Camchain and tensioner seen up close in a cutaway bike engine

Home Travel StoriesFrance 2013

Camping In Cambridge

By Ren Withnell

The forecast is grim. France is gripped in a relentless rain cycle and Germany's rivers are filled to the brim. Yet on this clear dry morning it all seems so very remote, so very far away. How can it be raining in France which is maybe 500 or a 1000 miles south when here it's a little overcast but light and warm? I push the bike into the back street and load up, filled with both excitement and fear.

Fear. Fear of the business I'll lose while I'm away. Fear of failure. Fear I'll hate it all and want to cry and never leave my home town again. Fear I'll fall out with the gf. Fear I'll break down far from home, far from the familiar, far from shops I can trust and words I can understand. Fear I'll crash and it'll all be my fault. Fear I'll break some unknown law in an unfamiliar country and end up in irons in a dungeon. I can hear my friends mocking me if they knew how scared I was. I'm only going to Europe not Somalia. Europe is a collection of modern countries with cultures and laws similar to ours, we in the UK are a part of Europe. Logic dictates I have nothing to fear, well no more than a UK trip, but I can't help it.

Fear. I envy those who just jump into adventure with a devil-may-care attitude. Those who just bungee a tent and a change of underpants onto a bike and set off to just see what happens. Those people who see problems as a challenge not a reason to hate the world and wish I was rich enough to buy my way out of trouble. I try to convince myself they're probably just as scared as I am but they hide it to protect their ego. I'm not really convincing myself. I lock the house up, afraid I've forgotten to turn off the cooker even though I've turned off the gas at the mains, the water at the mains and unplugged everything except the fridge. Have I got everything? I've checked the list twice but then did I get everything on the list in the first place?

The bike feels good even with the load, What's that noise? Is the crank starting to rattle? Are the big ends on the way out? Is there a loose tappit? No it's fine. It is. It really is. I've changed the oil, checked the levels but what if I read the levels wrong? Did I tighten the sump nut enough? Maybe I've overtightened it? Oh for goodness sake Ren get a grip! I calm myself by thanking the world that this old, rattly, dirty Fazer FZS 600 has a trade in value of less than £700, so if it does blow up, fail or die then I'll just leave it in Europe, cut my losses and catch a train home.

Yamaha FZS 600 Fazer seen from above
£700 trade in, maybe £1000 private sale. Would it be worth spending a fortune to bring it home?

Yeah, that's a better train of thought as I ride down the motorway. I console myself further with tales of how adventurers manage to apply ingenuity, cunning and determination to see them through. I know I am an ingenious artful bodger, if anyone can fashion a new chain out of bits of string and wire then I can. It won't last long but it'll get me to a shop and that's what matters. Today I'm going to be a wild and free biker, nothing but the open road and my guile to take on the world. You can lie to yourself.

I pull off the motorway and at the end of the slip road a dejected looking biker stands beside an old but good condition Exup 1000. I pull over. He was tootling down the motorway with a riding buddy when the motor went bang. Later he admits he was doing a great deal of "tootles" per hour when the motor gave up. It sounds like a dropped valve or something else very serious. He was on the way to the Isle of Man TT races. I suspect that's the end of his much anticipated holiday before it's even started. I feel sorry for him but there's nothing I can do and he does have recovery. I wish him well and leave him there, looking quite sorrowful. I start to worry all over again.

The gf is ready and the saddle bags are loaded. They're still a lot heavier than I'd like but what can we do? She's all excited. She doesn't fear breakdowns or the foreign authorities, she wouldn't understand my fears and I don't really understand hers. She's more concerned about the kids. The 16 year old will become 17 while we're away. She's also got some important college tests coming. The gf feels a great deal of guilt over missing her birthday and not being there to offer support and encouragement through the tests. I'm not bothered about birthdays and never gave two hoots about education results. We're all the same in being so unique.

front view of the fazer with the full load showing the side bags
It has been suggested we really need a car...

With instructions to "get along" and "water the plants" the gf says her goodbyes. She's confused, racked with both guilt and excitement. With a wobble we set off and soon we're doing the work of travel, travelling. The M6 is not an interesting place for me, having been along it's length all to often. All it means is a saddle sore bottom, stiff legs and motoway services for costly fuel. The A14 is is little more interesting if for no other reason than it means we're not too far from where I plan to stop, Cambridge.

