Cycle touring with the Diamonds 2023

The hors d’oeuvres: July local test cycle 11 to 13 July

In late June we had cycled an off-road route to Crowborough to see Sue’s Dad with our touring bikes.
The bikes (and Sue) handled the off-road nature of the route admirably. Now was a time for a fully loaded test; with
no expectation of anyone wanting to join us I put out to friends that we were doing a two night cycle camping trip from home and much to our delight a few friends indicated that they wanted to join us. We had forgotten just how heavy the bikes feel full loaded and we set off early to meet Fiona and Gerri at Woldingham school.

To avoid the brake test going on to Wapses Lodge roundabout Sue and I avoided going straight down Burntwood lane and left time in case we had any refitting of the panniers. Despite the weather forecast we had a good morning, stopping at Olivers at Copthorne for lunch (rather than the intended Tulleys Farm; we fancied an earlier stop with good coffee). After Turners Hill some less familiar roads included a gorgeous downhill near Worth Abbey on a really quiet road down to Ardingly Reservoir and Ardingly for a cake and tea stop. We arrived at Kitts campsite at Scaynes Hill at around 4pm, and Nick joined us later as he had been busy in the morning. We made a point of cooking for ourselves that night to test our set up – all good; but did visit the local pub later.

Day 2 took us to Deer Park campsite near Eridge. We went via Uckfield (Craft Coffee is recommended)
and then across to follow the Cuckoo trail up to Heathfield for lunch and then surprised how off-road
route 21 was north of Heathfield to get to Eridge but the bikes took it well.


As we had already tested our cooking set up we all went out for a meal to The Huntsman pub; lovely place, a bit of a bikers hangout (motorcyclists).

Final day was to return home via the Forest Way and a bit of the Worth Way – picking up Steve U on the way and Fiona deciding to go home by train from East Grinstead. We had a slight smattering of rain, but not really enough to test the rain equipment.

Overall trip distance for me was 168km, and having tried a couple of different pieces of kit I decided I didn’t require to take a cycle jersey, and I think we had already determined to get a new tent as the orange one is too visible if wild camping. I think we all really enjoyed the trip and forgot how much fun these short trips can be with good company.

The main course – Following the Danube cycle route to Budapest 15 August to 4 September

I think I had suggested this trip sometime ago and Sue had obtained the Cicerone guidebook for a Christmas present, so we got a bit committed. Logistics of getting to the start were a bit of a problem and in retrospect I suspect I should have trusted that we would be able to do it by train and making it up as we were going along. We decided to drive the bikes on the back of the car using “Le Shuttle” and park at Karlsruhe airport car-parking. We only booked Le Shuttle out and back for 15 September with a flexible ticket; in the event we were pretty disappointed in Le Shuttle – advertised crossing time 35 minutes, but they asked us to be an hour early and then for little advertised reason we were a couple of hours later than our advertised crossing time; we actually came back early but the punitive cost to change the date left me with the feeling that the flexible ticket is not really that flexible. I had put the satnav for Karlruhe and our route was through Belgium and Germany; and as we were running late we stopped at a hotel on the way down short of Karlsruhe, and when we looked the following morning and gave more accurate directions we were further away as the airport was actually closer to Baden Baden, and some 20km from the nearest station, the maximum carpark stay was 4 weeks when we had thought we would have 30 days – not a big deal, but indicating a bit more planning would not have gone amiss! The ideal (cheaper) carparks were full; research had told me I didn’t need to book so I was relieved when we finally found one and we loaded up the bikes – we then cycled
200m to have a well earned coffee stop – it had been a long drive and a bit stressful getting started!

My Garmin 1030 chose a route to the station at Buhl (mainly cycle paths); just missing a train so we had lunch before getng a train to Triberg in the Black Forest, from there a 12km hilly ride to Martinskapelle and the start of our described route.

Picture: This is at “the headwaters” of the Danube; actually the source of the river Breg, the longest tributary, at Martinskapelle.

The first campsite in our guide book was 34km into the route and despite it being already 5pm we decided to head there. We were starting high in the Black Forest at an altitude of 1,094m and going down to below 700m so this was mostly downhill.


Our new tent at Camingplatz Kirnbergsee near Braunlingen.

Unfortunately the campsite was about 8km outside the town uphill and off our route so we didn’t get there until 8.35pm and were lucky reception was still open to take our money, but more importantly to give us a key to the bathroom block. Nice campsite based on a lake which we sadly didn’t take the time to make the most of. Having said that it had been a lovely ride on quiet roads and tracks to get there.

The Danube starts at Donaueschingen where the rivers Breg and Brigach join together to join a small stream whose source is in the town and is treated as the “source of the Danube”.

