Thursday, 15 September 2011

Day 2 - Coquelles to Abbeville

As close to the perfect day touring as you're ever going to get this one.

Having breakfasted like kings on our 3.90€ Formule Une special (muesli, orange juice, coffee, apple puree, unlimited French bread, marmalade and Nutella - what more do you need?) we hit the route south. A gorgeous late summer warmth greeted us. The first few km's were Quite Interesting (at least to someone with a passing interest in trains, which I'm duty-bound to have, originating from Crewe), taking us over and around the Eurotunnel freight terminal, but it was soon on to the open roads of the Pas de Calais. If I say so myself, the hours spent route planning paid dividends today - for the most part we were on lovely, smooth, quiet back roads. At one point only about 10 km south of Coquelles the road was closed for a stretch for resurfacing, but in the absence of any actual road improvement activity we rode down it anyway, giving us chance to pedal along side-by-side in a cycling version of the Reservoir Dogs famous sequence. There was one period just after that when I was bowling along on my own through the lovely agricultural landscape, alone but for my thoughts, enjoying the motion of the bike and the heat of the sun, when I really did wonder whether it was possible to be more contented. Sorry to come over a bit bathetic, but it was that good. 

A late morning coffee at Desvres was notable only for the fact that it was served to us by a scraggy 60 year old man wearing Kevin Keegan-style 1970s football shorts and a stained white vest that looked as though it had been on his back since the 1970s. Nice. The coffee was disappointing too by continental standards. We continued.

Now, the back roads made for great cycling, but they also bypassed anywhere that could sell us anything by way of lunch, or indeed water. By now the temperature had risen steadily, and it peaked at 33c mid-afternoon. I rode from Coquelles to Hesdin (about 80 km) on 750 ml of water - just not enough under the circumstances. When I arrived in Hesdin, avoiding the manic wedding party hurtling round town in convoy, horns a-blaring, as is customary in France, I downed 850 ml of Yop yoghurt drink, a can of coke and 500 ml in water in 15 mins. I then felt quite ill as it coagulated, separated and was digested. The other 3 weren't as lucky as me, in that they were so warm they were reduced in one case to knocking on doors for water, the other two making use of a standpipe on a campsite. To be fair, we did ride through an area known as "The Seven Valleys" (translated of course), and those valleys were traversed individually. They weren't astonishingly difficult, but with the heat and full panniers they were sapping.

I got the benefit of an hour and a quarter in Hesdin as we re-grouped, refreshed and redoubled our resolve. The time in the shade was welcome. The sector from Hesdin to Abbeville was on a slightly busier road, and it was head down and just get on it with riding for the final couple of hours, but the effort was worth it. Approaching Abbeville from the north you're afforded the most wonderful and dramatic view of its cathedral's twin steeples. Our F1 hotel for that night was on the far side of town, so we also had a cooling descent as we rode through the town.

Our evening meal was probably the most satisfactory of the trip. We were too far from the centre to walk in (and not all the party could face hopping back on their bikes), so we missed out on the characterful backstreet bistro we'd envisaged, but we did get the choice of plenty of chain restaurants. I was dying to try the Buffalo Grill, but in due deference to the vegetarian in the party we ended up somewhere more able to accommodate his needs. It was good too, my highlight being my pudding - tarte tatin flambeed with calvados. Whilst we were stuffing ourselves at the back of the restaurant we began to wonder what the flashing lights were outside. Great crashes of thunder alerted us to the possibility that it might be a touch damp. And so it proved. We lingered hopefully with coffee, dragged our feet asking for the bill, went to the loo several times, all waiting for the rain to abate, but it never did, leading to Abbeville being treated to the sight of four Brits running dementedly across a retail park back to their hotel, one of whom (me) stripped to the waist for a bit in the vain hope that I could keep my t-shirt dry that way. Epic fail. A good night though. And a good day. It alone made the effort and planning worthwhile.

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