Germany: Rhine River Route

We knew about the Rhine River route from research before the trip and the Eurovelo 15 that goes along it. Compared to The Mosel the Rhine felt a lot more built up due to it’s use as a shipping route still. We saw lots of cargo ships along the way as well as tourist and party boats. Sometimes the cycle lane ran right next to a busy road or the train line, so it didn’t feel as rural, and there was little shade in some parts to avoid the heat. But there are some really lovely castles on the hilltops along the river. On the first day we stopped at a campsite and met a man from the town that we live in in Greater Manchester (such a small world!). This part of the Rhine was very lovely and had vineyards along the side similar to the Mosel with the names of the towns painted into them. Most of them began with ‘B’ and our favourite was Bopparder Hamm!

It was so hot this day and with a strong headwind that we decided to stop somewhere for lunch but there was no shade or benches for what felt like forever! Finally got to a bridge to find shelter under and make lunch. There were a couple of other bike tourers who had the same idea also under the bridge who we chatted to – they had mainly been camping alongside and washing in the river – Bliss! We carried onto Bacharach where we agreed to stay that night. We found the campsite which had a small sandy beach to cool off in, but it was absolutely rammed with people as it was the weekend so the only spaces left were near the toilets (no!) and next to a motorcyclist who had commandeered the entire plot so we would be stuck right in the corner. We decided to go back into the town and look for a free spot. The only spaces we could see were on double benches and also in a small park area behind a bush! 

We thought about bivvy-bagging it here, but as it was the weekend, would this be wise? After looking on Google maps we saw there were what looked like areas where we could camp further out of town. We cycled and cycled and saw some small beaches off the road but these were next to allotment plots with small huts that people were sat outside with their families enjoying the warm evening. We carried on past more allotments and then onto a path with thick bushes on both sides. It got later, so we started to worry about where we would stop in time before the sun set, until Becky spotted a small opening in the bushes and a rocky path that led down to the river. We carried each bike down as the sun was setting and decided to bivvy bag instead of put the tent up. In the morning we awoke to a glorious sunrise, and were so happy that we had found a secret beach which could not been seen from the path, we stayed one more night! We were only disturbed on the second day by a couple who came down onto the beach and started to strip off before we decided to cough so they’d know we were there! They didn’t stay much longer…

The tarp stopped bugs dropping on our heads!

Our secret beach

We woke up and really toyed with the idea of staying a third night on the beach…but as it began to cloud over decided to carry on. Our route took us through Rüdesheim am Rhein which was absolutely rammed with motorbikers at a festival. The noise was deafening as hundreds and hundreds of bikers were there. We carried on to Geisenheim where we found an amazing cafe called ‘Zwei und Zwanzig’ and ate allllllll the food. We had planned to get to Mainz that night but didn’t leave the cafe until 7.30 and still had 39km to go, so ended up even finding a local campsite to dump our stuff before going back for more food and cocktails as it was Friday night (has to be done). Blow out days are the best!

Vegan waffles and ice cream!!!

Our last day on the Rhine took us through the pretty village of Eltville before we came to Mainz. The remainder of the route to Mainz was industrial and mainly on the road so not enjoyable at all.

As it was Saturday the city was bustling with loads of people out enjoying the food stalls alongside the river. Saturdays are always so stressful with a fully loaded bike: the pavements were full of people strolling around and even though most paths are segregated there always needs to be extra vigilance in case someone wanders into your path! After Becky became panicked about cycling into a major city on a Saturday afternoon, we decided to stay at a campsite on the Main so we could cycle into Frankfurt the next day when it would be quieter. And our rule of ‘never cycling into a city on a Saturday’ was born!

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Country #4: Germany, on the Mosel River Route

Brilliant, incredible, wonderful Germany! I don’t think we expected to enjoy bike touring there as much as we did as we didn’t actually know if it would be easy to cycle there. It was! We crossed at the beginning of June and didn’t leave until the start of July! Our route took us along some well trodden bike routes so we thought it’d be easiest to explain our tour of Deutschland via these. We found it incredibly easy to cycle here – probably because the majority of our routes were on rivers! But also we stopped at some Warm Showers with really great people who gave us some excellent advice (and maps) on where to go and what to see. We knew some areas we wanted to go to but were also informed by other cyclists of what to do. The majority of the routes were well signposted detailing km between each town and some had maps showing the areas. At some points there were so many routes it was difficult to choose which one to follow!

Mosel

We began to actually follow some of the Mosel in Luxembourg. While planning on our week off we stumbled upon the Mosel river route which would take us from Trier (a lovely town with well preserved Roman architecture) up to Koblenz, where we would meet the Rhine river and from there be able to cycle on the Main River to our first major German city: Frankfurt.

The Mosel was definitely one of our favourite cycle routes overall. Extremely well signposted (just follow the river!), loads of amenities along the way, historical and pretty villages/towns, plenty of camping/accommodation options, not to forget the km upon km of wineries in the area! We found it to be extremely beautiful scenery and the weather was on our side for the most of it so we can’t complain!

We arrived in Trier later than we had anticipated after leaving our friend’s home because of rain, being caught in a storm along the way, and getting slightly lost when we got to the town. Luckily we had a Warm Showers stop here with the lovely Julia who lives in the city with her husband and two year old son. Her husband is from Japan and Julia spent a year there as an exchange student. We’ve been to Japan twice, the last time being April 2016, so got to bed late that nigh as we had loads to talk about as it’s our most favourite country in the world! The next day we left early so spent some time getting to grips with German supermarkets (the bread is sold in seperate bakeries normally at the front of the shop after the checkouts which confused us at first and is pretty expensive compared to the previous countries), and had a short look around Trier and the impressive Roman gateway. 

We managed to get a cycle route map from tourist information in the town and found our way onto the river, but due to roadworks further up had to come back on ourselves and cross the main bridge to the other side. This meant that it was 2pm before we could even get out of Trier! Hiding from another rainstorm gave us an excuse to have a go on a swing that was tied on one of the trees along the bank! 

By the time we reached Linguich we knew we wouldn’t be able to get to the town of Cochem that day. After checking on the internet we discovered it was 80km away and it was 5pm! We worked out that it would take 4 days to get to Koblenz rather than the two we’d initially thought. We contacted our Warm Showers hosts (Andi and Tabea) and let them know. This gave us more time to enjoy the river as even though we’d only cycled a short distance, it was really beautiful, so wanted to take our time anyway.

