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Canterbury - Sandwich - Canterbury (sadly not via Dover this time)

Canterbury to Canterbury via Sandwich (not Dover!)

Tempted by a Nicholas Crane write up in the Telegraph, four of us tried a Kent circuit in early March, gambling with the weather. Parked up in Canterbury and cycled north through the town early Sat morning, up the long hard hill of the Whitstable Road before turning onto the Crab and Winkle way to take us to the coast. Post the first hill, good easy cycling all the way to Whitstable on a combination of well laid tracks and tarmac. Into Whitstable and east to Herne Bay, then to Reculver, where we picked up our fifth man, Dave the local, and stopped for coffee and cakes at the coffee stop looking out to sea. Girls behind the counter charming, but considered us mad to be cycling from Canterbury, even madder to be going to Sandwich. But great coffee and brownies, and so, refreshed, we headed on past the Reculver Towers, (maintained by Trinity House as a navigation point) across sea wall above the marshes to Margate. Views to the north of windfarms, Maunsell Forts and occasional large ships. Inland, the odd bump of Thanet, once an island, now joined to the mainland by silting.

Lunch at the BeBeached Café on the mole at Margate, just along from the Turner and the Little Ships monument, 5x Eggs Benedict and Whitstable Bay Pale Ale. Excellent food and cheery staff. Then along seawalls and coastal roads to North Foreland, turning south at the Captain Digby past pleasant rows of fine twenties houses built for fine channel views. Through Broadstairs, and down to Ramsgate, for coffee below the harbour ramp, where our fifth man turned inland again. Back at four, we rolled out of Ramsgate to the south, skirting Pugin’s rectory (now Landmark Trust and looking fine), then round to Pegwell Bay (sadly no view of the old hovercraft terminal from the route, but at least it runs straight past the Viking longship) and then the sadly light industrial route along the 256 into Sandwich from the North. Stowed the bikes in the beer cellar of the New Inn where we were staying, out on the town for Thai and beers. Fine town, good beer in the Admiral Owen by the old gate, and a great live band in the Fleur de Lys knocking out heavy metal covers with good humour and some aplomb. Definite impression that Sandwich makes its own fun.

Breakfast in the New Inn, hearty fry up, but weather had turned vicious overnight, with Storm Freya blowing up the channel and making landfall right at Dover. Eighty mph gusts made our planned route, down to Walmer then across the back of the White Cliffs, into Dover and then Folkestone, look very unwise, so we swung onto Route One, and diverted back into Canterbury via Fordwich. Lovely countryside, but hard going in the teeth of gale, each break in the hedge resulted in a sharp swerve as the wind took the bikes and panniers, and we were happy to get into Canterbury for an early lunch at Café St Pierre, who stored our muddy bikes in their cheerful garden , and welcomed us steaming gently into their genteel coffee shop for open sandwiches and mugs of coffee.

Took another year before finally covered the Dover leg, starting at Brighton and coming the other way around, to complete the full Kent Coastal just before Covid-19 closed down the touring.

Kings Lynn to Barnet

Kings Lynn to Barnet via Cambridge

Trains to Kings Lynn (changing at Cambridge), on a fine sunny summer July morning. Offloaded at the station in Kings Lynn, and down to the old town to the Market Bistro for some excellent coffee and ham croissants to start the day. Then south out of town and along the river bank as far as Watlington, before cutting inland to Downham Market, with the day warming up. Dogleg to the New Bedford River where a narrowboat had misjudged the sluice and was well aground, waiting for the tide to lift. Followed the river to Ten Mile Bank, but went astray, turning west too soon and running along a concrete farm track with joints every twenty feet for several miles of steppe-flat cabbage fields, arriving back at the New Bedford River very grumpy to find we had paralleled a perfectly good road for several miles of purgatory. Followed the river again to Pymoor, then Little Downham and a stretch of B-Road to Ely, sun now high, tarmac hot and dusty and the Cathedral teasing us for miles, never seeming to get any closer as we wove indirectly towards it. Into Ely for lunch, and, critically, somewhere to watch England vs Sweden. Pubs already full to bursting, but cue a charming girl outside WildWood on the High Street, offering tasters of Mint Lemonade and pizza bread, unfazed by three sweaty cyclists. D asked for a suggestion for somewhere to watch the match – “we have a cinema upstairs and we’re screening it there, store your bikes at the back of the restaurant”. Result. Excellent pizzas and fudge desserts, and much more mint lemonade, so much so that M and I only made the second half, but the result was good (well fed, and England 2-0). Back on the road.

