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AhPek Biker - Riding Adventures
Cycling Europe 2017 Day 4: London to Medway - Thames River View
Bristol>by National Coach>London>Folkstone Garden>Cutty Sark>Plumstead>Dartford>Gravesend>Rochester>Medway.
Cycling Distance - 68.52 km. Level: Medium
Cycling Time : 9:55 am to 8:15pm.
Time Taken : 10hrs 20mins (inclusive of stops for a picnic, lunch, relaxing at the promenade, lost & re-orientation in Rochester, and many, many photo opps. Excludes the coach bus ride from Bristol to London).
This is page 3 of a 13-page blog, Click Here To Go To Title Page.
Route Recommendations :
1. Traffic Directions!
The United Kingdom vehicles are right-hand drive so cycle on the left. Same thing applies when crossing the road, take note of the direction in which traffic is approaching from! Fortunately in the United Kingdom, road markings at zebra crossings reminds pedestrian/cyclists to look left OR right when crossing. Sounds confusing, it actually isn't, just take while to get use to it.
2. Route & Traffic Conditions
The United Kingdom has an elaborate called the British National Cycle Network which also includes Cycle Superhighways for cyclists to commute from the outskirts into London. The following for route planning the following sites are helpful:
- CyclingUK.org has a feature to plan a route (journey) in the UK, click here to plan a journey route.
- for planning cycling routes in Europe, Cycle Travel which has a very user-friendly cycle travel trip planner, routes using this planner can be saved and also converted to GPX format for use in GPS devices.
Our route today was an interesting one that took us along a short stretch by the River Thames before cutting inland to head for Medway. Along the way were off-road stretches through brush land. It was a relatively flat route, easy to cycle except for the off road section.
The weather for amicably cool, averaging at 20°C during the day and 12°C at night at Bristol. It was a bright sunny day, with light winds of 7-10 kph.
It is always prudent to check the weather for the next day so as to know what to expect and be prepared for it. Useful weather forecast sites for the United Kingdom are BBC Weather and AccuWeather.
4. Places of Interest
- Folkstone Garden (GPS: 51.48314, -0.03992).
- Greenwich Reach Swing Bridge (GPS: 51.48275, -0.01829).
- Cutty Sark Museum (GPS: 51.48286, -0.00959).
- Gravesend Promenade (GPS: 51.44427, 0.37845).
- Rochester Bridge (GPS: 51.3923, 0.50109).
Morning Tea: Pre-packed sandwiches and pastries for a picnic at Folkstone Garden.
Dinner: Balance of fried chicken at YHA Medway Hostel.
We stayed at the YHA Medway Hostel (GPS: 51.35786, 0.5581) which we had pre-booked online a dorm for five pax at £15-80 per pax per night.
As it was unclear whether the hostel allowed foldies into the premises, we initially folded and bagged our bikes before taking them in.
7. Bringing Bikes Onto Buses
We took the National Express Coach from Bristol to London. Tickets were pre-purchased months earlier and the fare was £3-30 per pax. Our bikes were bagged and put into the bus hold.
8. Communicating with Each Other
When travelling in a group it's important to be able to communicate with each other, especially if one got lost.
We got pre-paid SIM cards from UK mobile provider Three under the All-in-One #15 deal for only £15/= from one of their outlets in Bristol (GPS: 51.45735, -2.59074). This plan lasts for 30 days and allows for 5GB Data, 3,000 minutes of call time & 3,000 text messages within the system. More importantly it has their "Feel At Home" which allow the phone's data, call and messaging allowance to be used in sixty countires (mostly European and also Singapore) without any extra charges!
9. Communicating with Locals
Communicating with locals in England was not a problem, although some may have difficulty understanding our Asian accent when speaking English.
Look out for the tourist information booths at airports, railway stations or bus stations, the guides manning the booths speak very good English and do give good tips on where to visit, directions, train and bus schedule.
As Bill had pre-planned the route and had loaded the GPX route file onto his Garmin GPS unit. I was the assistant navigator and had loaded the route maps onto my unit too.
11. Service Your Bicycles & Carry Tools and Spares
Before leaving on your tour, it will be good to service your bike and bring along some spares like tubes, puncture patches, brake pads and the relevant tools.
The previous day we had an easy, interesting ride from Bristol to Bath along the Avon Valley Railway Path which took us through woods, green meadows where we managed to see an old steam train billowing out smoke ala Harry Potter.
Despite the previous three days being interesting, today we start our actual cycling tour to Germany, kicking of with a warm up leg from London to Medway. Very much looking forward to the experience and what we will see along the way.
Cycling route: Bristol>by National Coach>London>Folkstone Garden>Cutty Sark>Plumstead>Dartford>Gravesend>Rochester>Medway.
The route starts from London to head for Medway, running mainly along the British National Cycle Route N1 which passes through several towns and villages. It takes as partway along the River Thames, through meadows, woods and light forests, and even along an off-road stretch of brush-land beside the Thames-Medway Canal.
