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.