Sunday 3rd September – Naseby Figure-of-8

Meeting point: Brampton Valley Way (BVW) / A5099 crossing – near the Windhover.  There is a BVW car park a little way up Brampton Lane.
Meeting time: 9.30 a.m.
Distance: 40 miles
Speed: Tourist speed – with time to stop and stare!
Refreshments: Elevenses, if required, at Kelmarsh Buddhist Centre (18 miles).  Main stop at Naseby Vicarage where we are booked in at 12.30 p.m. / 1.00 p.m. (28 miles)

This Sunday’s ride is a little different in that we will be visiting well-known places but pausing from time to time and trying to appreciate them as if we were seeing them for the first time.
From BVW we will ride via the Harlestones (viewing the Dovecot), Althorp (gazing at the House over the ha-ha), Great Brington (contemplating dead Spencers), East Haddon (the old water pump), Holdenby (considering the fate of kings), Cottesbrooke (the wealth of turkeys) and possibly stopping at Kelmarsh (as described by James in the last ride report).
Then a tour of Clipston, Sibbertoft and Naseby takes us around the viewpoints of the Battle of 1645 before arriving at the Vicarage where we have booked the large and grand table for lunch.
On the return, which is only twelve more miles, we shall inspect “probably the most impressive seventh-century building north of the Alps” at Brixworth before emerging from the country park at Pitsford and returning to our start point via Chapel Brampton.
We should be back by 2.30 p.m.
The reason for this ride’s different pace and approach is that we will have a visitor from Aachen in Germany with us.  Back in 2013, Philip G organised a twinning visit there for CTC Northampton members where we were hosted by ADFC Aachen members.  (The ADFC is the German equivalent of the CTC.)  Eight of us went – and Alex and I were hosted by Sabine Neitzel.  Alex and I stayed with Sabine again last year and now she is visiting Northampton for a long weekend.
Looking forward to seeing you on Sunday!
Questions? 07960 302095

Ride report – Bank Holiday ride to Milton Keynes

Iain D, our Rides Secretary, led this ride and writes:

With the planned route involving redways and their bollards, and this being the first anniversary of our ride to Monschau (blog readers can remind themselves of that day’s events here), I was a little apprehensive at the start, especially given the fog that had settled over Northamptonshire.

We were joined by a few of the regular crew, one occasional member and a new rider who also teaches spin classes! And I’d got such a gentle ride planned.

The seven of us took the usual route out from East Hunsbury towards Towcester, cut across the A5 south of town to Whittlebury and then had a pleasant and trouble-free run into Potterspury where we arrived for elevenses, at eleven o’clock, just as the shop was opening for the day.

Refreshed, and with the GPS now running (!), we headed off to Deanshanger and the lanes west of Milton Keynes before turning towards the conurbation itself. With thanks to Google Streetview, we found our desired redway fairly painlessly. This was important as that particular redway should, in theory, have delivered us all the way across MK directly onto the Willen Lake promenade. Alternating between wooded/grassy areas and some of the less salubrious housing estates, it actually made good on its promise and we arrived, unscathed, at Willen Lake not 50 yards from lunch. This pleased Milton immensely.

It being a sunny Bank Holiday Monday, there was a bit of a wait for food but since we’d bagged ourselves a table out in the sun we weren’t too fussed. It seemed better to wait than to ride back in towards the town centre.

Navigating away from lunch was harder, but we headed north on the redways then west across Great Linford to pick up the Millennium Cycleway then the Grand Union canal north out of town. That lane is now more cratered than ever, and just north of the bridge it’s a little muddy, but still usable. I hear it flooded a bit over the winter which doesn’t surprise me.

We were resting up in Hanslope a short while later, taking on a few mouthfuls of water, when a large 4×4 pulled over. The window came down and we thought we knew what was coming next. What they actually wanted to know was whether we were all okay or whether we needed any assistance! That doesn’t normally happen …

The group split in Quinton, those from the east side of town opting to avoid the town centre, leaving the rest of us to make our way back to East Hunsbury and the end of a very pleasant day’s riding.

The route for the (last 2/3rds of) the day is here. I forgot to turn the GPS on at the start (oops) and, interestingly, it failed to pause itself at Willen Lake. That does seem to be a recurrent issue there. Maybe MK messes up GPS somehow?

