Sunday 9 April 2017 (Palm Sunday)
I was early at the RV point and so sat in the sunshine unzipping my cargo trousers to convert them to shorts and drinking the biggest Americano I could find. Heaven.
At 10 o’clock most were assembled but there was still no sign of the Tweedle-dee half of the terrible twins – he’s on his way lamented Tweedle-dum, ‘we’re going’ called the leader and we launched ourselves onto the bike paths and were off. As we reached the first bend in the road we could see the Tweedles making ground to catch us up. So now we were eight.
Today was the warmest day of the year so far. I had set off from home just before 8:30 with three thin layers on and within a couple of hundred yards realised that I was overdressed for the day. The sun was blazing in an azure blue sky. The lightest of Zephyrs stirred the tranquil spring morning air as I rushed down the hill to Shortlands and then onwards towards the Orpington start point.
We made our way on the quietest of quietways, bridleways, paths, parks and backstreets to Dartford. We hardly saw a car for the whole journey (this was made up for when we reached the second leg of the ride you can be assured). We followed a lovely path which by-passed the hideous North Cray Road and so emerged at Old Bexley from whence we cycled to Wilmington and then on to Dartford Central Park – what hidden gem this is. The path towards the Dartford Crossing is all newly laid leading to extensive new housing estates still under construction. There was barely a motor vehicle to be seen.
We arrived at the crossing control shortly after 11:30 to find the transports waiting for us. The ride leader had phoned ahead to let staff know we were coming and our numbers.
The last time we did this crossing the service was very good, but if anything this time it was even better. Nancy and Dave were in charge of the transfer and helped us load our bikes into the two waiting vehicles. By mid-day were we were all safely loaded up and on our way into the tunnel. Very efficient! They have a new van in which the bikes are suspended across the storage space making bike protection much more certain. We wanted to tip our driver Nancy but she would have none of it and insisted it was all part of the service. Nancy told us that she had already taken about half a dozen cyclists across during the morning so it is a service that is used. In fact when we reached the northern drop of point there was cyclist waiting to be taken south. I had mentally set aside at least an hour for this crossing so we had made very good time.
Once on the northern shore we headed into Thurrock, clearly this was once a pretty little village now all but destroyed by motor traffic associated with the crossing. Industrial premises such as distribution centres have been built to give ready access to the crossing. I dread to think of pollution levels; and yet just about a quarter of a mile to the west we find the RSPB Centre on marshes which used to be a tank firing range.
We sat outside in the warm sunshine just soaking up the vitamin D. Most of us had brought some food from home in anticipation of the complicated river crossing; this was just as well because the staff at the centre were struggling to cope with the influx of lunchtime visitors. We very much liked the rather nice touch of bottles of free chilled tap water and made generous use of the facility.
After lunch we set off across the marshes and caught site of nothing ornithologically interesting. I don’t think that is a word (and Google seems to agree with me). But a large hen pheasant broke cover as we passed close by and set op a loud squawking alarm as she took flight.
Crossing the railway line Rainham Station we made our way onto the A1306, a sort of relief road for the A13 which road we joined a little later. This has to be the car capital of the UK, the whole area is completely given over to the petrol addicts. If you are not on four wheels here you are either invisible or don’t even exist. Even in the stiffing breeze the fog of exhaust gasses permeated the atmosphere making ordinary breathing uncomfortable. How anyone with respiratory problems could survive here challenges sane thinking. There were cars parked all over the pavements, in the bike lanes, blocking junctions; the ground was splattered with spent engine oil, broken car parts littered the verges where even the weeds were struggling to eke out an existence. It felt like we were cycling in a film set for an apocalyptic blockbuster: ‘The day the world ended’. Hell on earth!
But we are made of sterner stuff, us Bromley Cyclists. We ploughed forward and eventually escaped Armageddon to the litter strewn but traffic free paths alongside the North Circular. It seems strange to declare that we eventually found relative peace and tranquillity as we cycled alongside the City Airport towards the Excel Centre.
We stopped for tea in the shadow of the Excel Centre and then headed to the cable car. The queue was short and the crossing uneventful. Back on God’s soil we cycled to the cutty sark where the ride split with half heading over Blackheath towards New Eltham, Sidcup and Orpington and the remainder heading down the Waterlink.
This was a wonderful adventure. As you can see from the pictures there was a healthy mix of men. The Dartford Crossing is an interesting experience. It is hard not to feel a little vulnerable on this ride although we are actually always well separated from the traffic. But I really leaves you with a feeling of what the world would be like if the petrolheads really got their way.
Time out: 7:00
Cycling time: 4:57
Dist: 47 mls
Av speed: 9.5