Blog: The Great Kent Cycle Ride
Blog: The Great Kent Cycle Ride

This past weekend saw Nigel Leaney and dozens of others take part in the Goatham’s Great Kent Cycle Ride – covering over 200 miles in the space of just three days.

Nigel gives us his insight into what it takes to complete the mammoth challenge of cycling over 100km each day, back to back.

 

Day One

What a great day to start my latest adventure!

It was an early start this morning having travelled down to Chatham yesterday evening and stayed locally.

Registration was at Hoo from 6.45am. When I arrived I signed in and was provided with all of the info I needed for the weekend.

My overnight bag was loaded into the van and I prepared myself and my bike for our departure at 8am.

We left Hoo and explored the Hoo Peninsula before turning at Cooling Castle and heading back towards Rochester.

Our first water stop was at 24 miles and it was most welcome as it had really started to warm up. The riding pace was deliberately ‘social’ and the terrain with only slight undulations. I knew more was to come later in the day though as I’d seen the profile of the proposed route!

We then headed on to lunch at 39 miles. We’ve been fortunate this year as one of the ride sponsors is Shepherd Neame Brewery and they invited us to have lunch at The Boathouse in Yalding.

The setting by the river was superb and the hospitality and food excellent.

I noted that it is a dog friendly establishment too so we hope to come back and visit again in the future.

Suitably refreshed, we set of for our next water stop at 50 miles. We were fortunate to have been invited into the grounds of Leeds Castle and it was beautiful. The hills we had to conquer to get there and immediately after we left were less so…

I successfully managed to negotiate the ascent of the two main hills of the day. In 30 degree heat they were challenging but I didn’t get off and walk!

There was only 20 miles left of the day’s ride to get to Ashford and our overnight accommodation. We did stop about 4 miles from the end in order to regroup for the final run in but despite the closeness of an aptly named hostelry, we remained resolute and didn’t venture in!

Upon arriving at our hotel there was time to get showered and changed before our evening meal. Tomorrow will be another early start as we hope to be on the road by 7.30am (which should help us make some progress before it warms up again) so after dinner, the majority said tired farewells and retired to their rooms.

Tomorrow’s itinerary includes a first ‘water’ stop at Gusbournes Vineyard in Appledore, a Barbeque lunch at Holiday Extras in Hythe (where we were treated to a wonderful afternoon tea last year) before heading to Bethersden where we intend to cheer England on into the Semi Finals of the World Cup. What could possibly go wrong?!

I’ll let you know how it goes…

 

Day Two

If we thought yesterday was warm then today was a tad warmer still. I think it peaked at 32 Deg C but it wasn’t as humid as yesterday.

We set out after an early breakfast and were on the road by just after 7.30am so we got a bit of a head start on the temperature.

I set out with Steve and Duncan. I’ve ridden with Duncan before – both during Steve’s John O’Groats to Lands End ride and at last year’s GGKCR. Duncan suffered a serious heart attack a couple of years ago and the fact he’s around to tell the tale is amazing in itself but to push himself on a ride in the sort of heat we experienced today is astonishing.

We made steady progress to the first water stop at Sissinghurst after 19 miles by which time it was starting to warm up nicely.

We headed on to our 2nd water stop after 36 miles at the Gusbourne Vineyard (well, I suppose there’s some water content somewhere in a bottle of sparkling white wine isn’t there?).

The wine they had for us to taste was wonderful although in the heat, looking for a cold drink, I’m not sure we made the most discerning of customers.

Leaving the vineyard we hit our first big climb of the day up onto the Weald. It was hard work but by now our little group had grown to include Garrie (another ex-Sapper, who I’m sharing a room with) as well as Carol from Goatham’s.

We all made it giving each other encouragement as we made the climb. The view from the top was stunning but the promise of a nice downhill stretch limited the opportunity for photographic proof on this occasion!

After the big hill, we had to contend with what seemed like an endless series of rolling hills all the way to Hythe at 48 miles and lunch. Holiday Extras put on a great BBQ for us but the thing I was most grateful for was the supply of ice cold drinks. Having plenty of water to carry on our bikes is essential for a ride like we are doing but it doesn’t take long to warm up.

Suitably recharged, we headed 19 miles towards our final water stop of the day. We encountered one final big climb before settling down to more rolling hills again but nothing quite as draining as we experienced before lunch.

We rolled in to our ‘water stop’ at Bethersden at about 2.55pm just in time to get a drink and settle down for England vs Sweden.

It has to be said that the roads were deserted from about 2.00pm. That’s twice in a week I’ve experienced quiet roads when there’s an England game on.

There was just 7 miles remaining to get back to the hotel so we set off after the match in good spirits (even the Scottish and Welsh contingent in the groups seemed to be happy!)

