London to Exeter

 London Bridge to Dartford. 8th May 2010

London Bridge- the start
London Bridge- the start

The starting place was easy to decide – London Bridge. The train from Tadworth goes into London Bridge station goes to London Bridge, so after a short hop to the station and ride up on the train, there we were standing on London Bridge, taking start photos with Tower Bridge in the background. Only 6600km (or so) to go! We do wonder how long it will be before we arrive back for the finishing photos!

Stephen at the start
Stephen at the start

It was an easy and familiar route to begin with; out along the Sustrans route 4 eastwards along the south bank of the Thames. Past the London Dungeons, the London Assembly building, through Rotherhithe, and that bollard!! A good many years previously we had bought me a new touring bike on the Thursday, and on the Saturday took it for its first outing, from London Bridge to Greenwich. Heading towards Greenwich I was so excited to see the roof of the Dome in the distance that I neglected to look in front of me and went straight over the handlebars as my beautiful new bike hit a bollard, which had appeared out of nowhere. Luckily the bike was sturdy, and undamaged, more than could be said for me. Managed to get safely to Greenwich this time, and then on past the Woolwich Ferry. (Good toilets free of charge in the leisure centre there). Out along the riverside past the new developments at Thamesmead, then the riverside became more industrial and Stephen had a puncture beside an old pumping station. It didn’t seem to have taken long to get the first puncture.

On to Erith, a place we had first cycled through when preparing to cycle a stage of the Tour de France in 2007. Then it had seemed like the worst place imaginable as we cycled along dusty roads, full of breakers yards. Fortunately, it has seemed more pleasant on our subsequent 2 cycles through. Then we seemed to be out of the built up areas as we cycled alongside a river at Crayfordness. It was very pleasant to cycle off road and I bowled along for a while and took shelter under a railway bridge waiting for Stephen to appear. It took ages before he finally rounded the corner pushing his bike. Another puncture and this time the valve had broken off inside the pump whilst trying to inflate the tyre. It was now raining, and it seemed more sensible to me to call it a day and catch the train back from nearby Dartford station. So we did.

Dist. 43km Time 3hrs 25 mins. Only 6557km to go, but we were on our way.

Dartford to Sittingbourne.   22nd May 2010.

The hop fields of Kent
The hop fields of Kent

Took the train to Dartford and set out again from the station, hoping to go a bit further than last time! After a short while passed Bluewater and then coasted down a long hill to Ebbsfleet station and a view of a Eurostar train. For once I didn’t feel envious. Then up the hill into Gravesend, and back onto the Thames riverside again. Good views across to Tilbury. Out of Gravesend and back onto country roads again, with a very pleasant cycle alongside the railway line, away from the coast as the route cut across a peninsula. We decided not to go on roads that were dead ends on the route, so we enjoyed the ride across to Upnor, where we had lunch at a pub with a view down to the river Medway.

After lunch down into Rochester over a lovely old bridge and around the edge of the town, uphill out of town past the entrance to Chatham dockyards and around the headland and into Gillingham. We turned down a road and suddenly met the seaside. It was a lovely warm day and everyone in Gillingham seemed to have come to the park by the sea. It was a completely different atmosphere to what we had previously experienced. From Gillingham there was a signed off route cycle path alongside the river which was lovely, with trees and vegetation around. Then it was inland again as we had the Isle of Sheppey to the north of us. It was lovely to see the orchards and some hop fields. We are intending to mainly ignore islands and stick to the mainland coast, but we may tweak that idea a bit when it comes to the west coast of Scotland. Then, into Sittingbourne station for the surprisingly long (about 2 ¾ hours) trip home.

Dist. 64km Time 5 hrs 2 mins

Sittingbourne to Ramsgate. 12th June 2010

The White cliffs of.....Margate with a brilliant cycle path!
The White cliffs of…..Margate with a brilliant cycle path!

