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A Kent Out and Backer

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Rode down to our cafe meeting spot earlier than usual for a Sunday morning meet, expecting to have to sit outside and munch my own pot of muesli on a street bench rather than have my preride breakfast inside. But, contrary to information received, Le Delice was open and happy to serve.  So, I stuffed the muesli back in my saddlebag and enjoyed a big cup of good coffee with toast and jam as other riders began to arrive.  Apparently, Le Delice starts opening before 7 even on a Sunday!  So, no reason to miss my preride breakfast at all.By the time we left the cafe and gathered over the road for our short briefing, there were 15 of us.
It was cold.  The sky was pale grey overhead.  But there was a light wind at our backs which felt pretty good and we soon warmed up as we rode down the Waterlink Way past the running track, folks walking their dogs and a few small children on their bicycles who were just beginning to discover what fun this bicycle riding malarkey is.Then we were on public roads, through Catford quickly using Canadian Avenue to the cycle route through Bellingham and then a bit of Beckenham Park.  I think with a bigger, fairly mixed group of riders that it’s worth having to deal with a few dogs who don’t always do what their owners tell them, in order to avoid using the A21 to get out of London.  It’s a big fast road, and while I don’t believe it is more dangerous than any other busy main road, it can feel horribly threatening in places.  The climb up Bromley Hill is an especially uncomfortable stretch, with its numerous pinch points and fast motor traffic just itching to squeeze past where there is no room.  So, a ride through the park and on to the road to Shortlands is much less stressful for a social ride such as ours.
I had devised a new route out of London, which was a bit twisting and turning, avoiding Southborough Lane and then through a bit of Orpington before turning us out on to Warren Rd where you at last begin to feel this is a countryside Kent ride after all, with fields rising up to the right and a hedgerow to the left.  A crossing of the busy A224 and then we were in Chelsfield.
By now, the urban feel of the ride was fading fast and once we turned on to Maypole Rd, and headed down under the M25 it was almost gone completely.  By the time we felt the wind begin to blast past our ears and water our eyes as we hit the first proper descent to Shacklands Rd, London could have been a million miles away. A further bit of downhill took us in to Shoreham.  We stopped here for a few minutes. The toilets were open today, which was good news for some of us.  And Maxine’s tyres were found to be as soft as a comfy cushion, so we pumped those up as hard as you can pump up those big 2.5’s.  No wonder she looked exhausted. Riding an off road bike on normal roads trying to keep up with a bunch of others on light road bikes with skinny tyres is tough enough.  Doing it with tyres that are too soft is almost impossible.  If you are going to ride your mountain bike on the road, ditch the knobbly tyres for slicks (Maxine had these) and pump them up as hard as the specifications on the sidewall of the tyre tell you to…usually around 60 to 65 PSI.  It will make life much easier!
We rode off through the village and on to Filston Lane, a lovely stretch with the early shoots of some green crop just beginning to peek through the dark soil in the the fields that rise and fall beside you as you ride.  The only downside of this road is the terrible surface on the left for several yards for which the aforementioned mountain bike might have been a better choice than our skinny wheeled road bikes.We were heading towards Otford, a lovely village complete with pond and beautiful church, but spoiled completely by the main road and motor traffic which whizzes through it.  We left the main road by taking a tricky right turn on to the Pilgrims Way, William watching out, ready to warn us of oncoming main road traffic, just in case anything might be speeding along too fast for us to see as we turned.  Then a stretch along the Pilgrims Way.  This road seems to take you deeper and deeper in to rural Kent, the road gets narrower and less busy the further east from Otford that you ride.  We finally turned south, through Heaverham, skirting Kemsing and then on to Watery Lane, a long slow climb up, past deer parks, a herd of them grazing on the far side,  and oast houses.  It’s a wide road here and feels like it should be busy with traffic, but rarely is.  Then a turn up Pillar Box Lane and down through Stone St, past the school whose children have a wood for a playground, down through Ivy Hatch and then even further south and down to Dunks Green.  This was a last minute decision as we had decided our group was too big for the Golding Hop, my original idea for a pub stop. We thought we’d be a better fit for the Kentish Rifleman.

On arrival, it was soon clear that the garden was too cold to sit in and so we tried to find space inside the pub.  It’s a lovely old building, with log fires, beams.  Very cosy.  And very busy, serving Sunday lunches. We just about managed to squeeze in, with the help of some friendly locals who were only too happy to squash up and the assistance of the staff, also extremely friendly and helpful.  Everyone got their lunch, despite the busy lunch hour of the pub, in good time and it looked delicious.  Although Bob’s very tasty and appetising fish dish was pronounced by him to be “a bit poncey”.  However, it looked, smelled and, I believe, tasted delicious from the way he polished it off!

