A Travellerspoint blog

July 2010

The trip


Click here for a zoomable version of this map of the approximate route

So I'm planning to cycle across Europe.


No idea. Seemed like I good idea when I first thought about it. Now I've told too many people I'm doing it not to at least try. I can't promise I'll make it all the way though! Northern Europe may not be the most obviously stunning countryside, but it still has it's charm, and it's PRETTY FLAT with some good cycle paths!


Setting off on 28th July. If all goes according to plan, I aim to get to Warsaw by the end of August, then I'll get the train back home to Bristol.


I'm going to get the train to London, and start from Greenwich. The first couple of days will take me up to Harwich - chances are I'll go south of the river to start, as there's a path alongside the Thames, then get the ferry from Gravesend to Tilbury. This will take me through some of my old stomping ground from when I was in short trousers. From Tilbury I'll weave through country lanes to Colchester then turn right for Harwich. I'll have company from London to Colchester, then I'm on my own most of the way, unless anyone wants to join me!

A 6 hour ferry from Harwich takes me to Hoek van Holland, and then after a brief stop to visit a schoolfriend, its off across the flat landscape, through Utrecht and Arnhem and into Germany. There is a signed route (R1) that runs all the way from Boulogne, France to St Petersburg, Russia - I'll be vaguely following that for most of my journey. Assuming I make it of course. I'm not promising to get any further than Dartford; anything more is a bonus. Keep your eye on this blog to see how far I get!

Where will I stay?
Well I'm not going to be camping! It's too much extra weight to carry for one person, and after a hard day's cycling, I can't imagine being thrilled at the prospect of having to set up camp, and sit alone in a tent with a mug of mud and rainwater. The plan is to find Hostels, cheap B&Bs, and hopefully make some use of http://www.couchsurfing.org.

How far will I cycle?
The route is roughly 2000 kilometres, though it could be a bit less if I cut some corners, or a bit more if I get lost. The aim is to start off doing about 50-60 km/day (30-40 miles), but increase that up to about 80+km/day (50+ miles) when I get more used to it.

What am I taking with me?
Not much! A few changes of clothes (all pretty lightweight; some good stuff from Rohan*. Tools and some spare parts for the bike. A Garmin Edge 705 cycle computer, loaded on with maps. And a few other bits and pieces like a reading book, camera, phones. Oh and a small laptop (of course) to keep you all updated through this blog! :) The bike is a Trek 7.3 FX.

(*) Happarently, as well as being very lightweight and packing up small, their clothes don't need washing for several days use. I'm not certain I want to test that out too thoroughly though!

Posted by bhambidge 05:37 Tagged bicycle Comments (0)

2 miles down. Where's the pub?

sunny 18 °C
View London to Warsaw by Bike on bhambidge's travel map.

It's started! I'm off... well, I'm off to the starting point anyway. Currently on the train from Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington. "We apologise for the late running of this train. This was due to signalling problems outside Chippenham". Looks like I won't get to Greenwich until about 3pm, and with 45 miles to cycle to the B&B booked tonight, well, so much for taking it easy to start with. I might - just might - have to skip a bit this afternoon on the train. Think of this bit as a warm-up.

After many suggestions, I've decided to raise money for WaterAid during this trip. I'll be getting through litres of water, and taking easy access to it for granted, but millions around the world don't have that luxury. Your donation will keep me motivated to keep the wheels turning.

My target is as ambitious as the trip itself ... £2000 - but that's just a pound for every kilometre I plan to cycle. So if you can each chuck in a tenner into the pot that would be brilliant. Visit http://www.justgiving.com/BenHambidge to donate and leave a message.

And while we're on messages, please feel free to comment on these blog posts. The more you write, the less I have to :)

OK,so check again... passport, money, credit cards... check. Kitchen sink... check. Feels like it anyway. Ferry ticket? Damn, forgot to print that off.

I felt so free cycling down to the station - couldn't believe I'm on the way. Frankly I can't think what has come over me to attempt this, but none of you stopped me. Bastards. I don't even have any keys to get back into my own house, so I may as well keep going now. But I'm starting to regret not setting off a couple of hours earlier this morning....

Posted by bhambidge 05:09 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged bicycle Comments (4)

Middle of Somewhere to Middle of Nowhere

semi-overcast 20 °C
View London to Warsaw by Bike on bhambidge's travel map.

The start point, Greenwich, was chosen firstly for the meridian - as natural a starting point as any - and secondly because last year I cycled from Bristol to Greenwich, so I'm really just picking up that journey. At the time, that trip (193 miles over 5 days) seemed an absurd thing for someone of my fitness level to do, but I set myself the challenge, and was as surprised as anyone to actually complete it. I had perfect weather on that trip, and enjoyed the freedom of cycling along canal towpaths and the undulating hills along quiet country lanes. I mused to myself that perhaps I shouldn't stop at London, but turn right for Dover and even, (ha ha) cycle all the way to Warsaw, where I used to live (and still have an apartment). Obviously something quite so stupid wasn't really going to happen... but the idea niggled away at me over the last year, and when I was last in Poland in May, it came back to me, and I joked with some friends in Poland about it. Naturally, they didn't take me seriously, and I think the conversation started off by me just trying to impress a girl... but I don't break promises lightly. The chances that I'll actually make it are really rather small - but if you're a Terry Pratchett fan, you'll know that one-in-a-million chances are dead certs - so here's hoping!

