In the true spirit of fellowship, this report has been produced by a relay team of four Clarionettes, passing the baton at each break.
Saturday Morning (Tessa)
The Crab and Winkle Way from Canterbury to Whitstable started on the doorstep of the Victoria Hotel where seven Clarionettes had spent the night, Corinne having stayed with friends and Jim arriving on the morning train. Angela, Anne, Corinne, Joyce, Jim, Leon, Mick, Sue and Tessa set off just after 11am. It was gently uphill through a few suburban streets till we hit the track itself. Skies were overcast but we stopped by a wheatfield for a beautiful view of the cathedral and the town. Kent lived up to its name of being the ‘breadbasket of England’ on this track. As well as wheat, we passed barley, broad beans, cherry trees and hops.
The track led us through the University campus halls of residence and sports grounds into Blean woods. The board outside the 13th century church of St Cosmus and Damien told us it had been the site of a Roman villa’s chapel which around 598AD had been dedicated, by monks accompanying St Augustine to Britain, to those two saints. The track was also a salt route between Seasalter marshes and Whitstable.
We stopped to talk to a group of lads on bikes festooned with England flags. They had stopped for beer and loud music (Rolling Stones) at a picnic area on the site of a railway winding engine. There was camaraderie and group photos before we continued downhill through the woods. We stopped again and were aware of a multitude of birdsong, Leon recognising them all.
Along the track there were carvings of crabs and shells on gateposts and even one of a cyclist having his bum nipped by a crab! We met the woodcarver, Peter at one of the gates. He was a Sustrans volunteer and he was clearing the overgrown path for us! Corinne’s friend Sheila who we had met the night before, was also a volunteer and had told him a party of cyclists from Brighton were on their way.
Peter in conversation with Sikka and Mick
The last part of the trail which led us into Whitstable was called the Invicta Way named after a famous steam train. On arrival at the harbour we divided, some to eat at a seafood restaurant, others to continue along the coast for a mile to Tankerton for lunch in the Royal pub.
Saturday Afternoon (Sikka)
Leon, Joyce, Tessa and Sikka left other members of the group settling down to have lunch at the harbour and made their way to The Royal, a pub on the Tankerton Slopes at the Eastern end of Whitstable. Corinne had made her way there expecting to meet with us after she shot ahead of the group in the morning while we were having lingering ‘Clarion moments’ with the cycling boys, and Peter the Sustrans volunteer. They had lunch here, some sampling locally caught fish. Very tasty.
After lunch, all assembled at the Royal before heading off back to Whitstable centre and the beach, unaware that Corinne’s chain had stuck fast, and needed all Tessa’s ingenuity, allen key and brute force (nothing personal, Tessa) to extricate it. Meanwhile Sikka watched admiringly, not wanting to get her hands dirty.
All together again back on the seafront, we passed 2-storey wooden fishing huts for hire at only £75 a night, and peered into a hut on the pebbles advertising Biennueve – a local arts festival which was in full swing.
We all divided for a while to visit galleries and charity shops. Corinne was pleased to find a bookshop she knew when she was studying at Kent University, and purchased a ‘bargain’ book. Tessa and Angela visited the museum and heard recordings of ‘screaming choirboys’ which they anticipate will linger in the memory! Jim met up with old friends Chris and Hilary who now live in Whitstable but were colleagues in the Brighton Labour Party, and who were also known to Ann and Mick. Ann found a bench dedicated to Brian Haw, the CND protester.
l-r Hilary, Mick, Anne, Chris
The Brian Haw Bench
While Leon and Joyce chose to make a leisurely return to Canterbury early so as not to feel hurried, the rest of us paused for hot drinks at Zizzi’s cafe. We then made our way back along the Crab and Winkle trail which was so well-signposted we were able to split up into ones and twos and make our own way each at their own pace.
Sunday Morning (Leon)
The days had been very warm and sunny up until now, but with bright but overcast skies and a brisk northeasterly breeze we set out in ones and twos to arrive at Canterbury West railway station only a short distance from the Victoria Hotel where we all were staying.
The station had been refurbished and subsequently had lifts to platform two, making the transition almost effortless. The short journey to Margate went well with space for all nine bikes despite not having a cycle compartment.
Arriving at Margate we quickly assembled and made our way to the Turner/Mondrian art exhibition on the seafront.
Another exhibit – the little pots by Edmund de Waal (best observed while lying down, apparently)
I can’t comment on what others felt about the paintings, but because we arrived just in time for a free guided tour, all was explained to a group of about twenty people by a very helpful woman with a quiet voice. I like to think of such voices as a fart in a hurricane.
My impression of the art was that as we progressed from what was something that can be recognized as a seascape or landscape to paintings of fog or coloured chess boards, not for me I’m afraid.
Then a snack in the adjacent cafe and at 12.00 hours we set out toward Herne Bay with a wonderful following breeze.
Sunday afternoon (Jim)
It was like Lord of the Rings: nine riders speeding westwards from Margate in search of … Vikings? We were on the Viking Trail after all, or maybe it was the Oyster Trail and we were looking for Oysters? Who cares? (Well, it turned out to be important – see below).
