Part 1: Bye Bye Blighty!

Finally the time has come to set sail and leave Blighty. Heading out from Nottingham with a crew of seven destined for Sherwood Forest and our first night of wild camping, the sense of relief was palpable after what had been a frantic week of final preparations for both of us. A week that included moving house, collecting last minute equipment and a brief appearance in the local paper. Talk about last minute.
The ride out of Nottingham is entertaining to say the least, since we’re cycling in convoy, the banter is good, weather superb and the bikes feel great. We cover the 20 odd miles to Edwinstowe in good time, taking a break at the Co – Op to grab some beers and snacks when Richard casually mentions that the campsite we had in mind is fully booked and there is no way we can pitch up there. Cheers Rich.

We dicuss the options for a few minutes, deciding that there is a decent spot just down the road suitable for a wild camp and we head to the pub. A few cheeky pints later and we’re pitching the tents on a sweet patch of turf close to the pub. Our tent, a Nallo GT2 from Hilleberg has not left its wrapping until now and we’re mighty relieved when the erect tent is something of a wonder.

A steady round of beers over the camp fire is a fitting way to end a pleasant evening, stories are coming thick and fast, and one that raised more than a few laughs involving an egg and a microwave earned Andy a fair amount of stick. For the record, his mum did it so it must be true. So there.

An early start on Saturday was the plan, so waking at around 9am could have been a problem but we were confident that we’d have ample time to make the ferry in Hull so we had a quick breakfast and said a few fond farewells and hit the road. First passing through the elusive Clumber Park where we had intended to spend the previous evening, along a magnificent Beech lined boulevard we made some steady progress. A quick stop off at Retford to cash in some Sterling for Euros, a bite to eat and we’re back on the road.

As we make our way through the winding Lincolnshire lanes towards the Trent and later the Humber we’re struck by the amount of farming and sparcity of residences. Villages and towns in this part of the world seem almost forgotten, relics of an industrial past. The crops of corn, golden in the sunlight, stretch out for miles and miles speckled with defiant poppies of deep red. There is a certain beauty to this landscape.

With the Trent to our right we coast along at a decent pace, despite a slight head wind, towards the Humber and ultimately to the Humber Bridge, which we are both pretty excited about. A mile long suspension bridge that will take us out of the flat farm lands of Lincolnshire across to the East Riding of Yorkshire and to our final destination for the day, Hull.

As we cross the splendid Humber Bridge we are blown away by the scale of this wonderful piece of engineering. A truly great achievement that was once the longest suspension bridge in the World! We are in Hull now and feel as though we have made it with time to spare, we take a minute to enjoy the power boat racing taking place at the Marina. We ask a CPO how far to P&O “follow the coast path, not too far”.

The path is nothing short of a joke, more like a cross country single track than a cycle path. We persevere and with a few mintues to spare we’re boarded on to the ‘Pride of Rotterdam’. We’re tired and hungry so we waste no time in finding our cabin to shower before heading to the restaurant for a feast.

A refreshing bottle of Grolsch is our reward for a long day in the saddle and we take great pleasure in dining out on every possiblity from the self service buffet. And so to bed, I pass out as soon as we return to the cabin, Adrian ventures on deck for a glass of vino and a chapter of Andrew and Friedel’s Guide to Cycle Touring…

Authors Note: As I write this post, I’m standing outside the Tourist Info and directly behind me is a Dutch Punch and Judy Show (we’re in Rotterdam) and its so surreal I can’t tell you. The strangest setting to write ever… He’s behind you.

Absolute beginners.
We left Rotterdam shortly after 2pm on Sunday. Maps in hand, booty from the comprehensive P&O breakfast buffet in our panniers, we leave town. After a few short kilometers it becomes apparent that a) we have no idea where we are going, b) we don’t know any Dutch, c) Dutch maps are tricky to read if b) applies to you.

We have a funny half hour looking at the map every few hundred metres, looking at each other with puzzled expressions. We stop to ask a passerby. He’s pretty helpful and confirms what we were beginning to establish for ourselves. The map is a massive dot to dot. Pick a number, join it to another. Simple. We reward ourselves with coffee, decide where to go and we’re on a roll.

The single most striking thing so far is the brilliance of the cycle networks, they are absolutely fantastic. Wherever you want to go, there is a cycle path. They are a joy to ride, taking in some of the most rewarding scenery, and flat too. The whole country is flat, flat, flat. Nice n easy does it!

Our first night under the stars takes us to number 41 on the cycle network we’re following, and the border of the National Park. There is a lake, a forest and the setting could not be more perfect. We’ve covered a decent number of kilometres and we’re pretty chuffed with our first wild camp in Europe. Welcome to the Netherlands.

A lazy kind of start and we leave our first camp at around 12 headed for er well, wherever we want. We decide on Breda for lunch. Its a beautiful town with a dynamic culture and architecture, the old and the new very much side by side. Breda bears a slight resemblance to Amsterdam.

For our second night we accidentally stumble upon a ‘famous’ man made lake with a beach called t’Zand. We go for swim since its over 25 degrees and heck, theres a lake with a beach! A cheeky brew and biscuits on the beach while we dry in the evening sunshine is just the tonic after a great day on the bikes.

We cruise to Alphen for a beer and we discuss the route for the next day. The town is small with a large church and square with around a half a dozen bars. We sit outside a bar, behind the church, basking in the last few rays sipping Grolsch. We’re beginning to find our rythmn and settle into our new life on the road. Maybe tomorrow we’ll hit another country. Who knows.

For the route click here

[slickr-flickr tag=Nottingham Rotterdam]