Visit to Aachen – Day 7 Ride Report

Tuesday 23rd April – Dunkirk to Northampton – words by Iain Dawson

Ian was away early to meet up with Alex and make the 10.00 a.m. boat out of Dunkerque. As a result, those two may have been the only part of the group to have ridden in rain all week. It had finished by time Dave and I had had breakfast.

We wandered across to the supermarché to grab a few food goodies (no beer or fags on this trip) then packed the bikes and headed for the port. Rather annoyingly, the French had decided to dig up the road that we’d come in on the previous evening but we remembered the alternative from our nocturnal food run so we were soon battling the wind on the route back through Dunkerque’s industrial hinterland. We did actually see the 10.00 a.m. boat departing but it took us a further fifteen minutes to get to the port ourselves.

Dunkerque is easier to navigate than Dover – no need for red lines here – and other passengers more talkative, both dockside and on the boat itself, so we had plenty of conversation on the way back.

We should have been last off the boat in (a cold and foggy) Dover, but someone upset the deckhand by not being ready to move when instructed so we enjoyed a leisurely stroll down the ramp, picked up the red line again and a few minutes later found ourselves outside the Travel Centre where it had all begun not one week earlier.

When we got to the top of the hill, where I’d left the car, all was sunny and warm. We did break the journey home by stopping at South Mimms services which I thought was the only Motorway Services signed from a National Cycle Route. Appropriate, I thought. I’ve since discovered that Severn View is also on an NCN route.

I’m still wondering how to work this idea into one of our routes.

Only one thing left to ask: Where are we going next year?

Visit to Aachen – Day 6 Ride Report

Monday 22nd April – Aachen to Dunkirk

With our hosts having to return to their normal weekly routine, Dave and I were back down at the Hbf fairly early, soaking up the morning sun (again, we had warmth). Slightly worryingly, there was an ambulance on the station forecourt and when I wandered into the ticket office I was yelled at to get out. Not told, politely, that they were unable to be of assistance, but positively yelled at. I have no idea what had happened but it can’t have
been good.

Aachen Hbf

Aachen Hbf

Ian and Alex arrived shortly afterwards, their host also having a weekly routine to get back into, and we had an hour to spare before our train so went for one last wander into town, taking in the theatre building.

At the Aachen Theatre

At the Aachen Theatre

We made it back to the station with time to spare and made the platform to discover that our train was running behind schedule. Again we didn’t know where to put the bikes but, again, the SNCB staff were extremely helpful and efficient and we got all the stuff onboard without a problem. Why SNCB reserves its scabbiest trains for cross-border service I have no idea but this one, unlike the modern, efficient, unit on which we’d travelled the previous week seemed to be related to BR’s slam-door stock from the 1950s, with the added benefit of vinyl seating. It was also about the only graffiti’d train we saw all week.

Our train for Liège is late

Our train for Liège is late

Alex models the vinyl seating

Alex models the vinyl seating

Changing at Liège - brand new station, old graffiti train

Changing at Liège – brand new station, old graffiti train

We changed trains at Liège and were pleased to see that we had the same conductor as on Thursday’s outward journey, although how pleased she was to see us I can’t say. She did seem to cheer up when we told her we weren’t getting off until Oostende – the end of the line. This rail journey was quieter than last week’s and some more senior members of the group even found time to snooze.

Our train from Liège, via Brussels, to Ostend is punctual

Our train from Liège, via Brussels, to Ostend is punctual

From Oostende, the plan was to follow the knooppunt network – similar to the German node network – to navigate back to the French border. We failed, totally, to find the first of our knooppunts but, having found a sign for the second, we broke for lunch. We were even able to bring our bikes into the fenced-off al fresco dining area to keep an eye on them at the Adriatic-themed restaurant we chose.

Ah, remember the wind that had been so kind to us on Wednesday? It was still there, and still blowing in the same direction. Trouble was, we were now trying to go in the opposite direction. At least the knooppunt network had the advantage of running inland for most of the route, but not the first few kilometres which were along the seafront and interrupted by
sandbanks that had been blown up off the beach. Eventually we turned and the wind was somewhat abated but we’d still be working against it all the way back. Once we got into the habit of looking for knooppunt network signs, they were easy to spot and the trip to the end of the network near the French border went without error, although a local in Nieuwpoort insisted on riding along with us and giving us directions as we passed
through the town. Interesting, what you learn from the locals.

Back into France

Back into France

The day’s first navigation mistake came at the end of the network, when someone (no names!) misread the map and made straight over a junction instead of turning right. There followed a serene few miles of road which dead-ended at a No Trespassing sign. Oops. After a brief discussion over the possible courses of action, we made France.

