Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Canal and River Trust Council elections 2015

I am standing for the CRT Council under the private boaters category and would obviously like your vote. Information on the vote can be found at CRT Council Elections and the formal Electoral Services site with all the candidates statements is at the Electoral Services site.

I’ve not been formally involved in CRT before, but after reading through the 150 words each candidate is allowed, I thought that I had much to offer the council, some not covered by the other candidates. My 150 words are:-

Interests: Narrowboats , cycling (riding and campaigning), Rugby League, Speedway, Trade Union representation.
Why stand? To help represent all canal users across the diversity of users, we have a finite space that needs people to understand the need to share.
I am the owner, since 2012, of a nb moored on the Slough Arm of the GU. In this time I have experienced the delights of rivers, canals and the problems with a lack of boating facilities on key parts of the system. Unfortunately these facilities have yet to catch up with demand and CRT needs to look at different ways of delivering services to all communities and ensuring general maintenance is not forgotten. Before owning our boat I was a regular hirer of the BBC Club boat, Savoy Hill. I've been a volunteer Towpath Ranger, attendee at canal clean-ups and help support local IWA branches.

and the lovely photo......

More detail of the above statement: We have a mooring (non residential) at High Line on the Slough Arm of the Grand Union and take our boat, Salar, out as often as we possibly can. In the last 3 years we have cruised with St Pancras Cruising Club (to the Royal Docks and twice with them on their tideway trips down to Brentford) as well as cruising the River Wey, Oxford ring (including Lechlade) and this year the Lee and Stort. We are often seen heading up the GU to the Hemel area and back again and have plans for the K & A next year depending on work commitments. I take as many opportunities as possible to talk to all boaters we meet, both on the cut, at various land based meetings (CRT’s London Waterway forums, CRT AGM, local IWA meetings etc.) and festivals such as Cavalcade and Rickmansworth. It is obvious that the canals are now having to meet the demands of a diverse user base, many are new to the canals, unsure of what they need to do, should do or shouldn't do. Most are less than complementary of CRT as an organisation. As you will have seen my interests are cycling and cycle campaigning, a thorny issue when is comes to towpaths and personally I think CRT (at least in London) are trying to address the negatives that you often read about but more needs to be done. I am also a Unison rep at the London Borough of Southwark - where my job is to try to get more people to take up active transport and reduce private car journeys. Both my sporting teams, London Broncos and Eastbourne Eagles have been through better times but I am ever the optimist and success will come back to both clubs. If elected I will try to represent the people who have private boats on the waterways, whether it be for cruising or living. We all live on the water, just for some it is their home.

My knowledge of the work of the Council is as much as I have read in the CRT Council pdf plus the published minutes and agendas but I am puzzled as to why we havn’t heard from our existing council members who, one assumes, were elected to represent people such as myself. It will be my intention, if elected, to use social media and web channels to update people as to what the Council is up to, what I have been up to and answer as many questions as I can. There is a comments section on this blog which I hope to use to respond to any questions you may have and for those of you who are in the Twitter world I already use this (although I haven’t yet mastered listening to the discussion and Tweeting at the same time). I post under the Twitter name of @Roggys

The election is open from the 13th November through to the 11th December and you should all either receive an email of postal communication but judging by those I have chatted to already many just don’t read any communications from CRT or have never heard from them about the election. Will be interesting to see the response data plus ratio of postal votes against electronic votes.

Please feel free to ask about me, my thoughts or views on pertinent issues. You might not like the answer but at least I’ll try. I promise to continue this, if elected and offer to attend any meeting (if possible) in the SE region and perhaps further afield – although I can’t promise to attend an evening meeting at the Ripon Motor Boat Club without reasonable notice (and cheap rail fares if such things exist).

I've also posted some our timelapse canal videos on my YouTube site

Regents Canal - drained

Looking towards Mile End Lock
In 2014 CRT drained part of the Regents Canal in East London so as to repair parts of the banking and remove decades of rubbish that finds its way into the canal.

This year they have done similar from Old Ford Lock to Mile End lock. See the photos I took on Sunday 6th December, lots of interesting items in there including a table tennis table that had found its was from the student accommodation opposite - the other 2 are still there, this one looked a bit battered though.

