Our journey from Perpignan to London was the last, lengthy stage of our West European tour. We had cycled from Inverness through the UK, North Spain and Portugal. We had toured around Andalucia before renting a car and driving to Girona, just south of the Mediterranean end of the Spain/France border. Here, we took the Frogbus shuttle from Girona airport to Perpignan's central train station.
We had planned a route that would take us along the Mediterranean coast as far as Narbonne and then following the Canal du Midi to Toulouse. From Toulouse we would follow the Canal du Garonne as far as Marmande where we turn due North to Dieppe to catch the ferry back to Newhaven in the UK. the last few days would take us from Newhaven, via Brighton to Bow in East London.
We have summarised below just the days we were actually riding. We had days off at a few points and we did take our time. For the more athletic, on a schedule it can be achieved in a lot less time.
Our ride descriptions give an account of the ride that we completed. As part of the description we also provide links to Wikiloc or Google maps and elevation profiles based on mapping data available through the internet. The ride profiles are smoothed to give what in our opinion is a more beneficial view of the profile. We use paper maps, GPS and on line data to plan and conduct our rides. We are happy for you to use our descriptions, but be aware that we do not guarantee the accuracy of the information provided as situations surrounding any ride change over time.
Perpignan to London- Perpignan to La Palme Ride Profile
Getting out of the town at the start of our Perpignan to London ride was problematic. There were plenty of cycle routes through the city, but Tourist Information had no map of them. We knew there was a route out of town and along the coast, but we couldn't find the right exit from the city and ended up on a busy B road to Canet Plage.
Eventually we stumbled across the cycle route which was separate from, but alongside the main road. The sun was warm. There was little wind and the road was mostly flat with lovely views over the coastal lagoons and beaches. We arrived at the Clapotis camp site just after the site shop had shut. We pleaded with the owner to sell us a pint of milk as it was Saturday evening and the shops wouldn't be open till Monday. Initially he refused, but relented and brought a bottle to our tent.
Although we had brought everything that we needed to cook our meal, the menu at the camp restaurant was tempting and we enjoyed a lovely evening meal as the sun set.
Next day, as the weather was good we decided to enjoy one last day at the coast, enjoying the swimming pool and the peace and quiet of the campsite.
Perpignan to London - La Palme to Trebes Ride Profile
Today, our Perpignan to London ride would start in earnest.
We planned to be up early, ready to leave at 8-30, when the camp site office opened and we could collect our bread and pay the bill.
Karen asked Steve the time and he said it was 7.00am. She got up to shower and was surprised to see a wonderful sunrise over the ocean. "I haven't seen the sunrise since February in Spain." It was strangely quite in the toilet block and nobody else was up, but it still didn't dawn on us. After breakfast we quietly packed everything and took down the tent. It was only then that Steve glanced at his watch again and realised it was still only 7-00am. We had actually got up at 6.00. All we could do was kick our heels and wait until 8-30 to leave.
We set off along the road on our Perpignan to London ride to Port-La-Nouvelle where the cycle track went along the canal towpath all the way to Narbonne. We couldn't find it and when we did there were barriers across it saying it was closed for the next two weeks. The only alternative was back the way we had come and along the busy main road. Luckily a local told us that there was no problem and we rode around the barriers. Only a short section of the path was closed and there was no obvious reason for the closure.
It was a fine morning with a slight head wind and we followed the canal between two salt lakes all the way to Narbonne. Here we called at the tourist office to find information about the Canal Du Midi, which would form the first stage of our Perpignon to London ride and to buy a Michelin road map.
As the canal meanders around west of Narbonne we initially followed a shorter route along the back lanes. At lunch time we rode into Roubia and stopped at the first likely looking restaurant and asked for a menu. It turned out to be a Thai and we ordered green chili, chicken curry. Delicious!
By mid afternoon it started to rain. We expected a short shower and we donned our waterproof jackets. As we crested the hill, we could see that it was going to be more than a short shower and it got heavier and heavier.
By this time we were onto the canal towpath, but we were already soaking so just continued riding. Unfortunately the path had deteriorated to a narrow muddy single track with slippery tree roots. The wetter it got the more difficult it was to avoid skidding. Suddenly we were into a clay quagmire. The mud stuck to our wheels, clogged our brakes and flicked onto our panniers and legs. A German lady who had been struggling along in front of us (left behind by her unfeeling husband) slid off into the mud. We asked her if she wanted help, but she was OK, except for the hidden anger with her husband. We had to get off and push as it wasn't rideable.
So now we were soaked, muddy, hungry, cold and tired. We slithered into Trebes and decided that there was no way we could camp as the rain was still pouring. We dripped on the floor of tourist information while they told us about accommodation in the town. There were two hotels, both on the industrial estate about 3km out of the town. We opted for the cheaper, which had a restaurant so at least we wouldn't have to go out for food.
Fortunately, the young lady in tourist information (very good looking according to Steve) had pre warned them when she booked it for us, how wet and muddy we were. The lady owner was very sympathetic and provided a hose to sluice both the bikes and ourselves, before we went to our room and a nice hot shower. We had a lovely meal in the hotel.
Perpignan to London - Trebes to Castlenaudry Ride Profile
Our Perpignan to London route into Carcassonne was along the quiet back roads.
The old town comprises two mediaeval castle walls encircling the chateau and numerous well preserved buildings.
