London to Whitstable - June 2021
Ride leader Kim sends this report of our fabulous ride to Whitstable.
With the weather forecast changing seemingly by the minute, there was a fair amount of ‘will it/won’t it’ anticipation ahead of the long awaited Friday Night Ride to Whitstable. Maybe due to the fact that we have been unable to get together in a proper big group for so many months, there were hardly any last minute drop-outs as we prepared to ride as two groups of nearly 30 eager cyclists each. This grouping was to allow for appropriate social distancing at our half-way stop.
My first challenge as Ride Leader of the Jolly Red Team was to deliver the safety briefing to 58 riders in direct competition with the rowdy revellers hanging off the statue of Sir Lawrence Olivier and enjoying the pop-up bars around our meeting place outside the National Film Theatre on the South Bank.
We were a little unnerved by the report of a load of broken glass in the road, not 100 metres from the start of the ride. But thankfully nobody’s tyres succumbed and we rolled through Bermondsey and Rotherhithe arriving at Greenwich right on schedule where we admired the Cutty Sark and the grand buildings of the Royal Naval College. Spirits were high and we were already full of praise for the additional cycleways which have been added along our route since we last made this journey, making the ride smoother and more straightforward than ever.
Onwards towards the historic Woolwich Arsenal we went using a lovely stretch of the Thames path not previously featured on this ride. We were delighted at how peaceful the path is at night, highlighting one of the many benefits of night riding. Photos were taken.
The underpass by the all-night McDonalds in Plumstead where we stopped for a comfort break is not a thing of beauty, but needs must.
Still making excellent time we rested again in the quietness near the Dartford Bridge before ducking under it and onwards to Gravesend. We were moving by the light of the most enormous full moon, which led to many conversations and reminiscences of the Dunwich Dynamo. We regrouped at the beautiful clock tower at the end of the amazingly atmospheric Harmer Street. The illuminated tower further enhanced by the moonlight was a delight to behold. The perfect opportunity for more photos.
Still incident free we rolled through the dark lanes around Higham before arriving bang on schedule at our half way stop in Strood. As we arrived, the Blue Team were just finishing their allotted 45 minute stay, and had kindly left us our fair share of Tim’s delicious filled rolls and homemade cakes. Still not a single mechanical incident and I risked mentioning it when we gave our thanks to Tim for his hospitality. Was I tempting fate? By this time I was so euphoric at the unprecedented lack of disaster I was convinced that nothing could possibly go wrong, and what would it matter if it did?
As ever, we felt chilly as we ventured out into the dawn, but the extra layers added were quickly shed as the sun was rising and soon warmed us up. A consequence of the full moon was that it never really seemed to get fully dark and it was already nearly daylight as we left Strood. So we were able to add in a visit to the Russian submarine (on previous editions of this ride it’s been dark, so we couldn’t really see it) and we stopped in Rochester to admire the castle and cathedral as well. These were sights that many seasoned Friday Nighters had not had the opportunity to visit before, adding to the general atmosphere of a highly successful school trip.
And still no punctures - the puncture fairy was clearly sweeping the roads ahead of us.
The boys loved the tanks as we passed the Royal Engineers Museum at Chatham and after we’d climbed the short ramp to Upchurch we took another breather and the opportunity to shed unneeded layers. We witnessed a murmuration of starlings around a gasometer, and were entranced by the calls of the noisiest frogs we’ve heard for quite a while. The smoky, smelly stretch of main road through Sittingbourne was negotiated stoically knowing that from now, all would be magical countryside and nature. Trundling towards Faversham I could hear the chatter behind me and a voice announcing, “this is lovely!”
Astonishingly we arrived at the Waterfront in Whitstable hot on the heels of the Blue Team who had timed their run in to perfection so that the lead riders arrived at the moment the cafe opened. We were still slightly disbelieving of what had just happened. A full moon, benevolent weather, not a single mechanical, cheerful newcomers (who will now expect this as the norm of course) and a pint of ice cold Morretti for breakfast. Perfect.
The memory of this night will live on…..Thanks so much to everyone who made this such a fantastic adventure.
Pictures courtesy of Jenny Hung, and the sounds of frog chorus were captured by James Ratcliffe