Essex Paris Essex Day Five: Reaching Port

Essex Paris Essex: Return Journey

It was disappointing that we had to think of how we were going to get back to Essex having only arrived in Paris a few hours ago, but, during our lazy Sunday morning before the race, the reality or our return journey was beginning to bite. In light of our slow progress over the last few days, the 200 km on and off road route to Dieppe before our 6 pm ferry was starting to look optimistic. As did the 160 km road alternative which, at best, would have required a 4 am start.

Dropping the ball

The trouble is, I had planned this route with the 11 pm crossing in mind rather than the earlier one I had actually booked. I had forgotten all about this until the dawning realisation of how long it actually takes to bike pack. We toyed with many variations on the theme of getting a train part way and cycling the rest until we settled on the ‘let’s get the train all the way to Dieppe’ option.

Monday morning

Getting to the Gare St Lazaire was much easier than getting the bikes down the five flights of stairs and we arrived at the station within plenty of time for our 9.45 departure. Waiting on the concourse we spotted another couple of cyclists and, having read that there were limited bike spaces available, we decided to move through the gate to get a head start on them. Here we found out that the whole of the South of England had decided to come to Paris by bike, and return on the same train as us.

Still, when the starters orders were announced we soon found a specific bike carriage to stow our bikes and relax for the next two hours to Rouen where we would have to change for Dieppe. Well, we would have been able to relax if not for two things: 1) the parents of a particularly annoying screaming child had bothered to do some parenting to shut them up, and 2) if someone hadn’t fallen ill on the train delaying us by 30 minutes and making the connection at Rouen for Dieppe awfully tight.

To the coast

So tight in fact we pulled in to Rouen as our expected departure was scheduled to pull out. That didn’t stop us running across the station, bikes super-humanly hoisted off the ground, on the off chance the train would still be waiting. Mildly safe in the knowledge that catching the next train would get us to Dieppe on time, we were still relieved that, by common sense and pragmatism never before experienced on a railway, the train was still in the station. We burst aboard with a deep sigh of relief, followed by everybody else with making that sigh collective.

An hour later, we arrived. Bursting out of our carriage, it was the train’s turn to take a deep breath as the platform started to look as if it was the start of major sportive. Somehow though we dispersed with very little trace that a large peloton had descended on Dieppe and we found a place to eat by the harbour, relatively free of other cyclists.

We arrived at the port in plenty of time to get wet courtesy of the changing weather. The time flew by chatting to fellow passengers in the queue, some of who we had already met on the train. As the wind and the rain picked up and hats flew across the embarkation area we swapped stories of the weekend before we finally being able to board.

13 hours after leaving Paris and one choppy crossing later, we were safely tucked up in our Premier Inn in Newhaven, where we resolved that the final leg of our return journey to Essex would also be completed by train. But that could wait until tomorrow.