Monday, 1 October 2012


If I could think of one thing which would make the end of our epic journey absolutely perfect, it would probably involve bicycles.

Our ferry back to Plymouth was not until 9pm so we had a day to kill in Santander.  Its a nice city so it wouldn't be hard to find something to do.  Why I hadn't noticed that the stage 17 of the Vuelta was leaving from Santander is beyond me.  Thank for you Richard for disturbing my morning ablutions with the news. 
Now indulge me.....

Ben Swift
Richie Porte

Chris 'Mekon' Froome

Richard with his favourite saddle

Phillipe 'God' Gilbert


Orica GreenEdge
Ian 'the beast' Stannard

Roberto Uran

Day 26 Santander

It is over. 

1596 miles cycled
many cans of coke drunk
many pizzas eaten
many glasses of wine enjoyed
and a few beers.
but not one cross word between us

I will never forget this journey.  Epic, hard, tough, spectacular.  All of this and more and I do not have the words.

I will miss our little tent.  And waking up each morning without having to worry or think about anything apart from cycling.  And I do love cycling.  And I love my husband very much.

Day 25 Hendaye to Bilbao

Richard had warned me that the roads in Northern Spain were hellish.

The day began okay.  We cycled to San Sebastian and then out of the city towards Bilbao.  The climb was steep but spectacular.  Then it got strange.  There was a toll gate at the top.  We had cycled up a particularly hard climb and being asked to pay for the privilege.  Only in Spain.  The view was nice though.

We cycled another 20 miles or so.  Up and down, up and down.  But mainly up.  Coastal roads aren't necessarily flat.  The nice road then ran out and we were spat out on a motorway.  We've been away for nearly a month, we've cycled hundreds of miles.  We've nothing to prove.  We can get (another) train.  So we stop at the next town.  I eat the nicest burger I have ever tasted (red pepper, bacon and egg) and we catch the train to Bilbao.

Its a few hours before the train to Santander so it's time for sightseeing

and to prove I have been on the trip, a picture of me...

Its the only one.

We then stumbled across a particularly nice bar in the old town.  Ate more tapas, drank some beer and enjoyed the nice if eclectic music selection (Say Hello, Wave Goodbye being particularly appropiate) of the Spanish/Scottish sounding lesbian.  She'd lived in London for 16 years and had learnt to speak English with a Scottish accent.  I'm not sure how this happened either.

Then train to Santander.

It's nearly over

38 miles
4 hours

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Day 24 Aramits to Hendaye

Our longest climb in the Pyrenees was first thing in the morning. On his trip to Bilbao 10 years ago, Richard had written on the map at this point "I felt like collapsing". It wasn't that bad and was in a strange way enjoyable.

We had lunch in St Jean Pied a Port. The food was good, the service not. Twice we asked for water for our bidons and were directed to the toilets. Nice.

The day ended at a campsite just outside San Sebastian. Only 80 miles and a short day by our standards but I was knackered. Fatigue is getting the better of me. We had to cycle a couple of miles for our evening meal but the food and wine was worth it and cycling without luggage was a joy.

Tomorrow to Bilbao.

81 miles
12 average
38 max
6 hours 40 mins

Day 23 Carcassonne to Aramits

The train from Carcassonne to Tarbes was interesting. Nice train but ruined by the tripping/stoned youf who sat with us and our bikes with their two dogs on bits of string. The dogs were nice but the yoofs stank. It reminded me of work.

It was a depressing experience.  I've never seen such a collection of pharmaceuticals.  Our travelling companions couldn't have been much older than 20 but I wouldn't bet on them making it past 25.  The guard should have kicked them off the train for at least not having a ticket.  It was not "d'accord" and asking them  not to smoke the largest spliff in the world until they have left the train isn't going to help.
The cycle from Tarbes to our current campsite has made up for it. By far the best cycling we've had. I like the Pyrenees. 

And there are plenty of opportunities for Richard to pun....

on the road to Tarbes


The campsite is perfect and I'm about to eat a salad accompanied by some very nice local wine.

And it gets better.  The campsite has its own bicycle cleaning and maintenance area.  The owners know the way to a girl's heart.

49 miles
12.7 average
40 max
4 hours 30 mins

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Day 22 Mirepeisset to Carcassonne

That wind again. It's 80 kph according to the local paper. We've taken a picture if case we are not believed.....

We even resorted to riding along the Canal du Midi to find some shelter. 

If you look very closely, you can see Richard

Its quite remarkable, starting in Toulouse and finishing in Bordeaux.  The riding is pleasant but slow and if we continue on this route we're never going to get anywhere.  The only option is the train from Carcassonne to Tarbes. Unfortunately, or not, there isn't one until tomorrow morning. So we are staying in the municipal campsite within sight of the medieval city. It's very nice and we have 2 bottles of Languedoc wine. The only downside is that we have to get up at 5am to catch the train.

