Setting out for foreign lands on a bike tour is always exciting… especially when leaving on two wheels from your front door. Cass talks us through the first part of his family holiday to France, including the logistics of getting there by bike, train, and ferry.
Although our family trip to France isn’t all about biking, we figured we’d at least start it that way – from Sage’s grandparents home, no less, because there’s no better place to begin an overseas journey than a familiar front door. The main thrust of our holiday was to be as follows: we’d spend a couple of weeks relaxing on the the Île de Ré, using our bikes for transportation and exploration, then head off down the Atlantic coast camping, riding, and training our way towards the Basque Country.
But first, we needed to actually get there. Despite our planet’s ill health, short hop budget flights continue to proliferate. They’ve become the roadmap of where to travel next. As someone who loves to see the world on two wheels, the number of flights that are woven into my bicycle trips worries me; there’s no denying the discordance with many of the reasons I like to ride my bike in the first place. I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that to continue enjoying the indulgence of overseas travel in today’s ecological landscape, I need to create a radical change in the way I plan my trips, one in which I consider how I get to the place I want to ride, as the ride itself.
If this means allocating more time to do so mindfully, so be it. If it means spending more money, ditto. As much we’re all on the hunt for the ‘best deal’, it will mean accepting that the pursuit of the cheapest, quickest form of travel is misdirected, because the advertised price conveniently makes no mention of all the hidden environmental costs that have to be paid too. And these costs are becoming increasingly tangible, in ways that are now impossible to ignore.
So, this year we’re not succumbing to the pseudo convenience of air travel. Instead, we’ve decided to make our way more slowly south, via a medley of ferry trips and trains journeys… preceded of course by a bike ride, to set the tone. In doing so, I’m hoping we can see it as a challenge in itself. Can we devise a fun, family-friendly, warm-weather holiday that satisfies all parties involved… without hopping on a plane?
Scout around online and you’ll discover a number of ferry routes, leaving various strategic points in the British Isles. In fact, there are more than enough to inspire all manner of slow-travel, overseas adventures, sending you in directions you might never have even dreamt of going before.
In our case, it just so happens that there are sailings from Poole, Dorset, to Cherbourg in Normandy, within easy, two-wheeled reach from my parents’ home. Perfect: just what we need to cross into France in an interesting, slow-travel fashion.
And why not make the journey to the ferry port part of the adventure too? Having grown up in Dorset, I know this beautiful chip of land relatively well. Instead of asking my mum to drop us off, we put together a rambling, gently rolling route via the chain ferry on the Isle of Purbeck, which covered all the bases: quiet country lanes, forest trails, and sandy singletrack.
As this marked our first day on loaded bikes for quite a while, we gave ourselves a generous time buffer to get to Poole and enjoy the experience, so it really feels part of our holiday.
- Sage: Islabike Beinn 20 Small (adult-quality bike shrunk down to 6-year-old proportions)
- Nancy: Islabike Jimi (low gears, step through design, and very light)
- Cass: Jones SWB Complete (comfy all rounder, I’d planned a change of touring-friendly tyres, but a faulty floor pump meant that wasn’t to me. Oh well. Knobblies are good too)
- Attachment devices for tired legs or busy roads: Followme Tandem + TowWhee Bungee
With thanks for Islabikes for lending both Sage and Nancy bikes for this tour, as their steeds are back home in the States.
Day 1 and there’s just one big crash to report, the result of an overly zealous descent and an unseen pothole.
Day One has been a success, bar one big crash to report; the result of an overly zealous descent and an unseen pothole. I saw it all unfold before me and feared the worst, watching as Sage crumpled into a tangled heap beneath his bike. Thankfully, he was wearing his helmet and had his cycling gloves on, a good reminder of how the latter is especially, given how sandpapery country lanes can be. Poor little thing! But no matter… after a good cry, he picked himself up, inspected his wounds, cried a bit more, then enjoyed the rest of the ride.
Ferries, of all sizes, are a fantastic addition to any bicycle trip, no more so than with children, who scamper around them with unbridled delight. They bring a sense of old fashioned wonderment back to travel. They transport us across water plains to places we couldn’t otherwise reach. Our ferry to France was preluded by a more petite chain ferry between Sandbanks and the Isle of Purbeck (£1 a person and free for children). It’s a short but ultimately satisfying journey; sailing boats flit to either side, like minows, as it winches its way gently from one side of the harbour to the other, seemingly without a care in the world.
Once there, we were back aboard our bikes once more, pausing to share a take-out fish and chips for dinner; fat, salty, hand cut chips are a particularly effective seaside recipe for lifting tired spirits, especially when served on the traveller’s impromptu picnic blanket, aka a concrete floor.
From Poole, we connected with the big ferry to Cherbourg (£91 for the three of us, including bicycles, with Brittany Ferries). And onwards, it will be a train to Paris, a ride across the city, and another train down to La Rochelle (€270 euros for the three of us, with bikes) and beyond.
More on the trip and our camping gear soon!