Sun 11 Aug 2013
As the five of us who had travelled from Bromley South on the train rolled through the outskirts of Folkestone we were unsure of which of the station we should disembark. A quick call to our ride leader confirmed it was Folkestone Central and a few minutes later we emerged onto the forecourt where we met seven more cyclists making ready for the start. This was going to be a good day.
After some brief introductions the twelve of us set off along the backstreets to find the inland route to Dungeness. We located NCN2 and felt the first blast of the south westerly wind Steve had warned about at the station. And it was because of this strong headwind Steve had determined that today we would be doing the ride in reverse, ie. The inland section to Dungeness first, technically more sheltered, I say technically because the terrain is as flat as a pan-cake so there is very little shelter apart from that created by the hedgerows. And then the coastal path on the return journey.
So off we went along the seafront and soon we found ourselves on the towpath of the Royal Military Canal. We didn’t really notice the transition from Folkestone into Hythe, but we must have passed a boundary somewhere as we cycled along with the escarpments rising high to our right. Arriving at Hythe Railway Station, there was universal agreement that it was coffee time. We piled into the station café and some of the greedy ones also indulged their sweet tooth with a slice of cake; it wasn’t even eleven o’clock – outrageous. In the fine weather we sat outside and I must note here that the cup of tea I was serve was absolutely delicious and most welcome.
After coffee we picked up the Royal Military Canal towpath once again; here we found the road surface unmade making going tough for those on skinny tyres. After a while we left the towpath and joined the quietest of roads leading us further and further towards our destination as we threaded our way across the marshes. On the skyline we caught occasional glimpses of the massive nuclear reactor which so dominates the landscape and gives rise to such amazing contrasts. For a short while under the trailing edge of a weather front we cycled through the gentlest of mizzle. Some stopped and put on water proof tops, but no sooner had they done so it dried up again.
Our route took us through New Romney and emerging on the southern side of the village we were presented with a landscape that is almost alien; miles and miles of shingle dotted with patches of peculiar ground hugging vegetation and all dominated by the huge magnox reactor looming out of the haze. Just to the east of the power station we could see the Dungeness lighthouse with low level buildings clustered at its base. This would be our lunch stop. We toiled into the wind around the perimeter fence and at 1.30 arrived at the Dungeness railway station where we made our way into the attached café and settled to lunch. The service was excellent, no sooner was the order placed when staff came bustling up to deliver piping hot fare – not cheap mind you; but I suppose if they have to live for the year on the earnings made in the few short weeks of an English summer this is somewhat understandable.
After lunch some of our more energetic riders paid £3.50 to climb to the top of the lighthouse. This was a long climb on legs that had already been working hard but the reward was a stunning view across the flats, the sun was now beginning to brighten the landscape too. I would certainly recommend this investment to any future visitor.
At 2.30 Steve got us all saddled up and ready for the return journey. We took a short ride to the nearby lifeboat station where we were able to get up and personal with a very impressive looking boat sitting in its hangar awaiting the call from mariners in distress.
We then set off properly for the return journey. As promised the wind was now firmly on our tails and we were soon effortlessly zooming along at 14-15 mph under a beautiful sunny sky along the top of newly reinforced seashore defences. The small wooden chalet type houses of Dungeness soon gave way to more solid and traditional brick built housing. In the distance we could hear the tooing and froing of the steam trains shuttling along the rail-lines running parallel to us. If anyone ever has a doubt that cycling is most wonderful pastime ever then they should ride from Dungeness to Folkestone with a tail wind on a sunny summer day. This is what summer is all about (though we didn’t stop for ice-cream!! Hmmm black mark for ride leader).
We stopped for a short comfort break at Dymchurch and lazed in the pleasant afternoon sunshine watching people walking, sun bathing, throwing stones and some brave souls even swimming. At Hythe we decided an afternoon tea stop was fully in order. This time we used the café next to the station, if I had to choose between the two I would use the station café – better tea; and for a dedicated tea drinker that’s important.
We meandered along the coastal path, now thronging with walkers; children played happily in the adventure playgrounds. It was really lovely until the last when we tackled the steep climb up into Folkestone Centre; and even that was achieved without serious mishap.
At the station the train travellers were just in time for the 1756 high speed train to Ashford and so quickly calling our goodbyes and thanks to Steve for a super ride we set off for our homes and a well earned rest.
Stats: 50 mile ride. I didn’t check the time or speed.