London-Paris greenway: the heavy secret of a myth

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Published in November 2016

logo London-Paris greenway: the heavy secret of a myth

L'itinéraire du Paris-Londres à Chatou par
L'itinéraire du Paris-Londres à Chatou

Cycling to London from Notre-Dame de Paris is a unique way to travel between these two major touristic capitals. The route laid in 2012 is about 400 km long and includes crossing a sea. It seems so simple, and yet...
We have tried out this famous route that has spilled a lot of ink and tourists… We discovered that behind this mythical name lies another reality that no tourist guide will reveal: the Paris-London route is one of the hardest and most complex touristic cycling routes. So, if you want to do it someday, follow our advice, so that your journey does not turn into a nightmare.
For more details on the difficulties faced as well as advice on the breakup of the route into stages, see the second part of our blog Paris-Londres à vélo : Episode 2 - Décodage des étapes

Itinéraire principal de l'Avenue Verte London Paris, par Gisors, que nous avons emprunté - Paris Londres à vélo par
Itinéraire principal de l'Avenue Verte London Paris, par Gisors, que nous avons emprunté

logo Take a GPS, guide books and maps:

You will soon realise that the directions given in the itinerary are not sufficient and that you would have to often consult the GPS tracker and/or the map to put yourself back on the right track. Moreover, there are no directions on the official board, just the logo of a compass marked Paris and London. There are no indications to explain where the arrow points, and the mystery continues on the other side of the Channel as well… Imagine the confusion when you come across two arrows at the same time, one for going towards London and the other to return to Paris. This is why guide books and paper maps are indispensable, at least to help you know the name of the next town that you will cross. Smartphones are also very useful to find places to eat and sleep and that can also accommodate your cycles since you will cross some deserts on the route.

Panneau de direction de l'Avenue Verte London Paris - Paris Londres à vélo par
Panneaux de direction de l'Avenue Verte London Paris

logo Build strong calves:

Although this is not like climbing l'Alpe d’Huez, the route is far from flat, except for the two or three sections on the greenways in France: the greenway of the Epte valley, the section of the Trans’Oise, and the Avenue Verte. Now that you have been warned, make sure to take the lightest luggage possible or you will punish yourself. Also, unless you are very athletic, plan short stages of not more than 50 km, even less in certain stages, otherwise you risk going crazy or collapsing on the road…

logo Follow the Italian stickers:

Again, if you think that a red carpet has been laid out to lead you to London with signboards on every street corner, you are dreaming!! Fortunately for us, poor cyclists setting off on the road in the quest for Great Britain, many cycling travellers, such as, have left stickers on the posts along the route, at the height of cyclists. Follow the indications of the stickers carefully as they complete opportunely the missing signboards of the itinerary, or even better, lead you to roads that are more enjoyable and better for cycling than the main route. Unfortunately, on the other side of the Channel, these stickers go towards Brighton before disappearing altogether.

Les autocollants des voyagistes à vélo sur l'itinéraire de l'Avenue Verte London Paris - Paris Londres à vélo par
Les autocollants des voyagistes à vélo sur l'itinéraire de l'Avenue Verte London Paris

logo Skip the touristic places:

If you decided to do the Paris-London tour because you were thrilled by the photographs in cycle touring guides and by the very attractive video found on the France Vélotourisme website, then we will reveal the killing truth: there is nothing to see on the way or nearby. You will have to move a little away from the route, sometimes a long way. But there, careful!! As it is, the markings on the Paris-London route leave a lot to be desired, so don’t go looking for adventure away from the route, since there are no indications showing the way to and from the touristic sites. In spite of the numerous “getaways” suggested in the cycle touring guides, veiled in a vague artistic language that should not be trusted: we tried out two trips that were very interesting, but to reach there, (Brighton in England) or to get back (Base de Loisirs de Cergy-Pontoise), we sweated heavily to find our way. And as already mentioned above, every kilometre or rather every meter climbed counts on the Paris-London route. Save your energy as much as possible for more sound activities such as reaching your lodging or a shop to buy something to drink.
We have listed some places very close to the Paris-London route (the one going through Vexin): the Château de Maisons-Laffitte, the museum and park of the Château de Théméricourtthe Domaine de Villarceauxthe castle of Gisorsthe abbey of Saint-Germer-de-Flythe Château de Mesnières-en-Bray, the seaside resort of Dieppe. Once in England, you will pass by the Seaford seaside resort, then close to the little postcard village of Alfriston that is worth a little detour.

