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  • Writer's pictureAndy Marks

Homeward Bound – Riding back to the UK via the Black Forest, northern Vosges and the Ardennes

Updated: Mar 14

In the final part of my first ever solo motorcycle tour I discover what the Black Forest, northern Vosges and the Ardennes have to offer on my way back to Calais and, in turn, the UK. If you're curious about my journey to this point, feel free to delve into my previous posts, though they're by no means necessary in order for you to enjoy this one.

Day 11 - Monday

195 miles

Waldshut (Germany) to Neunhoffen (France)

I had hoped for a lie in this morning. But it's a busy campsite and there's a lot of activity with people packing up around me. I dashed out in the night to get my clothes in when I heard some rain and I knew it was due to continue raining for most of the day.

At 7:30 I give up on the lie in and pack up in the rain. This campsite has a communal area undercover so I finish packing most of my kit away and go inside to eat my breakfast. There's a group of German bike packers here as well, they are all packed up but look to be in no rush to leave either.

By 9am I decide there is no point delaying the inevitable so get on the bike and get going. If I hadn't booked my homebound crossing last night I'd be tempted to stay another night and let this weather pass, but I've backed myself into a bit of a corner and need to cover at least some of the journey today.

As I ride away from the campsite and through Waldshut the rain is so hard I can't even see the road markings, and as I leave the town I can just about see the tail lights of the car in front. I last 10 minutes before stopping, finding some cover and assessing my options.

A road and mountains in Germany

The plan for today is to follow the Bundesstraße 500 (B500) north through the Black Forest. The B500 was built as a tourist road in the 1930's. It wasn't finished due to the outbreak of WW2 and to this day there is a section 'missing' in the middle. However there are plenty of other options on this section and as well as being incredibly scenic, the route has a host of interesting places to stop along the way.

A group of motorcycles in Germany
The weather was a little different when I was here in 2016, and I had company

I rode it in the opposite direction on a 1951 Norton in 2016 and had been looking forward to doing it again, but it's not going to be much fun in this weather. I decide the quickest main roads to Strasbourg are in order, then I'll find a hotel that I can check into early and get out of this weather. This rain is playing havoc with the touch screen on my satnav as well so it goes into the pannier, no point leaving it out if it isn't going to work!

I continue on the originally planned route for the next 15 miles and, when I get to the turning to go onto the motorway, decide to stay on the scenic option. I'd been thinking as I rode along and there's no point being in Strasbourg at 12 if I can't check in anywhere until 2. And the rain does seem to be easing, or maybe I'm just getting used to it. Let's keep going and see what happens…

A motorcycle in a car park in Triberg
The only bike in Triberg

Triberg is my first stop for a coffee and to kill some time. This town is a regular stop for motorcyclists on the B500, there are lots of café to choose from and two large car parks dedicated to bike parking. Mine is the only bike parked here today!

I take a walk down the high street and peer in the windows of a few of the beautiful old shops, most are selling the cuckoo clocks which this area is famous for, before finding a nice looking coffee shop. These are very different to the tobacconists and bars that usually sell coffee in France. Think Starbucks but with German pastries.

A river in Triberg, Germany
Triberg, Germany

The road is closed on the way out of town, I follow a signed diversion but with no satnav still I end up doing about 10 miles in the wrong direction before stopping to check. Bugger! Although the weather is improving I'd rather not be riding in the wrong direction today. I pull into a layby to consult the map and meet a UK tour group who have made the same mistake as me. They are going the same way as me so I contemplate just tagging onto the back off them until I'm back on track but they are taking a long time to decide what to do so I head off.

A clock shop in Triberg, Germany
One of several clock shops in Triberg, Germany

The quickest way back to the B500 is over a mountain, an hour ago I wouldn't have considered going up into the mountains but the rain is lighter now and the visibility vastly improved. The mountain road is beautiful and when I pop out of the top of the clouds the views are spectacular. Sorry, no photos, I was still soaked and my phone was buried several layers down.

By the time I re-join the correct route about 12 the rain has stopped completely. Unfortunately this detour means I missed the biggest cuckoo clock in the world, which is alongside the section of the B500 that I bypassed. I saw it last time I was here so although I know it is worth a visit for a cuppa in the café opposite I'm not too upset.

The largest cuckoo clock in the world in Germany
The largest cuckoo clock in the world, taken when I was visiting in 2016

Back on the route I go through several towns with cobbled streets, these make for some challenging riding in the wet but by 1:30 the roads are dry. I have to take a few more diversions throughout the afternoon where the main road is closed for work, the satnav is back out now so these aren't such and issue, and discover the surrounding roads are every bit as good as the B500 itself. I promise myself I will revisit the area and spend some more time here in the future.

