Visit to Aachen – Day 7 Ride Report

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

FRANCE
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.

UK
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 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.

UK
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!

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.

IMGP5900
BELGIUM
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.

Dates
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.

Costs
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.

Notes

  • 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.