forget.

We’re now looking forward to the next trip, maybe even further across Europe. EuroVelo are dedicated to coordinating Europe-wide routes for cyclists. There are currently 14 routes that run from the North Cape down to Malta – so plenty to choose from!

Before I finish I’d like to make clear that, despite being a very tough trip, my friends and I are not super-athletes, or fitness fanatics. The three of us started cycling as a way of commuting- something practical to save money in the city. It developed into a weekend hobby, a way of getting out and about and seeing new places. We never thought this hobby would lead us all the way to France, but on a bike you can surprise yourself with the distances you cover. That’s why I’d recommend it to anyone- not just for your physical health but also for mental well-being. It’s a great way to keep fit, but the sense of achievement you get after a long bike ride is fantastic.

This week is European Mobility Week 2013, a Europe-wide event to promote the use of sustainable transport options. Cycling gets my vote!

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