|Apologies for the lack of updates. I spent the last few days staying in smaller places in Belgium and couldn't find any internet access. I reached Ealing late on Monday.
Leaving Kassel I ascended to Herkules for the third time, passing the point where the original frame was lost in action with trepidation. It took a while to regain confidence that a similar problem would not occur, despite the cause of the problem in theory having been fixed.
The day consisted of windy plateau, gradually climbing to a series of ski resorts, then a long descent through forest down to another river route, this one being the Lenne. I reached disappointing, hotel-free Lennestadt and backtracked a mile or two to a nice inn in tranquil Kickenbach. The following day the supposedly riparian route continued, but became infuriating as it rarely stayed close to the river for very long. Instead it frequently ascended the valley sides, in places too steep to ride, then went through industrial estates, along trunk roads, diverted round path reparations and then emerged from the mountains into the Rhine-Ruhr industrial heartland. I was in the urban area around Wuppertal for 30 miles before a brief respite of wheatfields prior to Dusseldorf, home of Kraftwerk.
It was late when I reached the hotel, once I'd re-emerged for refreshments it was apparent it was the first German place I'd seen with classic German beer culture, that is, crowds of people outside bierkellers with waiters milling around constantly replenishing supplies. Dussledorf is a smart, modern commercial city with a fairly small old town area. It has a crooked spire like Chesterfield and a Media Harbour like Salford. It's twinned with Reading. After the two long rides from Kassel I took a day off and visited all the brewhouses and walked around the Medienhafen admiring the amazing cutting-edge architecture which sits alongside the occasional original wharf building. And of course I went up the Rhine Tower. I enjoyed Germany, and look forward to returning to see what it's like in summer.
I set out for Antwerp the next day, hoping to meet up with my pal, ex-colleague and drinking partner Matt D, but the distance proved way too ambitious. Having crossed a bit of the Netherlands into Belgium I flitted back over the border late in the day to Luyksgestel where I heard there was a reasonable hotel. I reached Antwerp at lunchtime the following day, met Matt and thereafter we spent the day visiting some new bars and as well as some familiar places. At this point I made a decision to take a more leisurely route back as there were a couple of classic bars I wanted to visit that were closed on Monday-Thursday. I dropped south, partly along the beautiful Dender river path, to Ninove, where I spent a rainy day off. Then it was on to Oudenaarde, where hotels were either full or too pricy, so I visited Casino in Eine and De Gans in Huise before continuing to Waregem in the dark.
One more day through very hostile weather took me to Veurne via the Westvleteren cafe and De Struise Brewers. Veurne was a big disappointment. This was the fourth time I'd overnighted there and, while it has one of the nicest Grote Markts in Belgium, its bars were dead. I was evicted from two as they wanted to close at 9 and 10pm respectively. The normal Flanders policy is to close when the final customer leaves, but seemingly not here, not even on a Saturday night in the bars around the main square at the height of summer.
The weather was no better in the morning and I made the miserable thirty mile journey to Dunkirk port. At the port I met a couple of Korean students who'd cycled from Frankfurt, and four English single-speeders who'd toured the Belgian coast. The Koreans didn't seem to have a map or any route knowledge and I offered to pilot them to London, staying first at Canterbury. They opted for the youth hostel while I reluctantly settled for the most expensive hotel of the entire trip. My mood lifted when I found a great Belgian bistro called La Trappiste near the cathedral.
Despite the many long rides I had done, Canterbury to west London just didn't seem the sort of trip to be attempted in a day, but the Koreans wanted to reach London that night to make the most of their short time in England. We made slow progress, partly as they had not really encountered any hills on their trip until now. Once inside the M25 they decided they needed to visit Asda, a decision I found a bit mystifying, and insisted they would be OK from there to central London. I wasn't convinced as it was hard enough for me to navigate through north Kent and south east London avoiding the A20. I hope they got on OK.
Another deluge had me searching for a hotel, but unable to find anything in the suburbs, I had no option but press on, finally racing along my 90s commuting route and reaching West Ealing at 11.
So that is it. I'm socialising and dealing with admin for a few days.
Many thanks for reading this blog effort and for all your emails and texts over the last three months.
See you back here in two or three weeks once I have embarked on the second leg, up the east coast of England.