Day 1…….bit of a shock to the old legs. Kent wasn’t as forgiving as first thought. The day started with a bit of a logistical nightmare as I needed to get myself, bike and luggage down two flights of stairs at 530 in the morning in the dark. I couldn’t find any light switches and soon the early morning darkness was filled with profanities as I tripped here, banged my knee there, dropped my wallet etc etc etc.
Marble Arch is very impressive by day but when lit up during the darker hours, I think it looks even better. At 545 there were still people milling about around the monument. After a quick selfie (actually numerous attempts at a selfie until I got one where I didn’t look a complete burk) I wheeled off down through Hyde Park. Still dark but busy with early morning commuters.
Buck house was first and following a quick pic, my Garmin satnav decided to stop working – it’s amazing how much we’ve come to rely on technology. It’s also amazing how a few swear words actually improve a situation such as this and after a few minutes I was back on track heading for the Vauxhall bridge following one of London’s cycling superhighways (sounds impressive – they’ve just added a few kerbs here and there to segregate the cyclists from motor vehicles. A good idea as there is, in England a certain section of society that won’t think twice about passing a cyclist with inches to spare in a 2 ton lump of metal. However, I also experienced yesterday that the London cycling fraternity also has a similar thing going on. Now the risk from cars has diminished only to be replaced by complete arses on bikes who will cut you up as soon as look at you! Ok rant over!
This ride out of central London was a first for me and the provision of cycle-friendly lanes is excellent and far better than expected. Soon enough I had crossed into Kent following either the A20 or M20. Traffic going into London on this road is immense and it always begs the question, where does everybody park when they get there?
After crossing the River Medway, there was a steady climb on a recognised cycle route that was nothing but a poorly put-down bridle way. The surface was very loose, large stones and almost impossible to pedal on. I ended up pushing the bike most of the way until I reached to top at Bluebell Hill village. I’d also run out of water so I spied an old chap in his front garden who was just saying goodbye to a visitor. I politely asked if he would mind refilling my water bottles and his reply left me speechless. “I’m on a water meter! That’ll cost me!” I said ok and put my bottles back on my bike. The visitor obviously said something to him like ‘Don’t be so bloody mean!’ And as I was about to pedal off he had a change of heart and barked at me to give me the bottles. I replied with a curt “I don’t want your charity! I’ll try your neighbour”. The neighbour was a very sweet lady who filled the bottles in an instant and I mentioned my encounter with the chap next door and what he had said. Her reply was equally as shocking….in a classic Kentish accent, “eees a vile bostard that one! We doan even ave meters ere. Bladdy water bald won’t fittem!” She went on to give me other examples of his behaviour and personality before I took my leave and carried on. Why are people this way? Are they born like it or does it take practice? If it’s the latter then this chap has had buckets of practice or us just a natural!
Any cyclists considering a jaunt through Kent, read the following paragraph and take heed. I plotted the majority of the route on Google mapping and keen to get away from traffic I plumped for the signed cycle route known locally as the Pilgrims Way. Well all I can say is that these pilgrims must have had some pretty sturdy cycling hardware with thick chunky tyres and good suspension. For the touring cyclist, it’s not to be recommended. In parts, the surface is potholed – actually it’s more like landmine scars, filled with loose stones and almost impossible to navigate on a loaded touring bike. You take your life in your hands on the downhill bits and your bike in your hands whilst pushing the bloody thing on the uphill bits. Eventually I gave up and resorted to the A20 which, was surprisingly quiet. Lunch was taken in the pretty village of Charing at the Mulberry tea rooms. I got talking to the owner and ended up leaving with two huge complementary slabs of cake – coffee & walnut and lemon drizzle. Result!
One of the Pilgrims. Knackered from biking thru Kent. He’s been here for years and can’t face going any further. His bike has long since been stolen!
The remainder of the day passed without incident. 77 tough miles on legs that aren’t in optimum condition. I’m hoping it was the toughest day of the ride. Looking forward to the flatlands of northern France on the morrow.
Many thanks to everyone that has donated and for the messages of support.
Bye for now.