97 – France and Belgium

Well, we’ve crossed Northern France. Three days of heat, head winds and flat lands heading towards Belgium. That sounds more dramatic than it was, to be honest. We sailed to Deippe and pedalled down the ‘Avenue Vert’, a pretty little cycle route lined with picnic tables and information boards that leads you to Forge Les Eaux.

From Forge, it was north east to the Belgian border across farmland with the odd bit of woodland that they haven’t got round to cutting down yet. Windfarms on the horizon, the odd bottle of piss on the road verge and a few roadkill victims to break the monotony. The sun shone the whole way and the north easterly breeze decided to become a wind whenever we pedalled into it.

Two nights sleeping on campsites, then one on a farm at the back of a cowshed. An irate and agitated cow staring at the cowshed from the field and faints sounds of a cow in distress coming from inside the shed got me thinking about ‘veal crates’. It got me thinking to the point where I couldn’t sleep. I don’t know if there was a calf caged in a cold, cramped and terrifyingly dark crate on that farm, but it doesn’t matter. It’s happening somewhere and it’s happening all the time. The all-important ‘consumer’ likes their dead baby cow to be white so they’re stuck in these boxes deprived of light for weeks until their skin becomes lighter, so the consumer can sit down to sunday lunch and fill their faces with white meat instead of red. Anyway, the tall and short of this paragraph is that I’m now stopping eating dairy, because without dairy, the cows wouldn’t need to be kept pregnant to produce the milk and so there would be less calves. I know I’m pissing in the wind with my little ‘statement’, but it’s the very least I can do. And I would ask the whole world to stop eating veal, but I know the whole world won’t listen.

We British generally don’t like to mix reading with politics, so I apologise to anybody who was expecting to read only about cycling on this blog and doesn’t like the paragraph above, but that was part of my tour. That said, the riding in France was very pleasant apart from a couple of busted spokes and consistent issues with the front loaders. The tandem has become a real beast of burden, so component issues are pretty inevitable.

So, onto Belgium. Two days to cross this little country heading towards Holland. The highlight for me was Charleroi, a bleak and stinking example of modern industry surrounding a shopping precinct where fast cars and gridlock go hand in hand through town and the pedestrians in the road put the final full-stop on the standstill. The sun was shining, the high heels were clipping on the cobbles and the ice cream van was playing its tune. Charleroi is a busy little place. I liked it; it was business as usual despite being beseiged by the army of factories on the outskirts. That said, I was glad to get out again and into the peace and quiet of the river route towards Namur.

Belgian cycle lanes deserve a mention, if only for their randomness and unruly appearance. Potholes, sudden drops and generally bumpiness all make for an off-road experience even in the middle of towns. But we are eternally grateful for the RaVEL river routes that criss-cross Belgium giving the cyclist safe and pleasant passage round the country.

We’ve now left Belgium and entered Holland with its silky smooth cycle lanes and generally cosy feel. I’m writing this in Maastricht, a very beautiful town on the River Maas, which we’ll follow north for the next day or two before turning right and into Germany.

Thanks for dropping by and we’ll catch up again soon.



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