My two-wheeled journey from London to Paris

Tony Wheeler follows the (mostly) traffic-free Franco-British Cycle Plan

Buy a new bicycle and you have to ride it somewhere, right? So, early one morning, I turned right from my front door, rode through Earls Court to Parliament Square, glancing up to note that it was still 6.50am, according to the clock on Westminster Tower. And three mornings later, I pedalled by the Eiffel Tower.

The Franco-British Cycle Plan is a grandly titled scheme that aims to link the two capitals by traffic-free cycle paths. My plan was to follow the bits that are already open, supplemented with quiet back lanes and country roads.

The Newhaven-Dieppe ferry service would get me over that awkward stretch of water between England and France. So step one was to find National Cycle Network (NCN) route 4 along the Thames to Greenwich, then turn south along NCN 21, heading down to Gatwick airport and beyond.

Through London the two routes do a pretty good job of keeping bikes and cars separate, but you soon discover two problems with this plan. One is that avoiding traffic can mean some awfully circuitous meandering. As the crow flies, Gatwick is just 25 miles from my front door; Google Maps promises to direct me there in 30 miles. I'd clocked up almost 50 miles by the time I pedalled on the perimeter road under the airport's south terminal and past the landing lights.

Getting lost was definitely problem two. Get off NCN 21 and it's not like finding your way back to the M25 – goodness knows where the route has wiggled off to in the mile since you missed that sign cunningly hidden behind the hedge. Then there's problem three: to avoid those nasty traffic-filled roads, the cycle route frequently heads up bridleways and paths more suitable for a mountain bike than a road cycle. If it's been raining recently, you'll be mud-spattered even before you roll under London's orbital motorway.

So perhaps it's wise to abandon the approved route from time to time and plot your own course. There are plenty of minor roads to choose from. My meandering meant I'd cycled more than 90 miles by the time I wobbled, somewhat exhausted, into Seaford for the night.

Still, there were plenty of compensations along the way, such as the delightful Cuckoo Track: 14 miles of flat, well-surfaced and traffic-free cycle trail following a disused railway line in East Sussex. Next morning, it was only a few more miles, and some of it by cycle track, to Newhaven, where mine was the only bicycle on board the ferry.

Four hours later, I rode off at Dieppe and almost immediately found a sign directing me to the Avenue Verte, the French part of the London-Paris cycle route. Only six miles later, things got even better at Arques-la-Bataille with the Avenue Verte cycle track, another old railway line converted into a cycle path, but this one proceeding along for almost 30 miles with no interruptions and lots to look at, including old railway buildings and stations, an assortment of villages with imposing churches and a real chateau at Mesnières-en-Bray. From Neufchâtel-en-Bray there was even a 1:1.4 billion-scale Solar System model strung out along the track. You don't find that sort of thing in south London. The Avenue Verte finally petered out at Forges-les-Eaux, my night stop 40 riding-miles from my Seaford morning start.

There were no more cycle trails to follow the next day, but it was no problem to plot routes along minor roads – most of them with only the occasional car all day. I pedalled through Saint-Samson, La Vierge, Hodeng-Hodenger, Bellozanne, Gournay-en-Bray (a larger town), then Saint-Germer-de-Fly, with its wonderful-looking church, and a long stretch along the D129 to Saint-Crépin-Ibouvillers, by which time I was discovering a French problem. It was August and everything was closed: restaurants, cafés, shops, all shut for les vacances.

Hénonville was pretty, but quiet as a morgue, Grisy had a place where I could have had lunch, except it was now well past lunchtime and I began to contemplate cycling all the way into Paris for the night. Instead, I carried on through Chanteloup-les-Vignes and finally stopped at Poissy – the French car-manufacturing centre on the outskirts of the capital, not to be confused with other outer suburbs such as Boissy and Roissy (the location for Paris's main airport).

I'd covered 72 miles, and should have bought lunch before I left Forges-les-Eaux in the morning.

Next morning, I'd stopped just a mile or two down the road to study my map when a French cyclist heading to work pulled up to help. "Riding into Paris?" he asked. "Just follow me."

So the final miles were down obscure laneways, along a Seine-side cycle track for a spell, the odd short-cut through a park.

It was only as I rolled down to the Pont de Suresnes, five miles from the heart of the city, that I really saw any traffic. I mingled with the serious cyclists on their training rides through the Bois de Boulogne, and got my bearings with the help of the scale model of the Statue of Liberty on the Grenelle bridge. Just a few more traffic lights and I'm riding past the Eiffel Tower itself.

I restored some carbohydrates with a great lunch in the Marais at L'Ebouillanté, a little café on rue des Barres that does the best brics (a North African dish somewhat like a savoury crêpe) in Paris. Later that afternoon, I handed my bicycle over at the Gare du Nord and Eurostar whisked me back to London at a top speed of 186mph – about 10 times more than I had managed.

Tony Wheeler is co-founder of Lonely Planet, and author of 'Bad Lands: a Tourist on the Axis of Evil' (£7.99)

Travel essentials: Paris by bike

Getting there

* LD Lines Newhaven-Dieppe ferry route has singles from £20, including bicycle carriage (0844 576 8836; ldlines.co.uk).

* Eurostar has singles from Paris to London from £45.50, plus £20 for bicycle carriage (0843 218 6186; eurostar.com).

Staying there

* The Avondale, Seaford, East Sussex (01323 890 008; theavondale.co.uk). B&B from £65.

* Hotel La Paix, Forges les Eaux, Seine-Maritime (00 33 2 35 90 51 22; hotellapaix.fr). Doubles start at €57, room only.

* Hotel Ibis, Berteaux, Poissy, Ile-de-France (00 33 1 39 65 56 10; ibishotel.com). Doubles start at €70, room only.

More information

* Tony Wheeler's trip cost £350. It covered 244 miles.

* The Franco-British Cycle Plan: 01273 481 441; francobritishcycleplan.org.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Sales Assistant

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This airport parking organisation are looking...

    Recruitment Genius: PCV Bus Drivers

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Do you enjoy bus driving and are looking for ...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - York

    £18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - Y...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project