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When I was 23, I fell off a motorcycle in a big way and I wrecked my right ankle. Being on crutches for a year cramped my style a bit but, as I got older, it didn't stop me hill walking, skiing, paragliding, or trying to climb seriously big mountains. In 1998 I walked around the "Tour of Mont Blanc" but, towards the end of this, my ankle was getting really painful. I had seen people on mountain-bikes and I thought "that has to be easier or, at least, less painful for the ankle". Although I'd owned a road-bike for some time, I had a quick test-ride on my mate's daughter's mountain bike and ... bottom gear was just amazing! I bought my own mountain bike, gave it a few test rides in my local hills, and started considering long trips on a bicycle. I had never been to Corsica. In 1998 work was quiet. Eight weeks off? Why not? While I'm at it, I'll give up smoking too.
Mon 15 June
The bike was packed so I set off and if I'm doing it properly, I have to cycle all of the way. I had, some time ago, established the easiest route to Cardiff, avoiding the hills. I went through Tondu, Bryncethin, Heol-y-Cyw, Talbot Green, and Fairwater, to the Black and White cafe on Penarth Road where I regularly had lunch. More flat roads led me through St. Brides Wentloog and Newport. My plan of avoiding main roads took me through Caldicot where, unaccustomed to cycling long distances, I stopped to read my book for an hour. Refreshed, I continued to Chepstow where I expected to find a campsite. I didn't find one so, as I was approaching the Severn Bridge, I looked over the crash barrier and found ... some long grass. I put up my tent.
Tue 16 June
Over the Severn Bridge, breakfast at the Motorway services, and onwards! Through Alveston, Iron Acton, and Chipping Sodbury. The weather was, now and again, terrible. I remember reading my book for an hour or two while I sheltered, under a bridge, from the rain but then the weather improved. I continued to Trowbridge where I found a campsite. Not, as I recall, an interesting night.
Wed 17 June
Up in the morning and ... more pedalling, through Westbury and Warminster, over some surprisingly high ground, towards Salisbury where I discovered that my cycle computer, which tells me how far I'd travelled each day, had stopped working. Halfords, in Salisbury, was closed when I got there so I just chucked it in a bin. I found a campsite on the A36 where I stopped for the night. I dumped my luggage in the tent, and cycled into Whiteparish for a pint or two.
Thu 18 June
I must have spent a lot of time resting, or sheltering from the rain, and reading my book. When I reached Ower, just north of Southampton, I'd finished it so, in order to minimize the weight I was carrying, I bought a Jiffy bag and a stamp and posted it back to its owner, at my local pub. I stopped in Southampton for lunch in a traditional cafe, next door to a fast-food shop. My cafe, probably closed now, was virtually empty whereas the fast-food shop was crowded. I had to ask directions in Southampton but I found Portsmouth OK and bought a return ticket to Le Havre on the overnight crossing.
Fri 19 June
Up in the morning, very early, but there's not much choice. When the boat docks, you get off and start pedalling. At least the weather had improved so I quite enjoyed the ride to Tancarville and, up the hill, to the bridge where I noticed the "no cyclists" sign. No problem. I'm on holiday. Time for my first nicotine patch. Back down the hill and, as my AA map of France didn't mention a car-ferry about 5km upstream, I went on to the next bridge. The Pont de Brotonne took me across the Seine and, at last, I could start going south! Not excessively: I put my tent up in some forest not too far from the bridge.
Sat 20 June
One of the nice things about travelling through France is the number of amazingly good cake-shops, or patisseries as they are known locally. Apple tarts are not my normal breakfast but, in Bourg Achard, there wasn't much else available and, what the hell, I'm on holiday! Quiet country roads took me to Le Neubourg after which I followed the main road to Conches-en-Ouch where the municipal campsite solved my accomodation problem. 35 miles, in a day, isn't a lot. I can't remember doing so but I must have spent some time relaxing and reading my other book.
Sun 21 June
Long, straight roads, took me to Breteuil-sur-Iton, Verneuil-sur-Avre, and Brezolles. I remember reading more of my other book here. I read it for an hour or two, sitting in a bus-shelter. Cycling, in the midday heat, didn't seem too attractive but, as the day wore on and the heat faded, I made it through Châteauneuf-en-Thymerais to Chartres. Finding my planned route from here was tricky but, with the aid of maps in bus-shelters, I found the road to Voves and, just before I reached it, I noticed a quiet road beside some fields. Ideal! I put my tent up. I hadn't noticed, on the other side of the fence, the railway line up which the TGV zoomed for most of the night.
Mon 22 June
A relaxing day, in warm weather, through the French countryside. Artenay and Neuville-aux-Bois, where I stopped for lunch, just passed by. I reached Châteauneuf-sur-Loire and, close to the river, I put my tent up. My planned route across France, avoiding the hills, involved finding the Loire and just cycling up the valley. Rivers are fairly flat so, in theory, the roads must be too.
Tue 23 June
Now that I've reached the Loire, it's just a matter of cycling up it. Warm weather and flat roads. The miles just roll by. After four days with no cigarettes, I change to the smaller nicotine patches. Just to keep life interesting I change sides, crossing a large bridge whenever I see one. I crossed bridges in Gien, Châtillon-sur-Loire, Bonny-sur-Loire, Neuvy-sur-Loire, Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire, Pouilly-sur-Loire, and finally in La Charité-sur-Loire. Near a town called Beffes I was running out of daylight so, while I was looking for yet another wild-camping site, I passed a real campsite. I booked in and put up my tent again. After three days, it's nice to have a shower! 77 miles is, so far, the furthest I've travelled in a day. I must be getting fit!
Wed 24 June
The Loire was starting to get boring! Once I'd crossed the Loire again, following the signs to Nevers, I just followed the main road on the north side of the Loire. When I reached Decise, fed up with the traffic on the main road, I returned to the south side. Mainly to avoid the traffic and to find quieter roads. In the middle of nowhere I camped, in the corner of a field near Gannay-sur-Loire, for the night.
Thu 25 June
I now seem to be following the Loire canal, rather than the river, but that's OK. The canal is fairly flat too, and it leads me through Beaulon to Digoin where I cross the river for the last time. After Paray-le-Monial the road gets hilly as I go through Charolles, but it's now time to leave the Loire and find the Rhône. I remember passing a sign showing that raindrops behind me will head for the Atlantic but raindrops in front of me will end up in the Med. The road leads me through Brandon and Sainte-Cécile. A few miles short of Mâcon, I stopped in a quiet industrial estate and put my tent up.
