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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Experienced PSV Coach & Minibus Drivers

    £12500 - £24500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Drivers wanted for a family run...

    Ashdown Group: Finance Manager (FP&A) - Surrey - £45,000

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful leisure company is seek...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionist, Bar and Waiter / Waitress & Housekeeping

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The positions above are available either part ...

    Guru Careers: Fitness Centre Supervisor / Duty Manager

    £25K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Fitness Centre Supervisor / Duty Manager ...

    Day In a Page

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
    Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

    Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

    David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
    Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

    Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

    A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
    10 best DSLRs

    Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

    Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
    Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

    Solved after 200 years

    The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

    Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

    Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
    Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

    Sunken sub

    Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

    Age of the selfie

    Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
    Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

    Not so square

    How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
    Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

    Still carrying the torch

    The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

    The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

    ...but history suggests otherwise
    The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

    The bald truth

    How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
    Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

    Tour de France 2015

    Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
    Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

    A new beginning for supersonic flight?

    Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash