Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Lets find a Cafe (or tearoom)

Locations of reviewed cafes

For more information on the Cafes I have visited and the latest cafe cycle news go to http://www.cake-crusader.co.uk/

Cake Crusader Book

There is now a Cake Crusader book available where you can follow my journey from humble local trips to world record attempts and near-death experiences. How did a simple method of keeping track of decent cycling café pit stops turn my life upside down? Track my adventures into Europe, up mountains and right across Great Britain as I become a 'rising star' on social media. Will I prove my critics wrong? Should cheese scones be served hot or cold? Do I really have nothing better to do with his time? A must read for lovers of cycling and cake or anyone wanting to make it big in the virtual world

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Saturday 30 August 2014

London to Paris by bike. Day 3, the slog.

London to Paris,

Day 3
Day 3 was going to be the big one as we had to travel over 100 miles to reach tonight's destination. If I had had a route map guide book I could have checked out the terrain and estimated the journey time but I didn't so I couldn't. Sophie had prepared us a super breakfast of fresh eggs from her chickens and a selection of homemade breads and jams. Before we left she gave us some emergency bread as she could obviously tell we were the type of cyclists likely to need it as we seemed to have a lot of emergencies.
Me and George about to set off from 
With an early start under our belt we quickly conquered the Normandy hills and made good progress. Big George told me some story's about when he had cycled in these parts may years ago. He kept apologising in case I had heard these tales before. I explained that I don't actually listen to his stories so he was free to tell them to me as often as he liked. Which he did.

By mid morning we were in need of refuelling and on the look out for a cafe stop. It may have been because it was a Saturday or because it was August but France appeared to be shut and we couldn't find anywhere to stop. I had imagined that our stops would be at little village cafe bars or patisseries which we would find around every corner but so far we hadn't come across any. I was a bit disappointed when the best we could find was in the centre of the large city of Beauvais, by their cathedral.
Beauvais Cathedral
The cafe was called Le Zinc Bleu (The blue Zinc) and was fairly basic. The outdoor seating area was packed away as the chairs and tables were folder up and under cover, so we had to sit inside. 
Outside Le Zinc Bleu (Blue Zinc) cafe
I asked if they had gateaux (which I believe is French for cake) but they only did croissant, baguette and jam.  So we ordered that and hot chocolate for me and coffee for Big George. 
Croissant, baguette and jam based mid morning refreshments at
 Le Zinc Bleu (Blue Zinc) cafe
It was all nice and typically French but certainly did nothing to threaten the hotel Vitranic in Slovenia who are currently placed at the top of the Cake Crusader European cafe of the year 2014 leader board or Poppy's as the best cafe between London and Paris (which I happen to stop at).

As an added plus I did notice that next door was the tourist information centre. This could be the opportunity to replace my route map guide book. I went in waving the London to Paris bike ride leaflet that I got off the ferry yesterday and asked if they had the full guide. With much mutual excitement they whipped out the very book I was after. I quickly started to thumb through but noticed the words made no sense, I deduced that this must be what French looks like. I asked if they had it in English but 'non' ('no'). Sadly we were to continue our journey route map guide bookless.

We set off again with the route starting to flattern out after a morning of hills but within a few miles Big George annouced he was almost out of water. I on the other hand still had most of a full water bottle. As a team player I kindly offered to sell Big George some of mine at an appropriately inflated price. This would not only help to rehydrate him but give him a useful lesson on market forces as well. He politely declined my selfless offer.

Further down the road we were stopped and asked to complete a census about the Euro velo cycle network. It turned out that we were currently on route 2 that goes from Oslo to Spain. I randomly ticked some boxes on his form which seemed to make the census man very happy. As a reward he then showed us a map of where all 15 routes go and I got very excited to see London to Rome was one of them. Further research could be happening soon. Big George asked the census man if he knew where he could get some water, but he didn't nor did another French cyclist standing with us also randomly ticking away. The talk of water had made me thirsty so I had a nice large gulp from my bottle obviously forcing the price to Big George to go up again.

