Day 2 – Compiegne to Étaves-et-Bocquiaux (aka the middle of nowhere)

So last evening we hit the town of Compiegne for a meal and wander around – nice town. The digs were a complete apartment with two beds and a sofa bed in the lounge/kitchen. Much more space than Paris but somewhat tatty (not a new build and well worn). Best bit was the genuine dungeon where the donkeys were stabled.

Also a boulangerie just down the road, so first breakfast was sorted and we were on the road by 08:30. The morning was misty and cold, hardly surprising since we were following the Oise and there was no wind to speak of.

Once over the river we were following the route of the infamous Paris-Roublaix cycle race, or at least the 2011-2016 route; this year they left Compiegne a different way. Why the race is called Paris-Roublaix when it always starts in Compeigne, 100km from Paris is a question for cycling quiz nerds. It is infamous because it includes many sections of Pave, or cobbles as the English call them and kelesteryow or simply men as they are called in Cornish (perhaps).

Fortunately the D932 has been upgraded and no longer has any pave; the pros get sent on detours during the race specifically to rattle their bones a bit. Our boneshakers already provide enough thank you,  without including extreme surfaces.

It remained misty up until 10:00 when we stopped for a coffee break with 25km down. The HiViz Climate Vision tabards again proved their worth. Much easier to see a cyclist in misty daylight wearing HiViz than one with lights,  as I noticed at one point when Ewan was way ahead down the road – I could see him better than the cars.

On the road there are various configurations – not enough of us without Ricky to form a proper peloton, but when Euan is leading we tend to form a bunch but without the cycle race breakaway group protocol of taking turns on the front – Ewan and I just tuck in behind and take his pace. When Ewan is in front often the formation is a lone breakaway with a single chaser and the third one falling off the back. Sometimes when Ewan or I are leading it’ll be two up front and one way back, other times it may be a lone wolf and a chasing group of two. We like to ring the changes.

It is half term holidays in france this week and a disturbing number of urchins were wandering the streets with ghostly white faces smeared with ashes or blood and dressed in garish rags. Some carried orange football sized objects and were accompanied by adults similarly attired.  They seemed to be going door to door begging. I had no idea poverty was so bad in this part of France. Like hashtag trulyshocking as I believe the kidz say.

Near the end of the day Euan was left behind on the steepest hill and two of these urchins took pity on him and gave him sweets from their meagre supplies to help him onwards. Touching how those with least are often prepared to give the most.  It worked and he made it to the top without having to get off and drag the donkey. He told us that he hadn’t been looking for a new ghoul-friend. (groan). Nona needn’t worry, we believed him.

The 25km second-breakfast coffee was taken in a cafe minded by a large peroxide blonde woman keeping half an eye on a kid she had had to take to work ‘cos school was out for les vacances. At this point (Pont-l’Eveque in fact) we abandoned the cycle race route and took to the canal towpath. Le Canal Lateral de l’Oise has a well surfaced totally flat, like the water, cycle path along the bank. Poplars laden with mistletoe, the odd heron fishing, and the odd angler too, but not much else.

Although the mist had lifted the air was cold and most of us decided another layer of clothing would be good. After 20km the canal gets pretty boring and since we were over half way and making a good pace (rolling average over 17.5km/hr) we decided to leave the canal and find lunch.

We had managed to buy baugette sandwiches earlier, but having checked it out over coffee we realised that tonight would be a long way from the nearest eatery,  so we should find a nice french restaurant serving a good fixed price working man’s dejeuner for €12 including a pichet of rouge and hang the wobbly legs effect. Then having eaten well we could have the sandwiches for supper.

Tergnier turned out not to be a place to cherish such dreams. It was the only likely town around and to describe it as a bit run-down would barely do it justice. It did have one restaurant – not French, but Moroccan. To be fair the food was quite good and they did not play Crosby Stills & Nash on the background mix tape. It was also reasonably cheap (for France).

So after refueling we pressed on along the roads Northwards  but avoiding St.Quentin (not the one Johnny Cash hated every inch of). Which reminds me I saw a Rue Johnny Hallyday in one town – my local town has a ban on naming streets after people which I think a shame as when I was a town councillor I wanted to suggest Jerry Avenue (for truckin’ down) , Bruce Road (for thundering down) and Rod Alley (where the filling station was) for a new estate. More suggestions welcome if you can name those references.

Oh how joyfully the mind wanders when pedalling in the zone.

The sun was out, we divested ourselves of a layer of clothing like a pension fund should divest itself of stranded fossil fuel assets (that was a bit laboured methinks).

Three wolves grace the labels of a local brew, and also a roadside sculpture – or are they foxes. Are we like three cunning foxes making our way to Bonn, or with the other cyclists we are making contact with as we travel will we be a pack of wolves descending on the climate criminals trying to hang on to their unsustainable ways. Many groups will be coming together in Bonn.

We had entered brick country now – old brick houses, old brick farms, old brick schools, old brick churches with brick steeples – in one case topped with a giant beehive. What’s that about?

The countryside was starting to roll, and the road was rolling with it but we kept truckin’ right on through, we hardly even stopped. Large fields cresting the ridges, still largely clothed in green, some  with earth open and beckoning to the storm to come.

L’Oise when we crossed it again after a late afternoon coffee stop was a much smaller river than when we crossed it this morning. The town of Origney-Ste-Benoit where we also picked up a bottle to have with our sandwich supper was dominated in sight and smell by a giant sugar beet processing plant. Apparently they make vodka there so our host has informed us.

15km to go started with a stiff climb from L’Oise, where Euan received ghoulish assistance. The rollers were getting more like a deep ocean swell and the sun was dipping below the horizon in the troughs. With 5km to go it became wise to put the lights on and we finally came to our resting place shortly before six as the gloaming descended.

101 km today, final rolling average 16.6km/hr and max speed 53.6km/hr on one of those last rolling breakers. We haven’t had any really good descents for a last chance power drive yet. I fear that, and the inevitable climb that will precede it, might come tomorrow.

Today’s track below, more photos when I get to upload them. If you’ve read this far, thank you. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and without going all Guardian-y on you remember you need to go and make a deposit at or we wont be able to come and tell you all about Bonn in person because we may be in debtor’s prison.


One thought on “Day 2 – Compiegne to Étaves-et-Bocquiaux (aka the middle of nowhere)

  1. Great progress Foxy Peddlers. Always an interesting journal of your day, do you feel a book coming on I wonder.??????????

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