In September several intrepid cyclists agreed to ride from London to Amsterdam for Charity. One of them, Tina Seymour, an Honorary Member, assistant Honorary Treasurer and wife of the Middle Warden, Arthur Seymour, kept a blog of this important event, and it is reproduced below, together with some of the photographs that she took “en-route”.
“This was to be my sixth long distance bike ride. The previous four had been organised by the double act of Arthur Seymour (pre-ride organisation and on the day backup) and Terry O’Neil (ride director) and sponsored by Butler & Young in aid of various charities. These had all been from London to Paris and the last one was in 2016.
The double act had decided to get together again, this time for the inaugural London to Amsterdam ride, supported this time by the Worshipful Company of Constructors in aid of the Built Environment arm of The Prince’s Trust. The aim of this initiative is to help disadvantaged youth and young offenders get off of the streets and into the construction industry. A very broad church and a worthwhile charity.
This ride was also different as it was the first ride to use electronic navigation instead of signs. This enabled the organisers to save on helpers as no one was required to put up or take down signs. In the main this was successful, although some of us experienced phone battery problems, and added some interest when we came across unexpected road closures or directions onto dual carriageways!
Day 1 – London to Tonbridge
This was an “extra” day so that Lindsey Sheehan and I could get a head start on the rest of the riders and to set a target for the peloton to chase down our breakaway.
We started a little later than expected as Arthur had forgotten to put any petrol in the car and we couldn’t find an open petrol station at 6am! We finally arrived at the start at 7:30 instead of the expected 7:00am.
Lindsey and I set off from Croydon and left David and Arthur to enjoy breakfast somewhere. The weather was good and we were in high spirits until we reached Sanderstead hill, the longest ascent in the entire 5 day journey. It soon took the wind out of our sails. “You go ahead”, I shouted at Lindsey, “No, I’m good, just tucking in behind you” came the reply as we laboured our way to the top. Fortunately there wasn’t much traffic because if I had stopped I would never have started again on the hill.
Traffic through Warlingham was heavy however and we were stop/start behind a lorry for a couple of miles. Eventually we broke free as we reached Farleigh Common and Lindsey overtook me on the hill. I heard a plane landing as we cycled past the runway of Biggin Hill airport and enjoyed the speed as we whizzed downhill towards The Pilgrims Way, slowing down as we wended our way through the narrow country lanes.
We made our way through Chipstead until we reached our first water stop at The Kings Head, Bessels Green. No, the pub was not open, but Arthur and David were there with water, bananas and nuts.
We set off again along the back roads of Sevenoaks to reach the top of Riverhill and a fast descent to a well earned coffee stop at the bottom. Full of caffeine we raced along London Road through Hildenborough and we nearly got to Tonbridge before our two intrepid supporters in the car.
One day down, 4 to go.
Day 2 – Tonbridge to Dover
David and Arthur set off very early to meet the rest of the peloton at the start in Croydon. Six riders were joining us all the way to Amsterdam, with another, Jerry, just joining us for the day. We, on the other hand, could enjoy a more leisurely start from Tunbridge Wells, joining the route at Matfield.
After a quick cup of coffee at around 9am we easily made our way to the lunch stop with the peloton of seven riders closing in. We made it to the pub by 11am but had to wait until 12 for it to open. The others arrived at around 12 just as we were discovering that the pub wasn’t serving food that today as they had a large pre-booked party. It was a quick scramble, altogether now, to find the next pub along the route serving food, a mere 3 miles further on. This cycle ride was fast becoming a pub crawl.
The second half of the day was more brutal. I fell off at one point when my chain came off trying to change gear as I was going up hill. It was a slow controlled fall, the best kind, with no cars or onlookers and just a few bruises to prove it. I knew that there was at least one steep hill that I would need to walk up and I was pleased to see Arthur’s smiling face at the top with some water at the ready.
