With a bit of effort, I have finally got my head around using Google MyMaps. This is an extension to Google Maps that allows you to overlay points of interest (POIs), photographs and route information on top of Google Maps. This aids navigation and can be used to record locations on your journey for future reference.
Here is the MyMaps I used for the North Sea Cycle Route. It shows campsites, photographs (automatically geotagged), Ferries and other POIs.
Click on these links to interact with the map. You can switch each layer on/off and zoom into each country:
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. Continue reading →
Every cyclist I meet on long distances routes seems to have their own unique approach to navigation. Some are dedicated map users, while others have committed entirely to electronic means.
When I set out to cycle around the North Sea, I did a bit of research to see what would be an optimal strategy for each country I would cycle through, while keeping the weight to an acceptable limit. I used a combination of the following:
Viewranger (Android and iOS)
Backcountry Navigator Pro (Android)
Each method has its uses, depending on the circumstances.
Mobile 4G coverage in Europe, even in remote locations, was excellent. Perhaps not so in the remote areas of the UK. Continue reading →
I crossed the Svinesund into Sweden missing Norway within minutes. It is not to say that Sweden was that different, but I knew that I had been very fortunate to have good weather and perfect ferry crossings. Not to mention the Norwegian people, who made me feel very welcome.
The road signs have changed colour and the cycle posts unreadable, but the roads are clear through the forests towards Strömstad, a beautiful seaside port. I eat most of my food reserves for lunch before extracting Swedish Krona in a country which is rapidly becoming cashless.
A long slog against the wind eventually brings me to Tanumshede and an ICA Supermarket which would embarrass Waitrose for the quality of food. Last time I was in Sweden you could only buy flour and yeast; you were expected to make your bread.
I stock up with all sort of goodies and head out to a coastal campsite. When I arrive, the site is full. I have to ask very nicely to find a pitch as it is full-on Midsummer festival time. I also need to buy a Camping Card, which is mandatory, but this gets good use later.
Friday night is for families, but Saturday night is for the unattached generations, with no holds barred. Most of the rowdy songs are in English. What a party. The toilet blocks are a scene of devastation, and everyone is asleep. Continue reading →
Flying from London Heathrow to Norway was easier than I expected, once I could negotiate Terminal 5 with a bike box. Unpacking and reassembling my Thorn Sherpa in the baggage lounge drew stares, but not as many as I exited Customs dressed and prepared for the next 4,000km of my journey back to London. A surreal scene.
I had no idea where I would stay that night, but the first task was to find the Hanseatic quayside at Bryggen. This set of buildings marks the start of the North Sea Cycle Route, continuing south and around the coast of Norway towards the Oslofjord. Encouraged by the quality of the cycle paths and roads, I pedalled all the way to the Hahljem and caught the ferry.
It was then only a few miles to Fitjar and a deserted campsite, apart from a French cycle tourist. The midges were swarming, so I spent a few hours chatting in the communal kitchen about cycle touring and the route south. Cycling 100km in half a day bodes well for the task ahead. Continue reading →
Distance is nothing – only the first step is difficult, well pedal rotation for this journey – to cycle around the North Sea starting in London heading north to Norwick in Shetland and then on to Bergen and the coast route home via Sweden, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and France.
This journey will be the longest extended trip away from home. I estimate 60-80 days according to the detailed plans I had been making over the winter. A few short trips on a new Thorn Sherpa, as yet unnamed, confirmed riding comfort and carrying capacity. To keep costs down, I set out to camp every night and do as much cooking myself.
I booked a flight from Sumburgh airport in Shetland to Bergen and would worry about packing the bike when I got there. The flights departed every Saturday, so I timed my departure three weeks beforehand. I joined the National Cycle Route 1 at Hoddesdon, after cycling along the NSC 6 and 61 from Slough. This route would guide me all the way to Shetland.
After cycling the North Sea Cycle Route in 2017, the Wild Atlantic Way has caught my eye. The Irish Tourist Board do a great job of selling this route and have a wonderful App for your smartphone that couldn’t be more helpful.
The plan is to cycle from Plymouth, around the South West peninsula crossing the Bristol channel at Weston-super-Mare to Penarth, then catching a ferry to Ireland. After cycling the WAW, I’ll then catch a sequence of ferries to cycle the Hebridean Way, and then from Ullapool to Cape Wrath and then perhaps to John o’groats. Some 5,000km and 50 days, thereabouts. Better take a good tent.
Catching a ferry is one of the pleasures of cycling the North Sea Cycle Route. I counted 26 in total but I probably missed a few. Some services run for just 6 weeks in summer, so careful planning is needed to avoid long detours.
This is a rough guide to the main ferry services, but it is not exhaustive and some of the ferries mentioned are not strictly on the NSCR.
Starting from London and working clockwise:
LONDON to SHETLAND
Brightlingsea Ferry from Mersea Island to Brightlingsea – brightlingseaharbour.org you cycle across Mersea island down a rough lane and then have to push your bike to the end of a shingle spit. There are no signs or indication that a ferry even runs, but phone the number and they come and pick you up
Harwich to Felixstowe Ferry – the Harwich Harbour Ferry harwichharbourferry.com takes you across the River Orwell and past the huge container port of Felixstowe, landing you on the beach near Languard Fort, very friendly, with a café at the Harwich embarkation point
I recorded my journey with a Garmin 520 GPS device, which worked very well. Here is a summary of each day for those who like statistics. My observations:
Longest day – Inverbervie – 9 hours cycling over 11 hours elapse
Furthest day – Netherlands – 165 km – flat and a ferocious tail wind
Quietest roads – Scotland (less than 10 cars per hour) – and the sun was out
Most off road sections – Denmark, mostly covered in sheep sh*t
% on busy roads – Sweden (busiest = more than 10 cars per hour), although England definitely heaviest traffic
Toughest day – Feda to Mandal, Norway (Max speed 60kph, 1889m ascent) – exhilarating descents, including one 450 degree bend (I had to think about that)
55 days elapsed, but 53.5 days actual cycling taking into account flights and major ferries (LHR to Bergen, Shetland to Aberdeen, Sweden to Denmark)
Highest average speed – to Grenaa to Ubdyhøj – 20.4 kph
45 nights under canvas, 2 on ferries, brothers house, 3 B&Bs, 3 YHAs and 1 night in Prison.
A total of 5,936 km (missing out the G20 conference in Hamburg by catching the Brunsbüttel ferry to Cuxhaven and also taking direct routes in Orkney and Shetland). 193,000 calories, 347 hours of cycling (6.5 hours per day average) at a daily average speed of 17 kph. 36,436 metres of ascent – phew!
What I did not expect is 74% of the journey (estimated and noted each day) was traffic free or on very quiet roads. By quiet roads I mean less than 10 cars per hour passing you. With a few exceptions (Aberdeen, Sittingbourne/Faversham and a few other locations), even the traffic roads were safe to ride, not needing cycle courier levels of skill to negotiate.
Most blogs I have read indicate a 60-80 day itinerary, which is probably a better bet if you plan to see more of the sights. A lot depends on ferry timings and availability, many ferries do not operate out of a very narrow summer season in Norway. I’ll write about the ferries soon.