Sunday 14 July 2013

The Perfect Cycling Day? London to Whitstable

Yesterday I rose early for a days cycling that I had been building up to for some time. It was a days cycling that I was mildly reticent about. 80 miles is a considerable journey and if you have read my blog during the last few days you will already know this.

The meeting point was the north of Trafalgar Square at 07:00 and I was fashionably 10 minutes late. Mark and Geoff with their respective green and red Brompton bikes waited for my own Orange Brompton to complete the famous 'traffic lights' colour scheme.

As we set off a very nice American gentleman took a shine to our bikes and liked the Kojak tyres Mark and I had fitted to our bikes. He asked us where we were going and the distance. When we told him Whitstable some 80 miles away it was a bit of a conversation killer. He said that he had done similar distances on a road bike but on a Brompton...

With little fanfare we were off with Mark navigating our passage to Otford some 29 or so miles away where we would meet other members of the group who didn't want to cycle the full 80 miles. As we cycled off I wondered if the people viewing us riding in a perfect 'traffic light' peloton would believe we were going to be cycling 80 miles on our beloved Brompton bicycles?

Progress out of London - perhaps due to the time of the day - was good. Mark, Geoff and I have a very good cycling relationship and we are able to maintain a comfortable and purposeful pace that is slightly faster than when we are riding in larger groups. As such we were making good time. We treated ourselves to a few water stops and although the sun was yet to make its presence felt, the foundations were set to make this day a scorcher.

After heading past Dulwich it was if we were transported from the urban to the rural and the English countryside opened up and welcomed adoring views.

Mark had informed us that he had bought us a small 'Beet it' organic stamina shot to aid our progress and after about 10 miles we drank it down. As it was mixed with lemon juice it was refreshing, tart and served to perform the phycological boost we needed.

The preceding 10 miles were quite demanding. There wasn't a steep hill to ascend but the gradient was enough to make things very hard work. Progress was thus slow. When cycling through this section conversation was muted as we focused on maintaining a rhythm needed to progress forward without expelling too much energy. After what seemed like an eternity things seemed to level off slightly and the last nine or so miles in to Otford were as past paced as we dared.

The views were quite simply stunning! My photos taken with my iPhone do not convey how pretty things looked to my eyes. As one cycled along it was as if the views obtained of fields, farmhouses, colours and valleys through gaps in hedges were competing for one admiration. They seemed to get better and better the further we cycled.

Adding to the beautiful views was an abundance of wildlife. Red Admiral, Peacock and Cabbage White butterflies flew on their seemingly random flight paths. A lone Cuckoo could be heard calling in the distance trying to be heard about a combine harvester making bails of hay. Buzzards and Kestrels flew high overhead while Wrens, Yellowhammers and Sparrows darting in and out of the hedgerows.

Our target was to try and get to Otford by 10:15. With an average moving speed of 14.1 mph we managed this with time to spare so we retired to a cafe which overlooked a lovely village pond. There we sat for a good half an hour or so to charge our batteries.

The Pond

Otford looked rather good and it was a shame that we were only passing through. With water bottles filled up (with ice) by the kind ladies who worked at the cafe we made the short journey to Otford railway station where the remainder of the group had travelled from London Victoria. We had Richard and Charlie (on their first club rides), Fernado, Clara, Anne, David, Guy and my partner in crime iCrazyBee join us. With Mark, Geoff and myself it made 11 of us in total.

Otford Railway Station

With sun cream applied again we headed off almost immediately up a steep hill. This was to be the flavour of the entire ride. Hills appeared at regular intervals and I was glad of my clipped in pedals which did a great job of make things a little more manageable. More about hills later.

I am so glad I bought these!!

With a larger group there was no way that we could sustain the brisk pace set by the 'traffic light' trio in the first half. Still, look at the ride data the average moving speed was still a respectable 12.7 mph so considering the hills so if which took an age to climb I think we did pretty good.

As for the first half of the ride out of London the views were quite simply stunning. Each view seemed to get better and better and if time had been on our side stopping to take some landscape photos with a good camera would have produced some amazing photographs. We were cycling through Kent and its moniker 'the garden of England' was wholeheartedly deserved.

One other observation was that the fields tended to be on a huge scale. The photo below captures only a small portion - perhaps less than a tenth of the size of this one field!

Little villages, picture postcard in their looks popped up every now and them and I relished the opportunity to stop and wait for the slower riders so that I could take in the atmosphere. The photos below show a village where time had stopped perhaps in the 1950's. There were very few cars and I expected to see Miss Marple out doing her errands and viewing these people on strange, small wheeled bikes with suspicion.