Scott enjoying the zipline!

We reached Riol and it began to pour down so seeked cover in a winestand near a vineyard by the river side. The winestand would not be used for another month but was already plumbed in with drinking water. We decided to make our tea on a nearby bench and camp behind a bush once it got darker. The path had a few joggers/cyclists/dog walkers but by 8.30pm no one was around at all, and we were well covered by the vineyard and bushes. 

We woke up at 5.30am to sort ourselves out before anyone saw us. At 6am a farmer arrived to tend to the grapes at the vineyard. By this point we were cooking breakfast on the bench. He asked whether we’d been camping by the side of the river, sheepishly Scott said Yes, and the farmer gave us a massive smile and thumbs up! 

From here we cycled to a small village and had morning coffee before carrying on to Piesporter for lunch. Along the way we saw a few bike tourers which got us excited, but the majority of the people were daytrippers who had hired bikes from their hotel and were cycling up and down the Mosel sampling the wine along the way. This was something we needed to get involved in! 

In Piesporter when making lunch a jack Russell dog appeared out of nowhere and wouldn’t leave us alone. Obviously enticed by our avocado sandwiches…hmmm? 

We then cycled through vineyards that line the edge of the riverside. Each one has a sign with the name of the wine and a description so you can find them in the local bars and restaurants. The route at this point was completely segregated and the vineyards would climb up above us. There were also Roman artifacts (columns and busts) along the route that had been found in the area and were on display at the side of the paths.

Wine: 1 of a social workers’ 5 a day…

Bernskastel Kues was one of the biggest places we stopped at on the Mosel and had only one campsite which was a short distance out of town and a little overpriced, but wanting to see the town on foot (we’ve learnt that touring bikes and uphill cobbles do not mix), we stayed there. There was only a small piece of grass in front of the toilets for tents but as we were the only ones there we got the best spot. Other tourers arrived and everyone had to borrow our mallet as the ground was rock solid! We spent the evening wandering around the most German-looking town yet: high wooden buildings and cobbled lanes made us feel that we’d been transported back in time. We treated ourselves to some local wine and were the most happy and content we’d been so far on the trip. 

From Bernkastel Kues we cycled just outside the town to visit Kloster Machern brewery which is situated in an old monastery when it started pouring down so take shelter under a bridge. Scott completely misses seeing a chuck of rock sticking out of the wall of the bridge and clips it with his back pannier and ends up falling onto the floor still clipped in! Becky obviously found this hilarious! After the rain stops we cycle over the bridge to the brewery and got there for lunchtime – it’s never too early to start drinking! And we both sample their delicious weizen beer. 

The rain comes and goes and after a couple of hours we head off. We reach a village called Wolf and stop for an obligatory Teenwolf photo (you are an animaaaaaaal!) and once again have to hide from the rain but don’t mind as we get to taste Will Wine. The sun comes out and we carried on until we got to a campsite outside of Zell where we were able to test our tarp for the first time since having it sent over to Luxembourg. 

You’re a big bad…!


Yes! It’s an extendor…!

Zell, famous for the Black Cat winery

We made our way to Cochem which is a town on the river with a large stately home on a hill which when the sun was setting looked like a Transylvanian castle!

After stopping in Cochem we had one more day cycling to Koblenz where we would stay with Andi and Tabea for 2 nights. We left that morning and noticed that there was no traffic on the side we were cycling on. Thinking that it was just a quiet Sunday morning we stuck to the bike path despite  people cycling passed us on the road. It was only after a few kms that we realised the side of the river we were on was completely closed to cars, motorbikes, trucks etc. This was brilliant! People travelled along this 85km stretch by every means possible: skateboards, Rollerblades, encumbent bikes, tandems, Rollerblades with ski poles, wheelchairs, families with children in trailers and on balance bikes, young, old, and everyone in between were out. 

At one point on the route there were stalls set up selling food, drinks, playing music so we stopped for a rest and chatted to an older couple from Trier who explained that it was ‘Happy Mosel Day’: an event which was last on 25 years ago to encourage people to leave their cars at home and enjoy a traffic free day on the river. It was pure luck that we had cycled this part of the Mosel on that particular day as only 80km had been closed. This was definitely one of the best days of the whole trip. It was so lovely to see so many people out enjoying themselves and promoting non-motorised transport. We arrived in Koblenz feeling energised and content. Our stay with Andi and Tabea from Warm Showers was a real pleasure. Andi cooked us a sumptuous meal and we chatted into the night about their own cycle tour from New Zealand back to Germany a couple of years before. Both are social workers so it was really interesting to hear about how their careers differ to Becky’s in the UK. We spent the next day in Koblenz and visited where the  Mosel and Rhine rivers meet. 

From the large monument that overlooks this point we saw a few bike tourers appear to take photos. The following day Tabea cycled with us to the beginning of the Rhine and we began our next river route in Germany.


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Country #3: Luxembourg (9 days)

We only spent minimal time cycling in Luxembourg as a week was spent off the bike staying with friends in the city and two days were in and out of the country itself. We even managed a weekend trip back to Belgium with said friends as well as a trip to the Orval brewery (which was beer stop #5!).

Unfortunately our time cycling in Luxembourg was not an enjoyable one: we found the drivers to be way too fast and close for comfort. Most people seemed to have extremely high powered cars and drove them as if they were on a race track including trying to overtake cars while we were cycling towards them. Maybe it’s because we ended up having to cycle into the city at rush hour? We don’t know, but it definitely ruined our impressions of bike touring in the country. We are apprehensive of recommending it to others because of our experience. 

So we didn’t actually realise that we’d crossed over the border until Becky noticed that the benches looked ‘posher’ than the ones we’d been used to in Belgium. But it wasn’t completely confirmed until we arrived at a pub at the end of the Ravel with a Luxembourg flag flying over it! Disappointed that we’d entered our third country without realising it we went back to see if there were any distinguishable markings so we could take a photo. The weather was really hot and we had passed through 3 tunnels on the Ravel that gave us some relief – we did not know at this poin that these were the Tussen Tunnels. We finally made it to the border which was only noticeable by a line on the path where the asphalt on the Luxembourg side was smoother. Our friend who lives in Luxembourg had said that the government will basically pave right up until the border but no more. So this was our entry into country #3! After taking some photos we raced back to the pub for a celebratory drink and the end of the Ravel. 

