24 Jul 2010

The Regional Studies Association is not simply a collection of high-minded intellectuals (though it is undoubtedly that!) - it is an organisation full of interesting people and pursuits. Case in point: our very own Chief Executive Sally Hardy, who recently cycled from Seaford, on the south coast of England, to Paris - bringing along her 17 year old son Oscar to act as the pacemaker. Her story, and a photo slideshow (click on it to view full size) of the journey are provided below...

"The RSA recently introduced a Cycle to Work Scheme for its employees. This UK Government sponsored scheme encourages employees to buy cycles (minus the VAT and tax associated with the purchase price) and use them to cycle to work. In celebration of this move my son and I cycled from our family home in East Sussex on the South Coast of the UK to Paris over the last few days.

Oscar (17 yrs) and I left Seaford early on Saturday morning and took the Transmarche Ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe – a four hour crossing. We arrived in Dieppe in time to find our hotel, and find a nice restaurant. We celebrated our arrival in France with large bowls of bulot (whelks). Totally delicious. Whelks are caught from the Sussex coast for export as far afield as Korea. In France they catch them and eat them – that has to make more sense! We returned to our hotel to plan our route for the following morning.

We left later than we’d planned (overslept on the first day!) A further delay was caused by needing an authentic French croissant and pain au chocolat breakfast. It was a fairly easy morning’s ride along the Avenue Verte, a cycle way built along a now disused railway line in Northern France. It runs for around 50 kms all slightly uphill and then we were onto the roads.

We were much helped in our endeavour by Clive Aberdour, a founder member of Cycle Seahaven who has cycled this route four times and helpfully documented it. We took his advice at all times and stuck closely to the route of back roads and forest paths that he recommended.

Our second night, after a day of some 95 km cycle was in the town of Gournay-en-Bray. The day the carnival came to town. Our hotel was on the main street and in the heart of all the action until gone midnight. We had no choice but to party – terrifically good fun. We ate Chinese – that was all that was open apart from fast food outlets and we were too hungry for that! Oddly, the town of Gournay-en-Brey is twinned with Hailsham – very close to our home town of Seaford. There were no people from Hailsham on their float though – just merry French!

The second day was to be a hard day. It started when Monsieur from the hotel objected to the fact that we’d taken breakfast (in the form of two tartines) in a local café/brasserie rather than from his rather expensive buffet. We were trying to negotiate our way out when three hapless English cyclists arrived at 8.30am having cycled through the night from Dieppe (they landed at 3am). We were able to leave them in the breakfast room appeasing the hotel owner while we retrieved our bikes and panniers and set off.

The countryside through the Seine Valley was stunning – it was some of the best cycling either of us had done – very hilly but generally the roads were quiet and the drivers considerate. Lunch when it came in Marines was very welcome (a croque monsieur). The afternoon cycle was an epic. All the hills were up! We climbed for hours and then in true tour de France style had a 3km descent into the town of Triel-Sur-Seine. We’d climbed all afternoon for a descent that took no time at all but the views of the Seine made it all worthwhile (well, that and the ice-cream!). From there it was not far to Poissy and dinner and bed. The roads were by now very busy and the day a steaming 35 degrees and sunny.

We were pleased to arrive in Poissy where we asked two business men where the Ibis Hotel was only to find that we were only 20 feet from it and the sign was obscured from us by a tree –very funny.

Dinner was in a small brasserie in a pedestrianised area – lots and lots of lovely steak and frites! We really felt that we deserved it. Oscar had a crème brulee as well but I womanfully resisted.
In the morning we set off after yet another tartine, for Paris. It was a glorious day – hot, blue skies and sunny. The route took us through the Marly Forest, the scary Carrefour Royal through Noisy-le-Roi and Rocquencourt to Versailles. At this point we re-entered forest lad including the Foret Domaniale and led to Marnes-la-Coquette and St Cloud. We then crossed the Seine and went into the Bois de Boulogne.

The route though the Bois de Boulogne was beautiful ending at an impressively large round pond beyond which the landscape dropped away, framed by trees to a most welcome view of Paris at its best. We celebrated with a fine lunch and glasses of wine and beer according to taste.

The next part of the route finding was tricky but we managed – we dodged taxis, lorries, other bicycles but the dogs were the major danger along with the cobbles. We crossed the river for the third time and stopped to take photos of the Eiffel Tower half way across and then we were in spitting distance.

The route took us along the side of the river on a sandy track directly to the base of the Eiffel Tower where we took photos, sent texts, ate more ice-cream and chatted to all the tourists who’d come to see where we had travelled from.

We stayed in a hotel in the Elysee area of Paris only 150 m from the Champs Elysee (which we cycled down and were shouted out by two French policemen because it was being set out for the end of the tour this weekend). We crashed for an hour before hitting the town with kir royales and the best Italian food that the St Lazare area of Paris could offer.

It was a shame that the power cut in the night meant cold showers but this was well compensated for by the kindness and consideration of the railway staff at St Lazare Station who made sure that we were safely stowed with our velos on the train for the trip back to Dieppe and then to Seaford.

I’m now choosing the bike to buy …. certainly I want a lighter one than the one that I rode to Paris! In fact I’d quite like one with someone else to cycle it."