Low Season

It’s raining again so I am writing this in a youth hostel which, for some splendid reason, all seem to be located in castles in this part of the world. Basically you get to spend the night in what one clearly pretends to be Winterfell but, because these hostels are ‘strategically’ positioned, they require a long, 14% climb up one side of the steep valley to be enjoyed.

After lingering in Belgium for longer than anticipated (a result of arguably the world’s best beer, people, and infrastructure for cycling), I felt I had found my legs and began to make some headway into Europe. Over the last couple of days I) have followed the Ruhr and Rhine valleys. Following a river has been nice and flat and it’s very hard to get lost: as long as you keep the water to your left hand side, you’re going in the right direction. The ample forests of Germany have also offered many opportunities for a cheeky wild camp.

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Wild camping in the Hurtgen Forest

While there has been much more scenery than Flanders to keep me entertained as I wind upstream, things remain slightly on the grim, wintery side. The steep hills on either side of both river valleys were dull shades of brown in colour; the trees are yet to bud and it feels a whole lot different to the luscious, green surroundings that you see on all the postcards…if you find a shop/pub/cafe which as actually open.

Yes, it’s still low season in North West Europe and that means everything, from trees to the picturesque, riverside villages I pass through remain in hibernation. All this has been nagging me, reminding me that I am probably here a little too early. But, it’s no less an enjoyable ride, and those rare sunny days are worth more than anything.

And while winter has refused to die, I am a lot further than I expected – even after taking into account my holiday-by-any-other-name in Belgium. My progress a result of a paradox due to the time of year: if I stop cycling, I get cold. So I keep on pedalling and by the time I need to find somewhere to camp I have ended up doing 100km. And when that happens, sleep is no issue, particularly as I am using my sleeping bag liner properly, following advice from a WarmShowers host. Clearly I’m not used to all this yet!

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