The ‘border’ of Belgium to Luxembourg

One of the Tussen Tunnels – so cool it was a massive relief from the heat outside

First sign we’d crossed into Luxembourg

The first night was spent at a campsite in the town of Wiltz: it was a huge complex but as out of season we had a pick of the pitches and chatted to an older couple from the Netherlands who were making a short trip around the area. Scott put his socks on the washing line to air and they were suddenly covered in moths – they must have had a death wish! 

The next day we left the campsite in Wiltz with Google maps telling us one thing and the Garmin doing something else. So what should have been a straight forward cycle out of the town turned into a ridiculous detour round the entire town to almost take us back to where we started! Garmin is absolutely diabolical for navigation. Lots of swearing  and once again Scott threatened to smash the Garmin up as it decided it would try to take us down some mountain bike trails. The heat and humidity were getting worse by the hour, but we finally made it out of Wiltz after a big hill climb. We dropped down a really long decline on amazing roads and picked up another road to a town called Ecsh-Sur-Sure. Unfortunately the second road, even though it’s ok for bikes, was so busy with lots of trucks and cars speeding down it. On this short stretch one VW Golf drove so fast and close that Becky had to pull off the road onto a grassy verge in fear and cycled on that for the remainder of the road until the side road to the town appeared. Esch-Sur-Sure is a quain town is on a river side with the remains of a castle overlooking it, so this was a perfect lunch spot, but disappointingly full of idiot drivers who raced round the town in their cars. 

After lunch and some coffee we began to cycle the long and steep hill which comes straight out of the town – this was the worst hill yet and combined with the heat and humidity the tensions were rising between us! From here we had more countryside before we picked up a cycleway for 30km into Luxembourg city. We text our friends telling them that we’ll probably be there in three hours. We were able to stop on the hill near the castle and see the beautiful town below. The hill took us 1.5 hours going at our own pace and Becky has to admit that she felt defeated by it and the heat, and is ashamed to say she stopped to cry 2/3rds up! Hills like that on days like this are a No-No!

Killer hills

Finally reaching the top we had fantastic views – the most perfect countryside we have yet to see on this trip! But when it’s 35c and there’s no wind or shade, those details don’t matter. The ride from the hill was downhill and through small lanes to a town where we would pick up the cycle route following signs into the city. The speedometer stated we had cycled 40km but it seems loads longer! We try to text our friends to let them know we hope to be there by 7pm but have no signal.

Cannot complain about the road surface in Luxembourg!

Beautiful countryside ruined by bad drivers

Oh, ONLY 30km to go!

Again we had trouble with local drivers coming too close and dangerously trying to overtake (Scott who was in front was frantically waving his arm at one driver who was edging out to overtake on a small lane). We reached the town and are able to come off the roads and onto a river route and find the sign for 30km to Luxembourg city. At one point we stopped to fill up water bottles in a park and it begins to rain heavy other cyclists stop to take shelter under a hut but it was so refreshing we decided to get soaked to cool down! After this we finally found the route into the city and passed through the old town with the cobbled streets and arched doorways. We were so tired at this point so didn’t want to stop and any photos! Reached our friends at 9pm and after food and showers went straight to bed! The next day while checking the stats Scott realises that the speedometer was set to miles and not kilometres which is why the route felt so much longer!

Normally we would hide from the rain…not today!

The next week was spent at our friend’s place enjoying being of the bikes and exploring the city. We walked around and took in the sights. We had been here before but over New Year a couple of years ago when it was snowy and so cold, so it was nice to experience in the summer, although it seemed we planned it well as some of the days there was heavy rain. We were glad to be enjoying the comforts of our friends home!

We also went back into Belgium for a weekend with our friends, and visited the stunning Orval monastery.

It’s always weird revisiting somewhere by car as it hits us how different it is to travel by bike, and how slow we go haha! I do feel that this way of travelling is most rewarding, as we can see more of how a country is by this slower pace and the level of satisfaction hits up a notch when you realise that you have gone all this way by your own power.

We left Luxembourg after spending a day with our friends who had time off for a national holiday. We ended up leaving later than planned as it had been raining a lot that morning so a 2pm start meant we would probably get to our Warm Showers in Trier, Germany, for around 7pm as the route would be a approximately 50km and not too taxing. As we cycled on one of the bike routes we could see behind us a storm was beginning to emerge and was heading in our direction! We hoped we would be able to get to the border before any rain began.  

Lots of satellite dishes in a field along the route

A storm’s a brewing!

We crossed the border just before it began to rain so took a quick photo before going to hide under some trees nearby! Then it was onwards to our Warm Showers!

Happy to see Germany!

Au revoir, Luxembourg!

Country #4!

Best bits:

  • Spending time with our friends and a good rest off the bike
  • Satisfaction of knowing that last time we visited Luxembourg we had to get a plane to Belgium and hire a car to drive there! Thus time it was all by leg power!
  • Really great supermarkets with loads of veggie goodies!! We could stuff our faces and had a good BBQ in Belgium during our weekend away
  • Being able to wander around the city and walk!
  • Perfect asphalt!!

Bad bits:

  • Really terrible drivers who seem to have no understanding of how to treat cyclists! This was really the only negative but it was a big one for us! 
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Country #2: Belgium (8 days)

Beers and hills is basically what first comes to mind when we think of our time in Belgium. We’d visited there before but only the western side: Brussels, Ghent, and Bruges, as well as near a small town called Mol for a music festival a couple of years ago. But those times we’d driven and not cycled so we had no idea what it would be like to tour, but knew that Belgium was well-known for cycle races, and (Sir) Bradley Wiggins had also been born there.

From Dreilandenpunt we could see into Belgium: rolling green hills and fields. Leaving the Netherlands down a huge hill we ended up within a group of road cyclists all in the same kit. There were a couple of switchbacks down and being with these cyclists it felt like the Tour De France – it was ace! It was here that we regretted not having a GoPro!

Looking back up to the Netherlands

Straight away in Belgium it was a different cycling experience: unfortunately the road surface quality deteriorated, there were hills everywhere, and we had to get used to small villages with no large shops as we’d become accustomed to in the Netherlands! We were starving as it was getting to mid afternoon and we had not eaten lunch, but luckily found a small convenience store which sold all kind of treats including Alpro Soya yoghurts! The best bit was seeing the huge selection of Belgian beers that even this small store sold. The hills wouldn’t be too bad as long as we had nice beers to enjoy afterwards!