Domaine de Villarceaux à Chaussy
Domaine de Villarceaux à Chaussy

L'Abbaye de Saint Germer de Fly - Paris Londres à vélo par
L'Abbaye de Saint-Germer-de-Fly

logo Worry about knowing where to sleep, quenching your thirst and finding something to eat:

One of the great challenges on the Paris – London route is an almost desert at the gates of Paris with no or few places to stay or camp, deserted villages  without shops. Your route is a succession of climbs and descents through wheat fields stretching to the horizon... This starts as soon as you leave Cergy and continues almost till Gournay-en-Bray, which is therefore half the length of the French section. In England, it is the whole stage between Polegate and Forest Row, which is best to avoid, as explained in the second episode of this blog.
In order to escape wild camping with nothing to eat or drink, it is better to carry a lot of water and buy some food as soon as you come across the smallest shop, and even take some provisions in your bags (hence the importance to leave a little place in your luggage). Book your hotel rooms on this portion of the route, especially around the weekends when all the rooms are taken by storm by wedding guests… And yes, one important point that nobody mentions is that marriages in Normandy are a structuring element for cyclists on the Paris-London route…
Another method to tackle the desert is to avoid it … In the second part of this blog, we will provide our version for a more intelligent break-up of the route, and even the stages to skip so that cycling remains a pleasurable experience and does not turn into a nightmare.

logo Do not push yourself the whole way and make friends with the train:

Even if you follow the religion of “I never give up” or “I hate the train”, you have to listen to the impenetrable voices of wisdom and skip certain stages, and even come back for different reasons, such as finding a room, before continuing with a well-rested head.
But skipping stages is not easy either as, contrary to some routes such as La Loire à vélo, the train is not always on your side… Therefore, skipping a stage signifies skipping large portions of the route, a Cornelian dilemma from the beginning… This is particularly true in England, where the train line is completely to the West of the route. But if you value your life, and given that our friends the English love living dangerously on the road, it is wiser to take the train to arrive intact for a selfie in front of the London Eye…

logo Do not miss the Trans’Oise greenway:

Did you know that now London is just 401 km away from Paris instead of 406 km…? We discovered this on the way: a shining new greenway connects Beauvais and Gournay-en-Bray, inaugurated in the spring of 2015. It saves you at least 5 km and will spare you a climb after the village de Saint-Germer-de-Fly.

La voie verte de Trans Oise à Saint Germer de Fly - Paris Londres à vélo par
La voie verte de Trans'Oise à Saint Germer de Fly

logo You will not regret going till Polegate in England:

After reaching the Newhaven port in England, the main Paris-London cycle touring guide strongly recommends skipping the Newhaven – Polegate stage for unclear reasonsThere is the risk of taking a kind of highway, the story goes, and there is no possible alternative… Everybody follows the recommendations of the editors of the guide book, without even suspecting that perhaps the route has not been tested on cycle!! However, there is an alternative to taking the train and the awful highway. More than an alternative, it is THE ROUTE that cannot be missed. A little gravel path such as you have seen in your cycling life leads you to the bottom of an enchanted valley, dug out in the cliffs, lost between the sky, the earth, and the sea, and with sheep in green meadows… It is the most striking landscape of the whole itinerary, and seeing it will remind you why you love cycle trips, something you probably doubted since the start of the itinerary…

Traversée entre Seaford et Polegate - Paris Londres à vélo par
Traversée entre Seaford et Polegate

logo veloiledefrance.comAdd the Paris-London route to your cycling CV:

The route is barely 400 km long, but it will leave its mark on every push of the pedal. To start with, connecting the two big tourist capitals on cycle while it can actually be covered in two hours is an exotic idea. But more than that, you will learn to adapt to your itinerary, to organize yourself, to manage your energy and resources according to the geography of the place, something you don’t normally do for most of the itineraries in France. On the Paris-London route, you will move to the next stage which forges the soul of the true traveller and you will long to go further on your cycle...

Traversée du Vexin - Paris Londres à vélo par
Traversée du Vexin

logo veloiledefrance.comSome good addresses we retained on the route:

In all the accommodation cited, except for the camping, you can keep your cycles in a safe place. The London-Paris Greenway website also provides a list of accommodation with a place for your cycle on both sides of the Channel.

  • At Maisons-Laffitte, appart’hôtel Cerise: a functional accommodation well-situated for your first stop as you leave Paris. There is a refrigerator and other provisions to eat there. There is also a convenience store close by and an Asian restaurant with take-away food.

  • At Cergy, appart’hôtel Olivarius: very stylish and practical apartments located close to the Base de Loisirs de Cergy or outdoor activities centre and also the Paris-London route by Beauvais. There is a laundrette on the site, a bar, a small local grocery that sells a bit of everything, and lots of little amusements such as billiards, table football, etc… The price includes a copious buffet breakfast, with a great price-to-quality ratio. It is also the only hotel we found having a real cycle parking in the basement.