It appears in France that they think it is a good idea to build all their towns at the top of hills and the joker who put together the London to Paris route (avenue verte) thought it would be funny to keep getting us to cycle up to the top of several of them.
About to go up a hill to another French town
When the joke was played for the third time we had had enough and decided to stop for our lunch at the top of Claremont.
As France was still mainly shut we had to do with a takeaway picnic style lunch with items brought from the patisserie (cake shop) and delicatessen (delicatessen). The effective cake selection rating was therefore very high.
Good selection of cakes in the patisserie (cake shop)
In the deli the owner asked me something in French. I translated this as 'are you going to Paris' so I said 'oui' and wondered how he had known. Big George told me what he actually said was 'did we want to pay separately'. What a strange language where two completely different things in English sound almost exactly the same in French.

We ate our food on the benches at the top of the hill but the overall experience didn't score that highly, especially as we couldn't get any take away hot drinks, although unfortunately Big George did get some water and the price of mine plummeted. 
Eating our DIY picnic style lunch seeing how France was shut
We now hit some good bits of cycle track but there were also too many parts going through towns and villages on roads so it was becoming a long afternoon cycling slog. In one village we found our route was blocked as there was a local bike race doing circuits around the village. The marshal's won't let us on the roads when the cyclists were coming, which appeared to be all the time. It looked like it would take a long time to get through so we hatched a cunning plan. The next time a group came past we would leap on our bikes and pretend we were in the race. This seemed to work well as we hopped on our bikes and started to chase down the main peloton

They weren't actually very good as even with my pannier and off-road tyres I started to catch them up. Fortunately our route turned off at the next corner as if I had won the race I had no way of getting the trophy home as my pannier was full.
Cycle race in village. We had to join the race to get back on track
After this the route went up a very steep (and I mean very steep hill) to the start of a long section through the woods. I promised I would not put in the picture of Big George having to get off and push his bike up the steep hill so as not to embarrass him. So I haven't. Instead here is one of him just about to start pushing.
Big George having to push bike up a very steep hill
Once at the top of the hill there was the best section of the day which was through woods for several miles until we got into Senlis. It was 4:30 and sunset was in just over 3 hours so with only 30 of our 105 miles left we decided to have a cafe break. Big George explained to me that French people get their cake from the cake shop (patisserie) and take it with them to eat at the cafe bar. So I got the cake and Big George the coffee and hot chocolate at cafe le Balto.
Cake and drinks French style
Cafe Balto seemed typically French but neither of us liked the amount of smoking going on around us. Our drinks were at the better end of the spectrum both being strong and hot enough. The cakes I had purchased where very good, as I'm sure you can tell from the photo, but overall it did not do enough to win either of my current best cafe prizes.
Cakes and drinks at Cafe Balto
After our stop I was confident of an easy finish but If I had had a route map guide book, even a French one, I would have discovered much of the next section was proper off road and that our speed would therefore dramatically fall. 

We were first surprised when the route signs turned off the smooth cycle path and across a field down to the river. We assumed this would then be on a nice concrete tow path but it turned out to be a slippery mud track. We battled on across this type of terrain for several miles until it returned to proper roads. We eventually got to our hotel later than planned just as it was getting dark. I was glad I had upgraded my bike lights yesterday.
Cycling across a field where we expected a cycle path to be
The hotel I booked was a posh French 4 star job which I had got a special deal on the internet. Because it was late and we were tired we opted to eat in the restaurant. The only food they did was fancy French style when a double burger and chips would have been much more appropriate. It was very tasty but the portions were tiny so I was still hungry when I had finished it. As this was an emergency it was good that I was able to fill up on Sophie's emergency bread when I returned to our room.

The route had been a little disappointing as in amongst the panoramic hill sections, good stretches of cycle path and interesting off road bits there had been too much in and around towns. Hopefully the final stint to Paris will be better.

To see if we made it to Paris go to London to Paris by bike day 4

Click link to download London to Paris day 3 route GPX file for your GPS

Friday 29 August 2014

London to Paris by bike. Day 2 the dash.

