Category Archives: Travel

The Arrival in Carcassonne and then Day 2 – Carcassonne to Octon 89 miles

Apart from missing Junction 24 on the M1 and taking another 18 miles to turn round the drive to East Midlands Airport was straightforward. Anna was happy to take me and the drop off was quite simple at this small airport. The flight was barely occupied.

My kind of budget airline flight
Yes Janette, I was eventually told that the metal bit should go at the top and be bent around your beak

I’m not sure why so many people have dropped out but it made the flight painless and my bike box was waiting for me on the carousel as I cleared Passport Control. Not often I can say nice things about Ryanair… I asked one of the Carcassonne Airport staff if I might reassemble it inside the terminal rather than outside in the sweltering sun. No problem. Happily the bike went together well and I was off… to Decathlon.

This is a sports good store. I needed a gas canister for my camping. From here I wandered in circles around the town before finding my hotel down a back street. This was to be my first experience of how the French control the virus. At best it’s ‘lip service’. I was asked to sanitise my hands and follow the inevitable tape on the floor. After booking in I found myself up 3 flights of stairs in a reasonable room. The hotel only had four guests and so why I had several hearty hikes up and down I don’t know.

La Cité is a perfect fortification in Carcassonne. I’ve been about three times previously but it was nice to visit again. There were a few French around but the usual British voices were not to be heard. We’re still not travelling. The economic hit to these tourists spots must be gigantic. Anyway I had some pasta and then returned for a workout up the stairs and off to bed.

At 8.10am I was ready for the off. Pleasingly the start would be flat as I headed east. Traffic was light and the odd British, Belgium or Dutch number plates were a rare sightings. It was idyllic cycling beside the Canal du Midi. However I was only on the gravel footpath briefly before taking the road that ran beside it. This tremendous canal construction feat dates back to the 17th Century and was built to connect the Atlantic (Gironde River) with the Mediterranean. It’s 240 kilometres long.

Note the sensational blue sky

The bright blue skies were with me all day and the scenery was green and fertile. Vineyards were visible as far as the eye could see. The upshot of this flat run was 44 miles at 13.7 mph. That’s motoring in Touringville! I stopped for lunch in Capestang, a well known stop for the tourist hired canal boats that cruise the canal.

The Canal du Midi at Capestang
My cashier at the restaurant in Capestang!

It was starting to become very hot. In fact unbearably hot. I suddenly found my self climbing for a couple of hours as the temperature reached a bewildering 44°C. I felt the energy draining out of me and my legs. Sacre bleu!

To quote the mighty Whitesnake… “would I lie to you?”

I knew it’d be hot but this was stupid. My destination was all about a campsite I’d found near a lake. That sounds exquisite but frankly it was the only one I could spot as I planned my route.

I really started to die on the bike. It wasn’t helped by running low on water. At this temperature you drink every 5 minutes: you have to. I carry just under 3 litres and replenish when I can. However sometimes there is no water to be found. To add to my misery the road continued to climb! At 6.10pm I’m worrying about finding the campsite when my favourite youngest daughter rang to discuss car finance. I may have been a little pre-occupied and grumpy (quelle surprise). Fortunately I’d found some water. I’m not sure if it was drinkable but it sure tasted good.

Could have drunk it dry

Not without quite a bit of ‘going round in circles’ malarky I got to the campsite and parted with €19.00 for my pitch. In fact the owner wanted €19.02 but decided to make the magnanimous Gallic gesture and write off the balance (as I didn’t have the correct change). The site had solar power to heat the water and operate the bathroom lights but there were no electrical sockets.

Let’s hope my iPhone and Garmin battery last until I can find a socket! I rang the ‘FYD’ and completed the conversation on the intricacies of buying a car. Frankly she’s frighteningly sorted and I had little to add to her forensic analysis. I mean who turns up at a car showroom with a laptop to run through the figures with a salesman?

It’s not much but I call it home….
Local friends

The pitch was fine, the laundry was done and after some pasta I fell into a deep sleep.