Fri 26 June
In Mâcon I headed for the centre. It's a good place to find some food and I have to cross the bridge across the Saône. It's not the Rhône, but it joins it downstream. Downhill all the way from here! I followed the East Bank of the Saône which was flat, at least, as far as Lyon where I really did join the Rhône. There was a campsite in Oullins, a suburb of Lyon, where I stopped. I met a couple of Scotsmen who had stayed on, after the Scottish soccer team had gone back home, for a few days. They had never seen anybody in reception and nor did I. A free hot shower!
Sat 27 June
I tried to pay for my camping but there was no-one around. I had a fairly reasonable wind from the north so I made the most of it. I can stop and eat tomorrow! The west bank of the Rhône looked like having quieter roads so I just followed it. With very few stops I managed 77 miles before, due to the fading light, I put up my tent on some land that nobody seemed to be using. My first day with no nicotine patch!
Sun 28 June
A day much like yesterday. The north wind was still blowing so, again, I had a fairly easy ride in spite of the weather, which was starting to warm up. The river seemed to meander a bit more, as I travelled further south, but my quiet road is flat and fairly direct: it just crosses the Rhône if this is more convenient. As I was heading for Marseille, I had to leave the Rhone sometime so I cycled through Orange and headed for Cavaillon. I was just starting to considering wild camping for a second night when a campsite appeared.
Mon 29 June
In order to avoid motorways, and busy main roads, I chose the road around the Étang de Berre. There was a hint of a hill, between Orgon and Eyguières, but otherwise the roads were flat as far as Martigues. I stopped for lunch and continued along the road to Marseille. This started as a fairly quiet, normal, road but it gradually changed into a quiet, normal, motorway. After about seven miles I felt I should turn off it, so I did so. Suddenly I was on hills that were far too big, in weather that was getting far too hot. A sign outside a pharmacy told me that the temperature was 38 degrees. More hills led me to a "Supermarket 1 min" sign. Great! I can buy some coca-cola. The sign boasted "Ouvert le Dimanche matin" but it didn't mention "Ferme le Lundi". With no other option, in spite of the fact that I could feel myself getting a bit dehydrated, I continued. Eventually I passed a petrol station and, looking inside, I saw a big cabinet full of soft drinks. I went in, bought a two-litre bottle of coca-cola, and sat outside to drink it. Glug, glug, glug and suddenly I'm covered in it. It's just too cold to drink! I persevered and, ten minutes later, I was back inside buying another bottle. Feeling much better I went on to the port in Marseille. The first boat to Corsica was going to Propriano. I bought a ticket, and waited for the ferry.
Tue 30 June
I can't remember what time the boat arrived but I remember that it was early in the morning. Propriano was shut,
and I was out of coca-cola. In the relative cool of the early morning I climbed up the road to Sartène where I
replenished my supply of coca-cola and had an early lunch. The road south, from Sartène, to the coast is full
of bends and small hills but, once the coast was reached, the road to Bonifacio was relatively flat. There was
only one campsite in Bonifacio so I stayed there. After three days with no nicotine patches, I decided to have
a couple of beers. Unfortunately the the Argentina - England game, in the World Cup, was on the campsite television.
Three Scotland supporters joined me. They might have been a bit loud, and a bit partisan, because the England
supporters at the same campsite went into town to watch the match. Had the match finished within 90 minutes, I
might have had an early night and no cigarette but, after extra time, the match went to penalties. I had more
beers and fetched my tobacco. The Scottish lads and I might have shouted a bit at the television. After the
match, it was my round. I went to the bar.
"D'ou venez-vous?" asked the barman "Argentina?"
It slowly dawned on me why he might have asked this.
"Mes amis? Ils sont Ecossais" I said "et moi? du pays de Galles."
There was a similar pause while he digested this unexpected answer. Then he laughed. He served me, closed the bar, and came to sit with us. He really was an Argentine and although he didn't speak Welsh, both of his parents did. He re-opened the bar for us a few times.
Wed 1 July
Time for a rest day, and a medium nicotine patch. On the road down, with no alcohol, I had managed with four medium and four small patches so I had some left over. I walked around Bonifacio, rested in the parks, examined the sights, and caught up with my eating. Losing weight on a cycling holiday is easy. Apart from the extra exercise, it seems that there's never a restaurant around when you need one. Bonifacio is a small, but pleasant, town and a good chance to catch up on all of the missed meals. I avoided the bar in the evening.
Thu 2 July
A late start, with a bit of a hangover, and a small nicotine patch. Six miles along the road to Porto-Vecchio, I turned left and headed, through Chera, for the hills. After a lunch stop in Sotta, more hills led me to Levie. A short day, in miles, but the luggage on the bike made it hard work. I was glad to find a sort of youth hostel with a spare bed, as opposed to a spare room. I went into town looking for a bar, and a quiet beer or two, but I couldn't find one. A man running a fast-food shop claimed that it was his birthday, and he offered me some unknown fire-water but I declined his offer.
Fri 3 July
Another day in the hills, today with no nicotine patch. The road over the Col de Bavella and the Bocca di Larone is protected from the sun, over much of its distance, by lots of trees. There are lots of places in the shade to rest too, and I finished my other book. After the descent to Solenzara, I found a campsite with a bar. Two beers and I went to bed. My second day with no cigarette.
Sat 4 July
The first fifteen miles, up the main road to Ghisonaccio and then inland to St. Antoine, were fairly flat. After there was a very gradual climb, up a small but very scenic gorge to Ghisoni. The only campsite here had no television, so I watched the Holland - Argentina match on the television in a bar. On my own, it's much easier to drink at my own rate and I managed with no cigarette. I was quietly supporting Holland as I worked there quite often in 1998. My Argentine friend wouldn't have approved but he wasn't there. Fortunately the Dutch scored the winning goal, just before the 90 minutes were up, and I left. Feeling quite OK, and ready for more cycling, I climbed up to the Col de Verde in the dark. Wild camping was, technically, illegal in Corsica but, arriving late at the pass, I only just managed to find enough room to put up a tent!
Sun 5 July
When the sun rises, at it does early on high ground, and starts to shine on a tent, it quickly get very warm inside. I rose and packed and I remember a very cold descent, early in the morning, into Cozzano where, amazingly enough at any time on a Sunday morning, there was a cafe and a general store open! More hills followed as I travelled through Zicavo and Corrano, over the col de Granaco, and down to the main road which I followed briefly before more hills led me to the Bocca d'Aja di Bastiano and another descent into Porticcio where there was a campsite.
Mon 6 July
With all of the luggage removed from the bike, it was just an eight mile trip into Ajaccio, and back, for another rest day. I can't remember that I did much. Ajaccio is pretty forgettable.
Tue 7 July
Back towards Ajaccio but then I headed for the col de Vizzavona. The main road to this starts off fairly flat but, as I approached the pass, the gradient slowly increased and the last mile or so was very steep. I stopped for a long rest, and a meal, at the top. The descent do Vivario was easy enough, with just a couple of small hills, and I found a piece of ground next to the railway, for my tent. I had a few beers, while it was getting dark, then put my tent up.
