LONDON TO PARIS CHARITY CYCLE RIDE

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We’ve always wanted to take part in the London to Paris cycle ride, but doing it with an official organiser, as you know, costs a lot of money!

So, let's rewind.....

As photographers, Wendy and I were invited to photograph Ras y Brenin Enlli by Huw Williams of Penllyn Ultras. Ras y Brenin Enlli is an ultra race based on Ynys Enlli or Bardesy Island. We landed on Enlli by boat and the first person we saw was another photographer, which was odd as we thought we were the only photographers for the day. It was like a clip out of the film, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Neither of us taking our eyes off the others camera equipment as we approached each other across the island. I could hear the music of the film in my ears as we got ever closer to each other and was ready to draw my camera before he had a chance to show off his equipment first! The other photographer spoke first saying he was there to take pictures of his wife, Eleri Llywelyn, who was running the Ultra, to which we replied we were there at the invitation of the race organiser. As we got chatting, the other photographer, said his name was Eifion and he was organising a cycle ride from London to Paris. Wow, was the response, we’ve always wanted to do that we said,  “would you like to come?" he said.

We haven’t replied an agreed to do something so quick in our lives ever, apart from when I asked Wendy to marry me of course!



That was the start of a beautiful relationship, mostly by e mail, with Eifion officially inviting us on the trip as unofficial, official photographers.

The first e mail I received from Eifion was the correspondence confirming the date, which was to be the 22nd May 2020, so time to get training, which we did, but not on the roads. Even though Wendy had recently had an operation on her wrist for carpel tunnel, that hadn’t entered my mind when we agreed to do the ride. At that time, she couldn’t even ride her bike because of the operation. The only option was to buy a smart trainer and a subscription to Zwift. Tri bars had to be fitted on the bike, as she couldn’t hold the bars in the conventional manner. Because Wendy got one, I had to get one, so a second smart trainer arrived and we got training together.

The training was going well, but at the beginning of 2020, rumours were reaching us from China about a new virus, which may well spread around the world. At the time, we sort of ignored it as these things only happen in other countries. On March 23rd 2020, the Prime Minister Borris Johnson officially announced lockdown measures, which would have a massive impact on everyone, but unfortunately, on our trip to Paris also. E mails had been circulating previously putting a doubt on the trip, but in March, the trip was officially postponed and moved to sometime in 2021. We had already raised £1,050 in April 2020, so we were happy and rearing to go.

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Pictures from the Llanberis Surgery Vaccination Programme

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More dates and more postponements came and went as the May dates were moved to October and then moved again to May 2022. Finally and to everyone’s relief, Covid subsided, or so we thought, and the trip was booked for August 2022.

It was time to get training,….again!

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As the August deadline got closer, we started training in earnest, with longer cycle rides being the norm. But, with a few weeks to go, the inevitable happened, my daughter caught Covid and she was immediately banished to her bedroom with delivery of food as and when she requested. When she was better and clear, Wendy decided it was her turn to catch it, but even worse for her was she was out of action for 3 weeks with no training. Worrying times as the last thing she wanted was to not be fit enough to take part in the ride. Delivery of food to the bedroom and no contact apart from texts and Face Time meant I was clear of the dreaded virus on both occasions. Following a not so full recovery, training re started for Wendy and although not so fit as she would have liked, it was time to make out way to Llandrillo yn Rhos in order to catch the bus to London.

We knew a few people as we stood outside the bus at the college, but it was great to finally meet everyone. Pictures were taken of individuals, partners and families and being the unofficial official photographer a group photo was also called for.

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The way down to London was uneventful, but, was a chance to get to know more of our fellow cyclists as we stopped for the driver break. As we’d started from the college, it seemed a much quicker trip somehow and we were in London in double quick time. Time to retrieve our bikes and perform some minor surgery in order to get the handlebars straight. I’m glad I checked how to do it before going as it would have been embarrassing loosing my front forks on the A55!

Before dinner, which had kindly been arranged by Lowri, we cycled to see the London sights and get the official start pictures of everyone at Parliament Square with the Elizabeth Tower looking over us, known to us mere mortals as Big Ben.

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As we returned to the hotel, Wendy and I decided to be anti social in the nicest possible way as we were celebrating out 32nd anniversary that day. So, as everyone left to have their Italian, we decided to go our own way in order to carbo load for the next day. What more does a women want, dinner followed by a three day cycle ride to Paris. Always the romantic.

Catching the ferry at New Haven had always been a worry for some people, or was to us at least! So it was a 4am alarm clock in order to set off for 6am. Shower, shave (for me) and a not so nice porridge pot led us to reception with our luggage in order to stow on the van. By this time our 6am start had moved to 6.30am and no one had set off. So, it was decided to go it alone, knowing full well that the calibre of everyone following would soon see them catching us along the 100kM route. The point of starting that early was to avoid the traffic but to also make sure we arrived at the boat in plenty of time. London traffic was light at that time, but as the miles slipped past, traffic got busier but all seemed safe enough apart from mad cyclists whizzing by at breakneck speeds.

