It’s the Final Countdown

We were woken again this morning by the cockerel crowing. But whereas yesterday’s rain had dampened his ardour, today’s sunshine had his dander up and he was on a roll before the clock had even struck 5!

Having sorted our bags out the previous evening, we had a swift breakfast, with coffee so strong you almost had to chew it, and bid a farewell to our rather eccentric host, on our way bright and early into a glorious morning. We headed out back through the city as it was just preparing to meet the day, the rush hour not yet in full swing, but busy enough to make cycling through the numerous and extensive building works rather tricky. We made it eventually, with only a few false turns, though given how unwieldy Talula is, it is always a little stressful in fast moving traffic requiring split second decisions. It was a relief to reach the quieter outskirts of the city and be on our way to Gouda.

Leaving Utrecht

On the whole, once the city was behind us, our route took us through agricultural countryside though there were some stretches which ran alongside busier main roads, the dedicated cycle paths mean that you are not exposed and vulnerable to vehicular traffic.  As we approached Gouda the scenery began to be noticeably more watery, with houses and their gardens occupying islands within the neatly dug drainage ditches.  We noted that in this picturesque area the roadkill is more likely to be ducks than anything else.

Water world approach to Gouda

Our map had us cycling over a lake on the outskirts of Gouda, and we were intrigued as to how this would be accomplished. Once we reached it though we saw that what we had taken for narrow cycle ways, was more substantial land bridges, much of which was occupied to the extent that from our vantage, you would not know that you were out on open water.  We did not venture too far into Gouda itself, though we did take a coffee break there, and noted that the bunting adorning the street was Gouda cheese shaped.

Gouda views with cheesy bunting

Pushing on towards Delft, the sunshine and lovely scenery lifted our spirits a little, as we had been feeling melancholy at the thought of leaving Holland,  our departure coming round all too quickly.  We stopped for lunch outside Delft in a nature reserve, enjoying the warmth and birdsong. We had noticed a wedding taking place at a nearby church as we passed, and the sound of bicycle bells approaching drew our attention. We turned to find the entire wedding party merrily cycling by on tandems, bride and groom’s trailing the requisite tin cans on strings. It was a glorious sight, that could not help but gladden the heart.

The best wedding transport – looking sweet on a bicycle made for two 💖

We realised as we approached, that disappointingly our route to Delft did not quite take us into the centre, so I cannot speak of any architectural delights contained therein.  I feel a return trip will be required in the future. We did though cycle through an extensive nature conserve in mid Delftland which made for very pleasant going. After consulting the map, we realised that we were making better time than had been thought, and so amended our route slightly to take in a detour to Maassluis, which seemed to be a reasonable sized town where we thought we could get refreshments, this entailed our last wind up ferry trip, where I wound in and Mr V wound us across. Man it was an arm workout! We had no expectations of Maasluis, and so were delighted to find such a charming place. Although it was 3.30 by the time we got there, the sun was still hot and sat canalside, we succumbed to a final ice cream treat. What arrived though was an immense sundae each, mine defeated me, but Mr V valiantly assisted in demolishing it!

Maassluis and the massive sundae

Fortified, we knew we had plenty of time to peddle the direct route along the shoreline to the Hook of Holland, so were able to relax and enjoy the passing scenery, though not the vast green and pleasant land interspersed with waterways that we have become accustomed to, the approaching dock lands and mighty sea defences were still impressive to behold.

Along the shoreline to Hook

Before long we spotted the vessel that would carry us home and joined the queue to board exchanging pleasantries and tales of adventure with fellow cyclists.  Those native to the Netherlands, venturing to Britain for the diverse tracks and challenge of hilly terrain.

Embarkation and disembarkation

We eventually boarded, and were glad that we had opted for a night crossing with a cabin rather than repeat the mind numbing day crossing. Small and bijou the cabin may have been, but it was a welcome haven, with a hot shower, clean sheets, towels and comfy beds. Weary from our long day, we had a light supper, shower and sunk into bed to be gently rocked to sleep (once the tannoy announcements had ceased).   What seemed like five minutes later we were woken by the ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ intro over the tannoy announcing that we had an hour before disembarkation. That is definitely the way to cross the channel. We made our way off the ship and through border control, the plan being to meet Uncle Bob at Chelmsford. All started out fine, the familar blue cycle sign showing us the way to route 51 was quickly identified and the route was well marked. Initially the roads were quiet, having set out at about 06.30. However, we have been spoiled during the preceding days in respect of quality of cycle ways and making our way through Essex during the Friday morning rush hour, even on the designated ‘quieter’ routes was not a pleasant experience. Indeed when large lorries are thundering behind you on country roads you feel distinctly vulnerable as a cyclist.  We battled on to Colchester and called Uncle Bob; curtailing his morning hot tub session, and arranged an earlier rendezvous at Tiptree. The rest of our journey was fortunately quieter, with some dedicated cycle tracks, however we were struck by the stark differences of our cycling experiences, not least the attitudes of drivers towards cyclists. We google mapped our way to the designated meeting spot, counting down; 3 minutes, 2 minutes, and turning the last corner there he was waiting with the car. A sight for sore eyes.  As is often the way, once a challenge is complete the adrenaline wanes and fatigue engulfs you. We quickly loaded Talula and the bags, the journey back to the house a bit of a blur as ‘carcolepsy’ set in. We were welcomed by Auntie Babs with a hot cup of tea at the ready. It was sweet nectar.

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