Wed 8 July
Corte, built on a hill, looks like an interesting town but I was aware that I hadn't covered much distance yesterday. Enough climbing, but not too much distance and, well, Corte was uphill! The traffic on the main road persuaded me to take some quieter roads although there was more climbing involved, over the Bocca d'Ominanda, to get to Castirla. Travelling west from here took me through another very narrow, and very scenic, gorge which brought me out at a lake near Calacuccia. A sign, pointing uphill, indicated a campsite but I first cycled around the lake trying to find one that was easier to get to. There wasn't one so, after a long ascent, I reached the campsite above Lozzi which, unsurprising considering the difficulty of access, was very quiet! Also, after all that work, the showers were broken! I watched Holland lose to Brazil virtually on my own.
Thu 9 July
Back down to the lake and up, again, to the col de Verghio. I'm beginning to take these high passes in my stride but, on the descent, I had my first problem with the bike. The back tyre was suddenly flat. I could see a bridge over a stream about 200 yards away so I pushed the bike there. This must be the first puncture I've repaired for twenty years and, fortunately, I had all of the necessary gear. I stopped for a meal in Evisa and, just out of town, the scenery appeared. The road headed for a bridge and, on the far side of the huge valley that I now found myself in, it crossed a cliff. The road was built on top of a huge dry-stone wall. It must have been more secure than it looked as quite large lorries were using it but, on my descent of it, with a very small wall between me and a huge drop, I didn't feel at all safe. The scenery continued all the way to le pont de Porto, on the coast, where I found a petrol station with an air-line. Travelling on tarmac, it's good to have tyres pumped up to near their maximum pressure and, with a hand-pump, there's a limit to what can be achieved. There was a campsite and lots of cafes, in Porto, specializing in sea-food.
Fri 10 July
The intention was to follow the coast road further north and, although the scenery is beautiful, the roads are definitely not flat and it was hard work. The first two passes, the Bocca a Croce and the Bocca a Palmerella, convinced me that I should stay closer to the coast, which I did although it didn't make a lot of difference. I stopped for a swim in the sea, at l'Argentella, before continuing on the road to Calvi where I found a campsite on the road out of town.
Sat 11 July
The coast road going East from Calvi is not flat, but much flatter than yesterday's roads and, after the centre of the island, it was a bit on the boring side. After the road turned inland, I took a minor road, over the Bocca de Vezzu, towards St. Fiorent. I noticed along this road that my back tyre was in trouble: the sidewall was starting to split. I took the tyre off and wrapped a plastic sheet, cut from an empty coca-cola bottle, around the inner tube before replacing the tyre. When I reached St Fiorent the cycle shop had just shut, so I found a campsite.
Sun 12 July
I could have cycled the fifteen miles to Bastia, waited until Monday, and bought a new tyre but, as the tyre didn't look any worse than it did yesterday, I started up the west coast of Cap Corse, the peninsula at the north end of the island. This part of the island is probably the most scenic but the west-coast road is very hilly. After going through Nonza, Albo, and Pino, I had another puncture, on the back wheel, in Morsiglia. I fixed this with another coca-cola bottle and, as there was a bar showing the World Cup Final in town, I stopped there. There was no campsite but I'd seen a good place to put up a tent. The bar filled up with locals who watched their team win and everybody got really drunk, and then they drove home. I suspected that I might be incapable of putting my tent up properly so I slept in my bivvi-bag close to, but not visible from, the main road. Passing motorists were blowing their car-horns all night.
Mon 13 July
When I woke up, there was a donkey munching away near the end of my sleeping bag. He stayed far enough away for me to get dressed and packed. I cycled a mile up the road and ... another puncture. I hid the bike, and luggage, in the forest and hitch-hiked to the bike shop in Bastia, bought a new tyre and tube, and hitch-hiked back to the bike. After I'd fitted the new bits, it was getting dark when I started cycling to Macinaggio. When I got there, there was a campsite.
Tue 14 July
The east coast of Cap Corse is not as spectacular as the west coast so, after cycling south as far as Santa Severa, I headed inland and crossed over, via the Col de Santa Lucia, back to the west coast. There is a "high-level" road on the west coast, a little further inland than the main road, more spectacular than the main road, and probably less hilly. It eventually joined the main road at Abro shortly after which I turned back inland for Olcani and a pass called the Bocca di San Giovanni. Past the village of Olcani, the road quality took a turn for the worse. I followed a forestry track up to the pass where I camped wild, drank a couple of beers which I'd bought in Olcani, and watched a beautiful sunset.
Wed 15 July
The descent started, very carefully, on gravel roads but as I got lower the roads improved. At Marine de Sisco, there was not much to do except cycle down the coast road to Bastia. According to my map there were no more passes over the hills here. When I arrived in Bastia, I found that there was a long wait for my ferry to Nice. Although there were earlier ferries, I had chosen Nice as the ideal starting point for the Alps. I had also decided that, on tarmac, I needed smaller tyres as they are easier on the legs. My new one, on the back wheel, was slightly smaller than the old tyre and really belonged on the front wheel. I returned to a petrol station, which I'd passed earlier. I removed the luggage, turned the bike up-side-down, removed both wheels, swopped the tyres over, re-inflated the tubes using the air-line, and re-assembled the bike. Back in Bastia, I did some shopping and, preparing for the Alps, posted my souvenirs plus any surplus weight back home. Books that I'd finished and maps of Corsica, for example, were no longer needed. My only reading matter now was "Teach yourself Welsh". The ferry eventually arrived and, as I got off in Nice, it was just starting to get dark. I followed the coast road to the airport then, when I found the N202, I turned inland. Using the last of the light I put my tent up, near Saint-Isidore, in the corner of a field.
Thu 16 July
The day started well. The road initially followed the River Var along nice, scenic, and flat roads. I stopped for a meal in Roquebilliere which involved a bit of climbing as the town is on a hillside, just off the main road. A bit more climbing to get to Saint Martin-Vesubie, where I filled up with coca-cola, and then the big climb up to the Col de St Martin at 1500 metres. There was a ski-resort here and today's climb confirmed what I'd suspected: the mountains here are bigger than those in Corsica, and the Alps haven't really started yet. The descent took me down into the Tinée valley, a tributary of the Var, and two miles up this valley, in Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée I found the campsite that I'd used, on one of my motor-cycle trips, a year or two earlier.
