Tom putnam winter touring London to Bruges

Guest Post: Winter Touring to Bruges

We love inspiring adventure, but we love going on our own even more. Last weekend, our co-founder Tom grabbed a couple of his mates and proved to us all that cycle touring is fun in November too.

We’re handing this week’s blog over to Jez, one of the three hardy musketeers who took on the two-wheeled weekender.

Tom with his friends at a christmas market

'What could possibly go wrong? Our 200-mile tale begins.

Mustering at Liverpool Street station, we set sail on the Boat Train for the bright lights of Harwich Port, bellies full of supper #1: a distressingly spicy 'Wrap of the Day'.

tom and his friends cycling to the ferry

Checked in on board the ferry and into our faux-wood panelled cabin, we proceeded to the Seven Seas restaurant for our second feed of the evening - carb loading like good boys on Thai Green Curry and chips. 

Back to our room to earn our Blue Peter badges: out came the junior hacksaw as we set about adjusting new poles for Hallam's bivvy bag - a coffin-shaped tent - to replace those previously lost. The room suitably filled with toxic dust from our sawing, we retired to our bunks.

tom's friends in their room in the ferry

We awoke at 0630 to the electric twang of birds chirping over the intercom, prised on our Lycra and headed down to the diner for brekky. Well, two of us did: at 15 euros each I plumped for a four year old prune cake I'd found somewhere in the dark recesses of my kitchen.

Spat out at the Hook of Holland, we fired up the Beeline. Things went well - we navigated successfully through the complex port area and got onto a delightfully flat and soft cycle lane; smiling as we glided beneath fizzing power lines, admiring the thundering industry along the way. Alas, our progress was halted. Diversion. Get your wellies on! Of course, being in Holland, someone was building a windmill and they'd closed the road.

For accuracy, it was a wind turbine - and we don't like stereotypes - but for our own amusement as we headed down a cattle path towards a dead end, we indulged our artistic licence.

We got back on track and jumped on our second ferry of the trip, the journey giving us a few minutes to duck tape up the air vents on my cycling shoes and don a second pair of socks. Oh,it was nippy!

second ferry of the winter tour

So far, the Barbour [jacket] was working well. Nay too sweaty. We'll return to that later.

Beeline sent us on through delightful, historic Dutch towns, and along canals straddled by ancient bridges and flanked by glorious renaissance architecture. We marvelled at the smoothness, the flatness of the roads and many cycle lanes. They know how to please a cyclist in the Netherlands! We crossed a series of islands as we made our way toward the Belgian border, riding over massive infrastructure laid between them, holding back the North Sea from the low lying land.

cycling alongside the canal

After a sure 2000 calories each at a slightly eerie, deserted, teddybear-filled pancake house on the island of Midden-Zeeland, we took our final ferry over to Breskens, a short whizz from the Belgian border.

Cycling up on the dunes along silky cycle paths, we encountered our first hill: some ten metres in height. This was NOT what we signed up for! Our Everest defeated, we kicked on to Bruges to catch the 2nd half of the England vs Australia rugby match. Arriving in the dark we plumped for the busiest, least authentic establishment we could: an Irish pub off the main square full of drunken Brits. Oli and Tom enjoyed the English victory; I hid outside near a man screaming You'll Never Walk Alone. Ah, the tender sounds of home.

Some drying off later in a quaint cafe/bar in a cosy side street followed by a trip to the supermarket, we cycled off into the dusk to find our camping spot, bags laden with beef and cheese, a bag of bread rolls swinging from the back of Tom’s pannier.

A canal, of course, blocked our route into our Google-identified copse so on we rode, plumping for a patch of land beside a small quarry. Bruges lit up orange in the horizon, punctuated to the left and right by smoking stacks and wind turbines.

Tents out, stove on and we were cooking. Tom acted as sous-chef, Oli in charge of frying on his small gas stove. I supervised, cigar in hand. And so to bed.

tom's camping at night

As we crawled bleary-eyed from our tents in the 8am gloom, a few things came to light. One, a large caricature clown face dumped in the bushes staring at me, like something from a Stephen King novel. Two, various crushed children's toys. Three, a woman's handbag. Four, something buried in bubble wrap between our two tents. We chose well boys!

Packed up, we left the crime scene and trundled back to Bruges for many, many pastries. We set off through the mist and soon found ourselves again gliding along a smooth canal path, honking rowers and trying to communicate with ducks.

tom cycling alongside the river in Bruges

Progress was good. Beeline was working well. Plenty of warning of time to turn and keeping us on smooth surfaces. Our first stop of the day, the Belgian proprietor watching us elaborately securing our bicycles before telling us it was verboten to park them where they were. An angry Oli refused to purchase pastries from this man - just coffees - so we sat violently sipping our drinks, making sure we made use of lots of his hand towels.

the beach in Calais, France

Waving goodbye to Koksijde, we rode the few clicks to the French border and soon found ourselves in Dunkirk. Stopping to pay our respects at the First World War memorial, we noticed its damage from the Second.

Back onto cycle lanes and out of town west towards Calais, the sea 100 metres to our right behind the dunes. Tom scored his first fall of the weekend, a surprising achievement for it to come so late in the trip. A quick 'drop-and-go'.

By this point the Barbour was a steaming mass inside, dry as a bone outside. I prayed for the rain that never materialised as I simmered away. Sometimes we must admit our errors!

Into Calais as dusk descended, Beeline directing us through the labyrinth of roads branching towards the port. A quick halt to for some fannying as we identified the road to passport control. 500 metres from the end, legs a bit tired, ginger facial hair bristling and tickling, I clipped in on a downhill slip road, lost my balance and toppled to the floor, teetering majestically, fear growing in my eyes as gravity - and my full backpack and pannier - wrenched me toward the earth's core. Much screaming was had.

Many coins entered the swear box. I took two points for that to Tom's one. I take victory in this round of the Unplanned Dismounting Competition!

Through the port via a strip wash in the truckers' toilets and onto the boat. A binge of miniature milks from the cafe sugar/straw area. A telling off from a man in a hi-viz jacket and walking our bikes off the boat.

Dover station, London, home and bed. Via the shower. A long one.

200 miles in two days. Peaceful countryside, lovely towns, plenty of interesting nibbles to be had. Beeline keeping us on track. A joy to ride and we'd do it again in a heartbeat. As long as we have a tail wind!’