Darlington to Mülheim by Bicycle - 200 Years Visit

Sunday 1st Jun 2008

Tuesday 3rd June - Darlington to the Ferry
We, Tom, Dave, Doug, Mike R., Mike B., Sandy, Helen and Dot met at 7.00 a.m. at Sadberge, an eastern point of the borough, to make it easy to find the Sustrans cycle route at Wynyard. Back up van provided by Sherwoods, (thanks, Alasdair) piloted by Geoff, Glynis and Richard. Mike B. arrived, the only one to cycle from Darlington to the meeting place. The rain turned everything into a black and white photograph, but we took some anyway.
Off through the lanes to the track – the surface was good, the trees lessened the impact of the unremitting rain, relics of railways made it interesting. We cheered ourselves up by going through puddles with legs splayed, saying ‘Wheee. . . ‘ But were pretty miserable by the time we reached South Hetton, Tom’s familiar territory. The coffee morning in the village hall saved us, hot drinks and loads of biscuits and people to tell about our journey.
On again to Sunderland, guided by Tom to make a short cut, made to get off our bikes in their pedestrian area, over the Wearmouth Bridge, along the riverbank, cheered on by people who assumed we’d done the Coast to Coast and along the front to Morrison’s café at Seaburn where we had lunch.
Still in heavy rain we cycled along the coast – Whitburn, Souter Lighthouse - to the passenger ferry from South to North Shields and up the terrible Borough Bank, then along to the quay. There we had to queue in the rain, in the open, at both sides of the control, behind the motorbikes. We were getting cold by this time and feeling under appreciated, but we got on board at about 4. 30 p.m. and began to warm up. Some of our number agreeably surprised by the cabins, neat showers and so on.(47 miles.)



Wednesday 4th June - Ijmuiden to Lunteren
Totally calm crossing. Docked at 9.30 Central European Time, off the boat by 10.30, we regrouped on the quay then set off to the Ijmuiden Library to get maps. Within a few metres we had our first experience of priority for cycles universal in Holland.
On the first roundabout, we could cycle straight round in a marked lane and began to trust that drivers really would stop for us. Ijmuiden library, Wednesdays only, did not open until 12.00 midday so no maps. Some of us cobbled a route together, the rest of us followed. Good ride, in warm weather, along the Rhine at first, wild flowers, poppies and something purple in the verges, then across country to Amsterdam, excellent cycle tracks all the way, and wind turbine towers lining the road. Hit the city at midday – cyclists flying around confidently on huge ‘sit up and beg’ bikes – great to see, but in such numbers we were definitely intimidated, such a change of gear for us. Tom was knocked off, clipped by a passing city cyclist.
There were businessmen in suits, on mobile phones, bikes ridden by women with one or two children on ingenious seats or in trailers of various designs, beautiful girls looking utterly stylish. We stopped on a bridge over a canal, found lunch/coffee/pastries and wandered about a bit. After some trouble we found the Railway Station with the multi-storey bike park – and better maps.
Stopped again to photograph the Batavia, in its dock. By this time we were getting a bit concerned about the distance we needed to cover so we made rapid progress through the suburbs and on to Hilversum. Here the cycle track approaches were through mature beech woods, the suburbs and villages neat and pretty.
On from Hilversum we arrived at Baarn where we were beginning to feel the need to eat, but still had about two to three hours ride to go. After a consultation with the back up team, Mike R and Richard swapped places (as Mike and Glynis had to get to Lunteren to meet a friend).
We ate at an amazing Dutch equivalent of our fish and chip shop, where various prepared fish dishes were cooked to order for us. With more energy we pedalled on to Amersfoort. The outskirts, modern with interesting architecture, then the centre, with a castle over the river and lovely townhouses with gardens down to the canals, very frustrating not to be able to stop (6.00 p.m. by then). We eventually cycled into Lunteren at about 9.00 p.m. where a brass band was playing in the square. We behaved as if it were meant for us, slightly hysterical by this time, after ten hours and over 100 kms. Met Geoff but all found it impossible to find the hostel, mainly because no one knew what it was called.
After various outbursts of bad temper, we found the place, a real hostel, no towels, make your own bed, crammed in bunk beds, so the only answer was to go into town to find a drink, which we did at an Italian restaurant, sitting outside on the pavement. Felt great again.(65 miles).

Thursday 5th June - Lunteren to Emmerich
We got started at about 10.00 in light rain. Our route lay via Arnhem. The classic flat agricultural land gave way to heath land as we approached, gorse, birches and so on, rather like the New Forest. We crossed the famous heath where our soldiers were dropped by parachute for the attempt to take the bridge in Operation Market Garden.
We stopped, where there was a memorial with the regimental badges, and a delicately aspiring bird reaching up to the sky. Just short of Arnhem we saw the sign for the Commonwealth War Graves cemetery so six of us made the detour to see it.
The beech woods and rhododendrons surround the garden. The gatehouses are a bit like thirties, Lutyens style, very formal and symmetrical. We split up to walk in the rows of gravestones on our own.
The personal messages on the named graves struck me as much as the graves of soldiers ‘known unto God’ – and the plaque explaining that local children help to maintain the site.
We arrived at the middle of the Arnhem Bridge and found that the city does not actually span the river; it’s all on the North bank of the Neder Rijn.
There was a good interpretation exhibition about the battle at the foot of the bridge, then eventually we found the van and the others on the riverbank and had a leisurely lunch in cafés there in the sun.Richard joined us at this point to do some filming for ‘Beauty and the Bike’ – and to record our efforts. We crossed into Germany somewhere near Bobberich, but it was incredibly vague with no obvious border, only the language changed, the bike tracks were noticeably worse and the drivers less considerate.
It was hot by the time we arrived at Emmerich and found the hotel which was luxury after the hostel of the night before. We took over the Biergarten, had beers, got settled in, had showers etc. then had a discussion on camera with Richard recording our impressions of cycling in Holland (overwhelmingly positive).
We ate on the Promenade overlooking the Rhine, watching the barge traffic going up and down, including the barges pushing six linked empty barges in front of them. The cuisine was great, lovely fish dishes, various schnitzels, salads etc.

