Cycling from London to Paris provides a great sense of achievement (particularly when finishing on the cobbles of the Champs Elysees!) and is achievable in four to five days for cyclists of average ability. There are numerous charities that organise events based around the journey, which is a great way to do it, or you can plan your own route, as 10 of us did in 2011.
We officially began our ride at Greenwich Park attracted by the ‘The Avenue Verte’ a cycle route linking the two capitals which officially opened in 2012. The idea is simple. On the British side the route uses the National Cycle network, while in France you follow well-signposted roads and Greenways. The British section was nowhere near as we’ll designed or thought out as the French section turned out to be. After leaving Greenwich the ‘green route’ takes you through a delightful selection of South London suburbia, industrial estates and paths, which often had a sprinkling of broken glass just to get the trip off to a good start.
I’d like to say it was because there was still a year to go until the route opened officially, but a report by Alastair Sooke for The Daily Telegraph in January 2013 suggests parts of ‘our’ section of the route are still rather grim, including graffiti-decorated underpasses and the delightful ‘greenery’ of Gatwick Airport’s South Terminal! It would be good to hear from anyone who has tried it more recently. But once we navigated ourselves beyond the outskirts of the capital the scenery, route and cycling improved. We headed south to Brighton, climbing the delights of Ditchling Beacon on the way, and then pedalled along the coast to Alfriston in East Sussex where we spent the night in the youth hostel. As usual this was positioned at the top of a hill, a necessary requirement for any YHA hostel it seems!
On reflection we probably did too much on the first day – we’d all been up early to make the start and most of us were ready to stop by the time we reached the top of the Beacon! Next morning we cycled to Newhaven and boarded the ferry to Dieppe and soon we were cycling in France. What a difference! Clear routing, polite drivers and the feeling that you are a welcome presence on the roads rather than some annoying obstacle that needs to be passed as quickly as possible. We may be leading the world in competitive cycling, but we’ve got one hell of a long way to go before cycling on our roads is so well applauded.
Once in France the cycling improved and so did the scenery. We did get lost a few times and at one point had to make a detour across some fields but usually found ourselves back on track without too much trouble. A large section of the route is on Greenways, following old railway lines or alongside rivers and most roads are quiet – until you reach Paris. But even then it still felt much safer than riding in London. Maybe it’s a culture thing – if so then we’ve still got a long way to go in the UK.
Sweeping down into the French capital for the first time and seeing the Eiffel Tower is unforgettable. The cobbles along the Champs Élysées are every bit as uncomfortable as they look on the TV when watching the Tour de France but we barely noticed them. In fact it’s impossible not to attempt a sprint to the finish race when the Arc de Triomphe comes into view! We finished our adventure with champagne corks popping on the streets followed by a slap up meal. By the time we’d paid the bill we were already planning a new challenge for the following year. It’s addictive this cycling lark.
This is the link to the London Paris Avenue Verte: www.avenuevertelondonparis.co.uk
Here’s the route we took – we did have a support van so no need for panniers!
Day One: Stratford to Alfriston: 79 miles
Day Two: Dieppe to Gournay-en-Bray 48 miles
Day Three: Gournay-en-Bray to Verneuil-sur-Seine 57 miles
Day Four Verneuil-sur-Seine to Paris 37 miles