North Sea Cycle Route. 6,000km from London to Shetland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and France. Then back to London.
Almost completely flat and easy going along some superb cycle tracks. You’ll get exhilarating days or tough days depending on the wind direction. The coastal scenery hardly changes, characterised by sea defences and reclaimed land that defines this region. A major inland detour (200km) follows the River Elbe to Hamburg, but I chose to catch the Brunsbüttel ferry to Cuxhaven to avoid the G20 conference.
Take it easy on the superb cycle paths. With a good tailwind, you can easily break your daily average. Signposting is excellent too.
Mostly camping, where I avoided the main industrial campsites and sought out the mini-camping places, ideal for cycle tourists. Try to arrive in Dover early as there are no goods sites within 10 miles and B&Bs can be horrendously expensive.
My arrival in Germany was rewarded with a huge punnet of Strawberry’s, perhaps not as good as the Norwegian variety, but succulent nonetheless. The landscape had barely changed, the same sheep tracks, gates and sheep droppings I had been cycling through for days. On occasion, the track was on the seaward side. The view of the Nordfriessische Inseln (islands) was ethereal, a mirage of sea, sky and man-made navigational towers.
I waited at a railway crossing to see a surreal sight of a train, transporting cars, with the drivers and passengers still seated within – reading the days papers. Their destination was Sylt, the aspirational holiday destination which can only be reached by train.
I cross a huge tidal barrier, which guards the entrance to the River Eider. full of day tourists enjoying the endless North Sea views. Büsum has a good Supermarket, once I find a €1 coin for the trolley, so I overload my bike for a feast at a boutique mini- campsite near Meldorf, with a welcoming host.
The route is now inland until I reach Brünsbuttel and a car ferry to Cuxhaven. The NSCR actually proceeds inland to Hamburg, and I would have cycled an extra 2 days and 200km to explore the City if the G20 Conference had not been taking place. Security was severe as a number of and protests were in full swing.
The coastal route continued to a good site in Butjadinger, after negotiating the fishing complex at Cuxhaven, a popular destination for tourists. The next day brought me to Bremerhaven and a container port which is almost 10km in length – it makes Felixstowe seem like a small port. The diversity industrial machinery, cars and heavy goods awaiting transport were amazing, as was the Ship Museum in the City. I crossed the River Weser to reach a pleasant campsite near Fedderwarderseil, and again, was made to feel very welcome.
The route continues around Jade Bight to Wilhelmshaven and then cross-country to Carolinensiel. The headwind is fierce, but a kindly grandma passes me on her e-bike. I tuck in behind, peleton style for a good 10km. She can’t outpace me as she is speed restricted to 23kph, but I can’t overtake against the wind either.
The Ostfreisische Inseln (islands) keep me company until I head inland to Emden, a beautiful Northsea port town. I can see The Netherlands and after crossing at Ditzum and taking a shortcut I find a campsite just across the border. One more week cycling and I will be home.
The landscape is one without perspective. As if an artist had drawn the horizon line and didn’t know what to put down on paper next. The scenery is only interrupted by the Polder crossings and the huge Chemical complex at Delfzijl. I break my day record, covering 165km to a lovely mini campsite. An NSCR poster hangs in the common room showing the entire route. A tuk-tuk like ice cream arrives as I pitch and I cannot resist a deluxe cone.
Exposed again to the wind I cross the Afsluitdijk, a sea barrier over 30km long sealing off the IJsselmeer inland sea. A Kibberling Cafe provides a welcome stop, selling chunks of battered fish in a garlic sauce, a traditional Dutch snack.
The North Sea cannot be seen behind the dyke, denying its existence, but making its presence felt through smell and sound. I wonder what this landscape would look like without the intervention of man. Commerce and industry now come into view at IJmuiden. I feel homesick at the sight of a UK ferry and increase my cadence through Den Hague to the Hook of Holland, to catch a ferry to Rotterdam Port. I am chased by Geese to Oostvoorne campsite, finishing another long 160km day.
The coastal beaches and sea defence infrastructure dominate as I hop across islands to Domburg. Cyclists are everywhere, enjoying the fine weather. The ferry at Vlissingen takes me across the Scheldt estuary to Breskens. In a few kilometres, I enter Belgium and stop by a canal for a beer. I disturb an elderly campsite host, glued to the TV, watching the Tour de France. We sit together for while, absorbed by the procession of colour across verdant fields.
The following day the wind howls at me, delivering occasional downpours. I am determined to reach Dunkirk port and the ferry to Dover, wet or dry. The port lies several kilometres to the southwest of the city centre across un-navigable roads, so I follow the container lorries. I meet a student in the ticket office who has just cycled from Milan. We unknowingly take the lift to the lorry driver deck, which has a panoramic view of the White Cliffs of Dover.
My legs adjust to the hills again and the route east towards Canterbury. I have to readjust my cycling awareness to UK traffic. After the quiet Kent orchards, the towns surrounding the A2 are busy. I cross the River Medway to camp at a B&B. The landlady has no rooms, but I have stayed there before. She kindly lets me use the nearby field.
The run into London is exhilarating along good cycle paths until I reach the bank of The Thames. I follow the river to Woolwich and haul my bike down and up the spiral staircases of the pedestrian tunnel to the north bank. The lifts are broken. Cycle Superhighway 3 and good cycle routes take me to Paddington, where I pick up the Grand Union Canal towards home.
The last few miles feel like I am returning from an hours leisure cycling, but I know that I have just completed 6,000km around the North Sea. I’m tired, the bike is worn out, but I am happy.