Le Nomade Gris part en France

(The Grey Nomad goes to France)

Anna, when I was about to go to Australia in February, decided to book some flights to Carcassonne in the south of France for July. This was mainly to put something in the diary. She rightly noted that I was heading off for some sun (and pies) and that she deserved a holiday to look forward to. Carcassonne is a grand town with a citadel. This is an ancient 13th Century fortification in the centre of the town. Within this fortification there are cobbled streets, churches, bars, hotels etc. It is a special place. We’ve been on several occasions. When the pandemic struck we just left the flights in place not knowing when the borders would open again.

When the chance to fly arrived Anna felt leaving the UK so soon after my father-in-law being widowed wasn’t timely. (He’s doing remarkably well so far thankfully). So she’d pass up the holiday. I was happy to reschedule but there was no chance of a refund and to move the flights involved overcoming two obstacles. The first was being able to contact Ryanair and then paying considerable amendment charges. The latter were prohibitive when you note what we paid for the original flights pre-Covid-19 before the hikes. Anyway I decided to go and so the tour starts from Carcassonne airport next week. I am a man of lists and using this I have extracted all my necessary clothes and items for the trip.

Hob Nobs are vital

In a couple of weeks of pedaling or so I hope to arrive at the northern coastline. Exactly where depends on which ports have ferries sailing to Hull in England. At the moment only Rotterdam is open in The Netherlands but I’m hoping Zeebrugge in Belgium opens. This should be around 1,000 miles. As always I will be camping. However, there may be a few slates over my head if the weather turns very inclement.

My packing list – the ‘shower caps’ are for covering my saddle!

Just north of the city are some demanding mountains and so I’ve decided to initially head east and then north. This way I might limit the climbing necessary to make progress. There are no major cities on my route. However the regions I’ll cycle through will be green and ancient. I expect sunshine, fresh bread, delicious wine, unfussy campsites, indifferent locals and empty but steep roads. When I get further north I may follow the Meuse river into Belgium. I’ll worry about the detail in a few hundred miles time.

I shall be taking my iPad and writing about what I see. As always it’ll be grand if you join me.

Australia Bike Ride – Epilogue

Australia Blog 18

I thought I would split my post between a travelogue summary and then a cycling report. The travelogue summarises my thoughts about Australia and my cycling report includes some statistics and detail about the riding.


For whatever reason I never took to Melbourne; every one tells me it’s marvellous. Its an impressive city on the Yarra river and both the buildings and the water are tall or imposing. Like all cities it belongs to the under 30’s. They populate its streets and the food, shops and spaces belong to them. Melbourne is ethnically diverse. I well recollect Australians at the next table chatting away in Mandarin or Cantonese and I later heard that Melbourne is the largest Greek town after Athens. Diversity is the reality and future but it wasn’t the Australia I came to see. I wanted to see how it made a living, the life it’s non-urban communities lived, its landscapes and foibles.

I eventually put the city behind me and got into the Victoria countryside. Here were fields and animals. Everything was parched but this was the vista I expected. Small towns with a pub, a few shops, a fire truck building and a community centre were the norm and I ploughed north. After Wangaratta I deviated off the beaten track and ended up in Walla Walla. This was small town Australia. Hard working, no frills, a little bit down on its luck and miles from anywhere. I started to get the feel for the country and its people. Leaving Victoria was by the direct Hume Freeway a large artery of a dual carriageway heading north and then east toward Canberra and Sydney.

My luck ran out with the weather. When it rains it isn’t drizzle but hours of heavy falls. Riding beside this road with its spray and unnerving drafts from 34 wheel trucks made me climb off and catch a bus from Gundagai to Sydney. I hate to do this but I saw no point in suffering for the sake of it. Sydney was magnificent. Lots of history, fine architecture, a staggering harbour and sunshine. From here the ride north, in New South Wales, was hard but early morning games of school boy cricket and joggers or recreational cyclists on outside seating drinking coffee made me think there might be something to this life. Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Epilogue

Australia Bike Ride – Kin Kin to Maryborough – 77 miles & Tour’s Finish

Australia Bike Ride 17

After failing to eat properly the night before I was delighted to discover this seemingly ramshackle general store in Kin Kin was a top cafe.

