Euro Tour 3rd leg – tandeming (and pushing) up the Montagne de Reims vineyards to drink champagne en Champagne!

This sums up the hilly (mountainous!) tandem tour of Champagne for Team Tandem Ecosse.

After Team Tandem Ecosse’s fantastic tour of the Alsace – and ticking off the bucket list item of sampling Alsatian wine where it was made, in the vineyards of the Alsace! – it was time for another bucket list item … this time the task was to quaff champagne in Champagne! So there was a non cycling day on the itinerary for the three of us to reposition from Strasbourg to Reims to begin the third and final leg of our two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017.

So as our tour t-shirts said – the “old git” and the “old gal” were determined in their quest for le vin et champagne! A three hour drive along the fabulous French toll roads flew past and soon Matilda Transport was pulling up at Le Clos des Roys, our chambres d’hote in Reims – marking the start point for a three day tour of the vineyards of Champagne.

And what a fantastic location – the beautiful old fabric trading town house was located in the heart of the historic district, just 30 metres from the forecourt of the city’s magnificent Cathedral. We received a warm welcome from hosts Marie Ann and Gerard and shown to our luxurious room.

With both me and our car parked safely in an internal courtyard, my dynamic crew didn’t waste any time in exploring their new base, so headed out for dinner and their first taste of champagne! Our hosts had made a booking at the highly recommended Brasserie de Boulingrin – an art deco sea food restaurant dating from 1925 which we later discovered is an institution in Reims.

First ever champagne in Champagne – accompanied by a fisherman’s basket! oh if you insist!

The menu was mouthwatering! Pop went the first of many champagne corks to be popped over the next few days and “the old git” and the “old gal” toasted what they knew would be an epic trip with their first ever taste of champagne in Champagne! It really was one of those special moments to savour and remember – even more special as it was accompanied by a fisherman’s basket of gorgeous seafood including oysters! OOh la la!

All in all, a promising start to Le Tour de Champagne!

Day 1  Climbing and climbing from Reims to fab champagne vineyards at Verzenay and Bouzy as phone died at epic moment!

Smiles at the lighthouse in the middle of the champagne vineyards!

An early alarm and after another wonderful communal petit dejeuner, it was time for my dynamic crew to get me kitted up to depart on our 35 mile adventure on Le Route de Champagne. The schedule being to tandem from Reims to the other main town in the region called Epernay – which lays claim to be the champagne capital. Team Tandem Ecosse are staying there for two nights – with a short ride on the day in between – before heading back to Reims on day three.

With three days tandem touring – and given that Team Tandem Ecosse was going completely self sustained and self-guided with no luggage transfer as they had enjoyed in previous years – my four panniers were again packed full to the brim, adding substantially to my weight!

Heading off from our stylish Le Clos des Roys chambres d’hotes in Reims.

In bright sunshine and in high spirits all three of us pedalled off from our stylish base and headed towards Epernay in our quest to find out lots more about champagne. Check out the details of our Day 1 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The start was idyllic as we tandemed out along the cycle path along the banks of the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne out towards the town of Sillery and then head towards the first of the villages with names which resonate, Mailly-Champagne.

It was at this stage that the realisation dawned on my dynamic crew that the champagne vineyards are hilly. Maybe the “old git” and “old gal” should have realised when the route description said: “You will be touring through the villages of the Montagne de Reims!” For some reason the word montagne hadn’t hit home … but let’s say it did as we left Sillery behind and started to climb … and climb!

Climbing (and climbing) in the Champagne vineyards towards the famous windmill.

My dynamic crew – who were a bit less than dynamic with the effort required on the hills – have subsequently realised (with a bit of basic research) that the best grapes for champagne require long roots to give them the best flavour – and long roots means they grow on slopes on the hillside! Doh!

Did someone mention hills? The view back to the canal showing the sudden elevation!

The views across the vineyards were stunning however. A quick glance at the guidebook for the area there are more than 15,000 wine growers in the designated Champagne area, 5,000 small champagne houses and over 100 well-known houses. We pedalled thru a welcome flat part at Mailly-Champagne – one of the over 300 picturesque villages which make their living from the fizz and were amazed to see winegrower’s houses at every turn … all offering their own name champagne. All fabulously scenic!

The amazing high axled tractors which mechanically pick the champagne grapes.

Leaving the village and back into climbing mode, my dynamic crew were fortunate enough to see one of the eye-catching high axled tractors which amazingly pick the grapes mechanically. It is a sight to be seen and obviously cuts out a lot of back breaking work!

Our target – and hopefully where the mountains would plateau – was firstly a landmark windmill and then a lighthouse at Verzenay. I got to feel a real VIP by posing at the gates of the windmill which is owned by the world-famous GH Mumm. The windmill – officially known as Le Moulin de Verzenay  is unfortunately not open to the public – but it is used by the company as a corporate reception area. The next day we discovered that Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt had flown in by helicopter in his role as brand ambassador. Obviously he wasn’t fit enough to cycle up the hills to get there either!

Posing at the gates to the windmill owned by the Mumm champagne house.

A final climb took us over the next ridge to the village of Verzenay and a welcome stop at Le Phare de Verzenay – a lighthouse which incongruously sits overlooking the vineyards. It was built in 1909 by Joseph Goulet to promote his brand of champagne – shining its light all over the vines. It turned into a bit of a folly but now combines a role as a promotional area for champagne tasting and museum.

Relief for the “old gal” when finally we reached the plateau at Le Phare de Verzenay.

Le phare offers the chance to sample up to 50 different varieties of  champagne – which was just what my dynamic crew needed for recovery after their exertions. Well they sampled a glass each – not 50! And they were able to chill and relax and enjoy their tasting in a fabulous sun-kissed garden area overlooking the vineyards under the lighthouse.

Le phare offered a perfect tasting area in a garden overlooking the vineyards! Cheers!

The “old gal” reflecting on those energy sapping hills!

After that reviving refreshment – my crew climbed the 120 odd stairs to the viewing platform of le phare to get a magnificent vista. The “old gal” recorded a short video to show it is hilly and the view from the top of the lighthouse over the champagne vineyards – which you can view by clicking here:

Before leaving the lighthouse the “old git” purchased a  bottle of champagne using his new found knowledge of the different types of the fizz. It’s not just any old champagne you know! Oh no! There are three different grape varieties used in champagne – white Chardonnay grapes and the red Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

The “old git” selected a bottle of blanc de blancs – which is  made entirely from the white Chardonnay  grapes. The tasting notes said: “With its elegant and lithe style this is the Champagne of choice among serious oenophiles.” After googling oenophile and discovering it meant wine connoisseur – he wholeheartedly agreed!

On leaving the lighthouse we were approached by a photographer, Karine Lhémon. who wanted to take some pictures of me and my crew! Karine introduced herself as being the official photographer for the Office de Tourisme du Grand Reims and was looking to take some shots of visitors to the area for their publicity purposes.  Obviously the “old git” was hesitant and had to be persuaded – jokingly saying: “Only if you twist our arm and give us champagne!”

Pose for publicity shots? Only if twist our arm and give us champagne!

My dynamic crew even had to sign an official form giving permission for the tourist agency to use the photos in their marketing. Given that the “old git” works in communications, he was suggesting some ideas for shots – and cheekily took a photo of Karine taking a photo of Team Tandem Ecosse!

Taking a photo of the photographer from Reims Tourisme snapping us!

The photographer wanted me involved in the photos too!

All the photos had le phare in them and after taking some of my dynamic crew, the photographer wanted to get me involved in the photo shoot as well! Well after all as a classic tandem, I am the star of the show! It was all good fun – and produced lots of laughs. After Karine promised to email some of the pictures, we bid farewell with her determined to capture us tandeming off for posterity!

“3-2-1-Go” Our start-up routine captured for posterity!

My crew immediately hit another hill but had to battle on to save face as they were still being filmed! One more short climb at Mount Sinia marked the peak – before the road through the vineyards started to go steeply downhill. It was a good long stretch so we were able to pick up speed rapidly.

Unfortunately it was at this very inopportune moment that the “old git’s” phone decided it would have a battery fail – but this wasn’t discovered till a few miles further on. Therefore Strava didn’t record the epic moment when my crew hit a new top speed – as recorded by the good old-fashioned handlebar speedometer – of 38.9 mph. Weeeeeh! It was our Chris Froome moment!

Full of high speed adrenalin my dynamic crew soon arrived at the village of Bouzy, famous for its red wine as well as champagne! Heaven for the “old gal” who has a fondness for both!

Tasting Bouzy Rouge – the wine of Kings – at the champagne house in the well-named Bouzy!

Bouzy is a Grand Cru village on the south side of the Montagne de Reims and we found the perfect spot for a tasting at the combined home of Paul Clouet and Bonnair champagne. To celebrate our new record high speed, naturally my crew had to sample both types! In addition the champagne house is famous for its Bouzy Rouge. This is known as the ‘Wine of Kings’ as it historically was served at the Court during the grand banquets of the coronations. The red wine is made exclusively from Pinot Noir grapes from the village. The “old gal” deemed it as living up to its regal reputation! A bottle was bought for the Christmas table and safely stored in my panniers!

After sampling the best of Bouzy – and feeling a teensy bit bouzy themselves! – my crew decided that an ice cold soft drink was required to fuel them for the final hour pedal to our overnight stop in Epernay. Happily for the “old gal” and the “old git” it was downhill to Tour-sur-Marne and on to the cycle path running alongside the Canal latéral à la Marne which took us direct into the city.

Amazingly just as we were pouring over a street map of Epernay, on the edge of the world-famous Avenue de Champagne, a car stopped and asked if we were looking for Les Epecuriens chambres d’hotes. I think the tandem was a bit of a give away – but it was our host Laure and my crew eagerly pedalled after her car to the front door.

I was parked up safely in a very colourful indoor courtyard while my crew were shown to their room – the Noble Equestrian Suite. More about the amazing chambres d’hotes later, but suffice to say for the moment that Laure had thought of everything and there were luxurious touches everywhere.

Glad to see standards being maintained at Les Epicuriens!

The “old git” was particularly impressed with a sign which said it was forbidden to drink champagne from a plastic glass! So glad to see standards being maintained! He knew my crew were in the hands of an expert!

Having arrived fairly late my crew enjoyed a welcome glass of fizz from Laure before showers and heading to dinner at the recommended Au Petit Fourneau restaurant for dinner where the speciality was les patates – effectively baked potatoes! But these were rather special – cut into slices and smothered in an amazing array of toppings. The “old git” had the Bretonne with prawns and emmental cheese sauce; while the “old gal” indulged in the Fromages one with reblechon, emmental, blue cheese and goats cheese. Oh and there was a bottle of champagne – just to sample the local produce of course! They told me it was rather yum!

Not surprisingly after a long day on the slopes of the vineyards, sleep wasn’t far away! So a somewhat challenging but still sensational first day of the Champagne leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering an actual total of 35 miles (with only 26 of them recorded on Strava!) As always the route is brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

Day 2 – KoM climb to Hautvillers – home of Dom Perignon – and whizz back down to tandem along L’Avenue de Champagne in style!

Not many better places to be than the headquarters of Moet & Chandon on L’Avenue de Champagne!

My dynamic crew wakened after a deep recovery sleep to find there had been unexpected heavy rain and thunder overnight! Tell me about it! I was soaked thru as the lovely internal courtyard was open to the elements! All my bits were sopping – including my front panniers which had not been removed!

Heavy rain overnight and into Saturday morning left me a bit wet in my colourful courtyard!

After a hearty breakfast – including freshly baked bread – my dynamic crew had to reorganise the day as rain stopped play! The original plan was to leave early for a short loop of the scenic villages around Epernay followed by a more relaxing afternoon. A quick look at the weather forecast said heavy rain all morning – suddenly stopping around lunchtime turning to warm bright sunny conditions. So the schedule was turned back to front – as were my panniers in an attempt to dry them out! As for me the “old gal” gave me a good rub down with a towel! She is good that way!

Borrowing big umbrellas, my dynamic crew ventured out to the local food market and had a wonderful morning ooohing and aaahing at all the gorgeous fresh produce on display. The “old gal” was in her element and quickly secured some provisions for today’s picnic – which was going to be an indoor picnic! Funny how there is always one day the picnic has to be inside on these trips!

There’s always one! Each of our tours seems to have one indoor picnic!

Amazingly, bang on cue as per the local forecast, the rain clouds rapidly cleared just after lunch and the sun came out to play. So, with more hills on the route, my crew donned their King (and Queen) of the Mountain jerseys and got me kitted up before heading off on today’s loop.

Check out the details of our Day 2 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

With the sun on our backs it was a real joy to be back out on the cycle paths for Team Tandem Ecosse. We weaved our way thru the city heading out along a long flat stretch towards Cumieres before heading uphill to our destination of the pretty village of Hautvillers. My crew had been warned that the climb would get their hearts racing! That was a bit of an understatement!

Well the climb turned out to have two Tour de France category 4-rated climbs (or in our case walks!) – which means it was steep! Very steep! As the “old git” and “old gal” struggled for breath they were at least able to tick off some of the world’s most famous champagne houses as the vineyards were all clearly labelled and were like a who’s who of champagnes.

