The Road to Nice
Forty years ago I bought a book in a junk shop in Worcester. The book, published in 1955, was called The Road to Nice by Eric Whelpton. I’ve no idea why I bought it. At that point I had no plans to go to France, didn’t have any transport apart from an old Honda PC50, and in truth knew nothing of France except I hated French at school and their predilection for snails and frog legs. Not a particularly auspicious starting point.
Nonetheless, I read the book and somehow was drawn into the idea of motoring through France. Remember the book was nearly 20 years old at that time and being a bit naive it didn’t occur to me that it might already be out of date.
So, time passes but lodged somewhere in my mind was the notion of recreating the trip. My moped became a CD175 and 25 bikes and forty years later a Triumph Thunderbird Commander 1700 sits on the drive. A completely unnecessary and excessive machine but …………
It was another ten years before I eventually made it to France. An ill-prepared CX500 and an even more ill-prepared rider and pillion. A spur of the moment decision. I had a weeks holiday booked, a friend coming to visit and no plans.
I really can’t remember why we decided to go to France but I expect alcohol and the fact my flat in Brighton was only about 20 minutes from the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry had something to do with it. “Tomorrow we’re going to France”.
I can’t remember if they had their passport with them or if you could get a British visitor’s passport at the port but somehow we both got in and out of France without getting arrested.
I’m not sure I even checked the oil or tyre pressures. A couple of hastily packed throw over panniers, no map, no French and a vague idea of heading south.
Rolling off the ferry into France for the first time was very exciting for me and I still get a little shiver of excitement even now although the corporate and sanitised experience these days does its best to remove any sense of real pleasure or adventure.
Five days later we made the return journey and I had discovered I quite liked France despite not being able to speak a word or understand anything.
In the intervening years I’ve toured extensively in France both on the bike and by car but still I hadn’t followed the Road to Nice.
Turning 60 a couple of years ago was a bit of a shock. I’d never expected to make 40 let alone 50 and definitely not 60. It was time to think about what I still wanted to do before my body or mind began to give up.
Actually it was a bit disappointing as I’d done and seen most of the things and places I’d wanted to. I’m not the most adventurous of blokes it has to be said. I like to work within my comfort zone which drives my wife to distraction. If I’m away for three weeks it seems like a long time so round the world expeditions were never going to be on my bucket list. The Road to Nice still was though and being 60 years later there might prove to be some interesting comparisons to be made.
Re-reading the book I realised it wasn’t going to be that easy. Eric never took one route but had several options which made it difficult to plan a simple route. He also seemed to stop in almost every town which, had I tried the same, meant I’d be away for a month or more and spending a fortune on hotels.
My compromise was to select 3 of his destinations and take 4 days to ride to Nice to meet up with my wife and family for a week in a villa. I was hoping to use the roads he used (at least when I could work out where they were) and avoid the autoroutes.
So, there was a plan forming.
Day 1: Calais to Senlis – 180 miles
Day 2: Senlis to Le Puy en Velay – 370 miles
Day 3: Le Puy to Tarascon – 150 miles
Day 4: Tarascon to Nice – 180 miles
I knew day 2 might be a bit tough on the roads I’d picked but felt confident that all would be fine if I got an early start. Oops……..