Friday 6th June - Emmerich to Xanthen
We woke to a lovely morning, really hot. Over the suspension bridge to the south side of the Rhine, more tree lined roads through farmland, only got lost a little bit, to cries of ‘Where’s the Rhine, we were promised the banks of the Rhine, I can’t see the Rhine’ (‘you’re not tall enough, hinny’). Kalkar was a lovely village, children cycling home for lunch, beautiful town square, heavy redbrick ‘Rathaus’ and pretty half timbered houses.
We ate at a café with the most marvellous pastries and basked in the heat. An easy afternoon brought us to Vynen, about 8kms short of Xanthen with plenty of time to settle in to an interesting hotel, with biergarten, of course, and also two skittle alleys of impenetrable design and exclusively male usage.
After changing into our best clothes we set off to explore Xanthen, some cycling, some in the van. Mike and I managed the last hour at the Archaeological Park, which has a well defined wall with ‘mile castle’ type structures, a temple with pillars still standing and an amphitheatre which is partially restored and used for concerts.
Also a building with restored painted rooms and a colonnade, which perfect for parties and eating etc. (a party just beginning when we were there).  And a lovely herb garden set out with parterres, very familiar and English, (must have got it from the Romans). In the town, there was a windmill with a café and wholefood shop which was fascinating as well. We all ate at various restaurants in Xanthen town square. Sandy and I were delighted to find a vegetarian menu – spargels – asparagus which is in season at present (but only to 28th June, we were told!). So we had asparagus soup, followed by asparagus. Slightly lost, cycling back but we made it before dark, and then sat in the biergarten, some of us sampling schnapps.

Saturday 7th June - Xanthen to Mülheim
This was our big day, cycling triumphantly into Mülheim!
The arrangement was to meet the Storm Vogels, the famous cycling club who were to come out from Mülheim to guide us back. The idea was to meet them at 11.00 am, so there was time to make use of our archaeological ticket to take in the Roman Baths on the outskirts of Xanthem.
This was the most marvellous modern structure built in steel and semi transparent cladding to exactly follow the original building. It covered what was left of the walls and there were walkways and gantries over the remains. With a very good handheld computer interpretation, we made the most of a short time there.
Arriving at the market square in Xanthen, we were horrified to find that the StormVogels had been there since 9.30 a.m.!
They were very patient with us, but a bit intimidating in yellow lycra. However since half of them were obviously in their sixties, we were not to be outdone, so we left Xanthen at a fast clip and cycled in a disciplined manner for about 2 hours.
With no stops to find the way, it was remarkable how far we could travel in the time. We stopped at a hostelry on the banks of the Ruhr, (we had passed the confluence of the Rhine and the Ruhr by this time) and had a proper lunch and a long rest. With only about 20 kms to go, we set off with a will for the last lap.
The Storm Vogels preferred the road route and led us over various junctions and dual carriageways and traffic lights with huge authority (one of them is a police officer, and it showed). We were met on the outskirts by Ingeborg and various members of the Town Twinning Association of Mülheim. Through Duisburg and into Mülheim, which was suddenly very green, with great tracks through woods and parks.
Suddenly, we were in the main park and had to cycle our best (twice, for Richard’s filming) up to the central stage where there was a proper civic reception by a Mülheim councillor on behalf of the Mayor, - because the purpose of our visit was to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mülheim’s charter as a city - with formal speeches, but also lots of laughter and hugging and glasses of beer and presents.
At about 6.00 p.m. we had to set off again for the Natur freundhaus which was out of Mülheim and another 4 kilometres up the most horrendous hill, which was hard as we had not really had to climb a hill for the last four days.
After another mile or so, we reached our hostel, which was really good, if with showers and loos down the hall. Settled in etc, then went into town, on the tram (about half an hour’s discussion about the 5 person ticket) and ate at the Wasserbahnhof which was magical on a warm evening, lights in the trees, (footie on the telly). (40 miles)

Sunday 8th June
The Storm Vogels took most of the group on a ride down the Ruhr with loads of food involved as well as lots of riding.
Four of us had a leisurely day in Mülheim with a boat trip on the river to the village of Ketweg. In the evening our hosts put on a wonderful barbecue and looked after us so well with lots of brilliant conversation, even for those of us who did not speak German.They were all so incredibly kind. We all learnt a great deal about cycling in Holland and Germany and came back with ideas which might have an application here. Mainly, the priority given to cyclists, particularly in Holland, will be hard to replicate here as the attitude to cycling is so different (and most motorists there also cycle), but we can try! We made new friends – and not just among our German hosts.

Thanks to Tom Nutt for organisation and guidance, thanks also to other pathfinders and to the back up team, Geoff, Glynis and Richard.


Glynis Alder, Mike Barker, Richard Grassick, Dot Long, Tom Nutt, Goeff Pemberton, Mike Roff, Dave Scott, Doug Sweeney, Helen Taylor, Sandy Wallis.

Account By: Dot Long

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