In the early morning, after an instant noodles breakfast, the girls and me rode off to the Bristol Coach Station where we met Bill and Hong. They had started off even earlier from the outskirts and had arrived earlier. Reaching there just as the bus was about to leave, the girls and me quickly bagged our bicycles, and loaded them into the bus hold under the impatient watchful eyes of the driver. Our National Express Coach bus departed Bristol at 6:45 am and started off on the three hours journey to the Victoria Coach Station in London.
And here were are, after unloading and unpacking our bikes in London, ready to start off on our cycling tour from London to Germany. The previous three days light riding in Bristol; and from Bristol to Bath had served as a warm-up to this real tour. We are eager to kick-off.
But our ride out of the city was not a fast-paced one; London was too beautiful a place to just whoosh by... and it was the girls' first time in London! In less than half an hour, we made our first stop at the Vauxhall Bridge for some photos overlooking the Thames with the London Eye in the back ground.
Bill was apprehensive about riding in central London,\; even though there were cycling paths, traffic on them were busy as many cyclists were speeding to work. We caught eyes of several Brompton riders, waved to them but did not get much response - such is the rat race, rush... rush... rush and not time for small politeness.
The cycle lanes took us on bridges over busy roads, into tunnels below even busier road. We rode into one short underpass... and were pleasantly surprised to exit out into a large park, the Burgess Park. Bill had planned the route well and was trying to avoid the busier cycle lanes and London's Cycle Super-highway.
But we won't be stopping here, although the park was attractively serene and beautiful, it was too early.
11:00am - Instead we proceeded onward, cutting through less busy residential side roads to arrive at a smaller but cozier park - the Folkstone Garden; see it a small park (about six acres) and was such just called a garden. But it suited our purpose, being in a quieter neighborhood the were not many people around and we felt that we had the whole small and cozy park to ourselves.
It's Morning Tea time; we unwrapped some sandwiches, buns, and bananas (which we had bought the day before). On a timber bench we had a picnic! Hah! Our first meal in London was a picnic at a cozy, little park. Great, yah?
Continuing on, soon we were back at the Thames and would be riding a short, scenic stretch there. Here were are riding across the Greenwich Reach Swing Bridge crossing over the Deptford Creek, an active waterway - hence the need for a swing bridge. It was not swinging yet... so.... a quick stop and click, click, click for more photos.
This here is my favorite photo, one of us around an old medieval canon. To me it, being there at the Thames with this old canon and some old buildings in the background, signified being in Europe.
This area has several unique buildings and structures; here's Hong in front of the Helter-Skelter chute slide ride. It's bright colorful striped cone looking like something from the early 1900's amusement parks.
This small glass dome, red brick building looks like some sort of fort tower; but it is not. It is the lift house of the London Foot Tunnel, an old tunnel built that was opened in 1902. The lift and staircases within takes pedestrians down to at tunnel which run below the bed of the Thames. It was damaged during by a V1 Flying Bomb during the Second World War. Since then it has been repaired with new lifts added, and presently is opened 24-hours a day linking Greenwich to Isle of Dogs (London Borough of Tower Hamlets) on the other side of the river.
Not to far away, a historic icon.... and perhaps an icon for whiskey drinkers too.
The Cutty Sark, a clipper, one of the last sailing ship before the steam ships made them redundant. It has been restored and conserved as a museum ship.
The Cutty Sark whisky derives its name from the ship. An image of the clipper appears on the label, and the maker formerly sponsored the Cutty Sark Tall Ships' Race.
Most medieval ships would have figureheads at the bow which are statues of beautiful women. The Cutty Sark's figurehead is that of a Scottish witch called Nannie from the Robert Burns' poem, Tam O' Shanter. The ship's is named after the witch's short skirt called a cutty sark.
Ahead, we turned away from the river, rode passed the Royal Naval College, which is now an UNESCO Heritage Site. Yes, the place is steeped in history, I can imagine many seamen of old being trained here.
Further ahead was the Greenwich Park where the Royal Observatory with the Prime Meridian is located. It would have been great to enter and walk along the zero degrees, zero minutes and zero seconds longitude line and shout out "Hey! Here I am at Zero Zero Zero!" But we did not have the time to go in as we still have a long journey ahead.
12:15pm - Sightseeing and fun time's over; time to speed off to our destination, still close to sixty kilometers away. But even before we could speed up, we hit a steep slope. Siah with her heavy load of front luggage and a big backpack just had to come down and push.... and to add to that, the sun was getting hot!
Fortunately it was just a couple of short steep slopes, and we continued on happily on relatively flat roads passing through towns and villages with very British names such as Wickham, Welling, Crayford, Dartford, Ebbsfleet, Northfleet, Wainscot, etc. This being a weekday most of the residential streets were light in traffic.
