A short cycle through western Europe (Part 5)…

La Meuse cycleway…

After we’d cycled about 30km south of Namur we came across Dinant. This was an extremely beautiful town set on the banks of the river Meuse, with a large citadel looming high above it all. And all that beauty was reflected in the blue, glistening water beneath, doubling up its impression upon us both. It was one of those extra special places; you know, when the utter charm of it leaves everyone a little unbalanced, somewhat dumbfounded, creating a pleasant air of disorientation. We couldn’t help but join in.

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Soon after here a more prominent path began following the river; a smooth, tarmacked track, with signs and everything. We weren’t far from France now, and knowing that spurred us on. We’d enjoyed our time in Belgium, but moving on towards a culture which both of us really had a passion for, it was exciting. Riding now became easier and pleasant, much to both our, and Rags’ satisfaction. And the sun still shone fiercely above us, illuminating the way. The scenery grew and grew, becoming more intoxicating by the mile; more overwhelming and impressive. And there were plenty of other cyclists passing by too, all soaking it up.

imag0046Just before we got to the border the notoriety of the path became apparent. We soon saw that this was quite an established route. We found a sign giving us all manner of information about it, and about the towns and villages it passed through; and also the camp sites as well. So, that’s why so many people were here riding on it. And then we crossed the border.

This was our favourite border crossing. Again, there wasn’t much of a to-do about it. There was just a modest sign telling motorists on the road adjacent about the changes in rules. But there was a completely different atmosphere. We pulled into the town of Givet and everything felt so different. Everything just seemed way more relaxed; more laid back; more stylish. More French. And everything was a lot cheaper. We stopped into town to buy some groceries, which just appeared so fresh and juicy. And the wine, well, for a couple of euros it was way better than anything I’d drank back in Britain, even the most expensive bottles. But it was the price of the camp sites which were the most impressive.

Back in Belgium we were paying anything from 10 to 20 euros a night, and in Holland it had been even more than that. But here, in France, well, it was great! There were municipal camp sites, which perhaps didn’t have to pay any tax. Our first two nights cost only 7 euros, for everything! With wine and camping being so cheap, one really could be a sophisticated hobo.

dscf7188And from here on out, unsurprisingly, everything was swell. The cycle path stuck close to the river, whilst the roads ran further afield. And all the camp sites were directly on the path, so one didn’t even have to leave the area; it was just permanent green countryside for everyone. And for how cheap they were, it wasn’t even worth looking for spots to wild camp in.

We passed through many a quaint town: Chooz, Vireux, Haybes, Fumay. All were extremely beautiful, extremely pretty; all kind of sleepy, cobbled and curious. Pale shutters hid away the scenes of the locals, whilst passing cyclists marvelled at the slightly slanting architecture. Blue smoke billowing out of chimneys. Courtyards where the elders played bowls. And of course, that mighty river flowing by out front. I couldn’t imagine a nicer place to live, as casually we indulged ourselves on these magnificent surroundings.

dscf7189At Monthermé we had to stray a little from the path to find a camp site, as the nearest one was full. But we were quite glad we did, as the place we found was very friendly and lively. It was set right on top of one of the river’s tributaries; gushing ripples flowing by, pebbles and rocks rolling about in the movement, fish doing somersaults into the air. And there was plenty of drinking and music going on, some kind of party. It started to get a little rowdy as the evening went on, and at one point the police came and took away the owner of the place. I’m not really sure what for. But in the morning everything had calmed down, and we prepared to make yet another departure.

It started to rain. This was the first proper rain on the whole trip, other than what we had experienced in Scotland. It started with just a slight trickle, but after we’d mounted the path again and done some miles, well, then it got heavier and heavier. We didn’t mind though, it was a pleasant kind of rain, and it was a pleasant kind of day; a Sunday, and we took to journeying through it with ease, casually enjoying everything about us. At one point a man with a donkey passed by, also traversing the route, with his daughter mounted atop it, giggling with every bump and step.

We were getting closer to the end of the track though. The river continued, but the cycle path finished just a few miles south, in the large town of Charleville. It was a little sad; neither of us really wanted it to end, it was such a fine time we were having, we enjoyed being on it so much. But all good things must come to an end at some point, no matter how much you dawdle to try and draw them out…

Enjoy this story? Then you might like my book, ‘At Home in the Bushes’. It’s about a year I spent cycling, wild-camping & busking around Britain. You can order your copy for £10 now!

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