After hiking and backpacking for years, I wanted to try cycle-touring. I’ve blogged my trip from Bristol to Brixham, which was a shakedown trip for this tour of 5 weeks in Netherlands, Belgium and France.
For some reason, I was most apprehensive about getting to Harwich!
I left on 8 June, letting the train take the strain to Paddington. Trouble was, I had to cycle from Paddington station to Liverpool Street station to get the train to Harwich and the overnight ferry to Hook of Holland and the real start of my tour.
Cycling ten kilometres across London did not seem too bad. In any case, I left a considerable time between trains, just in case.
I’d completely forgotten about Trooping the Colour (my dad, ex-Household Cavalry, would not have been impressed), but I did know that World Naked Bike Ride day was on 8th June. I had a good route across Hyde Park, but discovered the cycle path was closed with no signed diversions in place. I knew the route to Liverpool Street joined the Embankment at Westminster Bridge, so I set off trusting my poor sense of direction and that my Garmin would re-route. It’s quite slow to re-route, but it got there in the end.
When I visit London, I don’t count myself as a tourist, since I was born in N7 and can remember trolley buses.
Now, I was near Buckingham Palace in the sunshine. Earlier, the Queen had driven past and thousands of people were not in a rush to do anything. I was slowly cycling a fully-loaded touring bike through heaving crowds in fabulous sunshine. Just like a tourist.
Cycling, slowly, towards Westminster Bridge in the sun was pleasant. I was half-way to Liverpool Street with no catastrophes! I had heard cycling in London was actually fine as the traffic is so slow the cyclist is often faster and the cycle lanes (when not closed) are good. Think I’d need to do more to confirm that!
Westminster Bridge and the Embankment were heaving! I stopped to admire the Battle of Britain memorial, it is impressive.
A short way on, I was forced to stop and admire a different kind of impressive – a couple of hundred naked cyclists, waiting to start their ride. I guess the sunshine helped them to be good-humoured – I suppose you’d have to be, it would be a completely different experience in the rain!
All I could do was stop and watch (and take a couple of photos), mainly because they were occupying both cycle lanes and there was no way I was taking to the road! There was also time to take a few photos of the skyline.
Soon I arrived at Liverpool Street station with about three hours to kill before my train departed. Coffee and cake are a great way to kill time. Taking a few photos helps, too. Liverpool Street station is almost surrounded by building sites.
I had a good conversation on cycle touring with a British bloke – he’d been touring for years. I
Then I ate my evening meal in the passenger lounge, which was empty. Before long it was time to get my bike into the train. I could not reserve a bike space on this train (or a seat), so I pushed the bike along the length of the train looking for the bike storage area. I was joined by a Dutch guy doing the same thing. It was obvious there were no bike storage areas, so we just pushed them into a carriage and wedged them in, best we could.
In the end I removed all the panniers and settled down next to a Dutch couple who had spent a couple of days in London. We had a good chat on the way.
Harwich International is an interesting station. As this was the last train of the day, I was expecting some bustle. The bustle lasted about 20 seconds as I got my bike out, then the panniers and loaded up the bike. By now the platform was deserted and I had no idea where to go. I found a foyer that seemed to suggest I go up to the next floor. But my bike was too long for the lift. I found some stairs, which had a bike channel on the side, so you can push your bike up as you use the steps (very continental). A light road bike, maybe but not a fully-loaded tourer. So, panniers off, two journeys up the stairs to get the four panniers to the top, then push the bike (still heavy!) up the stairs. Once at the top I had no idea where to go!
“Departures” seemed like a good sign to follow, but it turned out this was for departing foot passengers. In the end somebody told me the route to take. Down, in a large lift, into the car park and look for passport control. An off-duty Border Force person helpfully pointed me in the right direction. Second-time round will be much easier, but this was totally confusing at the end of a long day travelling.
Passport control was easy – because I was late, there was no queue. I got my cabin key and ferry ticket here, too. No vehicle security check for a bike, either, so I got waved through to the queue waiting to get on the ferry. Turns out the ferry was late arriving, so we were all in (or not) the same boat. There were a bunch of Dutch guys returning on their Pedersen bikes
The Pedersen design is over 100 years old and all these bikes were custom made. There were other cyclists, motorcyclists, and many cars and lorries. We had quite a wait as the ferry was late – it would have been miserable in the rain.
Eventually, the cyclists were waved on first, then the motor bikes were in hot pursuit as we inched up the very steep ramp onto the lower deck of the ferry. We had to lean our bikes against a railing and lash it on with the cord provided. Sounds good except there was not enough railing space for the number of bikes. We all managed somehow, locking bikes to the railing for good measure. Then it was simply a case of getting the panniers and other bits up to the cabin. A lift was a welcome sight. There were plenty of crew members acting as guides and pointing out the right directions.
My cabin was small, but comfortable. I dumped my stuff and found the cafe for a tea, then a quick walk around outside watching the containers being loaded. The crossing was very smooth.
There’s an early morning call to all cabins at 5:30 am, so I was keen to get some sleep before setting foot in the Netherlands.