Most are now run as commercial businesses, shops, bars and restaurants. There were tourists everywhere, mainly Americans and French school children.
After a quick look round, we continued our Perpignan to London ride down the hill to the main, modern town of Carcassonne and picked up the canal.
The route was much better today with better surfaced tracks. The canal was busy with hire boats.
A lot of them were manned by Australian tourists and they had mounted the Ozzie flag on the sterns. We passed plenty of touring cyclists including families with young children in trailers on the bikes.
We stayed at the La Capella camp site, a lovely grassy site set in quiet rolling hills just north of Castlenaudry.
Perpignan to London - Castledaundry to Verdun sur Garonne Ride Profile
Our Perpignan to London ride today was the final day on the Canal du Midi that ends at Toulouse. We started well with tarmac road along the canal. This deteriorated to a rough surface track and then a narrow path and eventually a slippery muddy section. It was exhausting keeping the bike going forwards and avoiding slipping into the canal. Eventually the path improved and we were riding along good quality tarmac again.
At lunch time we stopped at a cafe serving Italian pizza and pasta. As we ate an English couple on a Thorn tandem rolled up so we invited them to join us. We had a nice talk, swapping stories of cycle touring and answering their questions about the Perpignon to London route that we had chosen.
Typical loch keeper's cottage...
This section of our Perpignan to London ride goes through a busy transport corridor with canal, cycle path, railway, motorway and road all running close together. Despite this there was still plenty of wildlife. The canal was teaming with small fish. There were big birds soaring overhead with deer and rabbits on the towpath. When we stopped for our lunch a very confident red squirrel came up close to see what we had to eat.
On the way into Toulouse we met two women cycling, one of whom lived near to Inverurie. What a small World. As we were now passing into a different French region we had to go to the tourist office, which was in the center of the town. We were sickened by the number of homeless, drunk or drug ridden young people in the streets. After getting the information we needed and doing some shopping, we headed out to find the Canal Lateral and the next leg of our Perpignon to London ride. The signposting in the town was poor and we couldn't easily figure out which canal to follow. Some fellow tourists on an unusual tandem bike helped us on our way.
The Canal Lateral appears to be a much newer canal than the Midi. The exit from Toulouse seems quite clinical, with fewer trees a pristine tarmac path and as straight as a die.
There were fewer boats and the ride was more monotonous. We rode hard and fast to reach our next site at Verdun sur Garonne. Turning off the canal we followed the main road and as we stopped to look at the map a car drew up. An old lady got out to ask if we were looking for a room. Even though we said we were looking for a camp site she tried to talk us into it. When she finally got the message her son got out and gave us a typical French shrug that said "Please forgive my mother. She always does this!"
The camp site was next to the Garonne river, which after heavy rains was swollen, running very fast,high and muddy.
Perpignan to London - Verdun sur Garonne to St. Laurent Ride Profile
The weather today was still unsettled with cumulus clouds always threatening, but with some sun. The canal was lined with tall trees, more like the Midi and we saw more boats. Here it repeatedly crosses the Garonne river on high aqueducts.
We stopped for our lunch in the lovely town of Mossaic, where a lock connects the Canal to the Garonne. We later learned that the Garonne river was closed to navigation due to the high water levels and one couple that we met were annoyed that they couldn't take their boat that way.
We found a lovely camp site, run by a Dutch couple, at their converted mill near to St Laurent. It had a spacious common room with TV and internet.
Perpignan to London - St. Laurent to Marmande Ride Profile
Today's Perpignan to London ride was our last day on the canal and to be honest we were getting bored of the monotony of riding on the flat, through much the same type of countryside.
Around lunchtime we stopped outside a restaurant on the side of the canal to read our map. As we did so, a young South African lady and two sons came out to ask us about our Perpignon to London ride. She was then joined by her father and we talked to them for several minutes about what we were doing. They warned us that it would be suicide to try to cycle in South Africa. She also explained that they were on a tour as the schools in SA were closed for 6 weeks over the duration of the World Cup.
This guy didn't quite judge the turn right on the way down to the canal.....
We stopped for our lunch at Mas de Agenaise, which had a lovely series of locks and a high walled castle next to the canal. As we ate a guy drew up in a van, took out his fishing rod and started to fish just below the lock. He tried for five minutes and then gave up, "C'est ne pas bien!" he said.
Around the same time two old geezers on bikes came along the road and started to get up the ramp from the road to the canal bank. It can't have been more than about 4 feet high. They had to get off and push. They then made out as if they were waiting for their respective spouses to catch up. It didn't bode well for the success of their ride, but off they went along the canal.
As there was no camp site at Marmande we opted to stay in a Chambre D'Hote. It was a fair way out of the town close to an industrial estate. The only choices for evening meal were L'Eclerc's cafeteria or an Asian buffet place. We partook of the latter.
Perpignan to London - Marmande to Sainte-Foy-La-Grande Ride Profile
We were a bit worried about today's Perpignan to London ride as there would be hills after 6 days of almost flat riding. It was a relief to be in changing countryside again and we really enjoyed the Perpignon to London ride up to Duras; a lovely town with a chateau on top of a hill. It was a bit of a "Brit" den with lots of English speakers and an English estate agent.
After having coffee and doing some shopping we met a cycling couple from Northern Ireland, Charlie and Francis. This was one of the first cycling tours they had done and they were very interested in our kit, gadgets and what we were doing. We accompanied them back into the town for a beer and sat talking for another hour or so.
