Cycling in Normandy On The EuroVelo 4
As Jenny and I both work Mon-Sat, we are unable to do any serious cycling trips. However, ever since learning about the concept of a micro-adventure, I decided that the August Bank Holiday would be a great time for such trip. Our original plan was to take the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry and cycle towards Paris using this excellent guide. Unfortunately at time of booking and being Bank Holiday weekend, the ferry was booked out. Our only option was the Portsmouth-Le Havre crossing. This can easily be booked via the DFDS Seaways website. A return with a bike cost us £42 each.
It is an easy 5 minute ride from Portsmouth & Southsea train station to the ferry terminal. As a cyclist, you board with the cars so it is advised to get there 90 minutes before your depart time. There is a Costa Coffee inside the passenger lounge for last minute food.
All bikes and motorbikes are boarded first. There is good space for ALOT of bikes. However, there is no cycle parking as such, just a corner of the deck with ratchet straps and ropes (it would have been nice to see wheel anchors or something to prevent a bike bundle and the inevitable scratches). There was a member of staff who assisted in making sure all the bikes were securely fastened and would not fall during the crossing.
The crossing was 23:00 and landed in Le Havre at 08:00. Being first on-board, we had our pick of the seats and found some good reclining seats. Top Tip : Take a sleeping bag with you
Once you land and get through security, you are about a 3-4 minute ride from the town centre. Le Havre has nice wide cycle lanes, although 8:30am on a Sunday in France has very little activity.
We found a small cafe open and watched the locals setting up for the Sunday market. Pretty excited to get going, we navigated our way back onto the coastal cycle path and headed North out of town. We had about a 30 minute ride before joining the EuroVelo 4 route. Leaving Le Havre gave us some great views as we looked back.
Typically, the biggest hill on the whole ride occurs in the first few miles. You have to zig-zag climb up to the cliff top. Fairly easy climb, and one that most people could cope with. Once at the top, you follow the road through some residential roads to get to the start of the (virtually) car-free cycle path.
(Some interesting remains from a WWii lookout post)
Once you turn off the main road and you see the first signs for the EuroVelo, make sure you take a left and not the indicated right. We made this brief mistake. After you go around the airfield, you get to a lovely cycle track where you can really soak in everything French.
These small orange and red signs are posted on every turn. Keep an eye out for them as its possible to be soooo relaxed you will ride straight past a turning. Also, some signs were placed in overgrown bushes :S
We continued along following the signs for an easy 30k, flowing through small villages, admiring the houses and the landscape on route. I snapped a few pics on a food stop.
The Carradice Super C Pannier handles did a great job at holding our tent down. Note the Twingo :)
Every half hour or so we would pass a fellow cyclist, locals out on their weekly Sunday ride, or a couple on a european tour with fully loaded panniers. These EuroVelo routes make cycle touring accessible to people of any ability.
Our lunch stop was a small tourist/fishing town called Étretat. Note the Durdle Door style landscape!
Étretat would make a perfect over night spot, lots of camp sites and excellent restaurants. We, however, had another 12km to get to our destination - Yport. Yport is a very small fishing village tucked away between Étretat and Fécamp.
We encountered a slow, long hill leaving Étretat which meandered through the hillside. Once back onto the EuroVelo path, we rolled into our stop for the night. A night at our campsite cost around £10.
We knew that the rain was due during the night, so we bought a lightweight sheet to cover the bikes overnight, and locked them to a tree using a 7ft Kryptonite flex cable. This kept our bikes safe and dry.......
........until 4am when the heavens opened and we had our very own ice bucket challenge! Our original plan was to visit Fécamp and then back track to the port at Le Havre. However, the rain never gave so we decided to make the 8km journey to Fécamp for breakfast and then take the train back. My waterproofs gave up fairly quickly, but Jennys Otto Cape was excellent in the heavy downpours. Unfortunately the camera didnt make much of an appearance during this leg of our ride.
Note the Carradice cotton duck panniers. Cotton duck works by swelling when the rain hits the fabric, effectively closing up any gaps in the weave and around the stitching.
A single train ticket for the 50 minute journey from Fécamp to Le Havre was £7.50. There are excellent, new modern trains operated by SNCF that have extra wide doors (great for loading the bikes onto the train) and very spacious. We shared 4 carriages with about 20 other people and were the only bikes on-board. There is a bike carriage with space to hang 3 bikes vertically by the wheel. A very pleasant experience (even with 2 loaded bikes).
Leaving the station, we headed back to the port (3 minute ride) and onto the ferry. The ferry was slightly delayed coming into Portsmouth, and this caused a group of cyclists to miss the last train back into London, luckily for us, we made the 22:45 to Brighton. Consider a backup plan if coming from London by train.
Tubus Stainless Racks
|Tortec Epic Alloy Rear Rack|
ILE Tote Bag used as a rack top bag using bungee straps
|Velo Orange Handlebar Bag with Waterproof Liner|
|Waterproof cape by Otto London|
I hope this might encourage you to venture into France. You do not need more than a weekend, its cheap and most bikes would work fine. 90% of the route is flat and car free, and even when there are roads to ride on, drivers are courteous and give plenty of space when overtaking.
In the next few months, I will be reporting and giving some insight into cycling round the IOW, mountain biking in the Purbecks and the famous London to Brighton cycle ride.