He's more obvious in this picture


And now he's in the way.  And he needs a shave

The view from the campsite without Richard's head


40 miles
10.5 average (its windy)
46 max
3 hours 30 mins

Day 21 Montpelier to Mirepeisset

Why are there no easy days in the tour de catchweasel?

Today should have been one instead we are riding into a block headwind. Again. We may be punishing ourselves with the riding but there's no reason why we can't enjoy ourselves in other ways. A nice lunch with a glass of the local tipple in Bezier is in order. Perfect.  And the scenary is quite nice.

After 70 hard, hard miles we call it a day when we see a sign for a campsite. This is more like it. It's quiet, not windy, next to a river, no Mosquitos, and 5 mins walk from a restaurant. Richard treats me to steak, local Chardonnay and calvados. Heaven.

74 miles
11 average (it was windy)
46 max
6 hours 30 mins

Day 20 le Muy to Montpelier

Today was hell.

It started off badly and went from bad to worse.

It rained. Torrentially. I can deal with rain, as can Richard, but when a passing lorry caused him to take in a mouthful of something disgusting and he started to projectile vomit (think the Exorcist), we threw in the towel. Par le train.

The train journey to Montpelier was reminiscent of India according to Richard. People, babies, buggies, bikes, luggage everywhere. No chickens though. We arrived about 6pm which should have been plenty of time to find a campsite. Of course not. We spent 3 hours going round in circles trying not to join autoroutes. I'm sure Montpelier is a beautiful city but it's not designed to be navigated by bicycle. We finally arrived at a campsite 3 miles from where we started after cycling 15 miles. It was shut. The next nearest site was 15 miles away and it was dark. I nearly lost it with the particularly unhelpful waiter in the campsite restaurant, which was open, when he refused to help.

We decided the only option was to break in. Which wasn't difficult as the entrance was only blocked to cars. We found the least obtrusive spot and set up camp. Most annoying is that each pitch had its own private shower and toilet. Except they were locked. We peered in threw the window

A trip to the bar complex was the only thing to do. They had stopped serving food. We couldn't go to the restaurant due to our earlier altercation. So crisps and the worst red wine I have ever tasted accompanied by bizarre Butlins style entertainment.

We planned an early morning escape attempt so went to bed early. By 7am we were packed and ready to go and in disguise so we wouldn't be recognised by the French camping police.

We were free and things can only get better.

22 miles (we were on a train most of the time)
40 max
2 hours 40 mins (mostly cycling in concentric circles)

Day 19 Menton to le Muy

At last, a day on the bikes and a ride through some of the richest parts of Europe. It was spot the facelift time. I spotted the most around Nice but Richard believes its more a case of inbreeding among the rich than surgery that creates the hung from the cheek bones look. 

Monaco was a strange place especially cycling through the tunnels that one sees when watching the Grand Prix.  We can cycle fast, but not that fast.


The last part of the ride was along the corniche between Cannes and st Raphael. We stayed in a gite in St Raphael a few years ago so knew this route well. Then I was feeling strong and could leave Richard for dead along the coastal road. Not so this time. I blame the luggage.

In true Cavendish style I was saving myself for the town sign sprint but we took a short cut and missed it. Foiled again.


Cycle path in Nice.  Too safe to be interesting

 81 miles
13 average
45 max
6 hours 20mins

Day 17 & 18 Finastra to Menton

We've done well covering well over 300 miles in 2 days.

Most of it by train.

somewhere on the French coast
We're now in a hotel in Menton after not being able to find the mythical campsite marked on the town map. It seemed to indicate that it was slightly inland but after climbing for 5 miles in the semi dark (recurring theme no 2) we gave up and went down the hill to a hotel.

We've gorged ourselves on the 9 euro breakfast buffet (have to get value for money) and are now ready for a day on the bikes. We're heading towards St Tropez via Monaco, Nice and Cannes.

Day 17
51 miles
13.5 average
38 max
4 hours

Day 18
41 Miles
10 average
31 max
4 hours

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Days 14 and 15 Francavilla Day 16 Francavilla to Finastra

I'm starting to feel human again.  It is so nice to see Bob and Ian.  They're such good friends and good company.  Yesterday we went to the beach for lunch and a paddle/wallow.  Tonight we're going to a local restaurant for pizza.  There's unlimited wine on tap, a pool and two dogs to keep us amused.  But even though this is one of my favourite places with two of my favourite people, we have miles to cycle and adventures to be had so tomorrow we are leaving.

view from our apartment.  Pretty

We are taking it easy with a 50 mile ride to a campsite in Fiastra and then 50 miles to Perugia on Monday.  We are then taking the train to Pisa.  We don't need an 'apposite sacche' for regional trains.  Allegedly. 

