What to do in Dieppe at 4am?
There is no possibility of oversleeping on the cross channel ferry and winding up back in Newhaven. After what felt like mere seconds after going to sleep, the ungodly sound of some bizarre piped music is blasted into the cabins followed by a loud knocking on the door a mere 3 hours after leaving England (and still with about half an hour before we would actually dock in Dieppe).
Leaving it as late as possible before surfacing, I gathered my stuff together. Removing the toilet roll I had placed in my shoes overnight I placed my still damp shoes back on and climbed back into some dry, but not exactly clean, cycling shorts and shirts. Then, with the panniers packed up I made my way back down to the car deck, handing in the room key en route.
Part of me had initially hoped that the cyclists would be last off in order to gain as much rest as possible, however having now been awoken I was rather glad that we were off first. I was the second person off the ferry and onto French soil. The French customs team were friendly and wished me luck. Before setting course towards Paris I first tried doubling back towards the terminal building. On reading up before the route some people had suggested coming here for another couple of hours of shut eye, but a quick glance at uncomfortable bench seats and bright fluorescent lighting quickly put paid to that suggestion. Instead I headed for the back road that leads from the ferry terminal into the centre of Dieppe.
The central quay side area indicates quite a pretty French seaside town – although it’s not easy to tell at 4am (my body clock was reminding me it was only 3am UK time). I stopped to check my maps and ensure that I’d not forgotten anything in the half awake rush to disembark. Satisfied I looked to find the start of the Avenue Verte route somewhere near the station.
Returning from a short “detour” (yes – I got lost) past some industrial units I bumped into Pierre, with whom I had been chatting whilst waiting to board at Newhaven. Pierre had done the route a few times before and knew the way (he lives in Paris and his daughter currently lives in London so he cycles the route to see her a couple of times a year). Glad of some company we set off together, initially along roads to the first village out of Dieppe, Arques La Bataille.
At Arques we left the roads and joined the first part of proper ‘Green Way’. The initial stretch here winds around some lakes and housing estates. Pierre was equipped with only a tiny light so I was leading the way with my brighter light but trying to get directions from Pierre. I only fell off once! The mishap occurred when misreading the route at a section through some bollards. This was my first proper experience of the joy of having my feet locked in pedals and thus enable to put them down as I came to an unexpected stop! Dusting myself down and laughing it off (only my pride had suffered any damage) we soon joined the next section of disused railway line and a straight run through some glorious French countryside.
I know the countryside here is glorious as I have more recently driven back through it to get to the ferry on another trip (in the car). However at 4.30am I had no idea how nice it was (though I did suspect it was worth actually seeing). However the company with Pierre was pleasant so we carried on together. After a short distance we were jolted by the sight of some ghostly apparitions ahead of us. After our initial surprise we soon identified the figures as the two lads from Portsmouth who had also turned up on their bikes in Newhaven. They had made it this far without any lights but were now struggling as there is no street lighting along the old railway track. They gratefully pulled into line behind Pierre and I and so we carried our mini peloton southwards along the valley rising out from Dieppe; Pierre and I leading the way with the other lads (I did get their names but failed to write them down in my notebook and have no chance of recollection now) just behind.
I would have happily continued on with Pierre for some more miles but by now sunlight was starting to seep across the valley and I could tell I was missing some lovely countryside. We were now starting to see some wildlife alongside us (being startled by my lights) and though I’m sure he was charmed by my poor attempts to name them in French (“Renard!”. “Lapin!”) when we reached the village of St Vaast I informed Pierre that I was going to take a break here as I wanted to wait for the sun to fully rise and see the countryside properly.
Deciding to stay with my light the two lads stopped with me at the old village station as Pierre continued to ride on. The three of us settled down on some benches for a rest. After around 45 minutes the other two decided it was light enough and set off. I’d love to hear how they got on. They had made, to my mind, a rather odd choice to break their route. They were travelling light and were planning to do their whole journey in three days. After doing the 75 miles ride from Portsmouth to Newhaven they were only heading in total about 30 miles today. They would likely be at their hotel before 9am! Although giving them a proper chance to rest that meant they had then left themselves at least 120 miles for their final day and I’m not sure that they had found the 75 miles yesterday to be easy going. So wishing them luck as they rode on I gave myself another 20 minutes before heading off myself.