A view of the mountains in Germany's Black Forest

Through Baden-Baden and I cross the river Rhine which acts as the border and back into France and the Vosge mountains. The architecture in the towns and villages is still very German and the names definitely sound German. This must be one of the regions that has moved from one country to another as borders are redrawn. The mountains are a lot smaller than the Alps of a couple of days ago, but combined with the Black Forest this area definitely warrants a return trip.

I stop at a hotel to book a room for the night, but the front door is locked and there's a sign saying use the rear entrance. I go round the back and find someone - it's twice the price that was advertised on, not very clean and the best way I can describe it is 'creepy'. I tell the guy I will think about it, get back on my bike and ride away.

A view of the mountains in Germany's Black Forest

The sun is shining by now so I'm happy with the campsite I find just down the road. Interestingly both the hotel and campsite owners only speak German, no French, even though I'm now well into France again.

It's going to rain tonight but I don't mind that once I'm set up. I sit outside watching some other campers playing on a slackline in the trees. The last thing I need is to fall off and hurt myself so I opt not to ask for a lesson. The the heavens open and I retire to my tent about 6:30 to listen to my audiobook for a couple of hours before getting some sleep.

There's a gap in the rain about 9pm so I dash over to the toilet block to brush my teeth, while I am stood there I catch something move in the edge of my headtorch beam which makes me jump. Expecting a rat I look round to see an enormous toad sitting in the corner of the room. That's a first!

Day 12 - Tuesday

250 miles

Neunhoffen to La Capelle

My plan for today is simple. Aim for Calais and get over half way before stopping for the night. The campsite owner last night told me to get my tent up and she'd come round later to collect the money, the weather was horrendous overnight and as I ride of the campsite just after 8, I still haven't seen her again. There is no cabin or anywhere obvious to leave the money so I'm afraid she's dipped out.

The first couple of hours are spent winding my way through the Vosges. They're beautiful and it's dry today. A fuel stop and a patisserie to get some bits for lunch are early on the agenda today and then I press on. I have quite a lot of miles to cover today.

A motorcycle on the side of the road with wind turbines in the background

I come to a closed road just before lunch and divert around the town, the satnav recalculates and I carry on. All seems OK to begin with but before long I'm in big towns, industrial areas and a long stint on a dual carriageway. Something isn't right. I'm sat in a queue of traffic when I notice with a jolt of realisation that all the road signs have changed colour and the cars have Belgian plates. I'm in the wrong bloody country! I knew I wasn't far from the Belgian border but hadn't planned to cross it!

A motorcycle on the side of the road with wind turbines in the background

I pull over to check the satnav. It appears that when recalculating it decided to take me through Belgium towards Bruges then across to Calais. It's slightly further but no slower due to being almost entirely on main roads. Not exactly what I'm here for though. My satnav is actually a Samsung tablet with an app that allows me to plot my own routes or upload a GPX from somewhere else. It has been working well but over the last few days the tablet has started running increasingly slowly and keeps crashing. It's ok once I'm going but any changes usually result in at least one restart.

This is the first time in over a week I've had a target and somewhere to be. A minor hiccup suddenly feels like major setback. With several restarts of the tablet and use of Google maps on my phone I get back to a more pleasant route, but I'm well behind schedule and starting to get very stressed and frustrated. I also haven't been getting on and off the bike as much as I normally would and I'm starting to feel very sore - it's not even lunchtime yet!

Florenville, Belgium
Florenville, Belgium
A goat behind a fence

By 1:30 I am heading back in the right direction so it's time for lunch in a picnic area overlooking the pretty little Belgian village of Florenville. I really need to push on but riding tired is dangerous so force myself to stop for a break and something to eat and drink. I'm slightly more relaxed now but still pissed off with myself for getting so far off route without realising. It's a short lunch stop today and soon after I'm back into France and the Ardenne. I don't hang around and stick to fairly major roads, still no motorways, but I've seen enough to know this is another area worth coming back too.

At 3pm I stop for fuel and use Google to find a campsite. Another restart to get it in the satnav! It looks like a lot of the campsites are closed this late in September so the one I find is another hour away. I'm tired and sore, it's very windy today and I am fighting to keep the bike in a straight line which is adding to the fatigue. At least the end is in sight at last.

I arrive at the campsite and my first thought is that it looks a bit posh for me, an electric gate, reception area with a shop, lots of campervans on immaculately kept pitches with electric hook up, all separated by neatly trimmed box hedges. I book in without knowing how much it is going to be but it's been a long day so I'll pay whatever they ask at this point. The receptionist hands me the very professional looking welcome pack and offers me the card machine, its 8 - cheapest yet (unless you include my free one last night)

I get my tent up and sit down for some dinner off the stove. As I slump back into my chair, the stitching goes and it collapses! I pick myself up off the floor and ask myself what else is going to go wrong today. Fortunately there is a picnic bench opposite my pitch so I am able to sit on that for the evening.