Or a Tourin' Shroud.  Sorry, Richard will get his coat.

Day 16 Francavilla to Finastra

We've left the comfort of casal dei fichi and are back on the road. The theme to the littlest hobo keeps going through my head.

leaving Francavilla

When we left it was 37 degrees and sunny. About 20 miles later the thunder storm we were expecting, hit. Having survived the roads of northern Italy we did not now want to die in an Italian storm so found refuge in a bus shelter (mainly plastic), put on every item of clothing we could find and I took off my shoes (metal cleats).

After 1/2 hour it had passed and we carried on with our journey.

I've done the climb up to Finastra many times but have always returned to Francavilla. This time we were to stay in a campsite by the lake (recurring theme no 1). One of the nicest so far. Quiet, beautiful surroundings and pizza. Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?

Lake Finastra

Day 13 Rimini to Francavilla d'Ete

We've done it.  We've cycled over 1000 miles (1073 to be precise) from Calais to Francavilla in 13 days (with a day and 1/2 rest day). We arrive with an enormous sense of relief and achievement.  I was determined to cycle all the way but now I can relax and let the train take the strain.  After a few days recovery.  

And we're here....

Casa dei Fichi

110 miles
12 average
35 max
9 hours riding

Day 12 somewhere in the mountains to Rimini

We will get to the coast no matter what.  And we did.  114 miles, 8 hours of riding to the shit hole that is Rimini.  We planned to stay in Riccione but couldn't quite manage the extra 5 miles down the coast.  The campsite was fine - it had pizza and wine - but it was next to another busy main road and populated with parrots and yapping dogs.  Richard described it as paying to be a refugee, which is a fairly accurate description.  But tomorrow will we be in Francavilla with a bed, pool and a gallon of wine. 

one of the many camp statues in Italy

114 miles (our longest day)
13.8 average
33.6 max
8.25 hours riding

Day 11 Cremona to Serramazzoni

We've gone off piste.  Instead of cycling along major roads towards the coast and then turning right to head towards Marche, we headed into the mountains.  It seemed like a good idea at the time until it started to get dark and we were at least 10 miles from the nearest campsite.  Richard in his best Italian fell on the mercy of the manager of a ristorante who allowed us to camp in her car park.  Its probably the best night's sleep we've had in a long time, especially after a very nice meal and consumption of a small amount of wine.

We revert to plan A (or B or C) tomorrow and head towards the coast.

95 miles
12.6 average
29 mph max
7 hrs 22 mins

Day 10 Lugano to Cremona

We are in Italy.

Cycling in Northern Italy has been more about ticking off the miles rather than taking in the sights.  I didn't see George Clooney in Como or a Stravidarius in Cremona.  We did cycle 100 miles without getting squashed by an Italian lorry so that's a bonus.

The main feature of the day was the heat.  Scorchio, scorchio, scorchio.  I've discovered that I'm not very good once the thermometer goes over 40 degrees.  It hit 45 degrees today.  Now that's hot.  I have the most ridiculous cycling tan which Richard has threatened to photograph and publish on the blog.  Luckily he doesn't know how to.

Writing the blog retrospectively I can't remember if today was the day of 3 pizzas.  It definitely involved at least one at the campsite in Cremona, and a litre of the local wine.

Strange places Italian campsites and this one seemed to be populated by single retired men with large wine guts.

We did what we were told, whatever that it

100 miles
14 average
32 max
7 hours riding

Monday, 20 August 2012

Day 9 Aquarossa to Lugano

We finally dragged ourselves away from Aquarossa and are very nearly in Italy.  A nice easy 1/2 day of riding with only one climb.  We're breaking ourselves in gently after the exertions of the Oberalp and locumagna.

Yet another lake
The campsite may be in a beautiful setting but it does have the M25 running next to it.  Its fine for an overnight stop but god knows why anyone would want to spend a holiday here.  Perhaps it's a pizzeria next door.  The German family next to us seem to be enjoying it.

We're now running a day late so may have to investigate train options after our stay in Marche.

50 miles
12.5 average
34 max
4 hours riding

Day 8 rest day in Aquarossa

Such a beautiful campsite

We are next to a cool and refreshing river and surrounded by mountains.  The most strenuous activity today has been using the washing machine.  And we visited Sean's chocolate factory, but that's another very long story.

Its going to be very, very difficult to leave this place.  I wouldn't be surprised if our journey to Italy is delayed by another day.