From this point on I could now properly see the landscape I was riding through and was glad of my decision to wait for sunlight. It was still early (I could hear the larks rising) but the day was opening up beautifully and the route was slowly winding its way up the valley along the old railway line through some beautiful villages. Stopping to look at the chateau at Mesniers-en-Bray (I was too early to visit and had to admire the Chateau through the gates) before long I had made my first proper stop at the market town of Neufchatel-en-Bray – a town apparently very proud of its heart shaped cheeses.
Leaving the route for a while I headed into the town centre and parked the bike up outside the church and headed for a recce around the town. I was still too early for most of the shops but managed to find a by now much needed, basic, public toilet (all praise my decision to steal some toilet roll from the ferry!) and then found a boulangerie open and a coffee shop across the road from it. Having my breakfast (café au lait, croissant, pain au chocolate et jus d’orange) on the bench by my bike I waited for 9am when the signs said the church would open. I thought it would be nice to take a look around but there was still no sign of activity by half past so I reluctantly gave up and got back underway.
Re-joining the old railway line I continued on my way up the valley passing through some more nice villages and gorgeous valley landscapes. Stopping briefly to look at the village of Beaubec-la-Rosiere I soon reached the end of the line (or possibly its start). After the old branch line met its junction with the main line the cycle route diverges from the trains and takes some side roads and other paths into the town of Forges Les Euax. Another typically pretty French town, Forges also lulled me into a false sense of security by having some great shops around the main square at which I was able to fully stock up on provisions for the rest of the day – something that was not going to prove quite so easy at other points over the next day and a half.
The next section of the route takes riders onto some quiet country lanes across glorious rolling hills. This section of fast down hills and some long, but not extreme climbs was one of the highlights of the route and another section where I would be cycling for about 20 miles with a big grin on my face and whistling my way along. At the highest point of the hills, and having done about 2/3 of the days miles I stopped at a junction for lunch. Ostensibly choosing to park up and sit on a roadside verge does not sound ideal but the views across the countryside from here more than made up for any lack of picnicking formality.
Stopping at the rather sorry church at Menerval I got chatting to another couple of British cyclists I met there. They were taking a more leisurely pace having arrived on the ferry the day before. We wandered around the church yard with its somewhat creepy graveyard and wondering how on earth the church was still standing with the size of some of the cracks in its tower. The three of us set off together briefly though my companions were taking a much slower pace. After a short distance we noticed some very dark clouds heading towards us and felt the first few big drops of rain. Making my apologies to my short lived companions I made the decision that I was still feeling fresh and wanted to see if I could outrun the storm before I got to the next town. I’m very proud to say that I made it. There was a lot of downhill but I made a fast 7 miles dash into Gournay keeping myself dry.
Gournay itself was one of the disappointments of the ride. After the amusement of seeing the sign indicating the distance to its twin town of Hailsham (which I had cycled through yesterday) the town itself was lacking. It had suffered badly in the war and had been rebuilt to try and capture its glory albeit without any soul. Furthermore by this point I was low on water and was beginning to suffer some ‘saddle chafing’! I tried to find a super market to get some water and ointments(!) I succeeded but only after riding round and around some busy town centre roads. I was now beginning to feel fed up; tired, harassed by cars, and raw of bum! I still had 10 miles to go in the day which isn’t much but Gournay had really brought me down and the final few miles were suddenly far from appealing. Passing back through all the traffic and past a very smelly Danone yoghurt factory I climbed a long slow tired ride out of the town. I had enough and wanted the day over.
Eventually the hill plateaued out back to nicer rolling landscape and the roads were quiet again. Stopping for another small piece of bread and cheese and thus rejuvenated I made my way down to my finish point for the day in St Germer de Fly. Although I was still a bit tired now (I had already done more miles than the each of the previous two days by this point) the gloom couldn’t last now that I was back on open country roads.
