This post complements the post I published on the 30th of July in which I described the experiences I had while riding between Canterbury and Alembon.I don’t think I need to repeat the same things here, so if you didn’t get a chance to read about this day on that post, I would strongly encourage you to do so before continuing on this one.So, in this post I am skipping the story and just adding some data, the GPS route, the pictures and the videos of that day’s ride.
Do not ride on the A2! Use the improved Lightfoot GPS route which you can download from here (Scroll down to the “Bike Touring Route” section and clink on the + to expand). Also read / watch my post / video from the 8th of June 2016 of my bike ride between Canterbury and Dover on the Regional Cycle Route 16, which more closely matches the official route. The GPS route I took that day is available in that post.
Rain and bad weather in the UK and strong sun just after crossing the channel.
If you don’t have time to get a stamp on your pilgrim’s credential in Dover, after you board the ferry go to the information desk on board and ask them to stamp your credentials. Better than nothing.
In Calais and other towns, do use the services of the tourism information offices, if you can. You can always get your pilgrim credentials stamped there, but keep in mind that during the weekends or certain times during weekdays they are most likely closed, especially in small towns.
When you buy a new SIM card for your phone abroad, it can take quite some time until it properly registers on the network and you have full access to the Internet again. Download offline maps if using Google Maps for Navigation or use something that does not rely on an internet connection (I used Garmin Navigation
If you cannot find pilgrim accommodations, where available, stay at a rural Gite. They are cheap and the people are very nice. I totally recommend the one I stayed in Alembon if you want to stop there. Keep in mind Alembon is a tiny village. There is nothing to do around, I mean, no restaurants, shops, etc, but if my experience is a reference Madam Levray will take very good care of you. She is very used to having pilgrims in the house. Before me she told me she received a pilgrim’s couple who were doing the pilgrimage on horsebacks I believe.
Video of Lightfoot Guide Stages 01 and 02, from Canterbury to Dover Ferry Port (UK)
Video Length: 6 min and 14 sec To skip introductions and recommendations jump to time stamp 1:17 in the video timeline.
As I mentioned above and in my earlier post if you are planning on riding between Canterbury and Dover (either as a pleasure ride or as part of your pilgrimage) I do NOT recommend you do what I did. Do not take the A2. The reasons for this recommendation would be self-evident if you watched the video above.
I know I am repeating myself here, but I feel some repetition is granted. I recommend you either follow the Lightfoot Improved GPS route (which link to download is up above) or follow the same route I took on June 2016 on the regional cycle route 16. For your convenience the video of that route is down below.
… and this is how the Cathedral looked like on that sunny day in June 2016…
I honestly tried to publish content about my Via Francigena Pilgrimage by bike last year, but life got in the way and the ideas I had in my head for the blog posts and videos were perhaps a little out of my league.
Some time ago, as I was editing the 3rd video, I believe, I decided that I before I started the series of Via Francigena Blog posts I should publish an introduction first. I looked back into my “old” plans and realised things didn’t quite go as planned, but that they could probably have the potential of being worst if I hadn’t planned.
This introduction allows me to share my original plan with you and compare it with some of the real life post-pilgrimage information I collected. Perhaps it can be useful to other pilgrims.
In this introduction I also want to explain why I will be doing things in a certain way (by “things” I mean, the posts, the videos, etc). Call it the publishing “strategy”, if you like.
So, here it goes… the introduction to my Via Francigena Blog Series.
Click on the links below to jump directly to that section.
I could answer this with “Google is your friend“, or I could just provide a number of links to web resources such as this one, this one and this one, but they would not be my answer or at least answer what Via Francigena was to me.
In 2015 a friend and I decided to do the Camino de Santiago by bike. I had done some shorter bike trips before, but this was, at the time, the longest bike ride of my life. I loved it! Since coming back I was looking for the next challenge. For various reasons a number of ideas were raised and dropped. Some would take too long and be too expensive requiring me to take a license from work or quit my job. Not quite sure how I got to know about the Via Francigena (VF), but as a pilgrimage it is quite akin to the Camino de Santiago, so much in fact that is often also called “Camino di Roma” and it was probably during my research to write about my experiences with the Camino that I came across the details for the VF.
