Many years ago when I was 18 I moved to Bath to start a Maths degree at the university. Before I went, I sold my bike because Bath was so hilly I thought I would never use it.
Last weekend I went on a cycling trip with the Amos Road Club, a group of people who are all connected with the Amos Trust in some way as supporters, staff, friends or relatives. It’s the fourth year running I’ve spent my late May bank holiday weekend with them on the bike. The first year we did London to Paris, the second we cycled round the Caledonian Canal in Scotland and last year I did the Dunwich Dynamo, although actually that was later in July.
This year was the Tour of Flanders. We got the ferry to Calais early on Saturday morning and met most of the rest of the group by the side of the road just outside the terminal. There were over 30 of us in total and so we rode in groups of about 10 people to make it manageable. We followed the canal out of Calais and across towards Belgium, ending up in the Peace Village at Mesen for the night. Next day there was a choice of routes – cobbles, beer or culture (otherwise known as the short ride!) Having ridden over a few cobbles on the first day, only one person, Iain, wanted to repeat the experience and he ended up with us on the beer route. The big excitement of the day was cycling past Sint Sixtus monastery which brews Westvleteren beer and which you can only buy from the monastery itself or the café next door. We also visited Tyne Cot cemetery which was quite sobering. We ended the day in Ypres where we went to the Mesen gate to hear the last post being played.
Cycling in Flanders is a dream because of their new cycle network. There are numbered nodes across the region and a series of signs which indicate the direction of the next node or knooppunt. You can plan a route on the website and then print out a list of the nodes you need to cycle through and how far apart they are. The routes are down country lanes, along disused railways, besides canals and rivers and down trails. It was a beautiful ride and very simple to find the way.
On the final day we cycled to Bruges, again following the knooppunten through beautiful sunshine. We stopped for lunch at the German cemetery at Vladso which was in stark contrast to Tyne Cot and a very peaceful place. We stayed the night in Bruges and came back on the Eurostar yesterday. It was a wonderful trip with a great group of people, aged from 7 to 68. Richie, the 7-year-old, didn’t do the whole route but he did have an amazing hands-free style which I was very envious of. We did 192 miles over three days which was a good distance – enough to be a challenge but not so much that you couldn’t stop for waffles or beer. My Garmin routes are here, here and here and there are some photos on flickr which try to tell the story of the trip and capture the sights we saw.
My 18-year-old self feels very distant in lots of ways. If I were to meet her today I’d be encouraging her to conquer the hills rather than run away from them.