Tuesday 23 August 2016

London to Whitstable overnighter #2

Friday was a little hectic to say the least. Early evening saw me drive back from East Anglia, get myself and my bike ready and head off to Potters Fields near Tower Bridge for the London to Whitstable overnighter.

Coming back in the car the heavens opened and thoughts immediately turned to what bike? I didn't want to get my lovely Condor Fratello road bike wet but then again I still wanted to take it. I thought about taking one of my beloved Brompton bicycles and giving them an outing as they haven't had much in the way of adventures of late. The decision made it was my Condor that made its way outside, at a time when many might actually be heading off to bed.

When I arrived in central London after cycling about three miles I estimated that I had roughly another eight to go to get to the start point. As I knew I would arrive in good time I decided to take a few photos - again with my iPhone SE - of London at night.

Passing Hyde Park Corner - our usual meeting point for these rides - I could not help but feel a little nostalgic for the location.

I cycled down The Mall and past Buckingham Palace and all was fairly quiet. Stopping at Horse Guards again all was eerily quiet. The moon illuminated the parade ground quite a bit and in the distance the London Eye glowed. How things would change later on!

The Guards Memorial on Horse Guards Road looked pretty good on a clear night illuminated by uprights. A lone tourist with a professional looking tripod was busy getting the right shot with a hefty looking beat of a camera.

Crossing the Thames at Westminster Bridge was where things changed almost instantly from being fairly quiet to as busy as you can possibly get.

Stopping halfway over the Thames - still on the bridge of course -  I had to negotiate huge numbers of pedestrians who like the undead seemed to have no true purpose or direction as they walked around.

At Jubilee Gardens I decided to take a few photos of the London Eye. It was of course closed for business but was still a draw to all around.

Cycling along the Thames path on the south side of the river was interesting to say the least. It was incredibly busy and I was reduced at times to performing a track stand. This was a bonus as I have not ever succeeded in doing one on a Brompton but discovered I could - for a few seconds - on my Condor road bike.

As I cycled along the mix of people and moods was as dramatic and varied as the London skyline. There were people who were merry and cheered me by. Some were terrified of a bike coming towards them - at a snails pace I add - and from their reaction and look in their eyes it was if I were an articulated lorry coming towards them at speed. Couples walked hand in hand. Couples had heated arguments and it was obvious for all to see that the night had not gone well and was possibly going to get worse. People being sick in near exorcist style and the low point was seeing a seagull on a fence almost mimic the people being sick as it regurgitated something that had not agreed with it.

When I arrived at Potters Fields it was all quiet and those already there had decided to wait on the other side of the road from where we had met on a previous ride.

The wrong meeting point

The correct meeting point

Soon Tim our ride leader, a gentleman among men, arrived and told us we were standing in the wrong place. Obligingly everyone crossed the road and waited where they should have.

The ever smiling Sam arrived shortly after me and not too long after that David and Anne. Now, we all have Brompton bicycles and all of us but Sam have done this ride on a Brompton, but keeping up with the recent trend for big wheels all of us rocked up on our road bikes.

Now at the correct meeting point

After our safety briefing and at the stroke of midnight we were off. It was a lovely night to be out. Moonlight to help light our way, a gentle breeze and quite warm. That wondrous sound of cleats clipping into pedals filled the air. Whitstable lay there in the distance.

Our ride leader

I had decided to take my Rapha Brevet Windblock jersey with a light Howies merino base layer underneath. This was a winning combination. The jersey with its own high merino wool content and the base layer kept me both warm and cool as and when required. The panel of fabric on the front of the jersey meant that even after the hallway stop I didn't need any other clothing. Merino is amazing stuff!

We soon passed Woolwich and went through the Royal Arsenal where posh new riverside developments are all around - a quite dramatic change from a few years ago. We seemed to reach Woolwich quite quickly.

Travelling further east, again making good time, we reached Gravesend. This area has an accent history with both Stone Age and Iron Age implements being found locally. It also possess one of the oldest surviving markets in the UK.

At Gravesend many of us tried to get some photos of the river and the hive of activity in the distance. Some stretched their legs, while others had something to drink or eat. We stopped like this throughout the ride so that the tail was able to catch us up. When it did the two riders acting as Tail End Charlie shouted out 'all up!' with gusto.