  • At Chaussy, le Relais de Chaussy, around the château de Villarceaux, about 30 km after Cergy le Haut: We have not tried this guesthouse but it seems to be very appreciated by travellers. We greatly recommend this to you because it is well located on the route, in a place where accommodation is extremely rare. Moreover, it allows you to visit the estates of Villarceauxle domaine de Villarceaux without stress.

  • At Dangu (8 km before Gisors), camping de l’Aulnaie: This little camping for fishermen in the middle of nowhere is our real favourite of the trip. A simple family camping, in an idyllic setting, where you can sleep on the banks of a lovely lake and contemplate the reflection of the sunset from your tent, if time permits. The camping is very well maintained, with a laundrette and lightning-fast Wi-Fi so that the fishermen can continue surfing the internet while waiting for their catch… But there are no other services, especially no convenience store… You must bring everything you need otherwise you will have to cycle back to reach the quasi-existing shops. You can however procure some fresh bread and pastries early in the morning because of a little bakery van that goes by in the morning.

  • Camping de l’Aulnaie à Dangu - Paris Londres à vélo par
    Camping de l’Aulnaie à Dangu
  • At Forges les Eaux, the Chambres du Lac guesthousechambre d’hôtes les Chambres du Lac : It has the advantage of being right along the greenway and close to many shops. The warm welcome accorded by the charming host Annie and her cats will immediately put you at ease after a tiring day crossing the roller-coaster of the pays de Bray. Annie also serves evening meals by reservation. Breakfast is so copious that you might find it difficult to leave. Fortunately, the route slopes gently till Dieppe.

  • At Dieppe, hôtel de l’Europe : Give yourself some rest in Dieppe in a sea-facing room of this charming old-fashioned hotel. The large rooms, the likes of which are not found anywhere today, will let you relax before continuing your adventure. You will be happy to find the laundrette located close to the hotel, near the Dieppe church, as you can then repack your luggage.

  • At Dieppe, le restaurant La Mouette à vélo: One normally enters the restaurant because of its amusing name and comes out very satisfied. A small simple restaurant, with copious servings and a good ratio of price to quality. Watch out, the caramel desserts are killer! It is to push you to continue cycling...

  • At Southease (1 station away from New Haven), the South Downs youth hostell’auberge de jeunesse YHA South Downs : If you cannot book a room for the evening you arrive in Newhaven, a vegetative town where the few hotels and B&Bs vie for attention but are not recommendable, opt for this YHA youth hostel located one station away from Newhaven, towards Brighton. The dormitory-style rooms are very simple but clean, with toilets in the corridors. The cost is very reasonable, and you can cook in the big common kitchen, or eat in the restaurant. The setting is in the countryside despite the background noise of the highway. The laundry room allows you to have a stock of clean clothes.

  • At Polegate, hôtel Premier Inn Polegate : This is practically the only hotel in this town. You could stay at the campsite further down on the English Cuckoo Trail greenway, or even take the train till Eastbourne, close to the sea, where you will have more choices.

  • At Crawley, hôtel Premier Inn Crawley Town West: A well-located hotel, close to the centre of the town and the Crawley station, and not too far from our route. To reach the hotel, cycle across the Goffs Park, where golf is also played. From Crawley, you can travel around easily by train, such as going to London or towards the pretty seaside resorts in the South.

logo veloiledefrance.comThe guide books and maps we tried out:

  • The official website for the promotion of cycling in France France Vélo Tourisme provides a lot of practical information about the Avenue Verte London Paris including a global map (to be downloaded or asked for free) that adds some useful information to the guides. You can also read there our travel testimonial to France Vélo Tourisme.

  • Paris-Londres à vélo : Avenue Verte London-Paris - Chamina 2012: This is the first ever reference guide book of this itinerary. However, it has glaring faults, namely vague descriptions compared to its competitor, with a very rough break-up of the distance, with no information about the conditions of the road, which makes it better suited for driving cars than riding cycles! The map is pretty accurate on the whole.

  • Extrait Guide Chamina - Paris Londres à vélo par
    Extrait Guide Chamina
  • Paris à Londres à vélo par les voies vertes - Ouest-France 2015: The advantage of this guide book is that firstly, it makes you want to travel on the route because of the beautiful photographs that will knock you out, which by itself is not a bad thing. But as you know, photographs take a lot of place, which makes the guide book very heavy… Moreover, it describes many getaways as though we were driving a car, while we know that the pedals of the cycle are not like that of the accelerator …. In short, it is not really suitable for cyclists following a complete itinerary. One advantage compared to other guide books is the intermediary distances on the maps, although there still are errors.