What a delightful day cycling around the Kent coast. We restarted at Sittingbourne and took the cycle route along country roads to Faversham, a really pretty little town with lots of old buildings. The only glitch had been a stretch where all the cycle route signs suddenly disappeared and there was a wide band of glass just outside Sittingbourne, where it seemed cyclists were very much not wanted. From Faversham it was fairly direct to rejoin the coast just west of Seasalter, west of Whitstable. This felt as though the real coast had started, rather than being along a river bank. We really were cycling along the sea front, the coast, only about 6500 km to go!! We cycled along to the bustling old harbour of Whitstable, with its booths selling oysters. It felt like a throw back to days gone by.  A man said to Stephen ‘nice wheels’ as we walked along. Stephen agreed and fell into conversation to discover he was the wheel builder. What a coincidence!!

From Whitstable there was a cycle route right along by the seafront, traffic free and perfect. Past lots and lots of beach huts. I wonder how many of those we will pass on the trip? Whitstable morphed into Herne Bay, which didn’t make me want to hurry back, all just seeming a little tired. Coming out of Herne Bay we could see the 12th century Reculver Towers rising up, the towers of a ruined church it appeared. The cycle path went across a grassy stretch, but plastic matting type stuff had been laid to create a cycle path, and I would imagine prevent vast swathes of the grass being churned up when it got muddy. Very thoughtful! The cycle route continued along the coast to Birchington, where there were the first mini white cliffs, and into the wide sweep of Margate, where it was ice-cream time crouching out of the very strong winds. Margate seemed lovely, with its gardens and mini white cliffs. East of Margate we cycled along a broad causeway between the cliffs and the sea. There were hardly any other people walking or cycling, and just the sound of the waves crashing against the sea defences. Again, it was wonderful. Looking out to sea we could see the largest operating sea wind farm in the world, so they had said on the radio that morning!

We climbed up and around the north east corner of Kent to head south. It felt like quite a mile stone, albeit not quite Land’s End or Cape Wrath. It has just occurred to me that we shall be taking the longest route from Land’s End to John o’Groats this time. The cycle route continued right into Broadstairs, whose connection with Charles Dickens I am ashamed to say, I wasn’t aware of until we passed a house called Bleak House and then an antique shop called The Old Curiosity Shop. Then another short cycle route section into Ramsgate and the station to catch the train. Ramsgate had a very grand station, which seemed out of place now, but looked as though it would have been ideal when coming to Ramsgate to catch a boat to the continent.

Ramsgate to Rye.  26th  June 2010

As the train journey was so long we decided to drive to Ashford from where we could catch the train to Ramsgate and back from Rye. Once again at the rather grand Ramsgate station off we set, straight back down to the harbour. The road climbed out of Ramsgate and Stephen had a puncture. 2 ½ miles out of Ramsgate we passed one of the Sustrans signposts pointing to Rome; maybe another time! Followed another good cycle route along the coast, chatted to a couple who had retired there out on their bikes. It was surprising there weren’t more people on the cycle route as it was very good. Along the route into Sandwich, another very pretty little town. Out again and past the golf club, which brought back great memories of the 2 visits to the Open there. Along a private road, again great cycling with very few cars and into Deal. The route was right along the seafront again. Right on the seafront was Deal castle, built by Henry VIII and shaped like a Tudor rose.

...and Dover
…and Dover

South of Deal there was a lot of work being done on the sea wall, which will give a fantastic wall to cycle along when finished. It wasn’t bad now, but will be better. It was then away from the coast to St Margaret’s at Cliffe, so guess what the route was like into Dover? In the distance there was a good view of Dover Castle and then the port, with the ferries on their way to France. It was a steep descent into Dover, and lunch in a square there. We also came to the point where the sustrans cycle routes all converge. West of here we were onto cycle route 2. There was a brief stretch on the busy A 20, till we could get off it in the outskirts of the town. The route went under the main road and up the other side. Up on the cliff top near Capel le Fearne is the battle of Britain memorial. A lovely landscaped area in the shape of a propeller, with an old plane and in memory of those who thought in the Battle of Britain. It was along the cliff top, with lovely views out to sea and then a steep descent into Folkestone where Stephen had an argument with a car driver who ignored his right of way; now there’s a novelty! There was a small pretty harbour in Folkestone, not at all what I expected or remembered. But, around the corner was the larger port, where we had cycled onto the hovercraft years before for our first ever cycling trip with the children, carrying all our luggage. A trip along the Danube from the German border at Passau to Vienna. Highly recommended.