We crossed the French border at the spot photographed in Day 1’s blog and continued our way into Dunkerque, where navigation mistake no. 2 happened. Alex had already turned off to head to his night’s accommodation when we unexpectedly found ouselves in the town square, which hadn’t been on the route plan! After a quick discussion with some locals, we were headed the right way. Some short time later Ian found himself distraught at the discovery that right next door to our hotel was an ever cheaper one. Quelle horreur! (I should mention here that we’d paid under £10 each for the hotel room so I’ve no idea what a Formule1 charges).

The Endomondo route for our ride from Ostend to Dunkirk is here – 37 miles.

What followed is probably the best short ride I’ve had in years. There was no food to be had in the immediate vicinity of the hotel, a Buffalo Grill some 15 minutes ride away being the recommendation of the reception staff, so we called up Alex, who also hadn’t eaten, he came over and we set off, at speed, in the dark, throught the silent streets of a foreign town in search of our dinner. After a couple of miles we spotted a pizza parlour and made their day by ordering two of the largest pizzas I’ve ever seen, and four cans of Fanta.

Gourmet dining on the very last evening of the visit!

Gourmet dining on the very last evening of the visit!

Suitably refreshed, we retraced our route, rolled the bikes into the room (for the management had had the foresight to install us in a ground floor unit) and settled down for the night.

Visit to Aachen – Day 5 Ride Report

Sunday 21st April – A day’s ride to Monschau, high in the Eifel Hills. Words by Iain Dawson; photos by Ian Macsporran

A word of warning about this report – it tells of damaged bicycles and fallen riders. Those of a nervous disposition should look away now.

It was also unexpectedly cold!

Our hosts had decided to join us for part of this trip – in fact they were to lead the first few kilometres – so Otto had saddled up the tandem with son acting as stoker and Elke was riding her trusty town bike (although it’s far more capable than that description suggests, and far quicker. Who needs 24 gears in town?). Ulrich had also joined us for the day.

(l to r) Sabine, Elke, Lars, Otto, Philip, Alex, Rowan & Iain at the start of the ride

(l to r) Sabine, Elke, Lars, Otto, Philip, Alex, Rowan & Iain at the start of the ride

We were treated first to a visit to the Forst tree (that’s not a typo – it’s in the village/suburb of Forst), a lime tree that’s not many generations of Aacheners from its millennium and which has developed quite an impressive girth over its lifetime. Then we hit the trail towards Kornelimunster. For light relief, along the run in to Kornelimunster, someone has replicated the solar system, which is to say that, at appropriate distances (proportional to typical distance from the sun), there are plaques representing the planets of the solar system. Each plaque contains a proportionally-sized hemisphere and some basic information about the relevant body. It was a little disappointing to find Jupiter the size of a grapefruit while earth was a mere pimple but it served to put things in perspective.

After Kornelimunster we hit another ex-railway line (other countries have had their Dr Beechings) which brought us to the Vennbahn and, eventually, to Belgium. In fact, the first part of Vennbahn that we rode runs through the German-speaking corner of Belgium. You thought they had problems because they have two languages? They’ve actually got three. What fun.

It was somewhere around here that our hosts turned back towards Kornelimunster for Sunday lunch so Phil resumed leadership duties although Ulrich was still with us and was to act as our guide later on.

Ulrich, the Vennbahn cycle path, and bollards!

Ulrich, the Vennbahn cycle path, and bollards!

The Vennbahn proper is a politically interesting piece of real estate. While it runs partly through modern-day Belgium and partly through modern-day Germany, it is, in fact and in law, entirely Belgian. That is to say that, although the rail line has German territory either side of it for much of its length, the trackbed and Right of Way are emphatically Belgian.

The original plan was to stop for a coffee in Raeren but, since we were making good progress, we pressed on and stopped for a brief buzzbar/waterbottle stop in Roetgen. This may have been a mistake. A few kilometres later, and I’ll mention no names here, one of us was looking at a map when they managed to collide with a bollard. The rider behind swerved to miss them and ended-up sliding face-first down the bank at the side of the track.

This was very worrying, and could have been very serious for the riders concerned but fortunately damage was limited to a few scrapes and bruises and a busted gear cable. It could have been so much worse. For future reference, please pay attention to your surroundings! Even when riding “easy” cycle tracks !!!