A short while later we stopped by the road for a picnic lunch and wine, so the rest of the afternoon was a bit of a blur. Our Perpignon to London route took us on quite country roads through rolling hills and lots of small villages to St Foy La Grande, which is an old bastide style town on the banks of the Dordogne.
The site was owned and run by a British couple and was full of British camper vans, most of them on their way back to Blighty after six months on the Costa del Sol. The Dordogne river was very high and muddy. There was no canoeing because of the high water levels.
Perpignan to London - Sainte-Foy-La-Grande to St. Astier Ride Profile
Todays hills were a little higher, but only by another 150 m or so. We started off through the 'Foret du Landes' a lovely forest interspersed with hay meadows and cereal fields. The hay was just being cut and the smell of newly mown grass surrounded us.
Our Perpignan to London route then descended into the Isle valley, which runs parallel with the Dordogne. In contrast to the Dorodgne, it seemed quite a depressed area with derelict properties and a number of gypsy encampments.
It was Sunday, and when we arrived in St. Astier everything was closed, even the bars. After pitching the tent on the municipal camp site and having dinner we walked back into the town to watch Brazil versus Cote d'Ivoire at the only open bar in town.
Perpignan to London - St. Astier to St. Pardoux La Rivier Ride Profile
Our Perpignan to London ride started with another climb out of the Isle valley followed by a long descent into the Dronne valley. It was a wonderful ride on quite lanes and through beautiful villages.
We stopped at a bar for coffee and had to take a photo of this French Bulldog that was very similar to our friends dog, Pikush.
We had lunch by the side of a restored 13th century bath house.
All the way along the valley the road repeatedly swept under cliffs that had been eroded by the river thousands of years ago.
There were several old mills with fully working water wheels.
We also spotted a place where the owner was into metal sculpture and they were arranged all up the hillside opposite his house.
The weather was quite hot and sultry, but you wouldn't have thought so had you seen the couple that came riding towards us on touring bikes. He, 'Mr. Efficiency' in front, with a clip board on his handle bars, she following up the rear with yellow helmet and full yellow waterproof gear. She looked as though she had just come from manning a life boat complete with life-jacket. We nearly fell off our bikes laughing.
We went through two beautiful towns, Bourdeilles was the smaller of the two. The Perpignan to London route went over the medieval bridge and up the hill to see the chateau and the church. The castle was closed so we cycled on to Brantome.
Brantome is an old monastery town set on the side of the river, with lots of nice restaurants, cafes, gift shops. It was all very touristy. One remarkable thing is that along the side of the river many of the houses were cave houses set into the ancient rock face.
We continued on our Perpignan to London ride up the valley to St Pardoux de La Riviere. It was another municipal site, but there was nobody there. We pitched up and waited for someone to take our money. Apart from one tatty old and closed up caravan ours was the only pitch occupied.
In most areas of France Monday is traditionally the day when all shops, bars and restaurants are closed. This can cause problems if you are a touring cyclist because you can't buy any food or find a place to get a meal. To make it more interesting some towns and villages close on Wednesday instead. This is what we found in St Pardoux. As we rode through the town on our Perpignan to London ride looking for somewhere open we stopped and asked a lady coming out of the town hall. She said the only supermarket was 5km away and everything else was closed except for one hotel / restaurant just down the street. So we returned to camp, changed and rode back there to eat.
It turned out she was employed in the restaurant and showed us to our table. However, we needn't have worried. The meal was superb. Four courses and wine for 33 euros!
Perpignan to London -
St. Pardoux de La Riviere to Champagnac La Riviere Ride Profile
During the night we heard a van draw up, a slamming of doors and then silence. It was about midnight. When we got up it turned out that a rather gallois looking type had returned to the caravan and he was also the guy who took the money, so we paid our 10.4 euros and departed.
On our Perpignon to London ride today we were heading for a camp site near Limoges. Again, we kept to the quiet back roads through woods and hay meadows. It was hard riding at times into a strong headwind. As we dropped down one hill through some dark woods a snake slithered out of the verge and unable to stop Steve ran over it. However apart from going into hyper slither to get off the road as quick as he could he seemed none the worse for his flattening experience.
As we reached the last town before our intended camp site we had to wait for the shops to open. As we brewed up we checked the camp site details and realised that the site didn't open till 1st July.
We quickly revised our plan and continued our Perpignon to London ride another 10km to Chalus and enquired at the tourist office. Fortunately there was a camp site some 10km further on along a Voie Verte route at Champagnac La Riviere. After shopping we had an easy ride along a well surface old railway track.
This was another English owned site, specialising in accommodating the huge American style motor homes and several were pitched there that night.
Bob and Di had started the site five years earlier and were living there in their own large motor home. It was proving very successful having tapped into a growing niche market. Everyone on the site was British and very friendly. As the weather had improved we decided to have a day off and catch up on washing, blogging and most importantly to arrange our tickets for the next part of our trip to New Zealand.
The first night we were there we ate a great pizza in Dino's bar in the village, the perfect antidote to a long hard day on a bike.
