The route continued to be rural and despite my fondest hopes the road continued to go up and down. The profile was like a piece of corrugated cardboard with endless relative minor ups and downs. The plan was now to get to the coast. The Zeebrugge (in Belgium) to Hull ferry was booked by Anna. This is a car ferry that takes you to the north of England overnight. I’d used it most years lately, either with a bicycle or my sports car. It was relatively expensive but dropped me less than 50 miles from home and was a fairly busy but easy run home. I got a cabin.
Today felt like the beginning of the end of the trip and thoughts were on home. As usual I found a boulangerie and bought croissants to set me up for the day. Intriguingly across the road from the bakers were a couple who led out two horses, mounted them and trundled off up the high street of this small town.
Amongst cyclists there is a debate about listening to music or radio through headphones. Some think it reduces the awareness of the rider and jeopardises their safety. I’m not sure but maybe listening to Megadeth at Volume 12 would impair your judgement! I was able to get, intermittently, the radio from a BBC App on my ride. It seems very incongruous to be proceeding through the French countryside listening to a cricket match. However, I did and it was engrossing and a great time killer.
Some of these days were very long in the saddle: today was 7 hours and 59 minutes. This was quite typical and not my longest day. Added to this were times when I’d stop to eat or shop.
With the size of France there is a considerable scattering of the population. So many/most rural/small town settlements have abandoned properties. It seems improbable that they will ever be refurbished and restored. These buildings are in sun bleached and quiet locations but nowhere you’d probably want to live unless you had some considerable roots. The buildings often look very grand I wonder at what time in the 20th Century the occupants fled to a city?
Lunch at Aubenton was a ‘plat de jour’ at a restaurant I found along the route. I asked what it was and was told it was a ‘brochette’. I had no idea what was coming until a large white sausage appeared on a skewer. Delicious and needless to say it didn’t hit the sides!
On the drink front I was so tired of drinking hot water that I bought these concentrates to add to my bottles. At least the hot water was flavoured and more satisfying now.
Maubeuge eventually came into sight and I cycled through the centre. It looked an attractive large town on the Sambre river. This looked navigable. However time was getting on and I was now aiming for the one campsite I’d identified.
Campsites are now very few and far between in Northern France. This is not a tourist area. I’d identified one at a small town to the North East of Maubeuge. In reality it was a static van site and didn’t cater to tourers. Folk had permanent homes here and either came on the weekend or for holiday breaks. It was up a steep hill in a wood and was an attractive setting. It took me a while to work out where Reception was. Now could I find someone to check me in? When I did locate someone it seemed straightforward, except for the showers.
The madame took my money, around €8, but advised a shower would cost extra – €1. What the hell I thought, let’s live a little and wash. However, she wanted some humungous deposit to hand across the dongle that activated the system in the washroom. This would be refunded tomorrow when I returned the device. However, the office re-opened at 9am the next day. I planned to be well up the road by then. So ’Plan B’ was to surrender my Passport for the duration of the shower. This would be returned tonight.
So I had a shower and returned to swap our relative treasures. The madame had my Passport in plain sight but couldn’t locate it to hand back. I watched slightly bemused (being my usual tolerant self). In exasperation she eventually concluded that this document in front of her must be mine. Sadly the problem arises in the fact that the photo taken in 2010 of yours truly shows an athletic younger man with more dark hair than the specimen in front of her! I absorbed the blow.