CYCLING LONDON TO PARIS
A TRAIL OF TWO CITIES
by Mike Wells
Published by Cicerone
Gloss laminate soft cover
Reviewed by Steve Dyster
Followers of Cicerone cycle guides may well recognise the name Mike Wells. This is his seventh cycling guide for the renowned publisher. However, this is a bit of a departure. Mike Wells loves river routes. The Danube. the Loire, the Rhine, the Rhone, the Moselle, have all been within his scope (all reviewed on this site). This latest opus eschews source to sea riding in favour of starting and finishing in two of Europe’s capital cities. Both are popular destinations for cyclists. Even better, you get two routes for the price of one, offering you a single guide to a round trip, if you have the time.
London-Paris is a popular choice for charity rides with a challenge. Guides like this are, however, aimed very much at the touring cyclist, though how long you take and how great the ratio of cycling to visiting is your choice.
The guide is divided into four sections; "Background" (including the what, wherefore and advice on bikes, when to go, ferries and trains, and so on); "The Classic Route" (Mike’s take on the best leisure route using a ferry from Dover to Calais); "The Avenue Verte" (A British/French collaborative signed route, crossing the Channel between Newhaven and Dieppe); and a series of appendices with useful information.
In reverse order. The days of extensive lists have been swept away by the mass of information on the internet and ready access to it whilst on the road. Not only helpful in keeping weight down, but less likely to be wildly out of date. The summary tables of distance for each stage of the two routes also contains an indication of where accommodation of different types, repairs, refreshment and access to a railway, are to be had. the other appendices cover tourist information, youth hostels, useful contacts - such as ferry companies and Eurostar - and a basic glossary of useful terms. So, useful both before an during the ride.
It would be perfectly possible to use this guide for planning and to follow either of the routes without carrying any other map. Just the right size for most cycle jersey rear pockets. Once bought, up-to-date route files can be downloaded form the Cicerone website.
The Avenue Verte is signed (sections of NCN in the UK and as a specific route in France). A guide, published by Sustrans, was reviewed here a few months back. As you would expect, the route uses plenty of country lanes and traffic-free cycle routes along old railways - Voies Verte, in France.
The Classic Route is a different cup of tea when it comes to finding the way. Utilising some sections of different signed routes as well as none, you’d expect to be fishing the guide out of your jersey pocket more often than on the Avenue Verte.
Mapping for both is excellent, in conjunction and the clear written instructions - as you’d expect. Mike suggests using a tourer or hybrid bike, pointing out that a pure road machine would struggle on either route. He goes further, pointing out that there are sections which will be very tricky after heavy rain. In all but one case - where the Classic Route coincides with the Pilgrim’s Way - alternative road routes are given. To avoid the Pilgrim’s Way, you would need an appropriate map to find a suitable alternative - and be prepared for more leg-work amongst the steep hills of the North Downs.
The routes are divided into convenient sections. These are generally shorter than in Mike’s other guides. Of course, sections can be combined or split. It would be quite possible for a moderately fit leisure cyclist to combine the two routes into a satisfying round trip, without biting of more than could be chewed and leaving plenty of time for exploration, over two weeks.
In that context, it is very useful that the route directions are also given in reverse, at the end of each section. Notes on places of interest and so on, are only given once - in the London to Paris direction.
The Background section is neatly done. All the usual information is there, of course. However, the introductions to the history and natural environment focus on similarities and differences on the two sides of the channel. Chalk downland, cloth, beer, and cider, are far from all Normandy and Picardy have in common with Kent and Sussex.
One thing we do not have in common with Normandy, for better or worse, is Andouillettes. Our guide describes these as “coarse sausages made from pork intestines with a strong taste and distinctive odour. Not a dish for the faint hearted.” This is moderate language. Having eaten one at lunchtime on the first day of my first cycle tour of Normandy, I’d got further: this is a very moderate description.
With this guide in your pocket you’ll have all you need to plan and enjoy an iconic cycle ride between London and Paris. With so much to see, you should have happy memories. Eat Andouillettes, and your memories will be even stronger - possibly, positively pungent.