What goes up gets to free wheel down.

John Robbie - What goes up gets to free wheel down.

After dumping my backpack, polo top, sweat shirt, snickers (melted), base layers I pushed on only to end up on a cycle path next to the A2, there was a grass verge and barrier between me and the road but when a truck went past the wind hit me making me wobble every time, apart from that and the broken glass it was 3 miles of free wheeling. I stopped at a lake side hotel and asked at the kitchen door if I could fill my water containers, they were very obliging.

Once again I took a wrong turn and ended up in Chatham with its steep hills and sat under an advertising hoarding in the shade, Rainham flew by, then disaster struck as my pannier got jammed in the spokes as I was going across a set of lights, stopping my back wheel, but not before tearing the back of the pannier. The corner had curled up and the spokes had taken a chunk out of the corner. I spent 20 minutes under a tree out of the sun making the repair. Just after I set off again I saw a sign for Sittingbourne railway station and was tempted just to get on a train, you’ll be pleased to know I didn’t get the train, not because that was cheating, it’s because I missed the turning. (There’s a theme here).

I continued and spotted Crispin’s fish and chips so stopped for a rest and some tea. I discovered I was halfway between Rochester and Canterbury I pushed on only to be cut up by another cyclist, that turned out to be Robbie Ferri. Robbie and I had worked in Italy together and he was cycling from Trafalgar square to Brussels in 24 hours for charity, we walked with our bikes until we came to a driveway and stopped for a chat. Robbie’s bike was unbelievably light and he had very little gear, just spares, a monkey and some drinks, he was kind enough to share his lucazade sports drink, we swapped notes and caught up, then Robbie had to go so he could keep his timing. I must say that meeting was a real morale boost for me, thanks Robbie.

It was dusk and I started to look for a place to wild camp, it was to be my first and I made all the mistakes possible, with hindsight I past a dozen ideal place. I pulled into a corn field, not with corn husks just the stalks and discovered they’re really sharp, I didn’t stop. I spotted a footpath sign heading off into a field with a wood on one side, I went down the path. It was now dark, the trees were spaced far enough for my hammock so I decided to stay there. Turns out the ground was covered in nettles and I had shorts on (fail), there were also nettles as tall as me. I put a bin bag on the floor covering the nettles and put my wet waterproof pants on, so I could continue without being stung. I pushed my bike further into the wood and found 2 suitable trees, only problem now was my hammock was in the bottom of one of the panniers. I managed to set up the hammock and tarp (badly) in the dark. ( not using a torch as wild camping in the UK is illegal)

I was pouring with sweat and just lay in the hammock to cool off but fell asleep and woke up an hour later freezing, I couldn’t see a thing so grabbed my wet coat and shivered for the next 4 hours, wide awake until dawn appeared, as soon as I could see I packed up and left. I pushed the bike for 5 mins into Faversham and repacked, I put on dry clothes. I cycle on and met a young couple walking in the opposite direction who had been walking since 2 am from Canterbury, we chatted, a lovely couple who I thought I would never see again.

I foolishly followed the signs for Canterbury A2 and ended up in hell, the meanest 2 miles of road, up hill with no junctions at 06:30 in the morning. I managed it but had drunk all my water by the time I got to the top, I enjoyed coasting down the other side and by 07:30 I was at a rest stop which was a petrol station and a holiday inn, I wanted to book a room and sleep for a week. I stripped the bike, cleaned the chain, indexed the gears, got changed and cooked up some porridge and coffee on my stove. I stayed there until 09:00 and dumped some more, over heavy  unnecessary gear, mainly clothing.

Once I left the rest stop I managed to get off the A2 and by 10:00 had stumbled across Canterbury. I followed the cycle paths to the train station and caught a train to Dover, Mum would be waiting there. Mum had traveled down by national express as it’s £16 from Blackpool to Dover on Tuesdays for oap’s. Her plan was to come to Calais, Saint Omer and Lille then wave me off.

Mum was waiting at Dover priory station, the first thing she said was that Dover was shit, so we had a quick coffee and got on a train to Canterbury (which is not shit). Arriving at Canterbury east station we had to walk a long way round to the front of the station as there’s only a foot bridge over the track, my bike was too heavy and Mum can no longer do lots of stairs. Mum had also over packed so I tied her suitcase to the back of the bike and towed it. As we got to the front of the station lots of people were coming out, a train must have just arrived, I caught the eye of the couple I saw walking in the early hours of the morning in Faversham, we chatted. I pushed the bike and towed the suitcase along the city walls to the premier lodge, we stayed for 2 nights and explored Canterbury on foot.

Saturday 9th

19:00 hrs; I’m now lying in a field 6 miles from Dover. Tonight I’ll be sleeping under the stars, no tent just my sleeping mat and bivi bag.

On Friday it had rained through the night but at 5:00am the sky was clear and the day was starting. I was up and ready to cycle around Canterbury by 06:00 as I wanted to see the city without the crowds and 06:00 was a perfect time. Canterbury was starting to wake up too, the street cleaners were out in force and there were a few people milling around, either last night’s revelers or people heading to work. I notice a lot of homeless people sleeping in shop doorways, it was really sad.

I managed to see Canterbury in the early hours and get some filming done, I even met Les Dawson and saw a huge face. I cycle back to the hotel to meet mum for breakfast. Once we had packed mum headed back to Dover to stay Saturday night, whilst I slowly cycle to Dover, my plan was to enjoy the journey, stop often and in the true Anne Mustoe spirit cycle from London to Dover.

I followed the national cycling network route 16 followed by route 17 this took me through forests, past army training grounds, picturesque villages, through a ford and over some steep hills but it was all worth it. I stopped on the top of a hill in Bossingham next to some recently sheared sheep they all had the wool left between their ears and I wondered if that’s where the saying came from. I continued on through dense forest tracks and could hear a shooting range. I was away from traffic so put my headphones on and the first song was Michael Jackson’s Don’t stop til you get enough, I free wheeled all the way to the next village.

Eventually I went through Paddlesworth and Hawkings, picturesque villages I had never known existed until now, Alkham village had signs up saying remember 9th and 10th August referring to WW1 and had an old aerodrome which had been turned into a Battle of Britain museum, I didn’t visit as I was looking for a place to change out of my cycling gear.

Passing the village of River I came out of the country lanes at the A256 a dual carriageway heading to Dover 6 miles away. Across the road was a construction site and I walk into the entrance and propped my bike on the fence, it was 5 o’clock on a Saturday night so no one was around. A security guard arrived for his night shift and I told him that I was cycling solo around the world and had just started my journey and was looking for a safe place to sleep, he pointed to the back of the field that the construction company had taken over, result, or so I thought.

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About John Holt

John Holt has worked in the travel industry for over 14 years and comes highly recommended by Trip Advisor for his practical and candid talks on travel destinations. Spending 18 months as a "Local Interest Specialist" for a leading tour operator John has become known as having more practical information than Google.

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