I decided to go for my longest bike ride today, my initial plan was to cycle all the way to Rochester in Kent, however I decided that this was too ambitious for my unfit legs so decided to let the train take strain to Tilbury and jump on the ferry over to Gravesend. So dressed in shorts, t shirt and sunglasses I set off for Benfleet station, the weather was perfect for cycling. Overcast, but not warm and about 16c and not much wind.
There’s something I love about the Tilbury Gravesend ferry. Evidence exists to suggest that a ferry service has been in use between these two points since 1571 and it has been in almost constant use since the advent of the railways in this area in 1852. It’s a ramshackle tired looking old boat that has long since been superseded by bridges and tunnels over and under the Thames but thanks to local subsidies it continues and chugs back and forward on its 8 minute journey over this narrow part of the Thames, dodging huge tanker ships on its way.
First thing that strikes you as you get off the ferry is the comparison between the two sides of the water. On the Essex side is a desolate port area with container yards; as soon as you get off at Gravesend you are met by a lively vibrant town that I think it its own small way is quite nice.
I had pre planned a route to Rochester which used something I’d never heard of before today called Sustrans routes. These are a UK wide cycle network symbol with numbered routes. They have quite distinctive signs of blue backgrounds with a white number in a red circle. I began following Sustran route one when I realised I had my bike lock but no key. So I had to make an emergency dash to a local Halfords to buy a cheap lock.
Initially the route followed Gravesend riverside and was quite nice but shortly the route entered an ugly industrial estate. The printed itinerary I had wasn’t proving much use as the new directions seem to be every 100 yards or so and I was stopping every 5 minutes to check, and when I did they didn’t always seem to match up with what I was seeing. I just decided to follow the Sustran signs and not use the itinerary too much. I passed a sign which said Rochester 11 miles and joined a lovely purpose built cycle path through the gorgeous Kent countryside. I had views over the water to Essex to my left and rolling fields of corn to my right. Occasionally rabbits darted on the path in front of me.
I trying to pace myself, I had no need to rush although I did find some of the climbs approaching Strood a little tough. Although with every climb comes a lovely downhill part and on one I’m sure I must have come close to 30mph. I eventually got to Rochester after about an hour and a bit. I was quite tired but glad I had finished my modest but longest ever ride. Have to build up my range gradually!
I have been to Rochester quite a few times but I always enjoy it there. It really is a charming town, one of the most beautiful in England I would say. Its High Street is quite unique in the sense that aside from banks there are no chain shops that blight every other High Street in this country. Just quaint old shops such as antique shops, book shops and sweet shops. It’s like stepping back in time going there. The Roman castle is one of the best preserved in the country and has been there since 1127. Right next door is Rochester Cathedral, which is equally splendid. It’s even older than the castle and dates back to 676.
I had lunch in a pub and just walked along the high street. I had noticed a few clouds gathering earlier and now they were almost overhead. Within minutes the rain was absolutely torrential and I had no waterproofs. I checked in a few charity shops but no one had any. I took the disappointing decision to take a train back to Gravesend from Strood. I walked over to the castle to get a photo. I didn’t quite trust the guy sitting under a tree clutching a can of Tennants Super so I asked a lady in a snack kiosk to take a photo. Think she was quite bemused to see a man in a red t shirt and shorts and very wet asking for a photo. Disappointed I took a train back, paying a ridiculous £4.20 to go one stop.
I had a lovely day out; it really is quite liberating and rewarding to cycle to places instead of driving. You see places you’d never see otherwise and probably enjoy your destination more with the satisfaction of having gotten there under your own steam. I intend to extend my cycling ambitions further.
* Total milage for the day, a mere 19 miles. It felt like more. Wasn't gonna include it here as this constitutes a warm up for some of my advanced cycling friends...