Oh well.

Day 7 Lucerne to Aquarossa

What a day. We began in Lucerne. So, so beautiful.

Then 50 miles up to hill to Andermatt to meet Sean.

on the road to Andermatt

Then another 48 miles including the Oberalp and Locomagno passes with the last 10 miles in the dark.  A total of 98 miles and I have never felt so tired.  At least I hit my top ever speed of 50 mph. And I thought I was taking it easy.

Tomorrow we do nothing

98 miles
10.2 average (it was hilly)
50.2 max (fast)
9 1/2 hours riding

Day 6 Porrentruy to Lucerne

We did this today, by far the hardest road climb I have done. I thought my legs were going to snap.

Then after 90 miles, 1 x large bowl of pasta, 1 x pizza, 1 x beer, 2 x glasses of wine (me) and 2 x pizzas, 3 x beer, 1 x glass of wine (Richard), 1 snapped pedal, 1 x bike shop we arrived in Lucerne with 5 mins to spare before the campsite closed.

Another epic day.

Day 7 we should finally meet up with Sean and Claire so that will mean more beer and wine.  And then we're going to have a day off

91 miles
11 average
39 max
8 hours riding

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Day 5 Monthureux to Porrentruy

Mid morning coffee stop somewhere in le vosges

Today we entered Switzerland.  Just.  And we still haven't been asked for a passport.

The plan was to camp.  We stopped at a nice restaurant on the French/swiss border and ate another delicious meal. I had the local speciality of sausages, ham and salad with a hot cheese sauce.  It tasted much nicer than it sounds.  Richard has scallops.  Not sure how that can be local considering we must be at the farthest point from the sea in Europe.

The owner advised that the closest campsite was 10 miles away in the wrong direction.  He then phoned a few hotels for us and found space in one in the right direction just accross the border.  Throughout this trip so far everyone has been so kind and helpful.  It has restored my faith in human nature.  Basically people are nice.

We arrived at the hotel in the dark (this will be a recurring theme) to be greeted by the Swiss/German owner and his wife asking if we were the English couple which the French man phoned about.  He then seemed astonished that we were married, saying we were so young.  I like this man.

We showered, washed our clothes and went to bed.  Then the storm of all storms.  Thank God we weren't camping.

The next morning we chatted over breakfast with our genial host about the history of his lovely hotel.  He bought it as a house in 1985 from a German family who had owned it for 3 generations
It was then turned into restaurant and conference centre.  This didn't work out so it became a hotel. The owner is now 75 and wants to sell it.  I hope whoever does buy doesn't destroy the charm of this special place.

87 miles
12 mph average
36.7 max
7hrs 23 mins riding

Day 4 Ecalaron to Monthureux

The nicest campsite in the world and not a mosquito in sight.

I couldn't be happier.

The less said about yesterday's camping the better.  The mosquitos had a fine meal.  I had quiche lorraine and chips in the slightly grotty campsite bar with the French chavs.  No chavs here in fact no one else is here.

Today has been a fabulous day.  Glorious cycling including a 5k tow from a truck carrying straw.  We sat behind at a steady 18 mph.

85 miles
12.5 average
41 max.

Now wine and cheese.

Day 3 Laon to Eclaron

No photos today I'm afraid and not much to say apart from a nice Croque Madame in Reims

Tried different tactics. As there's much to do in the evening we decided to take it steady with lots of breaks. On the whole this worked except France becomes a ghost town at 3pm and we ran out of food and water. It seems le crisis has caused bars and shops to close down.  And not just for August.  Permanently.  So many of the towns which we cycled through were deserted.  Think tumbleweed blowing down the main street.

92 miles
12.8 mph average
36 mph average
7 hours

Day 2 Hodain - Laon

Tough day today. 95 miles into a headwind and in the words of Sean Kelly my left knee was hurting big time towards the end. Cycling through the First World War battlefields are always evocative and deeply moving. Even more so on a bicycle when the sheer vastness of France is spread all around. The photo is taken in Arras outside the station.

nice foxes

that's Richard

We did camp tonight and dined like kings from the campsite shop.  Tinned sweetcorn, crisps and beer.  Must do better tomorrow

95 miles
13.2 mph average
32.6 max
7 hours

Monday, 13 August 2012

Day 1 London to houdain

View from bedroom window

Not quite according to plan but not far. Cycled 58 miles to our planned destination but no campsite in sight so have checked into a hotel. Just had a lovely hot shower so I'm not complaining. Not too sure about the euro pop coming from the function room next door but after a few beers it's bound to sound much better.

58 miles
13 mph average
35 mph max
4.5 hours