It was quite a climb – but worth it as like a who’s who of champagnes!

It was so steep that even when pushing the “old git” thought my brakes were on! But the panoramic views overlooking Epernay and the Marne river were stunning – with champagne vineyards stretching before us as far as our eyes could see. Truly beautiful!

The trip to magical Hautvillers involved two category 4 climbs! Just a bit steep!

Finally we crawled (almost literally!”) into the village of Hautvillers – causing quite a stir among the tourists who had arrived by car and coach! Can’t think why! A couple of people even asked if they could take pictures of “le doublé vélo” – maybe they thought we were mad arriving by bike!

Hautvillers – said to be the cradle of champagne – was a charming village.

The charming champagne producing village is recognised as the cradle of champagne as it was here in the ancient Benedictine abbey at Hautvillers that the monk Dom Pérignon discovered the champagne wine-making process in the 18th century.

My crew also discovered (via good tandeming friends Jane and John) that Hautvillers is twinned with the town of Beaulieu which we visited in our Tour de New Forest back in July.

After recovering their breath my crew sought out the sanctuary of the highly recommended Le Cave et Jardin antique shop. It really is a veritable Aladdin’s cave of all things related to champagne! While enjoying a fascinating browse, the owners offer the chance to visitors to indulge by buying a glass of fine local product – which naturally my crew thought would have been rude to refuse!

A visit to the fascinating Entre Cave et Jardin antiques shop is a must at Hautvillers.

Le Cave et Jardin offers a chance to enjoy a glass of fine champagne while browsing antiques.

My dynamic crew sat in the jardin (garden) part while quaffing their bubbly – establishing some kind of equilibrium after their mountain pedalling exertions! They even had a toast to Dom Pérignon before purchasing a Moet Chandom champagne glass set for two as a momento!

We then tandemed along the cobbled streets to find the Saint-Sindulphe abbey church – which houses Dom Pérignon’s black marble tombstone.

Dom Perignon, the monk who invented champagne, is buried here.

At every turn in the village there are links to Dom Pérignon – including a photo opportunity to turn yourself into the champagne inventing monk – which the “old git” obviously couldn’t resist!

The “old git” posing as Dom Perignon in the village!

Leaving the village my dynamic crew enjoyed a fab whizz back downhill – retracing our pedals to the city with plenty of time to explore the ‘Champs Elysees of Epernay’ –  the famous L’Avenue de Champagne which hosts the glitzy headquarters of the main champagne houses.

It offered a fascinating insight into the luxury world of champagne – with the whole avenue simply oozing money and opulence. An interesting fact is that the 19th century buildings sit above some 110 kms of underground cellars, built into the limestone, used for storing the champagne at temperatures of around 10 C.

Moet & Chandon is the most famous champagne firm and honours its links to Dom Pérignon with an impressive statue at the entrance to its headquarters. Each of the champagne houses were trying to outdo each other with eye catching displays – which offered a real spectacle.

The “old gal” at the Dom Perignon statue at the Moet & Chandon headquarters in Epernay.

The Boizel champagne house offered a good photo opportunity on L’Avenue de Champagne.

Things you never thought you’d ever do! My dynamic crew always had drinking champagne in Champagne on their bucket list! But how many people can say they have tandemed down the glitzy L’Avenue de Champagne in Epernay – the capital of Champagne ?!

Well we did and the “old gal” recorded some video footage for posterity which you can watch here:

It would need to be said that a tandem cycling down the L’Avenue de Champagne with a crew decked out in polka dot cycling jerseys was always going to attract quite a bit of inquisitive attention – and after we had finished we even received a round of applause! After all that fun and frivolity my dynamic crew headed back to the sanctuary of Les Epecuriens chambres d’hotes.

My crew were looking forward to the evening as they had booked a private steam room session in the property’s hamman on their return, and later, a private champagne dinner a deux – home cooked by our host Laure – served in our suite! Told you it was classy!

I was parked back in the internal courtyard, and this time our hosts covered me with a huge plastic sheet – just in case the rain returned. The “old git” and “old gal” thoroughly enjoyed relaxing in the heat of the steam room – ideal to help them get over the tail end of their heavy colds.

Our fabulous dinner in our suite at Les Epicuriens home cooked by our host Laure.

The dinner which followed was a culinary delight, as it turns out one of Laure’s main interests is cooking – and has even produced her own cookbook. My crew eagerly ate up their four course dinner – which was naturally accompanied by a fine bottle of champagne from a nearby vineyard.

So two epic category 4 climbs today on another brilliant second  day of the Champagne leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering just 8 miles – with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

Day 3 – Grand finale Euro tour 2017 up mountains to Reims from Epernay as we clocked up 300 miles in 10 days

The scenic reward for the climb of tree tunnels in the Parc Naturel de la Montagne de Reims.

This was the final ride of our brilliant two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017 and the schedule today had us tandeming back to Reims from Epernay – a distance of just over 30 miles. That’ll be easy at this stage in the tour then for my dynamic crew who were now finely tuned athletes! Let’s just say it didn’t turn out that way! …

My dynamic crew were reluctant to leave the luxury of Les Epicuriens chambres d’hotes.

After another gorgeous and tasty petit dejeuner at Les Epecuriens chambres d’hotes Team Tandem Ecosse were a bit reluctant to leave their luxurious surroundings. We sadly took our leave from the wonderfully hospitable Laure and headed thru Epernay for the last time heading out into the country towards the ancient town of Ay.

Check out the details of our Day 3 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The “old git” and the “old gal” had both looked at the maps and knew it was hilly so were suitably kitted out in their King and Queen of the Mountain jerseys! But they didn’t realise the emphasis today would be on the word mountains! Mind you, the fact that one of the villages very near our route was called Rilly la Montagne should have been a bit of a clue!

The first few miles were great and we soon picked up speed along the flat roads thru the vineyards. This was giving us a false sense of security … but then it happened! My crew hit the Montagne de Reims like a brick wall! A very high brick wall at that!

Team Tandem Ecosse huffed and puffed their way up the first climb (slowly) before resorting to taking me for a walk on the second – which was the first of another two category 4-rated climbs of the day! Since I was fully laden the “old git” had to use significant effort to push me up what seemed like an almost vertical incline, while the “old gal” – who suffers from asthma and therefore finds hills difficult at the best of times – puffed along behind!

Ab fab! We ticked off names of many champagnes including Bolly!

The only break my dynamic crew (who were feeling somewhat less than dynamic at this stage) had from the relentless climbing was ticking off more names of the major champagne brands, including Bollinger and Mercier. Let’s just say that my crew were now acutely aware that the best champagnes need the best grapes and they grow on steep slopes!

Mercier was next to be ticked off on the climb to Germaine.

A local guide book informed my crew that the term “mountain” is justified for the Montage de Reims by the brutality of the change of relief between the plain at 80 meters above sea level and the slopes where the vines produce the champagne some 200  metres higher. That made them feel so much better … not!

To be honest, we overstretched our ability on this route – and on the next big climb, which was a category 4 between Germaine and Ville-en-Selve it became less than fun for the first time on this trip. With my heavy panniers weighing me down, it was little wonder that the “old git” kept looking to see if my brakes were locked on as he slowly pushed up to the summit. This was by far the toughest route we have ever tackled! … Or ever want to tackle!

The Route de Champagnes offered some fascinating glimpses of past and present.

After taking an energy sapping 2 hours 45 minutes to travel 14 miles, we finally reached the plateau just  after Ville-en-Selve- a fantastic forest area which is part of the Park Naturel Regional de La Montagne de Reims. This gave my crew a bit of respite. The smiles returned as they enjoyed some scenic tree tunnels and the beauty of the leaves changing colours.

The climb was worth it to see the colours change at Ville-en-Selve.

The beautiful scenery helped restore spirits as did the sight of the first downhill stretch for some time which saw my dynamic crew whizz down into the village of Ludes. It was Sunday and our experience tells us everywhere is closed – but we came across a patisserie which was open. Coffee and yummy apricot tarts restored energy levels for the “old gal” and “old git”

The “old gal” at the picturesque Mairie (town hall) in Ludes.

After a much required stop to restore equilibrium after my crew’s mountain climbing exploits, we headed further downhill and saw a signpost for Chigny-les-Roses famous for its rose champagne – made from the Pinot Meunier grapes. Just at the entrance to the town is an old barrel used in the champagne process – which provided a fun photo stop!

The “old gal” was happy to see the town of Chigny-les-Roses famous for its rose fizz!

The “old gal” was happy to see the Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne ahead of us and we pedalled off – enjoying some welcome freewheeling to reach the canal cycle path at Sillery.

The Sillery French Military Cemetry contains graves of over 11,000 soldiers killed in the first World War.

Just before reaching the canal my crew stopped at the impressive Sillery French Military Cemetry which contains graves of over 11,000 soldiers killed in the first World War during the battles of Champagne.

Final picnic of le tour! Sadly all good things have to come to an end! Last one on canal at Sillery.

After paying our respects at the war cemetery, my dynamic crew found a nice seat by the canal for our last picnic of this year’s Euro Tour du Tandem. By now readers of my blog will know that the picnic is one of the key points of the day for the “old git” and “old gal” and this one was no exception.

After a late picnic lunch we tandemed along the canal path – again in awe at the fabulous surface and how everyone respects the cycling culture. This for Team Tandem Ecosse is what tandeming is about! My crew were enjoying themselves so much they deliberately pedalled on past the turn off into Reims in order to clock up 75 miles on the Champagne leg – to break the 300 mile total for the 10 days cycling on the three legs of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017.

The Cathedral Notre-Dame in Reims marked the end point.

The magnificent frontage of the Cathedral Notre-Dame in Reims was the official end point of our tour – and the “old gal” purchased a bottle of champagne in one of the gift shops in the square to allow my dynamic crew to celebrate when we we arrived back at Le Clos des Roys, our chambres d’hote.

Job done! Celebrating arriving at Les Clos des Roys after 75 gruelling miles in Champagne.

It’s always better when we’ve tandemed over 300 miles together on Le Tour de France et Holland

After I was secure in the inner courtyard, it was time for my dynamic crew to enjoy some end of tour celebrations! And how do you celebrate when in Champagne! Yes in the only way that is possible here – by drinking champagne in Champagne!

Time to celebrate in style – with champagne obv! Over 300 miles and over 300 smiles along the way!

… even if it was just a tad knackering on some of the uphill stretches! Time for relaxation!

As my crew enjoyed the feeling that their legs wouldn’t have to pedal up any more hills, they were buoyed when the “old git” checked Strava on his phone and discovered that they had achieved their highest every placings in the league tables! Amazingly Team Matildas Musings were in third place in the Tandem Club UK table for tandemers in Britain having clocked 154.2 miles over the last seven days; and 14th in the league table for tandmers around the world!

.. and 14th in world tandemers in last 7 days!

Delighted at 3rd place in UK tandemers over last week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My crew had a most welcome shower and a bit of relaxation before heading out for a celebration end of tour dinner. Our hosts Marie Ann and Gerard came up trumps with a wonderful recommendation – La Paix which is a bustling brasserie known for its fish and seafood specialties. It was a perfect spot for a gala meal and my crew decided to splash out on the menu gourmand which saw them enjoy six fabulous oysters as a starter followed by a sensational meal – and all washed down with a perfectly chilled dry local Rieseling. Quite simply a sensational way to finish!

So although we hit the Montange de Reims like a brick wall – overall it was still another unmissable ride on the final day of the Champagne leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 30.7 miles, with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

As a quick overview of the third and final leg of our Euro Tandem Tour 2017, Team Tandem Ecosse again saw some amazing sights and enjoyed fabulous experiences on their cycling trip in the heart of the Champagne region. The total distance covered over the three days was just 75 miles – but it felt most of these were up hills and mountains. We definitely underestimated the terrain which resulted in my crew overstretching their cycling ability in places. But again there are some fantastic memories in the memory bank and the “old git” and “old gal” have ticked off that bucket list item of quaffing champagne in Champagne! The overall conclusion from my dynamic crew is that they wouldn’t have missed it for the world! Would they return – yes, definitely – but probably taking in the views of the vineyards from the luxury of a hot air balloon!

There will be a blog reflecting on Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017 overall. For now our European tandem adventures were over for another year but before the three hour drive to the Eurotunnel service back to the UK, there was time for my crew to sample some of the sights of Reims and pick up a few supplies and presents.

The magnificent 13C stained glass rose window in Reims cathedral.

We paid a visit to the magnificent Gothic Cathedral Notre-Dame, which is where French Kings were traditionally crowned.  More than 2,300 statues decorate the exterior and one of the key highlights is the 13th Century stained glass rose window. There is also a plaque marking the spot where Clovis, the king of the Franks, was baptised by the Bishop of Reims.

Clovis, King of the Franks, was baptised in the cathedral.

According to legend a dove brought a phial containing holy oil, which was used to anoint Clovis. It was then used for the coronation of every King of France from the 11th Century to 1825 – the most famous being King Charles V11 in 1429 at the height of the Hundred Years War in the presence of Joan of Arc. A real history lesson then for my dynamic crew.