At the 50 mile point (50 miles for the 'traffic light' three who cycled from Trafalgar Square) we said goodbye to the gentleman that is Geoff. He unfortunately had to be elsewhere for another engagement. We said our goodbyes on an incredibly busy roundabout until next Saturday when we attempt the Dunwich Dynamo!

At the 24ish mile point word spread from those with mapping Garmin GPS units that there was a hill on the route not far away that looked like a vertical ascent. We set off thinking that this could not be wholly accurate. Little did we know...

I started up a steep incline with confidence and made good progress. I had to pass a few riders and it is best to go at the pace you are comfortable with. Often, some of these riders will then pass you. It was not long until I had bottomed out of my gears with nowhere to go. With perspiration flooding from every pour I dug in and tried harder. This hill...mountain surely just seemed to keep on going. I had already made up my mind that this was more severe than Box Hill and even made Ditchling Beacon seem tame.

As Mark, David and Guy went into the distance with perhaps 300 metres to go I could not pedal seated any more. I tired standing and pedalling as the chaps in front were doing but failed dismally. I stopped and unclipped. I walked the remainder to see the three chaps prostrate on the floor taking in lungfuls of oxygen. Perhaps having already cycled over 50 miles at this point my legs weren't up to it?

Mark, David, Guy, (I  think) Anne and perhaps Fernando made it to the top without a foot down. They did really well. (I must point our again that Mark was on a 54T chainring)! As we waited for the other riders speculation mounted as to the name of this hill. There were several suggestions but my far the post popular was suggested by David. I cannot write what it was christened by David but did agree with it!!

Later we found out that it was in fact Hollingbourne Hill. This is slightly over a mile long with a 10% gradient. It was horrendous! This by far was the most difficult hill I have cycled up yet. I would go as far as to suggest that it may have been an uncharted mountain. I write this as my ears momentarily started popping - surely due to being at altitude?!

A lesson from this for me personally is that I must gain more confidence and skill at riding out of the saddle. This is especially true on the steepest of hills. I will have to practice at Richmond Park and test out my efforts when I next tackle Ditchling Beacon on an overnight ride.

Unfortunately not long after all this drama Mark sustained a puncture on another hill. This was phoned through to the few that were ahead. We took sanctuary here and watched the world go by until the group tending to Mark's puncture returned.

The view from the place of sanctuary

We lay down on the ground and had a rest. I gazed up through the trees while lying on my back. As I did verses from Wordsworth's ramblings about clouds felt more poignant.


Just checking the repair

As we progressed ever forward there were lots of signs that hinted at the significance of the route we were taking. Many road signs referred to pilgrims and one 'Pilgrims Way' was the route taken my many Christians on the way to the shrine of Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. There were a few old timber framed houses many of which might have provided a bed for the weary pilgrim on his/her way to Canterbury.

A rest point for pilgrims in the Tudor age?

At about three miles from Faversham we waited for slower riders and the decision was made to stop where we could and treat ourselves to an ice-cream and stock up on water. At this point I drank the last of mine! While waiting in the opposite field two Jack Russell dogs - one brown and white and the other a chestnut colour - barked furiously at us (having chased away several horse also in the field. The conversation soon turned to whether you were a cat or dog person. Many of us including yours truly came down on the side of the cat. I remarked that the Jack Russell was well know as being a biter but were really all mouth and no trouser.

We set off and I was forced to eat my words. As we cycled past the field containing the two dogs they ducked under the fence adjacent to the road and proceeded to run and bark at us. The brown and white dog bit at the heels of Guy who was having none of it. The chestnut coloured animal took a run up directly at me and jumped at least half a metre in the air. Its teeth bared I looked to see if there was any sign of a foaming mouth as the vicious little beast went for my feet...

Now, I am enjoying the clipped in pedal but it is early days and I am not 100% efficient when unclipping at speed. With this near feral dog coming at me I wobbled, unclipped my right foot with the intention of defending my honour. The only thing that came out of my mouth was 'be gone rat!' Luckily it sensed more movement behind me and ran off.  I clipped back in and I am not too proud to say that my acceleration from this danger zone was faster than that of the two Brompton World Championships I have participated in.

