Twinning visit to Oignies 2018:

A Tale of Two Cyclists

Day 1: Buxton – Hull 100 miles

 

Thursday 24 May – 6:00am. Shivering in an unseasonably cold late May morning outside Buxton Town Hall, Perce and I were wondering who’s daft idea it was to cycle to Oignies to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the town twinning – for the record it was Perce’s idea. Derek the FoO Committee chair and my wife Catrin have turned out to wave us off, and we hit the road with shouts of ‘Bon Voyage’ fading in the distance behind us.

At 6:20am we are just Passing Chelmorton and getting warmed up when we spot cows up ahead, just starting to cross the road for morning milking. Glancing at the field to the right we realise there are another 150 or so to cross, and we have a ferry to catch!  Fifteen precious minutes later we are back in the saddle heading for Sheffield.

8:50 am and a major mechanical incident occurs whilst navigating the Sheffield rush hour. The chain on Perce’s bike has snapped, AA recovery for cycles is yet to be invented and I begin to imagine the embarrassing ‘phone call to the people waiting in Oignies… Twenty minutes later, chain breaker tool deployed, link replaced and we are back on the road towards Rotherham with the clock ticking for the ferry departure. Latest check in 5:30pm.

 

Our route plan is theoretically the flattest most direct route to Hull. However, having left it up to Google maps to do most of the work, we must have used some ‘extreme off road cycling’ setting. This we discover later in the afternoon, when we find ourselves in the middle of Lincolnshire farmland, on an overgrown bridal path with no tarmac in sight for miles around. Pushing our bikes up a steep stony path, on what appears to be the only hill in the area, we finally reach a surface suitable for our high pressure road bike tyres and once more we are on our way.

The highlight of day one was definitely crossing the Humber Bridge northbound on National Cycle Route 1 in the afternoon sunshine.

 

A couple of hours later (having checked in with forty minutes to spare) we are sitting aboard the ‘Pride of Bruges’ beer in hand. All thoughts of cows and broken links have been forgotten as Hull slips beneath the horizon, and the roads of Belgium and France beckon us on across the North Sea.

Day 2: Zeebrugge – Oignies 80 miles

 

We are off the boat at around 9:30am cycling through a grey foggy Zeebrugge, with 20km or so to Bruges and hopefully breakfast. The first thing we notice is, in contrast to the UK, there appear to be dedicated cycle lanes everywhere. Cyclists even have priority when on a roundabout, not a ‘cyclists dismount here’ sign in sight!

 

We have been heading down the side of the Zeebrugge to Bruges main road for 20 minutes or so when Perce shouts from behind: ‘Not sure, but I think the cycle route might have turned off a bit back’. I meanwhile have been blithely pedalling away unawares, marvelling at continental style cycle provision, and now realise we appear to be cycling along the hard shoulder of a motorway…Oops! Exiting the autoroute at the next intersection we rediscover the proper route and head into Bruges for breakfast.

Day 2 is a little more relaxed, with no ferry to catch, just a pleasant ride down through Belgium, the sun having burned through the fog by mid morning. With no further hitches, except for the road bridge being closed at Izegem. This involved trying to find an alternative crossing whilst swearing copiously at our GPS unit which seemed intent on u-turning us back to the point at which we left the programmed route; on the wrong side of the river.

 

A quick lunch stop at Aalbeke just north of the border, before crossing into France and heading for Roubaix, the Northern French Mecca of cycling and one end of the renowned Paris – Roubaix race over the famous cobbled roads of ‘le Nord’. At the Roubaix velodrome Christophe from les Amis de Buxton is waiting with his bike to accompany us for the last 25Km to Oignies. After a respectful three laps of the old concrete velodrome, we continue through the outskirts of the city of Lille, grateful to have a guide with local knowledge of how to navigate the suburbs through the Friday rush hour traffic. As we near our destination several more Amis de Buxton join the peloton and we all finally cycle triumphantly into the yard of the Salle Robespierre Community Hall all to join the coach travellers from Buxton and our Friends from Oignies - all the other members of les Amis de Buxton - for the reception buffet.

L'ancien vélodrome de Roubaix: Chris, Perce and Christophe

A little light refreshment at Aalbeke

Le Grand Place de Bruges

Perce and I are each presented with a genuine cobblestone or ‘pavé’, from the Paris Roubaix Cycle Race route by les Amis de Buxton in recognition of our efforts. A very nice thought.

Sections of the route are currently being repaired with new pavés, so our originals have likely been ridden over by some of the cycling greats.

L'arrivée: Chris, Perce and le

Peloton des Amis de Buxton 

La presentation des 'pavés'