Beta Alp 4.0

A collection of information as it arises. There's not a lot out there!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Days 7 and 8: Vouziers to Home via Cambrai

I planned a scenic route through the Ardennes hills north of Sedan and then on the D roads to Cambrai. The basic distance was short so I had plenty of time for this detour. The Belgian roadsigns were confusing as they seemed to list towns in a different order to those in France. Moreover my route crossed between France and Belgium and back and perhaps they list towns by nationality rather than by distance?

The little roads in the Ardennes were pretty and curvy, so well worth a visit. Bohan was clearly the tourist centre and I saw more people milling around here than I had in any other village. The western Ardennes looked to be suffering from being post-industrial, closed factories and rundown suburbia.

In Cambrai I decided against staying in the Etap class hotels as they looked to be further from the centre than usual. I'd booked into the Hotel Beatus, which was the most upmarket hotel of my journey and suspect that I will be revisiting.

Finally it was time to head home. I decided that I would do it quickly using Peage in France and returning on the A1. The toll was only €5.30 for 122km which wasn't bad considering the time it saved. The crossing and road home was uneventful and I was back home by 15:30. The total distance was 1950km of which 800km was in England.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Day 6: Vouziers (again)

There was a petrol station and jet wash across the road from the hotel so last night I topped up the tank, cleaned the Alp and adjusted the chain and tyre pressures in preparation for my journey home. Today was to be a 'rest day'.

I started off by visiting the municipal swimming pool and after 45 minutes there collected some food and made my way back to the hotel. In the afternoon I walked along the canalised River Aisne. The sun had brought the insect out and I was chased by mosquitos and dragon flies of various colours and sizes flitted overhead.

On my return walk the little 'Picasso' train passed by. This is on a tourist train route that I'd contemplated taking but didn't have enough time. Perhaps another year?
All in all, I'd walked and swum for the whole day, not much of a rest!

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Day 5: Around Vouziers

I'd set myself a few tourist points to see and ideally reach by scenic routes. I didn't expect that the points of interest would be terribly exciting, and I wasn't disappointed. I didn't mange to find the first one, which was the site of a long range gun emplacement near Semide. Here's what should be visible:

I didn't have specific directions and there are a few minor roads heading out of the south of the village that could be the route. Perhaps Google maps does show it?

I then made my way to the Roland Garros memorial in Saint Morel. You can read about his life an death  online in may places. The memorial marks where his place crashed, there is an obelisk in Vouziers cemetery too.
I then had an interesting ride to the third point. I found a long forest drive that had height and width restrictions to stop anything bigger than a small van. There was also a 20km speed restriction. That's not a bas idea as the surface is loose gravel and don't forget that if you get too enthusiastic for your ability there's unlikely to be anyone come past for some time!
Onto the next ridge I was lucky to find a track ascending from the village into the forest with no restrictions; unlike the side turns that were closed. This was lovely and just what you would hope for.
I was very lucky with the weather and rode most of the tree-lined tracks in dappled sunshine.

I wasn't using any GPS navigation system (probably of little use where there is substantial tree cover), relying on a combination of maps, distance from odometer and taking compass bearings at key points. From these data I knew that I had deviated from the route shown on the map. Indeed I had taken several forks on the basis of which looked better used as some of the smaller ones didn't pass the 'car width' test. Anyway, when I estimated that I was less than half a kilometre from a metalled road my path was blocked by a fallen tree and the clear track becoming a boggy clearing between trees. Could I get past? Could I recall the route to retrace my steps? I walked a 100m or so and decided that I could go around the tree and the bog and that the path appeared to became more obvious. As luck would have it, the road was very close although I doubt that the track was really legal at that point, wherever it was!

... and so on to my third point, Le Viaduc d'Ariètal, shown here as one of my first HDR images.
This was rather disappointing, especially as you're forbidden from going onto the bridge deck. There are viaducts of this quality at many spots in the North of England. 

After this I headed back to Vouziers, stopping en route for frites.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Day 4: Laon to Vouziers

My first lane was marked on the map as an old Roman road, and although its junction with the main road had been lost I was able to join it a few hundred meters further on. To one side were sunflowers, on the other fallow meadow.

My route took me through the region of Bouconville-Vauclair in Aisne, but as this is directed to tourism  both tracks and forest roads are closed to motor vehicles. The metalled roads were interesting to ride and with very little traffic. I stopped off for a stroll around the Abbaye de Vauclair (picnics prohibited).

Further from Laon I rode through field upon field of maize and grain. It is harvest time for the grain and I passed a number of farmers on tractors or with harvesters who didn't seem to mind my presence. The terrain is fairly flat but there are gently rolling hills where there is a broad vista in good weather.

The farm roads are of good quality and really one could drive almost anything down them so long as you didn't mind a bit of dust. Here's the Alp basking in the sun whilst I ate a late lunch, as there was no indication that picnics were prohibited here.
I found the hotel just outside Vouziers without difficulty and was pleased to find that it was only a few km from a pizzeria. What a pity that I'm half way through the trip!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Day 3: Roye to Laon

Today was deliberately a short day so that I had time to visit the cathedral in Laon. However that didn't mean that I had to have a dull journey.
Inbetween the intensively farmed fields are substantial areas of wild flower meadow. This was a particular good section. I found a very interesting track that ran adjacent to a canal, passed above the mouth of a tunnel and then ran across the fields.
The St Gobain forest lay spot-on my route but, like most forests, the vast majority of tracks are clearly signed as closed. I did find one or two which were appeared to be open and took those that were running in the right direction.
As soon as I was out of the wooded hills the cathedral was the most prominent feature on the horizon.
The cathedral was built in the 1150s and has stayed intact, supposedly including the glass, until today. Quite remarkable when one considers the destruction that has taken place in the area over the last century. The cathedral is considered to pre-date Reims and Chartres and is well worth a visit. The town is compact and quiet too as it is less famous.

I stayed at the Campanile hotel which must have been 3km from the old town. It was a hot job walking into town. There were 3 shops with a rack on IGN maps but only one with the sheets I wanted. The 'new' edition in a citron-green cover are 'GPS compatible' which means they have a UTM grid but include far less detail than the old versions with a blue cover. Perhaps the survey is updated as some of the tracks have 'moved' but from a few investigations on the ground I'm not convinced that they are accurate.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Day 2: St Omer to Roye

After a very good night's sleep the major part of the trip could begin. I'm only going to Vouziers, which could be done in a day from St Omer on the main roads, but my intention is to ride as many 'green lanes' on the route as I can. I'll be limited by time, lack of detailed maps, and a lack of energy to take too many dead ends.

I had to visit the Decathalon store to buy a new holdall for my waterproofs and chain and was there at opening time. In western Europe it's hard to find wilderness.

The day started dry, with a forecast for rain later so I needed to make a good start. The opportunity to ride a known lane was too much to miss, especially when it is so attractive.

I also visited a long track that I knew but it now has closed notices on the central section. That bit probably isn't the best, but it does spoil the lane as a through route. Perhaps that's the idea? The area covered today is very agricultural but that doesn't stop it from being picturesque.
During the day I saw a rabbit, hare and some small deer. Even though the fields are quite large there are hedgerows and ditches to hide in. Of course, hunting is a popular pastime here and so farmers will encourage the wildlife, if only to shoot it.

By mid afternoon I was tiring and the weather was closing in, so I completed my wandering and headed for the hotel. It didn't rain but there were a myriad flies getting inside my helmet and clothes to be very itchy. As the sky became duller I really needed my glasses to read the map but was too lazy to put them on.