Sunday, 8 July 2018

Adventure to Dungeness

Dungeness is a location I have wanted to go and pay a visit for some time. I have seen photos from other cyclists and Bromptonians and decided that I needed to go. Back on June 16h, I did.

Having a good look at logistics, a fast train from St Pancras International station would take only 38 minutes to reach Ashford International station. From there it would be a very pleasant 21ish miles to Dungeness.

I managed to convince Dr John to come with me and we met  at St Pancras just after 08:00. Even at this time, things were pretty busy and the queues for Eurostar were massive. Dr John arrived shortly before I did and soon we were on the train. Managing to get some good bicycle specific seats we settled down for the almost quick hop to Ashford.

At Ashford we actually found some difficulty getting out of the station but thankfully managed to eventually find the route out.

Ashord International

The route I had chosen was a good one. There was quite a bit off-road on very pleasant cycle tracks. At one point we crossed a narrow gauge railway track and I could not resist a photo opportunity. I would not have been so keen to do this had I realised how rapidly this little train actually travelled!! On the way back we passed the same way and the little train thundered past believe me!

Don't try this without a friend to hold your bike!

After about 15 miles or so we started to see the coastline and the barren landscape that is Dungeness. It was quite something and different in many ways to any seaside location I have been to.

Dr John

I was looking out for the cottage of the late Derek Jarman, Propect Cottage and before long I was gazing at it in all its glory.

Prospect Co

Prospect Cottage was established by the late Derek Jarman back in (I think) the mid 1980's and I remember it being featured in various articles and television programmes over the years.

Even though I have seen it it print many times I had not seen it in the flesh as it were and I have to say I found it quite beautiful.

'The Rising Sun' by John Donne (1633) adorns one of the walls of the cottage:

Busie old foole, unruly Sunne, 
Why dost thou thus, 
Through windowes, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motion lovers’ seasons run?
Sawcy pedantique wretch, goe chide
Late schoole boyes and sowre prentices, 
Goe tell Court-huntsmen, that the King will ride,
Call countrey ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clyme, 
Nor houres, dayes, moneths, which are the rags of time…
Thou sunne art halfe as happy as wee,
In that the world’s contracted thus. 
Thine age askes ease, and since thy duties bee
To warme the world, that’s done in warming us. 
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere; 
This bed thy centre is, these walls thy spheare

Having taken dozens of photos of the cottage and its garden, we pressed on towards the two lighthouses that along with the nuclear power station dominate the landscape.

The first lighthouse you come across started in 1961 and made of precast concrete rings. It is still in operation and was automated in 1991.

The second opened in 1904 and although no longer used as a lighthouse does serve as a visitors centre and I imagine it affords some pretty good views. I will endeavour to return to it another day.

Dr John waiting for some food

The power station had its licence extended to 2028 and is now owned and operated by EDF Energy. Believe it or not you can actually go on tours but I believe there are security checks that need to need to be gone through several weeks in advance of paying them a visit.

Nuclear Power Station

We were going to eat at a pub called the Britannia - the only one in Dungeness but sadly they were not serving food for another 40 minutes. We therefore decided to head towards the station where food was being served.

While we waited a small narrow gauge steam train pulled up and took several passengers on a short ride. This was the train I mentioned earlier and again I have to report it can certainly go at speed!

We were treated to a rather tasty cod and chips and feeling all the better for it we started to head back to Ashford Station.

Before we left Dungeness the draw of the seaside was too much and we decided to explore its famous shingle beach.

Old boats and various items of fishing equipment were being bleached over time in the warmth of the sun.

The landscape was unusual and not like any beach I had ever been to. Strange plants grew here and there, only adding to the uniqueness of the location.

The route there and back was a good one. Quiet lanes and stunning Kent countryside. I liked Dungeness a great deal and as I cycled back towards Ashford I knew I would definitely return again.

My 'Surly Disc Trucker' - the only bicycle I seem to be using at the moment - gave me reason to again assert that it is my favourite bike. It handles the road and the rough stuff quite easily and the rack and panniers make carrying whatever you want a breeze.

Arriving at Ashford Station we had cycled 42 miles. I enjoyed the ride, Dungeness and the company of Dr John. As stated, I am pretty sure I will do this ride again but next time perhaps a little longer.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

London to Brighton Overnight on my Surly Disc Trucker

If you have read any of my blog post about night rides to the coast you will already know that I am more than a little fond of them. The offering on Friday 8th June was back to where my night rides truly started - London to Brighton. Click here to read my entry from 2013. 