It was along the seafront, and then a sharp turn right into Hythe for a quick visit to the station and a view of the narrow-gauge railway and trains of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway. Then along the seafront to Dymchurch, St Mary’s Bay and inland a bit to New Romney. The land was very flat as we circled Lydd airport and back to the coast at Camber Sands. We had now left Kent, and have been mightily impressed with the cycling around the Kent coast, with all the cycle routes, although not all joined up, but on which a lot of effort has been expended. It is hard to imagine any other county will better it. From Camber Sands we could see the old town of Rye. We cycled through and around it, and treated ourselves to a large icecream from an icecream seller who was impressed with our cycling and was planning a ride for help for heroes later in the year. We then made our way to Rye station for the trip home.

We had thought we would get out on the road later in the year, but with a summer trip of a life-time to China on the Trans-Siberian railway, and long weekends in Alsace, and cycling around Lake Constance, followed by family illness in October it was to be 2011 before we would resume the ride.

Rye to Hastings.   15th January 2011

All week the weather forecast had been for temperatures of 10C and above, with no rain on the Saturday. It’s like Spring, warm enough for me to go cycling again, it could be April. Normally we take the train, but due to works on the line today we couldn’t take the train to Rye. There were works between Haywards Heath and Three Bridges, so we drove to Lewes and passed a LOT of replacement buses on the A23. But on reflection, when, apart from a weekend in January, would be the best time to do engineering works on the London to Brighton line? Parked at Lewes and took the train to Hastings; more engineering works between Hastings and Rye. No problem we thought; we’ll cycle to Rye, then back to Hastings and on further.

It took us ages to get out of Hastings. Stephen had plotted a ‘quick’ route, but it seemed to involve a lot of hills, ( I was unimpressed at the Hastings hills) and a lot of traffic, so we turned back a little way onto a side road which was much more pleasant. There was still a lot of climbing, or in my case pushing, till we reached the top. Then a long downhill, and I managed to hit 40kph. At the bottom we were on to the Pett levels. Very flat along the coast just inside the coastal defences to Winchelsea beach. There were ponds alongside the road with large flocks of birds. The wind was blowing so hard I was bowling along at 30kph without pedalling!! Fantastic then, but what about the return journey I thought! Picked up National cycle route 2 signs just outside Winchelsea, and quickly turned off the route. Quick, but heavily trafficked route into Rye. Past the 1066 walking route. Had a lovely lunch of fish soup, and then time to go back. Turned down a quiet route to Rye harbour, and then turned west into the headwind through a nature reserve. I can’t begin to describe the strength of the wind. I was pedalling as hard as I could and struggling to move at 9kph per hour!! A couple of gusts of wind brought me to a complete standstill, and so a few times I got off and walked. So hardcore!!

Dist.  22 km.

Hastings to Eastbourne. 5th February 2011.