Shortly after Donaueschingen the Danube often has a dry riverbed near Immeldingen, as there are sinkholes. Apparently these take the waters in a different direction to the Bodensee (Lake Constance) and thus to the Rhine – our guidebook indicated that this was the main route for around 270 days per year so quite possible that the waters we saw at the two springs would end up in the Rhine rather than further down the Danube.

From Donaueschingen there were some very good signposted cycle routes over the next few days. It is set-up well for electric bicycles with charging stations and cafes. We generally had good weather and we got into the cycle camping routine of overnight oats for breakfast. Travel for a coffee and second breakfast stop, often picking up something for lunch that we could have on the way. Stopping again for afternoon drink and cake, maybe an ice cream, or particularly finding the non-alcoholic Weissbier a particularly thirst-quenching drink.

The weather was mostly good and we had to ensure we had sufficient water and often cooled off using local fountains to dampen our clothes and put them back on so the evaporation helped keep us cool.

A couple of thunder and lightning storms – evening at Hausen, and during day when we had conveniently just stopped in a bus shelter at Zell.

Modern technology can solve an awful lot, especially when Sue is on the case, and Sue often identified useful campsites and sorted the reviews, and used Google maps to find the site when they were slightly off route.

For evening meal we used a Trangia and Sue cooked a few meals. There wasn’t always a good vegetarian option at restaurants so Sue found it good to be able to cook, but we did also eat at restaurants a few times.

The Danube beginning to look like a major river by the time we get to Ulm on Day 4; interesting chat with a German lady who saw our Brooks saddles and was a keen officianado and interested in what we were doing.

Having started at Karlsruhe, we were reminded of the game “Thurn und Taxis” as we travelled through Sigmaringen, Ulm, Ingolstadt, Regensburg, Passau, and Linz.

The guidebook recommended the boat option for 5km through a gorge; there is no track alongside the river so the alternative was a hilly ride to Kelheim. We cycled on to a campsite at Bad Abbach – my Garmin was indicating the temperature at 34C – hot.

The river is getting busier now – some big barges, and more flood protection dykes retaining the Danube higher than some of the surrounding area and some big dams with locks for the shipping. Quite a lot of the route was on the river dykes, not always in sight of the river; some of them with good tarmac surfaces, others more gravel. Busier round the major towns; Regensburg, Passau.

Nine consecutive nights camping at various campsites – cost of campsites bore little relation to quality. Straubing was a lovely municipal site with a big mosquito issue – beer festival in town, but we only went in for a meal; the following night we had a cheap site at a canoe club with a vending machine selling cheap beer just at Vilshofen; then a gorgeous even hotter day – entering Austria, and through a steep sided section of the gorge using a small ferry to cross the river was a bit of a highlight before camping at Kaiserau.

Linz

The following day we had a nice morning cycling through the rest of the gorge, then into a more built up area where we had our lunch on a bench. At this point we decided to cut the day short and decided just going to a hotel at Linz would be a good idea; this was a really inspired choice and we found via Booking.com the Arte Hotel at Linz, but we decided to head there as we were not sure if they would be able to look after the bikes securely. In the event they had a special rate for cyclists turning up on spec and free garage parking for the
bikes. A great afternoon in Linz – old town centre with some good shopping; a Biergarten where we decided to stay longer and have some dinner; and a free music performance in the middle of town on the way back to the hotel.

Out of Linz there were another three days cycling to Vienna. An overnight thunderstorm had cleared the air a bit and we were out on another perfectly paved track – rollerblading seems very popular on a lot of these trails. We also had another section of gorge where the Danube goes through a steep sided valley with only minor roads either side and we camped at a quiet campsite ai:ached to a guesthouse.

The following day included the most beautiful section that we cycled from Melk to Krems; a vineyard area where there was a busy road close to the river and the route took us slightly higher through a series of wine producing villages on minor roads. There were a number of other groups of cyclists (perhaps it was busier due to it being a Saturday), and although we had a packed lunch I suggested we stop for lunch in one of the village bars at Willendorf which was another great experience. (The Willendorf Venus paleolithic fertility symbol was discovered there.)

We carried on after Krems and then, due to unfavourable campsite reviews for the nearer campsite we decided to carry on further to a campsite at Zwentendorf thus covering 106km in the day, and the last 18km against the wind on an exposed section of the river dyke so we were quite tired by the time we got there. While we were clearing up after our dinner there was thunder and lightning in the distance – both our weather apps agreed that we would be getting no rain where we were so, sure enough at about 9pm the storm hit with very strong winds and torrential rain – I would say the tent held up pretty well; Sue complained that some of the river of water that seemed to flow under the tent was coming up through the groundsheet; in the morning I found that one gust of wind had actually blown the outer of the tent off the external pole system at the base, and afterwards I took to taking a bit more care in pitching the tent.