South out of Ely towards Wicken. Quiet roads, cycleways and Sustrans bridges, slow and warm going along dykes and farm roads, but no cars and lots of small wildlife about, easygoing summer cycling. Suddenly hit the A1303 east of Cambridge, and into the city centre, cyclists everywhere, walkers and sunbathers also as we gingerly followed the Cam to the middle. Stowed the bikes at the friendly Centennial Hotel and hit the Flying Pig for a couple of pints of Adnams Freewheel (a cyclists beer the Southwolders only seem to have made for a couple of years, much missed). Maison du Steak for steak frites, bed.

A good Sunday fried breakfast at the Centennial before weaving through quiet Sunday streets out of town past Addenbrookes, the biosciences labs, and along the DNA cycleway. South through the string of villages towards Duxford, joining forces with an organized Cambs-London ride for a couple of miles, before we turned away across the treacherous ford between Duxford and Hinxton (one man down with a tremendous splash), then Ickleton, and across the M11, climbing gently into the rolling hills to the west of the motorway, tricky going in places as the roads had just been resurfaced, and there were loose chippings everywhere, but the weather was fine and bright, and the roads quiet. To Clavering for ice cream at the Nisa, and a bidon top up, as the heat was telling. Lots of attractive little hamlets basking quietly in the sun, occasional churches punctuating the route. Finally swung off route N11 to tract west heading to Pelham and the tricky junction at Little Hadham, before arriving at the Chequers at Wareside for massive ploughmans lunches. Fast run down to Ware, and onto the River Lee Navigation towpath. West to Hertford to join the lovely Cole Green Way (old railway line) to Welwyn, and then wove through Welwyn and Hatfield to join Route 12 running south paralleling the A1 to South Mimms. Under the M25 through the famous culvert, up the long haul of Kitts End Road to Barnet, down the hill to the cinema and disperse.

Old Kings Lynn lovely, fens flat, dry and dusty, occasional oases of tree lined towns. Ely beautiful but tantalizing across the miles. Ely to Cambs easy riding, Cambs a cycling mecca so long as you go slow. Surprisingly attractive rolling country just west of the M11 probably the scenic high point of the trip, felt more like France than Cam’shire, then busying up along the family routes around Ware and Hertford, before ducking and weaving into London on the carefully crafted but fundamentally irritating route 11 – like most city approaches, safe routing strips it of any pizzazz, and it weaves about a bit.

Brighton to Minster

(Sussex and Kent Coastal)

Train to Brighton, good bike provision (three carriages with bike spaces). Straight down to the seafront from the station and turning east. Along the front for a while, then onto a bike path paralleling the main road under Roedean school, towards Rottingdean. Quiet backstreets route through Peacehaven (shame there is no route along the seafront here), then drop down, up and down again to Newhaven. Over the swing-bridge and a nice stretch of bike-path to Seaford, where rejoined the coast. At eastern end of Seaford, back inland towards Exceat, choosing not to use the bike-path due to copious amounts of mud. Onto the A259 for a long stiff pull up to Friston and East Dean. There is a forestry track about fifty yards into the woods on the north of the road, one for Sustrans to try to get hold of? The A-Road ok, is but would be unpleasant in summer. South at East Dean down to Birling Gap. Fabulous National Trust Coffee Shop for lattes and flapjacks. Day’s On!

Along the quiet hill road behind Beachy Head in a sea fret, alternately disappearing into the mist. Turn back to the sea at Eastbourne, long hairpin descent down Dukes Drive to the sea front. Nice looking paths on the front, but a plethora of signs warning against cycling there, so along the main road, very quiet, towards Sovereign’s Harbour, and a cycle-path along the A259 again before turning north to Pevensey. Lunch at the Royal Oak by the Castle, good fish and chips and Harvey’s, beer garden for the bikes. Staff friendly and helpful, dogs everywhere. Quiet road across Pevensey Levels, running alongside the railway line, into Bexhill for its modernist Pavilion, standing sunlit over the Channel as the Earl de la Warre envisaged. Magic spot.

