The sky overhead is crashing and sparking setting off car alarms and scaring the hell out of dogs. Rain is absolutely hammering down. It’s not ideal cycling weather. I’m heading to the pub to meet friends, but where most will sensibly stay at the pub all evening two of us, Nigel and myself, will head off for the overnight ferry to Dieppe. We’ve planned a 24 hour trip to Normandy to ride a 200km Raid Dieppe randonnee route from the summer to make the most of the clement autumn weather before it turns for good. Obviously it’s not so clement right now but the forecast for tomorrow over the channel is clear and mild. After a swift half we set off along the coast to Newhaven. Lightening is flashing over the sea which doesn’t bode well for a smooth crossing…
In fact the crossing isn’t too bad, if anything the gentle rolling of the ferry aids sleep. It’s only a four hour crossing and we’ll dock at 4am French time so the aim is to get as much sleep as possible. However, fitfull sleep is all I manage and long before dawn and still half asleep I roll down the ramp into France and drizzle. Nigel boots up the Garmin (I’m still reliant on paper maps and scribbled route notes) and we head for a cash machine whilst it locates some satellites. We head off through the empty town east via industrial estates until we reach unlit roads out into the hills. The sky continues to leak and clouds are animated by a bright moon. It’s promising that we can see the moon, it means the cloud is broken and not thick. There’s enough moonlight to make sense of the landscape around us, open farmland interspersed by wooded hills, but we can only really see what is illuminated by our lights, damp roads and fallen leaves. Red beacons flash atop wind turbines on the ridges towards the coast. After a couple of hours there’s a long fast descent into the Bresle valley before we immediately turn back up the valley side twisting through forest towards a lightening sky. Dawn must be on it’s way, cockerels are calling the sun as we pass through villages. As light seeps into the sky the rain fades away, moonlit clouds gradually give way to a washed out pale blue sky, growing more vibrant by the minute.
We’re 80km down as we hit the town of Londinieres where we spot a cafe. Time for a breakfast of coffee, hot chocolate and chocolate almond croissants. As we climb away from breakfast the moon hangs in a vivid blue sky and the low sun stretches shadows across the road. Whilst there’s no cloud above us but there’s plenty below us, as we freewheel into thick mist in the Bethune valley picking up the Avenue Verte. We follow the path of the river north to where it merges with the Varenne becoming the River Arques running into Dieppe. Where the rivers meet a ghostly muted grey waterscape emerges from the mist. Skirting the edges of lakes we pass old men in wellies riding mountain bikes with fishing rods strapped to top tubes. Rather than follow the river all the way back into Dieppe, we climb west out of the valley emerging back into the sun warming the day. Layers are slowly relegated into saddlebags.
This side of Dieppe is a landscape of agriculture, reminiscent of the east of England. It’s lumpier than our eastern counties but not as hilly as the country we rode the eastern side of Dieppe. The path of roads are visible far ahead running along the borders of fields, occasionally dipping from sight. Dark, ploughed fields ripple away from the roads edge. Every now and again a golden field of corn drys for animal feed or a verdant carpet of fresh beet reaches towards the horizon. Dogs bark at us from behind fences and hedges at every village. Before we turn north for the coast we stop at a bar for a drink and to replenish fading water supplies. Following narrow winding lanes we soon hit the coast where the water is a shade of blue rarely seen our side of the channel. Looking across the marina at Saint-Valery-en-Caux it could be July rather than mid-October.
It’s only about 40km back to Dieppe from here but there are a lot of headlands to clamber over. As much as the climbs hurt the thighs the descents are fast twisty fun. Looking back along the coast we see jagged cliffs rising straight from the sea making visible the route profile we’ve ridden for the last hour. We weave hairpins over the final headland before dropping like a stone back onto the one way system in Dieppe where we started out early this morning. It’s market day and the town is now awake and busy. We head for the quayside to find a suitable late lunch.
A couple of hours and three courses later we trundle back to the ferry terminal for a rest before boarding for home. We’ve ridden a few kilometres short of the 200 but I’m assuming this is because we didn’t take any detours for controls on the official ride. However the extra kilometres on the English coast will bump us well over 200km. I don’t remember too much of the sailing home as I napped most of the way, except for when I stayed conscious long enough to eat some more. Back in Blighty we roll off the ferry into the dark again. Pretty much 24 hours after we set off we spin along the cyclepath back into Brighton.
More details about the official Raid Dieppe events at http://www.dieppetour.com