The next day we met Dave and Rita, who had been living on the site for a year in their caravan and also had a small motor home for other excursions into Europe. Dave is a talented sculptor. Blind since the age of 27, he produces some beautiful abstract carvings. The one he was working on whilst we were there was formed out of Kilkenny Marble. This is a very hard rock and Dave had been sculpting it for several months. Despite his lack of visual ability his personality shone out and it was a real pleasure to talk with him. Dave the Blind Sculptur
Later, Bob invited us to watch the England Slovenia game on the TV in their motor home. We were heartened that England won and went through to the last 16. What a day!!
Perpignan to London - Champagnac La Riviere to Bellac Ride Profile
The day started with a puncture on Karen's bike. It was quickly mended and we packed up ready to beoff on our Perpignon to London ride. We said goodbye to Bob and Di and set off in beautiful sunshine along Bob's recommended route.
We stopped to shop in St. Laurent and were amused by their display of scarecrows scattered around the village.
We dropped down into the Vienne valley at St. Victurnien and climbed up the other side of the valley to the village of Oradour Sur Glane.
This village was the scene of a terrible massacre in June 1944 when an elite force of 55 of Hitler's Waffen SS swept through and killed 642 of the towns 645 inhabitants including 193 children. They then set fire to the town.
The remains of the village have been preserved as a memorial to the dead. We walked around the ruins. It was moving to see the broken walls of the building and rusted metal objects that were left from the fire, e.g. bedsteads, cots, sewing machines and few cars; the village otherwise remains as it was then. You can even see the remains of the old trolley bus system down the main street. It must have been an idyllic life there before the war, until this tragedy occurred.
After lunch our Perpignan to London route headed north through the Monts de Blond on a really beautiful, traffic free country lane. We could imagine we were in North Yorkshire, with pine forests and flower meadows. That night we camped on the municipal site at Bellac, which was quite busy with campervans.
Perpignan to London - Bellac to Luzeret Ride Profile
This morning the Perpignan to London route went along the main road north to La Dorat, and it was surprisingly quiet. The town is well known for its Hypotique, whereby horses race with small one manned chariots behind. We had watched some of the races on TV over the past few days. It is a very exciting, but potentially dangerous and dirty sport. A lot of bets are placed on the outcome of races.
The countryside was as it had been for the last few days, rolling hills and hay meadows and the weather was warm and sunny.
As we rode into St Buoit-du-Sault we stopped to take a photo of this lovely village with a monastery and old defensive walls standing on a rocky outcrop above the Sault River.
The Perpignan to London route continued down the hill into town a lorry passed us at speed and just after it had passed its huge back door swung open towards the verge. It could easily have killed us if it had happened a split second earlier. It just goes to show that your number may come up at anytime! Riding up the hill into town, we celebrated our survival with a dish of lemon sorbet and a glass of cold water, an expensive luxury at 8 Euros. A wrong turning out of the town meant a slightly different route along another rural lane through woodland and traffic free roads.
We arrived at La Petite Brenne which is a beautiful naturist paradise, with swimming pool, bar, restaurant, and the wonderful atmosphere that you find on so many naturist sites. Around the site and pool area a lot of very artistic mosaic work has been done.
We found a pitch in a small glade in the woods around the site with a toilet block more or less to ourselves. It was like heaven, so we stayed for two nights. We also met two couples from the UK, one of whom lived in South Normanton and the other in Norwich.
Perpignan to London - Luzeret to Levroux Ride Profile
We were looking forward to today as our Perpignan to London route would pass through La Brenne National Park Area. This area comprises over 1000 small, manmade lakes and ponds providing wonderful habitat for flora and fauna.
St. Gaultier, on the River Creuse, was beautiful and we stopped to take a photo. Having stocked up with food for the day we set off out of town on the Perpignon to London route towards La Brenne. The cycling was pretty easy along flattish and straight roads.
We were only catching the eastern edge of La Brenne and we were disappointed that a lot of the areas seemed to be private, with fences and private property signs, and the trees and undergrowth meant that you didn't get much of a view of the water, but we did eventually get a chance to view some of the lakes at La Callaudiere.
On leaving La Brenne we came into the small town of Vendoeuvres where we stopped at an Auberge. We ordered a 1 litre carafe of cold water and two beers. Downing the water in seconds we went back for another, surprising the waitress by how quickly we had drunk it. We stopped and chatted to some young French folk about our Perpignan to London ride.
Our Perpignan to London ride continued onwards in blazing hot sunshine through large wheat fields for kilometer after kilometer. They sheltered you from the wind and seemed to concentrate the heat. We stopped for lunch at Buzancais and then on again through much of the same boring and blood boiling terrain.
Eventually we arrived at Levroux's municipal campsite next to the swimming pool. It was a hot sultry Sunday afternoon and all the kids from the village must have been in the pool. There was only one other caravan on the site. We borrowed some plastic chairs from one of the bungalows and sat in luxury eating our paella.
After dinner we walked into town to look for a bar to get a beer, but there was nothing open.
We did get some nice photos of the "Wooden House"...
... and the only one remaining gate to the town, of the seven original ones.
After dark, thunder rolled around the heavens, causing the local canine community to bay for most of the night. We never got the expected rain and the sticky night continued through into the next day.
Perpignan to London - Levroux to Soings en Sologne Ride Profile
Monday was market day, so we had a bit of a late getaway onour Perpignan to London ride from Levroux. We had already left the massive wheat fields behind and the terrain was a little bit more rolling, with nice villages and a mixture of arable farming and animals. It was again very hot as the Perpignan to London ride dropped down to the broad and swollen river Cher, where we stopped for lunch. We sat on the river bank and watched some Romany Gypsies on the opposite side washing in the river and tending to their horses.
