Until now I’ve only used this blog for writing about my multi day touring rides but never for any of my longer single day journeys. I like to do a few rides each year where I take a day off work and just spend it in the saddle. These rides are usually somewhere down here in the South East although not always directly from home; I sometimes use the car or train to give alternative start and/or end points. Having just completed such a ride around the same sort of time as I got around to writing up my ride along the Lon Las Cymru, I thought that maybe I could write up about some of these longer day rides after all; so here am I.
My riding from November through the winter had been fairly limited. Though I have been slowly getting back up to speed and fitness levels since the new year, I found myself at the tail end of February not having done a full day’s ride in a good number of months and still in pretty poor general condition. I had therefore set myself a moderately challenging 100km ride between Ashford, Canterbury and Dover (and back to Ashford).
I was up fairly early to have a light breakfast, load the bike into the car and drive over to Ashford. My other half works away three days a week and I normally collect her from the station there on a Friday evening so it made sense to use the town as a base. I parked up next to some new flats next to the old train works. The shell of the train works still remains; it looks as though it is going to be converted into more flats; the broken bits of asbestos roofing lying around so close to the new flats was a bit worrying though.
I parked up in a space next to a bench which I parked myself on whilst putting on overshoes etc. and was on my way a touch before 9.30am. Ashford isn’t the prettiest of towns but is quite well provisioned with bike lanes and I was soon on a fairly familiar route out of the town and headed for the village of Wye on the way to Canterbury. I’ve done this route a few times before; though on all bar one occasion in the opposite direction. Some nice quiet country lanes lead you through the Great Stour valley below the escarpment of the Kent Downs into the pretty village of Wye.
Just outside the village tucked into some woods behind a wall lies the remains of what is shown on the OS map as being “Government Offices”. I can’t be 100% sure but looking at the overgrown remains of these post war office buildings it is highly likely that this was the centre for some form of nefarious government experiments. I didn’t get any photos as high vis Lycra didn’t seem the best garb for undercover photo shoots in top secret weapons labs so you’ll have to take my word for it.
Beyond Wye I followed the roads along the valley ignoring the turning off that heads up onto the downs. The NCN route used to head up into the hills out of Canterbury before diving steeply back down here but recently a new route has been opened up along a bridleway that cuts out most of the surplus climbing. The new route starts just north of Godmersham. There are a couple of short sharp rises and much of the track, which is loose gravel but fine to ride along, is in the trees lining the side of the hill. There are some breaks in the trees with views across the valley to Chilham Castle.
I was doing the ride the day after ‘Storm Doris’ had hit Britain. The winds had mostly gone now but her visit was evidenced by a large number of small branches littering the track. There was also one larger branch. Let’s be honest; it was a tree, blocking the entire trail. I had no option other than to lift the bike over the blockage. I did tweet the image below to Sustrans. I’ve not heard back but hopefully they have cleared it by now.
The cycle way rejoins the road network on a quiet lane just before gliding down to Chartham from where the last couple of miles into Canterbury follow the riverside trail.
The Stour valley here is truly beautiful despite some busy roads and trains running nearby. The river itself is gloriously clear and inviting as it flows quickly into the city centre as I also did on the neighbouring track. There were a few dog walkers with free roaming pooches to navigate around but before long you realise you are coming up to the inner ring road.
The inner ring road runs right next to the city walls and coming in along this route brings you through them next to Canterbury Castle. I’ve been to the city many times but never looked around the Castle so was happy to have the opportunity to finally take a look. However on pulling up outside it became evident that it was shut. Clearly the castle is in trouble – the walls do not look to be well conserved and I could see why the castle had been fenced off. Having since looked around on the internet I can’t find any evidence that there is any work planned; rather it almost looks as though the council have shut it up and walked away. I sincerely hope not but things do not look good.
After a therefore truncated stop I headed back along the cycle route in towards the city centre; following the city walls and paying a visit to another landmark I’ve not previously been to; the monument on top of the possible castle motte mound in the Dane John Gardens. The next stop on my itinerary was to visit the church of Saint Martin; the oldest church in England having been originally founded during the Roman period. It still maintains some bits of Roman building material within its structure although evidently these materials have been reused in later (although still very early) rebuilding. The interior of the church is closed on Fridays; the day I was visiting; however I was in luck. Some workmen were repairing the church organ and they kindly let me in to look around the inside of the church.
The day was now turning out nice, although it was still a bit cold so whilst I did stop for a sandwich in the churchyard I didn’t hang around. I had planned that I would visit the church and then work out how to get myself onto cycle route 16 bound for Dover. As it turns out the church is just one short road off the route so upon leaving I was immediately on my way out towards Patrixbourne. Patrixbourne has a lovely church but I’ve stopped there before (riding from Folkestone to Canterbury on route 17) so carried on and instead turned off onto unfamiliar territory where routes 16 and 17 part ways just outside the village.
After a pretty ford on the edge of the village the route started a climb up onto the Kent downs along a series of small lanes heading up and down (but mostly up) the rolling hills. The route passes through the small village of Barfrestone. The village itself is pretty although nothing too remarkable; however its church is a true marvel and definitely worth a visit. It is a very rare example of Normal architecture with an incredible number of carvings all the way around it’s outside. Oh, and as it doesn’t have a tower, its bell is in a tree outside. I spent a fair bit of time marvelling at the church, had some food whilst propped up on the church wall, and then set off again.
A few more county lanes led towards Dover. The route skirts around some villages to avoid main roads and eventually brings you past the Duke of York’s military school, and the remains of the Connaught barracks until you reach the edge of the town just opposite the castle.
A sharp drop down into the town gave a good chance to set the top speed of the trip. The road is nicely surfaced but I was aware of traffic lights at the foot of the hill so got on the brakes in good time to avoid any calamities.
Dover itself is a pretty run down place so pausing only to buy a bottle of water I got through to the other side as quickly as possible.
After the steep downhill came a long climb (sharp in places) back up onto the downs on the other side of the valley. I made it up ok but by now the winter downtime was starting to tell and energy levels were getting low. Unfortunately there was no respite yet.
Another series of country lanes and a good measure of drops and climbs passed the time as I headed past Folkestone on the hills above. I had hoped to stop for a drink and a sandwich in the Cat and Custard Pot pub at Paddlesworth but it was closed for the afternoon when I was passing. Instead I made do with some of my snacks on a bench outside it and looked around the little church next door.
From here I was mostly making my own route back towards Ashford. I continued along the ridge of the downs for a few more miles. The legs were getting pretty empty by now so I decided to head down off the hills a few miles earlier than I had originally pencilled in on the map. The ride to the valley floor was lovely, however just before entering the village of Smeeth were a couple of climbs at least as bad as the ones on the downs. A few stops, starts and some tears and swearing later I was through Smeeth, across the M20, and on the final push to Ashford.
Fortunately the last few miles proved to be mostly flat. The sun sank beyond the horizon in front of me as I crossed over a foot bridge above the ring road, through the outskirts of Sevington, and back to where I had parked the car that morning.
- Distance: 63.7 Miles
- Ride Time: 5 Hours, 50 minutes and 35 seconds
- Maximum Speed: 33.8 mph
- Average Speed: 10.9 mph
- Ascent: 2,884 feet
- Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/878162822