We continued in a more cautious mood to our day’s destination: Monschau, “Pearl of the Eifels”. What a beauty! Okay, the short, rapid, descent was welcome after spending the morning pushing up the gentle but persistent incline of the Vennbahn, and the cobbled streets were no longer a suprise, but the only adjective that springs readily to mind is “chocolate box”. I do so wish we’d had more time here. The village is small, set in a narrow valley, and it’s a tourist trap, but I’d have spent a happy day sitting outside or just wandering round looking at the place. Next time I’m bringing a sketch book. It was exceptionally cold but by this time we’d topped 2000′ in altitude and it was still April so that shouldn’t have been a surprise. We’d just got used to the unseasonably warm weather we’d been enjoying on the trip.

We wheel our bikes through the "chocolate-box" town of Monschau

We wheel our bikes through the “chocolate-box” village of Monschau

After spending just a few kilometres inside Germany to drop down into Monschau and make our way back up to the top, we headed back into Belgium proper, through Mützenich, to cross the High Fen, where the red flags were flying not, as we suspected, because of military manoeuvres but to prohibit access to the open country in the interests of wildlife. We were okay, sticking to forest roads, although we did still need to take care as logging operations were very much in evidence and bits of tree were sticking out over the tracks. We looped around the reservoir that serves the Belgian town of Eupen, which looked rather low on water, and then through to more productive farmland. It seems that, despite differing traditions between the neighbouring countries, locals along the border don’t even really note that they’ve crossed the border these days. I suppose that the common currency and lack of border controls (or even lack of border signs) have blurred the boundaries somewhat. It’s no surprise that this piece of the continent is really at the centre of the “European Project”.

(l to r) Alex, David, Ulrich, Philip, Iain & Rowan about to leave Germany for Belgium - high up in the Eifel

(l to r) Alex, David, Ulrich, Philip, Iain & Rowan about to leave Germany for Belgium – high up in the Eifel

Back in Aachen, we bade farewell to Ulrich, and to Phil and Rowan who were continuing their travels in Germany for a while longer.

The Endomondo route for our ride is here – 56 miles.

Tomorrow, we’d number four on the road.

Visit to Aachen – Day 4 Ride Report

Saturday 20th April – Two rides with ADFC Aachen – words by Iain Dawson and Ian Macsporran, photos by Ian Macsporran

David and Iain spent the morning exploring the town centre on foot, having lunch, writing postcards, doing the usual tourist stuff, etc.. Didn’t get much riding done before 1pm.

Meanwhile Ian and Alex joined the ADFC Aachen “brisk” ride.  This was to be a circumnavigation of Aachen around seven of its high points!  Sabine took us to the meeting point – the Audimax building of the University of Aachen – where the ride was, in fact, jointly organised by the ADFC and the university cycling club.  As a result, the two of us sent the average age soaring!

Morning start outside the Audimax

Morning start outside the Audimax

The route was up-and-down and up-and-down to say the least and the fit young German cyclists were kind enough to wait once or twice for the oldies to catch up!  It was pretty much non-stop pedalling from 10.00 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. with just time to eat a chocolate bar and take a drink of water.  But it was brilliant!  After the Lousberg – yesterday a mighty hill, today just a warm-up – we had an idea of what might be in store.

Next was the Dreiländereck – the hard way – but with time for photos.

Ian at the Dreiländereck

Ian at the Dreiländereck

Then onto other high points culminating at one with a huge modern crucifix (Aachen is, traditionally, a Catholic city) before swooping down to the Europaplatz and onto the Railway Station, the end-point of the “brisk” ride and the start point of the “easy” ride.  No time for catching breath, just some goodbyes to our new student friends and some hellos to our next friends, and then we were off on the “easy’ ride.  (I think a sandwich may have been gulped down at this point.)

The "brisk" riders above Aachen (Alex & Ian on the right)

The “brisk” riders above Aachen (Alex & Ian on the right)

Meanwhile, Iain D had met up with Phil, Rowan and David and had ridden over to the shop to collect David’s bike, complete with new Shimano bottom bracket. Even out of hours the shop serves customers as they’ve seen fit to install an inner-tube vending machine on an outside wall. Couldn’t see an airline though. Got a quick tour of the southern part of Aachen from a former resident (i.e. Phil) on the way to the Hbf, passing the ADFC’s local HQ in the Welt Haus (“World House”) on the way. This is a former council-occupied building that is now leased out to a number of environmentally- or socially- aware orgainsations (think Greenpeace, unemployed-workers-cooperative cafe, etc.). I can’t readily think of a matching example here in the UK.

