I often pop down to the Kent coast (I say often, about half a dozen times a year) but it wasn’t until earlier this year I realised it’s pretty green and pleasant, so might be ripe for some knobbly-tyred exploration.
I got in touch with the guys at Kent Trails who sent me a recommended route to hack around on a trip down there earlier in the year.
Sadly, I wasn’t able to have a go when I planned, but a couple of weekends ago I got the chance, and took it.
I loaded my trusty steed into the Sutmobile, and headed down to sunny Kent on a Friday after work. Traffic on the M25 was a bag of spanners as everyone knew I was trying to get there in time for the England game. Hindsight shows it wasn’t worth the effort, so it was with a slight sense of despondency that I went to bed.
In the morning, my woes were gone at the prospect of a good hack around the countryside.
I started in Walmer, and headed out towards Dover via Kingsdown and St Margarets on some sweet bridleway.
There was some really fun stuff in the woods in Kingsdown, and if I hadn’t got a big loop planned I’d have stayed and played a bit more.
Crossing a road at one point, I had to go along a poorly used section of bridleway in a field of rapeseed. It was pretty mature and the track was overhung with the stuff. Going slowly meant I kept nearly losing balance, so I upped the speed and my legs and arms got whipped to hell.
After more fun stuff somewhere between Kingsdown and St Mags I took a wrong turn and ended up on a footpath through some woods. I started to get a bit uneasy when I saw shotgun cartridges strewn around the place. This wasn’t helped when I burst out of the woods into what appeared to be the massive drive of someone’s mansion. Panicking, I scooted down the drive towards where I knew the busy Dover Road was – it might be tarmac, but at least it wasn’t private property!
Sadly, getting to the road revealed a massive solid metal electronic gate and banks either side that were too steep to get over so I had no choice but to head back past the house, into the woods, past the shotgun shells and try to retrace my steps.
By this time I had the mental image of the owner being some kind of tooled-up drug kingpin who wouldn’t think twice about popping a cap in my snowy white ass, so was really putting the hammer down in the open areas in case someone started taking pot shots. I flew back past the house and into the woods, hopping recklessly over logs I’d normally show more respect to, just to get out of sight.
When I got back to what was clearly the bridleway I found the right track and, pausing for a gulp from the Camelbak, and cursed my shoddy sense of direction.
I then had a nice rooty climb which kept things interesting. I stopped for a pic at the top, but it looked look a hell of a lot flatter than it felt!
After this is was a stretch of bridleway to St Margarets, through the village, and off along the coast towards Dover. This was a bit dull as it was bloody windy and hard work, but I managed to resist the urge to cycle over to the top of a white cliff – my track record on accidents isn’t too good.
Trying to find the cut-across to White Cliffs Country Park was a pain in the ass, but find it I did – a weird restricted MoD road with CCTV staring at you as you pedal along a stretch of cycle path!
From there, it wasn’t clear where to go – trails/paths went off in three directions. I decided I needed to head right to keep going towards Dover, and had a pleasant blast on some open field. Getting to the end it was clear this was a no-no – I was met with a stile and steep path dropping down to the park entrance. Nothing for it, I hoiked the bike over the fence, clambered after it, and blasted down the drop and onto the road.
Now this was where I needed to play on tarmac to get to the next bit of bridleway to take me up to Whitfield. Bombing down the road, there was an odd rattling from my front brake.
When I got the bike, I’d upped the brakes to XT’s, but when I’d gone to change the pads the pin holding them in the front caliper had been overtightened and I’d had to take it back to the shop to drill it out. The pads were now helpd in by a split pin, and it was coming loose.
I had to pull over and do a fix, and I discovered the caliper was also loose and scraping the disc. A couple of minutes of fettling later, and I was back on my way.
Now, I had been sort of looking forward to this bit as there looked to be some nice sneaky bridleways, but what I found was a series of poorly signposted, and shoddily maintained tracks that culminated in my riding along tractor ruts through a field of some crop or other before having to drop out onto the main road through an industrial estate.
From here I headed through Whitfield and north to play on some nice tracks around Langdon, Nonington, and – due to poor map reading – Tilmanstone several times.
After much dicking about and “ooh, what’s down there” I headed back towards Betteshanger and Finglesham before a short stretch of side-of-busy-road hacking to get to Fowlmead Country Park.
Seeing the cafe, it would have been rude not to partake in some tea-based refreshment.
I’d never been here before, so it was nice to sit and listen to some of the chatter – a class had just finished and a dreadlocked trainer was talking to parents of what looked like 10ish-year-olds about his trip to Fort Bill for the DH World Cup the week before.
This might have got my hopes up a bit, because once the brew was swiftly dispatched, I went off to explore – having almost got involved in a roadie race on the purpose built track – and found the mountain bike area a bit disappointing.
It was alright – bits of singletrack with slightly technical bits in there – but it felt a bit “small”. Stretches that you wanted to last 20 yards were over in two. It was hard to get a decent flow as it was pretty flat and the dirt felt really loose. I don’t know if this is down to the land having been something industrial in its past, but after a couple of hours blasting round on more natural stuff, it was like stepping out of an Aston Martin and getting into a Fiat.
I did enjoy going way too fast down the drop to the outer path, and got a bit of a rooster tail chicaning the bottom, but that was probably more to do with me being a child than rider.
After this, I headed to out the back entrance (stop sniggering at the back) and headed back to digs in Deal.
Overall, it was a nice hack for a few hours that I’ll probably do again, if only to learn how to put it all together more coherently so there’s less stops to check the map.
Highlights – the woods at Kingsdown and cuppa at Fowlmead.
Lowlights – crap signage in Dover, and the squall that caused me to hide in a bush for 10 minutes (improved by using time to eat sausage rolls!).