I'm sure the Butler/Belfast sink caught some peoples eyes. CRT are taking this opportunity to repair the banking, its a really popular mooring location, perhaps due the close proximity of the Palm tree public House.

Table Tennis table in the middle of the cut

The entrance to the Hertford Canal on the left

It was then off to the Canals in Hackney User Group who were holding a Christmas event in Kingsland Basin, offering narrowboat trips (steered by Father Christmas) and tree and bulb planting by the towpath. A really good buzzy event with excellent beer donated by the nearby Hackney Brewery and a variety of food all raising funds for a Hackney homeless charity.
Photo courtesy of CHUG

Thursday, 3 December 2015

London Waterways Partnership Annual meeting

London Waterways Partnership Annual meeting - December 2015

I attended the 2015 annual meeting which was held at a recently renovated The House Mill which is part of the Three Mills http://londonunveiled.com/2013/05/08/three-mills-island/

It consisted of the opportunity to ‘network’ whilst partaking in some nice wine (I was told soft drinks were available) plus canapés. Part way through Sir Brian Fender (Chairman) gave a short speech about the work of the Partnership and was followed by presentationon volunteering, the new London Moorings strategy and the London CRT boss Jon Guest spoke in more general terms. Many of the topics covered were also discussed at last months London Waterways Forum, https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/refresh/media/original/24393-forum-slides.pdf Not sure I know much more about the work of the Partnership but having the opportunity to speak to other attendees about rowing, towpath cycling, volunteering was interesting. Photo is of Sir Brian addressing the audience.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

NBTA Winter Warmer

Thursday 12th November 2015

The London branch of the National Bargee Travellers Association (NBTA) held a 'Winter Warmer' event at a community centre not too far from the River Lea in Tottenham and given some 'differences of opinion' at the recent CRT AGM I thought it would be interesting to go along. The London branch have had a number of meetings with CRT staff and are working with them to identify new locations for boaters services, they are a now looking to widen their reach to as many boaters as possible. The special guest speaker; David Luff, who was involved in a campaign to stop British Waterways pushing boat dwellers without a home mooring off the water in 2003, spoke about that campaign and the proposed rule that boaters without a home mooring had to move 120 lock miles every 3 months and how this could be related to present times. It was a extremely well attended meeting, with a very young audience and some very nice food cooked by volunteers on the premises. Thanks to all for their hospitality.

Middlesex IWA meeting

Tuesday 10th November 2015

The Middlesex branch of the IWA hold monthly events and this month saw the return of Tony Brooks to talk about diesel engine maintenance. For those who aren't aware Tony used to present the RCR (River Canal Rescue) engine and electrics courses at their base in Alvechurch before he retired and still is the technical expert for the Canal Boat publication. One of the first things I did after buying our boat was to book myself onto both courses, £100 and £130 for a 12 hour course is a excellent investment (plus travel and accommodation costs of course).

Tony spoke for about 45 minutes covering basic boat servicing and maintenance tips then answering questions from the audience. I think its unlikely that anyone else out there knows as much about canal boats as Tony does, he has published his course notes online and anyone can refer to them. Very enjoyable evening and the draft Rebellion beer was good too.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Annual Chimay Trip

A refreshing glass of Chimay Rouge before we start.
Since 1999 a few of us have been driving out to Chimay to take part in their annual Audax ride. Its held at the start of July and has various different distances (45, 82, 125, 140 & 165 km) that you can follow, the route is indicated by arrows on the roads so is pretty easy to find. Over time the distances we cycle has declined somewhat as we have found many local cafe's on or just off the route. Given that the weather on 2013 was very hot we made sure our liquid intake was enough to avoid the dehydration problems you can get when taking part in strenuous exercise.

