MonsChimay 01_05_09


Report on the Mons Chimay Mons Audax on May 1st 2009

From words and photos from Lennie Collins

For more photos see the Photo Gallery


Mons and Sefton have been connected since being "twinned" in 1964. Members of Soutport CC have visted Mons a number of times and have also hosted vists from the "Dragons" cycle club from Mons.

The principal connection between the two areas centred on the Battle of Mons in 1914, when the King's (Liverpool) Regiment fought alongside other British regiments against the invading German forces. The year 1964, therefore, marked the 50th anniversary of the battle. In June 1964, the formal twinning agreement was signed at Bootle Town Hall and a return visit was arranged in September of that year. Some of the ex servicemen who had fought in World War One made the pilgrimage. See Sefton Website for more.


On Thursday 29th April 2009, 5 Southport CC members Steve Ginty, Peter Gawthorn, Derek & Yvonne Unsworth and me Len Collins set off by car to Hull to catch the overnight ferry to Zeebrugge.

After an evening meal on board the ferry, a good chat and a nightcap we had an early night in anticipation of tomorrows full day in the saddle.

While Yvonne & Derek shared a cabin of some considerable size, a penthouse we were led to believe, the rest of us suffered a smaller cabin – the size of a shoebox!!  We soon got the measure of it, as next morning we had to take turns to get out of bed and get dressed – such was the space!!

Friday 30th April Zeebrugge to Mons - 145 Kilometres

Friday dawned, and we ate a hearty breakfast on the ferry in preparation for our ride through Zeebrugge into Belgium.

Our bikes where strapped to the hull with bungies, so once untangled and loaded with our few belongings for the days ahead, the five of us slipped through security and immigration and pedalled inland through  the industrious port, eager to put miles (kilometres) behind us and ride through some pretty countryside.

After about  half an hour, we picked up a canal towpath, a very large one, and followed this for many miles. It was a pleasing alternative to the road and traffic free. 

Bike ShedOur first navigational dilemma was negotiating Brugge. This is a very beautiful city and as busy as any you could name. We took the  circular route, then came upon a railway station which was all  cobbled with one half of it set aside for bikes to hire. There must have been the best part of 500 bikes, waiting for people to hire and ride off on to enjoy a journey into the city or on the many paths around  that are car free. That’s the good thing about riding a bike in Europe! you get a great choice of cycle paths  and if you do use the roads then motorists give you a load of room and respect.

We stopped for lunch at Tournai more than halfway and refuelled with soup and baguettes. We pressed on with renewed vigour and cycled through some lovely countryside, fields and pastures with lazy Cows munching on lush grass, small villages nestling up against a hillside, there seemed to be surprises round every bend.

Our arrival in Mons was met with tumultuous enthuasiam by the locals! Just Kidding! We arrived about and the minute we rode into the town square I recognized it from 9 years earlier. A very grand square where all the residents and visitors alike congregate for a good ole knees up. On Sunday we even witnessed a wedding.

On discovering our digs “which on this occasion was the youth hostel” the first thing to do after a good shower was to taste the local brew. Guess what it was? CHIMAY! The first one never touched the sides.

The YHA has a communal area where all the guests would gather and talk about the days events. We too sat and soaked up the atmosphere before taking ourselves off to sign up for the Audax the following day.

The Headquarters for the event temporarily occupied a school. On locating this we were greeted by Patric and his friends and other members of the  Dragons Cycle Club (Organisers of the Audax). It was nice to meet them again. I remember the last trip to Mons in the year 2000 and their trip to Southport in 2001, very memorable. The cost to ride the Audax was 3 euros. Our attempts to pay for it were dismissed and a glass of beer was proffered instead “ a very agreeable suggestion” we all laughed and exchanged gossip and Patricagreed a rendezvous later in the evening.

We met at the La Ducal, a café which is a regular meeting place for the Dragons. We asked them what to  expect on the ride the following day and they told us to just enjoy the whole experience and to take our time and that we would be looked after during our stay with them. We ordered some food, a variety of things that we could all pick at. Later, as the sun dropped low and the shadows grew long, it was agreed to break camp and get some sleep. Our friends wished us goodnight and promised to see us all in the morning.

