Saturday 6 July 2013
Under a fantastic cloudless sky we gathered at Bromley South. We plastered on the sun-cream, factor 30 at least! Six set off on the 9:14 to Otford. There were more riders on the train; at Otford we also waited for the next train to arrive and so more cyclist joined us. At 10 o’clock Andrew led 12 of us out of Otford Station and up the vicious little climb which I have often mentioned and somehow serves as a stark warning of the mega-hill which lurks ahead.
But make no mistake nothing could dampen our spirits on such a beautiful day. The sun shone; there was the lightest of breezes sending pleasing zephyrs to cool us. One or two high puffy clouds hung in the stillness, chaffinches played kiss chase in the hedgerows, later in the KnattsValley I spotted a brightly coloured goldfinch darting amongst the tall grasses and thistles. This was a day that most cyclists, struggling on their winter commutes, dream of; it’s what keeps us turning the pedals over year in and year out.
We followed the Pilgrims Way into Kemsing and then turned south across the road bridge over the roaring M26 into the unusually named Noah’s Ark – I’ve never spotted that place name on previous rides, it just shows that there is something new around every corner. Making our way further and further south along quiet country lanes there were any number of places of interest where we could have stopped to investigate and have a photo opportunity, we pressed on; the pull of the cheese factory at Winterdale Shaw proving irresistible, particularly because of the 1pm deadline at which hour they close on a Saturday.
We passed on undulating roads of varying surface qualities through the pretty villages of Stone Street, Ivy Hatch, Dunk’s Green (host to the Kentish Rifleman Public House), Plaxtol and Crouch. At the expansive green in the centre of Offham I managed to snap a quick picture before we were off again.
At Trottiscliffe we began the climb which eventually becomes the infamous Vigo Hill. We dropped to our lowest gears and attacked. The sun was high now, but Vigo hill is canopied by trees giving a little respite from the fierce warmth. Sweat (or in the case of the women, perspiration) mixed with sun cream poured down as we laboured. Some of us walked and may I say there is no disgrace in that. Towards the top there is a railway bridge at which point the climb is at its most aggressive, but a few a yards on and the gradient begins to soften and then pops us out on top of the ridge, with burning lungs and jellied legs. The conquest is complete. One would expect there to be a truly magnificent watering hole at the summit. Some mark of local respect. Whatever the Vigo Inn is on the inside from outside it looks the most uninviting, uninspiring dump you could imagine. The pub sign advertises it as a free-house, with live disco or music or something similar. I cannot imagine a more unappealing compensation for him (or her) who has slain the dragon called Vigo Hill. We did not venture inside!
Having caught our breath and ensured everyone was still alive we set off for the final ¾ mile downhill approach to the Winderdale Shaw Cheese Barn which was doing a roaring trade. We slumped under the shade of the spreading oak just outside the door of the shop; those who wished to were able buy their cheesy rewards. A couple of our more athletic riders set up a game of football with the proprietor’s lad, who was clearly bored, the remainder simply continued their recovery. We often wonder what Andrew carries in his large pannier on these rides and today we were given part of the answer; in order to keep his cheese chilled on the journey home a couple of freezer blocks were included in Andrew’s luggage – as if the climb up Vigo isn’t hard enough.
And then we were off again downhill for a couple of miles to the Black Horse in Stansted for a well deserved lunch. We were welcomed, the pub doing a good trade and we settled in the garden overlooking the steep valley. We managed to find a shady corner and so were able to cool off. Refreshing pints were supped, beer, lager, cider, orange juice, orange squash and we were soon being served with delicious lunches.
We had about an hour here before we made our way to the forecourt ready for the restart; there were some stiff legs now! We said goodbye to Steve who had met up with a friend, so now we were twelve. Being high on the North Downs here the only way is down; and indeed there were several miles of lovely downhill cycling down what is known as the backslope of the North Downs Ridge. The route now took us northward skirting New Ash Green and passing through Hartley where we swung South West towards West Kingsdown. There is another long uphill stretch here as we skirted the nether side of the Brands Hatch motor racing circuit and crossed the M20 and the much less busy, but still very unpleasant, A20.
And now might favourite part of the whole ride, Knatts Valley; miles of lovely downhill through the most delightful countryside. If you only enlarge one of my pictures then make sure it is the one of the Knatts Valley. At the end of the valley we reached Farningham where the garden of the Lion Hotel by the Darent River was full to bursting. At Eynsford children paddled and splashed in the river outside The Plough pub. The riverbank was packed with folk enjoying the sunshine. We didn’t loiter today but headed straight to the station to catch the 16:44 to Bromley South and home.
A fabulous ride of about 40 miles at an average of 9.6 mph. Thanks to Andrew for a lovely day out.