London’s surprise of late summer sunshine brings back memories of the glorious sunshine we had one weekend in April and the unexpected cycle journey we went on.
There had been no map or plan, but we were keen to escape London. Having already cycled west along the river Thames curiosity tempted us to discover the way out east? A couple of friends were keen to join us and enthusiastically tagged along for the adventure…
I knew this was going to be a great journey as we rested upon our handle bars admiring the architectural beauty of the Thames barrier glistening in the sunshine, standing neatly in a row like brave soldiers, in the tidal river.
We had already cycled a small distance to get here, along National Cycle Route 4, passing the grandeur of Tower bridge, wobbling over the cobbled streets of Bermondsey, weaving in and around the canals of Canada Water and zipping through the groups of tourists stood captivated by the impressive National Maritime Museum at Greenwich. The morning air was still crisp as we left London behind to join National Cycle Route 1. A route that would guide us along the coast and into Kent.
We had the trail to ourselves as we all pedalled happily in the sunshine, passing the busy ferry crossing in Woolwich. It was so quiet and the cool breeze was welcomed. Heading into the town of Erith we discovered many crumbling wooden wharfs and grimy industrial buildings looking wonky and awkward in the water.
In Erith we stopped for a quick bite at The Running horses pub where the sandwiches were as stuffed full as a cooked goose. Back by the river’s edge the trail became extremely picturesque, buildings gave way to vast pastures of wavy grass and swampy marshes, small boats reflected in the calm waters of the river, and birds sang, circling in the air as the impressive Dartford bridge stretched for eternity before us.
The trail departed the rivers company and the signs took us down streets lined with houses, around busy round-a-bouts and over motorways guiding us to the town of Gravesend to eventually reunite with us the river.
It had widened and was now dotted with massive cargo ships that made you feel very small indeed. The sun baked down on our backs as our thirst grew. The historic riverside inn, the Three Daws, dating back to the 1400’s seem like a perfect opportunity for a refreshing drink so of course we stopped.
We sun bathed our legs and watched the world go by. We were pleased with our efforts and decided to keep going. We cycled on through Gravesend’s river side parks where families were having picnics and enjoying the afternoon sunshine.
Unfortunately the trail took a sudden turn away from the river and we detoured on tight paths down the side of concrete buildings and through derelict warehouses covered in rust and heavily vandalised. We had to avoid huge amounts of scattered glass before encountering an endless white gravel path with grassy fields either side of it. We picked our pace up and raced on ahead of our friends as pebbles flew off our tyres.
A few miles on and the Boyfriend’s phone rang…one of our friends had a flat tyre. We turned back going to their rescue with the puncture repair kit. Glass had to be removed from the tyre and quickly patched up. It wasn’t long before we were pedalling ahead of our friends again, but then the phone rang again – This time our other friend had a flat tyre! We went back to save them and found glass to be the culprit again. It was hidden deep in the rubber wheel.
Third time lucky and we finally made it to the end of the gravel road without a puncture.
We found ourselves on tiny back roads winding us to the town of Rochester. The fields of rape flowers gleamed in the afternoon sunshine like a block of butter. Soon the countryside disappeared and was replaced with buildings – we knew Rochester was close.
Our confidence in the signs eventually failed us. We are unsure how it happened, but we became extremely lost and it was beginning to get dark. We thought that cycling through the underground tunnel would get us back on track, but a huge road sign stated that bicycles were not allowed through it.
We back tracked a bit and with the aid of an iPhone Map we managed to eventually cycle over the River Medway and through Rochester to find accommodation at the Ship & Trades pub down in the historic dockyard area. In the end we had cycled over 60 miles and were ready for a shower and a big hearty meal. It had been a day of contrasts and we all looked forward to exploring Rochester after a good night’s sleep.
More photos of this ride can be found on my Facebook site.