After that our Perpignan to London ride climbed a long hill up the valley side onto a long straight D road and then it was back to the large wheat production and other crops, just boring, boring, boring.
We had planned to stop in Cheverny. It was a little west of where we needed to be so when we saw a sign to a municipal site on the way into Soinge en Sologne we decided to stay there. Again we were the only ones there apart from a Bulgarian guy in a caravan who was working there in the market gardens of the area. We asked some tradesmen about who to pay and they indicated that it was free. The toilets could have been cleaner, but there was plenty of hot water so it wasn't too bad.
It was Monday and most of the shops were closed. We had already decided to eat out that night so before we had a shower we rode back into the village to find a suitable restaurant. Everything was shut except one bar that was only serving drinks and no food, not even a sandwich. We were desolate.
We went back to the camp site dejected expecting that we were going to have to travel another 10km or so to get a meal. But, Karen was not to be foxed. With her strength of character she pulled out all of the bits and pieces from our food boxes and in a scene reminiscent of "Ready Steady Cook" she combined an onion, rice, sun-dried tomatoes, tins of sardines, tuna, a bag of mixed nuts and red wine to produce a passable risotto that Jamie Oliver would have been proud of. We had cheese and bread as a desert with the last of our red wine.
Again, the thunder rolled around and tonight we did get some rain, but not too much. We slept a little better.
Perpignan to London - Soings en Sologne to Cravant Ride Profile
The rain cooled the atmosphere down overnight and it was nice and fresh as we set off again on the Perpignan to London route.
We stopped in Fontaines en Sologne which had a lovely market hall in the middle of the town. It was a wood and brick structure supported on thick wooden pillars forming a raised hall. Underneath was a paved area where people could walk. We bought something for second breakfast and continued out of town towards Bracieux. This is a lovely market town with a nice center.
As the Perpignon to London route headed towards Chambord out of Bracieux, we saw a cycle path that took us through the Foret du Boulogne on a traffic free road which eventually turned into a rough forest track. It reminded us of being back in Dalby Forest in North Yorkshire. We sat by the side of an Etang (manmade lake) to eat our lunch in perfect peace and solitude.
We came out of the Forest and cycled to Mer across the Loire. Unfortunately the two bridges were under repair and down to single file traffic. We were so busy trying to get across the bridge under the pressure of the traffic behind that we didn't even see the river.
We cycled around Mer for nearly 40 minutes adding 5km onto our journey, looking for Tourist Information. Each person we asked sent us to a different part of the town. Finally we gave up and decided to try to find a camp site as we went.
After a recommendation from a cafe owner we went to a restaurant opposite the train station for our lunch. It seemed to be the canteen for all the local businesses. We had a fab, four course meal, including a litre of wine for just 22 euros.
After our long lunch we carried on - slowly. It was hot, hot, hot and we were cycling again through that boring agricultural landscape. We stopped in the village of Lorges and asked at the local Mairie to ask if there were any camp sites in the area. "Non!" "Chambre D'Hote?" "Peut etre." The lady then scanned the internet and found one just 2 km away, but no evening meals, although there was an epicerie in Cravant some 5 km away where we could by something for tea.
It was in the middle of the country and very peaceful. We had our own lovely enormous room with a comfy settee and a bathroom. The lady who ran it made us a lovely tea of tomatoes, ham, sweet corn, sausage, bread, wine followed by melon and cherries. So we didn't have to go off and buy anything. It was all that we needed after a meal at lunch time and we were very happy.
Perpignan to London - Cravant to Chartres Ride Profile
Breakfast was served with homemade jams and yoghurt as wells as home grown raspberries and cherries. As we sat on the patio in the cool of the early morning, the swallows were trying to get into our bedroom through the open terrace doors. For this lovely place, breakfast and a scratch evening tea, she only charged us 52 euros.
Today, the Perpignan to London route would be a long ride of about 80km all the way to Chartres. We knew it would be fairly flat and straight and it was, boringly so. Averaging 17.5km / hour, we had covered nearly half the distance in the first two hours. There were few shops along the route and as it was Monday, French closing day, those that we did pass were closed as were the bars.
It was more than 60km into our ride before we found any shop or bar open. We had coffee and copious amounts of cold water as it was as scorching hot day. We bought cakes and bread at the small epicerie and a few kilometers after the town we sat at the side of a field to eat our lunch. A car pulled in and then quickly left. He had obviously stopped for the obligatory French pee-pee by the side of the road, but had second thoughts when he saw us.
The Perpignan to London route took us through an intensive agricultural area all the way to Chartres, it was hot, dusty and very boring terrain. After such a quick ride we arrived early, at about 3-30 and found a camp site by the side of the river Eure with a convenient bike track 3km into Chartres centre. Keen to see Chartres, we booked in for two nights. The site was very busy with a high throughput of campers each night.
Chartres lived up to our expectations. It is a beautiful medieval town with one of the largest cathedrals in France. The old town is predominantly pedestrian, with little traffic. It has a relaxed feel to it with many pavement cafes and bars and as well as a cosmopolitan shopping centre.
Old wash houses, boat houses and water mills can still be seen by the side of the river Eure.
After sunset, you can take a walk around the town, led by small, blue lights inset in the pavement.