So the afternoon ADFC ride was a “beginners’ ride” – via an easy route as the morning adventurers noted – up to the Dreiländereck/Dreilanderpunkt/Point-Trois-Frontieres which, as its names suggest, is where three countries come together at a single point. The ride started by crossing town to the University Hospital (Aachen has one of the largest technical universities in Germany, and also one of the largest university medical centres) to see if anyone else was wanting to join the ride (there were about 30 of us by this point). The recently installed helipad (known as the “helping hand”) has to be seen to be believed – it’s bright green and looks like a crocodile’s head. Mind you, the whole hospital is “Pompidou Centre” style with brightly-painted external pipework. Another thing we don’t usually see on our rides is someone taking a cigarette break – obviously not all German cyclists are health freaks.

The helipad at Aachen University Hospital (David is the rider bottom right)

The helipad at Aachen University Hospital (David is the rider bottom right)

We climbed our way up through the Dutch town of Vaals, stopping at an old border point, and continued to climb through woodland to the point itself.

The former Customs House (Zollhaus) on the Dutch-German border at Vaals

The former Customs House (Zollhaus) on the Dutch-German border at Vaals

It was also getting warm again. With not much to see (it’s more of a plateau than a point), and the service from the frites counter being appallingly slow (some of us – who had not had lunch – persevered), we headed downwards on forest tracks through a half-marathon that was nearing its end and paused, once again, near another old border crossing. At this point we had to separate from the ADFC group as we had to get back to our respective bases and freshen-up for the evening meal.

A single Endomondo route for the two rides is here – 52 miles.

This is supposed to be a ride report, so I’ll skip most of the details of the meal except to say that the gift that we had sourced for our host group – a beautifully engraved bell – was handed over and much appreciated by the ADFC members present. I also still owe Brian for my share of that … I did enjoy the ride “home” though, Elke leading the way through the dark and silent streets of Aachen and us not seeing the cobbles until it was too late.

Connie (bike mechanic extraordinaire) inspects the presentation bell!

Connie (bike mechanic extraordinaire) inspects the presentation bell!

Alex, Sabine & Ian at the CTC-ADFC dinner

Alex, Sabine & Ian at the CTC-ADFC dinner

The Rathaus by night

The Rathaus by night

Visit to Aachen – Day 3 Ride Report

Friday 19th April – about Aachen.  Words by Iain Dawson, photos by Ian Macsporran.

With David’s bottom bracket having spent the last few miles of Belgium protesting, Philip had agreed to hook him up with the best cycle mechanic in Aachen (thanks, Connie). Rowan had apparently spotted something called “shopping” and our hosts had to work for a living so Ian, Alex and I agreed to meet back at the Elisenbrunnen after breakfast and go for a ride. This wasn’t a planned part of the programme, so can’t be classed as an official CTC ride, but we were in Germany, we had our bikes, we were going to ride.

I’d put this plan before our hosts that morning, explaining that we wanted to head east of the city, and was immediately asked “Why?”. Apparently, things are much prettier if you head due north and I can’t fault Elke’s logic on that. We rode over the Lousberg, which is as close as Aachen gets to a city park.

View north from the Lousberg

View north from the Lousberg

We then pedalled through the Wurmtal, a lovely little valley with a node network to assist in route-finding.

A "node point" in the well-signposted Wurmtal valley

A “node point” in the well-signposted Wurmtal valley

We got to Elke’s proposed drink stop a litle before it opened so pressed on into the town of Herzogenrath. Not the prettiest place on the map but the coffee was perfectly decent and the cake remarkable. We took a slightly different route back out of Herzogenrath to pick-up directions back into town and found ourselves riding down a slightly unusual street. Unusual only in that the bus stop signs had changed (again) and the streetname was printed twice. Once in each of two languages.

Niuewstraat, as it’s known on its northern side, or Neustraße as it’s known to the folks on its southern side, is indeed unusual. The border between the Netherlands and Germany runs right down the centre of the road. The Lidl supermarket is in Germany but to get to it, you have to navigate a roundabout which is half in the Netherlands. Apparently, when the two countries play each other on the football field, this is not the place to find yourself. It was perfectly peaceful while we were there though.

So which country am I in?

So which country am I in?