Cities in the UK are fairly homogeneous, they're pretty much the same. Posh estates, poor estates, shopping complexes and McDonalds all look pretty much alike. So to find myself in Cambridge surrounded by cycles, cyclists, broad open greens and interesting old and new architecture is quite refreshing. We do find rather ordinary estates and fast food shops as we ride around looking for a campsite then we see young gentlemen playing cricket while families sit on picnic blankets. Bicycles are loosely chained to plentiful posts outside houses and every generation pedals by peacefully. Chinese students talk on mobiles and old people talk to each other outside their houses. It feels cosmopolitan and comfortable.

No sign of a campsite though. I dig out my phone and use my map app to find a site across town. This part of town is much more ordinary and the campsite is closed. The next one on the map is way out of town so we head up there. Behind a closed pub, the Traveller's Rest ironically, is the campsite. It's smart and trim but there appears to be no-one on site. We call 2 phone numbers displayed on a small sign and get no reply then as we're about to leave the gf's phone rings. As I answer a face appears, smiling and apologetic from behind the reception.

The site appears to be run by a young family who live in a static behind the reception. There's not much here but what is here is in good order. Open flat grass to camp on, a small but warm toilet/shower portacabin and that's about it really. It's all we need and as it's getting late we're not too bothered about evening entertainment. The gf had made butties before our departure and we finish them off with a cup of tea made on my stove. We learn that there really is nothing nearby as we walk down a track through fields of growing cereals.

the tent and bike at the campsite in cambridge, the travellers rest
Ready for the night on our first night in Cambridge. Dry, lets hope it stays that way!

It must be bedtime, it's getting dark.

