Sunday, 21 June 2009

10 Years On - Part 8 of Account of Cycling Northern France

Staying in the Citadel at Montreuil salvaged a bit of something from the holiday. I wrote a letter, poorly, in French to the warden of the youth hostel, thanking her from 'the temporary king of the castle' and closed the main gate behind me. It seemed like far more than a week had passed. What I do not understand is why, given how much I was depressed by this holiday I decided to do it twice again. I can only suppose I stored my old diaries at my parents' house not to hand. I did regret not visiting a few more towns, especially not stopping in Boulogne. Not going to Beauvais on this occasion also lay problems for my next trip to France.

On the previous day, the left pedal, which was plastic, had broken on the road to Montreuil and I remember lashing it together in the rain using pieces of green coated wire that I found by the roadside. The journey is in fact 45 miles (72 Km), which, taking me six hours meant I was averaging 9mph (14.5 kph) which, though not good enough to get into the Milton Keynes Cycling Club which requires a 15 mph average over 50 miles for membership) given the terrain and the amount of luggage on board was not as bad as I felt at the time.
Interesting to note, that this was when I had been doing so freelance work and so was effectively self-employed and so owed the Inland Revenue £590 which is probably what my holiday had cost. In some ways it is better never to do these trips and retain the pleasant image of you enjoying cycling in France rather than facing up to the reality. I guess very few people going on holiday encounter as much, though often low level, but certainly sustained, bad luck which undermines the experience. Despite having mild Asperger's syndrome which means I keep memories of embarrassing situations with me as if they occurred yesterday, I am quite glad to say that I had forgotten a lot of the things that went wrong on this particular holiday. Maybe I blanked them out. Perhaps this project was a mistaken one. I hope it historicises the thing and allows me to see it with more clinically rather than bitterly.

I remember passing places I knew from First World War history, notably Etaples where the British training camp had been and a British mutiny broke out made famous in 'The Monocled Mutineer' (book 1978; television series 1986). Interestingly I saw memorials to the Portuguese soldiers who died on the Western Front (people forget Portugal was an ally of Britain and France) and an impressive one to the Chinese labourers killed during the war. The Chinese were the main group who actually dug the trenches.

Cap Gris Nez and Cap Blanc Nez are the highest points Northwards from where they stand, just South of Calais, right up to Denmark and they are steep cliffs. Having staggered over them (there is a deep defile between the two of them as well) my bicycle I was free wheeling down towards Calais when I saw two American cyclists (you could tell by the flags) coming the opposite way on bicycles which were so packed with huge panniers that they looked like they were on slowly-moving armchairs, you could hardly see the bicycle beneath it all and I still wonder how they got over the two caps.
The photos do show some of the beautiful countryside that I passed through on this trip. On other days not wanting to break my (slow) stride I had not stopped to take photos of the landscape I was passing through, but seeing the poppies and wheat fields that for so many British seem to sum up northern France and Belgium and all the violent history of that region in the 20th century, I had to take a few. My inability to expose photos well did not make the best of the shots I was taking. However, I hope it encourages people to visit a region of interest and beauty and I hope you have a far better time than I ever did.

Monday 21st June 1999

Today I woke early and packed. I then set off, the stretch to Boulogne was not too bad. I got there in about three-and-a-half hours. The road on to Calais was tougher especially Cap Gris Nez and Cap Blanc Nez. I arrived at the port around 14.10, so a six hour journey for forty miles, showing how slow I have been going probably never more than 7-8mph, often only 5mph.

I caught the 14.45 ferry and was in Dover by 15.15 British time. Getting lost in the town I missed the train and had to wait ages. I got off at London Bridge which proved to be much nearer than Charing Cross would have been.

I got back at 18.30. I had a kebab for dinner. I then unpacked. The zip on the saddle bag got broken when the bike fell over on the train, making it useless, further waste.

I will have quite a lot to sort out, changing my money, getting my left pedal replaced and above all, the stress that goes with being unemployed. The tax office want £590 odd, which is not as bad as I expected.

I wish I could have gone on with the holiday but not with more things going wrong and getting stressed. This evening I watched television and a video.

Programmes of the day: Goodnight Sweetheart, The Planets (videoed).
Weather: Sunny and warm, windy.

Valley South of Boulogne, June 1999

View of Wimereux, June 1999

View of Ambleteuse, June 1999

Wheat Fields near Ambleteuse, June 1999

View towards Cap Gris Nez, June 1999

View of Cross-Channel Ferries from Road to Calais, June 1999

View Back to Audreselles, June 1999

View of Cap Blanc Nez, June 1999

No comments: