I arrived in Breskens 10 minutes ago and as luck would have it I was straight on to a fast ferry to Vlissingen. It is currently 15:30 and I left Bray-Dunes at 08:35. So far 65 miles today.
Out of Bray-Dunes I headed South which as it happened was not exactly the best way. I soon realised this and swung East on very minor roads with a strong wind on my back. It was all quiet lanes towards the Belgium border and Verne. Now I am familiar with the Schengen agreement and did no expect to have to lay my hands on my passport until the homeward ferry check-in. As I sped through a minuscule hamlet something in a wooden shed caught my eye. I slammed on the brakes and returned, not knowing what I was supposed to do…… see pictures below 😉
Finding Verne was not at all difficult given the excellent cycle route signing and the fact that the church/cathedral was visible from far off on account of the flat lands I was traversing. Entering he town I had a little difficulty determining what was cycle lane and what was pavement but following the lead of others soon cleared that confusion. I was, I thought, scanning diligently for cycle route signs to Neiuwpoort. I crossed a bridge and some 50 metres later thought “what did the sign on the bridge say”? I backtracked to discover that it was the Dunkerque-Neiuwpoort canal and hence the direct route to follow.
It did not take long before I was out of town and bowling along in the breeze. It was easy going. On arrival at Neiuwpoort there was a little head scratching at the joining of several canals at what I can only describe as a canal round-a-bout. I soon found the finger posts indicating Lefringe and Oudenberg and I was underway once more. I passed possibly hundreds of cyclists on this section traveling between the Towns. I think I was the only one wearing a helmet – the locals made up for this though by wearing their overcoats!
At Oudenburg the signs for Brugge appeared and it was a slight change in direction that meant I lost pretty much all of the beautiful wind advantage I had been enjoying. On almost exactly the stoke of midday I entered the city of Brugge. This was an experience and a half! It started well enough with wide, quiet cycle lanes but at one point bridge works forced all cyclists to take a diversionary route with the cars who in turn had formed a long queue at the traffic lights joining the principal ring-road. Well cyclists of Brugge were not going to sit in line and wait and streamed along both sides of the vehicles. I followed suit but on their nearside with many others following. I reached a point, where, given the load of my panniers decided the gap too narrow and stopped fearing I may remove a wing mirror. As I looked behind every other cyclist simply found gaps between the vehicles to stream down their offside. Was I going to be left behind? Was I heck.
The next set of lights saw an absolute mass of us surging away as the lights changed.
I haven’t ridden with as many cyclists since taking part in he BHF London – Brighton in 1998 & 2000. What fun.
A few minutes later and I was back in the tranquility of the Belgium countryside.
I was en-route for the Dutch border and the town of Sluis. Oh dear, I had promised myself lunch in Brugge. Never mind.
Twenty minutes further on I discovered the delightful small town of Damme. I cycled around for a few minutes until deciding upon which of their quaint eating establishments was to be the beneficiary of my euros and my sweaty disheveled person upon their terrace. I found one to my liking in a quiet street and installed myself. Oily fish was my choice of dish, which came, served on a bed of ……. oily salad – perfect. Sardines on the continent is always one of my favourites.
Just before 2pm I was underway again, and whats more the sun put in an appearance. Oh La La.
Sluis was soon upon me and although I did not venture into the centre it did look very inviting. This was the Netherlands and my first dutch cycle track around Sluis was all very nice BUT gravel!!! However this was short lived and the real cycle lanes did not disappoint. This might be a good point to mention that whilst traversing Belgium I experienced Pave on three occasions. The first time I hit it at about 18mph, the second time I saw it coming and slowed to about 10mph. By the time I encountered the third I had learnt the trick of riding the gutter at a snails pace. Paris-Roubaix I will not be entering next year 😉
I came to the conclusion that if Sluis was anything to go by June is a great month to visit the Netherlands as the huge tourist car park was all but empty.
Oostburg was next up. It was clean, bright and utterly charming. Old bikes had been sprayed all over in bright colours and were leaning against trees and various bits of street ironmongery along the streets. Each bike was adorned with flower baskets containing flowers in keeping with the colour the bike was sprayed.
Breskens was after Oostburg and even Vlissingen was on the cycle signs despite it being at the other end of a ferry ride from Breskens. Two ferries shuttle back and forth so I guess there is never more than a 15 minute wait for a ferry. As “one” departs the ferry the crossings passenger statistics are displayed. I crossed with 172 other passengers, 7 other bicycles and one moped!
Just the ride to the North of the island where my selected hotel, and, hopefully, a cold beer awaits.
A minor navigational error in Middelburg saw me leaving the town towards the North East which by the time I realised meant a number of unnecessary miles were covered, and worse still sometimes into the strong wind. I arrived in Oostkapelle at 17:30 – thirty minutes after the hotel reception closed for the day. After a little investigative work and the assistance of some cycle friendly dutch folk I had the owners mobile number and thankfully she was happy to come to the hotel and check me in. She was not in the least put out by my later than envisaged arrival but took the time to show me bike where the “special” shed was – just for my bike. Next stop a hot shower. The cycle computer indicating 79.98 miles covered today.
Before I retreated to my room the hotel owner marked on a local area map the local eateries and once smelling and looking more presentable I headed off to the nearest which was actually situated right on the beach looking out across the North sea – which on this evening looked most inhospitable.
Whilst the rain lashed down outside I enjoyed a wholesome meal and a couple of well deserved beers. Just the journey back to undertake now.
To be continued…………..