The roll call of French kings who were crowned at Reims cathedral.

After being steeped in history my crew walked around the market and bought a few presents – while noting the slightly alarming high level security presence of armed police even for a local market, which underlined the high state of alert in France due to recent terrorist atrocities.

Then it was time for the “old git” and the “old gal” to have fun stocking up on supplies of champagne to take back home! My crew carefully selected their bottles which marked key spots on our Tour de Champagne from the more than 700 different varieties on offer at Le Cave des Sacres – a fabulous champagne cellar situated in the shadow of the cathedral. Purchases made, the “old git” then needed to borrow a trolley to get the boxes back to Matilda Transport!

The “old git” needed a trolley to get champagne supplies to the car!

Time for a quick late lunch burger before Team Tandem Ecosse had to head to Calais for our Eurotunnel connection back to the UK and then an overnight drive back to Matildas Rest.

A fitting setting for the final toast of champagne in Champagne!

The courtyard of the cathedral provided a fitting setting for my dynamic crew for their final toast of champagne in Champagne – bringing to an end an epic Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017.

These tours are what memories are made of! Cheers!

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Euro Tour 2nd leg – tandeming the vineyards of l’Alsace à vélo

This sums up the blissful tandem tour of Alsace for Team Tandem Ecosse.

After Holland there was a day on the itinerary for Team Tandem Ecosse to reposition into France to begin the second leg of our two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem 2017. On paper it seemed a straightforward 400 mile drive from Amsterdam to Strasbourg.

But as you know things rarely work out according to schedule for my dynamic crew and while enjoying beautiful scenery we got very badly lost in Luxembourg when the main motorway was closed for roadworks. The “old gal” – who was driving – said it was confusing road signs but we lost 2 hours trying to find a way out of the diversion route which saw us going round the same loop three times!

Eventually we arrived somewhat late and frazzled to be calmed by our palatial surroundings at La Celistine, our chambres d’hote in Strasbourg – the start point for a four day tour of the vineyards and canals of the Alsace to allow my dynamic crew to tandem thru the vineyards and enjoy sampling Alsace wine in the Alsace! My crew quickly regained their equilibrium with a fabulous traditional Alsatian dinner at a brilliant old style restaurant called Au Cruchon – and had their first taste of the local Riesling!

The “old gal” selected this leg after the success of our previous vineyard tours in Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. The route selected was a loop of around 120 miles following the l’Alsace à vélo and Veloroute du Vignobles d’Alsace with overnight stops in Obernai, Beblenheim, and Colmar  and back to Strasbourg.

With four days tandem touring – and given that Team Tandem Ecosse was going completely self sustained and self-guided with no luggage transfer as they had enjoyed in previous years – my four panniers were packed full and my overall weight had increased substantially.

Day 1 – Canals, filling bidons with wine, private organ recital and some big hills on l’Alsace à vélo

The Veloroute du Vignobles d’Alsace offered truly spectacular scenery.

After getting up early and a very enjoyable communal petit dejeuner provided by Claude and Fabienne our hosts at La Celistine, it was time for my dynamic crew to get me out of Matilda Transport and kitted up to depart on our adventure on the l’Alsace à vélo. In bright sunshine, all three of us on Team Tandem Ecosse were full of high spirits about the day ahead that promised canal path cycling before joining the ‘route des vins’ and heading into the vineyards.

Check out the details of our Day 1 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Strasbourg boasts that it is France’s most cycling-friendly city and it was certainly a joy to pedal out of the city on smooth dedicated cycle paths with clear cycle signposting in warm sunshine. We were heading along the banks of the Canal de la Bruche towards the old town of Molsheim – part of the impressive l’Alsace à vélo network.

The cycle path hugged the picturesque canal all the way and took us past numerous pretty villages. It was a Sunday and it was great to see the cycle path so busy with bikes, walkers and joggers. Plenty of room for everyone as all kept to the discipline of keeping to their side of the path.

It was a joy to ride the beautiful Canal de la Bruche out of Strasbourg.

Most of the bridges were bedecked in flowers which made a colourful sight as we pedalled on. In next to no time we were in the outskirts of Molsheim and luckily found a patisserie and cafe that was open as most places seemed shut because it was Sunday, including the supermarkets, which meant my crew had been unable to stock up on picnic supplies.

As a result the cafe was a magnet for all cyclists on the route, and it would need to be said that a tandem with my dynamic crew kitted out in their new day-glo yellow multi-lingual t-shirts – featuring the slogan ‘tandem quest for wine and champagne’ – certainly attracted attention!

Fortified by some tasty local delicacies – and lulled into a false sense of security by the distance covered in a short time on the easy canal tandeming – my crew decided to spend some time in Molsheim, which used to be the religious capital of Alsace. The town offered our first experience of the local historic architecture – with most towns having an entrance arch.

Me and the “old gal” at one of the three scenic town arches in Molsheim.

The “old git” had done his research and discovered that there was a Bugatti museum in the town where the Bugatti Foundation displays mementoes of the family and a few of the classic cars that were built here between the two world wars.

An ideal place for a classic tandem – the Bugatti museum in Molsheim!

Molsheim is the home of the Bugatti family, the birthplace of the brand and the modern headquarters of the company. The town is where Bugatti’s long history of success began in 1909 when it started making cars that caused an absolute sensation.

The “old gal” admiring the classic cars in the Bugatti museum.

My dynamic crew admiring the Bugatti cars which caused a sensation in the early 1900s.

According to the museum: “This was where the brand values of art, form and technology were born; values which endure to this day. Ettore Bugatti was a true gentleman of his day, cultivating personal relationships with many of his customers. Today, we are proud to be continuing the Bugatti tradition in the place where it began, here in Molsheim – just as its founder would have wanted.”

The “old gal” pictured beside founder Ettore Bugatti.

After leaving the museum the next stop was the imposing Gothic style Eglise des Jesuites which dates from 1615. The church once belonged to the famous Jesuit university, which was transferred to Strasbourg in 1702. It was also part of the Carthusian monestry, the only one ever to be built in a town. My dynamic crew were the only people there at the time and were fortunate to be treated to a private Sunday afternoon recital by the organist.

The stunning organ which gave my dynamic crew a private recital at the Eglise de Jesuites.

The “old gal” recorded a short video which captured part the private organ recital at the Eglise de Jesuites which you can view by clicking here:

Molsheim is in the heart of a wine growing area and duty called in the quest for le vin! The “old git” saw a sign for ‘le vin nouveau’ and pulled on my brakes and pedalled into a courtyard. Here my dynamic crew had a fascinating visit and discovered that the new wine had only been made the day before and had just started its fermentation process into the famous Bruderthal grand cru. They were offered the chance to tick another of their bucket list items by filling my bidons direct from the vat of wine. And the price for this extravagance? One euro a bottle! What a bargain! Hic!

Bucket list tick! Filling my bidons with vin nouveau direct from the vat!

Having spent a highly relaxing couple of hours exploring the town my crew thought they better head off and complete the remaining 10 miles to our overnight stop at Obernai – which they expected would be an easy pedal taking well less than an hour. Wrong!

Almost immediately on leaving Molsheim we joined the Veloroute du Vignobles d’Alsace and hit the hills of the Vosges! I am not sure if it was the effects of le vin nouveau – but my dynamic crew were suddenly rendered a bit less than dynamic and quickly almost ground to a halt with the sudden change of geography!

On leaving Molsheim, the slopes of the Vosges took the “old gal” by surprise!

But I am proud to say they battled on – doing their best to counter the weight of my panniers – with the spectacular views of the vineyards stretching for miles in either direction spurring them on! Let’s just say that the downhill stretches were great!

For a bit of relief Team Tandem Ecosse stopped in the wine producing town of Rosheim – which features ruined ramparts and some of the oldest buildings in Alsace and a Romanesque church.

One of the arches at Rosheim – among the oldest buildings in Alsace.

Refreshed by an ice cold soft drink, my crew battled a couple more hills before a most welcome downhill into the tourist holiday resort centre of Obernai and our comfortable and modern L’Ecurie chambres d’hotes for the night.

After a rest and showers – and with me safely secured in the courtyard – my crew walked into the town to enjoy a lovely relaxed dinner at the Restaurant Santa Maria which served delicious Alsatian food, washed down with a cheeky bottle of local cremant. Perhaps not surprisingly, sleep came easily when they fell into bed!

So a sensational first day of the Alsace leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 24.2 miles with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

Day 2 – Up and down tandeming weaving our way thru the fab vineyards of the Vosges on l’Alsace à vélo!

Me and the “old gal” overlooking the vineyards of the famous Moenchberg Grand Cru at Andlau.

Sunshine again greeted my crew as they awoke after a sound nights sleep at L’Ecurie chambres d’hotes in Obernai – but my dynamic crew had a bit of a worry about the day’s tandeming ahead given the hills which suddenly appeared yesterday afternoon! Today was a route of over 30 miles tandeming thru the vineyards of the Vosges – and over breakfast they realised that means the certainty of a few more tough big climbs! It could be a long day in my saddles!

The Halloween-themed entrance to our suite at L’Ecurie chambres d’hotes in Obernai

Check out the details of our Day 2 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Before leaving Obernia my crew explored the town – including the square with its fountain with a statue of St Odile. The “old gal” also took the opportunity to replenish picnic supplies – including some still warm freshly baked bread and a trip into a fromagerie to stock up with some cheese. This turned out to be the most expensive piece of cheese my crew had ever bought as the “old gal” selected a mature 7 year old Comte without registering the price and ended up paying 22 euros for the slab!

My dynamic crew at the start of day 2 in the tourist town of Obernai.

Off we pedalled and after a few wrong turns, quickly picked up the Veloroute du Vignobles d’Alsace and headed out of town and almost immediately into more spectacular vineyards. In general we found the l’Alsace à velo network to be well signposted – but today we came across some interesting directions … with one signpost pointing both left and right to our destination for lunch! Looking closely at the map one went a hillier route – so we chose the slightly shorter distance!

Confusing directions! 12km to Dambach-la-ville to the left and 13 km to the right!

Heading out of Barr we faced the first serious climb of the day but were rewarded at the summit by being able to see the grape harvest in full swing. I was even able to join in for a photo with baskets of grapes while my crew got their breath back!

Joining in the grape harvest! Two newly picked buckets of grapes … in tandem of course!

Another climb – on which my dynamic crew could have done with a handy supply of oxygen – took us to a spectacular viewpoint and photo spot above Andlau – right at the heart of Riesling country and home to three famous vintages including Moenchberg Grand Cru. High above the vineyards at the viewpoint, is a stone statue of a fat monk – with a wine barrel on his back. This is said to be Saint Vincent de Saragosse, who is recognised as the patron saint of winemakers. The “old git” whipped out his extendable tripod and bluetooth clicker to take a couple of pictures of my dynamic crew together!

My dynamic crew with the statue of the monk who is patron saint of winemakers above Andlau.

Tandeming thru the paths with vineyards groaning with ready-to-be-harvested grapes not surprisingly put the “old gal” in the mood to continue the quest for wine! Happily the “old git” spotted a sign for a tasting in the village of Blienschwiller. Again this turned out to be a great stop as my dynamic crew found themselves in a family wine house, Jos Straub fils, and were treated to an explanation of the production methods and some tastings of their Winzenberg Grand Cru Riesling which was being sold at the unbelievably cheap price of just 11 euros a bottle.

The “old gal” enjoying a personal wine and cremant tasting at Blienschwiller.

My crew were only able to carry one bottle so selected a very refreshing rose cremant which was then strapped safely in to my la bouclee wine carrier. Amazingly the owners of the wine house had never seen one before and were impressed!

My la bouclee – complete with a bottle of rose cremant – was much admired at the wine house.

From the wine tasting it was just a couple of miles to the renowned wine town of Dambach-la-ville with its timber framed houses and three historic town arches. It is also home to the Frankenstein variety of vintage Alsace wine. But you wouldn’t know today. It was like a ghost town as it was Monday and everywhere was closed! So it was just as well the “old gal” had bought picnic supplies earlier!

Just as well we had a picnic at Dambach-la-ville as everywhere was closed!

Fortified by another fabulous sunshine picnic my dynamic crew tandemed out of the town – stopping for a chat at a crossroads with a couple on solo bikes from New Zealand who were doing  a similar trip and were even more heavily laden than Team Tandem Ecosse!

Wishing each other good luck we climbed another steep hill before the cycle route seemed to plateau out and we enjoyed some gently undulating cycling thru some amazing vineyards and picturesque wine villages including Chatenois and Kintzheim.

My dynamic crew couldn’t fail to be impressed by the beautiful wine villages between the vineyards.

Some welcome downhill took me and my dynamic crew to the pretty small wine town of Ribeuville – nestling at the foot of the Vosges – and a pit stop for a coffee and refreshment. The town is famous for its Riesling and Gewurztraminer wines – so it would have bee rude not to continue the quest and do some sampling … all in the name of research, of course!

Ribeauville at the foot of the Vosges provided a pretty place for the last stop of the day.

The “old gal” was feeling a bit drained and suggested buying some tasty goodies and supplies to have a quiet dinner in the room of their chambres d’hotes  – to which the “old git” eagerly agreed – as both were starting to feel the effects of colds which had hit them.