74 miles completed (my GPS track seemed to have failed between lunch and the afternoon water stop though) and there was just enough time to cool off before dinner.

It’s been a great couple of days. We have the small matter of 60 miles tomorrow with a couple of big climbs thrown in to test us as we return to Hoo. Lunch at the Shepherd Neame Brewery should be good too!

 

Day Three

After our celebration meal last night, we were given a chance of a lay-in. Breakfast at 7.30am then packed and away at 8.30am. It was due to be another warm day. Despite various aches and pains, everyone was looking forward to it but more than a little disappointed that our adventure was drawing to a close.

We set off in peloton and stayed close together for the first 5 miles. By this stage in the ride you normally know who is likely to be cycling around you as groups of cyclists of similar ability tend to gravitate towards each other.

After just 5 miles we were treated to a short stop and some healthy refreshments courtesy of Eastwell Manor. A lovely setting and ice cold drinks were gratefully received even though were were only 30 minutes into the days riding.

Mini treatments were apparently on offer but I don’t think that anyone succumbed. I think that if anyone had, that would have been their day ended in the relaxing environment of a Champneys Spa!

We were searching around for a bit of shade and ended up in the courtyard for a team photo before heading back out and onto our biggest challenge of the day – Wye Hill.

Steve had been psyching us up for this one! It’s regarded as one of the Ten best cycling climbs in Kent and after 1.7 miles of gradients up to 10% you can see what. The view from the top of the North Downs is stunning (I actually got photographic evidence this time!). I’m pleased to say that I maintained my record of cycling up all of the hills and not having to resort to walking.

To be honest, I was feeling quite pleased with myself by this point but I was soon to come crashing back down to earth (though, thankfully not literally).

A couple of miles after the photo was taken I was riding with a couple of the ride captains and we were making really good progress when I suffered a puncture. Not a problem… I have these all the time and know how to swap a tube and get going again (or so I thought). The tube was duly replaced and the tyre was inspected for the culprit – there was a lot of flint washed on to the road. I got ready to go but as soon as I sat on the bike it punctured again. It transpired that the cause was in deed a razor sharp bit of flint but it had actually slashed the sidewall of the tyre and I hadn’t noticed in my hast to get moving again.

The tyre was beyond repair so the ride captains (Adrian, Richard and Steven) kept me company while we awaited the Cycle-Tec support vehicle to bring me a replacement tyre which was fitted without further incident and then the ride captains did their best to haul me along the road a little quicker than I would have otherwise gone in an attempt to recover some time to the next water stop at 20 miles. The spirit of this ride is such that everyone waited at Chartham for me even though I’d delayed them by getting on for 30 minutes.

After leaving Chartham we had the most wonderful ride through picture postcard Kentish villages – most of which I’ve tried to remember so that I can visit again (but perhaps without the bike, and with a little more time to stop and enjoy them next time!)

Lunch was at 30 miles at the Shepherd Neame Brewery in Faversham. We grouped together on the outskirts of Faversham and cycled the last couple of miles together. There was a real buzz when we reached the Brewery.

There were plenty of supporters waiting for us and the hospitality we received was second to none. Complimentary drinks (but I had to keep reminding myself that there was still 30 miles to go plus I needed to drive home) and a superb pasta lunch were gratefully received.

The sports therapists from UEL that had been supporting the bike ride across all three days, seemed to be very busy all of a sudden before we left Faversham and continued on our journey.

The final stop of the day was to be at the Naval Memorial at Chatham for an opportunity to reflect and remember those naval personnel who have no grave. There are three naval memorials, all built to the same design; one in Chatham, Plymouth and one in Portsmouth (which I visited the day before my very first Help for Heroes Ride in 2009).

Steve gave a short introduction, wreaths were laid and Garrie (my room-mate and ex Royal Engineer) read the exhortation.

A short silence was kept before Steve invited us to look at the names on the memorial (there are more than 8,500 from 1914-18 and over 10,000 from 1939-45) and remember one name on the 11th November this year.

From the memorial we rode in small groups through Chatham, Rochester and Strood before joining up again in Hoo so that we could ride to the finish at Goatham’s as one.

Like last year there were a large number of riders’ friends that welcomed us home with banners, hooters, flags and cheers. We were treated to a glass of bubbly to celebrate our achievement before we had farewell speeches from Steve Craddock on behalf of Help for Heroes, Steve Wolfe on behalf of the Kent Sports Trust, and Clive Goatham who presented us with our trophies.

I’m really excited at the prospect of doing it all again next year. If you’re interested then please drop me a line and I’ll only be too happy to put you in touch with the organisers.


 
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