I don't want my blog to become a cycling day trips to Kent blog but that's how it appears lately. Think I should arrange a day trip to Belarus or somewhere to redress the balance...
If there was anywhere nicer in Essex I'd ride there but Kent is simply a nicer county. Essex has nothing to compete with the likes of Rochester, Canterbury, Tonbridge Wells, Leeds castle and the town I stumbled across yesterday which I'll write about shortly.
I had to make a ridiculously early start as the last train C2C allows bikes on during the week is the 0559 so I was up at 0500 and on the platform by 0550 looking forward to my day ahead. it was at that point I realised I'd left my cycle route directions print outs at home. It was a lovely refreshing summer's morning, light winds and a perfect day for a pedal.
My plan was to ride from Rochester to Canterbury, a trip of 42 miles. I got to Rochester at 0730 and began the ride via the Medway Towns of Chatham and Gillingham trying to find the annoyingly elusive National Cycle Route signs. I got hopelessly disorientated in Chatham but eventually, after 45 minutes of wasted time made my north up to Gillingham, where disorientation set in again and I had to ask in an estate agent which way a certain street I was looking for. I'd managed to find the route I'd left at home on my phone but it was impractical not mention draining the battery to keep checking it.I followed several nice cycle paths, after finding the NCR1 going through the Saxon Shore Way but then got hopelessly and completely lost in the middle of beautiful countryside full of cider apple orchards. An elderly local man told me the way to go but it turned out to a bridleway with a gate designed to prevent cyclists. They needn't have bothered; I could never have ridden on the surface on the other side anyway.
I pretty much spent the next few hours trying to find the NCR signs, getting lost and asking a variety of postmen, shop owners and builders for directions. I made my way through Rainham- where some nice person had spun one of the few NCR signs round the wrong way which meant I rode up a long road for two miles only to be met with a sign at the other end telling me to go back from where I had come from. Thanks for that.
The ride was taking MUCH longer than I had planned, my habit of getting lost and obsessively trying to find the NCR signs had taken their toll. Despite hours of effort I didn't seem to be getting any nearer to Canterbury. I got to Faversham when I realised that if I were to have any time in Canterbury I'd have to jump on a train for the last bit. I asked in a tourist office which way Canterbury was, no one knew where the cycle route was but they estimated Canterbury was still 13 or so miles away. I was gutted to have missed out on my ultimate goal for the day but there was no point in getting to Canterbury and having to turn straight back again.
I have to mention Faversham though, it's a lovely medieval market town. Stunning in fact. I looked around a few streets in the centre and added it to my list of ' Why haven't I Been Here Before?' places. I didn't have time to hang around though and headed for Canterbury, via the depressing means of a southeastern train. I was feeling a bit queasy too, a rushed sausage roll and snickers for lunch in Teynham wasn't probably a great idea.
The depressing way my bike entered Canterbury, propped up on a train...
High Street, Canterbury
OK, I admit I look a pillock here but it seemed a good idea at the time...
I got to Canterbury and walked through to the beautiful old centre. I'd planned to do the full tourist thing here, but arriving at 1500 and my last train back to Gravesend at 1732 for the ferry meant I didn't have much time at all. I went to the Canterbury Tales museum, where they recreate some of the sounds and smells of medieval times coupled with tales from the era. it was in here, in the cool and dark that tiredness hit me. My legs suddenly felt like jelly and I had to sit on the floor during one exhibition. Think the early start and exertion had caught me up. Think I even dozed off for a minute!
For the rest of my limited time there I just walked around the centre, sent a few postcards and just enjoyed being there, it really is one of my favourite places in the UK, possible anywhere.
I got back to Benfleet with my bike computer showing 43 miles, still a personal best. Whilst riding home I decided I wanted to hit the 50 mile mark, problem is my house is 3 miles from the station. This left me 4 miles to find from somewhere. So with my legs feeling surprisingly good I rode to the Point and back via the seawall and Thorney Bay, anything to keep the wheels spinning until the display ticked over to the magical fifty. I may or may not have put both my arms in the air in a end of Tour de France stage win pose when that happened! I was very happy to reach this mark, would never have thought it possible a few months ago.
I'd had a lovely day, seen some lovely countryside and towns but still disappointed I'd not managed to reach Canterbury under my own steam.