It leads you around many of the historic monuments, which are lit up spectacularly.
On our second night we attended a free organ recital at the Cathedral.
Perpignan to London - Chartres to Anet Ride Profile
Riding north the Perpignan to London route took us along the valley of the river Eure from Chartres. The change in scenery from our previous days riding was marked. The miles of cereal and oil-seed crops were replaced by a beautiful valley with lovely woodlands and meadows as well as lots of stunning properties. This is Chartres and Paris commuter belt.
Half way along we rode into Maintenon and decided to splash out and visit the Chateau. Louis XIV had it built for his new wife, as her summer residence. Apparently, he so loved the place that he decided to build a canal all the way from his palace at Versailles, some 80km away. The main purpose was to get water from The Eure to versaille, but it also would give him his own personal boat canal to Maintenon
Due to the terrain, it demanded the building of a vast three layer aqueduct across the Eure valley finishing at Maintenon.
The canal design was completed and building started with some 30,000 men. Although the bottom tier was built, the rest of the project was shelved due to the onset of plague throughout Europe and the start of the war in 1668. Today all that remains are the crumbling arches of the massive base of the aqueduct which can be seen from the Chateau, stretching right across the valley.
Considering the opulence of the canal project and of the palace of Versailles itself, the Maintenon Chateau seems quite unostentatious.
It was still hot when we left the Chateau and despite an easy ride we were glad to arrive at our destination of Anet. The municipal site, where we had planned to stay was closed. Fortunately there was a privately run site next door where we checked in. The owner was a lady who was infirm and constantly rode around the site at speed, showing visitors to their pitches, on her electric mobility scooter.
The plan was to stay for one night and we were up at 7-30 and in the midst of packing when it started to rain heavily. So we re-inflated the mattresses and got back into bed for another two hours sleep. The day was spent relaxing at the site and looking around the town. At about 5-00pm a group of four cyclists arrived having ridden since 3-30am from Dieppe, covering some 160km. They seemed remarkably lively, but then they were on much lighter bikes and only carrying half our weight.
Slightly later an English couple riding a Harley rolled into camp and Karen offered to swap her bicycle for their motorbike. I think they were joking when they accepted her offer.
Perpignan to London - Anet to Louviers Ride Profile
Those that were moving on today were all up early. The four cyclists that arrived the night before were up at about 6-30 and the couple in the campervan next to us were also up before us. Despite this our practiced routine meant that we were all packed and off before the rest of them. The only stumbling block being that we hadn't paid the night before and the owner still hadn't opened the shop. We scraped together almost 22 euros, being the required amount and left it on her doorstep.
After a brief stop at the supermarket (it being Sunday) our Perpignan to London route took us up the Eure valley along easy flat roads with little traffic, through typical Normandy villages. We passed a lot of cyclists out for their Sunday morning run. After a couple of hours riding we stopped off in Pacy to buy something we had forgotten at the supermarket. It was a really lively bustling town and many of the shops were open which was pretty amazing for a Sunday morning in France. We stopped and took a coffee at a little bar on the main street and watched a group of Harley bikes maneuvering around.
Setting off again up the valley we met up with three audax cyclists who had spotted us earlier in the day. We stopped and chatted with them for a few minutes and continued on until we needed to stop for lunch. We cycled for a few kilometers looking for a suitable place and eventually, as we rode into another village, spotted a gateway on the right. There were a couple of campervans parked on an area of rough, grassy ground and it looked like one of the typical village campervan parking areas. We rode in, past the vans and found a place to sit in the shade, under a tree.
There was also a tennis court in the same area and another gate leading through to what looked like a group of gites with a large marquee pitched in the gardens. We commented to each other that it looked like a wedding had been taking place.
We quickly got all of our picnic gear out and made ourselves comfortable. We got the stove on to brew up and we were hungrily tucking into our lunch. As we sat there several cars exited the gite area waving to others as they left and all of the occupants looked at us strangely, but wished us "Bon Appetit".
We continued eating our lunch and more people went by wishing us good appetite as they went. Some of them stopped at the campervans, got out and started to converse with the occupants, who obviously seemed to be part of the same group. Out came the drinks and another party seemed to be starting up.
Yet more folk went past. We suddenly came to the realization that we were witnessing the final throws of a wedding weekend and we were sat, not in a public area, but in private grounds. We had gate crashed their wedding party!! We quite happily finished our picnic and laughed for ages postulating what they were thinking about us. "Do you remember when we were at Nicole's wedding and that English couple came in and just sat in the middle of the lawn eating their picnic?"
The biggest embarrassment was that the only way out was past the crowd of people who were still celebrating. We cycled out with our heads held high as only the English can.
The lovely Perpignan to London ride continued as it had begun that morning and eventually we arrived at our destination, Louviers and looked for the municipal camp site that we had seen listed on the web. The road works in the middle of the town didn't help and after a couple of wrong turns we managed to follow the signs. We asked some random guy the way and he told us that there was no municipal camp site and the nearest site was 5km up a steep and windy hill. Fortunately it was along our planned Perpignon to London route for the next day so it was no major hardship. We arrived at Bel Air Camping which was a three star site. For the first time since Petit Brenne there was a swimming pool. That evening Steve checked over the bikes and noticed that Karen's rear wheel had also developed a crack similar to one that Steve's wheel had developed whilst we were in Lisbon. On closer inspection Steve's rear wheel also appeared to be showing signs of cracking.
