Le Grand Tour: Day 8 – Dieppe To Forges-Les-Eaux (57km)

CURRENT LOCATION: Camping de la Minière, Forges -les-Eaux

Tick, tick, tick… Basically that’s what I’ve spent today doing. Ticking off all the things that you might, in an ideal world, want a disused railway line, converted into a walking-cycling greenway – voie verte here in France – to have. If the département of Seine-Maritime set out to build what I consider to be an unbeatable bit of cycle-touring infrastructure, they succeeded. 

Perhaps a list is in order:

  • A quality surface that never changes over 40+ kilometres of the route 
  • Signage that in clear, regular and informative (if, admittedly, a little redundant as most of this section of the Avenue Verte is a straight line heading south-east)
  • Heritage infrastructure kept in place and utilised for the newly purposed route with several cafés and even a mini bike service station (watch the video below)
  • Nearby amenities and attractions clearly indicated on the route
  • At least one location beside the route (just before Mesnières-en-Bray) that explicitly authorises wild camping (and even provides a toilet for those choosing to do so!!) 
  • Well maintained! How many of these kind of routes are built, heralded as the next great thing, then neglected in the years after the politicians have had their photos taken at the opening ceremony?

Ok. For the more adventurous – and I’m sometimes one of them – this route isn’t going to give you the satisfaction of climbing a 3,000m alpine peak of the rush of dateline tearing down the other side, but in terms of shear enjoyment on a (very) hot and (very) sunny day in July, it’s perfect. 

Aside from the route itself, Basse Normandie was beautiful – see the video and the pictures – but the highlight must be the chateau at Mesnières-en-Bray. Picture perfect and built at the top of a slight incline for maximum superiority over the peasants who no doubt toiled in the fields to keep the local Count (they probably didn’t spell it that way…) in the splendour it’s unlikely he deserved. It’s now a private school although credit where credit’s due, it was badly damaged by a fire in 2004 and, reading the Wikipedia page, it sounds as though the headmaster was instrumental in getting it back to looking its best. Who cares about exam results?!

A nice thing happened at the gate of the chateau. As I approached, I noticed a couple chatting in English. They were on bikes and the man – his name was Ian – had a rather distinctive and familiar yellow Y on his shirt; the yellow Y of the Tour de Yorkshire. I pointed this out and we got chatting. His partner introduced herself as Majorie but, before we got much further, she looked at me and said ‘Are you Andrew Sykes?’. I denied all knowledge of the chap… Just joking. It’s the first time I’ve ever been recognised whilst out touring. It turns out that Majorie had followed me on Instagram. They are staying on the campsite in nearby Neufchâtel-en-Bray in their camper van, taking rides out on their bikes as their fancy pleases. It was lovely to meet them. Perhaps I should run a competition that if anyone spots me, they get a free book or something. Mmm… Perhaps not.

The town of Forges-Les-Eaux where I’m camping is yet another one of those pristine French towns that the local authorities have invested in and cherish, even if it is just another nondescript town. It’s lovely. I wish we did the same with nondescript places back home in Britain. I wish we developed great infrastructure like the route I’ve just cycled upon. I wish, I wish… No ticks yet. 

Tomorrow I suspect it will be a return to more standard cycling stuff as I edge further in the direction of Paris. A similar distance will need to to cycled to the campsite at Dangu before a much longer ride to Paris on Tuesday. I was a little shocked when, at the end of today’s cycle, I noticed the sign saying 258km to Paris. I assume this is the route that goes via Beauvais and Chantilly. I’ll be taking the shorter route via Gisors…


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12 replies »

  1. Enjoying your posts. I head out to the Loire soon for 2 weeks cycle touring with my daughter. I did this day to Forges a couple of years ago with my friend Bev and she hated the tick-tick-tick predictability of it – she’s far happier going up a hill or falling face first in cow slurry. You can’t please some people!

  2. Ahhh, those idyllic paths!! I realise I am no match for you in a political discussion, and I love a well designed cycle route as much as you, but where does the money come from? I don’t think our government are sitting on a pot of money refusing to spend it on this, and if they did have more money there are places should probably spend it before this? Do France have free healthcare?

    An observation, by no means meant as a criticism…
    Does an almost perfect cycle path mean a slightly less interesting blog post? Less happens, less bike malfunctions, less encounters with people, less stories to tell? The days where everything goes wrong are what we love reading about the most!!!

  3. This part of Normandy is underrated and underappreciated. I have stayed twice in Neufchatel – known also for its oddly shaped cheese – and have always marvelled at the scenery.

    • Yes, I agree. However, Neufchâtel itself isn’t much to write home about. Bombed almost out of existence in the war apparently (due to the railway perhaps?) one of the few remaining builds is the one that is now the museum (it was t at the time). The information board outside said it ‘survived miraculously’ which I thought was a strange expression to use. That building just happened to be one of the few that wasn’t either hit by a bomb or burnt down in the subsequent fire. Nothing miraculous about it. If it had housed every previous item in the town at the time (which it didn’t) that might have been miraculous. Perhaps I’m splitting hairs…

      • Absolutely. It has not really recovered from 1940. For me it has a good hotel (with excellent restaurant) and a church worth a visit but not a detour. (I was also fortunate once to see the Saturday market.) However, from my perspective of passing by on the way to Rouen, Tours, Bordeaux, Bayonne etc., you get the picture, it is lovely to turn off onto the country roads and enjoy the scenery.

  4. After our brief spell riding around Zuid Holland my son and I have now returned to blighty unfortunately. Your adventures will keep me going (however I hope for a solo ride to the Oss area of NL in August…just don’t tell the wife yet!). Seeing how other countries invest in public essentials and niceities, plus how when they appear they are well maintained and not vandalised, makes you weep when you return to the UK. Even the terribly though out cycle lanes here in Colchester are full of holes! Anyway keep living the dream Andrew whilst continuing to inspire people like myself to escape more.

  5. I couldn’t agree more Andrew. I rode it both ways last weekend and stopped at that same little cafe with the mechanics station. The views from the pathway were at their best in the early morning I thought. I didn’t stop long enough in Forges to tell you anything except there was a welcome patisserie open at 6.30am Enjoy the rest of the ride into Paris.

What do you think?