Cycling through the Channel Tunnel (now called thee Eurotunnel) – well, to be precise, the service tunnel – was perhaps the strangest experience I’ve ever had on two wheels.
As part of BBC One’s Children in Need Rickshaw Challenge (Le Tour de Rickshaw), this year’s charity event started in Calais and, over the course of eight days, made its way to Manchester.
I was lucky enough to be a chaperone rider again this year and am now one of a few who have actually cycled through the tunnel.
Previously, only Chris Froome had ridden its length, completing the 31 miles in approximately 55 minutes, but his journey had taken him from England to France, so our trip was a first riding from France to England. Our adventure, alongside the six riders who rode on the rickshaw took slightly longer than Froome’s. Our 5mph average speed and changes for riders meant we were in the tunnel for over eight hours.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect with the ride and hadn’t anticipated the surreal feeling that we experienced. As we lined up at the Calais entrance to the tunnel the Eurotunnel staff made sure we were completely certain of the safety and security measures in place. A vehicle would travel in front of us and another behind. We were to touch nothing unless it was concrete, and for those travelling in small, cramped vehicles (including our own medical and film crew), they were not allowed to exit the vehicles unless explicitly told to.
Entering the tunnel we passed through a massive hydraulic gate that marked the first airlock chamber. As that closed behind us the gate in front opened and we were in the tunnel. The line of the tunnel follows a chalk bed and along its course, it winds left and right, and dips and rises as it does so. I was surprised to find that the venting system caused a tail wind initially and as we passed the half-way point we experienced quite a stiff head wind.
Not surprisingly, the scenery was static, meaning the ride started to become the cycling equivalent of sensory deprivation. The distance was hard to judge and optical illusions meant that the road ahead often looked like it was going up the way when in fact it was going down, and vice versa.
Midway we stopped for some photos and pieces to camera with Pudsey Bear, adding to the surreality of the moment. We each also had an opportunity to add our names to the large amount of graffiti already on the wall at the midway section.
Progress was a lot slower than we had anticipated. Our projected 5mph average was diminished as the young people in the rickshaw took time to adjust to the strange sensation of riding through the tunnel. It was hard to judge speed and when we felt we had picked up our pace, we were in fact only travelling around 4mph.
The hypnotic effect of the same concrete panels passing by us every few seconds meant that we lost all track of time and when we finally emerged from the tunnel, to a guard of honour from the Eurotunnel staff it took several minutes to readjust to being outside in daylight again.
The whole experience was just the start of what was an amazing eight days pedalling through England and Wales with six inspirational young people. At the end of the week, we wheeled into Media City in Manchester to fireworks and thee news grand total that the grand total raised for Children in Need was £4.5 million.
Once again I was proud and emotional to have been part of such a great event and already crossing my fingers for an invite back in 2019. But how on earth do you top cycling through the Channel Tunnel for an experience?
Where to cycle:
Where: Greenloaning to Bridge of Allan via Sheriffmuir.
Distance 8 miles – one way.
Details: This short but hilly road ride takes you over the western edge of the Ochils via the battle-site of Sherrifmuir where the Jacobites clashed with Hanoverian Government troops. It’s a delightful ride with great views to the north, but the highlight of the ride is the finish point at the local cycling gathering point of Corrieri’s cycling friendly café in Bridge of Allan.
You can return to Greenloaning the same way you have come, but it is better to extend your ride by returning via the B8033 through Dunblane and Braco.
Join the Blazing Saddles Strava Club at: www.strava.com/clubs/BlazingSaddlesWeekendCourier