East again towards St Leonards and Hastings, then a very sharp climb out of Hastings taking us up behind the country park and Fire Hill, down the other side to Fairlight and Pett Level. Ignored the inland route (why is it there?) and followed the coastal road to Rye Harbour and up into Rye. Drinks at the Mermaid (popular as ever) and up the hill to the Kings Head, where bikes could be safely locked to the verandah of the cottages, and the food and beer was well done and welcome. Comfortable rooms with good showers, excellent breakfasts, friendly and helpful staff, well worth a stop.

Off in light rain towards Camber, on a cycle path with a few sharp turns at field edges, and some puddles, but still nicer than the road. Cross Romney Marsh to Lydd, wild and desolate with military flotsam everywhere on the coastal side, and the pylons from Dungeness marching across the landscape. From Lydd north, a softer landscape, still flat, but fertile, with geese and swans grazing in the fields between the ditches and dykes. Through St Mary, north of Burmarsh. Grateful for the westerly, cyclists coming the other way were struggling manfully with the wind. We made an abortive attempt at the Military Canal route, but it was too muddy for hybrids, so we veered back on lanes into Hythe and onto the seafront again for the first time since Camber.

Along the seafront at Hythe with brilliant light on the shingle and sea, into Folkestone and down to the harbour. Missed our turning, but rejoined near the Martello Tower, and up the sharp hill towards Capel Le Ferne and the Battle of Britain monument. Bike parking is out back, can’t be overlooked from the café, so we carried on towards Dover, initially on the Old Dover Road, then on what must have been Sustrans’ latest bit of tarmac, fabulously smooth, across the back of Abbots Down, past the Sound Mirror, and swooping across the entrance to Samphire Hoe and into Dover itself. Missed the route in Dover (there’s a theme here), but rejoined up the long long pull of Castle Hill to the back of the Castle, and behind the White CIiffs onto the private road to Kingsdown. Turning north, past Walmer and Deal castles, Warden’s flag flying, stopping for a late lunch at the Sea Café on the Green. Along the front, and then the golf road to Sandwich, utilitarian run alongside the A256 for a couple of miles (safe cycle path, but a bit “light industrial” after what had gone before, then turning inland for the last few miles to Minster, through classic Kent countryside, for beers in the New Inn, and the railway back to London.

120 miles, mostly on the coast. Great light, good views, some really sharp pulls out of Hastings, Folkestone and Dover, and some magical cycling where we had the roads or paths to ourselves, and could have been miles from anywhere. An interesting mix of coastal towns, wild marshes and lots of fortifications, from single Martellos to the Norman and Victorian lines at Dover. Not one to race (too many promenades where speed had to be watched), but a good two day stretch from London for a coastal run with lots to recommend it.

Heart of Suffolk (Dunwich/Orford Variant)

Variant on the Heart of Suffolk Route which takes in Dunwich.

Cycled over one and a half beautiful days, starting and ending in Debenham, where we left the car in a side street. Gentle and beautiful country lanes to Framlingham, down to Snape. Added a spur to Orford and back for lunch outside at the Kings Head in bright sunshine, soaking up the lime and soda and filling up with Adnam’s-battered cod. Then up towards Leiston, missed the turning at Knodishall, but rejoined the route towards Minsmere and the splendidly named Eels Foot pub. Round the reserve at Minsmere (route goes straight, but the track looked like a spoke breaker), and then to The Ship at Dunwich for some TrawlerBoy in the afternoon sun, and a quick detour to the beach for the view. Camped near Darsham, ate at the Crown at Westleton. Startled a stag heading back to the campsite in the dusk, brilliant to parallel him along the lane as he broke for the trees, antlers showing over the corn.