Fri 17 July
Another gentle start to the day as the road follows the River Tinée as far as Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée. I think that this town, until recently, used to be the end of the road. France used to have the highest tarmac road in Europe, but then the Swiss built a higher one. In response, the French built one higher again so my road for today, over the impressively named Col de la Bonnette Restefond, is a nice tarmac road. Not so long ago it was an impressively high, at 2800 metres, muddy track. The weather was also impressively hot so it was a long, hard, slog. I was attacked by several insects on the way up. They seem to know that, going slowly on a steep climb, you can't really fight back. I stopped and changed into longer trousers, and a longer sleeved shirt. At the top of the climb, I met two American cyclists so we swapped cameras and took photographs of each other. The road on the descent was being resurfaced so we all had to cycle over hot wet tar, then over loose chippings. Suddenly, my tyres were made of tarmac too! Due to loose chippings flying off our tyres we separated, the Americans setting off first, but separately, for their campsite in Jausiers. I couldn't find their campsite so I continued to one, just up the road, in La Condamine-Châtelard.
Sat 18 July
Saint Paul, where the next climb starts, was just up the road. The Col de Vars, at only 2108 metres, is nowhere near as high as yesterday's but the ascent, especially at the start, is much steeper. It was a hot day, even in the morning, and there were no trees to shelter me from the sun. I was glad to see the cafe on the top, where I stopped for lunch, before my descent to Guillestre helped to keep me cool. The temperature had cooled a bit more while looked around Guillestre, so I cycled to the start of the climb up to the Col d'Iseran. I had decided that most of the hard work, on the ascents, is better done in the coolest part of the day so a few hour's work in the evening took me to Arvieux where I found a campsite.
Sun 19 July
I had seen signs, yesterday, indicating that some cycle club had arranged to close the road, for half of the day, while they arranged a cycle race. They didn't seem to mind me. There was a table, on the side of the road, where racing cyclists could grap a plastic cup full of water. I'd run out of coca-cola and they seemed happy enough to fill my bottle with water when I stopped for a rest near their table. Near the top a passing cyclist, while zooming past me, shouted "Allez, Gallois!". I took a while to work out that he was shouting at me! I had sewn a couple of small Welsh flags to the back of my panniers. After reaching the top, at 2360 metres, and having a meal, and descending to Briançon, there was lots of time to do the next pass so I headed for it. I was passing a cafe when a couple of voices shouted "Gallois! Une biere!". Naturally I stopped for a beer, or two, with the Frenchmen who had passed me earlier. They were waiting for their wives to collect them. I showed them my "Teach yourself Welsh" book when they said that two of their wives were studying the Breton language at some university in Brittany. When they arrived, we could hold a basic conversation with me speaking Welsh and the wives speaking Breton. We parted and I continued in the evening over the Col de Montgenevre, not one of the larger ones, and I camped on a common near Bousson.
Mon 20 July
The Col de Sestriere is another fairly easy one and I climbed it before the sun became too hot. I stopped for a meal in Sestriere after finding a cash-machine that would give me some Italian money. I noticed, during a rest on the gradual descent to a village called Fenestrelle, that my other tyre, now on the back wheel, was developing a split in the sidewall. I stopped, took the tyre and tube off, and reinforced the tyre with my coca-cola bottle. I also protected the inner tube, from the sharp edges of the coca-cola bottle, with some cardboard from a rubbish bin. I proceeded, gently, to the start of the climb up to the Col de Fenestre. This pass used to be shown on the AA map of Europe but, on the AA map of France I was using, it had been removed. I knew about it only because, a year earlier, I had crossed it in the other direction on my motor-bike, which had only just made it. The roads are rough, to say the least! The ascent from the South is fairly well singposted and I reached the pass well before sunset. Another wild camping night.
Tue 21 July
The start of the descent into Suza was on a really rough road but my hastily repaired tyre survived it. The lower part of the descent, although on tarmac, has twenty-five consecutive hairpin bends. I reached Suza, a reasonably sized town, and looked for the cycle shops. They were both closed. I also tried to eat but, every time I asked, the response was a shaking of the head and a pointing to the watch. I still have no idea what time one is meant to eat in Italy. I continued up the next pass, the Col de Montcenisio, back into France. Thankfully it was a cloudy day and I managed to grab a meal at one of the tourist cafes near the top. It was getting dark when I completed the descent into Lanslevillard so I put up my tent in a field. Nobody noticed.
Wed 22 July
There was no cycle shop in Lanslevillard. As the tyre didn't look any worse, I just kept pedalling. In Bonneval-sur-Arc there was a tourist map, showing the road up to the pass, which I found quite useful. Some might prefer not to, but I like to know how far I am from the top. When I stopped to look at this map a pair of cyclists, both wearing bright orange tee shirts, were just starting the climb. I thought that my bike had more than enough luggage attached to it but, compared to these two, mine was a lightweight.
After studying the map I started the climb, noting the features that I'd memorized: up a big double zigzag, left into a small valley, a bridge over the stream, and up another zigzag which turns around a small hill towards a small tunnel. Just after this bend I passed the two orange tee shirts who had stopped for lunch. Some might consider that carrying two chairs, and a picnic table complete with tablecloth, plates, knives and forks etc. on a cycling holiday a little over the top but these two didn't. They were enjoying their sandwiches and wine. Yes, of course, with wineglasses. I said something pleasant in French, and they replied with something else, and a wave, as I cycled past them.
My climb continued, towards and through the small tunnel, and up through a small gorge. I was approaching the last hairpin before the top when I heard a horn beeping, and people shouting, some distance behind me. A minute later the horn was beeping right behind me. Normally, the best way to negotiate a left hairpin is to keep to the extreme right of the road as this is where the gradient is gentlest. I can't explain why but, on this occasion, I felt that I should keep as close to the centre of the road as possible. The horn kept beeping until enough straight road was visible for its owner to overtake, and it continued beeping well after I had been overtaken. I noticed a sticker on the rear bumper of the car as it disappeared.
Five minutes later I reached the top. I was locking my bike to a large signpost, intending to stop for a drink in the cafe, when the Belgian started shouting at me in French. His family was still getting out of the car.
"Idiot cyclists! Can't you stay on the side of the road? Can't you see that there's a car coming behind you? Can't you etc. etc."
Knowing that he was Flemish I interrupted, loudly and none too politely, in Dutch which I spoke then much better then than I do now.
"If you don't like cyclists, you should spend your next holiday on the Belgian motorways. I will definitely not be there if Belgium is full of arseholes like you. And you can take your wife with you, and your children, and your dog, and you can leave the roads in ..."
"Hey arsehole!" shouted a voice behind me, also in Dutch. This is an extremely gentle translation. I looked around. The first of the orange tee shirts had arrived and it was obvious that her knowledge of Dutch swearwords was far superior to mine. "Open your bonnet" she continued. Some more words, for the sake of decency, have been lost in the translation. "so I can take your horn and shove it up your arse."