Here I am beside on old wine cart in Ribeauville – famous for its Riesling and Gewurztraminer wines.

Fortunately the last few miles to our base for the night in the village of Beblenheim was fairly flat and some 8 hours after we set off my dynamic crew were happy to arrive at Domaine Mauler – a wine house which also runs chambres d’hotes in their half timbered 18th century home right on the edge of their vineyards.

I had a nice airy courtyard all to myself as my crew showered off the dust of the day before settling down to enjoy a gorgeous dinner in their room – washed down with that rather nice rose cremant. Bliss! Sleep wasn’t far away either!

So a long but fun day tandeming 32.1 miles in glorious sunshine with some amazing scenery on some serious climbs up the slopes of the Vosges on the second day of the Alsace leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem – with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

Day 3 – True meaning of recycling and recharging our batteries on a short run thru more Alsace vineyards

My dynamic crew found a perfect spot for a picnic in Kaysersberg on their recharging day!

The third day of the Alsace leg of Team Tandem Ecosse’s Euro Tour 2017 was always planned as a kind of rest and recharge day – with fewer miles built into the busy schedule. And my dynamic crew were particularly glad of that as they wakened feeling a bit rough with both the “old gal” and the “old git” suffering the effects of heavy colds.

So over a  yummy continental breakfast – with fresh croissant – my crew were looking forward to a day of gentle tandeming, relaxing stops and wine tastings in the villages and towns amongst the vineyards … with a distance of just 15 miles to be covered as we weaved our way to Colmar. It was going to be a day when – in the word’s of my Team Matilda’s motto – it’s not the miles that count – but the smiles!

Our fabulous Domaine Mauler chambres d’hote on the edge of a vineyard in Beblenheim.

Check out the details of our Day 3 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

As my crew checked out of our wonderful homely Domaine Mauler chambres d’hote we were offered a post breakfast wine tasting by our host Claudine Mauler. As mentioned, we were situated right on the edge of a renowned vineyard in Beblenheim – so it would have been rude not to! I’m not sure that even the “old git” and the “old gal” thought that this was the best time of day to be finding out about the unique differences and specialties of the local wines – but the true professionals that they are, they battled thru in their quest to find the best wines! They even selected a bottle of Premier Cru Riesling for today’s picnic – which we were told was ideal for country buffets!

There was time for a post-breakfast wine tasting before we headed off from Beblenheim!

The next step was stocking up on picnic goodies and bread at the fantastic village shop – which was a million miles better than our local Coop back home! The “old gal” also spotted the local village hairdressers and jokingly checked it out as a potential overseas expansion for her hair salon business! She particularly liked the sign which read “Coiffure espirit nature” which translates as hairdressing with nature! No blue rinse ladies here obviously – just free spirits!

My dynamic crew at the local cooperative for vineyard owners! Bit different from our local Coop!

The “old gal” checking out a potential overseas expansion for her hair salon business!

As we left Beblenheim behind we immediately hit a series of sharp hills as we climbed out of the village on the Veloroute du Vignobles d’Alsace. But as any cyclist will try to joke – for every uphill there is a downhill! And for that my dynamic crew were eternally grateful – except here in the heart of the Vosges there was occasionally a sign warning about a hazardously steep descent!

Sometimes on reaching a summit the downhill can be dangerous!

It was however a fabulous free wheel down the side of one of the many vineyards – where we managed to clock a top speed of just under 34 mph. It was a real thrill for me as an “old lady” tandem – but I can’t understand why the “old gal’s” eyes were closed!

First stop today for Team Tandem Ecossee was the attractive town of Riquewihr – a medieval town right in the heart of the Alsatian vineyards which is classified among the “Most Beautiful Villages in France.” As such the entrance to the town is a bit like Disney, but we quickly pushed thru that to admire the scenic beauty of the town which prides itself in looking as it did back in the 16th Century.

Here I am at Riquewihr – a town that looks today like it did in the 16th Century.

The town was quite touristy and this display of macaroons caught my eye!

Even tho it was relatively early the town was very busy with tourists and I was attracting lots of attention as a “double velo”! The “old git’s” research had revealed that the key attraction was the 13th Century Dolder – or defensive gate. It seems you can climb up four floors to the bell tower for great views over the rooftops – but unfortunately it was only open weekends out of high season. So the “old gal” had to make do with a photo opportunity, or two!

The attractive dolder offers great views – but sadly it was closed.

The “old gal” and me in one of attractive Riquewihr’s medieval streets.

It was lovely to wander round the cobbled streets which were also home to a community of local artists. The “old git” was particularly taken with the stylish sculptures of ladies in their erotic underwear on display in the windows of one of the many art galleries!

Eye catching sculptures in one of Riquewihr’s stylish art galleries!

There was time to people watch as my crew had a cofee from a mouth drooling patisserie – where they sampled a tart au myrtille – which was a gorgeous blueberry tart! They also picked up a small quiche to add to the picnic supplies. Leaving the tourists behind in Riquewihr we tandemed on back out into the vineyards and found Kientzheim – a much quieter but equally quaint medieval wine village which offered a colourful photo stop in the charming Schwendi square, with its renaissance fountain and beautiful mansions. Kientzheim is home to the headquarters of St Stephen’s Brotherhood, the official body controlling the quality of Alsatian wines.

The picturesque village of Kientzheim offered a colourful and historic photo opportunity.

It was a lovely warm sunny day and my dynamic crew were in good spirits – and not just from the wine tastings! It would need to be said that they were delighted that I had been performing like a finely tuned tandem and had avoided any mechanicals. As always when those thoughts come to mind, reality strikes and my chain slipped as the “old git” slowed and changed down gears to pull into a lay-by to check the route. Despite jamming itself between the gear cogs and my frame the “old gal” – in her role as chief engineer – calmly forced it free and we were on our way again.

Now as you know my dynamic crew are big fans of a picnic lunch – in fact it is the very essence of what Team Tandem Ecosse is all about. Today the”old gal” found a wonderful spot in pretty Kaysersberg – where the vineyards come right down to meet the town. It was all rather special, as can be seen in this video of them outlining the merits of a picnic du tandem Matildas Musings style! Click below.

As my crew enjoyed their picnic goodies in the shadow of the ruins of the medieval castle the “old gal” discovered that France had named Kaysersberg as its favourite village in the country in a recent tv show. It is famous for its half-timbered houses and quaint cobbled streets reflecting its history. Together with the rest of Alsace, Kaysersberg was part of Germany between the Franco-Prussian War and the First World War.

My dynamic crew are serious about their picnics – turning the concept into a bit of an art form!

As previously mentioned this was a day for recharging my crew’s batteries – a bit of a recycling (of energy) day, if you’ll excuse the pun! The “old git” however found a whole new meaning to the concept of recycling when visiting the loos in Kaysersberg with eye-catching urinals for beer, wine and whisky! There was even a kiddies one for cola!

Bringing a whole new meaning to the concept of recycling! The loos at Kayserberg!

I found a new friend with this bit of street bike art in Kaysersberg!

After picking up a few presents in the tourist shops – and another wine tasting – Team Tandem Ecosse meandered on pedalling back into the vineyards .. and up a few more hills! But despite the deliberately slow progress the scenery was just fabulous – never being more than a few feet away from the grapes.

After lunch there were a few more climbs in bright sun up thru the vineyards!

A downhill stretch took us to the colourful ancient town of Turckheim, complete with its three fortified gateways. It is the last town in Alsace where a night watchman walks the streets carrying his lamp and horn, stopping and singing on every street corner at 10pm. Clearly it was too early for that spectacle so my dynamic crew made do with a coffee stop.

The ancient fortified town of Turckheim offered a pretty coffee stop.

Before we left Turckheim, the “old gal” made the rather dubious decision to buy six of the traditional green coloured Alsatian wine glasses as a souvenir of our wine tastings! They were well packed to survive the bumps, but let’s just say it made for an interesting re-arranging of my pannier luggage!

A nice flat ride took us right into the historic centre of Colmar – the Alsatian wine capital, and enjoyed its charms of half-timbered houses, canals and the flower-decked town centre. We quickly found our Cour du Weinhof chambres d’hotes, ideally situated in the shadow of the imposing St-Martin cathedral.

I had the honour of being parked up in a 14th Century garage before my dynamic crew enjoyed showers and relaxed in the comfort of their room before heading out to dinner. The owners had recommended a fish restaurant amongst the canals in an area known as ‘Little Venice’ called Aux Trois Poissons. They were not disappointed enjoying the culinary delights of the Gourmet Menu washed down with a bottle of perfectly chilled Sylvaner wine! A perfect end to a perfect day!

So a more relaxing third day of the Alsace leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering just 14.9 miles as my crew recharged their batteries. The route is brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below:

Day 4 – Incredible tandeming along Canal du Rhone du Rhin back to Strasbourg to end Alsace tour

If Carlsberg did cycle paths! … my dynamic crew thought Eurovelo 15 was fab!

So a fairly straightforward itinerary today as Team Tandem Ecosse plan to leave the vineyards of the Alsace behind  and tandem the 40 odd miles from Colmar back to the centre of Strasbourg along the Eurovelo 15 cycle path which run along the canals. And the good part for my dynamic crew is that canals means no energy sapping hills!

The “old git” and “old gal” felt somewhat refreshed today after a less frenetic day in my saddles yesterday. Their colds had improved and the sun was shining which all meant it was going to be a good day! And even my crew can’t get lost cycling along a canal … I mean they can’t … can they?!

After a lovely breakfast I was retrieved from my posh resting place in the medieval garage at our fantastic Cour du Weinhof chambres d’hotes and my crew headed to the local covered market to pick up food and drink supplies for today’s canal side picnic.

The medieval courtyard and garage at Cour du Weinhof.

Check out the details of our Day 4 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Our hosts Rachel and Hubert at Cour de Weinhof really couldn’t have done any more to make us feel at home and comfortable – but then went the extra mile this morning (literally) when Hubert cycled out with us to show us the way to the start of the canal path! Maybe he had heard about my dynamic crew’s ability to get lost when following the simplest of directions!

Hubert, the owner of the chambres d’hotes, cycled out with us to get us on the canal path!

Safely on the side of the canal our route firstly took us a few miles along the banks of the Canal de Colmar, which dates back to 1864. This was a great warm up for my crew and a great taster of things to come later when we joined the main Canal de Rhone au Rhin. Conditions were ideal and my crew were in jolly spirits as we soon got into our stride, quickly eating up the miles.

The route to Strasbourg initially took us along the scenic Canal de Colmar.

Just at the join of the two canals we saw the first of several bike repair stations – complete with a variety of handy tools and a tyre pump. This just underlines the whole focus on cycling in France, and the fact that (unlike it would be in the UK) the repair station was in perfect condition and not vandalised shows the ethos of wanting to make cycling easy.

An amazing bike repair station on the canal cycle path shows the focus on cycling.

Now if the Canal de Colmar was impressive – when my dynamic crew joined the Canal du Rhone au Rhin at the village of Artzenheim they felt they had just moved up to the equivalent of motorway standards of cycle paths. Or as the “old git” said – if Carlsberg did cycle paths ….!

The canal path was part of Eurovelo 15 which you can cycle all the way from Rotterdam to Nantes or Budapest. To show just how perfect the conditions were for long distance tandeming on the canal, my dynamic crew shot a short video which you can watch here by clicking below:

The tandeming was so enjoyable – being so flat, easy to cycle and scenic on the eye! A good bit after passing the half way mark to Strasbourg my dynamic crew decided it was time for lunch and the “old git” found another idyllic spot at one of the deserted canal lock gates – Lock 78.

Cheers! The “old gal” enjoying our perfect picnic spot at a canal lock gate.

Canal Lock 78 was deserted and was a great spot for our picnic lunch!

To prove picnics don’t come much better than this the “old gal” shot an impromptu Matildas Musings video which you can see by clicking below:

The cycle paths said 19km to go to Strasbourg, but my crew were happy to get back on my saddles to complete the journey – after a photo shoot to show me off at my classic tandem best beside the canal under a bright blue sky and warm sunshine!

19km still to go – but easy tandeming on the sensational Canal du Rhone au Rhin.

Because my dynamic crew were self sufficient with plenty of supplies,  we didn’t actually leave the canal path – but the regular signposts show minor diversions are available into nearby towns with food shops, bars and cafes.  With the sun at its warmest the “old git” was quite happy to find the route went into a lovely shaded section on the final run into Strasbourg.

The canal offered some lovely shaded sections on the final run in to Strasbourg.

The dedicated cycle path emphasises it green credentials all along the route.

For the last two miles the route switched back on to the Canal de la Bruche. Incredibly after less than 4 hours cycling the whole 42 miles along canal paths we were back bang in the very heart of Strasbourg – exactly at the point we left four days before. Right in front of my crew on the Place d’Austerlitz a glitzy gin bar appeared like an apparition – so there was only one thing for it … time to celebrate finishing leg 2 of Euro Tour du tandem 2017 with a refreshing gin and tonic!

Team Tandem Ecosse’s return to Strasbourg was marked with a celebratory (and costly) gin and tonic!