Again a good weather forecast for February, but unfortunately we had a very late start, so another short stage. We had intended to take the train from Lewes, but the rain on the way there, and the strong headwind made us rethink and go to Eastbourne. The intention was to take the train and cycle back, keeping clockwise. Stephen put the helmets down on the ground, and they were immediately picked up and blown across the car park, the wind was so strong. We must be mad I thought, to take the train to Eastbourne and cycle back!! And then I had a brainwave, why not cycle there and take the train back!! We’re making up our own route, it’s our trip, why not do part of it the other way? So we got down to the promenade and headed west. We bowled along with the strong westerly at our back. On the edge of Eastbourne there was a large new marine development. Past Pevensey Bay, Pevensey itself now lies a little way inland. From Pevensey Bay we could turn off the through road onto a much quieter, partly private, road through Norman’s Bay. Coming out of Norman’s Bay was an unusual manned level crossing, with the attendant in a small portakabin. We re-crossed the road, and were alongside the coast again, to Cooden Beach, a small place we had never heard of, through Bulverhythe and unfortunately out onto a very busy main road into St Leonard’s on Sea, and a very nasty moment. The road was very busy, full of cars and wet from the drizzle, so Stephen thought it was the ideal opportunity to see how quickly he could descend. The speed was no problem, but locking his brakes when trying to slow down for a bend was!! I came down the hill and around the corner to see him gingerly walking his bike to the side of the road, after failing to make the bend and sliding onto the ground on the wrong side of the road in front of the oncoming traffic. Luckily nothing hit him, and all the drivers seemed very concerned. He was shocked and had to sit down for a while; he really had thought that could be the end, but it wasn’t. Will he be any wiser in the future? I doubt it!! From there it was a slow and safe short distance to Hastings station along the windswept promenade, where the waves pounded the beach, and the spray flew up, with barely another soul there as we enjoyed having the promenade to ourselves. It had (accident apart) been a quick and easy ride, and great for February. If only we’d known we could have gone further.

Dist. 27.5 km

Eastbourne to Worthing.  12th March 2011.

Off we go again. Early morning train to Eastbourne. It was good to be back by the coast today, especially as it was a beautifully calm day; no gale force headwinds to contend with. However, after a short and lovely ride along the seafront cycle paths, it was up and up to Beachy Head. Stephen took the longer road route, which still looked pretty steep, so I opted to push my bike up the footpath, cutting off about a mile. At the beginning it was hard work as it was pretty steep, but then it flattened out into a gentle slope, with cliffs and sea on the left, and grass and bushes with birdsong to the right, and there were great views of the hang-gliders at Beachy Head itself. Completely barking, I thought, being the opposite of an adrenalin junkie. Stephen, of course, was waiting for me at the top. Then the descent; It was brilliant, even I didn’t have to keep braking all the way down as there were wide sweeping bends, with clear views of any traffic, of which there was very little that morning.

Suddenly we were in East Dean with its flint cottages around a lovely village green. Then the idyll was over, as we came out onto a narrow, windy and hilly section of the A259, where I had a very tight near miss with an old red Escort, which couldn’t possibly wait behind me for a few seconds, but had to nearly knock me off in its desperation to join the queue behind Stephen as he toiled up the hill. I was quite unnerved and walked for a while as I felt quite wobbly.

Fortunately we could soon leave the main road at Seaford. I remembered the route from Seaford to Newhaven as horrible, along the A259 again, when I had cycled with the children 10 years ago, but my, how it has improved now. There was a lovely purpose-built cycle route all the way into Newhaven, and cycling was definitely the best way through Newhaven as we sailed past the cars stuck in jams. We turned towards the coast past some little fishing boats, and lots of nets and lobster pots. A very steep climb out of Newhaven and so into Peacehaven, parallel to the main road, and back on National cycle route 2. The weather had been gradually warming up and now it was at its best with the sun peeping through, before it started to disappear behind clouds and get cold again.

From Peacehaven, along the coast to Rottingdean and then along an esplanade built between the cliffs and the sea to the edge of Brighton. It was great along the esplanade, but it came to an abrupt end at Brighton Marina Village, where we ended up on a 2 lane main highway out of it, having stupidly managed to miss the cycle way out, which was hidden at the rear of Asda’s car park!! Silly us! The cycle along Brighton seafront was great. Separate cycle paths all the way; loads of helmetless cyclists. If you build the cycle routes, the cyclists will come! We didn’t stop, apart from a brief cup of coffee looking at the pier, and the crowds having a party there, so we just passed the attractions of Volk’s Electric Railway, claiming to be the oldest operating electric railway in the world, the Victorian Aquarium of the Sealife Centre, and all the grand hotels.

Suddenly, after the hustle and bustle of Brighton most of the cyclists disappeared and we were cycling along the sedate seafront of Hove, past the stunning old villas facing the sea. Then from the delights of Hove it was into the industrial port landscape of Shoreham. It seemed quite a shock after so much of a pretty touristy coastline. Inland I could see the chapel of Lancing College rising up some distance from the coast. It was now much colder and starting to spit with rain as we reached Worthing, and the end of the road, as trains were not going any further westwards today, due to engineering works, again! A great day’s cycling in early Spring.