A motorcycle and tent on a campsite with cooking equipment on a bench
My final night in the tent before getting home

It's been a challenging day at times but they can't all be great. As I sit writing in my journal I'm well aware that there have been a lot more good days than bad on this trip, and flick back through my earlier entries. I keep smiling at little anecdotes I had forgotten with everything that has happened since, and I can't quite believe how that first day, and the nerves that came with it, was nearly two weeks ago - it feels like yesterday and a year ago all at the same time.

I think days like this have a way of making us appreciate the good ones even more and, after all that, I'm on a nice campsite with a good hot shower. Dinner is on the stove and it feels a good way to spend the last night of what has been a fantastic trip. This time tomorrow I'll be at home.

Day 13 - Wednesday

205 miles

La Capelle to Home

After yesterday's very long day I have an easier last day to get home. I make breakfast and coffee on the campsite before packing the tent away for the last time and setting off.

I do 3hrs in one go from the campsite, probably the longest single stint I've done the entire trip but I'm happier to killing time near Calais than have a problem and find myself running late.

A cobbled road in France
The road up to Cassel is even bumpier than it looks

Cassel in a commune on top of a very prominent hill in Northern France. There has been a settlement here since the Roman times and it has played a key role in, what seems like, just about every war and conflict the area has seen since. The winding cobbled street up to the top of the hill is always a favourite on a classic bike rally I do in this area every May and we nearly always stop in one of the many cafés at the top for a coffee. I am used to sitting outside in shirt sleeves, but today it's cold and blowing a gale so I'm tucked away inside the café with a hot drink.

Cassel, France
Cassel, France

By 12:30 I've finished my 'Grand Café au Lait' (large coffee with milk) and am on my way to Calais. It's only an hour away and I don't need to be there until 3pm so I'll stop for lunch before booking in at the terminal.

The countryside is now very familiar to what I was seeing as I set of across France 12 days ago. Flat with huge open areas of farmland, some livestock but mostly crops. A lot of it has already been harvested and there's the unmistakable aroma of manure being spread. It's more autumnal than last week, the trees are noticeably browner and it's a lot cooler. It's also very windy again which, even more so than yesterday, made for some interesting riding with the fully loaded bike acting like a sail in the cross wind. There's no shelter on the wide open landscape until you pass a lorry in the other direction which bounces you around for a few seconds before being back into open expanse. I'm fresher than I was yesterday but it's still wearing.

I make my last stop for petrol just before Calais so I can get off at the other end and go straight home. Once at outside the terminal I have several choices for lunch. McDonald's, KFC or Burger King, I've got use to the French patisseries and don't intend to leave without one more, so I carry on into the town and find one for one last baguette before returning to the terminal to see if I can check in early.

A French Patisserie
A typical lunch stop from this trip

Back at the Eurotunnel terminal they offer me an earlier train which I take. I still have time to sit in the terminal and eat my lunch with a smile on my face thinking about what a trip it's been, I don't seem to focus on any specific event but the overall experience of two weeks away on my own - yes, it's been challenging at times but overall it has been better than I could ever have hoped for and I already have a list of places I want to go back to one day.

On the train I chat to two other riders, one on his way home from 10 days on a similar trip to mine, the other going to visit family in London before riding back to Jordan! The latter put 250'000km on his previous KTM before trading it for the smaller version he is riding now, this one has about 150'000km on it already and he is travelling virtually full time. My Honda now has about 3500 miles on it, over 2000 of which have come in the last couple of weeks. I have something to aspire too!

Three motorcycles on a Eurotunnel

Off the train and I ride straight home, avoiding the potholes - I don't think I've seen a pothole since my ride to Newhaven to catch the ferry to Dieppe which, again, feels like a long time ago and like yesterday, all at the same time. I don't think keeping track of what day it was mattered when I was away and any scale of time or schedule has gone out the window by now. I've had two weeks doing my own thing in my own time and making it up as I go along. I guess I'll have some adapting to do when I get back to the real world and I can only imagine what it is like for people that travel for even longer periods of time.

13 days and 2237 miles after leaving home I wheel the bike back into the garage just as it starts to rain with no doubt in my mind, I'm doing this again next year. The only question is where to go?

The Route

And here it is - the complete route tracked on my phone from my 13 day trip.

A map of Europe showing a motorcycle route

I hope you have enjoyed reading about my first solo motorcycle tour. Please subscribe to my blog so I can let you know about future posts as soon as they go live.



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