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Kent and Sussex Bikers daytrip to St Valery-sur-Somme

Up at some unearthly hour, the sun is shining in the bedroom window. For once the forecast has been spot on and there’s not a cloud in the sky.

As it’s just a 200 mile day trip to France, there’s been nothing special done to the bike, I just have to put the camera in the tailpack along with a yellow bib for riding as back-marker for the day and make sure I have some cash and the necessary documents to get out of the UK and back in again.

On with the helmet, and something is wrong with the visor. It’s smeary and no matter what I do I can’t get it off. I’ve not done anything that I haven’t done to a visor for the last 15 years so I have no idea what the problem is. Too late to change it now, so I try to polish out the worst of the smears and set off into the morning rays.

I fill the tank then head off to the meeting point at the new services on the M20 just one junction short of the tunnel. Steve, the organiser, is already there along with about the half of the 14-strong group. The others all turn up in the next couple of minutes, all bar one. We eventually spot his bike parked up on the other side of the services so I ride over to fetch him and we tag onto the back of the snake as we make the short ride to the Channel Tunnel.

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Parked up for coffee and tea at Bolougne

As usual, the automated check-in either works – or it doesn’t. I aim to join a short queue only to be barged out at the last second by an ill-mannered 4×4 BMW driver.

I have the last laugh; the queue doesn’t move for a couple of minutes so I realise there’s a problem at the head of that particular queue, and I’m able to slip into the adjacent lane – he’s now stuck and unable to move between the concrete walls, and for four or five minutes I move steadily past him and through the check-in gate itself whilst the van driver at the front of his queue has a long discussion with staff.

Off round the block we go to join the queue for the security check – another two or three minutes. We get selected for their explosives checks – another couple of minutes. Then slowly through the French passport check but the gendarme on duty is clearly having his cafe et croissant as it’s deserted. Finally we get to the queue for the train.

Another ten minutes or so stood beside the bikes, then it’s off down the ramp and onto the train itself. Another five minutes and it pulls out for the short journey to France.

It may be a short journey once you’re on, but boy, is it a stop-start-stop pain to actually get to the train.

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Bathing huts on the beach at Bolougne

We have a briefing on the conduct of the ride from Steve, with maps and phone numbers being handed out to all, and I cover the problems of riding on the right including speed limits, roundabouts and the dreaded but very simple ‘Prioritie a Droit’ system.

Then time for a bit of a chat, Chris provides some cleaning fluid that shifts the smears on the visor, and then the train moves into the terminal at the French end and we’re off on the wrong side of the road.

Steve’s route takes us down the coast road, the D940.

It’s a splendid road, at least the northern section is until you hit Bolougne! We stop there for coffee overlooking the harbour, then move on again. The landscape immediately south of Bolougne is a bit industrial and then the D940 becomes a fairly busy road passing through a series of small towns which means progress isn’t so smooth, and at Berck the group gets split into two, and the inevitable happens; the back half go the wrong way!

After a brief “where are we?” discussion, we decide to continue along the route, having sent off a text to Steve to say where we are. We turn off inland onto the much quieter D12, past the site of the Battle of Crecy, then back towards the coast on the D111 through Nouvion (where Rene’s cafe in ‘Allo, ‘Allo was supposedly situated) and finally picking up the D940 again to run around the Bay of the Somme.

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La baie de la Somme

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Just outside St Valery we meet the front half of the group minus Chris. We find him parked outside the restaurant a few minutes later. It turned out he stopped when he realised no-one was behind him, but the rear half had already gone the wrong way. After waiting he set off after the front group to discover no-one had stopped to wait for him!

Anyway, we all have a good laugh about it over lunch, then head off on the return journey, which retraces much of the outward route.

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St Valery-sur-Somme

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Memorial to William the Conqueror

Most of the bikes need a top-up to make it back to Blighty, so Steve picks the most expensive petrol station in Northern France and the only one with no unleaded (‘seulement Super, Messeuirs’ with a classic Gallic shrug) and no change for notes.

It takes getting on for 20 minutes to fuel up ten bikes.

Once mobile again, the traffic gets heavier and heavier as we hit the French rush-hour and unfortunately we filter past a police car in Bolougne that promptly swaps lanes and sits on my tail till we’re out of town as I have to sit at 50kph, by which time the group ahead is ‘making progress’ and out of sight.

I eventually catch up again and we have a final stop for an ice cream in the sun at Audresselles.

The problems of keeping a large group together when overtaking slower traffic are demonstrated again when the back half gets lost again on the final run to the tunnel. Steve’s taken the front half up over the lovely hairpins just short of Sangatte but the back half spots a sign signing “Channel Tunnel” and turns off prematurely.

Fortunately, we all form up once again in a neat military pincer movement as we converge from two different roads just short of the terminal. It turns out we’ve missed the train but we manage to get onto the next available one with less sitting around than normal – bonus!

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On the quayside at St Valery

By 8pm, I’m rolling up the drive again nearly 14 hours after I set off, having covered just over two hundred miles.

A great day out. Good to catch up with some people I already know and great to put faces to what have been just names on the forum.

Thanks to Steve for making it happen, and the folk who turned out for the ride. Nice to meet Chris again, the folk I’ve already met from the forum and great to put faces to people who’ve previously just been screen names.

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