Friday, September 16, 2016

National Cycle Route One - Garden of England

Damp Sunday morning. Leaving London is fairly straightforward. I pick up National Cycle Route 1 at Greenwich and ride on through endless ugly suburbia and light industry until Rochester, where there is a castle and a cathedral and a pedestrianised high street packed with pubs and cafes which is good because it's lunchtime.

That's Rochester's cathedral. The rain is holding off - just. On past the Chatham Dockyards originally founded by Henry VIII. The bike path eventually leaves traffic, roundabouts and footpaths behind and follows a concrete path by the Medway, where the Sunday dog walkers are out in force, clogging up the way. Every dog seems to be called Bella and none of them are on the leash. Slow going.

Even slower when I finally leave even the Sunday strollers behind, following a route that weaves through orchards and lanes and down farm driveways and along the levees across marshland. Lots of gravel and pot holes.

It's a bone-shaker of an afternoon that get greyer and goes on forever and doesn't seem to be getting anywhere. There was meant to be a camping site somewhere near Upchurch but with no mobile signal to pull down google maps, I missed it completely. Late in the day with even darker clouds gathering in and rain not far off, I follow a Footpath sign into a field of apple trees and put the tent up behind a hedge. All night I can hear planes coming in, one every few minutes, and not far away there is a trainline, and below all that the constant drone of traffic on the M2. Otherwise this is rural bliss. It rains softly most of a night marked only by the intermittent thud of an apple falling.

Day Two is more of National Cycle Route 1, from near Faversham to St-Nicholas-at-Wade. Big highlight of the day is Whitstable.  Once again I hit town at a good time for lunch. I had oysters very much in mind, but at 6 pounds for half a dozen? A quid per oyster - actually a cheese sandwich looks quite appetising right now.

Morning drizzle eventually dried up but there is no sign of sun. Out at sea, wind turbines; and in between,  fields of strawberries, corn, apple and pear trees, and acres of solar panels. The roar of traffic is ever present though the route cleverly crosses busy roads via footbridges or crossings where there a green bike sign pops up beside the Green Man. But I'm unimpressed with the route so far. It is very rough in places and not designed for a fully loaded road bike. I have only seen a couple of other cyclists. Signs are fairly frequent but easy to miss and I have to backtrack more than once. I have nettle stings on my legs and bruises from hauling the bike through narrow gates and over raised barriers that must be to keep motorbikes off the route. But there are plenty of opportunities to feast on blackberries. Lesson - don't pick the ones low down. Probably pissed on by one of the Bellas.

Next day it's my birthday and I'm starting to feel like an OAP - if only I actually got a pension. By getting up soon after dawn I avoid paying for last night's campground and arrive in Minster too early for coffee. In a churchyard opposite the Benedictine Abbey I get out my primus and I have just enough gas left to make porridge and almost-hot cup of tea. When I bought the milk, the Indian man in the convenience store warned me to 'watch out for the speeding school mums in the lanes'. The lanes have only room for one car and I have to pull over and stop when a vehicle comes up behind me. But there isn't much traffic and mostly I can fly along, just need to keep a sharp eye out for potholes.

Ramsgate in time for a slap-up brunch in a cafe full of flowers picked from the chef's allotment. Flowers in jam jars hung up on the walls, flowers in tins on the tables. That's the high point of Ramsgate. Waiting for outside is a flat tyre, my first, so I head off pushing the bike a good mile uphill hoping to find a cycle shop but what google takes me to turns out to be a sleazy back-street second-hand bike parts yard. I'm sure you have to have at least 6 tattoos to qualify for entry to that place.

Undaunted I go around the corner and dig out the puncture repair kit and wait for someone to stop and offer help, which no one does. Step Two - read the instructions carefully. I locate and remove an embedded sliver of glass in the tyre. Lever out the tube, wait patiently for the glue to dry as instructed (in French). When I get everything back up the right way again and apply the pump, it seems to be OK, but a couple of miles later it's flat again. Off I go on a very round-about route through the over-populated conurbation that is the Isle of Thanet, not longer an isle at all, just endless suburbs and eventually a bike shop which is not what I hoped for at all but a branch of the giant chain store, Halfords, where a wee lad replaces the tube in a flash for nine quid. I got to see quite a bit more of Kent on that side trip and didn't much like what I saw. Off to Broadstairs to pick up the cycle path again. The sun is trying to shine and the sea is actually tinged with blue and I pull up at a very pleasant garden bar (minus garden as such, but there are hanging baskets filled with flowers and it looks out to sea). Things are definitely looking up. Or maybe that is the effect of the ale.

Anyway, it's a balmy evening when I arrive into a tidy little campsite on the outskirts of Ramsgate and am warmly welcomed by a lovely couple who saw me cycling by the Medway two days ago and are celebrating their first night in a brand new camper van.

Somewhere across the Gardens of Kent I came across a church called St Mary the Virgin, with this stone nearby. The sign says it had to be removed from the church for being unholy.

1 comment:

  1. Biking in France sounds much more pleasant. Poor old blighty.