London to Paris,

Day 2
The second day of our London to Paris bike trip got under way with a good breakfast at the White Lion hotel in Seaford which had been a very pleasant stop. I wasn't expecting to be able to do any cycle cafe reviewing today as we would be on the ferry and then had arranged to get to our overnight accommodation by 7:30pm. This would mean we would have to go flat out for 45 miles across France. To encourage Big George I told him if we weren't there on time we won't get an evening meal. Although this was technically a lie I felt it was the correct motivational approach required.
Big George sneaking out the White Lion Hotel Seaford
We left the White Lion early to give us plenty of time to cycle the 3 miles to the ferry. I wanted to leave us enough time in order that; I could buy better lights for my bike, Big George could purchase a knee brace (so I could have mine back) and I could try and replace my map route guide book which you may recall had been stolen by an organised gang of generic eastern European pickpockets at knife point. We were successful on the first two but once again failed to source a replacement map route guide book. Although later that day I did manage to pick up a leaflet about the route on the ferry, albeit in French and with only a tiny map, so not much of a replacement really.
Riding along the cycle path to Newhaven
We caught the ferry with no problems. We had to wait in the car park for boarding with a lot of other cyclists, many of which were going to Paris. Obviously we had to work out who was going the furthest and quickest to get there. By eavesdropping on all the conversations and then comparing notes we convinced ourselves that we were the most hardcore. Some of the other cyclists were planning to include sightseeing on their rides, a very strange approach I thought.
Boarding the ferry with lots of other cyclists
Once on board I was excited to see that the ferry had a cafe that I could rate. However according to cafe rating rules in order to be reviewed a cafe must provide homemade cake, which this one didn't. It also served its drinks from a vending machine in paper cups so I decided to save it from the embarrassment of a potentially poor rating.

We arrived in France and got off the ferry. I quickly adjusted to the riding on the right side of the road nonsense with the help of a gentle reminder from the traffic heading straight for me on the road out of Dieppe. It was then on to 30 miles of Tarmac, off-road, pancake flat cycle path to speed along enjoying the lovely French country side. We turned off the path for the final 15 miles of rather hilly terrain to our planned stop. 

You can tell I'm cycling in France in this photo as I'm on the right side of the road
Cyling in France on the right of the road
We arrived at 7:40 only 10 mins after planned and were greeted by the owners of Chambres d'hôtes "La Brayonne" Sophie and Erick (www.chambresdhoteslabrayonne.com). We would be the only guests tonight and would be eating with our hosts once we had freshened up.

Big George was becoming increasingly jealous of my new light weight rohan casual trousers I was able to slip on for dinner each night as he only had a pair of scruffy shorts. I could tell this as he had taken to insulting them saying they were the travel clothes for the Saga generation which I thought was a bit harsh.

As our accommodation was away from any town or village Big George was worried that he wouldn't be getting any beer tonight. However his fears were short lived as Sophie provide a fantastic meal (including a traditional French cheeses, or fromage, course) accompanied by home made aperitif, home made cider, red wine and calvadre (cider brandy). The whole lot was superb. 

Sophie spoke good English and Big George a bit (petit) of French but I don't speak French nor Erick English. Everything was fine until Big George popped to the loo and Sophie had to answer the phone. This left me and poor Erik looking nervously at each other across the table until he wisely decided to go and cut some more bread in the kitchen. It's times like this I which I was better at languages but they are all Dutch to me.

We had a great evening and I would highly recommend a stay if you are cycling out that way. We went off to bed to rest up before tomorrow's 'big day' where we need to ride 100 plus miles without the aid of a map route guide book. It should give plenty of opportunities for some French cycle cafe rating and who knows I may find the Cake Crusader European cafe of the year 2014.

To find out what happens next go to London to Paris by bike day 3.

Route from Dieppe to Dampierre en Bray 
Click link to download London to Paris day 2 route GPX file for your GPS

London to Paris by bike, Day 1 the start.

