I arranged a day out cycling with my mate Chris for yesterday. Our intial plan to ride around the Calais region of Northern France was ruled out due to ridiculous ferry costs so we settled on Northern Kent, which as anyone who knows me knows I absolutely love that area. We met up at the Tilbury ferry and made our way over to Gravesend, accompanied by hordes of grey haired tourists on their way to the Pocahantas ferry cruise on the other side, with Chris refusing to believe an Native American Princess could possibly have links with a gritty Kent port town. But Chris, I am happy to inform you that after marrying an English settler, a Mr John Rolfe on April 5th 1614, she moved to England in 1616 with her husband, settling in Brentford, Middlesex. In 1617 Mr and Mrs Pocahontas decided to move back home to America, however she became seriously ill on board the ship, having only got as far as... Gravesend. She was taken ashore but subsequently died there, thus establishing the unlikely link between an Native American princess and Gravesend.
I have to admit to being a little concerned as to my ability to keep up with Chris over a long ride. For a start Chris is much more experienced than me, fitter and has done many long rides. To put it in perspective, Chris' eighteen mile ride to the ferry from Collier Row was only one mile less than my personal best of nineteen miles which I set a few weeks ago.
We joined the Sustrans route one to Rochester where a problem quickly arose. The pebbly cycle path was fine for my hybrid bike with bigger tyres but it was a nightmare for Chris' road bike with narrow wheels.
We had to take it quite slowly for the length of the path which was around 5 kms. Having got to a proper road we had a lovely downhill stretch where we hit 32mph ( 51kph). However every downhill has it uphill and around the corner this was in the form of a very steep hill near Strood on Ministry of Defence land. Predictably Chris made it up first and took the following photo of me about to explode near the brow of the hill.
Annoyingly immediately at the top of the hill the Sustrans route directed us straight back down again on a different road, I couldn't help but wonder why they couldn't route cyclist around the hill. I felt like one of The Grand Old Duke Of York's 10,000 men...
The route took us through the delightful little village of Upper Upnor, and a more picturesque village you couldn't hope to see. Only two streets with a pub and a church but it was lovely. It's major attraction is Upnor Castle which perches impressively over the River Medway.
We finally got to Rochester after about an hour and 10 minutes with my legs and stamina holding out well so far. I was still mindful of the ride back though. We locked up the bikes to a lamp post in the high street with two locks. We quickly dismissed the Tourist Office bike park as hopelessy useless. I swear the flimsy metal loops could have been cut with a set of nail clippers.
I have never visited the museums here in Rochester so I was happy to go along with Chris' suggestion to go to The Six Poor Travellers House first and then to the Guildhall museum which houses the Prison Hulks Experience; a very lifelike portrayal of life aboard a 17th century prison ship. The Poor Travellers House was founded by a local MP, Richard Watts, to provide shelter for, you've guessed it, poor travellers The bedrooms are exactly as they were and it's a very interesting place to visit.
We had a walk along the High Street and to the Guildhall museum and to the highlight of Rochester's museums. The first part is dedicated to Victorian Life and Charles Dickens and across the street is the Hulk Experience. Complete with sounds and smells it makes for a very authentic experience.
I'd never made it as far as Chatham on my travels around Kent, despite it only being a few miles south of Rochester. It is the complete opposite of Rochester and is where all the chain shops are located. It is a far cry from the charm of Rochester. We cycled down to the High Street where a local driver questioned our rights as cyclists to use the road in somewhat colourful language.
We just breezed through the High Street on our way to the main attraction of Chatham, The Historic Dockyards. Chris had been there before and thought it wasn't worth the £15 admission fee so we just looked at the free bits.
After a surprisingly easy climb back up a hill in Chatham we headed for the Golden Lion pub for their very reasonable burger and a pint for £4.99 deal. Chris somehow got his for £3.99! He did however have an altercation with a Millwall fan in the bar. Chris was wearing his West Ham shirt. For the unitiated, wearing a West Ham shirt south of the River Thames, especially South East of London it's similar to walking into Mecca wearing a Jewish skull cap...
We stopped for a few
photos andwatched the Town Cryer deliver a message and decided to make our way back to Gravesend.
I was feeling the efforts of the ride so far and was a bit apprehensive about the right back, I didn't want to show myself up! Immediately after leaving Strood on the outskirts of Rochester was a very tough climb and this was a real struggle but it was nothing compared to one further along. It was another side of the hill I'd had a problem with earlier and this was very tough. I was struggling to get into my bike's hill climbing gear and once I'd managed it I was at the top. Even Chris admitted he'd found it tough.
Due to the problems with the surface on the cycle path Chris really wanted to find an alternative route back to Gravesend and was convinced another path existed, called the Saxon Way. We found it after riding through a military firing range but it was even worse than what we were trying to avoid. It was just rough off road ground that horses were grazing on and with my tired legs it was impossibly hard going. It was a long distance walkers route completely unsuitable for cyclists. We were cycling right on the southern shore of the River Thames and the views were spectacular but with the ride as tough going as it was we couldn't really enjoy them. We eventually got back to Gravesend and caught the ferry back to Essex. I'd had a great day, pushed my cycling boundaries even further and despite being exhausted I was proud of what I'd achieved.
My total milage for the day was 38, ( 60.8km). I prefer the metric system, sounds much more impressive.