We couldn't believe that we were once again suffering the same problems. We quickly wrote an email to Thorn Cycles to ask them what they could do to assist us in light of these repeated failures.
Perpignan to London - Louviers to Anneville-Ambourville Ride Profile
The people next door woke us at 6-30, but we rolled over and tried to continue sleeping. The sky was overcast and threatening rain, although it was still warm. We slumbered until 9-00 before dragging ourselves from our beds. After a lazy start we continued our Perpignan to London route along fairly flat terrain through the Normandy villages. There were many small roads with poor signage, no road numbers and it was difficult to follow on the map. We reached the village of La Lande and got completely lost, doing a full circle around the village before, cutting through the lovely Foret de La Lande having lunch on the way. We were riding on minor roads, closed to traffic. However the road deteriorated into a rough, up and down track. We were worried about the additional jolting that Karen's bike wheel was taking. Three young lads on BMX bikes came hurtling passed us on one of the downhills, but came to an abrupt stop on the next uphill section as they didn't have any gears. We powered past them in a low gear and smirked to ourselves. It didn't last long as the track became unrideable and too steep to cycle. We had to get off and push. With their youth, they overtook us again and triumphed as they reached the top before us.
We managed to find our way out of the forest and got lost again, having to ask someone where the hell we were as there were no indications in the village or any road signs. Finally, on the right track our Perpignon to London route rewarded us with a long descent through a tall beach forest to reach the Quay de la Seine from where we rode along the banks of the river as it meanders its way towards Le Havre.
We had trouble finding our camp site, but after a few wrong turns we arrived. It was lovely and peaceful, hidden away in the woods, with a swimming pool and a bar. We decided to stay for two nights.
The next morning we rode into Duclair to access our email and do some shopping. We had several communications with Robin Thorn about the wheels. He graciously offered to rebuild all of our wheels at just the cost of the new rims and also to pay for shipping to / from their factory in Somerset. This seemed a like a very fair proposal and we took him up on it. We agreed to contact him once we were back in the UK.
Perpignan to London - Anneville-Ambourville to Pourville Ride Profile
The Perpignan to London ride from Anneville first took us across the Seine, by the free ferry to Duclair. We always find travelling on ferries with our bikes exciting, no matter how big they are. This one ran every 15 minutes and took a lot of lorry and car traffic.
In Duclair we stopped at an internet cafe to book our tickets for the ferry journey back to the UK from Dieppe and for coffee of course.
As we exited the cafe and walked down the street back towards the Seine the light was blocked out by a massive wall of steel in front of us. It was a huge container ship cruising up the Seine. It dwarfed everything around it and brought the small ferry and road traffic to a halt as everyone stopped to watch it glide up the river.
Our Perpignan to London journey took us up the valley out of Duclair towards Barentin and Pavilly. There is quite a bit of industry scattered along the valley and the road was fairly busy. As we got closer to Barentin the architecture and buildings became more like west Yorkshire. The town of Barentin built up around the industry of flax and linen thread production. The "Spinning Barentin" mill had operated as a fairly small concern with only a score of men, when a young Augustus Bardin, following his father's footsteps into the industry joined the mill as a "Tearoff". From 1845 he worked his way through all the mills and after becoming foreman, leased and took over the running of the mill when the current manager quite his job. From that point on the mill prospered. At its peak in 1900 it was producing thousands of tons of flax and linen thread annually and employed over two thousand people. He died in 1917 and sadly, today the mill is more or less defunct. But he certainly left his mark on the town. During his time the town in size. It was a little bit like Saltaire in West Yorkshire with terraces of workers houses, a school and other public buildings built by the Barentin spinning mills.
As we entered the town we saw the first of several statues of semi naked women; all in the best possible taste. We reckoned that old Augustus obviously had an eye for the women and this reverence of the female form had become ingrained throughout the community.
A short way further along our Perpignan to London route we stopped in a lovely small market town, Pavilly to shop for provisions. Pavilly however didn't quite have the artistic style of Barentin and substituted flowerpot men for naked ladies. The road out was up a long steep hill with busy traffic and large lorries. Finally as we reached the top , we turned off onto a quite back road to take us along the Saane valley which winds down to the Channel coast at Quiberville. This was a lovely ride and we passed many typical Normandy style houses and barns.
Reaching Ouville la Riviera we had yet another steep climb out of the valley and across open country to Varengeville, stopping for probably our most expensive beer at 8.20 euros for two small Leffe.
From there we followed a marked cycle route on quite back roads and got our first glimpse of La Manche (the English Channel to you and me). It was just a short ride to our camp site at Pourville.
Pourville, just 5km west if Dieppe was a popular seaside resort between the two wars with many of the English and French "well to do" taking the waters. Famous names such as Oscar Wilde and many others came there. It also has a strong link with Canada through the terrible failed landing attempt in August 1942 when nearly a thousand Canadian troops lost their lives. The remembrance museum stands on the hill overlooking the town.
That night we had dinner in the only restaurant on the promenade and watched the sun setting as we ate our delicious halibut in beurre blanc sauce, yummy! Tomorrow we would be back in England.
