Otford to the Hollow Shore 2015

Sorry No Pictures for this report – unfortunately the website is misbehaving (as is my camera too!)

I arrived at Bromley South before 0830 expecting to be the first and have time to go and buy myself some breakfast and a quick coffee. But not so Catherine’s friend E was awaiting already on her lovely new bike. I headed to the coffee stall anyway and on my return to join E we were joined by Linda and before long others began to arrive too.

There was soon a dozen of us waiting on the forecourt and Linda went to find out the cost of tickets whilst I enquired about whether it would be economical to buy a return to Faversham, which apparently was not an option because Otford is not on the Faversham line. Andrew bought the GroupSave tickets at about £4.50 per person and we were directed to platform 3. Seven riders followed instructions but others, of a slightly more rebellious nature, had done some further research and established that there was an alternative faster service from Platform 1, and so went down the other set of stairs. Urgent messages sent to platform 1 suggesting that the rebels should abandon their unruly disobedience were met with stubborn obstinacy and before further and more robust methods of persuasion could be attempted the fast train arrived, picked up and departed.

The platform 3 party were left to contemplate their hurt pride and await the proper train which arrived a short while later. Soon all were aboard and ready for the more sedate ride to the countryside.

How the Mighty are Fallen.
The slow train arrived at Otford on time and all riders which included some who had boarded further up the line disembarked and began to make travel-ready. There was no sign of our five vanguard miscreants and we wondered if they were in the conveniences on the northbound platform. And then came a phone call, there was a hushed and urgent conversation, then triumphant smiles were breaking into broad grins and the story unfolded. The fast train had stopped at Otford but the driver had apparently forgotten to open the doors and had then driven on to Kemsing where the doors were opened and the shamefaced quintet had been able to disembark and contemplate their ignominy. So yes the patience of the many was properly rewarded and vindicated but we were now a separated ride or indeed 2 rides with no plan. The service back from Kemsing was not for another ¼ of an hour so what to do? and what a to-do!! This was not a good start.

The Recovery.
Hindsight is 20/20 vision and probably the best solution would have been for the Kemsing crew to board the next train to Otford and they would have been with us in about 20 minutes, however after a series of phone calls and text messages a decision was made. The Kemsing team stay put  and we would replot the route to pass Kemsing Station, not far off the original route, where riders would be collected and then mercilessly teased, leg-pulled and ribbed.

And so at about 9.45 a depleted line of cyclists turned onto the steep hill out of Otford Station to join the Pilgrims Way heading east. The Pilgrims way at this point is a nasty little rat-run full of speeding cars which are obviously dodging some sort of a blockage on the main road in the valley to the south. The undulating nature of the road makes cycling speeds somewhat variable whilst the narrow lanes make overtaking challenging even for experienced drivers (and there didn’t seem to be many of those around today!!)

We were having difficulty getting phone signals and as we didn’t have a hard copy map of the area ourability to navigate was limited. As we turned south down Childsbridge Lane it somehow didn’t feel quite right but for want of better map information I kept my peace.

We crossed the M26 and reaching Seal without seeing Kemsing Station realised that things had gone further awry. The Kemsing crowd had said in the earlier conversation that they were 1½ miles from Seal, clearly we had somehow managed to miss them along the way somewhere. There were further phone calls and a new decision was reached that they would now cycle to Seal and join us. We waited and we waited, this did gave Andrew and Trevor the opportunity to rejig our route. So all was not wasted.

Eventually some time after half past ten and from a completely unexpected direction the re coupling was complete and we were at last ready to start the ride proper. There was tension amongst the joiners and we thought it better to suspend the leg pulling to a more suitable time perhaps later in the day. We had lost the best part of an hour; a significant period of time particularly when you read what happens a bit later.

Under a bright clear sky with hardly a breath of wind we began to eat up the miles. Andrew and Trevor have a knack of finding and following some of the most secluded of hidden trails and so it was today. We emerged at Ightham Mote from a cart track – amazing. Unfortunately there was no time to stop and admire this historic pile. Onwards to Yalding and lunch.