One of many reasons to visit Belgium!

We had decided to cycle on one of the Ravel trails which is a route separate from road traffic and relatively flat. This would take us to Lieges where we could get onto the river to Namur and from here towards Achouffe where Scott’s favourite brewery is: La Chouffe. As soon as we got onto the trail we saw a little lamb on the path bleeting loudy for its mother who was in a fenced field just down a bank from the Ravel. We spent 45minutes trying to catch the lamb and then shepherding it back down to its mother. But it proved impossible! What made it worse was some idiot with a massive Boxer dog came along and pointed the lamb out to its dog which started going mad which scared the little thing even more!

The Ravel was a great way to cycle as completely traffic-free but the downside is that on both sides it’s mostly green hedges and trees as we were pretty high up so we’d bypass villages and towns rather than going through them as we were used to in the Netherlands. It’s a great way to bomb it through the country, but not if you enjoy actually spending time seeing the places. The repetitiveness of the scenery can become monotonous after a while and we got quite bored. We had thought of coming down off the Ravel…but the hills back up put us off!

It was on this first day in Belgium that we experienced ‘wild camping’. We had found a spot up on a hill off the Ravel outside of Lieges when an older cyclist stopped and asked if we needed help. We said we were looking for somewhere to camp and hoped that he would just point us in the direction of somewhere so we could sneak off the path to the spot we’d found, but he said he would cycle with us to a place! We weren’t wanting to use a campsite but weren’t sure what to say (at this point in time we weren’t aware of campsite apps so from place to place were just hoping that we’d come across a site to camp in the evenings) so went with him. He took us to a small island by the side of the river Ourthe near a canoe hut where he said people regularly camp for free. This was quite secluded off a bike path but with a train track running the other side in front if a disused factory so we hoped there wouldn’t be many people coming along later on. We waited until it got darker and set up our tent in a ditch so that if anyone came passed they wouldn’t be able to see us. Both of us were a bit nervous as in the Netherlands the free camping spots we’d used had been legal so this didn’t have the same concerns as this place.

All was well and we felt pretty comfortable there until we were woken up at 2am by really loud, eeiry harp music. It was completely dark and as we peered out of the tent we couldn’t see anything because it was foggy and damp, so started to wonder whether there was an illegal rave (not sure what kind with harp music) at the factory! Scott got out the tent and saw a car parked up near the bridge to the island. Someone was sat in their car playing some music which during the day seems quite innocent but at the time felt really sinister and odd as the path was only for bikes so we had no idea where the car had come from. After a while the car turned off the music but stayed where it was. Becky fell asleep but Scott stayed awake with the tent mallet by his side waiting in case something happened – nothing did. In the morning the car had gone and we were both knackered due to lack of sleep. Scott said that he should’ve gone out and said something, but Becky pointed out that the person in the car probably would’ve been more scared than we were if a bearded man came out of the foggy darkness waving a mallet above his head and shouting in a foreign language! In the light of day it might have been a taxi driver having a kip between shifts or a couple ending their date in a secluded place. We put this down to needing to get used to wild camp more to try and reduce these irrational fears.

From Lieges we cycled to Namur. The route out of Lieges was on the Eurovelo 3 and not what we expected. Very industrial with a lot of old derelict factories and warehouses and no cycle paths. This was totally different to what we’d experienced in the Netherlands – it felt more like cycling in the UK with dodging potholes and debris. The most annoying thing was high kerbs approximately 15cm with no drop in them! So crossing the road to get up to the other side meant hauling your bike up over the high kerb. How do people in wheelchairs and those with pushchairs manage??

We arrived in Namur having got onto the Ravel on the river Meuse and a nice traffic-free route. We stopped with Warm Showers host Luc, a cycling activist and campaigner, who kindly marked on some maps a route from Namur through the Belgian countryside to Bastogne (near the Luxembourg border) via pretty villages, famous châteaux, and (of course) Achouffe. We spent the next blistering hot day looking around Namur which is very picturesque with a citadel overlooking the city. Luc also recommended a great little bar that actually reminded us of our favourite local pub in Salford! It was here that we sampled our first local Belgian beer: Namur Blanche.

For some reason instead of stopping in Namur for 2 nights we decided to leave later that afternoon. Our next destination was Dinant and 30km along the river wouldn’t take us very long. We set off at 5pm and found a sign for the route to Dinant – this quickly disappeared as we got around some roadworks which included an entire crane blocking the river cycle path so us and other cyclists had to climb down the embankment and manoeuvre our bikes around it! The river route got worse and worse as the bike path disappeared and we had to share the road with cars, construction work, industrial factories. It didn’t seem to be the scenic route that Luc had described. We finally found a bridge to cross to the other side of the river as there it looked like a real bike path but ended up at a cafe we’d gone to on the way into Namur. We’d gone the wrong way! Hungry and really hot we had to turn around and cycle back to Namur with the sun blasting in our faces. The temperate at 6pm was 34c!! We then found the correct route back via Namur which was just as lovely as Luc had described but didn’t manage to make it to Dinant as we were too tired and hungry, so found a small campsite to stop at. We chatted to two other bike tourers: one from the Netherlands who was cycling with minimal gear to Paris and meeting his family there, and another from Belgium who was enjoying a short tour.

We left the site the next day and cycled to Dinant. It was picturesque but not as much as we had expected as the entire street in front was being dug up with roadworks. After a very short look around we began to cycle the route that had been marked by Luc on our maps which, we didn’t realise, went passed the Leffe monastery. We couldn’t resist having a Leffe in Leffe but we discovered that it is not open to the public and from what we could see didn’t brew the beers there either. The pub across the road was closed too. Damn! Undeterred we carried on hoping to see somewhere open on the way but at 2pm everywhere in the small villages we passed through were closed until later. Fortunately a hotel with a bar was open in Celles so we stopped there for the Leffe. 4 Belgian businessmen on the next table began talking to us (2 of whom have visited Manchester). When they found out we were cycling to Houyet one of them (Francis) wrote a note for us to give to the owner of a pub there for 2 free beers! He said that Leffe was rubbish compared to Orval beer that we would drink there!