Second day up towards Wenhaston on a quiet Sunday morning, roused a whole field of crows near Blythburgh, quite a Hitchcockian moment against a lowering early sky. Skirted Halesworth to the east and tracked across country as the clouds cleared. Started a hawk who rose lazily from a lamp-post; onwards via quiet lanes to Bungay, which was sadly still sleeping, the excellent Earsham St Café does not open early on a Sunday so it was cookies from the Co-Op! Turned west above the Waveney on the quiet old road on the south side of the valley, dipping and rising across the tributaries with some good leg stretchers. Down One Eyed Lane which is disappearing under grass encroaching from both sides, and to Hoxne, where the Hoxne Deli and Tea Rooms has a nice garden out back, lovely staff, and a good line in cakes and coffee. Thence to Eye, where the fair was just starting (slipped through the closing roads just in time as the mayor was lining up). Fast on the B117 for a mile or so (belated realization how poor some of the other tarmac was), then down to Thorndon, where a deer crossed our path at ten yards, and to Debenham for a seriously good posh ploughman’s at the River Green Café and Deli, more lovely staff, and great place to end the trip.

Lovely, quiet country lanes, beautiful villages, nice pubs, great cafes. Barely a main road at all, and more wildlife than I thought was left in southern England. An easy weekend from London (couple of stations quite close to the loop) and a bit of a gem.

Coast and Castles Newcastle to Edinburgh (via Melrose)

This is a fantastic route, which three of us cycled in three days in September 2019. As the beginning and end are both major stations on LNER, it’s an ideal break from London.

Day one was bikes on early trains to Newcastle (courtesy of LNER – oddly you still have to book the bikes by ‘phone as the website can’t cope with the concept), and then straight down to the Tyneside to start alongside the bridges at about ten in the morning. First mile or so is fabulous sequence of bridges and riverside sights, then you start to weave through the back of Newcastle on an old railway line up above the Tyne. Views of the old Roman Fort at Wallsend on one side, and the old Tyne Yards on the other. Quite a lot of light industrial, but then the route breaks out beautifully at Tynemouth where the route climbs onto the cliffs and starts north. Stretches of promenade interspersed with dunes and houses all the way to Seaton, then into Blyth. The new route through Blyth is apparently an improvement, but the lack of a crossing to North Blyth and Cambois forces a long dogleg inland. After that, it just gets better and better, with a long coastal stretch from Lynemouth along Druridge Bay and into Amble. The Harbour Fish Bar in Amble (corner of Broomhill Street) is a great chippie, from which you can coast down to the harbourside, demolish your chips, and admire the view north, where the castles are starting to come into view. Full of chips and ice cream, roll on to Warkworth, below the castle (very fine Percy fortress, restored by Salvin if you have time), then along the dedicated cycle route (full marks to Sustrans for this stretch), all the way to Alnmouth. We were pressed for time, so skipped what is a lovely little port on this occasion, but it would make a good stop if you are taking longer over the route. Then to Boulmer, we stayed on the coastal “off road” route, which is slow going in places even on hybrids, but worth it, not least for the magical little cove where Howick Burn meets the sea. Missed our route at Craster (great views to Dunstanburgh though) so stayed with the C-Road via Dunstan to Embleton (where there is good village shop for sugary stuff) and then we cut the corner, staying on the B-Road and lanes West of Seahouses, to rejoin the main route for the fabulous run into Bamburgh, where a quick climb to the seaward side of the Armstrong-restored castle (arrive at sunset for the full red sandstone effect), with a stunning view over the bay and the Farne Islands, is a highlight of the trip. From there, inland to Belford, crossing the main line and the A1, and a long steep pull up to the northern end of the village. As we were staying at the campsite/bunkhouses in the southern end, we then coasted downhill again! Dinner at the very hospitable Black Swan (we arrived five minutes before the kitchen closed apparently, but they ignored that and fed us mains and proper puddings without a blink), several beers and then to the bunkhouse at Bluebell Farm, fine for biking lads. Amazed to find the Co-Op in Belford opens at seven am even on a Sunday, so breakfast was sorted as well. Eighty or so miles, day one.