  • Extrait guide Ouest France  - Paris Londres à vélo par
    Extrait guide Ouest France
  • Avenue Verte - London to Paris by Bike - Sustrans 2013 : This is the official guide book for the English who take the opposite direction from London to Paris… This guide book is more concise than our French ones even though it is quite verbose, and evidently, you should be able to read Shakespeare’s language. However, it has a very precise cartography especially of the town centres, a map of the topography (the only guide book which has one), and also a fuller address book of accommodation compared to other guide books.

  • Extrait Guide Sustrans avec carte détaillée des zones urbaines - Paris Londres à vélo par Extrait Guide Sustrans - Paris Londres à vélo par
    Extrait Guide Sustrans
  • Sussex and South Surrey Cycle Map - Sustrans 2014: the map of the cycle tracks and greenways is published by the Sustrans association. The map is nearly indispensable if you want to pedal very little in England. It covers the whole itinerary from Newhaven till the gates of Greater London. There are some pretty useful close-ups of towns such as Brighton and Crawley, two destinations you will probably visit.

  • Carte Banlieue de Paris, du périphérique à la Francilienne Michelin 2016 : to be used till you leave Cergy.

  • Carte Eure, Seine-Maritime - Michelin 2015 : to be used till Dieppe.

logo Advice on other modes of transport:

  • The Tranmanche or trans-Channel ferryLe ferry Transmanche ferry: To go to England, you will have to take the ferry at Dieppe which will reach Newhaven in about 4 hours. Note that the rate for cyclists is not the same as for drivers or pedestrians. It is about 40€ per cyclist. The price for children below 16 years is half, but can be bought only by telephone or on the spot. For cycles in general, whatever is outside the classic figure of 1 adult cyclist + 1 cycle is not found on the internet (for example, tandem, trailer, etc…). Similarly, it is not possible to buy tickets for groups of cyclists, which means 1 cyclist = 1 transaction… We guarantee that you will learn the number of your bank card by heart after buying tickets when you travel with the family!!
    For the "hyper-connected", it is an occasion to free yourself as there is no Wi-Fi or network in the middle of the sea. Finally, know that you can leave your luggage on the cycle if you want to (but obviously at your own risk and peril).

  • Vélos attachés par une corde dans le ferry Transmanche ferry - Paris Londres à vélo par
    Cycles secured by a rope on the Transmanche ferry across the Channel
  • Trains in France: If you want to do a bit of the journey by train, or on the way back, you can choose between the Transilien lines « Paris St-Lazare - Vernon », « Paris St-Lazare - Gisors », or line A till Cergy le Hautla ligne A jusqu’à Cergy le Haut. There is no direct train between Dieppe and Paris (incidentally, the way has been transformed into the Avenue verte greenway). You will therefore have to take the Paris St-Lazare – Rouen route, then the Rouen-Dieppe TER Rouen – Dieppe en TER. Please note that the station in Rouen has no facilities for people with reduced mobility and so has no elevator for your cycles. The frequency of the "Dieppe–Rouen" TER trains is close to two hours at certain times in the day, so check the timetables.

  • Trains in England: Cycling arrangements of the Paris–London on the English side leave a lot to be desired, and you will know why in our Episode 2... Fortunately, travelling by train is very simple for cyclists, and not very expensive. Taking cycles on board trains is free of cost and authorized on all lines, but only at off-hours around London. By the way, it is anyway netter to travel in off-peak hours as the rate is half the price. A child rate is applicable for children under 15 and a group rate is offered if you are more than three adults. Practically all the English stations have escalators, and boarding the cycle in the train is very simple…Be careful however since the train sometimes heads to two different destinations. Please check the departure-arrival tables in the stations and ask the personnel for the number of the carriage. There is a cycle compartment (that can hold at least 3 cycles with luggage) that is also used for people with reduced mobility. If you are in a group, it is better to separate out at the ends of each carriage, where there is often a large space.

Compartment for cycles or for people with reduced mobility in an English train - Paris Londres à vélo par
Compartiment vélo et pour personne à mobilité réduite dans un train anglais

logo Useful links for further reading:

  • The blog Isabelle et le vélo Isabelle Lesens is a journalist and a specialist on all subjects related to the cycle since fifteen years. She is also quite a traveller on cycle and shares with us the lessons learnt on each route as well as feedback on the guide books used in the course of her cycling tours. She has published two articles about the Paris-London route.

  • A website of the Provélo association dedicated especially to the Paris-London route A very well-researched site on the state of the cycle tracks and suggestions regarding other paths.

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