From the hotel we had a quick look at the sights of Celles (a church and châteaux) and headed towards Houyet where there were campsites. As we cycled up a hill out of Celles, we noticed a small woodland and went inside to see whether it would be a good place to camp. We agreed that there was enough room for our tent so cycled back down the hill to a picnic bench and waited until it got darker before stealthily creeping inside and setting up the tent. At first the wood was noisy with birds chirping and flying around the trees above our heads, but then when it finally got totally dark at 11pm it went completely silent and we began to head new sounds: little creatures emerging and jumping within the crunchy leaves that littered the woodland ground over to our tent to investigate.

We left in the morning for Houyet which would have been any easy task except Becky somehow managed to lose the map to this portion of the route! Relying on Scott’s GPS alone turned out to be a nightmare as it sent up some big hills and eventually down a farmer’s field. The farmer who was old but as hard as nails (we witnessed him pull barbed wire fence apart with his hands and climb through!) told us (in the French we could understand) that it would be pretty easy to get down the rocky track that carried on through the bushes from the field. It wasn’t. The two of us had to carry both bikes down which took 20 minutes for each bike. Scott was so angry that at the bottom he threw his bike into a bush and declared that when we got home he would smash his Garmin up with the tent mallet!

Becky enjoying the hills…NOT

The Garmin ‘short cut’

Reaching Houyet we ate lunch and then cycled around the town looking for the pub that Francis from Celles told us to go with the note. We couldn’t find it anywhere and were about to give up and cycle on when we tried the last road where the train station is and there the pub was! We were both apprehensive about going in and asking for free beers! But when we spoke to the landlady she laughed and said that Francis had called and texted her so she had been expecting us! The stress of the morning disappeared while we sipped our Orvals in the sunshine. We wrote a note for Francis thanking him and left our details. He would send us a photo of him with the message on Instagram the next day!

From Houyet we continued on the Ravel, which began in the town, to Rochefort and found a campsite the shadow of the abbey. Tried the Rochefort #8 and it was delicious! An authentic Trappist!

Rochefort Abbey

The following day (Thursday) was unbeknownst to us a public holiday as well as the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday! This meant that supermarkets and most shops were closed! After cycling to every store in the town we finally found that Spar was open. Scott went inside to shop and came out stressed and bedraggled: as it was a long holiday weekend everyone was panic buying so a lot of the food was gone and there were long queues of people buying trollies full of food/drink. This reminded us of the bank holidays in the UK when it feels more like the end of days rather than 4 days off work. This was where we’d realised we’d cycled our first 1000km! Top Cinq!

First milestone!

All this faffing meant a late set off at 12.30pm and it was a really hot day. At this point we had not acclimatised to European summer weather! Our next destination was Roche-Ardenne, a town on the edge of the Ardennes. The route this day took us from Rochefort and over beautiful hills with meadows full of flowers. We also saw so many older cyclists out on their bikes. We nicknamed them O.M.I.L.s. Not many older women out cycling on road bikes though.

This route had lots of small but sharp inclines that killed our legs. We found the Ravel and cycled towards campsites all were busy with the holiday and hot weather. We decided to find a free spot and saw a sign for a rest stop which would be a perfect camp spot near the river…then was met with crowds of people enjoying the water with BBQs and music. Arrgghh! But luck was on our side as when we turned the corner there was an empty patch of land next to the river with one other couple camped up. We spoke to them (they were from the Netherlands) and they were going to stay there until someone kicked them off! We said we would do the same.

We woke up in the morning to the mist covering the area after it had risen from the river and the sun had not reached high enough to warm the spot. Lovely stuff!

Roche-Ardenne would be the next place we could buy fuel as we’d ran out – combine this with the lack of supermarkets for 4 days made for two grumpy cyclists! But no fuel was to be found as everywhere was closed because of holidays apart from Spar. Becky went in this time to try and salvage food that we could eat. Again it was like end of days with queues and people pushing and shoving to get items (what is wrong with people?). Belgium was difficult to find vegan friendly food after the Netherlands. No hummus to be found and we couldn’t buy anything tinned that needed to be heated up. Salady items were bought with an expensive pot of pre-made couscous which would hopefully see us through. Otherwise we’d have to hunt for cafes/restaurants and our budget would be eaten into (pun intended). We met another bike tourer from the Netherlands who informed us of the Archie’s campsite app – this has been our savour! Up until this point we were hoping to see them on the way at the time we wanted to camp which was fine in the Netherlands, but really difficult in Belgium! We spoke to a Belgian guy about this and his opinion was that Belgians don’t camp as much as the Dutch. He’s unsure why.

From Roche-Ardenne our first important stop was next: the La Chouffe brewery! To get there we had to climb a 10km hill from the town (the last 4km being really steep!) to Nadrin. Our savour was a small frites shop where we could refuel with chips and iced tea which seemed to be the only place open!

We beat the hill!

Frites O’Clock!

Finally (after a few more hills not on the GPS) we arrived at Achouffe. A visit to the shop and tavern later (and slightly more merry than before) we cycled out of Achouffe and passed the pub on the hill out of the village where we were met with cheers of encouragement by those drinking outside. Cycling towards the campsites we missed a turning and ended up back at the frites shop…more chips and iced tea to help us!

After a failed attempt to get a place at the first campsite we tried we got the last spot at another. A Dutch family on the pitch next to us began chatting to us and they kindly gave us some fuel to see us through the next few days! We went to bed happy with bellies full of warm food.

The next day we revisited La Chouffe again with our friends Keri and Joe who drove to meet us from their home in Luxembourg. This was a great final day in Belgium. The following morning we set off from Houffalize (love that name!) on the Ravel to Bastogne which was through lovely countryside and nice and flat! We only realised we had crossed into Luxembourg when we noticed a pub at the end of the Ravel with a Luxembourg flag!

Ravel route to Bastogne

The border! The only change is the quality of the path!

Luxembourg!

Best bits:

Beers (of course). We are avid fans of Belgian tipples so being able to drink them on their own turf and visiting the breweries was a great experience. They’re also cheaper to buy over there so it didn’t break our budget!

• Lovely scenery even though it meant a lot of hills! We had great weather throughout our stay.

• The Ravel is a great way of exploring the country traffic free although outside of the cities we didn’t experience much traffic anyway.