We've stayed in many different types of accommodation over the last 14 years. Going from the (now closed) Hotel de la Place in Virelles, Mon Reve in Robechies, Auberge du Auberge de Poteaupré near the abbey, a nice gite in Macon, an excellent gite in one of the prettiest villages in Belgium, Lompret and this year a really nice gite in Seloignes run by the very friendly Henri and Nadine. Even better is that they are on the new Ravel route, traffic free right into Chimay or Momignies. 
Cofidis Pro ride Romain Zingle on the yet to be completed Ravel link

Path not yet finished

Its about 250 miles from London to Chimay, this year using DFDS Dover to Dunkirk, 2 hours crossing and handy for the motorway. Route is E40, E42, E19, R5, N546, N40 and N53 into Chimay. Around 3 hours driving and all but 55km on motorways.

We always try to stop at a brewery on the way out (and back) and this year was no exception. Authentique was our stop this year and many thanks to Frédérick Baert for his excellent hospitality and great tasting on the brewery range.

Frédérick Baert with beer samples. Only €3pp for a tasting
Good choice of different beers from this small brewery, only 1200 litres per brew. Good to hear that Frédérick has made this his full time occupation and we wish him luck in the future. Its really disappointing to hear that he finds it really difficult to sell his beers in the local area where the usual beers dominate. As you can see from the photo its a very small (intimate) bar tucked away in the outskirts of Blaton but handy for the motorway. We did come away with a reasonable section of beers and, of course, some branded glasses (marked Ikea!)
The bar at Authentique

It was just over a hours drive to Chimay and another 15 minutes (via Match supermarket) to our accommodation. many thanks to our wonderful hosts that evening who lent us their gas BBQ and kept us plied with Chimay Doree whilst we spoke about worldly affairs (well Garth did Jason and my French is not good enough, unfortunately). Lovely evening.

Saturday would see us exploring the local area and in previous years we had only stayed 1 night. A hunt for Canal+ to watch the Lions Rugby Union was attempted but Belgium bars and TV's are not that common. So we tried the old Casino where we followed the match via Twitter, something we did for the Tour as well. Lunch (after a good few kms riding) was at le Beauchamp just outside town, lovely restaurant and the rabbit was eaten. Excellent. This restaurant has just celebrated its 10th anniversary and we knew le patron before he opened it. He recognised us and greeted us warmly.

le Nimrod in Bailleux
The main focus on the weekend was, of course, the Sunday ride. 45 km was chosen as the temperature was in the high 20's. Old friends were met at the start and a welcome beer was drunk before hitting the road. The route sheet showed the same route as the previous year but as it was chucking it down then we had taken a few shortcuts. A regular stop is le Nimrod in Bailleux. This year was no exception. From here it is down a lovely wooded valley adjacent to a small river, previous years has seen us have a picnic at one of the tables provided - great location. 

Garth with a jug of Doree
The next stop was the highlight of the trip , as this was Garth's first trip all this was new to him. l'Auberge de Poteaupré. It used to be that this was the only place where you could drink Chimay Doree (4.5%) but now Fullers sell the same beer in London! I know where I would rather drink this beer. Lovely location and very good menu. We had the taster plate of Chimay cheeses and a jug of Doree. Chimay have 5 different cheeses the restaurant was very busy. Given that its about 5 miles from the nearest town/village most people drive - I wonder its a problem with the red coming in at 7% alcohol.

Garth at the source of the Oise.
Just down the road from the auberge is the source of the river Oise. As we had ridden past the confluence of the Oise and Seine (see AV Paris write-up) it was interesting to see the source. Nice map and information about the river itself.
Confluence of Oise & Seine

Then back to Chimay, via, 4 Seasons cafe. Our good friend François Cornet recommended Aux Armes de Chimay in the main square for dinner and a excellent meal was had with music by a live band on the bandstand. Back along the Ravel route - including the rather dodgy rail bridge that has yet to be renovated - and onto the local cafe, le Zenith in Seloignes. Amazingly they still had bottles of the 150th anniversary beer - limited supply so not something you would expect to have in rural Belgium. Excellent end to a great day.

Some Oak “foeders.”
Packing on the Monday for a long drive to Roeselare, north of Lille in Flanders. We had booked a brewery trip to the famous Rodenbach brewery who produce a very traditional sweet/sour beer. Excellent brewery tour in a historic building - the €6 included both the Rodenbach and Grand Cru beers. Unique beers unlike others even in Belgium. Very refreshing on a hot day. We were shown the huge oak casks where beer ages for 2 years before its blended with younger beer - read a review and photos. We were lucky to join a English tour for the 2 hour visit. Highly recommended in you are interested in beer and local history. 