When I turned up last night it seemed improbable that they could russle up this omelette:

This was a sight for sore eyes. I asked inside about my nocturnal American friend. Yes he was known. His name’s Jim Wonder. He lives about 4 miles out of town and has been caught stealing showers and water before. They knew of his conspiracy theories and pre-occupation with artefacts. I feel I may have ‘grassed him up’ after discussing his ablutions last night but he needs to stop creeping around like that.

Fortified I headed north. Within a few miles I spent 10 minutes pushing the bike up an 18% gradient. Whether a help or a worry my Garmin Sat Nav does provide guidance that these enormous climbs are coming:

Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Kin Kin to Maryborough – 77 miles & Tour’s Finish

Australia Bike Ride – Brisbane to Caloundra – 73 miles & Caloundra to Kin Kin – 77 miles

Australia Blog 16

Well in the first mile I had to push the bike twice up gradients too steep (to cycle) with a heavy bike. This was not a good start. The weather now seems hot and sunny, that was certainly more like it.

Beautiful infrastructure (in a few places)

The town planners had cobbled together some routes for cyclists in the north of the city: the usual hotch potch of dedicated paths, park shortcuts and pavement riding. After a gazillion traffic lights I made it to the Gympie Road heading north. Up until this point I’d spent more times waiting on pavements or on the road for traffic lights to turn green.

Good grief, if this is the state of his car would you let him near your arm with ink and a needle?
“Aww mayte, my teeth are no laughing matter…”

After about 15 miles I was heading into the smaller suburban towns. I was not allowed on the Bruce Highway. This meant a very windy path north. Leaving my directions to my Sat Nav I could be going anywhere…

I was lost at this stage but the housing was distinctive!

I passed by a set of monuments and graphics to the Navy. The portrayal was accessible to school children. Very touching and effective. This was Moreton Bay. Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Brisbane to Caloundra – 73 miles & Caloundra to Kin Kin – 77 miles

Australia Bike Ride – Brisbane Rest Day

Australia Blog 15

A routine on a rest day of sorting my laundry was followed by toasting some bagels I’d bought the night before. Hotels ‘work’ but they are mainly rooms. At a hostel there are more facilities at a better prices. The Kookaburra Inn rated highly on my Hostelworld App. It deserved it.

The tennis ball ‘shoes’ prevent scraping and waking other residents

The bike’s been brilliant over the 1,000 miles but I needed some adjustment on the gears. I rang a bike shop and they said just ‘drop in’. This I duly did. The short distance from the hostel was balanced by the enormous short sharp hills I had to deal with. Parts of Brisbane remind me of San Francisco with the rises and falls. At the bike shop I got talking to another waiting customer, Brian. He was familiar with Cairns and was shortly to go back on holiday up there. As I left he stopped me. “Don’t forget to put on your helmet” or you’ll be “chipped” by the police. In Australia it’s compulsory to wear a helmet when cycling. I think you should always wear a helmet when cycling but I’m doubtful it’s a good use of police time.

With the gears adjusted (they removed two links and adjusted the rear mech) I returned to deposit the bike at the hostel and set off on foot to find a ferry. This I found…. it was free! I was intending to ride it all around the river but only managed one stop to South Bank. Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Brisbane Rest Day

Australia Bike Ride – Brunswick Heads, NSW to Brisbane – 102 miles

Australia Blog 14

The first 30 miles came for free. I started with a breakfast muffin and a real cup of coffee at the local bakery. The barista was an Irish lass. I’d forgotten how nice proper coffee was. The miles were ‘free’ because on the Pacific Highway they were easily achieved. I stopped briefly on the motorway:

On entering Queensland I was kicked off the motorway. I’m not sure why but the level of traffic went up dramatically as I approached Brisbane, which may be a clue.

I’m quietly amazed that I have been allowed to ride this Highway. Unless you’re experienced and have resilience then it is not a good place to be. I’d hate many cyclists, I know, to be soldiering along it. This eviction coincided with my desire to look at the Gold Coast. I started at North Kirra Beach.

I went slowly on the beach cycle paths and gazed at the ocean. Even more attractive were the many apartments and houses built just behind the beach.

Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Brunswick Heads, NSW to Brisbane – 102 miles

Australia Bike Ride – Woombah to Brunswick Heads – 78 miles

Australia Blog 13

A chap, was wandering about near my tent doing some site maintenance/gardening. When asked, he said I might see kangaroos nibbling the grass the next morning. Excited, I arose next morning, with camera poised, to hopefully find Skippy having breakfast. As you have correctly deduced, Skippy was dining elsewhere.

My tent was not completely dry but it was better than having to endure torrential downpours. I had my porridge and packed everything away. Most mornings and nights I’ll catch up with Anna via a call on WhatsApp. As always I’m anxious to get off, I have a long way to go. So I hooked up the bluetooth headphones and set off cycling and talking to her. The road I was cycling on should have been quiet given that it was Sunday. It was, relatively, but it was only a two way road, due to roadworks, and the traffic was bunched. Our conversation was fine but I don’t think she was encouraged to join me on a future expedition as she heard the roar of the trucks or pick ups as they went past. However, this passed a pleasant 6 miles for me before we were done. It still seems more than odd that I’m starting the day and she’s finishing hers.

More bush fire damage (and regeneration)

I added to my sustenance in Woodburn. The weather now was squally and a morale boosting pie seemed a good move. This chap below is a ‘breakfast pie’. So lots of eggs and bacon? Well of course but sat on top of minced beef and gravy. Australia’s culinary imagination, as always, to the fore.


Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Woombah to Brunswick Heads – 78 miles

Australia Bike Ride – Coffs Harbour to Woombah – 88 miles

Australia Blog 12

Rolling out of Coffs Harbour was hard! For all the engineering delight of The Pacific Highway in making sure it was as flat over hundreds of miles I found myself spinning the granny gears to leave the town behind. Being Saturday the traffic was lighter, which was just as well as a bicycle doing 4mph up a hill with no hard shoulder with trucks is not a great combination.

However after this rude awakening the usual pattern emerged of a sunny day with a large road in front of me and my lonely place on the hard shoulder. It has to be said that there is little debris on the shoulder bar stones. Road kill has stopped and the only other comment is that the odd bits of metal are usually originating from truck bodies or the straps they use to secure their load. In this fairly easy fast rolling situation I put on my headphones and listened to another podcast. After a good start, when she took over the show, Laura Laverne on Desert Island Discs has lapsed into interviewing fairly dull ‘woke’ worthies. I think the production team who I expect find the guest and then see if they’ve got an autobiography (for research purposes) all live in London have never been further than Netflix out of the capital. The mindset of all these guests is wearily unrepresentative of the nation.

I felt virtuous because I had eaten grandly the day before and was benefitting from all this fuel intake. It works. The error is to mistake ‘good days’ when you don’t eat copiously for the norm. I seemed to cycle well when I rode across the USA but I lost one and a half stones (c10kg). When I once told another more informed cyclist he commented that I must have lost muscle mass? It made me think again. The other challenge is the loss of appetite. At home after a bike ride in winter I’ll return ravenous to empty the cupboards and fridge. Here, rather than feeling hungry, I just know I must eat.

That being said when I got to Grafton I pulled into McDonalds. In line with the Master’s instructions I just look for calories. I had large fries and a chocolate milk shake.

Tell me about it! I could never rely on one piece of information

Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Coffs Harbour to Woombah – 88 miles

Australia Bike Ride – Nambucca Heads to Coffs Harbour 31 miles & Rest Day

Australia Blog 11

I’d left 30 miles (to go) as a brief saunter into Coffs Harbour for my day off. Some saunter! I thought I’d leave the soulless motorway and take the Old Pacific Highway. My reward for this decision was lots of climbing. It does go to show that there is only really one route around here.

