Kent coast: Ramsgate to London
This is a three-day ride of full of contrasts – starting with sea views and fading beach huts and finishing in central London. There’s a strong sense of maritime history as you cycle through Victorian seaside resorts, past ancient ports and make your way up the Thames.
There’s plenty of peace and quiet to begin with; much of the going is on cycle paths and quiet lanes by the sea as part of NCN route 15. Highlights on day one are: pretty Broadstairs, the dramatic Reculver Tower and the working port at Whitstable. It is well worth booking a table at Wheelers Oyster Bar in Whitstable (or even a stool at the counter as we did) for fantastic fish (BYO booze).
After Whitstable, you’ll get good views of the Isle of Sheppey as you cycle along the coast before turning inland to Faversham and Sittingbourne. You’ll then approach Gillingham on an unpaved path alongside the river Medway; the marshy water is dotted with the remains of old wooden piers and boats.
Then the realities of urban Medway really hit you in the face as NCN route 1 wiggles through Gillingham, Chatham and Rochester alongside some really busy roads. To be fair, the route is really well signposted and while you’re close to the traffic, it’s mostly on cycle paths.
Perhaps the most disappointing stretch of route 1 is alongside the A2 between Gravesend and Dartford. You’ll get a lung-full of exhaust fumes as you slowly climb up a hill right next to this three-lane motorway.
From Dartford, there’s a slightly frustrating few miles on bike paths next to more main roads and then through marshes to Erith. The narrow track is full of stones so it’s slow going and you have to really keep your wits about you to avoid getting tipped off
From Erith, Route 1 follows the Thames into London. The first glimpses of London’s skyline are really thrilling and as you get closer you’ll pass right by the Thames Barrier, the O2 Arena, the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, Tower Bridge and Borough Market.
On a practical note: we took our bikes on the train from Charing Cross to Ramsgate to reach the start and we used Sustrans cycle map of Kent for navigation.
Ramsgate to Whitstable
27 miles / 43 km
It takes no time to cycle from Ramsgate to Broadstairs on NCN route 15, where there’s fab ice cream at Morelli’s. The Reculver Tower is a brooding landmark as you cycle from Margate to Whitstable. We had an exceptional meal (especially the fish mezze) at Wheelers Oyster Bar – book in advance.
Whitstable to Gravesend
48 miles / 77 km
The quiet Kent countryside soon gives way to urban sprawl on day two. So there’s some tricky navigating at times and a certain amount of frustration at all the twists and turns in towns. In Gravesend, we stayed in the Premier Inn and ate at Chattorey, honestly one of the best curries I’ve ever had.
Gravesend to London
42 miles / 68 km
You have to work hard to get to the Thames path proper – there’s Dartford to navigate, some horrible traffic around Bluewater shopping centre and then a lonely marsh to cycle through until you reach Erith. From there, it’s pretty plain sailing and it’s quite something when you first see the London skyline in the distance.