From here its about an hour and a half back to Dunkirk and home. 8 hours driving in total on the last day hence wanting to include a stop - where better than a brewery.

Great time and really looking forwards to going back next year. Huge thanks to François and the Chimay cycle club for the great organisation, as ever. Its a lovely part of the world to go cycling and everyone is so friendly.

Friday, 28 June 2013

London to Paris on a Brompton

A while ago someone came up with a idea of a signed London to Paris cycle route and in 2006 I rode the route on a organised ride arranged by East Sussex County Council and French partners. Since then I've ridden the French route 3 times but not the UK sections. In 2012 the route was finalised and actually signed but with very little publicity. Since then a website has been developed,  
The Avenue Verte first in French and now in English. So in the spirit of adventure I decided to ride the whole route and write a short blog about the trip. I invite assorted persons who I thought would be up for the trip and on the 24th May 4 of us departed (in heavy rain) from the London Eye taking 5 days to get to Paris via Newhaven/Dieppe. The following is my own personal account of the trip - the names have not been changed because they are very definitely not innocent. They were Garth Taylor (who I have known since meeting in Lewisham Hospital in 1986) on his smart looking touring bike, Simon Pratt (who is a regional director for Sustrans - so lots of the bad sections are his fault) astride his made to measure tourer which must be over 30 years old and Tobias Bauer who was the cycling officer for E Sussex back in 2006 and pretty instrumental is devising the route (of which more later) and someone I've kept in touch with ever since. Both Simon and Tobias are strong riders which meant that they had plenty of time to hang around waiting for Garth and myself. For a reason that I can't remember I decided to ride the route on a borrowed 3 speed Brompton (standard gearing), the only adaption was spd pedals. Something I was to regret but having ridden the original route on a 6 speed Brompton a couple of times I didn't think would be a problem.

The maps and gps tracks were recorded on my mobile phone using a app called My Tracks.  The elevation gain looks suspiciously dodgy as 5000 feet of climbing seems unlikely especially on the more flatter days.

Day 1 - Friday 24th May 2013

We started at around 10am in very damp conditions. I would love to say that there was a lot of information about the route and history of the project but there wasn't. There was nothing. Fortunately various gps tracks and Simon having ridden this a few times meant that finding the small 'AV' signs helpfully added to existing NCN wasn't a particular problem and off down the banks of the Thames we went heading north over Lambeth Bridge. Reasonably quiet roads to Chelsea Bridge where we left NCN4 and headed south - along a road called Queenstown Road. Well a more unattractive, busy, hilly, road you would be hard pressed to find in this part of London - I can only guess that the poor cyclists coming from Paris will be so knackered by the time they get to this section that they just wouldn't care about the road. It is truly horrible. Given that when you get onto Clapham Common itself (and from here there are mainly quiet roads) you come across the London Cycle Network route 3 - which goes very close to Lambeth Bridge - I just can't understand the logic - going into Westminster can't be THAT important can it? There were many other strange alignments to come. Welcome to the world of Wandsworth with all the '£30 fine for cycling on pavement' signs everywhere and a amazing 'no cycling' bridge on Wandsworth Common. Welcome to the UK cyclists. Signage wasn't bad and from here it was onto the Wandle Trail.which isn't too bad as it headed south following the lovely fast flowing river. I like the Wandle Trail - shame it never managed to reach the Thames but its been promised for years, and years and y... It was now pouring but did we care? Actually not really. Tea and cake (no beer) in Oaks Park Sutton where this photo was taken and tweeted. You can see the small 'AV' additions to the normal NCN signage.

