So here we are … on The Continent!
Technically we can keep peddling and reach India overland. I find it a profound thought that the islands that are the UK are actually geographically cut off from so much of the rest of the world. I don’t ‘usually’ consider this situation much as the world is pretty much on my doorstep thanks to global media and access to travel. In the current world, where all one has to do is get onto an aeroplane in one place and get off in some distant land 2 or 3 days later there is something strange and exciting about being able to experience all the transitions between ‘here’ and ‘there’.
Anyway Chris’ parting gift to me, as he dropped me off just outside Calais, was to remember to trust my instinct and intuition and to cycle on the right side of the road, both important instructions! I could feel myself becoming anxious at the thought of remembering which the ‘right side’ is since, my ability to know my left from my right is problematic at the best of times.
Not a problem according to Chris … ‘just imagine writing your journal along the curb’ as you are cycling (only works for the right handed)! An amazing tip as it is something physical which I can imagine, feel and therefore do.
And so I struck out alone (apart from Tilly Tilsome, so not really alone!) for new places and adventure!
First stop – Calais. Entering the town on a grey, drizzelly afternoon I was already thinking I could be somewhere warm, dry and ‘easy’.
Im sure this won’t be the only time I think this!! Calais was a very brief stop although I confess to sitting in an Aldi car park on the outskirts of the town (not very French but it was en route) eating my demi pain and fromage, grinning from ear to ear!
Now the drizzle of Calais is behind me I head for Gravelines. Perhaps not the happiest sounding place but as I have cycled the north coast of France, Belgium and the Netherlands I have been acutely aware of the sorrow and loss that this part of the world has seen in still recent times. I believe that cycling gives an ability to actually be part of the environment and scenery not just observing it.
Anyway Gravelines is a fortified town dating from the 12th century and has seen a lot of military and economic fluctuations of power, hence the heavy fortifications around the walls. Gravelines was part of north west Flanders, an area that has changed shape geographically over time as a result of historical battle lines determining what France or Spain or Netherlands control.
I decided to head for Grand-Fort-Phillippe for the night and camped up on the headland after watching some kite surfers having an amazing time in the strong winds.
After a lovely first night in France I had another perfect spring day.
So I cycled along the cycle route to Dunquirke – the city was quite busy and I rapidly headed for the coast and found I was on part of the North Sea Cycle Route and also on the beaches which had seen so much during the War.
They were beautiful and peaceful today. After a long stretch of cycling along the beach front the cycle path turned inland and I cycled on the opposite side of the dunes. There were battlements and concrete bunkers in evidence all along the route.
After cycling past my first ‘other cycle tourer’ going the opposite direction – we both smiled and waved excitedly – I spotted these buildings and had to stop.
The camera panorama didn’t do the full 360° and so imagine being in the courtyard of the farm – they are a really beautiful set of buildings which used to provide meat and dairy produce for the nearby military hospital and had a ‘sister’ farm 40km away which produced the grain and veg. That other farm was totally destroyed during WWII. The buildings are now used by the French EA – their title is Police of the Environment which potentially has much more clout than being ‘just another agency’ or maybe not!
After staying in Bray-Dune and feeling very pleased at the first use of the honky-ponky (electric all night! Thanks Bex) I entered Belgium with so little fuss I had to go round again and check the sign. First town is Veurne.
The architecture is instantly older and has the expected ‘town square’ look. There are also really great cycle paths and expensive maps if you want them but these are not mandatory as you can look at them in the tourist information place and attempt to commit them to memory – be prepared for the occasional hiccup in this case!! From here I am cycling along the canals!!!! It should feel like home however they are so wide, straight and empty of boats that they are the distantly related cousins to the K&A.
With enormous locks that make Deep Lock in Bath look tiny.
All along the cycle path are monuments and the Niewepoort memorial to the unfound British from WWI and the monument to Albert was the most enormous by far.
I’m not sure why but it felt utterly overwhelming and I had to move away from it quite quickly- almost a feeling of agrophobia – again that feeling that the world is so big and I am so small.
And so the journey into Belgium continues and I am heading towards Brugge. Perhaps its as a result of being such a grey day but there are few cyclists out and I have the canals to myself. As I reach the outskirts of Brugge its getting dark and I finally see some famaliar signs of living!
These beautiful boats on the outskirts of the Brugge are definitely distant relatives to my humble 62 foot narrowboat. I think I could see someone playing a piano in the left hand boat!