2023Gazette ArticlesRidesTouring

The Cantii Way by ​Gravel Bike, October 2023

John Diamond leads the way:

I do a travel journal just to record my trips and ​below is more or less exactly as I wrote it during and just after the trip. So here it is:

The Cantii Way is a relatively new gravel bike route promoted by Cycling UK and was a route I was planning on doing but hadn’t got my act together.  On a Tuesday ride I had mentioned it to Stuart Lloyd and he appeared interested “Keep me in the loop”!

Looking at my calendar I realized it was getting to the point that if I didn’t do it soon another year would have passed by.  (I identified a space of 3 days, week commencing 16 October, but didn’t work out how to travel to the start until Friday 13th).  I planned to get the 9.38 train from London Bridge on the Monday and play by ear where I was to stay depending on our speed.

I then communicated to Stuart and another group including Tim Styles with a “Sorry about the late notice but I am planning on doing this on Monday…” – but not really expecting takers.  Much to my surprise Stuart and Tim both agreed to come.

Monday 16th

Packed and ready for the off!

After preparing the bike at the weekend I was up early to cycle to London Bridge – leaving home at 7.40 which I thought was plenty of time.  I was still a bit nervous about having a problem but in the event it was fine, if a bit slower than expected.

Looking for a café for breakfast I spotted Leon quite close to the station and then saw Tim was there already – he had been there a long time having left home around 7.00 am!  After breakfast we met up with Stuart on the platform.

Stuart awaits the rest of us

We got to Wye station (near Ashford) soon after 11.00 a.m and started cycling.  First issue was my pack was dropping down so needed a full tie up to stop it rubbing on the wheel.  Fairly soon we were climbing on road and at the top of the hill diverted onto track.  I was surprised that the track was quite stony in places although, as we would find out, the majority of the route is on roads, good tracks or cycle paths, the rougher sections being very much the exception.  (On the train on the way down we had discussed whether to do it in 2 days or 3 days and the potential issue of requiring 3 single rooms,  I think both Tim and Stuart were keen to do in 2 days and Tim suggested the Travelodge at Dover which I booked.)

Some nice tracks around Canterbury – we didn’t go into town – and then a lovely trail North, The Crab and Winkle line – it looks like a converted railway and we got a good speed up on a gentle and steady downhill. 

We hit the coast at Whitstable and followed the Viking Trail to Reculver, stopping at Herne Bay for lunch where they allowed us to take bikes into the restaurant. At Reculver we cut the corner on the shorter route to Cliffs End on the south coast of Kent. 

The Vikings invaded here on what then was an island -the Isle of Thanet and there is a Viking ship there, at Pegwell Bay

From Cliff End we went down the coast through Sandwich for a quick visit to its quayside on the River Stour

And something we did not expect to see – a U.S Navy patrol boat – have we been invaded!

Using a private road through golf courses we came out further around the coast at Deal and Walmer, followed by a climb up Fox Hill Down and along this quality cliff top cycle path.

Tim’s bike, but no sign of Tim!

Oh, there he is, further on along the path, admiring the views ahead of the port of Dover in the setting sun. 

Also views of the magnificent, fortified, Dover Castle since Roman times, on the cliff top overlooking the harbour, as we cycled past.

We got to the Travelodge just before it got dark and went out for a curry.

Tuesday 17th

Breakfast at the hotel – reasonable value but probably should have avoided the cooked.

Started cycling at 8.30.  Wind is stronger today and as an East South Easterly we expected it to broadly help.

Big hill out of Dover and stayed high above Folkstone, eventually overlooking the Channel Tunnel facility.  On the way downhill my back brake started playing up so decided to carry on to coffee and then replace it.  I still had some downhill to negotiate with just a front brake.

Below is a view from the hill overlooking the huge railway marshalling yard at Folkstone at the entrance and exit of the Channel Tunnel.

Generally it was a great day cycling – quite a bit of cycling on the sea wall at Dymchurch with a tailwind; along the Royal Military Canal – a defence against Napoleon.

Then onto the desolate pebble beach at Dungeness

Local sea fishermen’s hut for ropes, nets and tackle

Below, the RSPB area with the old light house where the Warden lives and bird watchers can stay. And not forgetting the adjacent nuclear power station and it’s power lines!

Continuing, the coastal path through Lydd in Sussex and Camber in Kent

And on to the historic, fortified town of Ryedevastated by the French in 1377, and on many other occasions. Even the Spanish had a go!

We had a lunch stop in Rye before starting the16km “Winchelsea” loop. This followed a path through the harbour nature reserve beside the river, down to the sea and along the coast path to Winchelsea beach

Then back inland, some of it a bit of a slog across the level land with the wind.  Decided we wouldn’t make the 17.20 train home so resolved to have a celebratory drink and get the 18.20.

A long second day but very enjoyable.

Day 1 – 97km;  Day 2 – 137km.       

Looking at my journal now, I’m not sure that it really reflects all the highlights or experiences.  Dover castle in the evening light; trying to ride through deep sand on a track across a golf course on Monday; another golf course bridleway on Tuesday high above Hythe; the stark beauty of Dungeness community and the power station; the gorgeous weather and wind pushing us along the front; more beauty at Rye Harbour and river; the coast path through the extensive Rye Harbour Nature Reserve; the welcoming pint at the New Flying Horse at the end in Wye.

Many thanks to Tim and Stuart for coming along at such short notice.

Debrief points:

  1. Travelodge was such that we could have saved money by sharing (but see point 3)
  2. Packing – work out my other bikepacking bags to spread cargo efficiently; check the weather forecast to select correct clothes to take – warm jacket required; spare shoes not required; maybe take a fold up rucksack for temporary.
  3. Don’t select an adventurous curry before a day of cycling.
  4. Veloforte bars are great; thanks to Martin Bates for introducing me to them.
  5. Cycle spares – I needed a flat head screwdriver for brake pad change – luckily Tim had one, but I am sure I had something where I could have improvised.

Lesson learnt – just do it!

It was pretty tough the way we did it; for a more touristy adventure I think I might do it again with Sue over a few more days.

PS:  I know that I have already written up my Danube ride for the Gazette, but this feels like a different type of short trip, at short notice and with no planning, so it might interest some more Anerley members to try it out.

For more info, see the UK Cycling guide, and click on the arrows to turn over the pages at https://issuu.com/ctc_cyclists/docs/cycling_uk_cantii_way_single-pages-for-web/54

John Diamond.