Through the delights of Coulsdon and then up onto Farthing Common where we encounter some rather strange speed reduction measures - well done Croydon Council (a herd of cows) - less well done was the complete lack of signage leading up the the common. Normally there are great views all around - today just cloud. A pretty fast descent down and over the M25 (we must be out of London) clocked me at nearly 30 mph - I must be mad. Then the first section off road, interesting, but the delights of the Inn on the Pond near Redhill. Sign on the door said that they served food till 2.30 and as it was 2.10 we were pretty pleased. Of course only in the UK would you get a pub to send its kitchen staff home early as 'they were quiet' so it was a (very good) pint and off into the rain. More sodden paths (impassable in one place) and onwards into Horley for a toasty and tea. I always love cycling through the centre of Gatwick Airport where you have a motorway, airport and the train station right besides you. Quickly through Crawley (the only way) and off along the Worth Way - a old train line (pretty common thread on this trip) from Three Bridges to East Grinstead and beyond. The path crosses a main road beside a old station called Rowfant Station. It was here that Tobias's rear wheel decided that it had had enough and with a loud bang split along the rim. That was the end of his cycling (it was still raining),

some people will do anything for a taxi ride. Strangely the local minicab controller didn't know where the Station was - good heavens it only closed 50 years ago. The minicab driver didn't seem to worry about a dirty bike being put in this boot... not a damp Tobias. This is where the battery on the phone gave up the ghost so missed the last 5 miles to the East Grinstead Lodge . Very comfortable and a hot radiator was very welcome. Around 50 miles traveled. See this link for full route.

Day 2 - Saturday 25th May 2013

What a contrast in the weather and after a hearty English breakfast and a high pressure hose on the Brompton it was on the road again. Through the centre of a nice looking East Grinstead we picked up the Forest Way south of the town and along the route we passed some of Tobias's claims to fame, Stainless steel cycle racks next to picnic benches. Still there after all these years. The surface of the Worth Way isn't too bad considering and we made reasonable time. Even after the end of the old railway line the route took quiet (and not flat) local roads until Eridge station The Huntsman pub looked very nice but no time to stop  Here you have to (almost) guess you head through a gate and then up a steep (grass) slope a run parallel with the A26 for a few hundred yards. From here its pretty undulating passing through a few nice villages/towns. A very nice pint of local cider at the Kings Arms in Rotherfield and onwards towards Heathfield. We avoided the 'official' Sustrans route which heads up a very steep 'trail' into the local woods and kept to the road - Newick Lane - very steep to start with and less steep after that. Once into Heathfield its a dropdown and onto the Cuckoo Trail, yet another old railway line released to walkers and cyclists by Dr Beeching.. It was (literally) downhill all the way into Polegate via a bikers cafe in Horam. Pretty flat from here on into Seaford but via a 'challenging' cross country part of the NCN - for those used to Sustrans rural routes you would not be surprised. Still it makes London's roads seem pretty smooth.

Cuckmere River - the wrong route though, average standard for NCN ;-)
Garth and I decided to explore the wrong route into Seaford but at least we got a good view of the river and Seven Sisters cliffs - much whiter than those in Dover. This was a hill! Morrisons for cakes and other emergency rations for the next morning and then a beer at the very nice Wellington Hotel is Seaford, impressive beer selection. Next stop the ferry terminal (3 miles) for the 2300 4 hour crossing. 4 berth cabins booked - all ensuite and pretty comfortable. No time for beers as the crossing is only 4 hours and they start banging (literally) on doors from 2.15 (UK time) onwards. Loads of cyclists onboard including many who had ridden that day from London, rather haphazard cycle parking arrangements on the boat but once all tied down they were not going anywhere. We somehow had a (more expensive) cabin  with a port hole, Much better than I thought they would be and as there was 4 of us worked out at about £25 per person. You have to book a 4 berth even if there is only a single person. We all thought that it was worth the extra costs and more comfortable than a floor (too old for that I think).
The Seven Sisters

The daily total was about 55 miles (including the Seaford to the ferry section) and about 7 hours in the saddle. Pretty hilly especially in the Weald.

As you can see from the track the route is not exactly direct which is a recurring theme of the Avenue Verte. I guess some might say that it adds to the charm of the route - others may disagree. See this for the full route.