Steve And I got to the YHA first and were soon in our bunks and asleep before the others arrived. Access to the rooms was with a swipe card.  Yvonne and Derek could not get into their room and Pete, who was sleeping in our room, had to give them blankets and pillows so that they could sleep in the corridor until they were found the next morning by YHA staff who sorted out their key swipe. They didn’t get a lot of sleep! This story was related to me the next morning as I did not stir while all this commotion was going on!! 

Saturday 1st May Audax Mons – Chimay – Mons – 205K


Steve (who always wakes up early and cheery) roused his sleepy room mates Pete & I. We dressed in our cycling kit and made our way downstairs for breakfast where we met a very weary Derek & Yvonne!

The bikes were kept underneath the YHA in a locked garage, which requires the swipe from your room to open it. Once we were on our bikes we meandered through the town to the H Q. It was fairly quiet as we traversed the sleepy streets, but the H Q was a busy place, bikes and bodies everywhere. The organisers told us later that more than 2,500 cyclist had entered. You had a choice of distances,  from as little as 50km to a staggering 200km. We elected to do the 200km (well we had all day to do it and the weather was fine).  So off we went with all those other cyclist and kindred spirits. It was like a drug riding along in a massive group of like -minded cyclists with one thing on their mind, Where’s the next café stop?

Once we were out of Mons the roads narrowed to a rough track in places and it wasn’t long before punctures occurred. Fortunately we were puncture free. The first feed station was after 50 km I think.  There was everything you could wish for! Cakes of all kinds, drinks of every description and a really good banter.  We continued with our journey, our pockets bulging with scran!!  The roads were very well marked to guide you on your way. It’s just as well because the roads were small and twisted through farmland and tiny villages that you could easily miss and  be lost, forever wandering in no mans land!!

We were blessed with warm sunshine which made our quest most enjoyable. Ambling along, talking to fellow cyclists. This made the miles roll by comfortably, until we arrived at a very long climb that made our bodies strain at the handlebars, each one taking it at their own pace. After a major struggle we were greeted to a surprise. Cresting the top we had a wonderful view of a lake, no, a reservoir with trees abounding all sides. After a rapid descent we joined a large group of cyclists on the causeway. We had reached the mid way point and there was plenty food to enjoy. It was lovely. We relaxed and chatted about our exploits so far. While we discussed the ups and downs of the first 100k, Steve pointed out the next few miles of our journey. It was a very long upward stretch of road. “you’re joking!” Pete said.  We all laughed at this but didn’t see an alternative, so it was up we go. It must have been a good half an hour later when the road decided to level out, much to our delight and relief.

We took our time, enjoying the scenery, talking and laughing as the town of Chimay got closer with every pedal stroke. A drink of beer was the upper most thought in all our minds. Next stop Chimay, the town of the Trappist Monks Monastery. Having drunk our fill of beer, we thought it wise to press on with our ride, tempting as it was, to refuse to go any further and just carry on drinking the golden nectar. The next section of the ride Brought us back to the first feed station that we attended on the outward bound trip. Once again there was ample to eat and drink and we availed ourselves of these goodies.  Surprising really, having filled our bellies with all that beer previously, although we did ride our bikes through the lanes of Belgium, albeit wobbly at first. We must have used up enough energy to warrant eating the food, probably to soak up the beer! It was after we left the feed station that a sense of loneliness descended upon us. It was clear that a wrong turn had been taken somewhere, as we were the only cyclists on the road. The symbol on the road was upside down! We should have gone the other way. What to do?  Instinct took over and we pressed on. As luck would have it we arrived back in Mons none the worse for our deviation from the route. You could argue that it was an adventure on our part. Maybe our new- found route could be included on the next trip to the Audax of Mons Chimay!