Near Faversham a local Co-op provided the water and the ice-cream we needed. As we entered the air-conditioned surroundings my thoughts came out aloud when I said 'lovely air-conditioning!' I even gave the poor shop assistant a thumbs up. I suspect he may have thought we were care in the community but I cared not. Like a Viking raiding party we plundered not for gold but water, soft drinks, energy drinks, ice lollies...anything cold!!

Faversham Co-op!

Before long we could smell the sea air and eventually see it. We had done it! Some of us had done 79ish miles and some 49. We sat along the sea front taking in the views and what we had accomplished in one day.

What a view - well worth it

Some of our group partook in fish and chips but I favoured an ice-cream. A nearby seller gave me the largest ice-cream i have ever had. The picture below was taken after some time. I was assumed that iCrazyBee went to the same seller and got one a third of the size!

A titanic ice-cream

The last time I was at Whitstable was during the night ride. Then Whitstable was quiet and devoid of activity. When we arrived the place was a hive of activity and all the beach huts were occupied by their owners.

The famous beach huts

Some of us wanted to get the 20:09 train back to Victoria so we headed off to the nearby railway station. The fact that the ticket office was closed and no staff were present did not provide the warning of what was to come...

We waited and we waited. Notices said cancelled, delayed and then nothing at all. Alternative routes were looked at but options were limited to say the least. One of our group Charlie knowing that he would not make it home in time set off to find a bed and breakfast hotel  so he could spend the night and return early the following morning. We later found out that he had no luck and had to spend the night under the starts on a bench by the sea. As time progressed the station platform began to get busier and busier. Eventually a train was set to arrive at 22:09 some two hours later than the one we wanted. It was late and rolled in at about 22:15.

The platform gradually filling up

This train was packed solid and there was standing room only. This was fine for me as I hate public transport at the best of times and have always had a problem with crowded tube trains, trains and buses. I suppose it is one of the reasons my Brompton bicycles are so important to me!

The seats to the left of where I was standing were taken up my a large group of young boys and girls perhaps 16 - 18 years old. Their noise and language was not good and added to this many of the boys were bare chested. I don't care how hot it gets, for me this is vulgar  and renders the participant to be viewed as common at best and well known to the police at worst.

This group of friends had an argument between themselves which resulted in two of their number walking to the next carriage. Within a few minutes one of them came back to inform that someone had started with someone called John. Of course the boys got up to defend the honour of their friend, encouraged by the screams from the girls.

I could say that it was like that scene from Romeo and Juliet where bands of young men are fighting in the streets of an Italian city but I cannot. What followed was like the worst Jeremy Kyle or Gerry Springer television programme.

The train stopped and did not move until the police arrived. Later, Mark told me that a member of our group (who is a police officer) might have had to intervene and required his assistance. (Luckily both didn't have to). Mark and I laughed at this as we speculated what would have happened if he or I were asked to assist in this situation. I can say that I would be next to useless. In my mind it would be like Dr. Leonard Hofstadter and Dr. Sheldon Cooper trying to assist.

The announcement came to disembark the train we were on for another on the opposite platform. We did sat on the train and waited. After several minutes we were told to disembark this train for the one we had just got off!!

On the original train we set off and at the next station were told to get off get on another train that was on the same platform? In other words the train we were on! It is all too confusing to write any more about but I can say that we eventually got to Victoria!

On the train!

Forgetting the train debacle, this was a brilliant ride. The weather was glorious. The route demanding and more importantly the company was good. I had asserted that I would never go to Whitstable again (due to the trains) but I almost certainly will. These things happen and luckily owning a Brompton I am 99% of the time able to unfold and cycle away.

Incidentally when I arrived at Victoria I said my goodbyes to everyone that had made it there and proceeded to get lost. My intention was to head for Hyde Park where I knew the route home. I ended up at the Houses of parliament and got a round of applause by some drunk tourists who shouted 'allez allez!' as I rounded a corner.

All in I cycled close to 95 miles. As I write this I don't actually feel that bad. There are a few very mild aches on my legs where I have used different muscles than I normally do because of using clipped in pedal but apart from that I feel pretty good. It certainly gives me some confidence that I can do the 120 mile Dunwich Dynamo this coming Saturday.

You can view the map and ride data by clicking on the links below.

Trafalgar Square to Otford mape and ride data

Otford to Whitstable map and ride data


  1. great ride!! reading your post, i could almost imagine myself there, along the route ... beautiful scenic views and 11 Bromptons would be a sight, too!! :)

  2. Wow . . that's quite a ride. Lovely photos and description. I hope the monkii behaved its self?

  3. A great adventure, well done.


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