Saturday 16 May 2015
Getting to Folkestone today was almost as much of an adventure as the ride itself.
About ten of us met at Bromley South and, after a short discussion, some riders went to enquire about ticket prices whilst others asked staff about which train we should catch. We were advised that with the group saver concession the return would be about £18. This was about £3 more than we had advertised on the event page. I guess this is just inflated price increases.
We were also advised that there were two possibilities for train routes both arriving at Folkestone at roughly the same time. It was also suggested that because of our numbers we should split ourselves between the two routes so as not to overcrowd one service with our bikes.
This advice is all very well for passengers using standard tickets but as Group Saver Customers we are obliged to travel together so we descended to platform two for the 8.39 to Orpington where we expected to link up with other riders. One of our more switched on members in the meantime made a more searching enquiry of staff and established that if we were to travel on the Orpington route we would have to make 2 changes whilst the other route would be quicker and require a single change at Ashford. Unfortunately before he could impart this information the Orpington train arrived and we all got on it.
Spencer and Eve were awaiting us at Orpington where we soon commenced the next stage of our journey, as far as Sevenoaks, where we boarded the third train to take us to Folkestone Central for a 10:30 start.
So far so good. At Folkestone we descended to the concourse and met with more riders who had arrived by car we were now up to 17. Spencer commenced his pre-ride briefing: steady pace, lantern rouge, make sure the person behind you doesn’t get lost, first stop Newchurch, etc, when his phone rings and we learn that two riders, so deeply engrossed in each other’s company on the train had not heard the announcement, failed to get off and were on their way to Dover! I don’t suppose I need to say that there were howls of mirth. Giving our stray riders directions to meet us at Newchurch Spencer completed his briefing and we set off.
Like so many ride starts the journey from Folkestone station to the actual route is one of the most complex parts of the day. Folkestone town is high above the seafront and the descent is steep and precarious. It is not so easy to find either. Previously riders have found the steep scenic switch backs on the Leas Cliff route unpleasant and so we decided to seek an alternative. This was not entirely successful as we eventually had to walk down a long set of steep steps carrying our bikes, and one rider twisted her ankle which was fortunately only a minor mishap and she was soon able to carry on.
Anyway in spite of all this we eventually succeeded in reaching the Royal Military Canal and get going properly. The journey so far had actually set us back a bit, which whilst good for our stragglers trying to catch us up, meant that we were now a bit pinched for time to reach Newchurch before the café in the church closed. So with this in mind our ride leader stepped up the gas and we began to eat up the miles.
The gravel surface of the canal path has been beautifully laid and it was almost as comfortable to ride as a metalled road, but the problem with the increased pace of riding is that you really have to concentrate on where you are going and this limits the opportunities for sightseeing which is a bit of shame really. We often stop for at least a comfort break at the little cafés at the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch light railway terminus at Hythe but such was our haste today we passed by with barely a break in the feverish pace. To our right were the steep hills which forms a kind of bank to the low lying plateau of the Romney marshes through which we now travelled. This natural defensive embankment dotted today by sheep parenting their lambs, has through history proved a serious stumbling block to those who have thought to visit this emerald isle with hostile intentions.
Further along the path the domesticated fauna is replaced by altogether less familiar wildlife as we find ourselves alongside Port Lymne Zoo and Country Park. Here we could see huge cattle peacefully resting in the sunshine and a trio of giraffes wandered quite close to the fence. We paused for a photograph, someone grabbed a selfie. And then were off again.
After a mile or so we left the canal to the fishermen peacefully dangling their equipment in the still, clear, canal waters and turned more south west. Once we left the canal we found ourselves under the big open skies of this part of Kent, and whilst it was not wall to wall blue it was very pleasant and there was plenty of sunshine on offer. Unfortunately the warmth of the sun was somewhat diluted by a stiff cool North Westerly breeze.