By this time she had reached the car and was shaking it up and down on its springs, trying to open the bonnet, still swearing loudly in Dutch. A crowd was gathering. The Belgian, meanwhile, has decided that maybe he and his family wouldn't stop at this cafe. After getting his family back in the car, a lot faster than they had got out, he disappeared from the car park in a cloud of dust. The Dutch lady was left standing, next to where the car had been, with her hands on her knees, and breathing heavily. Her husband had also arrived. He was huge and, although he was a remarkably placid guy, he might well have had some unwitting influence on the speed of the Belgian's departure.
"Lovely weather!" I said, still in Dutch. She collapsed laughing.
"You must be English!" she said, now in English "Only an Englishman could possibly discuss the weather at a time like this!"
"No" I said "I come from Wales, but we have weather too."
"Ah, yes!" she said "We've been to Wales. A beautiful country, but too much weather. Let's go for a beer. It's the only thing that the Belgians do well."
She turned and started walking towards the cafe, leaving her husband and me standing in the middle of the car park. He looked at me.
"You understand Dutch?" he asked.
"Yes, if you speak slowly"
"We've been married for thirty five years but I've known her for longer than that. In all of that time, I've never known her to use language like that. Let's go for a beer. I don't want to annoy her."
So we followed her to the cafe, we had a couple of beers and a snack, and we chatted generally about our respective holidays. Where we'd been and where we were going, holiday stuff. I explained that I needed to get down to Val d'Isere before the shops closed, so I could buy a new tyre and so, after about a half hour, I left them. Down in the valley I stopped at the first cycle shop in town and bought a new tyre. They were very friendly. They fitted it for me and also sprayed my chain and gears with oil. I was soon outside the shop again, preparing to continue my trip, when I saw it. Again.
Although I'd been to Val d'Isere before, I'd been there for the skiing so I'd never noticed that it has a cycle track through the town, next to the road. Cyclists going downhill don't need to use it as they have no problem staying with the traffic. It is generally used, although it's technically on the wrong side of the road, by cyclists plodding their way uphill. And the Belgian was parked on it. And, in front of his illegally parked car, was a policeman with an open notebook. Suddenly, again I can't explain why, I wanted to use this cycle track. I crossed the road to get onto it and continued down the hill, squeaking to a halt next to his car. Hoping that French policemen didn't speak too much Dutch: "Hey! this is a cycle track! It's not a car park for arseholes! Doesn't anybody teach Belgians to drive?"
But he wasn't listening to me or, if he was, he wasn't replying. He was pointing at me and talking to the policeman. "It must have been him! He's a troublemaker!" The policeman waved me to a halt as I was about to pass them.
"Did you do this?" he asked.
"Did I do what? I don't understand."
He pointed to the Belgian's tyres. The two that I could see were flat. A smile was unavoidable.
"No. I've just arrived in Val d'Isere. I've been in that cycle shop buying a new tyre."
He escorted me back to the shop and interrogated the guy who'd fitted my tyre.
"Yes. This man was in this shop. Yes, he bought a new tyre. Half an hour, maybe a little more. Yes, he was here all of the time. No, he never left the shop."
So I was allowed to continue my journey. I gave the Belgian a smile as I passed. It was a long, but easy, descent to Séez where the climb to the Lesser St Bernard Pass starts. I didn't have to climb very much before the first hotel, and my first shower in four days, appeared.
Thu 23 July
The climb up to the Lesser St Bernard pass, not spectacularly high at 2188 metres, is also fairly gentle. I wasn't reduced to bottom gear at any point and, as the weather wasn't too warm, a fairly relaxing climb! I was joined by a young Dutch couple, both of them fans of Bryn Terfel, for most of the ascent and we stopped for lunch in the ski-resort of la Rosière. They seemed to be having a much more relaxed holiday than mine, and they were thinking of stopping there. I continued to the pass and, after the long descent to Aosta, started up the larger St Bernard in the evening. After a couple of hours, I reached a campsite in a village called Gignod.
Fri 24 July
A steady climb up to Etroubles, where there was nowhere to eat. Nor in Saint-Oyen. The climb continued, past the entrance to the tunnel, then through a forest, quite welcome as the weather started to warm up, then out into the open. Suddenly, it's hard work in bottom gear. During one of my many rests, when I was looking up at the pass, there was a glint of sunlight from above it. It was from a bus. It suddenly occured to me that the pass was not what I thought it was. It was in fact the Col du Fenetre, with a cafe where I stopped for lunch, before even more hard work in extreme heat to get to the top. I stopped for another meal after which I met the two Dutch cyclists, just arriving, that I'd met yesterday. I mentioned that I'd stayed in Gignod (pronounced jin-yo, with a French "j") but they claimed to have stayed somewhere else, and explained where it was. "Sounds like the same place" I said, then I thought "How would a Dutchman pronounce it?". I tried "Chich-nod" (with the "ch"s as in Welsh) and he said "That's it!" before laughing at the reason for our confusion. They stopped for a meal as I started my descent.
I stopped at another campsite down in Sembrancher. I had just checked in and was walking back, past the bar, to put up my tent when a voice called me from inside the bar.
It was the Dutch couple. Not the two that I'd met yesterday, but the two that I'd met on top of the Iseran two days ago. They were staying at the same campsite. They had taken a train to Martigny, I'm not sure from where, and intended doing the greater St. Bernard pass from the Swiss side. They were just about to go out for a meal, but we agreed to meet later. I sorted out my tent, unloaded the bike, and had a shower. I had just finished my meal, in the same bar, when they returned.
After the pleasantries, I told her that I'd met the Belgian again, and where, and how. During this she was unusually quiet, but then "I'm very sorry if you got into trouble".
"No trouble at all." I replied "I was in the cycle shop and, anyway, it's hardly your fault!"
She looked at me, then at her husband, then at me again. Then she took the plunge. They had stopped to buy postcards in Val d'Isere, but they didn't think much of Val d'Isere itself because it was just a plastic ski resort and not a real town. While he was in the shop, looking for postcards that didn't have the words "Val d'Isere" on them, she had been waiting outside, looking after the bikes.
"Then I saw his car. I went for a short walk. Oh! my shoelace is undone! I'll bend down and tie it up. Psssssss. Then, suddenly, my other shoelace was undone. Psssssss."
She had deflated all four of them. Her husband, until this point, knew nothing of this.
"What have I married? My god! What have I married?"
The evening, and the conversation, meandered on. Jaap, her husband, had had a fairly serious heart attack about ten years previously. His doctor had been brutal. "You are going on a diet. No more junk food, no more cigarettes, no more alcohol, and you exercise when I say, and only when I say. Otherwise you won't last another year." And Jaap had obeyed. He'd retired from work, and he'd taken to walking gently around his home town, then a little bit further. After a year, with his Doctor's permission, he'd cleaned up his old bicycle, first so that he could visit his brother three miles away, then later to visit his sister ten miles away. One day Marijke had cycled with him. They'd enjoyed it, and they did more of it. They started planning their first cycling holiday, and things just progressed from there. They now spent three months, every summer, cycling around some part of Europe and they can't understand how they managed to waste so much cycling time when they were younger.