It wasn’t until kM 37 when we stopped for a bit when the first peloton caught us up. A bearded man from Penmaenmawr seemed to know the area and suggested we head off to a farm shop in order to get a late breakfast. Bacon and sausage sandwiches all round and coffee to wash it down, before we headed off again towards the ferry. It wasn’t until kM 68 when we rested again at the official café stop for something to drink and eat and also meet Phil. Phil was the driver who kept all the goodies in his van for people to plunder when he trustingly gave us the key. The van was an Aladdin's cave, full of energy bars, gels and water, but no bananas! Time to set off again, no more stops, just make it to the boat on time with Rachel, Nigel, Aaron and Tim. As speeds were different between everyone, we all made sure at different junctions that everyone was going the correct way, before eventually, we splintered and made our own way to New Haven. Rachel set off like a machine with Nigel hanging on, drafting Tour de France style to her coattail’s as Wendy and I lagged behind. Newheaven appeared in plenty of time to catch the ferry so day one was over, apart from the trip to Dieppe. A total of just over 65 miles for day one.

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Supper on the ferry was pasta and rice followed by a wash in the toilets. A get together on the top deck was followed by photographs on the outer deck.

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Soon enough, we arrived in Dieppe with Eifion leading the way off the boat to the hotel. A trip round the roundabout twice saw us making our way to the hotel. Locals stared as the peloton passed, “d'où viens-tu” was the cry, “je viens du Pays de Galles” was the reply in our best French!

Bikes stored, it was time for bed before getting up for day two.

Shower and a good breakfast saw us reminiscing about the previous day with our fellow cyclists. We were told this was an easier day, with the majority of the day being on the Avenue Verte. Avenue Verte is a cycle path following the former Dieppe to Paris railway for 40 km. It currently starts just outside Dieppe at Arques-la-Bataille and stops again just outside Forges-les-Eaux. It was easy enough to put the power down (well, as much as we could at least) and ignore the countryside. We did however, stop at Mesnières-en-Bray to see the Saint Joseph Institute of Mesnières-en-Bray. It looked like a grand chateau, but in fact was a college, which offered training in various things from horticulture to catering.

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Saint Joseph Institute

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We also stopped at an old Railway Station at Neufchâtel-en-Bray and met up with a very nice elderly women who served us coffee. I got to practice my French by pushing Wendy to the front of the queue, and asked her to ask for a coffee!! She liked us so much she even asked us for a picture!

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Time to set off with the next stop being a refuelling stop with Phill at a Lidl, who supplied us with water, bread and cheese. Time to have a chat, see how everyone was before setting off again, but this time with Andy Morris. It was odd to set off on a proper road after so much on the Avenue Verte. We were getting closer to Paris as the Hammerhead led the way. We lost Andy on the second climb, but he soon passed us again after we stopped for a break and some food before Gournay-en-Bray where we stopped again at the local Lidl and a coffee in McDonalds.

Time to hit the cycle path again. We’re not sure by this time if we had re joined the Avenue Verte or we could be on the Trans'Oise, wherever we were, both looked the same. Mostly smooth tarmac made the going good and we were averaging about 18 miles and hour, which we thought was great, until someone mentioned it was ever so slightly downhill!

After seeing Beth and Gruff on the outskirts of Beauvais we were met with the sound of bells as the La Cathédrale Saint-Pierre welcomed us to the city. Arrival picture courtesy of Eifion, before retrieving our gear from his overcrowded room, where minutes before he had a sense of humour breakdown.

Shower, reception and a taxi down to the main square for some food with Arron and Nigel. The taxi driver thought we were English, so we soon put him straight by mentioning Gareth Bale, Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey! Pays de Galles was the cry from the back of the taxi before he realised where we were from, as he said, Wales!

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Eifion and Eleri had eaten all the food at the restaurant so all we had to eat was a piece of toast and some salmon, which, was actually rather nice, followed by a trip around the square before joining everyone for some French beers.

Aaron had organised with the taxi driver a lift back to the hotel and all he had to do was phone as shout Pays de Galles, and he’d pick us up, which of course, he did, but not before some more pictures in front of the cathedral.

Day three was Beavais to Paris! Rolling roads through lovely countryside was the order of the day. After taking some pictures of our new friends at the beginning, Wendy and I found ourselves by ourselves before we were reunited with Arron, Rachel, Nigel and Anthony at La Longue Rue. This is where the picture of Anthony in the bus stop was taken. I knew straight away what I wanted when we arrived. Anthony with his bearded face, sitting in an old bus stop.

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Next stop was Auvers-sur-Oise for some food and we were reunited with the four youngsters as somebody had christened them. This is where we saw a statue of Vincent van Gogh, who is buried in the town. 

