Sunday 10 April 2016

Task 3: Cycle 60 miles through the Garden of England from Folkestone to Hastings

My husband Andrew has been trying to entice me into cycling for years. But I've remained pretty resistant to it as a leisure activity, mainly because I worry about the dangers of riding on open roads.  It seems clear that to be a cyclist these days requires a combination of bravery, chutzpah and kamikaze tactics. And that's so not me. was just one week before my sixtieth birthday and I still had a couple of gaps in my sixtyat60 list. By then the fund-raising aspect to my challenge had really grown legs, and I wanted to ensure that I had plenty of tasks on the list that would push me well outside my comfort zone.  As I sat in a leisurely fashion in the kitchen at breakfast enjoying a calorific pile of toast and jam, I happened upon an article in The Times called Get on your Bike. The article listed 20 top cycle routes. Number 1 was 'Garden of England', a route that takes the cyclist along the Kent and Sussex coastline, using a mixture of 'quiet lanes and off-road sections'.  

The words quiet and off-road had a reassuring ring to them. It got me thinking.  A bit scary....endurance test.....calorie burner.....keep Andrew was certainly ticking a lot of boxes. Five minutes-worth of thinking later, Task 3 made an appearance on my sixtyat60 list. An eleventh hour entry it may have been, but given the 80 kilometre distance between Folkestone and Hastings, it was a pretty significant one.

In early March I borrowed a hybrid bike from our fab neighbours Rebecca and Mark. Andrew removed the mothballs from his own bike. And we acquired ourselves another key essential - gel-padded cycling gear. Yes, hard as it may be to imagine this, Andrew had finally become a Mamil.   

Over the next 4 weeks we hit the local lanes and beyond to activate our cycling muscles and toughen me up for dealing with evil car drivers. We arranged to hire bikes from a company in Folkestone to do the Big Ride itself. We agreed upon the date of 1st April. The weather was set fair. And then Andrew went down with a virus. We consoled ourselves with the thought that if we'd completed the task that day, no one would have believed us.

Thankfully Andrew shook off his lurgy quite quickly and our cycle ride was re-booked to take place a week later. And so it was that bright and early last Friday morning we donned our lycra, drove to Tonbridge, caught the train to Folkestone and found our way to Dover White Cliffs Tours, where owner Richard was awaiting our arrival with two fine-looking bikes. I was feeling very nervous. Had we bitten off far too much......? I tried to keep in mind the positive messages I'd received from friends and family whilst on the train.  We checked the time. It was 9.30am. We mounted our bikes and off we pedalled, albeit rather cautiously, down the road. 

We were due to follow National Cycle Route 2. After a false start or two (minor lapse into headless chicken behaviour) we found our first official sign. A small moment of celebration ensued.

We cycled along Folkestone seafront to Hythe. The promenade was bathed in glorious sunshine. Local people were out and about, walking dogs, jogging, flying kites, pushing buggies and eating ice-creams. It was a timeless scene. We passed a kiosk selling Andrew's favourite ice cream. Andrew resisted the temptation....


At Hythe we joined the Royal Military Canal (constructed during the Napoleonic Wars to protect us against invasion by those French Hunots) and cycled along it for 12 miles. Our hearts were high - what an idyllic trip this was proving to be!  


We left the canal and cycled our way along the quiet lanes through Romney Marsh. The countryside was flatter than flat - perfect for beginner cyclists. Although it did mean that there was no opportunity to stop pedalling and rest the pins.  As we reached Lydd I began to experience serious cramp in my upper legs. Putting a positive spin on it, it meant that I no longer noticed my grumbling nether regions (let's face it, saddle and comfort are not two words you would usually put together). But Andrew was forging ahead and so I kept pushing on. 

Our plan was to pause in Camber and have lunch at The Owl. The Owl is the most special pub in the whole of England as it's where Jonathan held his pre-wedding drinks 18 months ago before he and Liz tied the knot at the nearby Gallivant Hotel. We finally reached the Owl at 2.45pm, and discovered that they'd stopped serving food at 2.30pm. So we guzzled several packets of crisps instead and the cramp in my legs gradually eased off.

We left The Owl at 3.30pm. The sun was out, the sky was blue, we were two-thirds of the way through our journey and we were feeling pretty good. We navigated our way around Rye where I confronted my fear of evil car drivers in a big way (Rye is very pretty and quaint, but it was one big traffic jam that afternoon). 

By the time we reached Fairlight, 4 miles from Hastings, it was 5.30pm and we were beginning to flag. Richard had warned us that we would have to encounter 'a hill or two' on approaching Hastings.  But we didn't reckon on Battery Hill - the Hill from Hell. The Bikely website describes it as 'a challenging long steep 170m climb, stand-up steep in parts. It includes a full km of 1 in 10 with no respite'.  Reader, Battery Hill was so nearly our nemesis. Twice we stopped and said to one another 'Shall we get Richard to come and pick us up?' But we were determined to reach Hastings under our own steam and we kept pushing our way up and up.....

Finally, at 6.30pm, we reached the top of Battery Hill and received our just reward - a downhill descent all the way into Old Town Hastings. We stopped for a moment during our descent to take a picture of the old town bathed in the evening sunlight. 

And as we reached the bottom of our descent, I spotted a very special sign. What a moment that was.......

Richard and his wife met us at Old Town Harbour and collected the bikes. By then It was 7pm and we were stiff, cold and exhausted, but we were also totally elated - goodness, we'd actually managed to cycle 80k!

As we walked towards a local hostelry to celebrate, a seagull thought it fitting to mark the occasion by dropping a massive dollop of poo on my jacket shoulder. My mood was so glass half full at that point that I just said to Andrew, 'Wow that was lucky, it could have landed on my head.'

Did we suffer the following day? Do you know, much to our surprise we sat at Selhurst Park and watched Crystal Palace win (at last) yesterday without having to resort to the use of soft cushions. So that gel really does work!

 A huge thank you to Richard at Dover White Cliffs Tours for providing us with an outstanding service and an excellent pair of bikes.  And my sincere thanks to Mark and Rebecca for offering to lend me Mark's bike so that I could ready myself for the Big Ride. Andrew and I are in agreement that Task 3 turned out to be a stand-out experience in the sixtyat60 challenge. Oooh, I'm so close to approving the idea of having a bike for my next birthday....   

I'm doing the sixtyat60challenge to raise funds for Shooting Star Chase children's hospice care in memory of a special little girl called Thea Redford. 

For further information or to make a donation please visit my JustGiving page at

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