Forming a Plan The formulation of a cunning a devious plan to take on Europe is formed in the tiny mind of our intrepid explorer...
The GF Question Do I take the gf with me to France? Can she come? Will she like it? These are all very difficult questions...
France...I wanna go but can I...?? Can Sharon make it to Europe? Will the kids survive? Will the bf behave? Is there any space for makeup? All these questions and more...
The Load Getting everything we NEED and a few items we WANT onto a motorcycle can be a problem. Now I have to work out how to get 3 WEEKS worth of gear onto the poor donkey(aka bike)
Camping In Cambridge The start of our Epic Adventure...or bike holiday around France. Cambridge is surprisingly nice really.
France - Day 1 Sharon's first day from her point of view. Cushy Cambridge and dry weather...what more could a girl want?
The Chunnel The Chunnel, I'm excited but also stressing because the bike's already broken before we leave the UK. I worry too much...
France - Day 2 - Bikes, Trains and Tents Sharon leads us through sunshine, hair issues, the Channel Tunnel and into France. But France is eerily quiet...
Here Comes The Rain Bike broken. Rain, endless dull roads, miserable towns and more rain. Oh the joy of travel! At least Epernay welcomed us with a huge smile :-)
France Day 3 - Crying Through The Rain The rain plays tricks with Sharon's spirit but a stiff upper lip and giving herself a good talking to see her through.
Rain Into Dijon Rain, rain and more rain. Just how long can it last? Would we be better off with a Jet Ski? Can we continue to keep our Great British Stiff Upper Lips?
France Day 4 - We Are Mustard We Are Dijon is the destination and we're surviving the rain...that makes us well mustard! We're happy in spite of the rain but how long can we keep smiling?
The Joy Of Being Lost As we head south the rain lightens but will it ever stop? I get lost which is no surprise, but lost turns out to be the best part of travelling. Are things finally taking a turn for the better? I do hope so...
France Day 5 - Biker's Paradise Sharon's day 5 in France starts out rough but improves considerably. What delights can put such a joyous grin on her face?
The Stunning Alps We are both facing a very strange situation...that of sunshine, warmth, beauty and pleasure.
France Day 6 - Magnificent Mountains Sharon shares the delights of the Alps. Sometimes life is good!
Highs And Lows From the stunning Alps to our ultimate destination...MONACO! Is it all I expected? Will it be as I imagined?
France Day 7 - Scooter Mayhem Sharon describes the best and the worst France has to offer. Ride on the back with her from the beauty of the countryside to the mayhem of Monaco
Resting And Deciding Today we stop to take a breather and recuperate. It's also time to make a decision about the rest of our journey. I used to be indecisive, I'm not so sure now.
France Day 8 - Chilling In The Pool A day off from the journey sees Sharon and Ren doing something very silly, breaking things and achieving very little. What a splendid way to spend a day!
Going West Day 9 sees us heading west from the coast. It's finally dry, but it's still windy so not too hot. The gf's not well and Ren is relentlessly lost. Overall not a bad day then!
France Day 9 - Poppies, Vines and a Wet Lettuce Feeling poorly rather spoils Sharon's day today. Still on she must go on and survive what might have otherwise been a good day.
Biggest Bridge In The World In glorious sunshine and fine health we make our way from Nimes to Millau complete with it's Viaduct. Sometimes life is good, occasionally it's great!
France Day 10 - Deflated to Elated Today is a good day for Sharon. Today the sun shines, the scenery is beautiful and the people are pleasant. Join her as France puts a smile on her face.
The Wettest Bridge In The World The Millau Viaduct ought to be impressive. It is, but nowhere near as impressive as the amount of rain falling from the skies.
France Day 11 - Grim Not every day can be filled with sunshine and smiles, even on holiday. This one certainly was not for Sharon!
False Hope Part One Ren would like to invite you to a joyous report about the delightful weather in the South of France! He'd like to. Instead it just rained and rained and rained and rained...
France Day 12 - It's Gloomy Inside And Out Sharon freezes her butt off during the night then is treated to a cold and wet ride. The Ren sure knows how to spoil a girl.
False Hope Part Two Is this the end? Has Armageddon arrived? Is this the Apocalypse? It sure as hell feels like it.
France Day 13 - Quietude For A While Sharon's report on another day of mixed weather. There's peace and beauty then there's mud and cold. said it would be easy!
Sunshine After Rain A night of rain soaked delirium. Will the day be any better? Will our travellers ever dry out?
France Day 14 - A Bit of 5 Star Luxury Sharon has a much better day on the road and a luxurious 5 star campsite. It's amazing what difference a little dry weather can make.
Back Into The Flatlands A quiet, simple and easy days ride through France for Ren. Pleasant enough but the flatlands are getting a little boring now.
France Day 15 - A Bit Of 2 Star Delight Sharon has an ordinary day and a frustrating battle with the weather.
Not Far To Chinon It's a short, easy and peaceful ride this day in France. Ren gets all philosophical too.
France Day 16 - A Historical Walk Around Chinon Sharon enjoys a hint of sunshine and the history of Chinon, France.
Shopping To Mamers Ren's airbed's leaking now. No problem, find a shop and buy a new one...easy? I don't think so...
France Day 17 - The Gift Of TIme Even though the weather is cool Sharon's heart is warmed by the people she meets in France today
Don't Go To Ault Ren has a grim, long, dull and uninspiring day in France. The accommodation doesn't help.
France Day 18 - Is This Misery Or Joy? Sharon finds sunshine, ancient caravans and ponders about hapiness.
Looking For Luxury With time on their side Ren looks for the perfect campsite for the next to night. Not finding it makes him a very grumpy boy.
France Day 19 - Campsite Conundrums Although the wind blows the sun is shining while Sharon looks for the perfect pitch.
Resting In Ambleteuse Ren philosophises too much on the final day of his trip around France.
France Day 20 Sharon's in a reflective mood on the last day of our French trip.
Back Into England Ren recalls the final day of the French Adventure. It's all over far too soon.
What Did We Learn? Ren sums up his thoughts about France and the French trip.
France On Reflection Sharon sums up her her experience of the French Trip. Damn those Alps.

Reader's Comments

Ray F Walton said :-
Brilliant, simply Brilliant Keep it coming I'm hooked!
01/01/2000 00:00:00 UTC
carrie said :-
I am still learning a lot about you!! Keep up the good work - really good.
01/01/2000 00:00:00 UTC

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