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Our arrival at the HQ didn’t attract too much attention because the place was heaving with bodies all talking at once. A cacophony of sound no doubt recounting their individual experiences of the day’s events. Patric greeted us and congratulated us on our achievements along with a good number of the Dragons. Without any hesitation he offered us a beer and without any hesitation we accepted!  It was swiftly dispatched. This was followed by yet another, accompanied by some food, chips and a sandwich of ham and cheese. A conversation ensued as we excitedly retold our story of an event that will be remembered in our hearts for a very long time. As ever, time rushed by and a rendezvous was put in place to meet that evening at the Café Ducal at 8 pm or thereabouts.  They had a lot of clearing up to do, and we needed a shower. They assured us that time was not important. We bid them au revoir.

True to their word they entertained us  late into the night. We grew tired and announced our departure for bed having had a busy day. We arranged to meet again the following day on Sunday for lunch at Noon.

Sunday 2nd May - Active Recovery

Breakfast the next morning was a low key affair, a few cornflakes and a coffee. It was a good opportunity to take a walk around the town and visit some of the buildings. The architecture is inspiring, the cathedral is a must see place to just gaze around. A carriage that would have been drawn by horses, probably for grand occasions, was beautiful and  just one of many things on view, not only in the churches but all over Mons. Our meanderings around the town soon brought the time to midday and our meeting with our friends. At the town hall, which was the arranged meeting place, there was a wedding and the happy couple had decided to arrive on a London Bus along with their guests.


After they had tied the knot and emerged outside they were greeted by a brass band.  They had a look on their face of genuine surprise. Also outside the town hall secured to the wall by some means was a small figure of a monkey, a symbol of some sorts for Mons, it is reputed to give you good luck if you put your hand on its head so we all did just that. Ironic to think at the same time our friends arrived to take us for our meal. Across the square from the Town Hall is a selection of restaurants to choose from. For this task Richard was chosen. Apparently he is the knowledge on the eating-houses in Mons .  I cannot remember the name of the eatery, but we were guided upstairs and after perusing the menu and our decisions made, an aperitif arrived. A lively debate around the table followed as to who ordered what. This sorted, the only noise after that was the clatter of knives and forks and the  ocassional guffaw of appreciation of good food. 

It must have been 3 hours or so after sitting down for our meal we were all replete. Then it was agreed that we adjourn and regroup at the café Ducal for an after dinner drink at approx 4.30 pm, that lasted several hours just watching the world go by with friends coming and going all the time each one had a tale to tell. Marc had a suggestion. He wanted to take us to see the cobbles in the Arrenberg Forest made famous because of the Tour of Flanders held each year. Along with other classic races it is nicknamed “the hell of the north”. We  nearly  went but declined because we were short on time. Maybe next time. The day was fast becoming night so the Dragons arranged to meet up with us the following day at 7.30 am. They would  accompany us on our return journey home, part way anyway, and a route that they’re familiar with, acting as a guide out of Mons. It’s bedtime for us and another memorable day! We bade them goodnight and headed for our home at the YHA. 

Monday May 3rd - Mons- Zeebrugge 145K

Steve woke us up well before dawn and encouraged us to get our gear packed away , which we did obediently.  We didn’t want to miss breakfast. When the last morsel of cornflakes vanished we were met at the door by the Dragons who were  waiting patiently. Photo’s taken and farewells made they led us out of Mons via their favourite route. SunsetThis took us by the canal and in and around so many tiny roads that I got dizzy trying to figure out my bearings.  They rode for about 30 k before they turned around to go back but not before giving us further directions. After about 30k the surface of the road we were on just changed into cobbles and was closed to traffic because of road works. This meant a diversion of some sort but we tried our luck on the rough road and although I got a puncture it wasn’t too bad. We had to walk in places and this caused a delay of some time, an hour maybe, lost to this terrain. Undaunted by this we valiantly ploughed on and with a stop in Brugges for a bit of sightseeing we made it to the ferry with time to spare. The return ferry crossing was uneventful. In the bar with a drink or two, we toasted each other and the friends we had left in Mons. Our troupe celebrated a very memorable few days in Belgium with some very special people. 



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