Sunday, August 27th
I had a deep long, sleep and woke up at 7, the tent flapping in the wind which would be a sign of what was ahead.
Calais was along the coast, via Dunkirk, but I was following a route which would hopefully be a little more scenic and enjoyable, cutting inland then emerging at the coast again somewhere close to Boulogne-sur-Mer.
The first five miles were spent navigating out of the city. I began by cycling along the sea front. It was a bright but windy morning. I stopped for a coffee to take in the view of the beach, trying and failing to understand the conversation of a French man who sat next to me. My abilities don’t stretch much beyond ordering a coffee, though I can pick out the odd word, as I discovered in the showers at the campsite as two very loud and very French men exchanged conversation between cubicles whilst scrubbing themselves with equal ferocity.
My breakfast was a tragedy again. I burnt the oatmeal and not even jam would mask the taste of burnt pan so I stopped at a supermarket for croissants, and bread for later on, along with some sugary snacks filled with Nutella.
Leaving the city was almost as miserable as entering it. A windy Sunday, the sky becoming grey, nothing open.
An overgrown cycle path followed the canal in town, then through a park, and alongside the train track and industrial estate before bringing me to what I think is the Bourbourg canal. It was here the headwind picked up, the sky greyed more, and the whole atmosphere felt rather bleak and gloomy. The industrial estates had been replaced with farms, with smells to match.
I pass a field where it seems the dregs of a impromptu rave from the night before are still going. techno music coming from a car battery speaker underneath a plastic gazebo on the verge of collapse. Two people are moving around to this. At the side of the road another couple are passed out on top of each other on an old mattress. It’s hardly an idyllic scene of the French countryside, but one of the more memorable sights of the day nonetheless.
I battle through the wind as I follow the canal, mostly on a rough but prettier old tree lined road at the waters edge which is now just used by dog walkers and cyclists. A few muted bonjours or nods are exchanged and I reach the town of Watten at lunch.
Clouds are gathering and the bunting at the town entrance flaps noisily as I drink a coffee on a faded orange table outside a cafe which is also apparently a motorcycle and bicycle club with trophies on the walls inside.
I’m anticipating rain and/or hills, as I turn further away from the coast and up into a big green area on the map: ‘Parc Naturel régional des caps et Marais d’Opale’.
I’ve been spoiled with cycle paths and quiet roads, all of which have been perfectly flat, I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to share the road or ride up a hill. It’s useful at this point to remind myself that I did cycle over the Rockies not so long ago.
The afternoon started with a steep climb out of Watten. Though my fitness still seems to be holding up, under the strain of a mile and half climb at 10% I can feel the muscles in my legs slowing waking up and aching as they do.
Thankfully it’s a short climb and from there I cycle merrily for 10 miles or so with the wind on my back and lots of winding country roads which are mostly downhill after the initial stretch. It’s refreshing after being confined to cycle paths and though the scenery is nothing dramatic, there’s more of a sense of adventure in navigating the open road.
But my enjoyment quickly evaporates when I come to the realisation that I’ve been cycling in the wrong direction ever since I left Watten. At first I thought I’d made one wrong turn. Not a big problem. Then when I stop to inspect the map in more detail I realise the mistake I’ve made will take a lot more time to correct. 10 miles back to Watten, a decent amount of uphill, directly into headwinds. I’ve got no choice but to retrace my steps. I’ve written before about how It hurts, always, to go back on yourself, even just for a minute or two. But this is unprecedented, though in some ways I’m amazed it’s taken this long for a mistake like this to happen.
I reluctantly slog through the wind and down the final hill into Watten, consider buying another coffee but decide to keep moving. I’m already tired and I’ve wasted two hours, and twenty miles.
The coast feels a long way away now. The sun has stopped coming out. It’s grey and very light rain showers come and go. I’m in the middle of the countryside with no landmarks or any else significant.
Through a combination of Google Maps and the GPS route I have offline, I make my way there.
It’s all winding country roads, farmland, the occasional prettier town, like Licques, with a church and a central square of cobbled stones. It’s hilly but I adjust and just try and pedal on and make up for lost time.
Over the afternoon I come on and off the ‘Route de la mer du Nord’ which is marked with pointy signs at junctures.
I reach Wimereux and the l’Olympic campgriund at 8. Over the last few miles to the town the sky clears a little and some sun breaks through. Wimereux looks a little like seaside Kent on the other side of the channel. There’s seagulls and again the familiar smell of fried food.
I go straight to the campground and feel exhausted, pay 9 euros to camp and retreat to my tent after buying a big portion of frites from a van on site where I’m charged 50 cents for ketchup from a sullen looking French man and his girlfriend. Business is understandably slow – this place is a trou de merde.
The campsite is close to a busy road. The bathrooms are brightly painted but outside its a rather quiet sad scene and there’s not s lot which could drag me out of my tent now anyway. So I zip myself in as some very delicate rain taps outside.
I’m making good progress to Caen, though the cumulative effect of four days straight cycling, a total of 15 miles shy of 300, has taking its toll on me. I have about ~ 200 miles to the ferry now, and will try and split these out over three slightly more leisurely days before the ferry awaits.