We passed the terrain and landmarks with barely time for a glance, Crouch, Basted Lane, Plough Hill, Seven Mile Lane. The towering folly at Hadlow once again escaped the attention of my camera lens.

At East Peckham we began to loosely follow the River Medway and so we arrived at Ye Olde Anchor above the weir at Yalding Marina and here we pulled in for lunch, one rider departed for a prior engagement at Biggin Hill. Here we located the ‘rival’ Lewisham Ride led by Jane. Their start point had been Ladywell so they were on a much longer ride than us. It was great to see some familiar faces and some folk who I didn’t know. There was the usual trade of insults and other friendly banter.

Lewisham had spread themselves in the Anchor and in a café on the far side of the river and had clearly been here a while. We split ourselves too, but most stayed in the pub – this proved a mistake and cost us dearly in time.

Most of us had placed our orders before the manager informed us that the chef had failed to turn in and so lunches would be delayed. We explained that we had an hour and were told that this would be OK. It was just short of 2 hours later that we eventually managed to extricate ourselves and restart after an appalling delay for our food. I’m sorry to say Olde Anchor that you let yourselves down rather badly and it’s hard for me to put a positive spin on the way you dealt with us.

So we were now 2 hours behind Andrew and Trevor’s carefully planned schedule on our ride with no chance of making up the time lost. As Trevor commented he could not recall a recent ride which had gone more amiss, fortunately we had not made bookings at Hollow Shore or Faversham so at least we were not expected and the last train was plenty late.

Have you ever heard of Weirton or Weirton Hill? No? Neither had I until Saturday afternoon. I actually believe Andrew invented Weirton Hill just to shake us up after a long lunch. To top it off it didn’t actually get us back up on to the North Down Ridge; for that he found another hill a few miles further on at Lenham. Weirton Hill is a brute; not as bad as Vigo but in the same ball park. We toiled upwards, generally in silence, occasionally there was an outburst of unprintable expletives from some rider as he/she passed between coma and consciousness. There was much pain, some were reduced to walking – hardly needs to be said really. We shall not forget you Weirton!

On the way to Lenham we suffered a couple of punctures, both for the same rider; one required a tyre change and top marks to Joe W who I think is fast claiming his place as the Bromley Cyclists’ puncture repair specialist, the other was a slow one which required occasional air top ups; more delay. At Lenham five riders called their goodbyes and departed to the station and home. The remainder continued their labours up the hill to the downs – what a crazy phrase. Hubbards Hill, I believe it was called, was nowhere near as bad as the aforementioned Weirton but hard. Arriving on the ridge we were now blessed with the joy of about 8 miles downhill all the way into Faversham. Not the best of road surfaces but adequate for a rapid 17 – 20 mph descent.

Hollow Shore
And so at last just before 6 pm we arrived at the Shipwrights Arms, tranquillity hardly does justice to the scene overlooking the Swale Estuary. Lewisham had been here for quite some time by now and there was evidence of a most sociable occasion in progress. They had a table booked for 6.30 which left them plenty of time for an aperitif; several in fact but they were still standing. The views over the flat calm of the Swale were astonishing in their serenity. It was Jane’s intention to stay and watch the sunset, I imagine that really must have been a picture of the utmost tranquillity.

After a photo call and quick libation to cool our fevered brows we cycled back to The Anchor in Faversham where they had event on and wanted a £7 entrance fee, the garden entrance was sealed with more razor wire than is used on the Hungarian Border. We decided to visit the Phoenix a little further back up the road where we were welcomed to their barbecue and enjoyed a sociable ½ hour before most of us headed to the station for the journey back to Bromley. It was uneventful and we arrived at 9 pm tired and happy; calling our good-nights we headed to our homes for a shower and for most for a very late dinner – if the dog hadn’t got it first.

Cycling time: 5:27:50
total time: Device doesn’t measure in years
Dist: 53.7
av speed: 10.3 mph

You can read the Lewisham report here

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