I really needed a challenge to get my mind off certain things that were consuming me during that period. Therapy and medication wasn’t helping much, so I started planning and the more I put my head to it, the more I was certain it was a feasible adventure, not too hard and not too easy. I found out that I was OK to spend the expected amount of money needed, but getting the approval from my company for the extended holiday period required for the trip, plus a few extra days for contingencies, wasn’t too easy.
For those old enough to understand this, it is not only Frank Sinatra that did things in his own way… I did my Via Francigena in my own way too… but, of course, like the Beatles (and Joe Cocker) with a little help from my friends.
First I bought the electronic version (PDF) of the Via Francigena Lightfoot volume set, containing 4 volumes. I do recommend them to you, but to be brutally honest, I don’t know if it was a worthwhile investment for me.
You can acquire the guides in paperback format at a cost of €67.99 or in digital PDF format at lower cost of €38.99 (at the time of writing) which comes watermarked with your name and email address to prevent misuse. I would recommend the e-book version as you honestly would not benefit from carrying 4 volumes of books, with hundreds of pages each, on your bicycle panniers (or backpack if doing by foot).
Although the guides are extremely detailed, I’ve personally found the maps very confusing to follow on my bike, but, please, don’t take me as reference as I am a terrible map reader anyway. I believe they would be a much better help to those doing the pilgrimage on foot. The most useful aspect of the guides for me was to provide direction, hints and tips and the list of pilgrim accommodations.
The Lightfoot guide divides the Via Francigena into 98 stages, which are, presumably, the segments covered by Archbishop Sigeric, the Serious, on his 80 days return journey from Rome to Canterbury after receiving his Cope and Pallium (a circular band of white wool with pendants, worn by archbishops) from the Pope.
I deliberately missed some of these stages, such as the one from Calais to Wissant, and a few more during the journey because of various reasons, but I did cover most of these stages and the posts and videos will focus on them for each day of the pilgrimage.
You will be able to download the GPS files of the routes I took every day, but they include mistakes and tracks I would not recommend to you, so it would be important to read the posts for some context if you want to avoid making the same mistakes I did.
I am an Engineer by formation and a project manager by trade. With this in mind, how can you expect me to go into anything without at least a minimum amount of planning? It is in my nature…
So I am making available here the original planning document in PDF format. I don’t mind sharing the original Microsoft Word document, nor any of the other supporting documents (Excel Spreadsheets, Microsoft Project Plan, PowerPoints, etc), but if you want them you’ll have to message me requesting them. They might be useful to you, if you are planning on doing your own Via Francigena.
Keep in mind, they should only be used as a guide. When I did the Camino de Santiago in 2015 I heard many times that although the route might be the same, the Camino is different for each person. That is one of the truths about pilgrimages: The Camino is yours… a very individual thing. Even if you do it more than once, they will always be different. When I did the Camino de Santiago in 2015 I met pilgrims who had done it several times and confirmed to me that every time they did it, was different, even if walking or riding the exact same route. That is perhaps one of the things that make this type of adventure so appealing to many. There will be decisions to be made along the way and a variety of random things that may force you to change your plans or your route, like road closures, weather conditions, sickness, mechanical failures, little accidents and so on… (knock on wood).
I know this may sound ridiculously obvious, but I don’t think I can over-emphasize that you should not rely too much on other people’s experiences as a recipe for success, if there is such a thing as a successful pilgrimage.
EyeCycled Via Francigena Project Plan [PDF File] 459.77 KB
Now, this is not going to sound positive in terms of my planning skills, but no plan I’ve ever made worked out 100%. Other project managers might understand and accept this, however, one thing stands out with project planning: “Fail to plan is planning to fail”. At the very least a good project plan gets you thinking about what you want to achieve and how to achieve it. It is no guarantee of success, especially if you never done before, whatever you are doing, but it is better than to face the challenge completely unprepared.
I decided not to write a lengthy analysis about the things that worked and the things that didn’t. At the end of this series I may do that, but by then, if you have the intention of following the series, you’ll probably know that already.