The Endomondo route of our morning ride is here – 23 miles.

We picked-up our planned route back through Bank to Aachen central and stopped for a decent lunch before heading over to meet the others in the thermal baths. It turns out, to Ian’s great delight, that Aachen’s local contribution to the culinary world is black pudding, although our waitress was somewhat at a loss to understand why a cyclist would want to order alcohol-free beer. Don’t know why, everywhere seemed to sell it.

Having fed, we belted across town, back on Alex’s GPS, to the Carolus Thermen – Aachen’s other main tourist draw – to touch base with the rest of the group. Connie had arranged a courtesy bike for David while his was in for repair so we were all still mobile! A sauna and swim-session later (so relaxing), the others had disappeared off for a bite to eat so the three of us regrouped and headed across to the main rail station (herinafter referred to as the Hbf) to meet up with Bob and Sue, and Ulrich, for a tour of Aachen’s cycle facilities. These involve a lot of the usual helpful stuff, like cycle lanes, but also some superb, secure, cycle parking at the station and, crucially, left turn lanes for cyclists at some of the busy junctions.

Cycle parking and repair shop at Aachen Hbf

Cycle parking and repair shop at Aachen Hbf

Left-turn lane for cyclists

Left-turn lane for cyclists

These allow a cyclist to come through the right-hand lane to a junction, wait safely in the junction until the through traffic has cleared, and then make the left turn with priority over vehicles now waiting to cross from the sides. Brilliant idea!

The tour was followed with a bit of food and drink and, well, we had to get back at a decent time bearing in mind that our hosts had children to consider so I have no idea what happened later on.  (Sabine took Alex and Ian on a tour of her favourite flood-lit buildings in Aachen!)

A bit of (food and) drink

A bit of (food and) drink

Sabine took her guests on a tour of her favourite floodlit buildings

Sabine took her guests on a tour of her favourite floodlit buildings

Visit to Aachen – Day 2 ride report

Thursday 18th April – Ostend to Aachen.  Words by Iain Dawson; photos by Ian Macsporran

Ian and I were the first to arrive at Oostende station for the day’s public-transport leg having extracted our bikes from the hotel without, again, arousing the suspicion of the reception staff, and marvelled at the scale of the cycle parking that SNCB lays on for its customers.

Bike parking at Ostend train station

Bike parking at Ostend train station

After talking to some helpful station staff, we were told that there is a special compartment on the trains, with an oddly shaped door, that takes two bikes. The other four? “Should not be a problem”. And so it proved, the SNCB staff being incredibly helpful both on this train and on the ones that brought us back from Germany.

We were, predictably, by the area set aside for wheelchair users and had some good conversation once underway, firstly with a Belgian lady who was busy learning Italian as that’s where her daughter was now living, and later with the chaperones of some young children who were on their way to a Kandinsky exhibition in Brussels. (The train stopped at Brussels Midi/Zuid, for the Eurostar, Brussels Central, which is entirely underground, and Brussels Nord where the EU has many of its buildings. We felt quite at home). The train staff assured us that they’d let the bikes out at Liège, which they duly did, and we left the modernist, almost brand-spanking-new, station there to call in at the “Maison des Cyclistes” for some advice then promptly got lost in the road works in the town centre. Such is life.

On the platform at Liège-Guillemins train station

On the platform at Liège-Guillemins train station

La Maison des Cyclistes - integrated into Liège train station

La Maison des Cyclistes – integrated into Liège train station

We tucked into lunch, and beer, in the Outremeuse district before Phil led us out of town on a combination of main roads and steep, cobbled, side-streets to our route through eastern Belgium: Ligne 38, a Sustrans-style, paved ex-railway line that guided us safely through the suburbs and out into the Ardennnes countryside.

Progress was good, if a little warm (did I mention it was warm?) once we cleared the main population centres but we were to learn lessons about Belgian shortcuts in the town of Battice. The trackbed made rather a large loop and, with time pressing, Phil had decided to try the road for a while to cut the loop off. Here we discovered that not all Belgian roads are cyclist-friendly, this one carrying lots of HGV traffic straight from the Autoroute along quite a narrow, fast road. Back to the track! but at least we tried.

On Ligne 38 at Battice

On Ligne 38 at Battice

Some way out in the back country, the surface deteriorated into badly-rutted hardpack that brought our speed down a tad but we did pass through the town of Hombourg before picking up quiet lanes towards our next border crossing.


