Tuesday 27 June 2023

Back again to Paris by bike - Part 1: Croydon to Rouen

Le Grand Horloge, Rouen

Every time I plan a trip to Paris by bicycle I tell myself "this time I will ride from London to the port at Newhaven." After all, it is just like doing a London to Brighton bike ride, but finishing slightly further to the east, and then letting the boat carry you to foreign shores  well France.

However, when the day comes it just doesn't happen. Too many things to do at home - chores to do, work to complete, deadlines to meet, or just tidying the house means that I get to lunchtime, get stressed that I've cut things fine. I also realise the amount of luggage I have packed won't allow me to ride at a decent enough pace. So I take the "easy living" option. And that's what happened today. I did a London to Brighton, except that it was by train! I took the 45-minute train journey from East Croydon to Brighton.

Trains to there are very frequent, and there is space for a bicycle, though because the train passes through Gatwick Airport, lots of folks with suitcases also want to hog the area. There are regular trains from Brighton to Newhaven Town, but in order to not feel like I had completely copped out of my cycle touring mission I rode the undulating 10 miles from Brighton to Newhaven port. 

Riding through Brighton is always a pleasant experience. The place seems a lot brighter than London, with it being right on the coast, and everyone and everything seems laid back as I amble along the promenade on the cycle path. Lots of folks are out on the pier, on the beach visiting i360 or are enjoying the rides at the fairground - even though it is a Thursday afternoon.

As I continue along on Madeira Drive, the road becomes more sparse as I pass the back-end of the city. Apart from the Marina and the New outdoor swimming venue, Sea Lanes there's nothing noteworthy. 

Leaving behind Brighton for the port of Newhaven

Then the coastal cycle path ceases to be flat, and joins the undulating coast road. That's when the work begins. From Roedean right up to Peacehaven the road had alternate descents and challenging rises. Granted I could have remained on the low path and taken the undercliff route, but I felt a duty to burn a few more calories given that I had bailed out of my 50-mile bike ride. This main road to Newhaven had a shared use path/pavement, so I was largely separated from the traffic. That was just as well because the rod was a bit narrow in parts and I wouldn't have wanted a whole trail of buses, cars and trucks all backed up behind me as I struggled up the hill. 

Along the way I was treated to pleasant views of the white cliffs surrounding the rich blue sea. My cycle path was adorned with colourful flowers. In fact there were little off-road trails which would have been great to sample on a mountain bike. I saw a rider doing just that.

As my route took me drew nearer and nearer to Newhaven the traffic became heavier as traffic jams began to form on the approach to the port.

At these moments it feels so much more convenient being on two wheels. Finally, on reaching the Welcome to Newhaven sign the road plunged down to sea level and I was very quickly in the port, ready to join a few vehicles and loads of cyclists. It's that time of year again when lots of groups come out for a London to Paris ride, or just a merry jaunt around Normandy.

I don't tend to say much to them, but I must say I saw one woman who looked like someone I knew from my racing days. I was more focused on resting up, knowing I had a biggish day ahead.

Arrival into Dieppe

On arriving at Dieppe I thankfully passed through passport control speedily and within a few minutes I was at my lodgings. It was the same apartment I stayed at last year, so there was a nice feeling of going to a home from home, albeit for roughly 12 hours! Accommodation in Dieppe is fairly easy to find and is inexpensive. I tend to favour apartments where possible, though I have stayed in a couple of decent hotels, and they can accommodate a bicycle in an indoor designated area.

I should've gone to bed immediately given that it was around 11pm, but I couldn't help watching the news reports of the missing Titan sub vessel, which had imploded leaving no survivors. The story had been captivating but tragic. The French were particularly keen to cover it, given that an eminent explorer, Paul-Henri Nargeolet was among the occupants. I certainly like a bit of an adventure - I like embarking on bike trips and making it up as I go along, but there was no way I would've done something as risky as the folks who took part in this Oceangate exploration, given the lack of proper certification of the vessel. It seemed that the panel of French experts were of the same opinion too.

The following morning, after having given myself an early tight schedule to follow, I woke up feeling slightly lazy and more like taking things at a more leisurely pace - which is what I did.

So an 8am start to ride to Rouen - a 35-mile bike ride, became a 10.30 am start to a little known village called Auffay, less than 20 miles away! I was quite relaxed about my route there and improvised the route as I missed a turning here or there, once I'd passed the historique village of Arques-la-Bataille, and then had to "recalculate". But I must say I enjoyed the quiet undulating roads through rural fields and passing little villages in the Val de Scie, with the Normandy buildings reminding me a little of market towns in England. Eventually I reached Auffay, where I was able to get a train to Rouen.

When I arrived in Rouen, at 1pm, I had an hour to kill until my train to Paris. So it was a no-brainer to do a mini tour around the city in between trains. Rouen, the capital of the Normandy region and of the Seine-Maritime departement has the commensurate air of importance, and with it, a lot of beauty too.

I followed signs for the centre historique though was ready to remove my cycling shoes, even dismount as I figured there would be lots of cobbled streets. Indeed, I was right. Thank goodness for Crocs. They're perfectly fine for pootling along at a slow pace.

Rouen City Centre

In the warm June sunshine, seeing many people in small caf├ęs and eateries in the narrow cobbled streets, while others browsed in stylish independent clothing or art shops, gave the impression of being in a well-heeled town. 

As well as all that, the architecture was quite striking. As well as Normandy-style edifices, there are also medieval buildings with timbered beams across stuccoed facades, and various monuments from its rich history. It all looked very pretty, even if they looked somewhat anachronistic, with a shop sign stuck to it saying Monoprix or Burger King! The showpiece sights had to be the 14th Century archway with its clock, called Le Gros-Horloge as you entre the old town, and the cathedral. There are a few grandiose looking churches in the city centre - Saint-Ouen, Saint Maclou, and I was a little confused about which one was the cathedral. Eventually I found it - an imposing, august construction in three parts with architectural styles from different periods including a Gothic part with a very high spire. It was built over 800 years - a bit like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona - or closer to home, the HS2 London to Manchester railway line!

Onwards and I headed further downhill to the river and into the newer part of the city. Rouen seems to be quite a bike-friendly city, with cycle lanes and also one of those streets where cyclists and pedestrians have priority over motorised vehicles, meaning they can pull out into the road and cars, buses and vans (which can only travel at 18 mph) have to be ready to stop and give way. 

That's bliss for those on foot or using pedal power, though a bit of a mare more motorists! 

Rouen Cathedral

I crossed the River Seine via the Corneille Bridge and did a little amble along the river through a park, the Prairie Saint Sever, where people were having picnics or going for a jog. Returning to the station was straightforward. It was a case of crossing the Boieldieu Bridge and heading uphill. The station tower and clock was visible from a good kilometre away, so there was no difficulty in finding it. 

My mini stint around Rouen had been a very pleasant revelation. It seems like the local council has gone to town in its bid to be designated the European City of Culture for 2028, with various sevents taking place. I almost feel embarrassed to have not spent time there before now, given the numerous times I have passed through the station en route to Paris. I will make a point of spending a day here next time. 

Just when the station clock struck 2pm I was scuttling down to the platform to catch my Paris-bound train.

As much as I had enjoyed Rouen, I had a big smile on my face, knowing that I would soon be alighting at my favourite foreign city.

Related posts

Kit review: Testing out Alpkit bikepacking bags in Northern France and Flanders

Travel Notes - Normandy to Paris

2Wheel Chick goes to Paris 

Another year, another trip to Paris - Avenue Verte

Another year, another trip to Paris - Chantilly

No comments: