2016-07-29 (Day 43) Quineville – Cherbourg – London

Today’s photo shows the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth harbor, which at a height of 170 m is one of the tallest structures in England outside of London. The tower has 3 observation decks one of which has a glass floor 100 m above the sea. It was opened in 2005 after 5 years construction work and cost over £35 million. However, it has proved to be very  popular and in 2006, attracted over half a million visitors. In 2015, it was renamed the Emirates Spinnaker Tower after a sponsorship deal was agreed with Emirates Airlines. Emirates, who also sponsor Arsenal Football Club, have company colors of red and white and the sponsorship deal included re-painting the spinnaker red and white. But the Spinnaker has always been painted blue and white the same colors as the local football team, Portsmouth FC.. The Emirates company colors of red and white are the same colors as Portsmouth’s local  rivals, Southampton. So, this part of the contract has generated a lot of local opposition and as of 2016, has yet to be carried out.

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Camping la Sinope in Quineville. At the campsite, I met up with 2 Dutch cyclists who were on a cycle tour of Normandy using recumbent bikes. They said they were planning on visiting Utah Beach that afternoon. Touring using a recumbent is certainly more comfortable and quicker than using a conventional bike but because you sit so low down, you are a lot less visible to other traffic. No doubt in Holland there are lots of cycle paths and segregated lanes and the flat landscape is an ideal terrain for recumbents. But in large parts of Europe, you have to mix with traffic to get anywhere and recumbents just look so dangerous in those type of situations. For example, while the road from Quineville to Utah Beach is quiet and perfectly fine on a recumbent, to try and visit the other D-Day beaches on a recumbent would be very dangerous as the roads are much busier.

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Total cycled on Wednesday – 45 km. Total cycled so far – 1940 km. Today’s trip should only have taken about 2 hours but ended up taking over 7. I had only cycled about 5 km when the rear derailleur on my bike got mangled in the spokes going up a small hill in the village of Lestre. I am still not sure exactly what actually happened. Since getting my gears fixed exactly a week earlier, I had often engaged the biggest gear with no problems. However, it is possible my bike had fallen over the night before and this may have kinked the derailleur slightly. The derailleur may have bent only a slight amount but it was enough to get caught in the spokes. I probably was only going at 5 km/h at the time but it was still fast enough to twist the derailleur like a curly-wurly.

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Mangled gears on my bike. You can see from this photo that the jockey plate on the side of the derailleur sheared off when it got caught in the spokes. This meant the chain kept slipping off the derailleur anytime I went over a bump. I first tried straightening the derailleur to no avail. I then tried breaking the chain to bypass the derailleur but only succeeded in breaking my chain tool. I was left with no option but try and limp to Cherbourg and maybe try and get the bike fixed there.

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Street map for Tourlaville. The access to the port of Cherbourg is nearer to the town of Tourlaville than the city of Cherbourg. Apparently, on January 1st 2016, the commune of Tourlaville was merged with Cherbourg and 5 other communes to create the city of Cherbourg-en-Cotentin. This new city is named after the Cotentin penisula and  has a population of 85,000. As to how popular the new name is, I have no idea but I ended up staying in Cherbourg for 2 days and didn’t once see any signs with the new name on them.

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Ferry port terminal in Cherbourg. As soon as I got to Cherbourg, I went straight to the ferry terminal. I got lost a few times and ended up going to the maritime museum, Cite de la Mer, about 1km away from the ferry terminal before finding the right access road. By now, it was nearly 4 o’clock but as the Stena Line sailing wasn’t until 21.00, I thought I had plenty of time to book a ticket.

Ferry timetables for both Stena Line and Irish Ferries. When I made it to the ferry terminal, I first called into one of the toilets to try and clean my hands of all the oil from trying to fix my chain. Even after scrubbing them for 10 minutes, they were still mostly black. I then approached the Stena Line desk to buy a ticket for that evening’s sailing only to be told that the sailing was booked up. I had checked the website the night before and while it stated Friday’s sailing was booked up, there was still space on Wednesday’s sailing. Instead, I was told that they could book me on Friday’s sailing. This was the exact opposite of what was on their website and was doubly annoying as I had cycled like mad to make it to Cherbourg in time for Wednesday’s sailing. It was obvious that the staff didn’t want to sell me a ticket for that evening’s sailing, perhaps for security and immigration reasons, eventhough the ferry wasn’t due to leave for another 5 hours. By now car passengers were arriving and there was a small queue behind me, so I decided to stay the night in Cherbourg and try and get a ferry ticket the next day.

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Camping Collignon in Tourlaville. Camping Collignon is located only 3 km from the ferry terminal. There is a cycle path from the port all the way to the campsite so it was the ideal location to stay at while I decided what to do about getting a ferry. My original plan was to get a ferry to Rosslare and then cycle about 160 km to Dublin. But with the gears mangled on my bike, it made more sense to get the train to Dublin using Rail Sail. You can get Rail Sail from any train station in England so I decided to get a ferry from Cherbourg to Portsmouth and then get the train from there to Dublin.

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Brittany Ferries catamaran ferry between Cherbourg and Portsmouth. The next day, (Thursday) I cycled back to the ferry terminal and booked a ticket with Brittany Ferries on their high speed ferry for 12 o’clock on Friday. The ferry takes 3 hours to cross the English Channel but because of the time difference arrives in Portsmouth at 14.00 local time. The plan then was to get a Rail Sail train from Portsmouth to Holyhead via Newport in Wales. The train was due to leave Portsmouth at 16.30 so I would have roughly 2 hours to get from the harbor to the train station. This train was due to arrive in Holyhead around midnight in time for the overnight ferry at 02.00. This ferry normally arrives in  Dublin about 05.30 in the morning which meant I would have all day on Saturday to try and get my bike fixed.

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Brittany Ferries arriving at Cherbourg. There was quite a queue of cars when I arrived at Cherbourg for the 12.00 sailing. The catamaran ferry used by Brittany Ferries was built in 2000 in Tasmania in Australia. It was first used as a floating conference centre during the Olympic games in Sydney before being chartered to Tranz Rail in New Zealand for their ferry service between the North and South  Islands. In 2007, it was purchased by Brittany Ferries for £30 million and after sailing all the way from New Zealand to Europe, it was re-named the Normandie Express. Originally it operated between Portsmouth and Caen and occasionally between Portsmouth and Le Havre but from April 2016 onwards, it now only sails between Portsmouth and Cherbourg.

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Google Earth view of the inner harbour at Cherbourg port. You can clearly see on the above photo where the Normandie Express docked. The Irish Ferries and Stena Line dock is nearby though slightly further out in the harbour. In 1912, the Titanic docked in Cherbourg after leaving Southampton and before stopping at Cobh on it’s fateful voyage. The Titanic would have docked on the wharf opposite where the Cite de la Mer museum is located now. In 2006, the dock on which the Cite de la Mer is located was renovated allowing cruise ships to dock there. Normally about 50 cruise ships a year call into Cherbourg  but there were none in port when I passed through.

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Cherbourg Harbour is the largest artificial harbour of the world. The harbour at Cherbourg is massive and consists of 2 parts, the inner harbor (Petite Rade) and the outer harbor (Grand Rade). Begun in 1783, the outer central wall was completed in 1853 and equipped with three forts in 1860. Built 4 km from the coast, the outer wall is 3.6 km long, with an average width of 100 m at its base and 12 m its summit. The fort de l’Île Pelée was built between 1777 and 1784 and served as a prison during the Revolution.

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Aerial photo from before D-Day in 1944. During the Normandy landings, Cherbourg was the primary objective of the American troops who had landed at Utah Beach as it was the only deep-water port in the region. The U.S. VII Corps fought their way north and encircled the city on 21 June 1944. 5 days later, after furious street fighting, 37,000 German soldiers surrendered on 26 June to the American army. After a month of de-mining and repairs by American and French engineers, the port welcomed the first Liberty ships and from then until the end of the war, it became the busiest port in the world, with traffic double that of New York.