Perpignan to London -
Pourville to Brighton (via Dieppe to newhaven Ferry) Ride Profile
Our ferry to Newhaven didn't leave Dieppe until 6pm so we could spend some time on the beach at Pourville. We had our first swim in the sea since leaving Inverurie last August. As we sat on the shingle beach in the sun we looked out to sea and saw a bank of cloud which was slowly moving towards us. By 1pm it had enveloped us and blotted out all the views.
We went back to the campsite to pack our tent and set off for the short ride over the hill to Dieppe. It was disappointing not to be able to see the wonderful views from the top. We arrived at the port in good time and were relieved that there were no problems with our booking, despite not being able to print off the e-tickets. Boarding the ferry, the fog started to lift so we could get a few pictures.
The ferry arrived into Newhaven on time, just as the sun was setting. With high vis jackets and lights lit we set off for the 20km ride to Brighton. We had planned to follow the National route 2 and had earlier scanned the route on the Sustrans web page. Setting off we remembered just how hilly the coast is in south east England. The Perpignon to London cycle route took us up a steep hill through a huge housing estate and then on to a rough track. With the light failing fast and the bike wheel problem we were both feeling a bit stressed.
Eventually we came over the last hill and saw the lights on Brighton in front of us. It was now about 10.30pm and all the bus stops along the road were crowded with teenagers heading into Brighton for a good night out. As we came along the prom to the pier the riding became more challenging as we had to take care not to run over the drunken crowds staggering around us. Some inebriated types were also riding bikes, after a fashion.
Our destination for that night was Steve's niece Jacky's house and we followed our Google directions but again were caught out by having to ride up one of the steepest hills in Brighton. Jacky and James made us very welcome and had even given us their bed to sleep in despite our protestations that we were used to sleeping on the floor. Needless to say we slept like logs.
The next day we needed to decide how we were going to resolve the problem with our wheels. We decided to take the risk and continue our Perpignon to London all the way and then send the wheels to Thorn for repair.
We had a frustrating morning trying to find the Ordnance Survey "Tour" map for this part of our Perpignon to London route, without success. We looked at the Sustrans route NR 20 and 21, but they seemed to have a number of off road sections which would have further increased the risk to the wheels. Instead we found a route on www.bikley.com from Brighton to Greenwich, along the B roads and quieter lanes.
Perpignan to London - Brighton to Newchapel Ride Profile
Before we left Brighton we stopped at Action Bikes to buy a new computer for Steve's bike. We passed a wonderful pie and pasty shop and had a moment of weakness. It was then the long ride up the Ditchling Road to reach the Ditchling Beacon, with its associated steep downhill on the other side. From there our Perpignon to Londonroute took us on a roller coaster ride across the downs, passing through the lovely and historic town of Lingfield along the way.
The night before we had been unable to find any camp sites along the route and had planned to stay in a B + B, but as we reached Newchapel we came across a campsite and at GBP10 we checked in for the night. OK, it was on the main flight path into Gatwick.
The site was full and the distance between tents was less than the recommended 3 meter minimum, but we didn't have much option, so we pitched close to three other units. One was occupied by a family and the other two by two younger couples. One of the couple had just been out shopping to buy an airbed!! As we left to walk to the pub for dinner, Steve said " OK. What's the betting that there will be extracurricular orgasmic activity tonight?".
We had a lovely meal at the pub and returned early at about 9-00pm. Steve stopped off at the toilet block and Karen went back to the tent to make a coffee. As he walked back to the tent, Steve was met by a disturbed Karen. " I just had to come away. I couldn't listen any longer!".
The couple in the tent next to ours had been cooking a barbeque and obviously passion had got the better of them. They had left the barbeque burning away and snook into their tent for a bit of "How's your father". Karen had found them in the full throws of ecstasy. The progressively louder moans and hand thrusts out the side of the tent left nothing to the imagination. We went for a walk until their ardor had cooled.
Perpignan to London - Newchapel to Bow, London Ride Profile
We packed up and kept our lips tightly sealed, avoiding eye contact with the couple next door. Today, would take us to our son's apartment in Bow, London.
We set off on the last part of our Perpignan to London ride in good heart, only to find that we had gone in the wrong direction. After a kilometer we realised our mistake turned around and went the right way, only to get lost again further down the road. We finally got onto the right track and continued our Perpignon to London journey on England's pleasant back roads, shadowing the route of the main A22 north reaching the M25 at Junction 6, Godstone.
Here the road went straight up the edge of the North Downs. It was a 15% gradient and about 1.5km Halfway up a crowd of road cyclists cam haring down the hill cutting the corner and nearly colliding with Steve. They gave us shouts of encouragement and we cranked onwards and upwards. Once we had reached the top the Perpignan to London ride was easy and we stopped on the edge to admire the view back towards Brighton.
From there it was a long easy downhill taking us into the London suburbs and picking up the A212 to the East of Croyden, through Penge, Catford, Lewisham and finally to Greenwich. We were pleased that it was Sunday as the traffic was very light.
At Greenwich we struggled to find the entrance to the foot tunnel under the Thames so stopped for a beer to recuperate.
Rejuvenated we found the tunnel only to find that the lift was not working. The only way through was to wheel our bikes and gear down the spiral staircase. Fortunately, the North lift was working and we came out into the bright sunshine of the North bank. Here we stopped and chatted to another couple who were avid cycle touring fanatics.
The final part of the Perpignan to London ride took us through Canary wharf and along the canal to Simon's apartment next to the Olympic Park.
Our Perpignan to London ride was over.
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