In the formerly-independent district of Moresnet, we hit the main road again, complete with cycle-path, and saw a big sign telling us that the Bundesrepublik of Deutschland was a mere 1100m away.

Never did see the border itself, although there was some kind of flag garden in the middle of the road a bit further on.


The biggest giveaway that we’d crossed the border was that the signs on the bus-stops had changed! But we still had one more hill to deal with before we could claim to have reached our target: the ancient city of Aachen (or Aix-la-Chapelle as it has sometimes been know). Phil made a couple of calls to advise our hosts of our progress, and we made the last climb of the day before shooting down the other side and through the back streets to the Elisenbrunnen, one source of Aachen’s famous spa waters, to meet up with our new-found friends in the ADFC.

Sabine, Rowan, Alex, Philip, Ulrich, David and Iain

Sabine, Rowan, Alex, Philip, Ulrich, David and Iain at the Elisenbrunnen in Aachen

Sabine – Ian and Alex’s host – was there waiting for us as was Ulrich Weber, a long-standing friend of Philip’s and long-serving member of Aachen’s ADFC chapter. Ulrich very kindly escorted Dave and I out to our host’s home as they were busy with the evening family routine (and in true CTC style, we were running a little late), and so each of us finally made it to our intended destinations that evening. Our hosts were simply wonderful. Cyclists of many decades standing and so helpful to complete strangers.

Our Endomondo route from Liège to Aachen is here – 42 miles.

Visit to Aachen – Day 1 Ride Report

Wednesday 17th April – words by Iain Dawson; photos by Ian Macsporran

Turning onto the Dover seafront on a cool Wednesday morning, Dave and I were hailed by a fellow CTC’er making his way to the port and so our little group of travellers started to come together for the trip.

Ian Macsporran had been down at the port the evening before, scouting out suitable meet-up locations and had sent us some nice pictures of the Travel Centre, which is where we were headed when he caught up with us that morning. Not many minutes later, we were joined by Phil and Rowan and decided, since Alex had said he might be running a little later than us, to head through to the dockside for the boat.

Rowan at entrance to Dover docks. Note red line!

Rowan waiting for the ferry at Dover docks – and proudly displaying her boarding document. Note red line!

Thanks to the port of Dover having bought a big pot of red paint, getting to the boats is easy on a bicycle – you just follow the red line and stop everywhere you’re asked to. What you don’t do is leave your lock behind at the Travel Centre because getting out again is not so easy (no names!). Fortunately, a kindly motorist had seen it fall of one of the bikes and had brought it dockside with them.

After being allowed to board, we stationed ourselves in the restaurant at the pointy end (one of the perks of getting on first) and Alex, having timed his arrival impeccably, appeared a few minutes before the off. Away to France!

First off the boat in Dunkerque, we failed to capitalise on that by stopping to take a few photos and shed a few layers of clothing. The Channel may only be a few miles wide but it was about 15 degrees warmer the over other side than it was in Dover.

Shedding layers of clothing in Dunkerque port

Shedding layers of clothing in Dunkerque port

Narrowly avoiding a turn that would have drawn us up towards the Autoroute, we rolled through the industrial landscape between the port and Dunkerque town, stopping only to remove yet more clothing (did I mention it was warm?), before hitting town roads. Google StreetView (other online mapping resources are available) had prepped me for the route and we made it through Dunkerque unscathed, and without getting lost, turned onto the road for Belgium and began to appreciate the combination of flat roads and tailwind.

We thought France was cyclist-friendly, but it’s positively second division compared with Belgium. Separate, well-surfaced cycle tracks, priority lane around roundabouts and, when you must use the road, motorists drive like they don’t want to hit you! Of course, sometimes we had to slum it and use on-road cycle lanes (If only we had that sort of infrastructure and attitude here!).

We switched from the original plan somewhere in De Panne. It was a nice day, the wind was being kind and the resort was lovely (we even saw a mum teaching her kid to ride his balance bike, in the middle of the town centre!) so instead of tracking inland, we followed the main cost road, alongside the trams, to Nieuwport. Yep, that’s right, we just followed the main road. Imagine that in Britain.

With a little assistance from Alex’s GPS, we snuck around the canal bridges in Nieuwport and struck out on the main road (again!) to Middelkerk and Oostende, rolling into town at 19:30.

(Our Endomondo route from Dunkirk to Ostend is here – 44 miles.)