She returned, eventually, to their first holiday.
"It wasn't a long trip. We could do it in a day now but then we took a whole week. Very gentle. Twenty kilometers in the morning, a stop for lunch and a two hour rest, then twenty kilometers more in the afternoon. Then a nice hotel. We had booked them all in advance. We visited my cousin in Lekkerkerk, we stayed with her for a week, and then we cycled back home. And we really enjoyed it. I remember there was a night in a local bar, a very quiet place with just a few people playing billiards, then two men came in, and then maybe ten more. They all spoke English, but the ten were from Scotland and very difficult to understand. Some of them were wearing skirts - I can't remember what they are called. Some of them started singing. Most of the songs were in English, and one or two were in a strange language that I didn't know, but we had a good evening. I'd had a few beers too, so I even sung a song."
"Diana de jaagster" I said. "Yo ho, tra la la, tra la la."
I'd been waiting, for some time, for a chance to interrupt but Marijke, in full flow, can be difficult to stop. She stopped now. Absolute silence. She was looking at me.
It was an amazing coincidence that we'd bumped into each other here, a hundred miles away from our meeting two days ago, but this wasn't the second time that we'd met. I'd been realising, slowly, that it was the third. The first time must have been around 1990. I was working regularly in Holland at the time and, while I was there, I stayed in a very nice hotel called the Witte Brug with all of my meals, and a couple of beers, paid for. I'd felt a little awkward misusing this hospitality so, whenever I fancied more than just a couple of beers, I used to walk a hundred meters down the road to a bar called the Amstelbron, where I could buy my own beer, and practice speaking Dutch with the locals. One evening a coach had arrived at the hotel, full of Scottish tourists anxious to see the tulips, and the clogs, and the cheese factories, and the windmills. I was just finishing my dinner when their driver asked me if there was a decent bar in the vicinity. As a driver he didn't feel comfortable drinking a lot, at least not with the entire coach party watching him, and he wanted to escape for a while. I invited him to join me at the Amstelbron. Ten minutes after we got there the driver was horrified. A group from his coach trip, complete with kilts, came in through the door and joined us. Nevertheless, it was a good evening with a fair bit of singing, some of it involving me, but I remember another couple, who had been very quiet for most of the evening, but who sang "Diana the huntress", in either Dutch or German, towards the end of the night.
Marijke was still looking at me.
"That night" I said "was in the Amstelbron, in Lekkerkerk. You remember the first man who walked in, with the Scottish bus driver, and who sang the song that wasn't in English?"
"No!" she said. "I mean yes - I do remember, but no - it can't be you! That man was much bigger, and he didn't have a beard."
"I have been cycling for over five weeks, and I am a lot smaller now than when I started, and my beard comes and goes, but I am the same man. I don't remember you very well from that night but, from what I do remember, you are now both a lot smaller. Him especially!"
I looked at Jaap, slightly over 6 feet tall, turning grey, but most of him now looked like muscle. He must have been older than I was but he could cycle uphill, in spite of his previous heart attack, carrying more luggage than I had, and faster than I could. I remember a twenty-five stone man most of whom was definitely not muscle. I remember a heart-attack waiting to happen. I didn't know that it already had. The transformation was amazing, I couldn't have recognised him. She was also much slimmer than then. I wasn't sure whether or not it was diplomatic to say so.
"I was there. So was the bus driver. So were a lot of kilts. It was in Lekkerkerk. The Amstelbron. You were there too. You sang Diana the Huntress, probably in Dutch but I'm not sure. You were wearing a yellow jacket."
She couldn't disagree. We ordered some more beers.
"The song that you sung, that night in Lekkerkerk, the one that was not in English. Can you sing it again?"
"I don't know many songs in Welsh - it was probably Myfanwy. I'll sing it again if you'll sing 'Diana de jaagster' again."
So I sang it again, fairly quietly because I'm not sure that everybody wants to listen to my singing. I was reminding her of her promise to sing her song again. Suddenly somebody was poking me in the shoulder.
"I do hope you will forgive me. I don't normally talk to complete strangers, and interrupt their own private conversations, but I really must tell you."
It was an extremely Welsh accent, but it was more than just the accent. The way she was using Welsh-language idiom translated directly into English, Welsh must have been her first language.
"It is not often that the Welsh is spoken nowadays, even in Wales, and to hear somebody singing a Welsh song, in Switzerland, was the last thing that I expected. We thought that you sung it beautifully. It has really made our evening. I only wanted to thank you."
This doesn't normally happen. I was about to thank her for her kind words, but I was too slow. Too slow by miles. Marijke had already hijacked the conversation.
"It is you! What is your name? Maria Higgis? I know you! You are the lady in the hotel."
I was confused. The Welsh lady was confused. I thought I'd heard of a young Swiss tennis player called Maria Hingis but surely confusion here was impossible. This Welsh lady wasn't young. I looked at Jaap. He was confused too but he was looking at the Welsh lady, who spoke again.
"Yes, I am staying here at the hotel but we've only been here a couple of days. I don't know you, do I? Do I? No, I'm sure that I don't know you."
"No" said Marijke "not this hotel here! The hotel in Wales. The one by the lake, in the small village with the long name. I can't remember the name of the village. I fell down your stairs and we had to stay two days extra."
There was a slight pause.
"No. Surely not. Diawl! Not the two people from Holland on bicycles?"
Her name was Mair Hughes and, sure enough, she and her husband had sold their Bed and Breakfast business in North Wales a few years earlier. They had since been busy seeing more of the world. Marijke and Jaap had stayed there at some point during their tour of Wales. I still didn't know exactly where it was, and I didn't find out. The ladies didn't talk to us men much for the rest of the night. They were busy catching up on lost time. Ieuan sat with me and Jaap, but none of us said much more. Language problems, especially after a few beers. I translated a bit for them, but my command of the Dutch and Welsh languages leaves a lot to be desired. The evening continued.
Jaap was still fairly sober - he'd been drinking the same glass of beer all evening. Towards the end of the night, he decided to give me some advice. It was in Dutch, and spoken slowly for my benefit.
"Spend as much time as you can on a bicycle. You will stay fit. You will meet many new friends. You will be happy. Twenty years ago I was so stupid, I cannot believe now that I could be so stupid. I did not know, then, what was important. Now I am happy. I know what is important. Marijke is important. She is my life. Just look at her now, and tell me."
He paused to make sure that I was looking at her, and still listening.
"Just look at her. Have you ever, in your life, seen a woman so happy?"
