Long hot days riding through river valleys, climbing up to hilltop castles, craving food to satisfy that cyclists’ hunger, coveting the impressive cycling infrastructure – oh and those trams! At June’s members’ meeting Martin Tweddell recounted his Grand European Tour from Vienna, Austria to Nantes, France on a laden 6-speed black Brompton.

The trip was a semi-organised tour along the famous Eurovelo route 6, semi-organised by the French equivalent to Sustrans: AF3V. Accommodation was pre-booked and turned out to be in an eclectic jumble of places from hostels to gîtes to barns, with the odd gym and convent thrown in for good measure.

There was no back-up vehicle and Martin and the group had to navigate their way across Europe. Oh, and deal with one another: 50 people from the US, England, Belgium, Hong Kong, France and Canada. As it turns out, you can’t cycle in a group of 50; it just doesn’t work.

It all began at 5.30am at Temple Meads Station, Bristol in summer 2014. First stop – wonderful warm Vienna. The first weeks of the trip, through Austria and Germany, were full of wide cycling paths along river valleys – the Danube then the Rhine – flanked by rising hills. Sites to behold included Benedictine monasteries, hilltop castles, some pretty, some industrial towns, Bavarian landscapes, maypoles, clock towers and the world’s tallest cathedral spire. Martin and crew pedalled through some of the hottest temperatures for 40 years – 30 degrees C – thank goodness for the biergartens. And the vegetable dumplings. At Kelheim, they took a boat through Germany’s answer to the Avon gorge.

Germany rolled into the gently rolling countryside of northern Switzerland and for the first time in 3 countries Eurovelo 6 spat the group out from the lovely cycle paths and onto a main road. Then it was 3 countries in 3 minutes at Basel – and on into France.

Local French cycling campaigns like to do things properly and welcomed the group to their areas sometimes with tours; sometimes with canapés and champagne. The same could not be said for the weather as the beautiful blue skies turned grey.

Martin recalled pedalling along quiet lanes and canal towpaths, past UNESCO forts and grand chateaus, and of course by way of the rivers, this time the Somme and the Loire. They first saw a sign to their final destination at 729 km to go. Sites to remember were the Lenin cafe at Chalonnes-sur-Loire, Sustrans-style artwork along the route, baboons on citadels, and of course – the majestic trams! Martin popped his ‘sleeping out under the stars’ cherry on a 2nd floor veranda in the Naturpark Obere Donau. Some hostels were ancient – one hadn’t changed since 1927 and was set up to sleep 10 to a bed! Mattresses were quickly dragged elsewhere.

Of course the group had learnt early on to avoid the snorers and the early risers when choosing roommates. By this point tempers of 50 tired and hungry cyclists were also starting to wear thin and meals became scrums. Fortunately Rumikub could diffuse some tension, but still 6 weeks was probably just a little too long. On 19 July Martin arrived back at Temple Meads station, sporting the ubiquitous travellers’ beard, 46 days older, fitter, wiser and flippin’ happy to not need to fight off 49 hungry cyclists just to get to the toast.

Essential stats

Days: 46
Distance: more than 2,500 km
Average km per day: 50 (30 miles)
Cost: €25/day – covers accommodation, food, if you’re lucky some wine
Group size: 50
Break-out cycling group size: 3
Bromptons in the group: 2
Gears: 6
Punctures: 1
Mechanical issues: 1

Read more about Martin’s Grand European Tour at martintweddell.wordpress.com