Ian and I were surprised to find that our hotel could not accommodate bikes because the lift was “too small”. Obviously no-one in Belgium ever stands their bike on its tail! Fortunately, our room was on a separate floor to Reception so we didn’t have to wheel the bikes past the front desk. I think everyone managed something similar.

Food-wise, we found a pizza parlour (okay, we hadn’t got into the local-food vibe by this point). Drink-wise, we couldn’t help but find pubs (we definitely got the local-drink vibe) and so ended Day 1 of the rides to Aachen for six very happy cyclists.

CTC Northampton to visit ADFC Aachen (Germany)

One of the more exciting plans we have for this year is a short visit to a fellow organisation in Aachen, Germany – to meet with the local member group of the ADFC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Fahrrad-Club or German Cyclists Federation) – to see how they do things over there.

We have a programme of rides to take us over there and back (with a little assistance from boats and trains), and a small selection of rides to participate in whilst over there.

We are also planning to spend some time seeing how German cycling infrastructure and rights stack up against ours.

There is a possibility of some homestay accommodation in Aachen, although this is rather limited.  There is plenty of other accommodation in the area, including a campsite.

Outbound riding dates: Wednesday 17th April & Thursday 18th April to reach Aachen in the late afternoon.  We are planning to muster at Dover docks at 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday 17th April for the noon crossing to Dunkirk.  We will pedal from Dunkirk to Ostend (45 miles) and stay overnight in Ostend.  On Thursday 18th April we will take the train from Ostend to Liège and then pedal from Liège to Aachen (40 miles).
In Aachen: Friday 19th April, Saturday 20th April, Sunday 21st April.
Return riding dates: Leave Aachen early on the morning of Monday 22nd April, either pedalling or taking a local train to Liège.  We will then take the train from Liège to Ostend and pedal to Dunkirk.  We will stay overnight in Dunkirk, catching the 10.00 a.m. ferry on Tuesday 23rd April from Dunkirk to Dover.

Programme in Aachen
Rides are planned in Aachen for both the Saturday (led by the local group) and the Sunday (led by former ADFC’er Philip Gray), with Friday being set aside for tourist sights, seeing how the ADFC operates, discussing German cycling policies and, perhaps, a visit to the famous Thermal Baths.

  • Thursday evening: meal with hosts
  • Friday: Free morning to visit the cathedral and city centre, a World Cultural Heritage Site.  Afternoon visit local ADFC office in the Welthaus to see their operation and to meet their full-time intern, Karin.
  • Saturday: In the morning, either tour the city’s key cycling infrastructure or join the ADFC “sporty” ride.  In the afternoon, join the ADFC “leisure” ride to Dreiländereck (“Three Country Corner” – the spot where Germany, Belgium and Holland meet.)  In the evening, we will host our ADFC friends at a local restaurant.
  • Sunday: Philip Gray will lead a day ride to Monschau in the Eiffel.

Of course, you are free to join us for part or all of the week, but we have reckoned that the cost of the whole week, following our riding plan, to be approximately £350 – £400. That includes the costs of ferries, trains and hotels en route, plus meals and other incidentals, from Northampton to Aachen and back. It does not include the cost of accommodation in Aachen itself (see below for why). Of course, your own costs may vary.

Accommodation in Aachen
Philip Gray and his contacts in Aachen have kindly agreed a deadline for homestay requests of February 28th – the day after the Slideshow at Park Avenue Methodist Church. If you are interested in this option, and have not already emailed Phil, do so before the 28th or come and talk to him at the Slideshow.

Hotel accommodation is not difficult to find in Aachen, there is a camper-van site within the city and a pleasant-looking campsite about four miles away across the border in The Netherlands so you have options other than homestay if you so wish.

Whether you choose to ride with us there and back, or just meet us there for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday, let Philip Gray (01604 720522) know your interest as he’s collating this.  Philip lived for some years in Aachen, where he was a member of the ADFC.


  • This is not an organised or led tour.  Riders are responsible for making their own arrangements for accommodation, ferry crossings and train tickets.
  • Riders are responsible for their own passports, EHIC cards, and insurance.
  • Bring lights, spare batteries and/or a charger.  Don’t use flashing lights in Germany!
  • French law requires hi-viz clothing, e.g. a jacket or waistcoat, outside built-up areas at night or in conditions of low visibility.
  • Please do a “test run” – a fully-laden ride – with the gear that you are planning to take mounted to the bike in advance of the visit.