London to Paris,
Day 1
Poppy Cafe, Coulsdon,
Open Everyday 9-4,
Charlie's Deli, Crawley,
Open Mon-Sat 7-6, Sun 8-5
Forgewood Campsite bar,
Open Everyday campsite is
Yesterday saw the start of an epic cafe cycle review trip from London to Paris. Not only do I aim to find the best cafe anywhere between London and Paris (which I happen to stop at) but it is also the last chance for someone to become Cake Crusader European cafe of the year 2014. Big George was to be my guest for the trip although I was worried that he had not done enough training for the punishing schedule, both in terms of miles and amount of coffee to be drunk.

So yesterday evening myself and Big George rode down to Norwich station and loaded our bikes onto the guards van before settling into our seats.

We spent the journey down to London studying my route map guide book and estimating how long the various legs would take (which we now appear to have vastly underestimated).

On arrival we alighted the train and marched up the platform to collect our bikes. The first stop was the London eye where the route officially starts. Big George wanted to know why we were not going straight to the hotel but I explained that that was not the way the official London to Paris (avenue verte) route went and we would be following it meticulously. He has much to learn.

At London Eye ready to start ride
The 10 mile ride across London to our hotel took 90 mins which was twice as long as expected but we were well rested before the start of ride proper today.

We set off this morning at 9:00 sharp with the only issue being we had both brought the same kit.
Me and Big George in clashing kit
I soon realised my 15mph planning assumption was a bit out as we averaged only 10 mph through Greater London on a series of stop start cycle paths. I also discovered my weight saving idea of only having one pannier was causing the back wheel to slide from beneath me on sharp corners and I soon fell off (note to self to take two panniers on any future such trips). After a while I got the hang of it and had few further steering related problems.

To make matters worse after a few more miles Big George got a puncture in the so called puncture proof tyres I had lent him. 

This delayed us further so I thought I would check the route map guide book to see how we were doing. I couldn't find it in its special pannier pocket and to my horror I realised I had left it in the hotel. Fortunately we were mainly navigating off my Garmin Sat Nav but with no route map guide book I no longer had any back up in case of gps failure. I decided I would try and buy a new one on route although I don't recommend this as an approach.

After we had got a bit further it was time for the first cafe review of the day as we came across Poppy's cafe in Coulson Park.
Outside Poppys cafe
To date I have never found a good cafe in a park so expectations were low. However the outside seating area had a lovely view of the park and it was also well shielded from the road. To my surprise the cake selection was very good and I gave a high effective cake selection (ECS) rating.
Cake selection disappointingly pre cut and clingfilm wrapped but surprisingly good.
I choose the cheese scone with my hot chocolate and Big George fruit cake with a cappuccino.
My cheese scone had been lightly grilled and was excellent. I was pleased they had remembered the old rhyme "cheese scone hot, fruit scone not". Big George said his fruit cake was very good too. Our drinks were also both nice and we agreed Poppy's had set the London to Paris cafe bar high.
Cakes and drinks ready for testing
It was then on towards Gatwick airport, over the North Downs, with the average speed still not improving.

Today's ride was meant to be 94 miles but when we stopped for lunch we had taken 5 hours to do only 34 of those miles and would need a big post lunch spurt. Lunch was at Charlie's deli. 
Outside Charlie's Deli and Coffee house
It was on a main road which was all you could see or hear from the outside wooden bench seating area. However Big George claimed he loved the urban feel and persuaded me to up the poor ambiance and atmosphere rating I had planned. The cake selection was also a bit light so I didn't award a very high ECS rating.
Cake selection
I had Hot chocolate and red velvet cake but Big George refused to have another coffee and cake so scores for Charlie's deli are incomplete. However the hot chocolate and red velvet cake were both nice but overall not as good as Poppy's.
Cake and drink
It was at this point Big George announced he was having a recurrence of the knee injury he had had on our last ride together when I had abandoned him on the side of the road. As there were another 260 miles between here and Paris this didn't bode well. He took some pain killers and as he was still moaning a few miles later I agreed to sacrifice my knee brace, from my almost better knee, in order to give us any chance of making it to the ferry port let alone Paris.
Big George putting on my knee support as he had hurts his knee
We set off again and his knee seemed to settle down but my Sat Nav said we won't get to the hotel until well after dark so we needed to speed up rather than be nursing injuries.