The train from Paddington inevitably delayed, the train ticket sold at Paddington to go to Greenwich bizarrely/inevitably (delete as appropriate) not valid on the underground (how else do you get there?!), then the Circle Line apparently following a nest of hedgehogs round the track (there being no other explanation for the speed of it), we eventually got to Greenwich after 3pm. What a stupid time to start a bike trip. Tonight's B&B is 45 miles away, and I've done no cycling for over two weeks,and have a fully laden bike that I can barely lift.

Fortunately, I had company, or I'd have given up before I started. Dave Southorn was keen and enthusiastic, raring to go, and sporting my special T-shirt that I had made up especially for the trip. I gather he even had some impressed shop assistant flirting with him before we even left central London - and he's only going to Colchester. Next time, I go into the shops!


From Greenwich station, a quick detour via the river for a photo, then we're off. I'm trying to follow a pink line marked on my cycle computer showing me the route I worked out earlier, but with so many small roads (and user incompetence), we quickly lost it and found ourselves on the side of the main road that I was so determined to avoid. Eventually we found ourselves on the Thames Path. This doesn't always follow the Thames, nor in places can it be really described as a path, and if you look closely at our GPS track you'll spot a few places where we had to about-turn and find another route.


We whizzed past the Thames Flood Barrier and through much industrial landscape, much of it a remnant from yesteryear, with abandoned Victorian buildings mingled with newer housing estates. Occasionally we had to get off to squeeze through narrow gaps designed to allow only bikes through; they may be fine for racing bikes, but carry panniers and it's quite a struggle.

At Erith, we pulled away from the river, and took the road to Dartford, eventually stopping for a well-earned drink at Pub Number One. Couldn't stop long though! We may be more than half-way to Gravesend, but we hadn't done a third of the distance for the day, and the clock was ticking.

Crossing the M25

Crossing the M25

We were going south of the river, but tonight's B&B was north, in Battlesbridge. From this point, there were two ways to cross the Thames - at the M25 Dartford Crossing, where cycles are carried across in a van, or on the Gravesend to Tilbury ferry. Finding information on this ferry on the internet proved fairly elusive, and we were relying on other traveller's tales that it did indeed still run, and took cycles. But how late into the evening it operated (if indeed at all) or how frequently, we really had no idea. If it didn't,our only option would be to get a train all the way back in to central London, then a train back out again to Essex. Fingers crossed!

Between Dartford and Gravesend used to be very familiar territory to me, having lived there until age 11, but the appearance of Bluewater shopping centre and Ebbsfleet Eurostar station has changed it almost beyond recognition. The small towns and villages seem a little more run down than they did before, with the money pouring into the developents instead; and it was a fairly unattractive industrial area to start with. But still an interesting trip down memory lane, past home and school.

Our house in Swanscombe

Our house in Swanscombe

Swanscombe Church

Swanscombe Church

Crossing the Eurostar

Crossing the Eurostar

Originally we hoped to be in Gravesend by 5; with the late start and a short stop that pushed back to 5.30. At 5.45 we were still a few miles away but thought there might be a 6pm ferry to pushed ourselves to make it there. Along the main road, up the hill, pulling my bags behind ... did I really need to bring everything I did? Then turn off to the quieter town roads and look along to the docks. We couldn't see anything that resembled a ferry, or even any signs to it. Pre-panic. Round some houses, and there was a somewhat old-looking sign: 'TILBURY FERRY', pointing down an unlikely dark alley. Round the corner, and there was the ticket office ... closed! Panic! It was a minute to six, so we'd made our revised time... but in vain? Where was the station? How long would it take to get a train round to the other side? We were feeling somewhat deflated when a bloke appeared from the side of the ticket office, and assured us that the boat was running and there was a 6.00 crossing. He pointed us down to it; we rushed down, only to be stopped by the crew. "Too late! We can't let you get on board! You'll have to catch the next one in the morning!" A bit of pleading fell on deaf ears... until the guy from the ticket office just ambled on board and we realised that these jokers were not crew at all, but pissed-up passengers hitchhiking around the country.