As there were roadworks along our route Tim decided to take up on a stretch of path running adjacent to the Thames and Medway Canal. Now I do have to say that we were warned about this in the pre-ride email but this did little to diminish what was about to happen.

The path was quite flat and there weren't any huge potholes. As canal paths go, it was pretty good. There were however lots of sharp looking stones, gravel and all manner of creatures lurking about.

The path seemed never ending. I was concerned that my tyres would burst open at any moment, due to all the sharp stones I have already mentioned. Insects of every type and size seemed to want to fly directly into my mouth.

As far as I was concerned this path was the type you see on those YouTube videos, where professional stunt riders hurtle down on a meaty mountain bike. I was terrified for my lovely bike, the tyres and whether I was going to ever get to the end!

As I cycled along I have to confess to letting out more than a few curses. I even speculated that David might even remember this particular route and repeat this section!

Rear lights in the distance got closer and closer. Was I getting faster and catching them up? No, they were stationary. When I got close enough to see who it was, I discovered that it was David and Anne. David had succumbed to a rear wheel puncture. As everything was in hand I pressed on. This point was only halfway so I had more to endure!

How I managed to get to the other side I will never know? One by one people emerged and few spoke of what they had just been through. If it had of been raining I am not sure I would have made with through at all!

A few miles more and we reached the Sanctuary of the halfway stop at the Church of the English Martyrs. One of the best halfway stops anywhere, we were treated to cakes, cheese rolls and tea. It was all lovely and we were very grateful to the lovely people who got up early to prepare it all for us.

It wasn't quite dawn when we left the halfway point but it was not too long before it was light and dawn had broken. Just after leaving we could hear an audible pop which was David's rear tyre again. This was soon patched up with the help of Adrian and his bag of tricks and before long we were off again, David's tyre remaining good for the rest of the ride.

The Kent countryside proved to be as beautiful as ever and perhaps why people so enjoy this ride, with many labelling it their favourite.

It is hard to convey the wonders of cycling on country lanes during the hours of dawn. Equally, photos do it little justice.

There were a few hills on this ride but nothing too taxing. I am finding ascending hills a great deal easier on my road bike. There are more gears to play with but the ability to click down a gear and ride while standing, makes me thing I could get up almost any hill.

As we cycled along with the sun shining down, birds sang happily and part from their well rehearsed melodies the only other sound was the faint noise of wheels going round.

Soon we had reached Faversham and could see the impressive spire of, St Mary of Charity church. Tin our ride leader informed us that shortly after Faversham the ride would change slightly. He would now follow and those interested in cycling at pace could do so all the way to the breakfast stop at Whitstable. This is something of a tradition and one I have entered into enthusiastically in the past.

Previously on my Brompton I could keep up for a few miles before having to ease off the pace, not being able to keep up with the road bikes. In addition the strong headwinds that always seem to be around during the last few miles to Whitstable make it difficult - for me at least - to maintain top speed on my Brompton.

On this ride I was on my Condor road bike and I did indeed find it easier to maintain higher speeds - even when the strong headwind that was forecast to be going the other way, most certainly was not. I was happily pushing along at about 19 mph and not able to really go much faster when Adam - our ride leader for the truly excellent Shoreham-by-sea ride earlier in the year - sailed past at a much greater speed and soon disappeared into the distance.

Reaching Whitstable all I had to do was to turn left at the road leading down to our breakfast stop, 'Waterfront Club Cafe Bar.' Unfortunately but not surprisingly with my sense of direction I made a couple of wrong left turns before I found the correct one.

With the majority of the riders sitting out on the balcony, we enjoyed a pretty fine full English with great views out onto the bay.

Saying our goodbyes we headed for Whitstable station where we had a train to catch back to London.

At the station, David and Anne and I boarded a fairly empty train along with a few other riders. The journey was a little over and hour and although packed by the time we reached St Pancras station, all was okay. Saying goodbye to David and Anne just off the Euston Road we went our separate ways.

This was an excellent ride. Sadly it is the last night ride to the coast for this year. There are a couple more which do look interesting but they are not the classic out of London by night, arrive at the coast for breakfast. I really love these rides and hope that 2017 brings another season as good as this.

Many thanks to Tim for his calm, friendly leadership and great route. Also thanks to the lovely people at the halfway point for getting up to feed and water us all. Thank you to the gentleman who acted at Tail End Charlie and to the great company.

Map and ride data

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