Bad bits:

• The roads can be badly maintained and this can prove a bumpy problem with a loaded tourer as we kept having to check they hadn’t come loose. 

• Lack of camping grounds compared to the Netherlands. We met a Belgian tourer who said that Belgians just don’t camp so there’s no demand for them.

• Sometimes language could be a problem – we don’t speak French (our issue not theirs) so it was difficult to have conversations with locals if we were in small towns. 

•  We really struggled to find food that was veggie friendly in this region of Belgium. Even staples like hummus weren’t available in supermarkets. A lot of the towns we went through had a Spar which didn’t have much of a selection for us in terms of vegetables too. 

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The Vrsic Pass

Before we started this trip we were both at different levels of cycling. I’d (Scott) done a lot more weekends out in the Peak District National Park with mates: cycling up some of the passes such as Holme Moss, Winnets Pass, and the formidable and unforgiving Widowmaker (a climb nicknamed such by my mate James for it’s ability to render the hardiest of road cyclists to tears). Becky, on the other hand, a more committed fair weather cyclist (her words!), was more accustomed to work commuting and the occasional weekend ride. But the one thing we equalled in ability was the amount of coffee and cake we could consume on a ride.

So with this in mind we initially planned our bike tour route to be as flat as possible, with the only climbs coming when we entered the Alps region in France, and with Becky planning to stay at ground level while I cycled up some of the more famous passes. Roll on four months and we unexpectedly found ourselves in Slovenia, with the mighty Vrsic Pass between us and the Italian border. It’s amazing what four months in the saddle can do for your confidence and I was shocked when Becky suggested that we should attempt to cycle over it. At an altitude of 1611m, it is Slovenia’s highest road pass, with 50 switchbacks, 24 up, 26 down, and cobbles at each switchback, this would be our first big mountain pass on fully loaded tourers and the highest we’ve been on our bikes.

We stayed at Camp Spik which was 5km outside Kranjska Gora, where the pass starts, and a nice way to warm the legs up. It’s then 12km to the summit of Vrsic Pass. On arriving in Kranjska Gora we join the road that lead over the pass. At the bottom of the pass there is a pretty lake and great views of the Julian Alps.

As we leave the lake we start to climb and see a sign for 14%! I hope that’s only this bit! The first switchback is after a few hundred metres and the next couple are spaced out quite a bit. The gradient is pretty tough but we’re doing well and going at a decent pace.

Switchbacks 5 to 9 are quite closely spaced and between 8 and 9 is a Russian church memorial that was built by WWI prisoners of war after an avalanche killed 300 of their fellow soldiers who built the road in 1917.

Leaving switchback 9 we are met with roadworks! The road turns to gravel and it’s not compacted making our wheels skid. The traffic is all built up and we realise there are traffic lights ahead. There’s no room to cycle and with the wheel’s spinning on the gravel we have to get off and push the bikes along the road to the front of the traffic lights.

We get stuck here for ages and when we do finally get through it is really difficult to make progress due to the road surface. Luckily it clears after a couple of kilometres. However it has sapped our energy and we’re both knackered now after the gravel. The switchbacks start to go by quite quickly up to 16, where we stop at a view point to look at the mountains and see the highest point in the Julian Alps Mt. Triglav and also Prisojnik Window and a face in the rocks, The Pagan Girl. We get chatting to a couple who tell us it’s 2.5km to the summit. Leaving the viewpoint the gradient here is the steepest it’s been and saps all our energy. We round switchback 16 and pull in to catch our breath, my heart beating like a drum.

With 2km to go we jump back on our bikes eager to reach the summit. The switchbacks are getting knocked off and we eventually reach number 20, with only 4 more to go we both dig in for the final push. We round switchback 24 and then it’s a few hundred metres and we’ve made it!! Its an amazing feeling as we roll across the top of the mountain. We even get a round of applause from a team of road cyclists and their team car driver runs up to me shouting “Allez Allez Allez” and gives me a pretend push, while Becky gets high fives from his team mate.

The scenery at this height is stunning and it’s an amazing feeling to be so high in the mountains and to have gotten up there on fully loaded bikes too. After a few photos with the sign and a stop at the café (after each sampling a delicious bowl of Jota!) we start the decent. I’m not sure which I prefer! The decent is a killer on the hands and forearms and with 50kg between our legs we pick up speed quicker than Usain Bolt out of the 100m starting blocks. We have plenty of stops to relax our hands and after about 30 mins we are at the bottom where we find a campsite and call it a night.

What a brilliant day. Four months ago I’d never have expected to be cycling an alpine pass with Becky, let alone on a fully loaded tourer, but it just shows how much stronger she is on the bike than when we first started and she’s even interested in tackling Mont Ventoux when we get to France!

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A Year Around Europe – Route Change

It’s been 4 months since we left the UK on our bikes, and when we first set off we had grand plans of touring the world. We printed out a map and plotted the route with pins and string. Working our way around Europe, through central Asia, down to Australia via south east Asia, and then across America back home. We were so excited and couldn’t wait to tour in some of these far flung places.

However, this short time on the road has opened our eyes to the wonders of what has been on our doorstep all our lives. Although we’ve visited Europe for city breaks and the odd longer holiday, we haven’t ever visited Europe. I couldn’t say that I felt I’d actually properly experienced Germany because I’d been to Berlin, or a week in Dubrovnik gave me a true representation of Croatia. Along the way we’ve met people who have invited us to stay with them in Poland and Czech Republic, but these would not be on our route, which was frustrating because they sound like such wonderful places! Because of this we’ve decided to change our world plans for the time being and stick to touring Europe so that we can see the countries so close to us that we might neglect otherwise. 

It may be that after this year (funds and circumstances permitting!) we might be able to continue across the world, but for now we are happy just to concentrate Europe…especially with Brexit on the horizon and we might not be wanted to visit! 😉

So our route now is to continue south from Croatia to Greece via Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Albania; then back to Italy via ferry, and from there head to southern Spain via ferry or train for Christmas with our families. From here we will cross into Morocco and then will head home via Spain, Portugal, and across to the remainder of Eastern Europe before looping home to the UK. 

