"Every now and then it's good to mix it up a bit.
That was always the idea with my 'England Expects' rideout. I wanted to up the actual rideout mileage to at least 200 - which meant by the time most folk had done the round trip they'd have at least 300 on the clock - and I also wanted to throw in all kinds of roads from tiny country lanes to hairpins to Motorway, as well as plenty of bracing sea views with the odd castle thrown in for good measure*.
The historic 'Cinque Ports' of Kent and East Sussex provided me with a route to do just that. Head for Sandwich on the North East Kent coast then follow the coast roads as closely as possible all the way through the other CP's then heading back inland once at Hastings. Much route research was, as ever, required but the excellent Harley-Davidson Ride Planner App coupled with old fashioned paper Michelin route maps helped me plot my path. Believe me when you've 50 plus bikes following your every move closely from behind you don't want to make any route errors - or mistakenly turn down a dead-end road.
The weather was kind though chilly. Rain had been forecast but as we gathered for the pre-ride briefing at Warr's SE it was slightly overcast but no more. Pre-ride briefing delivered and disclaimer read we were off out through Chislehurst and out onto the A20, no messing. Within 15 minutes we were rumbling along the M20 heading towards Folkestone. Yes that's right! We were using the Motorway for an hour or so. A great chance to practise M Way group riding. This is an important discipline and well worth honing. Those who've travelled abroad will know about the benefits of tucking some distance crunching autoroute kilometers under their belts in the morning then taking time out in the afternoon for some serious playtime on the minor roads - usually after lunch.
It means distance can be covered without sacrificing the twistys and of course we all need those motorways when making time to get back home at the end of the day - or trying to catch that last ferry.
So how to make motorways a bit more interesting? Well we ride in staggered formation and concentrate on the ride 'SNAKE'. That's where the staggered group follow each others ride path exactly when overtaking slower traffic. This discipline focuses the mind on riding in closer formation and provides a bigger 'presence' to other road users, enhancing visibilty and safety. It's great to do too. After a few miles of settling in to the 'SNAKE' the group got down to a good ride pattern.
By the time we got to the Stop services at Folkestone a comfort and fuel fill was required by most and we filled the forecourt as tanks were replenished and coffee gulped. Stop over and onwards now onto small B roads heading north towards Canterbury and then our first Cinque Port (CP) of Sandwich. As we neared the coast we could catch the odd glimpse of sea. In then out of this tiny Tudor town we soon swept off towards the next CP of Deal. Here we made the most of the beachside front road and then pulled in for a quick comfort stop at Walmer Castle car park. Apparently we disturbed the peace here so we blasted off soon as and made our way to CP Dover.
We rode the famous white cliffs via the top lanes and it was all I could do to stop gawping at the huge tankers and ferries to my left out in the gray Channel. As we turned a sharp bend the magnificent Dover Castle suddenly emerged right in front of us. It was quite a sight, all turrets and flags and was certainly worth the detour along the bumpy clifftop lanes to catch it in such a dramatic way. It's certainly a view I'll remember. Into Dover proper we dived down some steep roads into the city centre and then hooked up and out straightaway onto the fast flowing A20 for a few miles before leaving the dual carriageway at Capel Le Ferne.
As we rode into our next CP Folkestone we made the most of it's big sweeping bay by hooking left almost as soon as we descended the main road into the town centre. The sea views from here are amazing but seem to be reserved for just a few hundred citizens whose sea-weathered houses mark out the wide sweeping road around the bay and park. There are few signposts to suggest such a vista exists here but I can't help but think it must be an abosiultely glorious spot on a clear summers day. I wondered what the house prices were like here... Out through Folkestone and onwards towards CP Hythe where took had a nice little coffee stop and Jon Pugh indulged in an Ice Cream. Time for some pictures.
Saddled up we were now moving towards CP Romney, Dungeness then CP Rye. The roads from Romney to Rye run alongside seemingly endless beaches and are well worth the visit. Vast beachscapes bordered by long straight tarmac from where you can see everything for miles around, interspersed by sudden chicanes that slow your progress (and divert you around the many marsh draining ditches) and then you are off again on yet another straight. We passed through well known seaside haunts of Camber and Dymchurch. The looming hulk of the Dungeness Nuclear Power Station makes the area feel even more desolate and surreal. Eventually the pretty (and these days very upmarket) hilltop CP of Rye came into view and we soon swapped the flatlands for rolling hills and lots of grazing Romney branded sheep. We skirted around Rye - We've been there a lot and no doubt will return - and carried straight on to Winchelsea.
The clock was ticking. Although we'd stopped only a few times, and mostly briefly, it was now mid afternoon and we'd been on the rideout road since around 9.30am. We'd initially made good progress on the motorway but as suspected all the lanes and B roads had slowed us down and our average was poor. So what! We are a riding club after all! So lets enjoy the ride. Our final destination was the 1066 Cafe on the A21 and they'd told me (when I'd called them the day before) that they would need any food orders by 4pm at the latest as they close at 5. As I didn't fancy having to deal with a hunger driven mutiny at rides' end we needed to get a move on.
Past the great sea defence wall of Winchelsea Beach and then on towards the fun filled switchbacks of Pett Level and the climb up towards Fairlight and then our last CP of Hastings. I'd visited this grand but really rather faded old Victorian dame twice already on my recce rides in the preceding weeks and to be frank I thought it was a bit of an anti climax to make it our last CP after such an amazing and sparkling coastal ride. So I hooked a sharp right before we breached the town walls and headed straight onto another B road towards and through the lovely little East Sussex town of Battle.
A few Roman road straights and a tiny portion of the A21 later saw us reach the 1066 bang on 3.30pm whereupon all riders dismounted and were accounted for. I counted them all out and I counted them all in. Success!
Hungry and thirsty, all duly filed in to join the (rather long) queue for some kind of refreshment and some for a well deserved fry up. As we all eventually settled into our hot teas etc and chewed the cud over the ride it was clear (and very satisfying) to know that the day had been enjoyed by the many and seemed to be a resounding success.
My thanks to Assistant Director and Last Man Dave Mann, Meridian RC's Andrew Papas, Nick Franklin, Graham Allen, Steve Uffindell, Bernie Cresswell, Ride Marshalls Barry Masters and Fred Blunden. Many thanks also to Steve Graham, Jay Dhokia and Alan Wright for some smashing photos of the day and to Shaun for opening up early at the dealership.
And of course huge thanks to all that attended the ride. You made it all very worthwhile and I sincerely hope you enjoyed your long but rewarding day in the saddle and here's to many more to come!
John Warr, Meridian Chapter Director.
*PLEASE NOTE DUE TO IT'S TECHNICAL CONTENT AND MILEAGE THIS RIDEOUT COUNTS AS AN 'OVERSEAS DAY TRIP' WITH REGARD TO MEMBERS ACQUIRING RIDES TOWARDS THEIR SILVER OR GOLD ROCKERS.
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