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Somme Friendly

After one of the recent Normandie trips Claire mentioned she was interested in riding over there sometime. A few minutes later a weekend was pencilled in and an email sent out to some of the usual suspects to see if we could get a little social weekender sorted. Cal and Josh were both up for it as well as Dan. Most of them knew each other and I had at some point ridden with all of them. On paper it seemed like a nice little group. Josh and I are both doing Transcontinental no.7 in a few weeks with support from Reilly Cycleworks, and Dan knew Beccy who is also TCR’ing on a Reilly so asked if he could invite her along. Yep, no probs. That made six, a good number for a group ride, plus evened up the male/female ratio a tad. Hopefully the group dynamics still work but seeing as I’m no longer the common denominator and that’s now Dan I can blame him if it all goes tits up.

Friday evening all of us except Josh roll along the top of the cliffs towards Newhaven for the midnight ferry. Josh said he’ll meet us there. Still no sign of him when we check in. As we’re stacking our bikes against the metal wall of the car deck he turns up having sprinted from work the other side of Sussex via his mum’s for dinner. We find seats upstairs where Claire and Beccy being sensible settle down to try and get some kip. The rest of us go to the bar. At some point Dan and Cal also crash out in the reclining seats. Me and Josh order another pint and natter about TCR. Eventually we get our heads down for 30 mins before we dock in Dieppe.

A few kilometres out of Dieppe Beccy comments on how nice the route is already. This bodes well as I know this is just the functional road out of Dieppe to get us to the pretty stuff. The speed is already the quick end of social pace but it’ll probably slow down once we’re on the smaller wiggly lanes. It doesn’t. I should have known better. Everyone is younger than me (by the time we line up in Bulgaria Josh and Beccy’s combined ages will equal mine) and lighter and faster. We’ll see how things go but I may have to be ride Dad later and pull rank and tell the kids to knock the speed on the head or they don’t get pastries and Orangina.

The sky is hazy-grey but sunshine and blue sky can be seen in the distance, eventually we should reach it. Climbing over the first valley ridge of the day there are some smudges of rain above the horizon ahead and there is a whiff of damp in the air. We manage to avoid the rain and eventually slide out from under the grey into the blue. Our little peloton is shuffling around, everyone is chatting with everyone else, there’s a lot of laughter, everyone is getting on. Seems it’s going to be a good day.

We make it to the first stop at Saint-Saens at 40km earlier than I expected. I need to slow these eager young scamps. Pastries are bought from one bakery and disappointment expressed that the only café has closed down (one downside of relying on Google Maps and Streetview when planning a route, it’s not always up to date). Second pastries are purchased from the other bakery along the street and tucked in pockets for later. From here on all the way to Amiens it’s new to me as well as the others apart from some roads around Forges-les-Eaux. Somewhere beyond that we must also overlap with my Normandicat route.

Seeing as we’re clicking down the kilometres quickly and the fact the proposed first café was no longer there, I suggest rather than bypass Forges-les-Eaux we deviate from the planned route slightly to stop for a coffee. I know there is a bar there and I’m well aware that Dan will start to malfunction if we don’t get a coffee into his system soon. Agreement all round. We’ve knocked out more than a third of today’s distance and it’s not even 9.30am. Hopping the curb and unclipping outside the bar other bikes we recognise from the ferry are leaning against the railings. Forges-les-Eaux is on the Avenue Verte and the first obvious café stop for anyone riding London to Paris. Well that’s what I’ve been told, I’ve never actually ridden the Avenue Verte except for a short section near Dieppe. A round of coffees is ordered and the daft conversations continue along with smiles and laughter. Then another round of coffees seeing as we have less than 100km to go and there really is no rush.