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Country #1: The Netherlands (18 days)

First of many country signs

When we began researching the trip the ferry was really the only option for us. We didn’t want to fly anywhere as our experience of packing our bikes and flying with them boxed up on our trip to Spain had shown us how stressful it could be. It took us 4 hours from getting off the plane to cycling away from the airport – and we weren’t able to secure any boxes for the return flight so had to bubble wrap and duck tape the bikes up, and then hope for the best. Because of this we made a promise that next time we bike toured we’d travel anyway but by plane so that we wouldn’t have to endure this level of chaos!

Hull was the best place to leave from as it was 2 hour drive from ours and we had been there before on a previous trip with friends to Zeebrugge, Belgium. At first we planned to land at Zeebrugge again, but as we had been there before and had visited Bruges, Ghent, and Brussels, we decided against it…we also couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tour in the Netherlands! Having previously only visited Amsterdam once for a friends birthday years before (and only really seen the inside of Irish/English pubs – don’t ask!!), we changed our route from Zeebrugge to the Hook of Holland, near Rotterdam. The Netherlands (we hoped) would mean proper segregated cycle ways, courteous drivers, and most importantly it is flat so we could get used to the bikes and the extra weight! This also would mean seeing the Tulips in full bloom (yay!). Everyone said how spectacular this would be so we plotted a route north from the port especially for this reason: heading along the coast and weaving our way between villages and the tulip fields. 

Going the long way round after failing to find the ferry across the port 

After exiting the ferry to a grey and drizzly morning, we spent 20 minutes trying to find our way out of the port. There apparently is a ferry to take you across the estuary…but we didn’t manage to find it so had to go the long way around. Straight away we were onto a cycle path: the difference from the UK infrastructure and the Netherlands was evident in the clear signage and the well maintained roads and paths. Where we live we have some cycle paths on the edge of the roads but they’re normally full of debris and drainholes that you have to navigate carefully in between the potholes filled with rainwater. 

Dutch signage. No chance of getting lost with this – just follow the numbers to your next destination! (Although we failed to find the ferry)

So with our heads around how to use the Knooppunt cycling maps we were on our way. We managed to buy supplies for lunch/dinner (avocado sandwich #1) and dinner/tea, then cycled to The Hague.

The weather cleared up by the afternoon so we were able to stop by the sand dunes for lunch – this way up the coast is part of the Eurovelo 12 North Sea Cycle route which takes you through Scotland, England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Here we found the only downside to the Knoppunt maps: not all of them have campsites located on them. We got to The Hague and were wondering if there was anywhere to wild camp before we finally found a map at a junction with one on! 

On this campsite we met a man and his son who were cycling from Zeeland to Amsterdam over a week. This was his son’s first bike tour but his parents had cycled to Singapore 15 years ago! That was the great thing about the Netherlands: everyone was a bike tourer! During these early days describing the trip and explaining that this was Day 1/2/week 1, etc, wasn’t really that big of a deal to most people. Being in the Netherlands it wasn’t so far away that people were shocked when you told them where you had cycled from. It wasn’t until Germany that people began to gasp: ‘From England…by BIKE?!’. 

The next morning (which took us hours to get ready especially in the warm weather) we spent the afternoon exploring Leiden a very pretty and quaint town which looked quintessentially Dutch with canals, beautiful buildings, and cobbled streets – and our first experience of cycling over cobbles on full loaded tourers! Painful.

Leiden

Perfect Dutch architecture

After our first lazy afternoon we went to stay at one of the Netherlands legal free camping spots. These are normally in woodland areas, are indicated by a post in the ground, can usually hold three tents, and only allow people to camp for up to 3 days. When we planned our route we noted where some were and wanted to use them if there were any in the area.  https://sites.google.com/site/paalkampeerders/kaart. There are also some spots in Belgium but they seemed to be mainly in the west of Belgium and our route did not take us near any. 

The next morning we got up bright and early to pack up and visit the tulip fields. Everyone we spoke to about The Netherlands seemed to have witnessed the fields in bloom and gushed about how beautiful a sight it is. Eagerly we cycled back towards Leiden to begin a cycle route that we had found online which would be an easy 30km of Tulipness finishing near the Keukenhop Gardens (the most famous place to view the flowers). As we began we were puzzled that we couldn’t see anything, and as we peered over fences into fields we saw that the ground was dotted with petals…the tulips had been cut down. All that was visible was the stumps and a few lone bunches. Annoying!!

Found some outside Keukenhop Gardens

From here the only place to see them would be Keukenhop Gardens but when we arrived it turned out to be the Disneyland of flowers. Coaches crammed the car park and crowds of people hustled and bustled around the entrance. €16 each to see some flowers?? We don’t like them that much and we couldn’t take our bikes in with us. So we took some photos of the only tulips around and left for Haarlem finding a campsite near the seaside town of Blumenthal am Sea. 

After a couple of days by the beach (fueled by frites and La Chouffe coffee!), we headed north to Amsterdam via the well preserved Zaanse Schans windmills. The countryside inland was beautiful: flowers, meadows, fields, and lovely sunny warm weather. It reminded us of the Cheshire countryside. 

Lunch at a windmill

Dutch meadows

Zaanse Schans windmills

Amsterdam really surprised us with its beauty. Having only been once in the winter and seeing mainly the seedier side of the city, we weren’t expecting that much from it compared to the small picturesque towns we’d cycled through so far. We couldn’t have been more wrong! We stopped at a campsite over the river from the main station and took the commuter ferry in. It was nice to be able to cycle without our luggage and feel like we were a proper ‘Amsterdammer’ as everyone on the ferry had their bikes with them. Although Amsterdam is packed full of cyclists it never felt stressful getting around. The main areas are busy with loads of tourists but the smaller canals that lead off from these were really quiet until the end of the day when people are going home. It’s nice to just sit on the side of the river and watch the commuters bumping along the cobbles on all different kinds of bikes. We met up with someone we know from the UK who has lived in Amsterdam for a year and is on his 3rd bike as bike theft is pretty high in the city! But he told us that the more unique your bike is the less likely it’d be stolen as it’d be harder to sell on. Despite this we still double locked our bikes – imagine losing your bike so soon into the trip! 