Day 3 - Sunday 26th May 2013

2.15am (3.15 am French time) lights flashing, bells ringing and bangs on the door. Yes we were still at sea but the crew wanted us out. Just another 5 minutes....We didn't rush and when told we were the last we thought he was joking - he wasn't. The corridor was strewn with bedding and vacuum cleaners and most bikes had gone from the car deck. Into the cold air at 4.15 am and through passport control pushing into the queues of cars and occasional lorry. lots of red flashing lights going away into the almost deserted town that is Dieppe. A odd few locals wishing us a good evening and after a quick look round the town it was obvious everything was closed - 4.30am so not really a surprise! The only thing to do was to get going and find the real Avenue Verte. We picked up a couple of British cyclists who looked lost and escorted them the 9 km to the start of, yes you guessed it, the old Dieppe to Paris railway line. A different meaning to shades of grey at this time of morning - no sign of the sun peeping through the clouds on the horizon as we passed the well closed cafe near the start (very nice local cider sold here). So 40 km of the Avenue Verte in all its glory. I pointed out the few places that have a cafe just off the route as this is the 5th time I've ridden this section. Its great initially but can get slightly boring as its slightly uphill all the way with little to see. The road junctions are really well designed so sight lines are great - you hardly have to adjust your speed. Pretty good chance to try drafting the rider in front of you. Neufchatel (famous for its cheese) is the first town of any size that you go through - this was our chance to see if there was a open cafe and bakers for refreshments - well there were two bakers but no cafe...well not until well after 9 am said the baker. There were a few other Brits munching croissants/baguettes and partaking in various juices/coke that the boulangère sold in a OK pocket park. From here it was back on the the AV, next stop Forges. The end of the original route finishes at the main rail line, the route itself does use some small paths and makes it was right into Forges where you come to the town centre pretty buzzing at around 9.30 in the morning with many boulangère, cafes, supermarkets etc. We stopped at the Cafe de Dieppe right on the cross roads along with a few other Brits who were also on the ferry, I've been here a few times before and its not too bad. After some coffee, tea and a beer for me things were looking up - apart from a rear puncture on the Brompton. Whilst I fixed the bike the others went off to the local supermarket to stock up with something for our evening meal at our overnight stop. We were then off into the countryside, one 'feature' of the AV alignment is that it will do almost anything to avoid a slightly busy road (with one or two exceptions) even if it means the route is fairly hilly. Next stop was Gournay-en-Bray where we found a nice cafe for lunch, local beer and some wine. The initial idea of the official alignment was to follow the old railway line and indeed the plan was to now follow the old railway track. this is what Simon expected to see nearly ready. Was he in for a surprise. Instead of loads of cyclists using the old track bed someone had decided to reopen the train line (see here for all you could want to know and photos etc. scroll down. Due to open for freight later in 2013 and a passenger service in 2014. So the AV will have to use the very quiet country roads including the hills.

I did like the occasional use of the 'warning cyclists' sign which was a fairly common site in this area. We also stopped to look at a village church, names Notre Dame, which was pretty impressive and the bells were being rung for reasons best known to the ringer. From here it was into St Germer-de-Fly with its very impressive former Benedictine abbey . The direct route from Gourney would have been approx 12km to our accommodation but given a road that is slightly busy the official route heads out east and takes a very roundabout route, including the other AV alignment that goes to Beauvais. Not sure of the distance but I can tell you it was considerably more than 12km and included a few ups and downs along the way. Given that the sun was shining and pretty warm I guess we didn't mind too much. The extra weight of the wine I was carrying was assisted by the knowledge that we would soon be able to drink it along with various cheeses and meats (not to mention Tobias's radishes). The final climb was only a few km from our nights stop at Domaine du Patis in Amecourt. Pretty steep hill but once at he top it was all along the ridge for miles. The place was amazing, a working XII century farm which, given the clear blue skies, looking very impressive. Stored bikes, showered and sat in comfy seats in the garden, the only downside was a persistent dog who just wanted to play. Our evening meal was what we had carried around most of the day and was taken in the main section of our accommodation building.
Warming by the fire - end of May??
A nice touch was that our hosts had left a wood fire burning which was very welcome as the evening was a little chilly. A great place to spend a few days relaxing and somewhere to return to, almost whatever the weather. Highly recommended and a reasonable price.Full route here.