Rejoining NCN route 2 Spencer warned us that on public roads once again we would need to be aware of the perils of cycling amongst traffic, of which there was mercifully very little. We pressed on; the readout on my speedometer rarely dropped below 12 and was frequently nearer 14 mph. One rider found it all a bit warm and with squirming, wriggling and manoeuvring that Houdini would have been proud of, succeeded in removed her vest from underneath her top, not at the same time as riding her bike I hasten to add; very clever.
And so at 12:15 we arrived at the church of St Peter and St Paul in the parish of Newchurch. We had made it by just 15 minutes and the ladies were already washing up and tidying away, upon our arrival they very kindly re-started operations and we were soon served with steaming cups of tea and coffee and huge wedges of delicious home made cakes. We would ‘Like’ them on Facebook if they had a Facebook Page! Anyway thank you to all of you at St Peter and St Paul for looking after us so nicely.
Staying ever so slightly with the ecclesiastical theme we had, through Spencer, also been receiving updates of our lost sheep. We learned that they had been making good progress until they had taken a wrong turn into a cow field. Good Lord, even my route finding skills rarely fail that disastrously. As we prepared to set off again the missing pair finally caught us up. Halleluiah.
We would now progress at a more moderate rate our leader informed us as we prepared to saddle up; a further but silent halleluiah from me; we hoped to be at Dungeness in about an hour.
No sooner had we restarted than the pace again began to creep up and soon my speedo reading was 15 mph, at which point I made conscious effort to hit the brakes and meander along at my own sweet trundle. This gave the opportunity to appreciate the beautiful wide open countryside, lush and fresh and green. We spotted a heron lurking in a drainage ditch, its beady yellow eyes scouring the water for a meal. It flew off as we doubled back to take a better look. We noted the piles of spoil which had been recently dredged from the water channels. It seems that the lessons of the flooding on the Somerset levels have been well learned in East Kent.
At Old Romney we encountered one particularly impatient white van driver who thought we were a little too close to the central line as we waited to make a right turn and displayed his extensive knowledge of the Highway Code with a loud and extended blast of his horn. We laughed and even he seemed to realise he had made a bit of chump of himself.
Just a little further on and we caught our first view of the huge nuclear power station which overshadows this incredible landscape. Every time I see it I wonder who in god’s name granted permission for this act of architectural vandalism.
On arrival at Dungeness we split ourselves into groups heading for the three eateries. I went with Spencer, Eve, Ben and Chi (and others) to The Pilot and here we relaxed for an hour for a well-earned lunch. The food here was excellent and we came away with a very favourable impression of a clean well-kept, well run, friendly pub. We have done the scoring and I think the Pilot will do well in Bromley Cyclists’ Pub of the Month competition.
Swollen with food that we really should have resisted at 3 o’clock we restarted again. The terrain was still flat but now we found ourselves pedalling into a strong headwind. It was a warm breeze though, and soon layers of clothing were being peeled off. Even yours truly peeled down to his cycling shorts amidst howls of merriment and some rather unkind comments about milk-bottle legs. Hmph!
Here we encountered perhaps the only downside of the day as we were plagued by clouds of tiny black sand-flies which covered our clothes, got into our hair, eyes, mouths, nostrils and anywhere else they could find refuge.
Somewhere around Dymchurch we cycled into a ‘cold front’. It was really quite extraordinary. One moment we were cycling in pleasant warmth and suddenly the temperature dropped by 3 or 4 degrees with no warning whatsoever.
At Lydd because of the military firing ranges, we were forced back onto the main road, and for next 3 or 4 miles we found ourselves mixing it with traffic. Not a very pleasant part of the ride, but in fairness to the motor vehicles they were generally quite patient and overtook us responsibly when the opportunity arose.
And so we eventually reached the outskirts of Folkestone where we stopped by the seaside to have an ice-cream before the final push up the steep hill into the town centre and to the station. It was 6 o’clock.
This was a great ride. Thanks to Spencer for leading and thanks to all riders who were great company.
Distance 47 miles
10:30 to 18:00