Day Two started at the Belford Co-Op, (just needs a coffee machine and it will be perfect!), then North (back up the hill which starts the day with a warm-up) towards Lindisfarne, with fine views from the high road to the west of the A1. Crossed the A1 at the Lindisfarne turning, where the A1 café behind the Esso Station is a gem – finally a coffee (damn fine latté), and bacon sandwiches comprised second breakfast. Down to the Lindisfarne causeway, where the festival was just dispersing, then north along the coastal dykes, past old RAF bunkers and through a links golf course towards Berwick. The stretch over the cliffs to Berwick again slow on hybrids (slightly “yompy”), but this is a glorious stretch of cycling with the east coast main line for occasional company. Swoop down onto the promenade at Berwick then followed the Tweed round to the bridge, and into the old town. Once across the bridge, turn immediately left up Bank Hill for “The Loovre”: specialist coffee and sticky cakes sold from a converted Victorian toilet, if the weather is as good as it was for us, you can sun yourself against the retaining wall opposite below Meg’s Mount, and revel in a serious coffee and sugar hit. Once sugared and caffeine’d up then it’s up the hill out of town and away from the Coast, but not yet the Castles. The Union Chain Bridge is too photogenic to be real, Norham Castle is a little gem, and then you track west on silent straight country lanes, cutting occasionally across a busy A-Road running north-south until, in our case, Kelso for lunch. Greggs in Kelso is great. The Abbey looks good too, but we were very hungry. On to St Boswells, via the second supermodel of a suspension bridge at Dryburgh, and over a privilege of a cycling road (closed to cars) across the edge of the Eildon Hills into Melrose and Galashiels. At Galashiels we stopped at the Kingsknowes Hotel, a Victorian Scottish Baronial house nicely converted into a hotel, slightly tucked away at the back of a housing estate. Due to the evil looking A-Roads which join up here, we doglegged into Galashiels and back out, had we but known, we could have followed the cycle route alongside the Tweed to Netherbarns, where a short sharp climb brings you onto the A7 (with a pavement cycle route), a mere five hundred yards from the Hotel. Kingsknowes hotel brilliant if you’re on this route or just in the area. Staff fantastically friendly and helpful, garages for bikes, comfy rooms, serious showers, nice bar, and good food. Seriously haggis-rich menu (dinner and breakfast in my case). 70 odd miles. Day Two.

Day Three a damp start, but with a good breakfast, we set off along the Tweed towards Innerleithen. We stayed north of the Tweed as far as Peel (rain and the forestry track of the alternative route sounded too slow and risky as we were on a hard deadline for trains home), but crossed to the southern bank at Peel, and followed the lovely lane through the forestry on the southern slopes as far as Walkerburn, whence the new cycle path across the meadows to Innerleithen. There we turned north (with clear directions from a friendly postman), into the Moorfoot hills. This is a superb stretch, wild, exposed, a gradual steady ascent, (rain had eased to a pleasantly cooling breeze), a fast descent into the saddle, another climb to the second, higher, summit, and then the drop off the north side, touching 40 mph on loaded tourers as we raced down. The last few miles into Edinburgh felt a bit scrappy in comparison, as it fights to stay on the cycle paths the route “dog legs” through Dalkeith and out towards Musselburgh, but then it all straightens up along the old railway route into the middle of town. Greeted by a cyclist, “where from - Newcastle two days ago - good stuff lads”. Then up to the New Town to finish (worrying about traffic and thinking of a helmet for the first time in three days). Beers and a late lunch, then onto the train to London, arriving just before nine in the evening. 60 miles or so.

A brilliant three days. With more time, there are the Castles, Lindisfarne, Berwick, the Monasteries at Kelso, Melrose, Dryburgh, whilst the highlights in cycling terms are the sparsely beautiful coastal run north of Lindisfarne, and the wilder stretch from Galashiels to Innerleithen and through the Moorfoot Hills. Starts and Ends are a bit so-so (most routes into cities seem to be so/so because of suburbs and light industry), so if you’re taking longer over it, we’d advise putting the extra days days in the middle between Amble and the Moorfoot Hills, so you can wallow in the beauty of the Northumberland Coast and the Borders.

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