U2 of 2020
Upper District - Oxford and Cambridge University - Pre-Boat Race Fixtures
U1 of 2020
Barn Elms Reach to Mortlake Reach - Lightweight University Boat Races
U22 of 2019
Mortlake to Barn Elms Reach - River Closures - 2019-20 Head of the River Races
“Wouldn’t it be a good idea to cycle from Cygnet to Benrath for next year’s marathon?”
The precise genesis of this crazy idea is subject to some conjecture but most agree that it’s fairly safe to look no further than former Captain Mike Collier and his good friend Alt Bier. The seed, we think, was most likely sown in the less-than-fertile haze of the morning after the 2015 marathon. Mike declined to tender his crop but Ian Mountain nurtured it and after some research concluded that he could get it to flourish. It would take five days and over 300 miles but why not?
Well, work, annual leave, children, partners and apathy seemed to be the main reasons why not but Neil and Ian’s dad, Derek were game, so the boathouse-to-boathouse cycle ride sprouted forth on a damp September morning. The plan was to ride to Benrath staying as close to the Thames and then the Rhine as possible.
Day one was always going to be hard work: to get from the boathouse across London and Essex to Harwich in time for the night ferry to Hook of Holland. The weather forecast was for rain and the distance just over 100 miles - too far the experts say, for a single day’s touring. In the end the rain held off and we managed the 106 miles in plenty of time, with the help of a nice big tail wind.
It has to be said the cycle super-highway through London was pretty good and so was the National Cycle Route scheme across Essex. However, by taking the route less travelled one does tend to avoid all the shops, pubs and cafés and it was only by Derek chatting-up a local that we managed to find somewhere in the middle of nowhere for a much-needed but late lunch.
The only real dramas of the day were a puncture and Ian testing the waterproofness of his panniers by lying down in a ford! Harwich, it has too be said, isn’t somewhere I’d choose to go for a mini-break but after a lap of the town that we could have done without, we did eventually find a chip shop open and sat above the promenade eating a well-earned supper overlooking the North Sea – so romantic. The berth on the ferry was very welcome and after a quick, foaming brown night-cap we were soon very fast asleep, despite the aroma coming off 100 mile old lycra.
The mandatory alarm on the morning of day two was not at all appreciated but you don’t get the choice of a lie-in, so after a big breakfast watching the sun come up over Rotterdam, we were off on the European leg. If the cycle routes in England were okay then, as you’d expect, they are exceptional in the Netherlands: off the ferry, through passport control, turn right over the railway and straight onto a cycle lane which took us along the river’s edge into Rotterdam and a coffee stop - but no cake, we were too early.
Rotterdam was easily negotiated (just keep the river on your right) and we were out in to the wonderfully flat Dutch countryside. Riding mostly along the top of dykes with the river to our right and traditional working farms below us on our left. Through some pretty little villages and memorials to bits of RAF that didn’t make it back and into Nieuwegein for afternoon coffee and cake.
The roll-out to our first campsite at Tull en’t Wall seemed interminable in the gathering gloom. But it was eventually worth the effort as we pitched our tents in an old fort, surrounded by a moat. The Dutch it seems, do not eat out on weekday evenings and we could have done without the extra 8 mile round trip to find supper, having already cycled 65 miles from the ferry. Lesson learned*
It was a dewey, misty, damp start to day three but it was’t long before we were peddling along the river with the sun on our faces, on our way towards Wijk bij Duurstade. Here we had our first coffee and cake stop of the day at the world’s only drive-through windmill. Not long afterwards the route left the river for a bit for some cross-country through the forrest and hills west of Arnhem. Quite steep hills as it happens and we were certainly ready for lunch and a mooch around the (very good) Airborne Museum at Oosterbeek.
The ‘Bridge too far’ at Arnhem took us south of the river for the first time but we were soon back on the north bank after a (our only) ferry crossing at Huissen before the hunt began for camping at food near the German border. Frustrated by another puncture late in the afternoon, we stocked-up at a small supermarket and had a home-made supper under the stars at a riverside campsite in Bijland. *We’d already cycled 59 miles and didn’t fancy trying to hunt down an open restaurant
Day four started with us retracing our steps back to a small ferry but even it was running, it was going to be a 40 minute wait so we cut our losses and stayed north of the river, crossing into Germany, like any good British pathfinders, unnoticed across the frontier in the early morning via a quiet, unassuming back door. Crossing the Rhine bridge at Emmerich, almost the whole of the rest of the day would be spent south of the river. Coffee and cake in Greith, then lunch at the ancient (and very picturesque) Roman town of Xanten. The second beer for lunch may have been poorly judged as we turned into a brutal headwind for 1.5 hours down to Rheinberg. We even had to deploy the echelon.
Despite it’s heavy industrial nature, Duisburg was a welcome sight despite having to carry the bikes over [what we now know was] a bridge closed for repair. It added a bit of excitement to the end of the day and saved a huge detour. There is no camping anywhere near Duisburg so we were forced to slum it in a Youth Hostel. And what a youth hostel! Almost brand new and purpose built it was a far cry from some
of the dusty barn conversions and down-at-heel houses that pass for Youth Hostels in the UK. But after 69 miles we weren’t complaining and unlike in Holland there were several local restaurants open just a five minute walk away. Pasta, beer and bed.
Day five, the last leg of just 33 miles, was really only half a day. We negotiated the suburbs and steelworks of Southern Duisburg for an hour then were back out in the flat farmland and alongside the river again. It wasn’t long before we could see planes landing at Dussëldorf airport, then the frankly magnificent sight for sore bums of the Rheinturm poking up above the trees.
However, there was a sting in the tail in the form of an even more brutal headwind than the previous day. But we could smell the altbier and nothing was going to stop us having one for lunch – plus a sausage, obviously. Just the one though, as Benrath was still a fair way further south. That last few miles only took an hour and we rolled onto the Benrather Schloßufer and into RG Benrath Boat house at 2pm where a small welcoming committee awaited us with a Union Jack and a cold beer. Wit waren angekommen after 330 miles from boathouse to boathouse.
Then there was just the small matter of a further 26 miles back in the direction we had come, in a boat. But that is another story…
EPILOGUE: How did we get back to Blighty?
Despite the political bluster about sustainable transport, it was, sadly, quicker, cheaper and infinitely more convenient to have someone drive over from the UK, pick us up and drive us back again. Huge thanks to Steve Mortimore (and his van) for the International Rescue.
with Ian and Derek Mountain.