Amsterdam

From Amsterdam our plan was to head through Utrecht before turning south to Drunen. We had noted a free camping spot in a forest near Zeist, just outside of Utrecht. This took us all day to get to as finding our way out of Amsterdam proved difficult! At one point we argued and Becky cycled off…only to have to go back a couple of minutes later as Scott had the route on the GPS…

We finally got to the forest at 9pm (after an emergency McDonald’s chip stop for energy!) and spent around 45 minutes trying to find the camping post. Google provided nothing and the website for the free camping just said to look for the post. The forest was massive! After cycling up and down tracks and round in circles we decided to camp up behind some bushes and hastily set up the tent before making our tea in semi-darkness. We were both tired and a bit edgy not being in the ‘official spot’ and then were woken up at 1am by a dog barking ferociously somewhere nearby! The next morning we found the tent and bikes covered in a thin layer of frost and had to make breakfast with all our winter layers on: gloves, merino wools, wooly hats! Becky warmed her feet and hands over the stove! We also found the free camping spot down the one forest road we didn’t look down!

Bloody freezing!

We headed off after warming up hoping to get to Drunen by the afternoon but no matter how long we pedaled we were still miles away. We were relying on the green Knoppunt signs rather than the blue – not realising that green routes were scenic (ie longer) and blue was the more direct route. A place that would be 20km away was in fact ending up being 50km. We stopped outside Leerdam on a campsite near a river and decided we would continue onto Drunen the next day. By this time the weather had changed completely and was now boiling hot.

The route to Drunen took us along canals and across smaller rivers which meant taking the local public transport boats. At one point we left a boat cycling within a group of school kids on their way home: playing music through their phones and chatting away about their days. We both compared it to our own school lives of having to walk or get the bus home from school. I know which one I’d prefer! 

Beer stop on our way to Drunen

We chose to visit Drunen as it has the ‘the largest sand drift in western Europe’ http://www.holland.com/global/tourism/destinations/provinces/north-brabant/loonse-and-drunense-dunes.htm in the national park. We spent a couple of days there exploring the area and did a little bit of mountain biking in the woods around the dunes. 

Sand dunes: lovely to look at…nightmare to cycle over

From here we headed to Horst in the south east to stay with our friend, Guido, and his family. We got up and ready in record time (2 hours!) and were going to cycle straight to Horst but Becky suggested taking a route via Eindhoven so we could visit a town just outside where their friend Tracey had lived in as a teenager…big mistake. By the time we got near there it was getting late in the day and the Garmin predicted that Horst was still 129km away(?!) So after taking a photo of a map with Veldhoven on it we followed a new route (65km this time) via Garmin but it tried to take us on a motorway! After this disaster we decided to follow signs instead of GPS and we were on our way to Horst through the countryside for hours and getting lost surrounded by blueberry and asparagus farms, so finally arriving at Guido’s at 10pm!! In total we’d cycled 115km and were absolutely knackered. Beers and food kindly provided helped us feel human again. 

Trying to find our way to Horst

The next few days staying with Guido was luxury. A comfy bed and great company – after 3 weeks on the road alone together it was nice to have conversations with other people! Guido is European billiards champion and we were lucky to see him in action at a tournament. Guido drove us to a match near Utrecht (a journey that took us 3 days was 1.5 hours in a car!). It was actually really nice to be indoors in a cool dark room as we’d had the sun blasting directly into our faces the previous days while pedaling south! 

After Horst we visited Roermond, a large town with a beached lake. It was so hot and the campsite we found was so great we spent a couple of days there enjoying the unseasonal hot weather. 

After leaving Roermond our next route would take us across to Belgium via Maastricht and the Dreilandenpunt: a place where the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany meet. Our first country crossing! 

Or so we thought… we were following route signs when the cycle lanes vanished and the signs changed colour. It was only when the road names changed from Straat to Strasse that we realised we’d crossed into Germany without realising it! No signs had indicated this. It felt odd. We weren’t prepared for a new country and we only knew a handful of German words! We spent a couple of hours in the German countryside before we were once again in the Netherlands.

Lost in Germany

12km outside of Maastricht: it was getting late and we were getting tired and hungry. Stopping by a park to see if were able to find a place to camp a couple stopped to chat to us as they could see we were lost. Jan and Reet then offered us a camping spot in their garden! This was our first (but not last) help from strangers that would always appear at a time of need! Jan has walked the parts of the Campino-Santiago route 9 times! And is planning a week walking the route in northern Spain with his daughter later this year. We’re hoping that we will be able to meet him. 

Unfortunately the day we got to Maastricht was the day the weather was awful: really cold and pouring with rain. We were recommended a place that sold amazing coffee so pushed our bikes through the puddles and around the crowds of tourists in the pedestrian-only area to the café. It was well worth being drenched! Housed in an old Dominican church is Boekhandel: a shop with beautifully decorated ceilings and crammed wall to wall with books. A mezzanine enables you to view the interior of the building in all its glory. But we had to stand outside and go in one at a time to appreciate it because of all our gear. Damn!

Spot Becky…

On the way out of Maastricht we couldn’t find anywhere sheltered to make our avocado sandwiches but Scott spotted a table and chairs under cover at a fire station. He knocked on and asked if we could use them, but instead they invited us inside to dry off, made us coffee, and gave us energy drinks! Thanks Maastricht fire station!

From here was our last stop in the Netherlands: Vaals, before we reached Dreilandenpunt. It was here that we reached our first and only hill! We stopped halfway up to visit an American war memorial. 20,000 white crosses line the landscape marking the graves of soldiers who lost their lives during WW2.

After a long hard slog up the remainder of the hill we got to the campsite and as the rain was still pouring down we had to make our tea in a tractor shed. 

The next morning we left the campsite and up the very steep 4km hill to Dreilandenpunt and across to Belgium. 

Becky making a break in the pelaton

First country done!

Best Bits:

  • Super flat so you could cycle miles and miles each day (if you liked)
  • Although we tried to speak Dutch, when we tried everyone would speak back to us in perfect English…after saying ‘my English isn’t very good’
  • Perfect cycle paths and roads. At one point the road surface was so incredible it felt like it wasn’t real. As if it was a movie set.
  • Loads of campsites to choose from
  • Everyone is willing to stop and help – a lot of people would actually cycle with us to show us the way!
  • Amazing long distance cycle routes 

Bad bits:

  • The wind!!! Flatness = wind!
  • Most campsites not providing toilet rolls or hand wash?!
  • Scooters being able to use bike paths and people on them not making us aware of their presence. They’d zoom up and cut passed us through tiny spaces. This scared us a few times! 
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