Appropriately called Supertonic this was the ideal place to sample one of the 60 gins on offer – but they also charged super prices with the bill for two gin and tonics and two soft drinks coming to 30 euros! But the “old gal” says it was worth every cent!

Team Tandem Ecosse then checked back into the welcoming La Celistine, our chambres d’hote in the city where we spent Sunday night. With me safely stored in an internal courtyard, my crew enjoyed a relaxing snooze and showers before dinner. Our host Claude surpassed himself with his recommendation tonight – which took us to Au Pont Corbeau – which turned out to be one of the most famous and renowned restaurants in Strasbourg.

My dynamic due enjoyed a real culinary theatrical experience at Au Pont Corbeau.

Fortunately it didn’t have prices to match it’s reputation but my dynamic crew enjoyed an amazing evening of a real culinary theatrical experience of a lifetime where the owner was at the very top of his game. The Michelin rated restaurant was absolutely mobbed with hardly room to lift your elbows because so many customers had been squeezed in. And the service was the opposite of what you would expect from such an establishment, with the staff treating customers like they should count themselves lucky to be there at all! Incredibly people were being moved tables between courses to make way for bigger groups! But all this didn’t stop the place being queued out the door because of the incredible locally sourced Alsatian food that was served. It really was an amazing night!

So a simply sensational final day of the Alsace leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 42.4 miles, with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

As a quick overview of the second leg of our Euro Tandem Tour 2017, Team Tandem Ecosse had some amazing sights and experiences on their trip in the Alsace. Total distance covered was just short of 125 miles and although we hit some challenging hills in the vineyards, it was a fabulous trip overall – with my crew fuelled along the way by some fantastic food and wine. The overall conclusion from my dynamic crew is that they wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

The final leg takes us to Champagne but before the three hour drive there was time for my crew to sample some of the sights of Strasbourg, which is the intellectual and economic capital of Alsace. The tourist highlight is the famous Gothic Notre-dame Cathedral which traces its history back to 1015. The cathedral’s most popular feature is the Astronomical Clock – the oldest in the world being built in 1550.

My dynamic crew saw the world’s oldest astronomical clock..

My crew were lucky enough to get tickets to see the daily performance as it chimes at 12.30pm – half an hour behind normal time. As part of the movement the 12 Apostles pass in front of Christ who blesses them as a cockerel flaps its wings and crows three times, a reminder of Peter’s denial of Christ.

The “old gal” enjoying a quick drink at lunchtime.

A quick refreshment followed in the busy Place de la Catherdrale – which is a UNESCO World Heritage site – before my crew managed to squeeze in a guided boat trip on the River Ill. This offered great views of many of the city’s key sights including the romantic ‘Petit France’ area of the old town and the Strasbourg base of the European Parliament.

The Strasbourg base of the European Parliament viewed from a river trip.

After an enjoyable few days in Strasbourg and the Alsace it was time to head to Matilda Transport and drive to Champagne for the final leg of our Euro Tour 2017!

Euro Tour 1st leg – tandeming the dykes of Holland

The historic working windmills of the North Holland peninsula were a truly awesome sight!

So after a day for my dynamic crew to familiarise themselves into the Dutch way of life – and of course sample some local food and drink! – it was time to begin our three leg two week Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem. The first of three legs was a three day tour of the North Holland peninsula. It was the first visit for Team Tandem Ecosse to Holland – having been persuaded to give it a try by recommendations about both the scenic and flat landscape, and of course the fabulous network of brilliantly signposted cycle paths.

The “old git” had selected a route which promised “Holland at is flattest” with the peninsula tour “fitting the image that most foreigners have of Holland – with its dykes, canals, clogs, cheese and windmills.” The route selected was a 90-odd mile loop from Amsterdam to Marken and Vollendam before crossing inland to Alkmaar, then back down to Amsterdam through the historic River Zaan settlements.

And in a break from previous years, Team Tandem Ecosse was going completely self sustained and self-guided. Instead of booking through a tour company – which offered step-by-step tried and tested routes and daily luggage transfers – my dynamic crew had booked all their own overnight stops, checked out the routes, and were carrying everything they needed in four panniers!

It was certainly interesting – particularly the routes part … which threw up lots of opportunity for “discussions” about what was the correct way to go!

Day 1 – Tandeming the dykes from Amsterdam to Marken then boat to Volendam

Bright eyed and bushy tailed! My dynamic crew before Le Grand Depart!

My dynamic crew woke feeling very sprightly – all bright eyed and bushy tailed – in preparation for the actual Le Grand Depart of the Euro tandem tour 2017. Excitement was palpable over the brilliant breakfast buffet spread at  our Amsterdam base – the superb Westcord Art Hotel .

The “old gal” looking somewhat perplexed at the electronic bike charging point!

A final check of my panniers and Team Tandem Ecosse were ready – but only after the “old gal” looked somewhat puzzled and perplexed at the electronic bike charger units in the hotel car park – I mean classic tandems don’t have battery power for goodness sake! But it does underline the fabulous infrastructure which exists for bikes in Holland. There was also the matter of taking the “start of tour” picture” for posterity – then we were off!

All smiles and thumbs up at the start of Euro Tour du Tandem 2017! What could possibly go wrong!

Check out the details of our Day 1 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

The first part of the ride was retracing our steps from yesterday along the amazing cycle paths – down by scenic canals – to the front of Amsterdam’s Centraal Station for a ferry across to the north of the city. This was an amazing experience as there were bikes everywhere queuing up for the short five minute crossing to Buiksloterwerg. Clearly this was a very busy commuter route as most people seemed to be heading to work. There were four ferries continually heading back and forth across the water to meet the demand – and whats more it was free! It was actually difficult for my crew not to stop and stare at the scene before them.

Actually I think it was the commuters who were staring at my dynamic crew as they looked somewhat “tourists abroad” with a tandem and all kitted out in their Tour de France King of the Mountain cycling jerseys! However one or two friendly locals did get the joke as the “old git” and “old gal” had deliberately chosen to wear those jerseys because the terrain was so flat!

The “old gal” recorded a short video which captured some of the eye-catching scenes at the ferry which you can view by clicking here:

On leaving the ferry, and all the commuters, we quickly found the cycle route we required – LF7 and pedalled off. It really is quite difficult to describe the incredible network of cycle paths without experiencing it at first hand as it is something which my dynamic crew have never seen before. All the paths are very clearly signposted and intersections with other paths are clearly flagged up. Essentially all you have to do is take a  note of junction numbers and follow your route that way! Easy! And the paths themselves are a real joy – flat, with great smooth tarmac surfaces ideal for road bikes.

My crew easily found the next route – LF21 – which would take us all the way to our destination of Marken. It was fantastic tandeming as we headed along the dykes taking in the spectacular scenery of Lake Markermeer and the village of Durgerdam.

The “old gal” taking a breather to take in the scenery and stylised houses at the village of Durgerdam

Opposite the houses there is a marina for all the villagers boats on the canal.

We pedalled on thru Uitdam – stopping for a coffee in what was essentially someone’s front garden … complete with dedicated bike parking spot! – before heading along the causeway and onto the former island of Marken.

The views were truly spectacular tandeming along the dyke at Lake Markermeer.

The coffee stop in someone’s front garden – complete with bike parking spot!

Good tandeming friends Jane and John – who hosted Team Matilda for the recent Tour de New Forest and who have their own blog Travelling in Tandem – said we had to visit the lighthouse known as the Paard van Marken – or the Horse of Marken in English. Although not open to the public it offers a great spot for some spectacular photos and was well worth a short diversion off the route to the town.

The Paard van Marken lighthouse offered a great scenic spot for photos!

The “old git” even got his remote control bluetooth camera gizmo to work!

Time for lunch and a handy supermarket provided the perfect ingredients for the first picnic of the Euro Tour du tandem 2017 – some freshly baked bread, grapes, ham, local cheese, salads and the obligatory bottle of prosecco which cost the princely sum of just three euros!

We pedaled into the quaint fishing village of Marken for lunch which prides itself in maintaining the authentic atmosphere of the old days – and found a perfect spot at the edge of the harbour wall … even if we did have to fight off some rather aggressive sparrows who were keen to share our picnic!

The “old gal” enjoying the first prosecco picnic of the Euro Tour du tandem 2017 at Marken.

The sun even decided to come out to play allowing the “old gal” to bask in its rays!

A sculpture paying homage to the local fishing community near our picnic spot at Marken.

After lunch there was time to explore more of the village of Marken with its small alleys, drawbridges and closely built houses which sit on top of mounds to protect them from floods. A souvenir shop allowed the “old git” to tick the requirement to get a silly photo wearing giant clogs!

Tick! Silly shot of the “old git” wearing giant sized clogs!

The next part of the trip involved a 30 minute ferry crossing from Marken to the village of Voldendam – which was to be our base for the night. There are regular crossings on the Volednam-Marken Express ferry service which offers a special cyclists ticket which included a welcome coffee and a slice of home made apple pie! Oh if you insist!

Here I am on the back deck of the ferry to Volendam enjoying the sun!

Yum! Apple pie and coffee was a key attraction for the “old gal” on the cyclists ticket!

Volendam is a bit special – its definitely a must see tourist fishing village offering what it describes as “an atmosphere of geniality and romance.” The locals say here are 16 million Dutch citizens and 22,000 Volendammers in Holland – as that sums up the different nature of the local people who are renowned for their hard work and hospitality.

Hoping that the “old git is holding me tight right at the edge of Volendam harbour!

A quick tandem around the village and the harbour saw today’s tandmeing come to an end with a beer at one of the many bars overlooking the picturesque harbour. There is clearly money here given the expensive nature of some of the boats tied up.

My dynamic crew then checked into the historic Art Hotel Spaander which dates back to 1881 – happy to be booked into a room with a balcony overlooking the IJsselmeer.

Time for a bit of relaxation and showers for the “old gal” and the “old git” before a fabulous meal of different types of mussels dishes in a traditional pub setting on the edge of the harbour! Bliss! I can officially say that Team Tandem Ecosse are enjoying their first Dutch experience!

So a great first day of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 21.9 miles with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you may need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

Day 2 – Cheesy but fab ride from Volendam thru Edam to the historic windmills of Alkmaar

One piece of history beside another! Here I am beside the windmill museum.

After a night of deep sleep my dynamic crew were up early and out on the balcony of their room to take in the amazing views over the water with the sun already shining brightly. Clearly it was going to be a spectacular day with a tandem ride to taste Edam in Edam before heading further up the coast then turning in land thru historic windmill country to the city of Alkmaar.

My dynamic crew up early on the balcony of their room taking in the views

Check out the details of our Day 2 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Team Tandem Ecosse pedalled off leaving Volendam behind with a short tandem of just three miles to our first stop of the day – the historical town of Edam, famous for the cheese which bears its name! My dynamic crew were immediately taken by the beauty of this town which dates back to the 12th Century, and enjoyed taking in the views of some of its many narrow canals and pretty bridges.

Me and the “old git” on one of the many bridges over the canals in scenic Edam.

Now the main aim of visiting this town was for the “old git” and the “old gal” to tick the bucket list item of sampling the world renowned Edam cheese in Edam. They quickly found Henri Willig’s specialty cheese shop based in a 16th century building in the historical centre and popped in to taste some of the many varieties on offer.

The “old gal” – who has a particular fondness for cheese – thought she had died and gone to heaven as the samples kept coming! Eventually my crew decided to purchase three different flavours of Edam – hazelnut, pesto, and the star attraction … truffle.

Sampling Edam in Edam – tick! The “old gal” with a cheese cart!

After taking the tourist must-do pictures with the cheese cart, my crew stocked up with goodies for today’s picnic at a wonderful deli which insisted in packing everything in picnic friendly tubs and recommended a bottle of “local” slightly sparkling vinho verde for me to carry in my la bouclee wine carrier  – emphasising the Dutch-Portugal connections!

Edam was beautiful and offered the perfect stop for a morning coffee.

After a morning coffee it was noon as my dynamic crew set off with nearly 30 miles still to go! But it was truly sensational tandeming again with the sun beating down as we pedalled along the dykes up the coast towards Warder and Schadam on LF21 where we headed inland – to cycle almost right across the peninsula from east to west to Alkmaar, all along the one fantastic cycle path, LF15.

The “old gal” and the “old git” were both hugely impressed with the signposting on the cycle path – particularly the “old gal” who could relax a bit from her map reading duties and just follow a series of junction numbers, all clearly flagged up in big green circles on signposts with direction arrows.

The signposting for the cycle paths was brilliant – just follow the numbers!

The landscape changed as we cycled away from the coast, with us pedalling past neatly lined polders – which are small pieces of low-lying land reclaimed from the sea or a lake and protected by dykes. It was amazingly scenic and my dynamic crew revelled in cycling along a long flat tree lined avenue which seperated two banks of polders. Not surprisingly the miles just flew past with ease!

Tandeming at its best – a long straight flat tree lined path!

We were promised historic windmills on this route and just as my crew were starting to get peckish, windmills suddenly sprung up before our eyes! What a magnificent sight they were. We had arrived at Schermerhorn, the site of Museum Molen or the windmill museum.

