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Le Grand Tour: T – 3 Weeks (Or Thereabouts)

After a spell of poor weather, summer seems to have finally arrived in the UK. A sign of things to come on the continent in July and August? The blast of warm air has come from the south – it always does I suppose – and I am hopeful of decent weather as I head off along Le Grand Tour. But I’m not counting my poulets just yet. The last time I mentioned Le Grand Tour back on June 5th, I was still somewhat uncertain as to when I would be catching the ferry but as of a few days ago, the date has been confirmed as July 2nd. With a return scheduled for the night of September 3rd, I will have nine weeks to achieve my objective of cycling around France, then to Andermatt in Switzerland and finally north along the Rhine back to where I started at the Hook of Holland. And I’m finally getting excited about the prospect of doing so…

In the meantime, an email arrives from a Mr Sanders of Somerset. That’s Tim Sanders who I have come to know quite well over the years through our mutual associations with the Cycle Touring Festival. My Baltic plan was ditched a while back; Tim’s Spain trip has similarly been cast aside, also in preference of a jaunt around La Belle France:

Hi Andrew, I hope this finds you well. I’m on my way to France! I’ve abandoned plans to go east from Santander… So now I’m going to do the first bit of EuroVelo 6. Probably fairly easy but it’s what I need currently. I assume your plans are fairly advanced from what you’ve posted? Currently on the train to Portsmouth then getting the overnight to St Malo.

Oh dear, Timothy… Perhaps you don’t know me that well after all! ‘Fairly advanced plans‘? Well, lots of macro-level pontification but as to the detail, err… not really. Here’s a reminder (if you are new to the party) of the macro-level stuff, summarised visually in a map:

And I have to say that it doesn’t get much more detailed than that…

But I like this. One of the reasons why I shied away from a circumnavigation of the Baltic was that I was beginning to plan it in too much detail. There’s always a temptation to do that if you have the opportunity to look forward to something months in advance. I do like how the France / Switzerland / Germany cycle (with The Netherlands, Belgium and potentially Liechtenstein and Austria thrown in for good measure) will not be anywhere near as planned simply because I haven’t got the time to do so.

So Tim’s comment is a little wide of the mark.

That said… I have been pondering over the first few days of the trip. I have already decided to (probably) take the train from Dunkirk to Boulogne-sur-Mer. My rules, as revealed on Twitter a few days ago, allow me to do that:

But before I arrive in Dunkirk, I have three or four days of cycling from the Hook of Holland. Archie’s Campings (as mentioned in the previous T-1 month post) highlights a place called Camping-Zuidhoek in The Netherlands that is just 45km from the Hook of Holland. A nice easy day to start the cycle. It would be nice to book in advance just so as to ease me into the rhythm of cycle-camping again but there appears to be no website. That said, read this review from a certain Manuel Valle on Google:

“Most bike friendly campsite around! We struggled to find anything for trekkers or cyclists around Ouddorp (all campsites are for caravans). It was full, we were late, and still the managed to find us a perfect spot for our tent. They have beautiful little gardens all around the place. Clean utilities, free showers, and complimentary coffee with a morning chat before leaving. Only note if I had to be (very) picky: the cable of the flagpole makes noise in the wind haha…”

Sounds like a plan for the night of July 3rd.

WarmShowers is also on the agenda for this trip. Lots of wheels along the Dutch and Belgian coasts:

I’ll look into contacting a few of them in the next week or so. Then, well, on verra...

I’d like to give a shoutout to the great people at Cicerone who have kindly supplied me with copies of their guidebooks to assist me as I cycle along the Avenue Verte, the Canal de la Garonne, the Canal du Midi and then the Rhine Cycle Route. Highly recommended! It’s always good to subcontract the detailed planning to someone else.

And finally, as I was cycling to work this morning, I was toying with timescales. I reckon that I should be in Brittany after 2 weeks, somewhere in the south after four weeks, in Switzerland after eight weeks and then approaching Rotterdam in the eighth week. That leaves me with one week of wiggle room.

More updates to come. I now need to message Tim back as we did have tentative plans to meet up and cycle together along the Canal de la Garonne and the Canal du Midi but I fear that will not happen in 2022.

Meanwhile the pile accumulates:

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