We intended to stay a couple of nights in Vienna and as we had covered the extra distance the previous day we only had 50km to cycle and we got there soon after lunch. Again we used an Arte hotel, this time turning up at the hotel and finding that they couldn’t do two nights direct but if we booked on booking.com we could have two nights and we could get it cheaper than going direct. Parking for the bikes was rather different – the Arte hotel is very stylish, and instead of locking
our bikes away they suggested we just bring them into the lobby – they looked like part of their upmarket arty interior.

We got a one day travel ticket to go back to the centre and had a day and a half sight seeing – going on the Ferris Wheel (Wiener Riesenrad as seen in The Living Daylights and other films), and doing a couple of walking tours to see the main sights (cathedral, university, graffiti, tourist trap horse drawn carriage), eating at an Australian bar (obviously!), sacha torte in the afternoon, and watching a film at the annual outdoor film festival.

From Vienna it was only 66km to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. We hadn’t particularly planned to go there, but in the event we decided to change our plan. Travelling out of Vienna through Prater Park we were surprised how big the park was. Shortly we came across a diversion sign indicating high water. I found this quite surprising as although we had a bit of rain it hadn’t seemed that much, but there was a marked diversion in our guidebook as apparently this often happens; the environmental lobby successfully stopped a dam being built at Hainburg and the creation of a larger reservoir – this area therefore has remained a wetland successfully protecting wildlife and diversity. The river was very high below this point. Luckily the guidebook gave a diversion as the diversion signs either quickly stopped or I missed one.

We camped a few km short of Bratislava, still in Austria, then proceeded to Bratislava.

Approaching it looked fairly grim with Soviet era towerblocks, but as we got closer we found this
was a satellite town (think Croydon!).

The old town centre is delightful and pretty. We had a lovely lunch in a place called the Brixton café. Sue had identified a good hotel for us to stay at on Booking.com. Again, being uncertain of parking arrangements for the bicycles we went direct, but the price on Booking.com was better so we took that. Not that
much to see and we settled down to an afternoon beer – I went for the dark beer this time – Masters 18 degrees – actually 7%; on to an Italian restaurant where we shared a carafe of wine, then on to a jazz bar where the duo were very good and were chatting to us between their sets. A great evening, and needless to say, a hangover the next morning.

Next day we entered Hungary. At this point the Danube forms the border between Slovakia and Hungary, and our guide book was set out to follow the Hungary side (the right bank). At the first major town we went out of our way to get some Hungarian Florints; up until now all the currency had been Euro. Fortunately we were still inside the Schengen zone. In the event most places in Hungary seemed to take bank card payment, oddly this was less popular in Germany and Austria, and also many places accepted Euro. We had intended to spend 3 nights camping as we made our way to Budapest, but in the event we only took two. The first of these we stayed at a campsite at Gyor in Hungary. We met up with a younger German chap and an Australian couple our age, both on the road there (outside
a supermarket, and then at the Campsite at Gyor. Sue got a good tip re which app to use to book trains for our journey back to the car from the Australian lady. It’s good meeting up with other travellers and we chatted to several across the trip at various times, some we saw more than once. It’s like being a member of a secret club. A Dutch just retired man we camped next to twice and saw a couple of other times on the road; a Hungarian father and daughter cycling up the Danube from
Budapest; a 73 year old man with his 78 year old wife cycling 50km a day that we met back in Germany at the Vilshofen campsite; a couple of young lads I met outside a supermarket at Straubing while Sue was inside gave me a tip about the overnight train we got home; a Swiss lady who was cycling to Turkey and wanted to be home for Christmas; and others.

Travelling on to a campsite with a swimming pool back in Hungary at Estzergom (pay by card or cash, Florints or Euro – but special cheap deal paying in Euro cash).

Final day then on the route cycling into Budapest.

Some difficult and busy road, a ferry that was per our route had been closed for 6 months so we had to stay on the left bank, but once we got off the main road some nice cycle routes; a café for lunch, and a stop at a popular riverside area for an ice cream before getng to Budapest and the successful completion of our cycle trip.

Over 1,395km on route to Budapest in 18 cycling days.

Three nights in a hotel – we needed a day recovery with a bus tour before doing too much. The shoes on the Danube, a bus tour round the sights, a river cruise, a trip to the beer festival, a trip to one of the famous bath houses, a wander round Margritsziget and happening across the (apparently) famous musical fountains just as they were about to start their 4 o’clock performance (mesmerising), and the very impressive parliament building.

Home- train Budapest to Vienna; overnight train Vienna to Stuttgart;early morning train Stuttgart to Karlsruhe; cycle Karlsruhe to Karlsruhe Baden airpark 38km; drive 7 hours or so to Calais; motel for the night; early shuttle back to Folkestone; home by midday.