A gradual climb away from Forges-les-Eaux gets us up onto a vast agricultural plateau crossing the border from Normandie into Picardie and the department of Somme. Except Picardie is no longer Picardie having been combined with Nord-Pas de Calais a couple of years ago to become a new larger region called Hauts-de-France. Which is a shame as Picardie had a nice ring to it. The day is warming nicely, layers are being removed and jerseys unzipped. The planned second stop of the day at Formerie becomes the third stop of the morning – it’s still only late morning and we’ve covered half distance. We grab second breakfasts and cold drinks. Twenty kilometres later we’ve stopped at Grandvilliers for lunch. Plus a refreshing cold beer. My usual routine for covering distance efficiently of steady-away pace with short stops has been reversed to short quick rides between long snack stops. Well I think it’s fast, the youngsters are probably thinking “C’mon granddad, keep up!”

After lunch we drop into a quiet wooded valley before turning onto a slighter harder than I want it to be hill. It’s clearly not so much of an issue for the others as they disappear into the distance. Pesky kids. I eventually catch them at a cemetery they’ve stopped at for a water refill – I have taught them the way of the audaxer well. We drop over the other side of the hill into the valley of La Selle, a small river that runs into the Somme. Not far to Amiens now and no more hills as we’ll follow the river all the way. Somewhere along the way we hide in the shade of a kebab shop awning necking cans of Orangina and Ice Tea. Within half and hour we’re sat outside a bar by Amiens Cathedral ordering end of ride beers.

On the way to the campsite we stop off at a supermarket and musettes are stuffed with food, bottles of wine shoved into jersey pockets, and baguettes tucked under bibs. We follow the Somme to the edge of the city.

“Goat cheese down!”

It has bounced out of my musette and Claire has ridden over it. Still looks edible so someone sticks it in a pocket and we carry on.

“That’s the most middle class thing I’ve ever heard.”

We pitch up at the quiet far end of the campsite; one tarp, five bivi bags and a tent inner,

“It’s not supposed to rain is it?”

Soon after a picnic dinner there are repeated queries as to whether it’s too early to go to sleep. It’s been a long hot day after a night of not much sleep. We are all unconscious by 10pm.

Somehow in the middle of the night I managed to poke myself in the eye with the zip of my hoodie I used as a pillow. This has resulted in my eyelid ballooning to the size of a golf ball. It looks like I’ve been punched in the face. Despite the grey skies I’ll be wearing sunnies all day with my cap peak pulled down low. Josh gives me some Ibuprofen which hopefully will ease the swelling.

We pack up quickly and spin into the city in fine drizzle to grab a supermarket breakfast before heading back along the river for ten kilometres or so. Turning away from the Somme to climb out of the valley we stop for a first coffee in Picquigny. The drizzle has eased off. Re-caffeinated we climb out of town onto the gently undulating plateau to the west of the river and head back towards Dieppe. This morning’s roads aren’t familiar to me but the landscape is. I’ve ridden through this area on other roads to the south and north of where we are. Big fields, big sky, lots of wind turbines. Now and again I recognise place names on signposts. An open bar is spotted.

“Coffee?”

Soon after we’re speeding down a descent into another river valley at Blangy-sur-Bresle. Sandwiches are eaten under cover whilst there is a brief rain shower. Perfectly timed lunch stop. It’s been grey all morning and occasionally a bit drizzly but not enough to make anyone grumpy. Not outwardly anyway, today had been all chat and giggles the same as yesterday. Post-shower it remains grey but it’s a brighter grey than we’ve seen so far.

I could probably ride to Dieppe blindfolded from here. I know a few ways to go but the D149 from Rieux to Fresnoy-Folny through the Forêt d’Eu is a favourite road of mine, a steady climb into the forest and a lovely sweeping descent into Grandcourt before another gentle climb to Fresnoy. We stay high on the Pays de Caux from Fresnoy and aim for the coast. Heads down but still nattering away we cover the distance quickly without fuss, the sea coming into view soon after Saint-Martin-en-Campagne. One last little lump of a hill before Dieppe and a view of the port. The ferry is in but it’s an hour or so until we need to check in. Time to find a bar for second day end of ride beers.

Thanks to Dan at Breakaway Digital for the colour photos. B&W photos are mine.

Saturday’s route

Sunday’s route

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