Day 4 - Monday 27th May 2013

In the background is the accommodation

Entrance to the farm/accommodation
As you can see from the photographs the weather was lovely, slight chill but due to warm up later. A nice breakfast and Garth (who speaks fluent French) had a long chat with the lady owner which included a, almost, life history of the family, family name and the ownership of the farm. I just happened to mention a liking of Calvados and guess what... yes the farm does make its own and the lady kindly provided us with two half bottles to sample later, saying that is was tough not to try then and there.  Good job I was focused on the day ahead.

From here it was along the ridge before dropping down into Gisors which is famous for a very impressive church and fort. The fort itself is inside a public park so no admission charges and a nice place to rest for a while.
Gisors is a busy town and there was a market on as we went through. We did stop to look at the famous church, with impressive spiral stairs to the bell tower. Some culture need to be included rather than just cafes even if its just for balance.

From Gisors the AV seeks out yet another old railway track, this one not quite as good as the AV out Dieppe way but still pretty good compared to Sustrans routes in the UK (sorry Sustrans). We did pass fields of vines in the Dagnu area but little info on the internet about this. We didn't stop (shame) at 2 nice looking cafes in Les Bourdeaux de Saint-Claire, just off the route, but I saw them. I guess because we were heading to Bray-et-Lû for lunch. One cafe in the town, right opposite the zinc factory (with official plaque). Nice simple lunch at the Tabac/PMU washed down with local beer and not so local wine.

Back onto quiet roads including one of my favorite (!!!) sections as you can see in the photo. Must be nice in the wet. This linked up 2 on-road sections so I guess it makes sense but it would be nicer to have a proper surface. Another slight diversion from Maudetour-en-vexin to Arthies as the formal route uses a narrow, rough unmade path (worse than the photo) rather than an adjacent road with very little traffic. One has to ask why but this part of the route does have some strange ideas of where to go. We all noticed a sign for local cider in Arthies and I was first to follow these even if it was taking us off route. Unfortunately the lady of the house was off to collect grand children from school so had to close for approx 30 minutes, Much as I  like to try local drinks (especially cider) I've come across the phrase "30 minutes" in rural areas and these are seldom that short... so onwards.  Just after we met a local cyclist clad in full lycra and on a nice looking bike. We started talking, as you do, and after my usual couple of French words I left him with Garth... amazing what you can learn in a few minutes conversation but he, in his mid 70's, still competed in local races but he said that he struggles to compete with others as they still doped even though they were 60 years plus old. It must be a very hard practice to stop. He then said that he knew the route - and as we were English we wouldn't but once he understood Simon knew where we were going chose to follow us. I think I might have mentioned open cafes or something similar and he seemed to indicate nothing open in the area. Now I like hunting out cafes to make sure we don't dehydrate but Simon has a particular liking for boulangèries - which I can sort of understand. He rode with us till Vignes when Simon noticed (and I think knew of) a nice looking bakers, before he knew it we had stopped. I expect he just put it down to English eccentricity and carried on by himself. Just before this the AV took a right into a made up path round some type of building, we stuck to the road. Again shortly after the route heads up a farm track and up and over a hill whilst the road (with cycle lane) heads up a medium trafficked road to meet up a few kms further on. It was my turn in Sagy and the temptation to stop at a nice looking cafe, with tables and chairs outside, was too hard to resist. Here many other UK charity cyclists streamed by perhaps looking enviously at us with cool beers. Very nice break it was too. A few more hills and one of the busier roads (perhaps no alternative) brought us into Cergy and our hotel for the night.

Cery is approx 30km from the centre of Paris and the end of a RER 'metro' route. The centre is a brand new complex of cafes, supermarkets, a multiplex and the usual types of places for satellite towns. Lots of stainless steel as well everywhere. Oh and a very good boulangère. Simon had wanted to go and see something called the Axe Majeur Axe Majeur so after stocking up on bread and cakes (I brought a bottle of wine from the nearby supermarket - I always try to have plastic glasses and a bottle opener - you never know) we headed off that way. Pretty impressive view from the top over central Paris and we sat around eating and drinking (as you do) watching the world go by - oh and personal trainers taking their clients though the paces up and down the steps.