One of my companions unladen and at rest beside the road. Still looks imperious and frightening though!
Attractive residential estate in Urunga
Saw this near a public loo. A very common sight throughout Australia

Coffs Harbour made me immediately think of the USA (except for the uniquely Australian brutally hilly entrance and exit). This town or should I say city, according to my hosts, is again a classic settlement that services the surrounding large area with a Law Court, specialist medical services including surgeons, a library, accountants, lawyers, local government offices etc. The city’s layout is a long straight affair either side of the Pacific Highway with shops and even a mall in the centre and your car dealerships, exhaust replacements, sanitary ware distributors, car washes etc on the long drags at each end of town. Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Nambucca Heads to Coffs Harbour 31 miles & Rest Day

Australia Bike Ride – Forster to Port Macquarie – 64 miles & Port Macquarie to Nambucca Heads – 75 miles


Australia Blog 10

Firstly, an apology. It has been brought to my attention that I may have caused offence by using Anglo Saxon to describe my buttocks (and the incendiary condition to which they had temporarily progressed) in Blog 9. This coarse lapse has caused distress to parts of Manchester and I worry this contagion may have spread further (even around the globe).

Anyway, I woke slowly and planned to get an early start. As I am busying myself around the tent the Heaven’s opened. I managed to remove the tent pegs quickly and move my small tent under shelter. However my ‘drying’ laundry about 100 metres away got very wet (again) despite my sprinting to recover it. In the shelter I packed things slowly waiting for this sudden and serious downpour to pass. It was early and few Aussies were around (probably still avoiding giving me a drink).

Whilst waiting one of the site cleaners sat with me, also awaiting a cessation. He rides a Harley and commented that he wouldn’t ride it in this weather! He also noted that the Pacific Highway not only provided faster travel up the coast but it was the only link between many of these settlements. It wasn’t possible to access all these small coastal towns any other way. That set my mind at rest that I was pursuing the correct routing option.

When it did stop I left the campsite and found a cafe for a bit of cooked breakfast in Forster. From here to a modern Woolworths for sustenance. Woolies in Oz is a supermarket chain and not the former beloved UK mecca where I bought LP’s and pick n’ mix.

Fire damage

The route to the Pacific Highway revealed the first casualty of the bush fires. You can see the burnt bark on these trees but you’ll also note the new growth. Also all the countryside was greener as I progressed north. This was in stark contrast to the parched and scrubby farmlands of Victoria.

The skies opened and I got very wet again. I got maybe wetter than I need have. I’d taken off my rain jacket between showers as it was too hot to ride in. When the rain started again I was simply in the wrong situation to stop, find the jacket, put it on and proceed. One of the benefits of the rain is a fall in temperature from the late 20°s to the late teens. This made cycling much easier and my average speed was over 13mph. Another implication was the need to drink less water and the restoration of my appetite. Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Forster to Port Macquarie – 64 miles & Port Macquarie to Nambucca Heads – 75 miles

Australia Bike Ride – Hawks Nest to Forster, NSW – 54 miles

Australia Blog 9

Hawks Nest looked a beautiful spot when I rode in the night before. Slightly cut off on a peninsula but an attractive small community with shops and facilities. All single storey buildings and close to a coastline that was unspoilt and a little wild. This also applied to the other local settlement called Tea Gardens. This looked even more up market with its moorings for boats.

After waking the next morning I strolled to the beach. The sound of the waves crashing last night had been my lullaby. Not that I needed singing to sleep as I was in the ‘Land of Nod’ in next to no time and didn’t wake for over 9 hours. That morning there were few people about and I can imagine living here on retreat.

I packed my tent slowly and then went across the road from the campsite for breakfast. I sat a while writing a blog and then returned to Reception to announce myself and make reparations for last night’s stay. No aggravation or kerfuffle, just a calm catch up on my details, took the money and I was away.

I went onto WikiCamp and left a review:

“Just sublime. Arrived as a cycle toured. Tremendous cook area for sorting out panniers. Terrific pitches. Great cafe opposite the site for breakfast. I may ask to be buried here.”

The long straight minor road north gave me little other than a vista of trees but every once in a while I’d note signs on my right for the beach. This was one such openings and the view was remarkable. Surely Australia (so far) at its most pristine and intoxicating. However I had places to be and and pedalled on to find the road ended abruptly with water and a ferry mooring. The craft was a small one with no distance of a crossing to make. Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Hawks Nest to Forster, NSW – 54 miles

Australia Bike Ride – Budgewoi to Hawks Nest 84 miles

Australia Blog 8

So after the fitful night of worrying about my misplaced passport I awoke to rain. (No change there then). I kicked my heals until Reception opened (7.30am). I strode to the office like a schoolboy approaching a notice board with newly posted exam results. I was anxious and the wrong news would be calamitous.