Sat 25 July
Another hangover, and another late start to the day. Fortunately, the two passes today are not big ones. Down to Martigny, over the Col de la Forclaz, down to Triente, and over the Col des Montets, and down to a campsite in Les Praz-de-Chamonix. After thirteen passes, in ten days, it's time for a rest.
Sun 26 July
Down into Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, on a luggage-free bike, for a relaxing day. Chamonix was, and probably still is, the climbing and mountaineering centre of the French Alps. I know it fairly well from previous holidays. It is now also full of coachloads of tourists but, at least, the restaurants are now open on Sundays! There were two films, both about mountaineering, and both in English, at the cinema. Naturally I watched them both before returning to my campsite.
Mon 27 July
End of holiday, mission accomplished, time to go home. The weather, for the first time since I crossed England, has taken a turn for the worse with a steady drizzle. Down the valley to Les Houches where it was difficult to find a "normal" road where cyclists are legal. After a couple of attempts, I just ignored the "no cyclists" sign. I took the first exit, at Servoz, where the normal road becomes more obvious. I continued, following the River Arve, down through Bonneville to Annemasse. I couldn't be bothered to find a Swiss cash-machine so, having spent virtually all of my Swiss money, I kept to the French side of the border. Before I reached St Julien-en-Genevois I'd had enough of the rain and decided to stop at the first campsite that I saw. There were none. Two hours later I passed a small, scruffy, hotel. I went in to the extremely dark bar.
"Y a-t-il un chambre?"
"Bon. c'est bien"
I didn't care how much. Recognising my accent, he switched to English.
"Have you come far?"
"Today? From Chamonix"
"Yes" I said, but thinking "How many places are there called Chamonix?"
"That must be over 100 kilometers!" he said "In this weather, you must be mad! Were you the only cyclist on the road?"
"No" I said "I passed maybe a dozen others, but all tourists, with lots of luggage. I think that today the sports cyclists are at home, polishing their bikes, or maybe their mechanics are polishing their bikes for them."
There was a slight pause.
"You don't like sports cyclists?"
"It's not that" I said "They don't seem to like us! We tourists always wave to each other but, when you wave to a sports cyclist, nothing! They just ignore us. Sometimes their children, on their little sports bikes, wave back and you can almost hear their parents saying 'Don't wave to him - he's only a tourist!' as they pass."
"Did you come over the Col de Galibier?" he asked, changing the subject.
"No" I said "I'm not sure where it is. It's not one of the bigger ones, is it?"
"The Tour de France was there today." he said "It's big enough."
"They probably want a rest." I said "They must be tired after their long train journey from Paris."
"Where's your bike?" he said "I'll help you with your luggage".
I turned around and, as my eyes had now become accustomed to the darkness in the bar, I noticed three men sitting in the corner: they all wore cycling shorts and shirts covered in Peugeot, Festina, Credit Agricole, etc.
"Good evening" I said, as I passed. Not a word in reply. "Sports cyclists?" I asked the owner when we were outside. He just laughed. After I'd locked up the bike in his garage, we carried the luggage to my room. I had a shower, found some dry clothes, and returned to the bar. One of the waitresses was behind the bar when I got my first beer and the menu. I was just finishing my first beer when the owner arrived with a large one.
"De la Maison!" he announced. I looked confused.
"Those three men who were in the corner" he said "were Germans. They come into my bar at three o'clock, they buy three beers, and they are still drinking the same three beers when you arrive. They came on cycles, but their car is parked less than a kilometer away. They came to see Jan Ulrich win the Tour de France but ... this morning he was doing well. He was leading the race but now, after the first day in the mountains, he is five minutes behind the leader. That's a shame, because I love the Germans! They have gone now, in their car. I think, maybe, that they don't like something you said."
I ordered a meal and, just as I was finishing, two motorcyclists arrived at the bar. They were touring France on their Harley Davidsons and they seemed to be speaking Dutch. I can't remember how we got talking, but I quickly learned that the Dutch language didn't exist: it was just a dialect of Flemish, and that my Honda NTV motorcycle, although it wasn't a Harley, was a V-twin and so almost acceptable. They had also decided that they were going to finish off a bottle of cherry brandy, which they could see on a shelf, before they went to bed. We went to bed at about four o'clock. Unfortunately, I've started smoking again.
Tue 28 July
It was a very late start to the day but, with lots of coca-cola, I recovered quickly. The weather had improved and the climbing wasn't too bad. I travelled through Bellegarde, Nantua, and took the flatter road to Pont-d'Ain before heading for Bourg-en-Bresse. The road from here to Mâcon looked straight on the map, and it was straight. It just wasn't flat. It seemed to take for ever to reach the municipal campsite in Mâcon. It's amazing how, with a late start, and not feeling at my best, eighty miles just disappear.
Wed 29 July
I had come through Mâcon on my way down so now it should be just a matter of reversing my route but I made the mistake of following the road-signs, rather than just heading west. I cycled past a "motor vehicles only" road sign onto a single carriageway road, just wide enough for two lorries, and with a hard shoulder made of gravel, as far as the first possible exit. I managed to rejoin my original route but I must have wasted an hour. Now I just wanted to get home. Although I stopped for a quick meal, I just kept going but I didn't travel anything like as far as I did yesterday. I camped under a railway bridge near Gilly sur Loire.
Thu 30 July
I found some coca-cola in Bourbon-Lancy before the rain started. I stopped at a cafe, for a couple of coffees and a ham sandwich, until it eased. I continued to Decise, where the rain started again. I dived under the canopy of a shop which was closed for lunch. I lit a cigarette. After five minutes a young lady, cycling past, stopped and joined me.
"Excusez moi, Monsieur. Avez vous une seche alumette?"
I passed her my lighter. She had short hair, which came to a point over her forehead. As she was lighting her cigarette, a drop fell from the point straight into the lighter. She lit her cigarette from mine. Meanwhile, I had been thinking why her accent seemed so strange. Eventually I worked out why.
"Ecossaise?" I asked.
"Oui" she said.
"Moi? du pays de Galles. Why are we speaking French?"
She was from Kirkudbright. She had come down by train and was thinking of heading for the nearest station and going home by train. So was I but, according to her, the forecast was good. We watched the rain, for about half an hour, until it almost stopped. We continued our journeys. She disappeared. Younger and fitter than I was, and no luggage. It was cloudy as far as Nevers, but then the sun came out. Now I'm quite happy cycling again. I found the campsite near Saint Satur, which I'd noticed on the way down. The cafe was closed so I dumped my luggage in my tent and cycled into town. Cycling is so much easier with no luggage on the bike. I looked at a few restaurants before choosing one. I went in and was just sitting down when ...
"Are you following me, Taffy?" A scottish accent. I joined her.