A picnic bench in the shadow of the only windmill of the Golden Century which is accessible for visitors offered a perfect spot for my dynamic crew’s late lunch. The whirr of the four mast windmill as it turned in the wind made the experience all the more atmospheric.

What a perfect picnic spot in the shadow of the working windmill museum.

After refuelling there was time for a tour of the windmill – including a great display and video explaining exactly how the windmills were used to raise and lower the water levels in the fields. The big highlight for my crew was being able to go inside the windmill to see it as it would have been all those centuries ago – and to be able to climb up very steep ladders right to the very top.

The “old git” and the “old gal” pose for classic Dutch photo!

The “old git” was virtually speechless – and that doesn’t happen very often! – but back on ground level he regained his composure to shoot a short video of the “old gal” standing in front of the impressive sails as they turned effortlessly in the wind – which you can watch by clicking here:

The visit finished with a couple of purchases in the museum shop – including … yes you’ve guessed a pair of clogs! But these weren’t your normal tourist clogs – oh no! These were authentic clogs – as worn by a Dutch farmer which are going to feature as a garden decoration back at Matildas Rest! The only slight problem was that my crew had to find a place in the panniers to carry them!

And time for the “old gal” to do the silly giant clogs pose!

There was even time for the “old gal” to pose for a silly photo in the decorative giant clogs before we had to leave just before the museum’s closing time and pedal on to our overnight stop in Alkmaar.

Buoyed by such a fantastic history lesson experience, the pedaling was easier than ever – helped by the fact that within two miles of the restart we came across a run of another three of the windmills in a row by the edge of the cycle path. The curator of the museum had told us to look out for them as they had been converted into luxurious homes – and she and her family stayed in the first one.

It was an almost surreal experience and certainly one of the best sights my dynamic crew have ever seen from a cycle path! The “old gal” quickly switched her phone to video camera and shot some footage as we tandemed past, which you can watch here:

The last few miles into the city were a joy despite arriving at the height of rush hour as the bike is the key mode of transport here. We pedaled along very busy cycle paths alongside lots of commuters who were showing great interest in me as an “old lady” classic tandem. One of the best bits was the cycle traffic lights which held up the cars on the dual carriageway to let all the bikes cross in safety – with clear priority over vehicles. The very last stage – right outside our hotel – was a roundabout for bikes on the perimeter of the main vehicle roundabout … and again bikes had priority. The infrastructure for two wheeled travel was simply gobsmackingly awe inspiring!

After checking in to the Amrath Hotel in Alkmaar – and making sure I was safe and secure in the car park – my dynamic crew set about some mundane tasks of life as tandem tourists – with a washing being high on the agenda to ensure cycling clothes were fresh. A handy washing line over the shower in the bathroom helped the process!

Washing done! One of the essentials of tandem touring to keep things fresh!

Washing done it was time for my crew to head out to sample the delights of Alkmaar by night. The “old gal” spotted a rather nice looking Italian restaurant in the shadows of the impressive Grote Sint-Laurenskerk church – and they savoured a reviving gin and tonic before ordering what turned out to be massive pizzas washed down with a cheeky Italian red wine! Yum! Perfect for recharging those batteries before some much needed sleep!

Huge pizzas for my dynamic crew as they refuelled in an Italian restaurant.

There was one rather amusing final act of the day when three Dutch ladies accosted the “old git” in the hotel lift after spotting the flags painted on his toenails and in unison shouted: “S – e – x- y”! Oh how it made his night!

So a sensational second day of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covering 29.7 miles with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

Day 3 – Alkmaar cheese market and getting very lost in rain in windmill country on ride back to Amsterdam

The canal networks in Alkmaar have a key role to play in the weekly cheese market.

The final leg of our Holland taster part of Euro Tour du tandem 2017 and Team Tandem Ecosse were taking in the historic cheese market at Alkmaar before the not insubstantial matter of a near 40 mile ride through the beautiful River Zaan area back into Amsterdam in plenty of time for a risque night out for my dynamic crew in the Red Light district! A straightforward schedule surely with the flat landscape and the great cycle path signposting! Surely …. ?!

Check out the details of our Day 3 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Without doubt, the Alkmaar Cheese Market is the main attraction in the city. And the “old git” and the “old gal” were in luck as this was Friday – the day of the weekly market where cheese is traded according to a tradition that is centuries old.

A cheese market has been taking place in Alkmaar since 1365 and it was certainly a colourful spectacle full of folklore which met my crew in picturesque Waagplein square in the centre of the city which was mobbed with tourists as the bell rang at 10am to mark the beginning of trading. Some 30,000 kilos, or 2200 whole cheeses, were lined up and waiting for customers.

The impressive cheese market building on the Waagplein in Alkmaar.

Fortunately my dynamic crew found a space on the tiered seating and were able to take in all the atmosphere of the spectacle – including watching the  ‘kaasdragers’, or cheese porters, carrying the whole cheeses on their wooden sledges on straps from their shoulders, wearing their traditional outfits of white clothes, straw hats and bow ties – all surrounded by girls in traditional pretty Dutch costume. The sledges carry eight Gouda cheeses, each of them weighing 13,5 kilos. Due to the weight the carriers walk with a special “cheese carriers’dribble” – a particular walking rhythm to make it easier.

The kaasdragers carrying the whole cheeses on the wooden sledges.

Girls working as cheese sellers in traditional pretty Dutch costume.

The “old gal” – who in a classic understatement is known to like a bit of cheese – somehow managed to catch the eye of one of the traders who was sampling the huge round cheeses who gave her a lesson in how to inspect the cheese. This involved more than just looking at its exterior – the cheese is knocked on and then a special cheese scoop is pushed into the cheese to extract a piece, which is then crumbled between the fingers and smelled. And, naturally, it is tasted to assess the relation between taste, and the percentages of fat and moisture. The “old git” managed to video the “old gal” doing the sampling – which you can watch by clicking here:

Not wishing to be outdone, the “old git” had to get involved and found himself being the subject of a weighing in the Waaggebouw and proudly got a certificate saying he was the equivalent weight of 105 kgs of Gouda! Naturally there was a cheesy photo – complete with straw hat!

The “old git” in cheesy pose – weighing the same as 105kg of Gouda!

Surrounding the cheese market was a whole range of market stalls and some sketches of couples on bicycles from a local artist – called Sietse Wiersma – caught the “old gal’s” attention. Obviously she asked if had any drawings of tandems and sadly he didn’t. But on buying a couple of his prints, Sietse quickly drew a personal greeting on the wrapping – complete with a tandem image!

The “old gal” with local artist Sietse and his quick tandem sketch!

As time marched on, my dynamic crew had to pull themselves away from the cheese market – and after a coffee beside one of  the canals, and picking up some picnic supplies, we pedalled out of Alkmaar at 12.30pm confident we would be back in Amsterdam at 4.30pm at an average of 10 mph.

Then it all started to go a bit wrong and got a tad frustrating for my crew who became a bit less than dynamic for a spell! We found the cycle path to leave the city ok and hit the first point of Helios and then headed for the town of Limmen where all of a sudden the route numbers bizarrely disappeared!

At this point we were lost in a housing estate which resulted in several repetitions of a process of asking for directions, interpreting confused looks, cycling on a bit, and getting lost again! Oh and it started to rain … heavily! So much so that my crew’s fetching blue ponchos and my snazzy pannier rain covers made an appearance! Oh how the “old git” and the “old gal” laughed! Not!

No shots of my crew in ponchos – but the rain was heavy – as seen from my back saddle!

After seeking refuge in a cafe, and getting a useful bit of advice from a local cyclist, we headed off with fingers crossed and with a bit of luck rejoined the cycle path and its junction numbers. Why there was a stretch where they were missing is obviously a mystery. But it made my crew feel lots better when we saw several groups of tourist cyclists bemusedly looking at maps and scratching their heads as they found the same problem in the opposite direction.

We had lost nearly two hours shuttling back and forth in frustration – but the rain started to clear as we pedaled through pleasant open countryside – on our route – and into Wormerveer. A quick check that we were going the correct way and we headed on with the “old gal”  and the “old git” impressed to suddenly find themselves tandeming in the sunshine thru the fabulous Zaanse Schans – which is an inhabited recreated neighbourhood in the style of this area on the River Zaan in the 17th-18th Centuries – with its beautiful dark green wooden buildings, bridges and windmills.

This is a favourite shot of me and my dynamic crew as it sums up the Holland experience!

This area was a real highlight although it was clearly a major tourist attraction. Fortunately my crew stopped at a small cafe at the first windmill – where it was still fairly quiet and had a reviving hot chocolate and ate their picnic as a (very) late lunch. Again it was fascinating to discover the heritage here – with these windmills originally being used as industrial windmills for uses such as sawmills.

Another shot of the fabulous windmills in the Zaanse Schans neighbourhood.

Refreshed after some sustenance my crew were feeling more dynamic and embarked on the last stretch of the route back with gusto – enjoying cycling thru scenic parkland around Landsmeer and then along the banks of a canal back towards the Buiksloterweg ferry to cross back to Amsterdam.

It was late into Friday night rush hour now  and the cycle paths were as busy as motorways with people rushing to get home for the weekend. At one junction such was the congestion of bikes that we had the almost unbelievable experience of having to queue and wait with other bikes for three repetitions of the cycle traffic lights to cross a main dual carriageway!

Team Tandem Ecosse finally arrived back at the Westcord Art Hotel just as the sun was setting after a long, but – in the most part – fabulous day on my saddles!

As I was safely locked up in the underground car park, there was time for a quick but very welcome shower for my crew and a quick change before catching the bus back into the city centre for an evening in the Red Light District! They tucked into a hamburger meal before wandering around the narrow streets and canals with their eyes wide open in amazement as they took in the scene and the window displays!

For a laugh my crew decided to pay a visit to the Red Light Secrets museum and the “old gal” even had the opportunity to experience how it felt to sit in one of the windows!

The “old gal” posing in a window at Red Light Secrets!

After an entertaining evening of people watching a quiet drink in a side street brought the evening to an end as my crew returned to the hotel for some much needed sleep.

The final day of the first leg of Le Tour de France et Holland du tandem covered 38.7 miles but there was a Strava recording error due to a mobile phone battery running out. The app still recorded the correct distance but very wrongly had us cycling for nearly nine hours at an average speed of just 4.5 mph. The trusted old fashioned milometer on my handlebars recorded the same distance but in an actual cycling time just short of four hours at a more respectable average of nearly 10 mph. As always the route is brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.

So to conclude the first leg of the Euro Tandem Tour 2017, Team Tandem Ecosse really enjoyed their taster tour of Holland with its highly impressive cycling infrastructure – and because it was so flat!  We covered around 100 miles and despite the minor mishap of getting lost – which to be fair was probably the fault of my dynamic crew! – I am told we will certainly be back!

Meanwhile it is time to drive to Strasbourg and tackle the Alsace a velo!

A Musings special on Le Tour de New Forest du tandem with Team Bluebird

The self-proclaimed members of the Nutty Tandemers Club ready to ride!

Muchos excitement for Team Matilda as we headed to the south of England for a week’s tandeming in the New Forest! Regular blog readers will remember that a year ago I became ‘best pals’ with another tandem called Bluebird crewed by Jane and John Taylor who live near Southampton in Hampshire. Team Bluebird had travelled north to enjoy a memorable Tour de Perthshire du Tandem and we all enjoyed ourselves so much that we became self-proclaimed members of the Nutty Tandemers Club!

Such was the success of the inaugural tour that an event in John and Jane’s home territory was put into planning immediately after the Perthshire event. You see the crews have so much in common. Firstly Team Bluebird run their own blog called Travels with Bluebird  – but more importantly have the same views as my dynamic crew on not taking tandeming too seriously.

As so much nuttiness and fun tandeming happened during the busy action-packed week, this blog is a kind of Musings photo special – complete with Strava maps and Relive 3D videos – as I recount the best bits of Le Tour de New Forest du Tandem…

TdNF Day 1 – introduction to New Forest and Lepe Loop

Me and my crew arrived at Jane and John’s lovely home in the village of Dibden Purlieu after a long drive south in Matilda Transporter on Sunday. A tasty welcome dinner and toast to the tour made Team Matilda feel very welcome. So Monday – and the first day of the tour – was planned by our hosts as a gentle introduction to the delights of the New Forest.

Check out the details of our Day 1 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Before the off I had some very fetching laminates attached to my frame featuring the official tour logo – which John had cleverly created. And my crew donned their official tour t-shirts which featured the same design – complete with names on the sleeves – which they are pictured in throughout this blog.

The stylish and very original laminated posters for Le Tour de New Forest.

Now although I had caught up again with my pal Bluebird, the Pino semi-recumbent tandem, our hosts decided to take Henry – the vintage member of their growing tandem collection – out for today’s spin. I can’t say that I was disappointed because as an “old lady” I am a bit of a classic vintage tandem myself and (whisper it) but I hear that Henry is a bit younger than me and has an eye for the ladies! And I have always been attracted to toy-boys! … or should that be toy-tandems?!