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Not far to go now, about 20 miles to Paris, which was uneventful apart from problems with my cleats following the previous towns siteseeing. I couldn’t clip in so I was trying not to unclip by leaning on walls or lamp posts every time I had to stop. Stopping was the order of the day though, as we rolled into Paris. Lots of red lights which were totally ignored by the local cyclists. Only three of us now, which included Wendy and Rachael, so we did the same, that is, ignored the red lights. As we got closer to Paris, we felt the rain starting as promised by our resident weather man Jake, who said it was promising a storm in Paris! Arc de Triomphe soon came into view as we travelled the cobbled road up the Champs Élysées. Rachael wanted to round 4 times, so we did before taking the obligatory pictures and selfies.

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After over 300kM on the bike we reached Café Gustave, I decided to dice with death as I crossed the road with my bike without looking. Abuse, in the form of a lady shouting at me in French was heard as I pretended that nothing happened. We met the rest of the cyclists in the café, before heading to the la Tour Eiffel for more pictures with Rachael, who was rightly overjoyed with her achievement.

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Back to the café were most people were enjoying massive jugs of beer, which we had to sample of course. Wendy wasn’t keen to drink, as we needed to ride back to the hotel, so I was forced to drink hers as well!

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We were the last to leave as we headed back to the Arc de Triomphe. As we were celebrating our 32 wedding anniversary, I suggested we go round 32 times! After the 10th time around, the rain started to fall, thunder and lighting along with biblical rain accompanied our circumnavigation of the famous landmark. Wendy suggested we go to the hotel, but as Magnus Magnusson used to say, "we've started so we'll finish" so 32 times it was! Well, it was actually 33 as Wendy said we should go round again, just in case we miss counted.

Time to hit the hotel as my bike computer took us in a totally wrong direction, which added an unnecessary 5K to our journey as we rode down the Champs Élysées and then back up again! 

For those who are interested, if you decide to ever go round the Arc de Triomphe 32 times, it adds 6 miles to your journey, according to Strava, but I can't believe that's true. At last and to our relief, we arrived at the hotel, in the dark, cold and soaked to the skin! Long shower to warm up before going down to reception, where we met up with Helen, Shan, Jon, Ceri, Gerwyn and Diane, who were drinking the left over prosecco, which we had at the start of our day 3 journey. Eventually, we joined everyone else in the pub opposite the hotel, were we drank strong lager and chatted with our fellow cyclists. We nearly got arrested as we returned to the hotel as a few of us decided to lie on the tram line! I can’t remember who was there, but I’m sure it was Mark, Dave and myself, with Wendy taking the pictures, whilst Anthony, Eifion and Eleri looked on.

Breakfast next day saw some worse for wear as they arrived for breakfast. It was great to have a nice relaxing morning, no rush to set off on the bike, just reminiscing on what we had achieved.

As we were staying in Paris for a few days, we decided to move out stuff to our new hotel, before heading back to see off our fellow cyclists who were heading home. Time for a last photograph in the front of the hotel, which wasn’t the best, but unbeknown to everyone, the picture would soon be transferred to the Trocadéro Gardens, which lie in front of the famous La tour Eiffel.

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As everyone was leaving, we headed to our hotel for a further few day in Paris, celebrating our 32nd wedding anniversary. Navigating the Metro in Paris was easy enough, with tickets machines being multi lingual, apart from Welsh, which I must remember to complain about!

Day 6 was a leisurely trip along the River Seine, seeing the sights, well, those along the river at least! We couldn’t get in to the busy places as we’d forgotten to book, which we’ll remember to the next time we visit. When we said that the Metro was easy enough to navigate, we always managed to exit the station by our hotel in different locations. A good thing really as we wouldn’t have found this nice restaurant otherwise. Food there consisted of lamb on a bed of sweet potato mash, before heading back to the hotel for an early night.

Day 7 started early with a not so quick 5K to the Le Jardin du Luxembourg, which are really nice and I’d suggest that anyone staying in Paris should pay a visit. It was a bit of a posh hotel with people looking down their noses at us, eating breakfast whilst still sweating profusely! The rest of the day consisted of more site seeing By tea time, it decided to rain, again. We managed to hide in somewhere quite sheltered until the wind decided to send the rain our way. The rain didn’t stop and as time went on the water was rising and was creeping slowly towards our feet. Luckily, a bus which was passing our hotel decided it was time for us to get on, so, we were back in the hotel in no time before going out.

Cycling London to Paris has always been an ambition of ours and thanks to Eifion and our chance meeting on Ynys Enlli, we were privileged enough to be allowed to take part and complete the challenge. As Nigel said, we knew a few people before arriving at the bus outside the college, but we finished with many new friends, which we will never forget. Thanks for allowing us to take part and we hope we can do something similar very soon.

Picture from our trip can be seen here.

See you next time. 

Wendy and Gwynfor James

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