The new Receptionist caught my anxiety and looked all around the office including within the safe. She found nothing. She then said she’d ring Charlene (honestly this was her name!) It was early but she rationalised that’s as she had a baby then she’d be up. Ring, ring. No, she remembered handing it back to me and in any case had I left it in Reception she’d have come to my pitch with it.

I was crushed. They saw it. One member of staff said she’d check the bins in case the plastic bag containing the passport had been thrown away. Another chap promised to look at the flower beds and around on the grass. The way he shook my hand and the look in his eyes showed a lot of sincerity and empathy at the world of pain and cost I was about to embark on.

I slumped off and rang Anna. I’d not wanted to have her worry but I needed her help to establish what I needed to do to get a travel document. She got down to it.

I cycled back up to the fish and chip restaurant. Surprisingly there was someone in cleaning and preparing for the day. It wasn’t a member of staff from the night before. The place wasn’t open but she let me look around including peering into a bin full of left over chips, cartons etc. There was no record about something being found. I asked if she might ring someone and she refused. It was just that she was a junior helper and didn’t feel she could. She said she’d leave them a message. The shop was to open in a couple of hours and hopefully they’d be in then. I wasn’t encouraged. Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Budgewoi to Hawks Nest 84 miles

Australia Bike Ride – Sydney to Budgewoi, NSW – 63 miles

Australia Blog 7

I was glad to get back on the road but I’d enjoyed Sydney. Of course I’d hardly got under its skin but what I saw was attractive. Setting off from a hotel means that you can be packed from the night before and so I was on the road not long after 7am.

Early morning commuter

The exit from the city going north involved crossing the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was very convenient but in reality the path was closed in to to stop people throwing themselves off it and so netting and barbed wire accompanied me across.

View from the bridge (not the Opera House side!)

I passed a few cyclists going in the opposite direction. None acknowledged me but ploughed on with steely stares on the road ahead. In fact this was the situation with most Australian fellow cyclists throughout my ride. Anna had asked if I’d come across any other cycle tourers. No, not a soul. I expected as I got up the coast I might come across some bedraggled fellow spirit. I must add that the campsites can be expensive in Australia (about £21/night for a good one) and I wondered whether they might avoid the large sites with lots of amenities and attendant cost. I liked all the facilities and so broke the bank! Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Sydney to Budgewoi, NSW – 63 miles

Australia Bike Ride – Sydney

Australia Blog 6

Gungarai to Sydney – Bus

About 30 minutes late the bus swung into view and collected me off the deserted streets. The fare was $75 and I was instructed to give the driver another $30 cash for the extra luggage of the bike. He did pose the rhetorical question, as he pocketed the notes, “you don’t want a receipt for that, do you?” No I didn’t.

Not in focus (due to the light exposure)

So this big swish bus returned to the Hume Freeway and ate up the miles to Sydney. The weather was so rainy that the bus had proceeded with prior caution and got to it’s final destination 30 minutes late. I tried to sleep but if I did I dozed an hour at best.

There were a couple of stops beforehand. At the stops the driver had called up the bus exhorting those who’d booked for these stops to wake up (it was early) and go. Not all got the message.

The driver, buried in rush hour traffic a few miles from the centre, received a request from a blurry eyed passenger for “Liverpool”. This stop had been an earlier stop 20 minutes ago. The driver looked straight ahead at the road and just said “Liverpool’s done mate!” The passenger stayed on his haunches next to the driver as if by his presence attempting to appeal to the driver’s better nature to turn round the large bus in this near traffic jam and head back. Obviously he didn’t.

It was 7am. I thought I’d take the bike to the hotel and try and leave it there until my return at the official check in time of 2pm. Before I got through my request the Receptionist said I could check in early ie. now. I was delighted not least because I could extract my wet tent from their bin liners and hang the tent and fly sheet up in the shower cubicle. Continue reading Australia Bike Ride – Sydney