We headed off out of the village and within minutes we were tandeming across roads in the New Forest National Park – almost immediately getting our first of what would be regular sightings of the wild ponies on the heath. And the first impressions were that the roads were flat – which meant the “old gal” had a big wide smile on her face!

Cheers! Time for the first prosecco picnic of Le Tour de New Forest at Lepe.

First stop was Lepe beach and time to pop the cork and have the first prosecco picnic of the tour! Although the sun was out, there was a fair breeze blowing off the Solent – but it didn’t stop everyone enjoying their picnics, washed down with fizz, drinking in the views over the Isle of Wight. After the picnic we explored the headland overlooking the beach – part of Lepe Country Park – and found it much more protected from the wind. Temperatures rose and even the “old gal” removed her cycling jacket to bask in the sun for a series of fun photos overlooking the sea with both tandem crews.

The “old git” and “old gal” enjoying the sunshine on headland above Lepe beach.

The “old gal” with an old anchor – honestly my brakes are fine!

Jane and the “old gal” chilling with that charming Henry tandem and me!

John managed to get into one of the pictures – with the “old git” behind the camera!

Pedalling on we cycled out to the point at Calshot Castle – marking the entrance to the deep channel of Southampton water. My crew popped in to see the velodrome at Calshot Activities Centre – built by converting the old Sunderland hangar which used to be part of the RAF Calshot base for seaplanes and flying boats. Fortunately both crews wisely decided that viewing from the spectator gallery would suffice instead of riding the tandems around the track. Which is just as well as it features sweeping 45 degree bends and claims to be the second steepest velodrome banking in the world!

The “old gal” and the “old git” overlooking the steep banks of the Calshot velodrome.

So after examining the velodrome it was time for a coffee and cake stop at the cafe before heading back for showers and dinner. But not before the sampling of our new local surroundings ended at Hythe for a celebratory drink on the balcony of Seashells overlooking the water – and a toast to the fact that tandeming just doesn’t get much better than days like this!

Ahoy there – on the seafront at Hythe overlooking Southampton.

A great first day of the TdNF covering 25.2 miles with the route brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

TdNF Day 2 – Independence Day ride to redwoods and vineyards and stay at Filly Inn at Setley Plain

July the 4th and Independence Day and a day with a bit of an American theme naturally! The weather station at John and Jane’s house was promising bright warm sunshine so it was time to slap on the sun cream and pack the panniers for an overnighter at a traditional English Inn deep in the heart of the New Forest – via a visit and tasting at a vineyard.

Check out our Day 2 TdNF route by clicking on the  Strava map below.

I was delighted that Team Bluebird had in fact selected the tandem that bears their name for the two-day trip so I was going to have plenty of company en route! It was already a good bit warmer than recent temperatures back home in Perthshire when we tandemed off – heading across the heath to the picturesque village of Beaulieu – which is home to the National Motor Museum. It hosts the original Bluebird CN7 car in which Donald Campbell set a new World Land Speed Record of 403.10mph in July 1964. Not sure if that’s what John and Jane named their Bluebird after – but if it was, surely it must have been with tongue firmly in cheek! Or maybe its just because Bluebird’s frame is blue!

A quick photo stop at the quaint and picturesque village of Beaulieu.

No time to visit the classic cars however, as Team Matilda and Team Bluebird headed into Brockenhurst for a welcome morning coffee stop – before we had fun filming me and my dynamic crew pedalling through the Watersplash ford, where as the name suggests I got my wheels wet! Whisper it but Jane – who was responsible for taking the video – managed not to record anything the first time so we had to repeat the process for “take 2”!

Here I am getting my wheels wet at the Watersplash ford at Brockenhurst.

After the video shenanigans we pedalled on to the much anticipated Rhinefield Ornamental Drive where we saw the two tallest trees in the forest – a  couple of giant Redwoods. I must say that even though they are a bit smaller than their American cousins in California, it was still an impressive sight. And given that in America, giant Redwoods are known to be up to 3000 years old – these two are mere youngsters being only about 150 years old! Mind you that made me – despite being an “old lady” – feel a right young thing!

Selfie time – Teams Bluebird and Matilda dwarfed by the giant Redwood trees.

Me posing with the “old git” and the “old gal” among the giant trees.

I know I am old, but the giant Redwoods are considerably older!

Selfie time for my crew to try to show perspective of height of trees.

Pedalling back we found a lovely sheltered and deserted spot by the river for the prosecco picnic – which I had carefully carried in my stylish la bouclee bottle carrier.

Prosecco for picnic for tandem crews picnic is safely carried in my la bouclee.

The river at our picnic spot provided a natural way to keep the prosecco chilled!

The “old gal” cleverly used her initiative and found that the river provided a natural way of keeping the prosecco chilled! When it reached the required coolness the cork was duly popped – with Jane given the vital job of having the glasses ready to ensure not a drop was spilled!

Ready, steady, pop! The “old gal” uncorking with Jane making sure not a spot is spilled!

Cheers! A glass of prosecco is a must for any picnic amongst the trees!

After a very tasty alfresco French style meal of bread, hams, cheese and grapes – oh and did I mention the prosecco?! – it was time for one of the daily highlights when John got his extendable tripod out to take some pictures of both teams! This involved two bikes and three riders set up in position with John running in to shot before the ten second timer expired! Which he always did with cool aplomb!

Refreshed and ready for the afternoon cycle – both crews after the picnic lunch.

Me and my friend Bluebird after a picnic stop rest ready for the afternoon cycle.

Me and my dynamic crew crossing the bridge over the river after our picnic stop.

With the tripod safely away for another day, we crossed the bridge and headed onwards enjoying the cycling on flat roads with my crew really enjoying the scenery of the New Forest. The “old git” had to stop when a couple of ponies were on the road – and the “old gal” even quipped that he was obviously looking to get some extra horsepower to drive me on! Well at least I am sure she was joking! …

The “old git” obviously hoping to get some extra horsepower for me from the New Forest ponies!

Next stop was one of the highlights of the week – a visit to Setley Ridge Vineyard. Now as regular readers of my blog will be well aware, me and my dynamic crew are no strangers to visiting vineyards – but until now these have always been in France … in Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. But Team Matilda had never visited a vineyard in the UK, so this was a first.

Jane had arranged for their fellow Pino-owning tandeming friends Pam and Ken to join us as she had kindly fixed up a tour of the vineyard with Paul Girling, the owner. We were all treated to a highly informative and excellent tour of the vines and their on-site winery – and with the sun beating down my dynamic crew could have been forgiven for thinking they were in France!

Vineyard visit – is it France? – no its Setley Ridge in the New Forest.

The “old gal” posing as wine connoisseur!

The tour ended with a tasting of three wines – a refreshing rose, a dry white and my crew’s favourite … an oaked red made from Regent, Rondo and Triomphe grapes. All three were delicious, but my crew chose a bottle of red to take home to add to the wine collection at Matildas Rest! They also made a few purchases from the Farm Shop which was literally groaning with wonderful New Forest produce. Amazingly this included locally produced gin and tonic ice cream – which purely in the interests of research for this blog had to be sampled! Let’s just say that it seems the jury is still out over whether there was any noticeable taste of gin in the “unusual” flavour!

Keeping the alcoholic theme going with some “unusual” gin and tonic ice cream!

Pam and Ken headed home as we tandemed a few hundred yards from the vineyard to our base for the night – The Filly Inn which describes itself as a a forest gem in an enviable scenic location. First task after a friendly welcome was a cooling drink in the gardens – before showers and evening meal.

Given it was Independence Day, the choice had to be burgers! And what was produced were some of the largest – and tastiest – burgers the crews had ever seen. My dynamic duo both had beef burgers with blue cheese, which looked like a massive tower when they arrived. Team Bluebird’s crew had halloumi ones and they were so big that they said they could have easily shared one! Oh and there were chips in case they weren’t filling enough!

The massive burgers at the Filly Inn – with chips in case not large enough!

An arty sunset shot – taken by Jane – at the Filly Inn.

Obviously no room for dessert – but time for a short post meal walk for both tandem crews in a vain attempt to walk off some of the food! But they did get to experience a wonderfully colourful sunset before a nightcap at the bar brought down our own sunset on what was another fabulous day’s tandeming covering 20.5 miles with sunshine and laughs all the way! Great memories! Check out the Relive 3D video below.

TdNF Day 3 – Return tandem with lots of New Forest ponies and donkeys

Day 3 started with the sun already bright in the sky and it was clearly going to be a scorcher out on the open heath. It was a day for lots of suncream, and a route back home from our overnighter which promised lots of sightings of New Forest ponies and donkeys.

Check out the details of our Day 3 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

After breakfast – which none of Team Bluebird or Team Matilda really needed after last night’s massive burgerfest – it was time to pack up the panniers and take our leave from the highly recommended Filly Inn. It was already so warm that only the light Nutty Tandemers t-shirts, which John and Jane had got printed for the tour, were required. And temperatures were forecast to hit 30C today!

Nutty Tandemers Club tour t-shirts – listing crew members on the sleeves!

The start of our return journey was a lovely forest track which gave a welcome bit of protection from the sun. First stop was at a woodcarvers area with some carved creatures including a crocodile – but the big attraction was a pair of stocks! Now it was obvious who was going to have to have a shot in them – yes, how did you guess … the “old git”! And I am delighted to say after being a good sport he was allowed out again! After all – who was going to be my Captain if he had been left behind?!

Day 3 and the “old git” is where everyone wanted him … in the stocks! But they did let him out!

Back on the saddles we tandemed on to Lymington and cycled down the busy high street before the crews headed on some lovely rural lanes towards East Boldre. Nearly every corner we pedaled round resulted in a view of a thatched cottage – each more beautiful than the next. This really was magnificent fun tandeming – under clear blue skies.

One of the many beautiful thatched cottages – complete with pony design on roofline.

A shot of my dynamic crew – by Jane – enjoying another laugh!

It was laughs a plenty as Team Bluebird and Team Matilda joshed with each other from everything from our average speed to our next refreshment stop to whether lunch would be required after last nights food intake. And as we tandemed along the roads we were deep in wild pony and donkey country. It was both amazing and fascinating how tame they were – happy to be wandering around outside the village shop – and indeed just how inquisitive they were. In fact so nosey that I thought at one stage I was in danger of having my top pannier eaten by one of the ponies!

Mum and pony sauntering along the road – just a few yards from a village shop!

A friendly pony keen to find out what’s for lunch by nosing my pannier!

And finally the “old gal” gets to see some elusive donkeys up close!

As temperatures rose Jane decided it was time to stop and top up our alcohol levels so we diverted into the beer garden of the Turfcutter’s Arms and relaxed under the sun umbrellas while having a nice chilled Crabbies Ginger Beer. And believe it or not – no one had the slightest appetite for food – yes, not even the “old git”!

The “old git” and the “old gal” showing its always better tandeming together!

Team Bluebird – John and Jane – enjoying a cool refreshment at The Turfcutter’s Arms.

The “old gal” taking refuge from the bright sun under a parasol.

Another application of suncream, and back on the road for a mainly downhill dash to Beaulieu – where us tandems were parked up to while our crews took a touristy stroll up the pretty village street, making a few purchases in the shops. The stomachs of my dynamic crew were rumbling at this point and they indulged in a traditional cream tea … well a cream coffee to be exact as they prefer coffee to tea!

To add a few miles to the trip Team Bluebird then led us towards Lyndhurst to a lovely grassy and wooded area where the famous pony sales take place after the New Forest pony drifts – where all the ponies are rounded up. The Beaulieu Road Pony Sales is where the Commoners (owners of the ponies on the New Forest) sell their ponies by auction. It has been the sales centre for semi feral and handled stock for over 60 years.

John got his extendable tripod out again for some more fun team pictures opposite the stockades for the pony sales – before we tandemed back to John and Jane’s via Ipley.

Selfie time! Both crews posing for a self-timer selfie via John’s extendable tripod!

John, the “old git” and the “old gal” looking a bit warm as temperatures soared – but still smiling!

Team Matilda – enjoying the sunshine and the smiles from a fab tandeming trip.

Team Bluebird and Team Matilda in a Nutty Tandemers Group shot in the warm sunshine.

Team Bluebird – John and Jane in tandeming action negotiating a bend.

After returning to base for a welcome shower – both crews shared an even more welcome magnum bottle of nicely chilled Saumur white wine while sitting in the shade in the garden for pre dinner drinks. It disappeared amazingly fast as they recounted the fun, laughs and smiles of the overnight tandeming adventure. And the delicious Saumur wine naturally turned the conversation to Team Bluebird and Team Matilda’s joint desire to one day attend the Anjou Velo Vintage cycling event based right in the heart of Saumur wine country. Now that would be fun!

Showered and sitting in the shade enjoying a magnum of nicely chilled Saumur white wine!

All in all, a brilliant third day of the TdNF covering 24.0 miles – brought to life in our Relive 3D video.

TdNF Day 4 – All aboard on overseas leg to Isle of Wight and lots garlic at garlic farm

The schedule provided by our wonderful hosts (and tour guides!) for day 4 said: “All aboard! Time to don the old sea legs and head overseas to the Isle of Wight for lunch at the Garlic Farm where it’s garlic with everything … including the beer!” What an amazing voyage of discovery it was going to be!

