Momentous news! It wasn’t raining this morning. It has rained since…but it wasn’t raining while we packed away a DRY TENT! Ah, life’s small pleasures.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I guess you’ll want to know what we’ve been up to since leaving Chesterfield nine days ago.
In more than one of our circles of friends we are renowned for our ability to ‘faff’. And on our final day at my mum’s we didn’t break from that tradition. After waiting weeks for bits of kit, we left it until the day of departure before deciding to go through all our gear, work out what was to be left in my mum’s garage, and place the rest of it in its proper location in our panniers and trailer. Needless to say this took the entire morning and most of the afternoon of our scheduled departure day. Luckily, we didn’t need to get too many miles done and my mum joined us for a hilly but pleasant pedal over to Nottingham. After saying cheerio to my mum (who kept her resolve and refused to be all weepy) we stayed the night at my dad & step-mum’s.
The next three days saw us roll slowly & uneventfully through a cold, windy and often wet Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. In fact, at times it felt remarkably like when we pedalled across the Russian steppe last year. We stayed with various aunts and cousins until we finally got on the ferry at Harwich. Our legs are somewhat soft and flabby after a winter of little to no cycling so despite the predominantly flat terrain, two back to back 120km days were tiring enough for us to resolve to take it easy for the next few days to make sure we didn’t pick up any injuries.
We docked in Hook of Holland at 07:45 on Monday 7th May and made our way to The Hague to see Friedel and Andrew, a pair of cyclists who we met in Canada in 2009 (they were at the end of their 3 year tour and were instrumental in giving us the courage to pack up our old lives and seek our own adventures). Their website www.travellingtwo.com is an excellent treasure trove of all things bike-tour related. It was lovely to catch up with them again and they generously fed us coffee and cake and told us about some free camp sites dotted around Holland, and then, after filling our panniers with delicious cheeses, cake and home-made cookies, pedalled with us to the start of a gorgeous cycle-route through the sand dunes that we’d never have come across if left to our own devices.
The camp site they’d told us about had no facilities whatsoever, but that was of no concern to us. Located in a little woodland next to a canal it was peaceful and pleasant, and, most importantly, had plenty of space in which to erect our Brobdingnagian tent (go look it up…it’s a delicious word).We awoke the next day to rain, which made us somewhat reticent to get on the road, but eventually we did, and continuing east we headed through Utrecht. For once, Keith could find nothing negative to say about the cycle lanes. They were good quality tarmac or paving, well-signed, gave bikes priority over traffic from adjoining side-roads, weren’t full of obstacles and didn’t randomly send you off in a direction you didn’t want to go in.
We’d noted some woodland the other side of the city for a spot of sneaky camping but Kor, a local doctor/cycling journalist who stopped for a chat, told us it wasn’t allowed. He suggested a place where we might get away with it, but on the way there we felt tired and the woodlands looked enticing, so despite having been warned we couldn’t, we thought we’d give it a go. For about 45 minutes we thought we’d got away with it and then we heard footsteps approaching. Damn!
Luckily for us, the chap was the nicest forest warden we’ve ever met and after we explained we were only staying for one night on our way to Russia, he gave us the most polite and gentle telling-off before giving us his blessing to stay the night, and he even gave us his name and told us to say he’d given us permission to camp if anyone else tried to move us on. What a nice man!
It rained heavily all night so, again, we were slow in packing up in the morning. We made our way to Arnhem where our task was to find a map of Northern Germany. Unlike last year, where we left home carrying enough maps and route-guides to get us all the way to the Black Sea, this year we departed carrying just a handful of photocopied bits of road atlas to get us to Harwich. We bought a couple of maps of Holland and The Hague in a petrol station just outside Hook of Holland, and then Friedel & Andrew gave us a much-used map of theirs with the free campsite marked on it. That map, as anticipated, did not survive the few days in our possession and we binned the few remaining strips in Arnhem, but posted the newer maps back to Friedel & Andrew to give to the next passing cyclists who might need them.
In Arnhem we struck traveller’s gold when we were directed to a map shop to rival Stanfords (the UK’s premier map and travel book shop). Not as large, granted, but De Noorderzon has a great range of maps and interesting books in both Dutch and English, and has friendly and knowledgeable staff who recommended a ’Bike-Line’ cycle-route guide to take us from Arnhem to Berlin, and a couple of good maps for Poland. They also looked up the location of the factory where our tandem was made and found us a map for the area that overlapped with the Arnhem/Berlin route. We could have bought loads more, but decided to hold fire at 40 euro.
The weather warmed up a bit, but remained changeable with rain on and off through the days and pretty solid rain all through the night.
We arrived in Germany on 10 May and treated ourselves to a ‘proper’ campsite to shower and wash some clothes….but there was no wifi so no chance to blog.
Suitably clean and fresh-smelling, we made our way (in the rain of course) to the Hase factory in Waltrop where Ruth and John at JD Tandems had arranged for a very nice chap called Joerg to give us a guided tour of the factory. Row upon row of shiny new Pinos glistened seductively. We oohed and aahed at their latest offerings and eventually said our goodbyes and heartfelt thanks for such a treat at very short notice.
A woodland just south of Munster made a very pleasant campsite last night and we fell asleep listening to birdsong, and, to our delight, awoke to the same….for once without the accompanying thrum of heavy rain on the flysheet.
We’re having a lazy day today and spending money in a ‘proper’ campsite just east of Munster, predominantly to get internet access, but also ‘cos we’re feeling lazy today and want to sit around doing nothing … some parts of this holiday do remind me of being in the office actually!