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After 6 weeks in France, it was time to bid farewell. Eventhough the cars and cyclists weren’t allowed on the boat until about 11.45, the Normandie Express was loaded in about 15 minutes. Every car space on the ferry was occupied and the only place for bikes to tie up was beside the ramps leading to the upper deck. The ferry  pulled out of Cherbourg more or less on time just after 12 midday. The catamaran has a top speed of 46 knots , which is about 80 km/h. However, to conserve fuel it travels much slower and averaged about 35 km/h on the crossing to Portsmouth.

Lots of warships in Portsmouth harbor. Portsmouth is the main port of the British Navy and there were numerous warships tied up on the docks. The Royal Navy has been based at Portsmouth since the 15th Century and HMS Victory, used by Admiral Nelson during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 is on display here. During the Normandy Landings, the Royal Navy supplied about 1,000 warships and about 4,000 landing craft, many of which set out from here on D-Day. However, since World War 2 the Royal Navy has downsized considerably and the fleet now consists of only 70 ships and 11 submarines. After losing 4 ships to Exocet missiles during the Falklands War in 1982, all Navy warships have been replaced by stealth warships with angular plates and concealed weapons. Apparently, these ships show up on radar as no bigger than a fishing boat and as a result, are much harder to hit with a ballistic missile.

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HMS Daring. This is HMS Daring which was the first of 6 Type 45 destroyers built for the Royal Navy between 2006 and 2013. It was built by BAE Systems here in Portsmouth and cost about a £1 billion. To put that into context, it was about 20 times the cost of the ferry I was on eventhough both ships would be of a similar size. You might think that all that money buys you a faster ship but the top speed of the Type 45 destroyer is 58 km/h which is about 12 km/h slower than the Normandie Express. All 6 ships cost the Royal Navy £6 billion which is roughly the same amount of money Ireland spent building 800 km of motorway across the country in the last 20 years. Each motorway in Ireland is used by thousands every day whereas these ships are unlikely to ever see combat before being replaced in another 20 years time.

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HMS Dragon. Apparently, all 6 Type 45 destroyers were tied up in Portsmouth when I passed through though I only spotted 3. The presence of all 6 of the Royal Navy’s most advanced warship in port at the one time caused quite a stir in the British media. The Royal Navy has roughly 80 vessels including 11 submarines. About 20 are normally in port in Britain at any one time so Navy officials claimed that it was just co-incidence that all 6 destroyers were in port at the same time. However, it turns out these ships cannot operate in the Persian Gulf as the warm water destroys the gas turbine engines used to drive the ship. These engines also generate all the power for the weapons and electrical fittings on each ship. If the engine was to overheat, the ships suffer catastrophic failure and would have to be towed as happened in 2010. Each ship’s engine is due to be re-fitted to cope with warm water but the budget and timescale of this operation has yet to be agreed.

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Route from the ferry terminal to Portsmouth train station. There is  a train station in Portsmouth harbor but it is a good bit away from the Brittany Ferries terminal and it is actually quicker to go to the main train station in Portsmouth. But when I arrived at Portsmouth station, I was told that you have to book a bike at least 2 hours in advance for it to be allowed travel on Rail Sail using South West trains. It was now about 3 and with the train due to leave around 4.30, it meant I was half an hour to late to book the bike. So I was left with no option but to book a ticket to London Waterloo instead and either get Rail Sail from London or stay at my sister’s house in Barnet.

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Waterloo train station, London. On the way to London, I managed to contact my sister and she said I could stay the week-end at her house. This was great as it meant I could get the bike repaired in London before getting the train to Dublin. The first weekend in August is a holiday weekend in Ireland but not so in Britain. Therefore, it was much more likely that bike shops would be open over this weekend in London than in Dublin.