Before we left, the landlord asked me to give them a ring if we were going to bring such a big group again, even if it was just a few hours in advance.  Which seemed a reasonable request and we’ll definitely do so.  It’s a great pub, in a great location for many of our rides and the staff did a really good job feeding us all so quickly when they were so busy with Sunday lunches.

On leaving the pub, we were now off route as it had been a last minute change and detour.  So I quickly mapped out a new route back to our way home.   A job that’s always best done with a proper paper map.  Which, unusually, I didn’t have.  GPS is great but it does have shortcomings and I always like to take a proper map with me.  But had left it behind today.  And I didn’t want to retrace our wheels back, I fancied exploring a couple of lanes which looked like they were heading in the right direction to return us to roads I knew.  So that’s what we did…I knew Basted had to be somewhere near and once there we found it  I would know exactly where I was going again.   So I did something I don’t recommend when leading a ride!  I took the group up a road I had never ridden before.  It was a climb, it had to be as the ride to Dunks Hill had been a long descent, but it was a lovely little road  with some great views along the way, and we even passed field of what looked like it was going to be hops.  A rare sight these days.  Then, we passed a lane on the left and I instantly recognised the road again as we began the descent into Basted.

It’s a rough and steep descent, but good fun and you have to keep the momentum going if you can, and change down the gears quickly as it levels out, past The Plough (village pub) and the millstream, because the road out of the village on the other side turns up very steeply and very quickly.  I was doing fine until, just as I began the steep ascent out of the village, I saw Mary and Sidney, who often ride with us,  heading down the hill.  Some of you may know Sidney because he is the holder of the world hour record for 80 to 84 year olds.  No way I could just ride past them without stopping for at least a quick chat.  So we all had to stop on this narrow lane!  Then, after our chat and goodbyes, we all had to ride back down and start the ascent again!  It’s far to steep to start the climb from a standing start once the gradient has turned.  But worth it, to chat with a lovely couple and a World Champion.
Soon, we were heading back downhill through Ightam and then on to Fen Pond Lane, another long straight road that crosses the flatter land between the hills of Kent and the North Downs ridge, a ridge that looms up ahead of you at this point, an intimidating sight to riders nearing the end of a longish, hilly ride!  It’s the last real climb before the ride back to the city.  But there’s a choice here.  You can really stretch yourself and go straight up Exedown Hill, or you can turn right and enjoy a nice little bit of riding along a pretty lane which follows the ridge then turn right and take a more zig zag route up the hill.  It’s longer and still a climb, but an easier one than heading straight up the hill.  And there are fine views of the plain below, at this time of year, through the spare, slender branches of the still leafless trees.
Once we were all up, I decided to cut out one last little climb as some were already feeling the hills a bit too keenly and head straight down to the Knatts Valley.  What I had forgotten was the reason I had included this last hilly detour was to avoid a very steep, difficult, descent on an increasingly deteriorating surface, which often has you meeting an oncoming car.  As I began to fly down, I remembered!  And indeed, as I came round one bend, I had to swerve to the left to avoid an oncoming car.  I called out warnings for the various hazards on this descent, which included a couple more cars.  At the bottom we all regrouped safely.  Most people seemed to have enjoyed it thoroughly!  And those who weren’t keen on descending had just got off and walked down the difficult bits.  Everyone on the ride experienced enough and well able to judge their limits and ride within them…I needn’t have worried.
Another glorious glide down the Knatts Valley gave everyone a chance to go for it at their preferred pace.  Always a great way to finish, or nearly finish, a Kentish ride.  Then through pretty Farningham, up to the ridge towards Eynsford, but turning off towards the M25 bridge before reaching that village.  Crossing the M25, you realise you are back on the way to the city.  The road gets gradually busier, through Crockenhill and turning left at Kevingtown, the fields and trees begin to drift away, gradually replaced by slowly increasing numbers of houses and shops.  Then, it’s traffic lights!  A sure sign you are back in suburbia.  A long slow climb up Poverest Rd to Petts Wood and into Jubilee Park…a tiny stretch of green and trees before heading along cycle route 22 through Bickley which is pleasant enough until it throws you out on the Bromley one way system.  On this Sunday afternoon, though, it was pretty easy to negotiate for a group of experienced riders.
It was at this point that the group began to break up, calling out goodbyes as each individual took their own preferred route home.  A last fly down Bromley Hill, much easier in this direction, when your speed keeps the cars in their place, then we turned off back into Beckenham Park for the last stretch to Catford and Ladywell.  By that time there were only half a dozen of us left.  I do hope everyone else enjoyed the ride as much as I did.  And big, big thanks to the riders who helped us cross the more tricky junctions safely, and marked the turnings.  And extra thanks to Bob who back marked superbly as always.