Shortly after this we arrived at East Grinstead which had a number of shops that looked like they could sell a replacement route map guide book. I tried in several, at first explaining I had left my copy in the hotel. This story seemed a little too embarrassing so I quickly changed the story to that it had fallen out of my pannier. I realised this still made me look at fault so by the last shop I said it had been stolen. Despite this none of the shops had a copy so I still don't have map back up and the search will continue at the ferry port tomorrow.

We had managed to speed up a bit across a number of bumpy off road cycle paths and I was now confident of reaching Seaford before night fall. However I had not factored in the hills of the South Downs that we needed to cross. Unfortunately Big George's bad knee and poor pre trip training regime (he had tried to cram all his training into the few days before we went, a tactic that works well before an exam but not for endurance sporting events) meant I got a long way ahead and even managed some shopping while I waited for him at one point. Our average speed had again dropped and I wasn't sure we would now safely make it at all.

I realised we needed an emergency cafe stop for him to refuel for the final 35 mile push as it was already 5:00pm. We came across Forgewood camp site cafe bar which looked a good possibility. Unfortunately it had only scones and croissants but no cake so got a poor ECS rating. 
Outside Forge Wood campsite bar for our emergency stop
However croissants and jam are top energy food so we filled up on them plus hot chocolate and coffee. Again it was a very pleasant stop but still left Poppy's as the best cafe anywhere between London and Paris (which I happened to stop at) on the English side.  

With Big George refuelled we were off again and we picked up the pace further down the fantastic all tarmac off road cuckoo trail. The trouble now was that it was getting dark and our lights were more for being seen rather than seeing by so we had to slow down for the last few miles.

We finally arrived at our hotel at 9:00pm after 97 miles and 12 hours riding. Big George was so tired he only managed 2 pints in the bar! Overall a dramatic and successful day of cafe cycle reviewing.

Tomorrow we catch the ferry to France where we will then have 3 hours to cycle 45 miles if we are going to get to the hotel in time for an evening meal. Is there no end to this excitement? Before that we need to try and buy better lights, another knee brace and a route map guide book to replace the one I had stolen by the mafia at gun point.

To find out what happened next go to London to Paris by bike day 2.

Scores for cafés between London and Paris after day 1
Poppy Café, London
Forge wood campsite bar, Sussex
Charlies deli and coffee shop, Gatwick

Route from London to Seaford

Click link to download London to Paris day 1 route GPX file for your GPS

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Toddler entertainment. (Whitlingham Broad Visitor Centre Cafe, Norwich)

The Flint Barn,
Whitlingham Broad,
Opening times Everyday 10:00-16:00,
Tomorrow sees the first day of my trip to Paris with Big George so today I wanted one last ride and cafe review so I would be in peak condition for both cycling and blogging. With today's guest, Mrs Crusader, we headed off on a 40 mile loop down to Loddon before planning to find a cafe on the way back.

The way out was very windy and hard work. There seemed to be a number of van drivers on our chosen narrow lanes. It is always notable that the drivers that work for companies are always nice and patient where as some of the private vehicles can be driven more aggressively. Today was no exception as a nice DHL driver pulled over and waited (both times we met him) before giving us a cheery wave. The unbranded van drivers, on the other hand, whizzed passed inches from us giving us a rude sign on the way past. 

Undeterred by Norfolk road rage we turned out of the wind and arrived at the target stop of Emma's tea shop in Rocklands St Mary. Unfortunately it is closed on a Tuesday which sadly today was the latest example of. Fortunately I had a back up plan and with a quick detour, through the charming Norwich sewage works, we arrived at Whitlingham broad visitor centre cafe. 
Outside Whitlingham Broad visitor centre cafe
with my 'Paris' bike now with added pannier
My experience to date of visitor centre cafes is poor as they don't seem to make a lot of cafe effort due to their captive audience being more interested in attraction than cake. I therefore didn't have high hopes for today's review.