After the soup and the main course, I was still hungry. Probably something to do with my having one Mars bar, one proper meal, and a ham sandwich since yesterday morning. I ordered the main course again, followed by the Black Forest Gateau. The chef came out.
"How do you eat so much and stay so slim?" he asked.
I just thought "Nobody that I know is going to believe this."
Fri 31 July
Athough I was much lighter than when I stated this trip, I liked to think that I was fitter, too. Since leaving Mâcon I haven't been travelling any further in a day than I did on the way down. Today, with an early start, I was determined to get past Chateauneuf-sur-Loire, where I'd stopped on the way down. When I got there, I just kept going. I didn't quite reach Voves but, as it was getting dark, I put up my tent in a field near Artenay. Over 90 miles. Maybe I am getting fitter.
Sat 1 Aug
Only an hour to reach Voves, then back north through Chartres, Brezolles, Verneuil-sur-Avre, Breteuil-sur-Iton, to Conches en Ouche. Now that I've gained a whole day over my trip south I stopped at the same campsite, and had a few beers. No cigarette for five days!
Sun 2 Aug
At last! I covered in one day what took me two days on the way down. At Le Havre I looked for the return half of my ticket. When I found it, it was a crumpled, wet, mushy, unrecognizable mess. I handed it over at the ferry desk. Amazingly they were able to check that I'd bought a ticket six weeks ago and they printed me a new one.
Mon 3 Aug
The ferry arrived at some totally unreasonable hour in the morning. There's not much to do except to start pedalling. I passed one campsite that I'd used six weeks ago, and then the other. It started to get dark just after I'd gone through Bath. There
was no hotel and no campsite. I stopped, to ask, in a pub called the Star in Pennsylvania.
Their accommodation was full, and the nearest hotel was over ten miles away. It wasn't raining but I didn't fancy ten more miles in the dark and in the fog.
I must have looked disappointed.
"Are you carrying camping gear?" asked the landlord "Have you got a sleeping bag?"
"If you stop for a drink or two then, after we close the bar, you can sleep in the corridor there." he said "The bar will be locked up but the toilets will be available, and there's a fire-exit. And, if you want, we can fix you up with breakfast in the morning."
Tue 4 Aug
After my breakfast, I set off. I retraced my steps through Chipping Sodbury and Iron Acton but then I found myself going under a motorway in Winterbourne. I hadn't come down this way! From the sun's position in the sky I assumed it was the M4 so I turned right after the bridge and found myself in Stoke Gifford. I passed a police car so I asked how I should get to the old Severn Bridge. The policeman advised me to continue to the next roundabout, turn right onto the A38, and to take the M4 for South Wales. His mate pointed out to him, before I had a chance, that I was on a bicycle. I said "That's OK. Once I find the A38 I'm OK" and continued. I found the A38 and continued north-east. The A38 had obviously once been a four-lane single carriageway road but now it was just two lanes, with pedestrian islands in the middle and a wide cycle lane on both sides.
I was cycling along, in my orange cycle lane, minding my own business, when I noticed the back end of an Audi about four feet in front of me. Its brake lights were lit, and its left flashing indicator was flashing - a recipe for disaster! Naturally I braked hard but my bicycle brakes didn't do much except squeak. He must have noticed my squeaking and, after checking his mirrors, decided on an emergency stop. This involved his skidding into my cycle lane and I was left barely enough space, between his car and the kerb, to get through. I was about to wave a finger or two at the driver, and then pedal off towards the bridge, when I heard a loud "crunch, tinkle" behind me. I stopped and looked back. A milk float, surprised by the Audi's sudden stop, had driven into his boot. Shit! Now I'm a witness to an accident. I parked the bike against a wall, and started walking back. The Audi driver was banging his steering wheel. The lady in the Milk float looked a bit dazed.
"Are you OK?" I asked her.
"I think so" she replied "but I'm not sure about the van."
"It looks like an insurance job to me" I said. "If you want my name and address, as a witness, you're quite welcome."
In the meantime the Audi driver had got out of his car.
"Witness, my arse!" he said "I'm going to sort this out now!"
He was walking towards us, rolling up his sleeves. Just behind me, on the edge of the pavement, was a gap in the brick wall. It led into a large grass area. I walked backwards through it and the Audi driver followed me. He started swinging wild punches at me but I had no problem avoiding them. After seven weeks cycling I was fairly fit, and he certainly wasn't. While walking backwards, which was all that was necessary to avoid being thumped, I'd also noticed a fairly overweight policeman running down the far side of the road. I continued walking backwards and ducking a bit but, as it became more obvious that I wasn't fighting back, his attempted punches were getting closer. After one particular near-miss, I'd had enough. I punched him in the face. He fell down backwards and stayed down. His nose started bleeding. Eventually the policeman arrived. He stood between us, breathing heavily, for a minute or so. The milk float lady had arrived too.
"Are you OK, love?" he asked her, once he could speak. She nodded.
"And you, sir?" he asked me. I'd started rolling a cigarette.
"I will be" I said "after I've had this cigarette".
He looked at the Audi driver, whose nose was now turning his white shirt bright red, and said nothing.
He pulled out his radio. "Jeff?" he asked.
"Chhhhhhhhh" said the radio.
"Bit of an accident at this end." he said "Can you look after the traffic while I write some names down?"
"Chhhhhhhhh" said the radio again.
Satisfied with this response, the policeman put his radio away and pulled out his notebook. A minute later a police motorcyclist arrived. Meanwhile, the policeman looked at the Audi driver.
"Can I have your name and address, please, sir?"
"Why are you asking me?" he answered, looking at me. "It's him you should be asking!"
"I'll be asking him later." he said "Now, I'm asking you."
"Did you see what the bastard did to me?" he continued.
"Tried to force you off the road with his bicycle, did he, sir? Don't worry, I've got it all on video."
I then noticed his car parked in the bushes. 1998 was well before the filth had started persecuting me for exceeding the speed limit so I thought no more of it. Anyway, he didn't seem to have it in for me.
"In the meantime" he continued "I want your name and address and I want to see your driving documents. Oh! I don't think I've cautioned you yet. I'm charging you with exceeding the speed limit and also with either dangerous driving or driving without due care and attention - I'm not sure which yet - I'll have a chat with my sergeant. You are not obliged to say anything, but etc."
A slight pause.
"But you still have to tell me your name and address. Now, for the third time of asking, can I have your name and address, please, sir?"
And so he finally gave his details. He wasn't happy, but he gave them. The milk float lady and I also gave our details but I heard no more about it. When the Audi had driven off, and we'd established that the milk float was still driveable, we got ready to leave.
"Oh, by the way, Sir" the policeman said to me "The speed limits in this country apply to bicycles too."
I found the Severn Bridge, and continued home.
I didn't smoke again for a month or two. Then, after a good evening, with lots
of beer, well - I'm only human.
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