The week was dominated by thoughts of this ride and it would be my first opportunity to give my new Surly Disc Trucker a really good run. As the day approached I started to look forward to it more and more. In fact the 'London Nocturne' folding bike race - which I have participated in for the past 6 years - was also on that weekend but if I went to this I could not go to the London to Brighton overnighter as I would be too tired. It was a very easy decision for me. I mean 25-30 minutes racing on my Brompton just cannot compete with 8+ hours riding through the night.

I was itching to take my Surly out! The Surly Disc Trucker is not a lightweight in any way. It is built like an Abrams tank and as tough. I could have taken a small saddle bag but decided I would take one  Ortlieb City pannier bag. In this I packed:

Light waterproof jacket
Ultra-light Gillet
Windproof Altura jacket
2 x inner tubes
1 x spare chain
3 x oat bars
Battery pack

I certainly wasn't packing light and consequently my bike was quite heavy - just the way I want it. This may seem a rather unwise thing to do - especially as we had been advised to pack only the essentials - but the way I saw it the Surly is a touring bicycle and I wanted to see how it would perform for light touring - assuming you can call this ride, light touring?

I set off for the short ride to the tube station in the knowledge that both Geoff and Dr John would not be in attendance. Thankfully Mark (King of the hill) was though. I arrived at the meeting point on the South Bank in good time. With Mark arriving shortly after we were soon listening to the interactive instructions from ride leader Adrian. After being told to carry out some last minute checks of our tyre and just after midnight we were off.

I found the Surly very comfortable and it was if I had owned it for many years. The bar end shifters again proved to be more than capable and I enjoyed using them. The right shifter gave a satisfying click when moving the chain up and down the cogs and the friction shifter for moving the chain to one of the 3 x chainrings was quick and easy.

It wasn't too long before the last remains of urban finally gave way to a more rural scene. The weather conditions were near perfect. It was Goldilocks weather in many ways. I simply wore a merino base layer and a light jogging top.

A combination of the 1.75 inch tyres, the excellent disc brakes and the fact I felt confident that the Surly would cope with just about any road surface, resulted in me travelling a great deal faster down some of the lengthy descents we encountered. I get I was still being rather cautious but unintentionally clocked up almost 40mph down one of them. For someone who believes in taking it easy down hills, this was quite a shock.

I have to say that I was really enjoying the ride, chatting with Mark and the many other participants and cruising along on the Surly to the extent that our arrival at the halfway stop at the Burstow Scout Hut came as a surprise.

For £5 the mug of tea, sandwich, and cake was a bargain and very welcome. Conversation was rather muted for many - including me - as tiredness crept up slowly in the warmth of the Scout Hut.

Coming out into the early morning dawn I didn't feel too cold at all and only get the need to put on a neck buff - which incidentally came off about 10 minutes later.

When we emerged from the Scout Hut we were about 30 minutes away from the first of the climbs, namely Turners Hill. I ascended this quite comfortably and had not needed to employ the smallest chainring.

With Turners Hill done the next was the famous Ditchling Beacon. We were making such good time that Adrian our ride leader decided to mosey and have a sit down so we could kill a little time. Sadly, the discovery of a broken spoke meant that he could not valiantly lead us over the Beacon. Adam - ride leader for many another night rides to the coast - stepped in and took up the lead for the remainder of the ride.

As we neared the Beacon, signs pointed in its general direction and the anticipation of being able to tackle this formidable climb grew.

Mark was off into the distance when we reached the car park at the base of the Beacon. I readied myself and made my ascent. I took a steady pace and at last found a use for the third chainring. I had been looking forward to using it and I now had my chance. I had a couple of cogs on the cassette left as I eventually neared the top of the beacon.  I had done it. The surly had done me proud and I liked it even more for it.

Naturally, I had to take a few photos at the top of the Beacon. Despite having done this several times in the past, I still enjoy it and yes the false summits did nearly catch me out again.

Those of us who wanted to head into Brighton started to cycle the last few miles. At the seafront and in view of the famous Brighton Pier, I stopped for more photo opportunities.

Wanting to get back to the big smoke, I decided to forgo breakfast and made my way to the Station. Getting on the next available train to Victoria with one other participant who had a similar idea, I made it back in very good time.

As much as I do not want to admit it, big wheels are a great deal easier for this type of distance than those on my Brompton. As for my Surly Disc Trucker, I get how it has such a cult following. I loved using it on this adventure!

I love these nocturnal rides! Many of my family and friends just don't get it and cannot understand or appreciate the appeal. They are truly addictive and I am always looking to see when the next one is. Sadly, this won't be until middle of August! Far too long!!