Flying solo

France wins the competition of fulfilling all national stereotypes. Suddenly cafe culture is very much alive and kicking, glamorous women in high heels ride bikes around town and everyone smokes. The French have shown more interest in this odyssey and as a solo female many a “Bouf – Bon courage” have been the parting words along the way.  

Katherine, cycle buddy extraordinaire has swapped her padded shorts and life on the road to return to reality. I will miss our “top 3” conversations. Many hours were spent choosing our top 3 of anything – the subject matter is usually completely inane but can range from cooked breakfast items to countries you would love to live. Thankfully I had the cushion of a VIP visit from my mum and sister in Lille where I was spoilt rotten. While they treated me to steak frites and moules marinieres, I returned their generosity with a culinary insight into my usual picnic lunch of a cheese and ham baguette.  

While there we visited the grave of my great uncle Norman who died in WW1. And as I cycled on through Flanders fields the many cemeteries proved a constant sobering reminder of that futile waste of life. With armed police patrolling in every big town and even at somewhere as benign as Monet’s garden it seems sadly that human nature has learnt little. 

After the flatlands of the Low Countries and northern France the landscape is getting more undulating and although my legs will not forgive me for saying so, I am enjoying a more varied and interesting terrain. I can spend many hours winging my way through one horse villages where the only sign of life is the red geranium flower boxes on every shuttered window and a barking dog as I speed through. However small, each village will always have a town hall, a disproportionately sized church and a bar tabac where pot bellied men can be seen with a fag in one hand and a beer in the other at 10am.  These are interspersed with enormous vistas of fields of golden stubble punctuated by tractors like beetles ploughing the earth and creating a billowing dust storm in their wake. 

Since heading on solo this part of France has decided to show me a taste of the heat to come. As it heads into the thirties, it is a tarmac melting, energy zapping heat that makes me jump from shady tree to shady tree and on occasion just jump off the bike to lie down in cool grass panting like a conked out dog. I’ve been told my body will get used to it but for the moment I am getting up as early as I can to get as many sweat free kilometres in before the fire of the sun burns too bright.  

france. – country number seven

a special few dats with mum and lizzy in lille

a la carte lunch

heading off solo for part deux

the japanese bridge in monet’s garden obligatory photi

a familiar landscape

Amiens cathdral

Apple pie and windmills

We left Northern Germany with a sigh of relief leaving busy trunk roads and the constant whoosh of arctic lorries spitting up a vortex of grit and rain from the road. 
Each time I enter a new country I feel like there should be prancing horses and a fanfare to recognise my next level of the odyssey but at best it is a line in the road and usually rarely more than a change in road signage. However entering Holland is like cycle utopia. I could write an entire post just about road surfaces and Hollands perfect flat Tarmac paths through sunlit forests, farms, villages and towns would take first prize. We have weaved our way through an impressive network spiders web of paths along dykes with cows grazing, storks flying, eagles hovering and two girls on bikes flying. At each point a handy map has shown us the next direction to take and on we go with “onwards and downwards” as our mantra. Our camping home for the night have been plentiful and varied – by a riding stables, by derelict buildings, in a public park roundabout, a tree farm and by a fishing lake to name a few. And no one has batted an eyelid. 

Towns and villages are plentiful and close together so my days of carrying three days food and wondering where the next shop will be are well and truly over.  Katherine and I have fallen into adopted roles.  I am navigator and cook while she is water collector, translator and masseuse which has made a dramatic improvement to my useless arm. 

So to get the inside scoop I asked Katherine to write about her experience of life on the road…. 

It has been a fabulous couple of weeks of tagging along with Phil’s amazing trip, filled with laughter and nonsense chat. 

There is a wonderful simplicity and rhythm to this life. The wild camping, packing up, eating raisin buns and then back on the bike and off on the open road again. 

Holland has been a surprisingly wonderful country – extremely friendly people even when we’ve held up the traffic checking directions – and we’ve cycled through perfect country lanes, along canals and past windmills, only contending with the odd tractor and a remarkable number of cheery elderly Dutch cyclists.

Slightly in awe of Phil’s mileage to date, I packed with a strong focus on weight – even cutting the labels out of my clothes, which has enabled me to keep up with the cycling warrior herself……only to find Phil has squirrelled away over half a kilo of porridge oats, a family size shampoo bottle and who knows what else! She’s even tougher than I thought she was! 

We have happily indulged in Dutch apple pie on most corners, particularly when it’s been raining and a healthy supply of chocolate has kept our legs going and our spirits high in the face of rather a lot of wind and rain. My sunglasses were decidedly surplus to requirements in week one. 

A slight worry for her route planning is Phil’s left and right – it was always worth checking which ‘left’ she actually meant….although in truth when left in charge of navigation in Bruges and I was found to be considerably worse! 

We’ve engaged in a daily ritual of sketching – our evening view or a cathedral over coffee in a town square. The results are mixed (mine are rubbish), but prices for copies are available upon request!

It’s back to work for me sadly but given half a chance, I’d be pushing on for another day on the road with Phil! 

the tarmac forest path

windmills in abundance

Belgium – country number siz

a cycling selfie

Two is company

Copenhagen was a wonderful city to explore and recuperate. The road has taken its toll and both my left arm and hand have decided to take a holiday. This isn’t particularly convenient when cycling relies on 2 arms and 2 hands as well as legs and can make simple things like clasps, hooks and zips a bit tricky. Commonly known as “sleeping” hand it is known as a cyclist condition. ADanish magic man physiotherapist poked, massaged, needled and cracked and has been a bit better since but at the end of most days it feels like I’ve been given a dead arm by my bike. 

A few more fields of wheat and horizons of wind turbines and I was at the ferry port to cross over to Germany. Country number four – wow. How did I manage that?! The landscape has been less inspiring with industrial agriculture – fields of corn, wheat and turnips flattened out over many kilometres. Flatter than pancake Denmark even. 

Germany has welcomed me with rain and busy roads. Without the comfort of a sat nav or the Where’s Wally signs on every corner plus a spiders web of roads to choose from, navigation has been less easy. I was daunted by this at first and could (and still can) often be found at a crossroads looking nonplussed, phone in hand, trying to work out where I am. I speak no German so pronunciation of places and trying to remember words with syllables longer than my (useless) arm has proven tricky. But the beautiful ancient towns with dominant Gothic churches and the sight of a copper green church spire ahead heralding a cake stop is always a welcome one. 

I also now have a (German speaking – hooray!) travelling companion for a couple of weeks. My intrepid friend Katherine joined me in Hamburg. There aren’t many people I know who would be willing to cycle all day then sleep in field and be shower free for days but she has taken it all in her stride. Although Germany’s roads are busy there are often dedicated cycle paths which means politics, religion, and dating disasters are regular topics we can chat about whilst covering the distance. It makes a welcome change from the hours I spend on my own deciding how I can make my dinner more exciting or trying to remember song lyrics I can sing. Katherine is also my weather forecast. If she gets out the suncream it will start raining.. a lot. 

We are staying with Lother – the cycling pensioner super star who happens to live on the border with … Holland! It has been wonderful to catch up and hear about his cycling adventures through America (the next trip?!) and to meet Renata his wife who has fed and watered us and offered us wonderful German hospitality.  Next stop.. Netherlands. 

sparked out after a day on the road

lubeck cathedral in its gothic green glory

a coastal “road”

raining … again!

dinner on the terrace


german flat lands