Day 1 Thursday 20-Sep Destination London        Climbing 3990ft                 Distance 112 miles

At 7.45 in the morning Oundle looked a bit grim, overcast and rainy. My friend Lawrence had turned out to do the first 30 miles or so with me, a true mate as it didn’t look like it was going to be the most pleasurable ride. The first stretch headed out to St Neots via Kimbolton. Most of my kit had gone with my brother in law the weekend before so I was left with shorts, a summer windproof arm and leg warmers and a long-sleeved top. My thoughts were that my long-sleeved top and wind proof would do the job.  By St Neots the wind and rain had taken its toll, by the time we rolled into the coffee shop I was shivering horribly, leaving a trail of water across the floor. Having put on the rest of my gear and a borrowed thermal top, eaten a bacon butty and had 2 Café Latte’s I finally stopped shivering. Lawrence and I departed in different directions. The trip south to London was fairly uneventful apart from a few short sections of gravel bridleway that I hadn’t anticipated. I reached the Lee Valley canal path that I intended to take into London, my Garmin 1000 popped up saying low battery, what I’ve not got to the destination yet! By now the sun had actually come out and a handy looking café promised lunch and a coffee, plus they had a micro USB charger to top up the Garmin, brill. The gravel canal path was a great way to get into central London without any traffic hassle; I can recommend it. It also passes right next to the Olympic Park the Velodrome and XC course so could be a day out. It was getting late afternoon now and I hit the central London rush hour traffic as I headed south across Tower bridge toward Wallington. The stop start of the traffic lights and heavy congestion took up a lot of time. 5 miles from my brother in laws house the Garmin just switched off, no warning, just had enough! I used my iPhone to take over though it was not ideal trying to take me over some dual carriage way bye passes, I finally arrived about 7.00 in the evening. I would not recommend central London at rush hour as a great place to cycle, however a bed for the night and some fish and chips and a glass of wine and good company made it worth the trip.

Day 2 Friday 21-Sep         Destination Fairlight        Climbing 5942 ft                Distance 68 miles

Body and batteries recharged I set out on a short day through Surrey and East Sussex to Fairlight. The sun was shining, it was a bit blustery but generally blowing in the right direction within 5 miles I had escaped the clutches of outer London and was tackling some great little climbs via some leafy back roads through Surrey. There are some surprisingly steep hills in East Sussex and the council is as cash strapped as Northamptonshire, so some of the roads aren’t great, however if you like a bit of climbing and visiting some interesting villages I can recommend it. I arrived at my brother’s house in time for lunch and a lazy afternoon chatting and walking the dog. David joined us for tea and some wine, our last day before we started living in the camper.

Day 3     Saturday 22-Sep               Destination Ypres            Climbing 1584 ft  Distance 91 miles

The day was divided into 2 sections, a quick hop to the channel tunnel from Fairlight, then from Calais to Ypres. The weather was set fine but overcast for the morning followed by rain in the afternoon. The route to Folkestone took me past Dungeness power station along the shore front via some cycle paths. Early on I decided to deviate to the road as the gravel paths weren’t great, the Garmin kept insisting that I revert to the original path, I relented when the path was formed by a concrete sea wall. David and I were to meet in the Tesco car park in Folkestone prior to entering the Chunnel terminal. Riding up the hill out of Folkestone head down I managed to hit the back of another parked car, not again! Fortunately it was not as hard as the previous occasion and no damage to the car, bike or me. The Chunnel terminal was packed; a 3 hour delay as one of the trains had broken down earlier in the day, we could have caught the ferry. We arrived in Calais at about 4.00 in the afternoon; it was by now raining and the light getting a bit dim. David dropped me off on the outskirts of Calais and sped off as the camp site office closed at 6, I followed my Garmin’s instructions as the rain got heavier, at least I had my wet weather gear on and a good set of lights. The route as you plan it on Ridewithgps never quite turns out as you might have expected, trips along back lanes that turn into farm yards, would have been great on a sunny day, at dusk with heavy rain left you doubting whether this was really the route, puddles masking great holes in the road, fortunately the tyres performed well and there were no mechanical issues. Passing into Belgium time was getting on and I kept thinking sooner or later I’ll see a signpost for Ypres. Riding through a number of cobbled street villages and some sign posts to Leper kept popping up. By now I was onto some major roads but with great cycle paths alongside them. It was dark in the pouring rain; I must nearly be there, rolling into the centre of Leper I was suddenly at the Menin gate I had been told about, where every evening at 8.00 there is a ceremony commemorating the WW1 dead. I’d arrived in Ypres, a gendarme directed me to the camp site where David had managed to arrive a quarter of an hour before closing. I showered whilst David fried the steaks that we had planned to barbeque, soaking gear and more rain forecast for the following day we were both wondering what we had signed up for.

Day 4 Sunday 23-Sep      Destination Le Pavillion                 Climbing 2654 ft  Distance 110 miles

The morning was as predicted grey overcast and menacing, but just spotting with rain. My thoughts were to get on the bike as soon as possible, resist the temptation to bottle out and go in the van. The route kicked off down some nicely laid out cycle ways alongside some local lakes, great this infrastructure is what we should have in the UK. A few miles on the route came to a road junction and the Garmin indicated to go straight ahead down the opposite gravel lane. Ok I’ll try it; it soon petered out into a grass track across a field. There was a load crack, a shooting party the other side of the field with rifles hopefully after birds not cyclists, next the path rounded a corner into a poorly maintained cobbled road, where is my mountain bike when I need it? Thankfully after half a mile it passed back onto paved road. The route seemed good now but the rain got heavier, much heavier, the road now resembled a river and the wind was blowing me about, fortunately the traffic was light, anyone in their right mind would have stayed at home in front of the fire. Now back into northern France the roads were just undulating, or flat a bit like East Anglia. Head down crack on, later in the afternoon the weather eased a bit and I finally arrived at the campsite, it looked almost closed, shutters half down on the toilet block, but David had parked up, and a resident camper had said the owner would be back later. I took all my wet gear off and went to find the washing machine; unfortunately it was controlled by a mains switch in the office and the owner nowhere to be seen. I hatched a plan to hot wire the washing machine from the van hook up, we even started to sort it out but then we thought better off it, I did it by hand and hung it to drip dry! Fortunately the following day’s weather was looking more encouraging.