I attempted to collect a lot of data during the journey, and that failed. I think I over-estimated my ability to do the collection while ensuring I was on the right track, got to the top of that mountain and was not run over by a truck or a car. It is a lot to take in and I had my hands full most of the time, but it wasn’t a complete disaster either.
Those that have done any amount of cycle-touring in their lives will know that at the end of the day you will be tired, dirty and hungry. The last thing on your mind would be “I need to record the stats / log for the day”. It wasn’t easy to get in front of a computer to write anything after a challenging day of riding 8 to 9 hours on a bike, yet I did it most days (feel free to leave me your kudos in the comments).
I was using multiple files as I originally thought it would be easier to separate the information, but upon my return I combined everything into a single file which I make available for download below. It contains all of the expenses, categorized by food, accommodation, repairs, transportation and extras as well as route and track information and a few other “bits and bobs” which might be useful to those attempting to do the same. I originally planned to collect information about other pilgrims, signage along the route and so on, but that was too much.
Via Francigena, Expenses, Notes, Measures and Telemetry [EXCEL File] 23.51 KB
Video creation is by far the most consuming task in the project. I learned that after coming back from doing the Camino de Santiago in 2015. While it took me about 2 weeks to complete that pilgrimage, it took me a year to write about it and that is alright, after all this is my hobby and not my day job.
After the “Camino” I produced at least 1 time-lapsed video for each day of the journey. Some of these videos became a bit too long and I became a bit frustrated that after all the work I had put in them, almost no one was watching them ’till the end. So, for this series of posts I decided on a different approach: I’ll create shorter videos, more specifically breaking them down by stages, the same stages defined by the Lightfoot guide I used. Although there are 98 stages in the guide, I don’t expect to produce 98 videos as I skipped some of the stages.
As the videos were recorded in time-lapse mode with a GoPRO 4 Silver, that means they are very shaky and fast (the series 4 does not have digital image stabilization built in), so I want to leave a few hints and tips on how to best use the videos. I thought the best way to do that would be in a video itself, so, here it goes…
The photos will all be in Flickr as I found media to be very difficult to handle in WordPress itself. There will be albums containing all the photos for each day of the journey and all albums in be joined in what Flickr calls a “collection”.
Unfortunately, if you want more context to the photos you’ll have to read the blog posts as I simply don’t have the time and the will power to write descriptions for each of the thousands of pictures there.
I live in a small town called Bracknell in the county of Berkshire, England. The distance between my home and Canterbury is roughly 100 miles or 160 Km, so I got a good friend of mine to drive me to Canterbury the day before. I also had the company of my older son.
I had a reservation at the local Youth Hostel and after leaving the bike and gear in the hostel we all left to walk around Canterbury and find a place to eat dinner.
You can read a lot about Canterbury in Wikepidia, so I will just refrain from copy and pasting and leave you the invitation to click on the link above to learn more about this historic town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has been inhabited since pre-historic times and played an important role in British history.
There isn’t actually much more to say about that day. After having dinner, my friend and my son drove back home and I spent some time in the hostel writing this blog post here.
At that point I was still deluding myself that I would be able to write one short post for each day of the journey. I did write several, but I now know better.
I don’t want to repeat in this post what I wrote on the above mentioned one, but I thought it was OK to, at least, point back to it and also share the pictures of the day.
Yes? Then skip to the next paragraph as I don’t need to preach for the choir.
No? OK, then 1-0-1 on being a pilgrim… expect the unexpected!
Every thing was going according to plan this morning. I woke up quite early (around 6:30am), even though I had the alarm set for 7:00am. After the “body necessities” and the shower, I was number 2 in line for breakfast which in the Canterbury Youth Hostel (YHA) starts being served at 7:30am.
All going according to plan so far.
After finishing my wonderful breakfast, I brought 3 of the 6 bags I am carrying downstairs and ask for the bike shed key. Most, if not all, YHAs have a bike shed, hence the reason I like staying with them.
Btw, let me do a little detour before I continue with the account of the morning… Met a German cyclist there, who is currently living in Paris. He told me he had to travel to New Castle for work and decided to bring his bicycle on the train with him and then go back to Paris by bike. He was staying in the same room as me was heading to Newhaven to get the ferry to Dieppe, which I have also done already.
