A little delayed, here’s the write up…
I set out all my bits and pieces of paper on the an outside table of a café in central Maubeuge to sort out what could to be sent back to the UK. I also spread out the map of southern Belgium on the floor beside me to see if I could cut off any extraneous parts; I could so set about the job with my Swiss Army knife. Back at the hotel I had persuaded the receptionist to print off the instructions that Kevin Mayne had emailed the previous day with directions to get from Maubeuge to his house to the south of Brussels. The plan was for him to meet me half way after he had finished work in Brussels at lunchtime and caught the train to a convenient place. It seemed like a good plan.
After a quick visit to the post office, I was off, along the Sambre river in the direction of the Belgian border. A pretty stretch of canal, well signposted (even with the Eurovelo 3 symbol) with interesting factual information about the industrial heritage of the area through which the canal was travelling. I arrived at the final town in France – Jeumont – determined to finish writing up cycling day 38 before I entered a new country. It put the cycling on hold for an hour or so but needed to be done.
But where did the new country start? I suspected, rightly, that by continuing to cycle along the river, no mention would be made of the border so it was down to Google Maps to tell me when I leaving France and entering Belgium. Almost immediately the tow path seemed to go from good to not-so-good. A sign of things to come? Kevin’s instructions were to follow a series of Ravel (“randonnée vélo” or “walking cycling”) routes but I misinterpreted the first one that I saw choosing to carry on cycling along the river rather than turning left into the town of Erquelinnes. No great harm done; I soon realised my error and weaved my way through backstreets to locate the Ravel.
It was difficult not to be impressed with the routes. Ravel 101 was a disused railway line with a good quality Tarmac surface having replaced the train tracks. This took me as far as Binche where I needed to change Ravel but not after a short pause for lunch in the town itself. €3.70 for a baguette sandwich and a drink seemed cheap compared to what I had become accustomed to in France. Binche was, alas, cobbled and I winced as the bike juddered over the little square monsters. I always put my later spoke problems in summer 2010 down to earlier cobbled-related cycling in places like Lille in northern France.
Next up was La Louvière and again, a Ravel route had been lined up on the instructions. Then the phone rang; Kevin had arrived in the main square. It didn’t seem a difficult prospect finding him, but of course it was. I cycled along various promising looking streets but there was no square at the end of them and no Kevin. I phoned him back. “Look for a red brick church”. I found one, but not the right one. The only people in front of my red brick church were a group of homeless people. I didn’t know too much about Kevin but I did know that he wasn’t homeless. I asked a guy with only a few teeth who was stopping traffic for children to cross the road if there was another red brick church in La Louvière. He told me I wasn’t in La Louvière…
This was going from bad to worse. Fortunetly La Louvière wasn’t too far away, I cycled there, found a red brick church and an English bloke called Kevin. A coffee was much needed and we found one in a nearby street where we had a good chat. I had first been in contact with Kevin a few years ago when embarking on the previous Eurovelo cycles. He is currently development director at the European Cyclists’ Federation but prior to that was the chief executive of the CTC. He moved to Belgium about three years ago to take up his current post.
The remainder of the day was spent following. My direction-finding skills could be put to one side as I Kevin was able to guide us to his home in the countryside south of Brussels where we joined his Kiwi wife Cheryl for a slap up meal, more chat and a good night’s sleep in a very comfortable bed.