Gravesend to Tilbury Ferry

Gravesend to Tilbury Ferry

Just five minutes later and we're off the other side. No time for a rest yet; we've done 25 miles but there's still over 20 to go. Cycling inland, the countryside is immediately more pleasant: no more of the industrial landscape we've had along the Thames, but fields and farms and distant church spires. There's little traffic on these country roads, until we get to the edge of Basildon. My GPS (and the maps I consulted in advance) assure me that we should turn down the slip road onto the dual-carriageway by-pass, as there's a cycle path running alongside it. It seems unlikely, but we give it a go. At the bottom of the slip, sure enough, there is a separated path for bikes... which lasts for a grand total of 100 metres. We are not even given a gentle merge into the suicide lane; the path just stops abruptly and we have to manage our bikes down the kerb into the 80 mph traffic. THIS BIT IS NOT FUN. It looks like we're due to stay on this for about 3 miles. Time for some prayers, and maybe phone in a quick Will to a solicitor.

After about half a mile, we spot a narrow country lane running parallel,so we clamber over the embankment to safety, and find our own way for the next few miles. Very hungry by now, we stop at the first pub we see for a meal.

Sunset is at 8.50pm, so we can't hang around long at the pub, but we don't get away until 8.20 and there's at least an hour to go - longer as I'm now slowing down a lot. In trying to avoid one more section of big dual-carriageway, we seem to end up on another going in the WRONG DIRECTION! We can't cross it as there's a barrier in the middle. Fortunately there's a small pavement down the side for most of the way, but we have to edge ourselves down the slip road carefully as traffic speeds round the corner towards us. It's dusk, and I now find my emergency lights are not all they're cracked up to be - in fact, the back one doesn't work at all. Ahead, a police car spots us and slows down... fortunately to speed off again!

Eventually, drained of all energy, we see a sign to the hamlet of Battlesbridge, and check in to the B&B. 75 kilometres (45 miles) covered on the first day,and we barely have the energy to lift our pints at the nearby pub!

Pub in Battlesbridge

Pub in Battlesbridge


Posted by bhambidge 01:24 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged bicycle Comments (2)

Vacancy: Masseuse. Immediate Start.

semi-overcast 20 °C
View London to Warsaw by Bike on bhambidge's travel map.

Click here to see my full route for the dayand other facts and figures

We have no qualms about packing in the calories of a Full English before hitting the road in the morning. Battlesbridge is famous for its Antique centres, but they don't open until 10, so we dont hang around other than for a couple of photos of this pleasant little place.

Boat in Battlesbridge

Boat in Battlesbridge

Following the Sat Nav is much easier now we're in the countryside, and we amble down pleasant little country lanes to Maldon. Having set off at a sensible time, we're not in such a rush today, and that's just as well - the bones and joints and muscles all ache. I've been reliably informed that nappy-rash cream is ideal for relieving more delicate sores, but I'm still going to pamper myself today with a padded seat cover.

The weather is British. Howling light breezes. Torrential tiny spots of rain for a full 30 seconds. The sunshine is rudely interrupted by white clouds. Temperatures soar to an unbearable 20C. Perfect cycling weather - absolutely perfect. Long may this continue.



In Maldon (famous for its sea salt, apparently), we head down to a pub (of course) at the quay, and Dave finds a key in his pocket - for the room at last night's B&B. Oops! It's too far now to go back, so we'll have to put it in the post.

A few short miles further on in Tolleston Major and it's time for a country pub lunch. Then another few miles after that we pull in for an ice cream at the Abberton reervoir nature reserve. That's then just a few miles short of Colchester, where we do a few chores. Breaking this trip into small chunks like that makes it all quite manageable, even if I'm still probably piling on more calories than I'm burning! I'm also going through quite a few litres of water... if you haven't already, please go to www.justgiving.com/BenHambidge to donate a couple of quid to WaterAid.

Dave stays with me as far as Manningtree, 10 miles morth of Colchester. He's tempted to catch the ferry with me to the Netherlands, but wants to stay married. Those last few miles take us along some gorgeous country lanes with no traffic at all, and then a fantastic downhill - I see the cycle computer just touch 60km/hour.

On my own from here!

On my own from here!

Manly goodbyes at the station, and I'm on my own. This is it! I couldn't have got through the first bit without David - at least not at that pace - but now I've achieved that, it all seems more manageable. I've got another 10 miles to my B&B, just outside Harwich, and I take this at a leisurely pace, enjoying the scenery. I'm watching the Sat Nav count down the kilometres until I'm just 2km away.... and it leads me down a VeRy BuMpY TrAcK...ending in a private residence. So it's back down the vErY bUmPy tRaCk and I have to find another way round... on my own! Oh no! Eventually I get to the other side, and it seems it was intending me to go straight across a field. Hmmm. Someone that has experience and qualifications in technology and transport should really sort this out. Now where can I find such an one?

Final suicide mission was to cross the busy A120 to the Farm Cottage B&B, arriving to a friendly welcome, piping hot shower and hearty meal. Thanks Andy! Anyone looking for somewhere to stay in the area, visit www.farmcottage.org.uk

Click here to see my full route for the dayand other facts and figures

Posted by bhambidge 09:44 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged bicycle Comments (1)

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