It didn't get off to a promising start as inside was a typical visitor centre canteen style set up; noisy, crowded and dark. However things looked up when I examined the cake area as there was a pretty good home-made cake selection of round cakes, square cakes, scones and slices. I awarded a good effective cake selection  (ECS) rating.
A good selection of home-made cakes, scones and slices
We decided to sit in the pleasant outside seating area which overlooks the broad. Here we were entertained by a number of first time mums and toddlers that Whitlingham broad seemed to have attracted. Each mother was trying to out do the others by over enthusiastically demonstrating all the words and moves to pat a cake pat a cake bakers man and similar action based nursery rhymes. The children seemed uninterested, but the mothers seemed to think it was the right way to have fun with their child whilst proving their parenting credentials. As a wizened old parent I can assure them ice cream or extra time on the game station box goes down much better than a vigorous rendition of Jack and Jill. But they were young and will learn.
Cakes and drinks ready to taste
Our drinks (Hot Chocolate and Mocha) were both surprisingly good and although the cakes were a little on the dry side they were not bad either. All in all the Flint Barn cafe is the best example of a cafe at an attraction I have been to so far. It is also free which as a combination is maybe why it attracts so many first time mums.

We completed are journey home with ring-a-ring-a-roses literally ringing round my head. Tomorrow it is down to London ready to start the ride to Paris when I will find out if my fears that Big George hasn't trained enough will come true or not.

Ratings based on 3 visits, last one on 16/03/22
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
7. 5

Map of route

Click here to download 40 mile Norwich Loddon route gpx file to your GPS

Friday 22 August 2014

Final Practice (Chalfonts tea room and coffee shop, Hingham)

Opening times Mon-Wed 09:00-17:00,
Thur-Fri 09:00-19:00,
Sat 09:00-17:00, Sun 09:00-16:00
Today was my last chance to have a practice ride with Big George before our bike trip to Paris. When I last saw Big George I had just left him on the side of the road moaning about a poorly knee and cramp (see Pilgrims Progress). However I thought I needed to make sure he was going to be alright for our trip so I arranged for him to be my guest as I went to check out Chalfonts, which is both a coffee shop and tea room, in Hingham. 

Big George told me he had been thinking about why he had performed so badly on our last ride and had prepared a list of 6 reasons. He went through his list, brakes rubbing, seat too low, yada yada yada. He didn't seem to have included on the list that he hadn't done enough training or the fact he needed to man up but despite this I still appreciated the work that had gone into putting his excuses list together.

We arrived at Chalfonts, which is both a tea room and coffee shop although it looks more like a cafe. It doesn't have an outside seating area so we went inside. I have been here once before but on that occasion we had a bad drinks experience so were hoping for better on this visit.
Outside Chalfonts Tea room and Coffee shop
Things got off to a good start as the cake selection was excellent and too large to fit in a single photo so I awarded a high effective cake selection (ECS) score.
Part of the cake selection that went either side of the till
Unfortunately the cakes looked better than they tasted. My chocolate cake was nice but a little dry. Big George didn't like his cherry cake but then said he wasn't keen on cakes with white icing so a rather strange choice considering the number of non white icing choices available. 
Drinks and cakes. Cakes once again served on the napkins rendering them useless
The drinks were certainly better than last time I came but still a bit on the weak side. Although not the best cafe I have been to, Chalfonts, which is both a tea room and coffee shop, was still a nice little stop and the staff were very friendly. I noticed the fry up inspector has also been here so you can also see his view here.

The ride back to Norwich was spent discussing the fine details of what we were taking on the Paris trip. Hopefully by the end of which Big George won't have an even longer list of excuses to why he rode so badly.

Scores for Chalfonts after two visits
Hot Choc Quality
Guest Hot Drink Quality
Effective Cake Selection
Cake Quality
Ambiance and Atmosphere
Café Rating
Click link to down load 34 Mile Norwich Hingham loop gpx file for your GPS