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?

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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!

GERMANY (YES, STILL THERE)
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!

BELGIUM. SORT OF.
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

BELGIUM PROPER
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 TO GERMANY
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.

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.