For the first three miles we were on a lovely flat, wide, concrete promenade with hardly anyone about. The sea was lashing and crashing against the sea wall and sometimes spilling over, so if anyone had forgotten to have a shower in the morning, they could get one now. In some places there were rows of beach huts and even the odd café. There were some brave canoeists in the sea, and even a man swimming.
I was fascinated by the many bricked-up openings in the weathered cliff face. A few were not bricked up, and revealed mysterious steps disappearing into the cliff; some were more like slipways; a few were open “gullies”. I imagine they were once used by fishermen to access or launch their boats, but were made redundant by the building of the prom, or more likely by the decline of the fishing industry or the move to bigger boats.
At Reculver (which the Romans knew as Regulbium) there was a ruined fort and church. In Roman times there was a seaway to the east of here called the Wantsum channel, and the Isle of Thanet really was an island. The Wantsum gradually silted up and the resulting marshland was drained, so that by 1600 Thanet was part of the mainland. With global warming, though, I couldn’t help wondering how long it will be before it is once more an island.
After Reculver we turned inland along a lane, following blue signs. The lane contained some undulations – the first of the ride – and also seemed to be going in the wrong direction; when a large dual carriageway (A299) loomed up, we consulted the maps and found that we had indeed taken the wrong path. (Leon: “It makes the report more interesting!”)
Back to the seafront, up hill and down again, and we discovered that we had opted for Vikings instead of Oysters: the Viking Trail goes back to Margate, making it circular, while the Oyster Trail continues westwards along the seafront. But – and this had been our downfall – both routes had the same number, NCN15! We all agreed that this was Not a Good Idea, and hoped that somehow our friends in Sustrans could be lobbied about it. (Think of the chaos that would ensue if roads were similarly numbered; e.g. if all roads in East Sussex were called the A23 …)
We were no longer on the prom, though. The trail went over the headland instead of round it, so more hills; also it was grassy, with only a thin path that was easily cyclable-on, where plastic netting had been laid. It led to some quiet roads, and eventually back to the seafront. On the way we stopped to read a plaque about “Local Heroes” with metal outline statues: a Roman woman, an oyster fisherman, and a Dambuster. (No Vikings here).
We also spotted a young Collared Dove sitting on a signpost.
As we continued towards Herne Bay, we noticed a strange structure out to sea. It looked like the end of a pier, but where was the pier? It turns out (thanks to Wikipedia) that this is the landing-stage end of a very long pier (1154 metres) that was destroyed in a storm in 1978, leaving just the landing stage and a stub at the land end.
Finally we came to King’s Hall (opened in 1913, and named in honour of King Edward VII). Importantly for us, they did food – since mealtimes had been slightly chaotic, with some having eaten at Margate and some not. As it was now about 4pm, the hall was a welcome sight, and we were soon tucking into panini, rolls, baked potatoes, and in one case a croissant salvaged from breakfast. The conversation was mainly about i-phones, i-pads, i-pods and operating systems, and might as well have been in Danish for all it meant to me – in fact perhaps it was, as there was talk of a Danish ride next year.
Then came the Breaking of the Fellowship, to continue the Tolkien analogy. Four keen cyclists – Anne, Mick, Sikka and Tessa – opted to cycle on to Whitstable and Canterbury, a further 10 miles. Five wimps – Angela, Corinne, Joyce, Leon and myself – content with a 15 mile tally, limped to Herne Bay station, which was the last station on the line to be served by trains, as there were engineering works in progress. (Yes, around those parts they do actually call it engineering work rather than the Orwellian “improvement work”). We waited for our train in the company of some strange creatures who had attended a “Sci-Fi By the Sea” convention.
The other four got off at Canterbury to collect their things from the hotel, but as I already had all my stuff I stayed on to Ashford. There had been some debate about whether we’d actually get to Brighton with our bikes, as it was the day of the London-Brighton ride and Southern had imposed a “blanket ban” (but only on blankets, it turned out – bikes were OK, and I got on the Brighton train without difficulty). Tessa, Sikka and Corinne were on the following train, an hour later. There must have been a jinx on us, because Tessa left her pannier on the train (and had not got it back at the time of writing) and I had a rather strange experience, as I will now relate.
I have often poked fun (mentally) at people who sit right next to their bikes on the train, seeing it as overprotective and possessive. On this journey I was to find out why they do this, and was forced to eat my (virtual) words. When I got off at Brighton, my bike sounded “clunky”. Assuming I had a loose rear wheel, I looked down only to discover that there was nothing holding the wheel on! The quick-release lever, the nut on the other side, and the spindle joining them, had been removed. Casting my mind back, I recalled that some young louts had got on at one point, and had sat near my bike; I had heard one of them beeping my horn, but ignored it.
I was, of course, extremely lucky to notice this and realise my bike was unroadworthy. Had I ridden home, I might have lost the wheel, and much more. Quite how anyone can consider that sabotaging the bike of an unknown person (I was sitting half a carriage away) so that it becomes potentially lethal, is a fun thing to do, is utterly beyond me. It is indeed a sick world we live in. Be warned!
Thanks to Angela for a great weekend – from the Canterbury Nine!