Check out our Day 4 TdNF route by clicking on the Strava map below.

Now today I had yet another new partner tandem – after making another new acquaintance – this time with Siggy who is the most recent purchase of Team Bluebird. You see Siggy is very clever and he has couplings which allow him to be separated into 3 sections – making it much easier to transport. And given that John and Jane are heading to India next February for a tour by tandem, I can see why Siggy was an essential purchase!

Another day where sunscreen was essential as we headed to the local Hythe Pier for the first of three ferries we would be taking each way today. And regular readers of my blog will know how this “old lady” likes ferries – although my experience so far has been limited to the Cal Mac ferry to Millport! But today I was assured I was going on a proper big ferry!

The entrance to Hythe Pier with a plaque for the world’s oldest pier train.

Hythe Pier stretches some 700 yards into the deep channel of Southampton Water.

The “old git” decided that since it was so bright and sunny that this was a day to reveal his much coveted polka dot King of the Mountain jersey (known in France as a maillot a pois) – and all somewhat tongue-in-cheek as it is a replica of the one worn by the best hill climber in the Tour de France! And as you know going up hills are not my dynamic crew’s strong point! But John had promised that today’s route was relatively flat, so the “old git” was sure he could just bask in the attention the eye-catching cycling jersey would bring without having to prove his (lack of) hill climbing prowess!

Ahoy there! Team Bluebird’s crew of John and Jane on the ferry to Southampton.

The “old gal” making sure I have my sea tyres on and not getting sea sick on the ferry!

Mind you the first ferry – from Hythe over to Southampton – was actually smaller than the Millport ferry I am used to. But then we tandemed a few hundred yards to the Red Funnel ferry – the biggest I have ever been on – and it was straight on board with us tandems being locked up on the lorry and freight deck while our crews retired to the passenger decks for morning coffee.

In less than an hour we were on the Isle of Wight – where we had to board our third ferry – called the Floating Chain Bridge which took us from East Cowes to West Cowes. After all the excitement of getting on and off ferries it was nice to get tandeming and the island is an ideal place for cycling.

Almost immediately we were on the Red Squirrel Trail – a wonderfully scenic cycle path which goes right across the island on a disused railway line. We weren’t going that far but my dynamic crew really enjoyed the ride – which was very flat with lots of great views, particularly along the Medina river and through the main town of Newport.

Tootling on a bit further on the cycle path Team Bluebird and Team Matilda soon rolled up to one of the island’s star attractions, The Garlic Farm near Newchurch, which describes itself as “the complete garlic experience”! Our arrival neatly coincided with lunchtime – where the tandem crews had a veritable garlic extravaganza. I am going to leave the pictures and captions to do the talking as they describe the meal to …. well to a clove or two of garlic really!

Arriving at the Garlic Farm – where the abundant smell was, yes, you’ve guessed … garlic!

The “old gal” was ready for a beer – garlic beer naturally!

A garlic mezze sharing platter was the obvious choice of my dynamic crew!

The full blackboard description of the lunch – count the garlic references!

My dynamic crew really had a delicious lunch – even if their breath did stink!

After all that it just had to be black garlic (and chocolate) ice cream for dessert!

After all that divine garlic, the “old git” as Captain sitting up front, warned the “old gal” – who sits very close behind him as Stoker – that there was to be no burping … intentional or otherwise, as he had quite enough garlic flavour of his own in his system! So much in fact that when he re-applied the sunscreen he was sure that his skin was oozing garlic!

It was very warm now on the ride back and the tandem crews decided on a stop for some water and also another of their Nutty Tandemers Club fun photo shoots – which resulted in more laughs and smiles! Last year on the Tour de Perthshire the “old gal” John and Jane took up the role of the three monkeys with an unforgettable image, so naturally the first shot had to be a new version of that!

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil – The Three Wise Monkeys 2017 version!

Remote control selfie time again with John’s extendable tripod!

The two team’s Stokers – their (so called) powerhouses – but minus their Captains!

The “old git” pretending he is Number 1 in the King of the Mountains with his polka dot top!

Spangled – the “old gal” playing to the cameras as she feels the heat!

Spangled also – the “old git” having a quick 40 winks in the sun!

Moving on we retraced our tyre tracks and headed back into Newport where both crews unanimously agreed it was time to stop for a liquid refreshment! The huge Bargemans Rest provided the perfect opportunity for a chilled Crabbies Ginger Beer while watching the world go by.

Back into West Cowes and this is where the travel arrangements via three ferries went a bit awry. The Floating Chain Bridge had just pulled away as we arrived and it took longer than normal to return from East Cowes due to  a surprise visitor in the area in the shape of a dolphin – which my crew sadly found impossible to photograph.

Back in East Cowes we raced round the corner only to see the Red Funnel ferry to Southampton pull away from the dock! The next one wasn’t for another hour so it looked like a pub stop to pass the time – but the one at the ferry terminal has seen better days, and my crews decided instead to stock up at the nearby Waitrose for the next day’s picnic!

The “old gal” showing what a wonderful day’s tandeming we all had on the Isle of Wight.

On board the ferry back to Southampton the journey passed while enjoying a welcome glass of wine. Then we realised that there was only a few minutes to get off to catch the small ferry back to Hythe. It was a bit like the start of the Tour de France (well nothing like the start of the Tour de France actually!) as the crews waited for the big ferry to dock. We were allowed to disembark first and cycled round to meet the link to Hythe with just seconds to spare! Phew! It’s hard work catching these ferries!

One steep hill to climb back up from Hythe before showers and a lovely meal made by Jane. The evening saw Team Bluebird and Team Matilda reflecting on a sensational day’s tandeming on our  overseas trip – which was another prime example of tandeming at its very best … great fun with great like-minded friends!

Strava notched up the trip as covering 41.4 miles – but that did include 11.0 “ferry” miles due to operator error – so the official distance tandemed was 30.4 miles. Watch our Relive 3D video below.

TdNF Day 5 – Grand finale Nutty Tandemers Club ride to gin tasting and prosecco picnic before 2000 miles on Matilda celebrations

The schedule for the final day said: “Friday is Nellie night! But to earn a pint in the old pub we will complete one of our well cycled and favourite local routes using quiet lanes.” Ok then, if you insist!

Check out the details of our Day 5 route by clicking on the Strava map below.

All too soon the last day of  Le Tour de New Forest was upon us and both tandem crews were keen to make the most of the sunshine for the final trip. And I was delighted that my good friend Bluebird was the tandem chosen by our hosts John and Jane for today’s outing!

We headed off west with the “old git” determined to start the day with a personal best on the hill climbing out of the street where John and Jane lived! And yes we achieved it! So he was a happy Captain! And my crew were delirious when on the steep downhill section into Beaulieu we hit a new all time Matilda speed record of 34.0 mph! There’s life in this “old lady” yet!

We then followed the route of the river – although the water was not always visible. But when it did appear – at the tourist attraction of Bucklers Hard – it was very scenic. This was a ship building village in times gone by and it seems several of Nelson’s ships were built here using the oak from the forest. There is a museum and some of the houses are open to the public – but the crews just wandered down the grassy slope of a street and took some suitable Nutty Tandemers pictures. Just for a change!

The “old gal” actually said “it’s warm” at the scenic Bucklers Hard!

Lean to starboard! John and Jane countering the slope to the Beaulieu River!

Naturally my dynamic crew had to do likewise in another Nutty Tandemers photo shoot!

Next on the final day’s route was a quick stop at Needs Oar Point, a former WW2 airfield, before hitting the coast again at the bottom of Tanners Lane. Both the temperature and the colours made the “old gal” feel as if she was in the Mediterranean rather than the south of England!

You could be forgiven for thinking this shot was taken on the Med given the shade of blue!

We rode on into Lymington where we wandered round the cobbled streets of the Quayside which were fairly busy with tourists. No time for coffee – as John and Jane had a treat up their sleeve for the “old git” and the “old gal”- a visit to a gin  distillery for some gin tastings! We pedalled round beautiful country lanes towards Pennington Marshes where we found the Dancing Cows distillery which has only recently starting producing artisan gin and describes itself as “the spirit of the New Forest”.

Now my dynamic crew consider themselves to be gin aficionados, so this was right up their street. They tried three – their Lymington Gin, New Forest Gin and Myristica Gin. The last which is infused with vanilla, raspberry and nutmeg was by far their favourite and amazingly a bottle was purchased and just happened to find its way into my panniers!

The range of Dancing Cows gins – the spirit of the new forest!

After that the crews were feeling a bit peckish so picnic beckoned and we stopped at the nature reserve at Pennington Marshes and found a suitable picnic bench where we could sit, eat, open the prosecco I had been faithfully carrying, and …. dance on the table! You see my dynamic crew had picked up a small sign in Lymington which said: “Time to drink prosecco and dance on the table!” And obviously Team Bluebird and Team Matilda were not going to disobey an instruction like that!

Me and my la bouclee – with the prosecco for the final tour picnic!

‘Time to drink prosecco and dance on the table’ said the sign – so naturally we did!

There was no stopping John and Jane once they got started dancing!

Naturally my dynamic crew had to be persuaded to have a shot!

Nutty Tandemers Club are us! The crews having yet another laugh … in tandem of course!

It was an idyllic spot and both crews enjoyed their picnic as the reeds swayed in the breeze, listening to the birds singing, and looking out to sea and the sailing boats in the Solent, with views of nearby Hurst Castle and the Needles on the Isle of Wight. Both team were feeling quite mellow after the prosecco and could have sat there for the afternoon! But there was more tandeming to be done with the return journey to be completed.

It was at this point that the “old git” discovered that I was just 17 miles away from racking up the landmark total of 2000 miles since Team Matilda was formed. He kept a beady eye on the milometer on my handle bars – and guessed that the total would be hit just as we emerged up one of the few steep hills on the tour … a slow grind of a climb out of Beaulieu.

And he was correct so as the climb flattened out he persuaded the “old gal” to pedal and we increased speed so we could break the 2000 mile mark at 20 mph.  Just as we hit the speed the numbers rolled over to 2000 to a much cheering and high fives from my crew!

Photographic evidence – my milometer on my handlebar clocks up over 2000 miles!

Team Bluebird soon caught up with us after my dynamic crew’s euphoric exertion and suggested a celebratory drink so we pulled in to the beer garden of The Glen pub – a whole mile from the finishing line. The crews dutifully toasted the 2000 miles … and the 2000 laughs and smiles along the way!

Cheers! A toast to clocking up the landmark 2000 miles – and more than 2000 laughs along the way!

Awh shucks! My dynamic crew celebrating that its always better when tandeming 2000 miles together!

What a fantastic final day of the TdNF covering 39.8 miles – including two new landmarks … a new best ever top speed of 34 mph for me! Wooo! And then clocking up 2,000 miles in total with my dynamic crew! It just gets better and better! Today’s final route is brought to life in our Relive 3D video below.

So after the drinks it was home, showered and my dynamic crew joined John and Jane for one of their Friday institutions – a visit to the Lord Nelson pub in Hythe – aka The Nellie! – for the tour finale pre dinner drinks! No tandems involved as the crews walked! So I was able to have a good final get together with Bluebird, Siggy and of course, Henry!

Suitably refreshed it was time for the crews to enjoy the grand Tour de New Forest finale – a celebration meal at the Thai Corner restaurant to mark a fantastic week with fantastic company creating fantastic memories. And the Thai food was fantastic too, I am reliably told, as was the wine selected to wash it down!

Naturally there was a toast (or two, or was it three or four!!) to an unforgettable tour! And the good news is that all members of the Nutty Tandemers Club agreed unanimously that we need to meet up for another tour before too long. I don’t know if it was induced by the free flowing wine – but I am told that a suggestion was made for the tandem teams to do a Tour de Western Isles by taking on the Hebridean Way – a trip on the newly established Sustrans Scotland NCR  780  which begins on the Island of Vatersay and ends on the northernmost point at the Butt of Lewis, and takes in 10 islands, six causeways and two ferry crossings! And of course another time, there is the long standing goal of a trip to the Anjou Velo Vintage!

So on behalf of Team Matilda,  it was a real pleasure to be hosted by Team Bluebird to their amazing part of the country and a real privilege to spend a week enjoying the company of  John and Jane – who proved they are real kindred spirits to my dynamic crew!

It really was an utterly fabulous week – a time where you can honestly say that tandeming just doesn’t get much better than this! But don’t just take this “old lady’s” word for it – you can read Team Bluebird’s two-part account of the Tour de New Forest in their Travels with Bluebird blog posts on Facebook here and here.

So to pull this bumper blog post to an end – a comment from Team Bluebird’s crew John and Jane: “A very successful week – only about 150 miles but some of the best for weather, laughs, good company and memorable nuttiness!”

Couldn’t put it better myself! Guess we best start the planning process for the next Nutty Tandemers Club tour then…..! Till the next time! Cheers!

Teams Matilda and Bluebird saluting a memorable Tour de New Forest!

p.s. After returning home, the “old git” pulled together this video – a montage of the pictures of a memorable week on Le Tour de New Forest in July 2017.