Dist. 64 km

Worthing to Southbourne. 2nd April 2011.

Early morning train to Worthing. A good day to be out cycling. Started at Worthing station and straight down to the esplanade. Along to Ferring, and a push along the beach. According to Stephen’s mapping it was a cycle path, but it was pushing through the pebbles. It was actually quite pleasant, and in the cross-wind we could see the spray being blown up from the sea across the beach. Along to Rustington, and then Littlehampton, where there was a bridge just for walkers and cyclists across the river, giving great views back past the ships. Along country lanes, and then a brief excursion into town at Bognor. Noticeable for its no cycling along the Esplanade, where there were very few people, so we had to fight it out along with the cars. This contrasted starkly with Worthing and Brighton. Had to move away from the coast as there was no route through, just lots of dead ends along residential streets. Came out on Pagham Harbour and nature reserve. Absolutely idyllic with water on both sides. It reminded me of the Camargue a bit, although with swans instead of egrets and no black bulls. It was very quiet and peaceful. To get from the harbour back onto a road we squelched along a very boggy footpath, definitely not ideal. Then through the Witterings, which didn’t appeal much. It might have been because the road was away from the coast a little through a little shopping precinct. At the edge of West Wittering was a new cycle and wheel chair route for 18km to Chichester. What a great idea! It took us through fields until we turned off at Itchenor where we caught a little ferry across to Bosham. We were lucky as it was the first day of the season, and a cracking day as it was so sunny and warm for this time of year. The ferry landed and there was a walk along a seaweed encrusted walkway to get back to dry land. We cycled around Bosham harbour, which is so lovely, with houses and gardens and the road right by the edge of the hatbour getting covered at high tide. Bosham harbour always seems such an idyllically peaceful place. From there it was a quick blast along the main road to Southbourne and the train home.

Dist.  68 km


The most brightly coloured ferry at Hamble!!
The most brightly coloured ferry at Hamble!!

Poole to Weymouth.  11th June 2011.

Early morning train to Poole. The weather forecast had been cool with showers, but it felt surprisingly warm as we got off the train to meet Paul (Mason) who had cycled over from Weymouth to meet us. We followed the roads around and down and past the multi-million houses at Sandbanks, and the chain ferry there. There were good views across to Brownsea Island and its castle. The short crossing soon passed and we were on the road to Studland. Good views through the dunes and vegetation to the sea. Up through the village of Studland, and up the hill and down into Swanage, where we stopped for lunch. I spent many holidays there as a child and was amazed to see the Punch and Judy there, looking exactly like it did over 40 years ago. I was also surprised how close the Isle of Wight looked.

From Swanage it was up and off to the Purbeck Hills. I had been wary of them, but, as anticipated they were nowhere near as testing as Exmoor. We gained height through Langton Matravers and then across the top to Kingston Matravers, with fantastic views over to Corfe Castle, the edge of Poole Harbour and the Dorset hinterland stretched out into the far distance. We descending into Corfe, through the village and out on a minor road around the castle. Suddenly from the bustle of the tourist village all was quiet, with just the sound of birdsong and bleating lambs. We climbed up to a crest with great views south over the sea and north over miles and miles of Dorset. A great day to be cycling this route.

From the top it was a lovely descent down to Lulworth and again it was back amongst the tourists, whom we joined for an ice-cream, less than 10 miles from cow to cone, they said. The water in the cove was a beautiful azure blue, but we couldn’t delay too long, as we still had a way to go.

Having descended into Lulworth, we had to climb out of it, and by now we seemed to be having a slight headwind, which would intensify as we neared Weymouth. We joined the main road, and yes the road was less hilly, but the cycling was far less enjoyable as the road was fairly busy. No ambling along here looking at the view. We descended down into Weymouth and along the seafront, past the imposing statue of King George III and around the pretty old harbour with its little fishing boats, and up and out to Paul’s house.

Dist.   75 km


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