12:45pm - It's lunch time and food hunting time. Bill is good at this and has a nose for seeking good, cheap food. We ended up at Chick Inn in Plumstead, a small store selling fried chicken. We ordered two buckets of chicken, thinking that after we would have a ravenous appetite (the chicken were huge pieces, we couldn't finish them so packed the balance to take away). As we waited, it suddenly rained (that's London weather for you - very temperamental). The place was small with only a narrow awning on the outside and we had to don our raincoats and tried as best to squeeze under the awning. Luckily the rain stopped and we could eat on their roadside table - alfresco although a bit wet.
2:35pm - The rain had taken it's toll on our schedule and we had spent close to two hours at Plumstead and were running rather and late with fifty more kilometers to reach Medway. Still I could not help but admire some of the old buildings we saw along the way, like this Tudor architectural style one with a clock tower on top.
The route ahead was quite varied, taking us through light woods ...
... and onto cycling bridges over busy highways.
We are still on the British National Cycle Route N1, and several stretches ran beside busy highways. The above is route A2, and a sign shows Dover being 55 km. away only. Seems close, but that's along the highway. Our cycling route will take a longer round route through quieter roads, and Dover will only be our destination for the following day.
England don't just have towns with unique names, there are lot's of pubs around with catchy names. We passed this one called Elephants Head!
Don't be surprised to see an pink elephant after you get pissed drunk there!
5:15pm - At Gravesend (scary name right?), a rest stop and perhaps some photo opps too. We have to time ourselves now and could only afford a five minutes stop. First a quick stop at Gravesend Estuary when this bright red boat attracted my eyes. This is the Light Vessel LV21 moored there to rejuvenate this once thriving riverfront. Interestingly, there is a statue of a turbaned man nearby; this is that of Squadron Leader Mohinder Singh Pujji, a distinguished WWII Royal Air Force pilot. Somewhere here is also a statue of Pocahontas.
Then another short stop (a quick one minute one) at the Gravesend Promenade for a quick photo of the girls. The Thames is quite wide here and at low tide muddy sand banks can be seen at its sides. Over on the other side of the river is the town of Port of Tilbury.
At Gordon Promenade E, we encountered a run-down, narrow alley. Are we on the right course, we asked ourselves ... and also asked a helpful gentleman there. "Yes, you are. But I don't think you can proceed straight on as indicated in your map" the man replied. Sure enough, straight ahead a locked gate barricaded our way, inside were some industrial factories, perhaps this was a security area. We made a loop around via Norfolk Road.
As we were running late, Bill & Ying pushed faster ahead trying to reach our YHA Medway earlier so as to secure our bookings. Siah, Hong and me pedaled on at our pace with me (with my Garmin GPS) being the navigator. A long stretch running through brush land along the Thames-Medway Canal was off road and slowed us down considerably but we just pushed on... and on.
But it wasn't that bad, ahead we passed by green undulating meadows; white birds flying overhead dotted the sky, and at the foothills a group of ladies were riding their horses - a real countryside feeling here.
Somewhere along Berwick Way (Route A29), the GPS seems to be confused asking us to turn right when none was to be seen. We looped around the area several times to finally discover a small gated entrance that led to Parsonage Lane. This almost un-noticeable lane was well shaded, and brown autumn leaves spread over it made it all the more remarkable. Yes, sometimes it's the little things that amaze us and touch our hearts.
It's late evening, almost getting dark, but at the end of Rochester Bridge there was a rainbow coming out to brighten us up.
Down below at the River Medway, a large submarine was moored. Hey! What's a sub doing here, all unguarded and open for all to see. But this wasn't a British submarine from the Royal Navy. In fact it couldn't be further opposite than that - it's the Russian U-475 Black Widow from the Soviet Navy, a relic from Cold War era. It's publicly bought over and now parked here pending further action (turned into a floating museum or recreational boat?). The world has really progressed from the those tense days; if one of this subs were to have appeared back then, all sorts of red alerts lights would have lit up!
7:10pm - A quick stop at Rochester Station, we are almost at our destination - Medway.
Along the roads here, many banners were hung up promoting an event to celebrate the Battle of Medway. I had always thought the Battle of Midway, was a sea battle fought between the Allies and the Imperial Japanese navies somewhere in the Pacific Ocean during the Second World War. This Battle of Medway was fought millenniums earlier between the British tribes of the first century and the invading Roman Army.
Our home run, wasn't a speedy one; a last hiccup developed along the way at Chatham - at this round-a-bout with seven roads leading in and out that had me losing my orientation again. The GPS kept on asking me to take the steep road on the left to go up to Chatham Hill but my instincts kept on telling me that we shouldn't be heading uphill. After more than half an hour of looping around trying to get my bearings right.... I finally got it right and we headed down Lutton Road.
8:15pm - Finally.... we reached YHA Medway. It was dark by then and we were too tired to really appreciate the beauty place. After a quick bath, we had dinner of left-over Chick Inn fried chicken while recollecting our day's adventure to one another.
(that's a soft, tired and bushed greeting 😪)
(For more photos of the Day 4, Click Here)
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