Our hotel was pretty close and whilst not as good as the night before (it would have been hard) was acceptable as all Etap type hotels are. Complete lack of any restaurants in the area bar the normal corporate Courtepaille Not too bad but slightly pricey. Morning route here. Followed by the afternoon trip.

Day 5 - Tuesday 28th May 2013

Now for the river level view of the Axe Majeur.

Not exactly a direct route
We dropped down, via the previous evenings boulangère for breakfast - a very strange arrangement of ordering, paying (with change from a machine) and separate service - to the river bridge which is one of the few River Oise crossings around. After having a look around it was off towards Paris following the AV itself. Now its about 30km into central Paris if you were a crow but he AV winds its way along rivers and clocks up about 70kms. Dead flat. For most of the day it was pouring with rain and with a small stone covering on the paths made for dirty bikes, not to mention dirty clothes. The route heads south following the river Oise (which starts in a small town called Chimay in Belgium) and included a brand new surfaced section. We did wonder about this part as it was very slippery and in our opinion just didn't work. Large signs about the amazing new, sustainable, way of path covering but don't try this at home...

The end of the Oise and the start of our Seine following for much of the day. Big rivers these with much commercial river traffic. As you will see from the map the route does meander much, along the river, over the rive, through a forest (not a bad surface I thought) and into Maisons-Laffitte with a complete lack of signage (they were not interested I understand) and past the end of the horse racing course. Chatou was our lunch stop - right place at he right time. Nice friendly restaurant where we sort of dried out. It was now about the time we were hoping to get to the finish - it was not to be. From here it was along the Seine - again - and then via some pretty busy roads through the dock area (yes if you think it sounds bad it was). Just north of Gennevilliers we picked up the local tram route - a off road cycle route was welcome but given the rain a less busy route would have been nice. Unfortunately Garth didn't spot the tram tracks hidden by a strategic puddle and down he went. Even more unfortunate was the 3 of us weren't there to see it - not to laugh (honest) but to assist. I waited on a corner in St Denis - not something I would recommend as those of you who have been to St Denis would know - and sometime later along came a bloodied Garth. The next section of the route follows the canal right into the centre of Paris - pretty good way into town even if its via the riot police sorting out certain 'issues' under motorway bridges. At the junction of the canals you can either follow the canal - and old alignment - via cycle tracks to Bastille (and beyond straight onto the Isle St Louis and Notre Dame) or the AV route which heads, via quiet streets to the Rue Saint Denis - which is not the quietest of roads - not motors lots of peds. Still both take you to the finish at Notre Dame. By now the rain had stopped and the sun was out. Ever busy of course and I did strike up a conversation with a gentleman from the USA who was there touring with 4 Bromptons. You just can't get away from them.Final days trip here.
Sign right by Notre Dame
Me and the Brommie - Verity.
Photos taken, one with the AV sign in the background (didn't see one in London), Garth just about managing to smile through the pain (he had to rest the leg for 4 weeks afterwards). Just time to find a local (not too local due to prices) cafe for a beer or two before I cycled off Gare du Nord for Eurostar home. 5 days to get there and 2.5 hours to get home.

So, in conclusion.... Would I ride this again. The English side...well no. I am glad that I have done it but don't really think I would rush to do so again. As for the French side well yes, parts of. I quite fancy riding the Beauvais section into Paris but would most likely not follow the exact alignment and use a few busier and more direct routes. I think I would also choose a bike with a few more gears ;-) I did struggle with the spd's after a few days with knee hurting (good job I had some pain killers). Not sure why as I haven't had that problem on other bikes including Bromptons. If the French could sort out a few of the major issues, including the busier sections, nasty off road parts and some improved signage I would recommend it to others.
Worst part of the whole route - realising that it used Queenstown Road SW London which must be one of the busiest and least cycle friendly roads in the area. All despite LCN route 3 going from Lambeth Bridge to Clapham Common. Why oh why I have to ask myself, I can see no logic in that alignment.