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Total cycled on Friday – 25 km. Total so far – 1965 km. The roads are so bumpy in London my chain must have come off about a dozen times while cycling from the city centre out to Barnet. Normally to cycle from Waterloo to Barnet would take about an hour but the chain came off so often.it ended up taking almost 3 hours. In hindsight, I should have fitted a zip tie to the derailleur to stop the chain slipping off anytime I went over a bump. After I arrived in Barnet, I read about a Dutch cyclist who used gaffer tape to hold his derailleur in place and he managed to cycle from the Alps to Holland using his bodged repair.

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Row of Santander Cycles near Waterloo station. With the gears broke on my bike, I was tempted to ditch it and hire one of these Boris bikes instead. £2 gives you 24 hour access and you can hire a bike using a credit or debit card without having to register. However, despite there being 8,000 of these bikes scattered about London you are limited to half an hour’s hire. If you go over half an hour, you are charged an extra £4 per hour. Each bike weighs 23 kg so cycling from Waterloo to Barnet would take over an hour and so cost about £6. However, as there are no docking stations in Barnet or indeed any of the suburbs in London, it would have been a waste of time and money me taking a Boris bike.

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Crossing the Thames on Waterloo bridge.  This is probably the best view from any bridge in London with the Millennium Wheel nearby and the Houses of Parliament in the distance. Waterloo Bridge was the only bridge destroyed by the Germans during the Blitz in World War 2 so the present bridge dates from 1945. What surprised me the most about crossing Waterloo Bridge and cycling through the rest of London was the amount of cyclists I encountered on the way to Barnet. I had lived in London 20 years ago and back then cyclists were a rare sight. In the last 2 years, I have cycled through Paris and Brussels and again cyclists are a rare sight in those cities too. But not so in London this evening and there were hundreds of cyclists out and about on the roads.

The same photo from Google Street View. You can clearly see from the above photos how the cycle lane ends abruptly on Waterloo Bridge. For most of the length of the bridge, it is clearly separate from the bus lane, then as you approach the Strand all of a sudden it merges with the bus lane. This is due to the underpass under the Strand which causes the main road on Waterloo Bridge to narrow as it approaches the Strand. What I don’t understand is why the pavement on Waterloo bridge is so wide because compared to other bridges in London, relatively few pedestrians use it.

Before (bottom) and after (top) photos from Victoria Embankment showing the Cycle Superhighway. Many moons ago, I used to cycle along this embankment while commuting to work in West Ham from Wembley. At that time, it was very dangerous as you had to pass by a lot of parked cars and coaches as you can see on the old Google Street view photos above from 2012. However, in the last few years, a cycle superhighway has been added along the Embankment and it has made this road much safer.

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Map of planned Cycle Super Highways. The plan for a network of super highways across London was first announced by Mayor Boris Johnson in 2009 but as of 2016, most of the planned routes have yet to be completed. Even worse, the only route that could have benefited me between Waterloo and Barnet was Route CS 12 but in 2013, this route was cancelled and no work has taken place on it. CS 11 to Swiss Cottage takes you towards Barnet but it is only at the public consultation stage and it will be at least 2020 before it is completed if it gets the go-ahead. In 7 years, between 1899 and 1906, London dug the Central, Bakerloo and Piccadilly tube lines whereas, in the 7 years between 2009 and 2016, London has only completed 2 out of 12 Cycle Super Highways and half completed another 2.

Destination Barnet. As no cycle superhighways have been built towards north west London yet, I was left with no other option to get to Barnet than by using the existing roads and jostle with the rush hour traffic. Having said that, it wasn’t too bad and the only difficulty I had was with Highgate Hill. I had to  get off and push but even if the gears on my bike worked, I don’t think I would have got up that steep brae with the load on Travoy. In places, the road was bumpy and my chain must have slipped about a dozen times. As a result, it took me over 2 hours to cycle the 20 km or so from Waterloo to Barnet. After travelling around about 200 km by ferry, train and bike, it was great to meet up with Siobhan and her family after such a long and eventful day.

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