Back to my account of the morning… The key to the bike shed. Reception told me they had given the key to a lady hours before and she had not returned it. Now, where is this lady, you may ask? No one knows, of course. Eventually they found her, but that had introduced a 45 min delay in my schedule and I was late already because of the packing. Those that had traveled with me before, know I am slow on these things. Long story short, didn’t leave the YHA until 9:45am, when I wanted to be at the Cathedral by 9:00am.
Went to the Cathedral anyway, got my stamp, took pictures of me, the cathedral (inside and out), did a prayer asking for God to bless and protect me in this journey and by the time I started to ride it was almost 10:30am. Remember my post from a few weeks back in which I rode from Canterbury to Dover on the National Cycle Route 16? That took us almost 3h, but I didn’t have 3h until the ferry was due to depart.
So I took the decision to ride to Dover on the A2. I normally avoid busy roads or highways like this, but today shortness of time forced me to do it. The A2 is an almost straight line from Canterbury to Dover and very few hills. Would be a great ride if it wasn’t for the intense traffic, especially that of big articulated trucks going to the Dover docks and then into Europe. The Eastern European truck drivers are the worst of all. A truck from Romania drove literally a few inches by me, at a speed I would estimate at 70 miles/h (120 Km/h). The air dislocation almost brought me under the truck. Why do so many drivers have so little value for human life when they sit behind the steering wheel of their vehicles? Other people, especially cyclists, become just an obstacle, like road side debris which are worth the risk of hitting for the sake of saving their vehicles momentum and not having to slow down for a moment.
My thoughts while cycling to Dover were focused on how stupid the system we created is. The A2 is a very smooth and direct route that cyclists are encouraged not to use because of their it’s traffic (it’s not illegal to cycle in an A road, just in a motorway, as far as I know) so they become an exclusivity for the people protected by the metal frame of their cars, sitting down in their air conditioned cockpits, listening music in their in-car entertainment system. They are so self-absorbed in their own life and importance that they make a huge deal of having to slow down or ever take a different route that could potentially delay them just a few minutes, while the cyclists, as vulnerable as they are, not only to the road conditions be all weather as well, have to take poorly surfaced cycling lanes or minor roads full of potholes. Don’t tell me we are a civilized society, because that is NOT true. A society whose individuals are totally focused on wild consumption and the protection of exclusive use of resources paid by all. Why do we accept that cycling routes can be of any less quality than those cars use? Why those who choose to travel in low environmental impact styles are penalized by poor infrastructure. Shouldn’t they be rewarded for not damaging the environment? Makes me mad to be human…
Anyway, if you are cycling from Canterbury to Dover, don’t do what I did. Stick on the Cycle routes, they are longer, hilly, poorly paved, but safer…
Change of subject… Weather wasn’t good all day with some scattered light showers along the way, but some 5 Km before arriving in Dover, weather turned really nasty and started to rain quite heavily. I got completely soaked. As I arrived in the ferry terminal I was surprised to find a huge party of young cyclists in front of me, mostly teenagers. They appeared to be part of a scout group heading into Europe. There must have been at least 50 of them.
Also met a couple that was on a weekend cycling trip to Calais. The ferry was packed with passengers today. Lots of buses with Asian (Chinese?) tourists.
Once we disembarked I headed into Calais’ town centre following the signs, looked for the Tourist Information office and after I got a stamp in my pilgrim’s credentials (3 stamps already on the 1st day) I went to a shop to buy a French SIM card. At the tourist information office they highlighted a few places who, according to them, offered discount rates to Via Francigena pilgrims. Among them was this family run farm B&B in Alembon, which was a bit further than what I wanted to ride, but for some reason I was attracted to it. I was expecting to get here and just have a discount, but when I got here the only room the lady had available was her daughter’s who wasn’t here today. To my surprise when I asked how much the room was for the night, the lady said, “as much as you want to pay”. I said are 10 Euros OK? She answered “sure!”. Good to know there are still people not entirely driven by financial gain in this world, although I think she would only do that for pilgrims.