Immediately on entering the village of St Germer any final frustrations vanished in an instant. I identified my hotel for the night easily enough as I dropped into the village. The guidebook said it was good for the route and indeed it is. As it is sited directly on the trail it couldn’t be better. For now though I continued on the handful of metres into the centre of the village. The centrepiece of the village is the enormous and beautiful abbey lining one whole side of the village square. Parking the bike and trusting to the villages tranquillity I left the bags on and crossed the road to look around the abbey. Unfortunately the interior of the main building was closed for refurbishment but it was still possible to get a good walk around the outside and to also look in the “small” chapel at one end (from where one could also sneak a brief peek around some hoarding to get a glimpse of the imposing abbey church).
Having looked around I crossed back over the road to the village square and took a seat at the Auberge de l’abbaye. It looked shut but still had seats outside which were welcome. Even more welcome was the appearance after about 10 minutes of a waitress who soon brought me a simple but very welcome ham omelette and chips (et une petit Kronenbourg). Suitably refreshed I made my way back to the ‘B&B’ I had booked; Les Chambres de l’Abbaye (I name it so that you can find it – if you are planning a trip along the Avenue Verte ensure you add this stopover to your itinerary).
I had decided to ‘treat’ myself on this evening. In actuality the room was only actually the same price as the B&B I had stayed at in East Grinstead on the first night – it just sounded more expensive being paid for in Euros. Treating myself turned out to be something of an understatement though. Chloe, the hostess, helped me lock my bike up (the comprehensive bike shed showed that the introduction of the formal Avenue Verte route has been good for business). I was shown to my rooms. I was given a two room suite with the most beautiful bedroom and huge bathroom with a centrepiece slipper bath. I was going to like this. It didn’t take me long to get the bath running and I then spent a glorious amount of time wallowing in the luxury.
Feeling fresh and relaxed I got myself ready for supper and headed downstairs. The evening meal was an optional extra that I’m glad I took. There were twelve of us arranged around the table. As well as myself there were two Dutch, one Swiss, another English and five Italian guests; all cyclists and all doing the Avenue Verte in one direction or the other and all at various speeds. Making up the final two seats were Chloe and Jean Francois, our hosts. The next few hours were a marvellous combination of excellent home cooked food (all local produce – most of the veg picked by Chloe from the garden that day) and lovely company. The conversation mostly revolved around cycling but also veered onto all manner of other interesting alleys as you would hope for in such varied company. It was interesting to see the differing approaches being taken to the route. The Italians – who were all very experienced in longer touring – were doing the ride in reverse to me but making a similar approach. The Dutch (who were also fairly experienced and had done a number of rides across the far east) were taking a laid back approach(!) and were actually spending the night camping in the garden and were not yet sure how they might approach for following day’s ride. The English and Swiss pairing (who were going at the slowest pace) were only planning a day or two ahead and booking things only when needed – otherwise hoping to be able to turn up and get in to places. They were a newlywed couple (this was their honeymoon) . She was the same age as me and had undertaken a few tours before. He, 20 years her senior, was new to the concept and this was his first cycle tour also. He seemed to be enjoying it.
In all it was a marvellous evening and a perfect end to what had been an excellent, quiet birthday. I’d kept that to myself during the day and didn’t tell anyone during the evening (I didn’t want any fuss and certainly didn’t want Chloe to feel that she might have to suddenly conjure something up). Well-fed and rehydrated with sufficient local wine we all eventually bade each other good night and I retreated up to my lovely chamber and straight off to sleep.
Day Three Stats:
- Distance: 64.25 Miles
- Ride Time: 5 Hours 17 minutes and 20 seconds
- Maximum Speed: 41.2 mph
- Average Speed: 12.1 mph
- Average RPM: 52
- Revolutions: 16,501
- Ascent: 1,835 feet
- Strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/173202993