Sunday, 1 March 2015

Cycling around the English Channel with the Tour de Manche

With the spring in the air, you may fancy heading out with the bike on the London-Land’s End Cycle Route. If you find Land’s End in Cornwall "a bridge too far" though, you may want to look into the great new traffic-calmed cycle touring opportunities southbound towards the English Channel. It is easy to take in the gentle Devon Coast to Coast Cycle Route to Plymouth, where you can join a wealth of new route choices.

Let me introduce you to my friends Roy and Jacqui Gisborne of Signpost Cycling. Roy and Jacqui (on left in this picture) are pioneering cycling tourism in Dorset and have developed a guidebook product for the coastal route between Plymouth and Weymouth/Poole. Their Tour de Manche pack provides great mapping through the Sustrans Cycle City Guide series and reliable information in their 16-pages guidebook.

This product takes you in nine stages from Plymouth to Poole, with opportunities to take a ferry to France in Plymouth, Weymouth and Poole. If you have completed the Devon Coast to Coast or London-Land's End Route in Plymouth, I’d recommend taking bikes on the train to Dawlish Warrenas a section between Totnes and Dawlish still takes you partly on busy main roads. From Dawlish Warren, you can then comfortably join Roy and Jacqui’s pack. The brand-new Exe Valley Trail (see picture) is simply amazing and takes you quickly to the Jurassic Coast from where the Tour de Manche fun truly starts.    

Although very hilly, this route section to Bridport is truly traffic-calmed, providing you with amazing views and fabulous hidden attractions, such as the Donkey Sancuary, Beer Quarry Caves and the Seaton Tramway. Near scenic Dorchester you’ll also cycle via the famous Hardy Monument before having the choice to cycle either to Weymouth or Poole. If heading to Weymouth, you’ll have panoramic views over Chessil Beach and Weymouth, as Roy and Jacqui show in this picture.

So, what about the routes on the French side of the Channel then? As you can see on the map, there are various Tour de Manche route options possible. In the January 2015 issue of the Belgian Cyclelive Magazine, Cycling Dutchman Teus Korporaal explains how the routes on the French side are well signposted, but that you may need additional local maps to work out the individual stretches of the route. 


The only product describing the French side in English is the Petit Tour De Manche guide by Mark Porter. Similar to the guidebooks about the English side, this book covers visitor information and accommodation suggestions for the section between St Malo and Cherbourg. It includes cycling via famous Mont St Michel (see picture, courtesy of Tour de Manche). The route section Roscoff-St Malo is not covered by this guidebook.  Except some broad information on the official website, detailed info about this section seems to be currently unavailable

In summary, I’d like to conclude that the international Tour de Manche project has opened up a wealth of new cycle touring itineraries, previously under-explored. On the official Tour de Manche website you'll find general useful information about all individual route sections. Some great products are available to help you cycling individual shorter sections of the route. It is unfortunate though that there is no product available that covers the full 1200 km network and that some route sections are likely to remain sketchy in the years to come. 


In this respect, the latest publication by (again!) another Cycling Dutchman Kees Swart should serve an inspiration. His independently produced Cycling around the Channel-books are a brave attempt to map all the available cycle routes around the English Channel. It is currently only available in Dutch, but I am confident it will be published in English by a fellow cycling tourism pioneer in the future. 

All Tour De Manche products in summary:

Tour de Manche - Cycle Route Guide Pack Plymouth - Poole by Roy and Jacqui Gisborne; guidebook of 16 pages in full colour, two Sustrans Cycle Maps and GPS-tracks pack, £ 19.95, see also www.signpostcycling.co.uk/routeguide.

Petit Tour de Manche - Cycle Route Guide St Malo - Cherbourg by Mark Porter, paperback guidebook, 168 pages, also including the English section Weymouth-Poole, £ 11.99, see also http://www.baytreepress.com.


Cycling around the Channel (Fietsen rond het Kanaal - Dutch) by Kees Swart,  two guidebooks of both 172 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag, includes GPS-tracks pack, € 19.50 per book, see http://recreatief-fietsen.nl/fietsenrondhetkanaal/.


London - Land's End Cycle Route Book by the author of this article, connects Dover to Plymouth via London, Bath and Bristol, includes the Devon Coast-to-Coast route and also makes cycling to Poole possible; the ultimate product to access the Tour de Manche by bike! 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag, includes GPS-tracks pack, £ 15.99; Buy it now!

The Devon Coast to Coast guidebook, again by the author of this article, explores this beautiful route in more depth. 40 dedicated pages give you all the details about this route you ever wanted to know. It also features many things to see and to do on the way, including some stunning walks on the South West Coast Path and Dartmoor. 40 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in a standard handlebar bag, includes GPS-tracks pack, £11.99;  Buy it now!