Somehow I had forgotten about the rest of the hills to come. At this stage Lindsey and I were grateful for Jerry’s support and guidance as the route became more daunting. Another steep hill, in a narrow lane with cars coming towards us and no place to pass, defeated me, and this was a longer slower walk with no one at the top to greet me with a smile and a bottle of water. I stopped just short of the summit of a further hill – no excuse this time – I was just cream crackered. However, having now crested the South Downs it was plain sailing into Dover at around 5pm. It was then on to the ferry with a very nice meal on board to fall into bed around 10pm in Calais.
Day 3 -Calais to Bruges
Not such an early start today as we set off around 9am. The day started off as it was set to continue with the two ladies quickly left behind and we almost immediately had our first challenge when part of the route was closed off and gendarmes were directing us away. We took a parallel route for a while before cutting back towards the route only to find ourselves on a road with a number of what looked like “undesirable inhabitants of the Calais camps” which was a bit intimidating for two unescorted ladies on bikes. However we reached the other end of the road without incident and managed to carry on without problems.
The wonderful helpers, aided by the yet unmentioned but indispensable Vicky, found an excellent restaurant for lunch and we celebrated Anthony’s birthday in the usual manner with cake, candles and song before resuming our journey towards Bruges.
It was a really beautiful route with many cycling paths beside tree lined canals with the odd diversion around the inevitable road works. They have the same problem on the continent that we have in the UK with road works set up but not a soul working.
The final 5 miles were along a dedicated cycle path beside a river going into Bruges. By this time Iraj had joined the 2 ladies at the back as our escort, guide and companion and stayed with us until Amsterdam.
The hotel in Bruges was the special cycle themed “Velotel” – very appropriate.
This day’s blog cannot be completed without special mention of three members of our party, who shall remain nameless, who went out drinking and dancing until 3am!
Day 4 – Bruges to Maassluis
We always knew this was going to be a hard day as it was the longest day by far and also included 2 ferry crossings. It was made doubly difficult by the relentlessly riding into a strong wind which meant that you had to continue to peddle even when cycling downhill!
We arrived at the first ferry crossing less than 2 hours after we had set off and gathered in a coffee shop. One of our helpers had bought the ferry tickets for us all but had failed to check the times of the ferry so when we went to board we discovered that we had missed a ferry by 2 minutes and the next one wasn’t for an hour. It was back to the coffee shop and revised plan of an unscheduled early lunch with most of a long day ahead of us.
Finally setting off again on the other side of the Westerschelde we wound our way through the pretty town of Middleburg and later, the even prettier town of Delft, where there was a Saturday market going on, much to the amusement of some of our cyclists who were trying on clogs and sampling local cheese.
We were soon on coastal roads however and a combination of the relentless wind and getting lost a few times meant that we were woefully behind schedule. When we finally arrived at a coffee stop at 5pm and still 30km from the day’s finish, the race director called time on the three back markers and we were swept into the broom wagon. The 5 buccaneers at the front, however, battled on, later admitting it had been one of their hardest days ever on the flat. Fortunately the hotel for this evening was plush and they had reserved a private room for us to enjoy our dinner. Our cares were soon forgotten.
Day 5 – Maassluis to Majdrecht
Our final stop was to be on the outskirts of Amsterdam as the hotels in the City were extraordinarily expensive and parking was sparse. We knew this was going to be the easiest day, only 50 miles. Listen to me, 4 days in and I am already referring to 50 miles as a breeze.
We were a little perturbed however at the race briefing when Arthur told us that there was a tricky bit where we went through “a swamp” and he hadn’t yet worked out how we get across it and out the other side. “Nothing to worry about for you hardy explorers”, he said, as eye brows were raised. We did have a little problem with the swamp and were never sure if we would find our way out alive but after a few false turns we did manage to return to the route and out the other side.
We were lucky with the weather. Rain was spitting off and on all day but never really materialised.
There was another interesting market to walk through with a lovely choir to listen to. It would have been nice to have had a little extra time there.
We all gathered together with 10km to go so that we could ride to the end “in convoy”.
We arrived at our final destination to the popping corks of a champagne reception. An emotional end to an inspiring ride for a terrific charity.”
There are already plans to organise the ride again next year so if you are interested in joining us, or indeed sponsoring the riders, please contact Arthur Seymour at firstname.lastname@example.org