Not only I am sleeping in a comfortable bed tonight, but she has also fed me some very simple but wonderful food. She even asked me if I wanted beer or wine, but I declined. Just water today. A tomato salad wonderfully prepared, 3 different types of cheeses, ham, bread and butter. For desert I had, what I think was the best plum I ate in my entire life. There was a bowl full of them at the other end of a long table and I could smell them sitting from where I was.
They have a large, simple and unsophisticated, but wonderful fire place and on some tables at the wall she sells their home made compotes, which I would definitely buy, if I wasn’t riding a bicycle.
This is it for the day… almost 60 Km today not counting the time spent waiting to board the ferry and the channel crossing. I am really happy to have found this place in Alembon after a somewhat stressful start and all the heavy rain. Tomorrow is another day of full of the wonderful and unexpected I am sure. I also managed to hand-wash the clothes I was wearing today, so if they dry overnight, I might be able to wear the same clothes again, keeping the spare ones I brought clean in the panniers. If this repeats itself too often, I think I may have brought too much with me… time will tell.
If you read the entire text, I hope some of the pictures below are self-explanatory.
To finish today’s post, have you already made your contribution to Mind UK? You are reading this right? Common, open your wallet… it’s for a good cause.
God bless you all and thank you for your contribution.
If you have been following my Blog, you will already know I am currently preparing myself for a 2,200 Km (approx.) bike ride, starting from the Canterbury Cathedral on the 30th of July 2016 and finishing in Rome, Italy, on the 1st week of September.
This is a pilgrimage known as Via Francigena or Via Romea Francigena. In the EuroVelo project this route is the biggest portion of route number 5, which actually starts in London and ends in Brindisi, Italy.
So, although I am still several weeks away from the start of the Pilgrimage, a friend and I decided to drive to Canterbury last weekend, to do some initial reconnaissance, as I had never been there before. That has also enabled me to get my pilgrim’s credentials (also known as pilgrim’s passport for Camino de Santiago pilgrims) and ride to the Dover Ferry Terminal as I have a per-determined time to arrive there on the 30th of July to catch the ferry to Calais in France.
The video below is the time-lapse of the entire bike ride between Canterbury and Dover, recorded by a GoPro 4 Silver mounted on a handlebar T-Mount (I need to do something to reduce the shaking in that mount).
They say Kent (the region where Canterbury is located) is the garden of England, and it is certainly a beautiful part of the country.
We followed the National Cycle Route 16, which proved not to be the most direct route to Dover and had some challenging hills to climb. Nothing too hard on a bike without any load other than the rider, but considering I’ll be carrying with me about 20 Kg in 4 panniers and on the rack, I had to make sure I know when to leave in order to arrive in Dover on time to catch the ferry,
I will not to an extensive written description of the route as you have the map and the video, but if you have any questions don’t hesitate to get in touch through the contact form.
I’ve also created a Flickr album to store all the pictures I’ve taken along the way. Feel free to browse the pictures below or click on them to see them in higher resolution in Flickr.
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It is not that I haven’t recorded a Bike Vlog every week in the past 3 weeks… I did record them! Watch the Vlog and I explain my sudden disappearance.
This Vlog was recorded 2 weeks ago (Friday, the 29th of April), but I had some personal issues and had no time to work on the video editing.
So, I hope you can forgive me for not showing up in the past few weeks, as I will assume that if you are here is because you like to watch this old man talking (my children were actually relieved as they think I am making a fool of myself 🙂 )
Sorry for my sudden disappearance. It’s been quite busy on my professional and personal life right now, so haven’t had much time to dedicate myself to posting on EyeCycled.com during these past 2 weeks nor ride my bike. Still working on the posts and videos of the Devon Coast to Coast bike ride, though (rather slowly though).
Got some good news to share… The Via Francigena project is confirmed!
My request for an extended holiday leave has been approved by the company and I am booking my return flight from Rome this week.
I’ll be leaving the UK from the Canterbury Cathedral on Saturday the 30th of July and will have to arrive in Rome on the 8th of September, at the latest, to catch my flight back from Rome to the UK on the 9th.
This is a very exciting development for me and will be the longest bike ride of my life. I will have to do an average of 54 Km a day to cover the almost 2,200 Km from Canterbury to Rome, but I think it can be done and I am really looking forward to it.
Thank you for your support and stay tuned for more details.