Ride to Meopham Saturday 28th February 2015

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The forecast wasn’t for rain until later in the day, so I felt a bit misled as I rode through Beckenham Park, taking the quiet route from Lewisham to Bromley South Station, today’s ride meetpoint.  It was that dull, drizzly mizzle, the kind of day they call dreich north of the border.  I hauled up the steep little rise that takes you almost opposite the station and could see Andrew, today’s ride leader, already waiting.  We discussed the weather and how it might put people, off.  Although, as the forecast hadn’t been bad, maybe not. And indeed, a group of seventeen finally rode away, through Bromley’s busy streets, out to experience a quieter part of Kent.
There is a bit of traffic and a few turns to manage, before you turn out alongside West Wickham Common and the roads begin to calm and you can finally hear the tentative birdsong of the few birds who think Spring is near, drifting from the hedges and trees.  And not long before you are riding up Gates Green Rd and Jackass Lane, two roads which, although only a few miles from Central London, soon make you feel you are really out in the countryside.  We used these roads to return from our Kent and Surrey ride last week, descending them at full pelt, rather than climbing them.  No views this week, of Crystal Palace or the city, though.  This damp mist grew thicker as we climbed.At the the top, a brief reminder that you aren’t that far from town, as we crossed the busy A223 and headed towards Downe, where we stopped to regroup, gathering around the tree in the village centre, discussing the various stages of wetness of our feet.  Cycling shoes are the most ill fitted of footwear for wet, cold weather.  Even overshoes can’t keep out the water which the bike kicks up from the road flooding through that cleat gap in the bottom so efficiently it seems it was designed for just that purpose.  However, in my Shimano boots and toeclips and Heat holder socks (about which i raved once before in a ride report) my feet were toasty warm and dry.  I would definitely recommend these boots for winter riding.  They can be fitted with cleats, for the less old school among us.
After Downe, we headed up Luxted Lane.  At Jail Lane we took a cut through on a little footpath. This was the point where our journey South took a turn eastwards.  There is a web of little lanes that twist and turn up and down in this part of Kent, very useful for people cycling who want to avoid busy traffic and don’t mind giving their leg muscles a workout.Descents were still enjoyable, but the drizzle meant extra care had to be taken and it wasn’t possible to fly down quite as fast as usual.  We took the Shacklands route to Shoreham, a typical Kent road that rise and then falls through sweeping fields on either side, then down into Shoreham itself, and out of it across the Darenth, which seemed at near bursting point, flowing under its tiny bridge. 

The plan was to head back upwards, using Fackenden Lane, which is a good climb, but does necessitate riding maybe half a mile along the busy A road.  It’s a left turn off it up the hill though, so no real problem.  Then, probably the longest climb of the ride, through wooded hills, round bends, so you are never quite sure how much further you have to go, unless you know it well.

We were to lunch in Stansted at the Black Horse and this meant a tricky crossing of another A road which is where I lost the head of the group after I stopped to mark the turn.  No one appeared for ages!  I began to get colder and colder and then discovered I had no phone reception at this point so couldn’t check where the tail end was anyway.  I knew Andrew was right at the back with the route, so figured he would sort anyone out who got to the junction.  So rode off and found my own way to Stansted.


The tail end of the ride turned up at the pub safely soon after and we all had a good lunch before heading out.  It was still drizzly, still cold and the slight descent straight after the pub stop certainly woke me up!


The further east along the lanes in this part of Kent you go, the quieter it seems to get.  Woodland, hedgerows, farm fields, old oast houses passing by as you ride, a countryside so varied there’s always something to keep you interested.  The sounds of woodpeckers in the still bare trees, a few songbirds just beginning to practice their first few notes,preparing for spring and sun.  The roads are more rolling here, less steep climbs, too.  And to make things even better, a stiff, strong wind was blowing, stronger and stronger, maybe,  but firmly behind us, bowling us along.


In no time at all we were passing through Cobham, a tiny Kent village which has close associations with the Victorian writer, Charles Dickens who frequently walked to the village from his house at Gads Hill, a few miles north east of the village. It is said that he would often test his storytelling skills by giving readings from his latest work at the Leather Bottle Inn, which we rode  straight past and which doesn’t look as though it’s changed much since then, from the outside at least.


After Cobham, it wasn’t long before we were riding into Meopham itself.  Just a few minutes till the train arrived, and then just two stops to Bromley South, where we all said our goodbyes and dispersed.  I made my way out, preparing to ride back down the Bromley Rd to Lewisham and was joined by Rosie.


Once we had negotiated the one way system around Bromley, it was a straight, exhilarating downhill all the way to Downham.  It might not be a lovely country road and it might be lined with parked cars, car washes and blocks of flats, but it’s still a good descent!  Especially when you get to overtake a Porsche and one of those weird cars with souped up engines that seem to growl at you.  They left Bromley about the same time as us and I still rolled up at the traffic lights on Catford Rd ahead of them both!

At Catford, Rosie and I split up to take different routes home and I finally braked gently for the last time that day outside my front door after 55 miles of riding, which, despite the less than perfect weather, was a great way to spend the day, and with a great bunch of riders.