In 2009 I undertook my first substantial bike tours since I was a teenager, cycling from home in Surrey to Paris and shortly afterwards from home to Wymondham, where my Dad lived but on those occasions I used guest houses, hotels overnight. The following year in 2010 I decided that it was time to embark on some real, self-contained to touring, in this case cycle camping. I’d toured a lot when younger using the YHA for accommodation and I have camped extensively in the UK and overseas but never the two. As usual I turned to the CTC Forum for other’s experiences and advice, and during the winter purchased a lovely, lightweight tent – the Vango Banshee 300 for the princely sum of £45 in the sales. I also bought an Alpkit sleeping bag and sleeping mat and obtained for free a Trangia stove from my new cycling CTC Forum friend; I still find the knowledge and generosity of those on the CTC Forum impressive and at times humbling.
And so with the weather looking good I cleared my desk on a Wednesday and set off, completing my short Kent & East Sussex ride on the following Saturday. A few aches but otherwise an excellent few days of lovely riding and camping. Whilst cycling with all the necessary camping equipment is undeniably hard work, it is more emancipating than staying at hotels and houses and worth the effort. There are no ties, you are self-contained and just have to locate a suitable camp site. Nearly five years on I am still loving it.
I live in East Surrey and as I ride the section to the east a lot I took the train to Tonbridge first, then cycled up to Herne Bay for the first night, then via Margate on to Folkestone for second night, then along the coast via Dungeness to a C&CC campsite at Pevensey (east of Bexhill near Eastbourne) for the last night before finally riding to Lewes and catching the train home – all-in-all about 200 miles. The weather was excellent during the day, though despite the sunshine I cycled into a cold NE wind until I got to Margate.
There’s much to recommend this coastal ride, I particularly liked thesea wall section from Reculver to Margate and onwards on the Viking Trail to Ramsgate. Sandwich to Dover on the NCR 1 was also good. There are some nasty hills in places, particularly at Fairlight before Hastings but it soon passes! The Warren campsite just east of Folkestone was quite outstanding – down a steep track next to the Eurostar line on one side and the beach on the other, the facilities there are 5-star and the sound of the breaking waves soon extinguished the strange high-speeds sound of Eurostar.
I undertook the ride for two reasons, other than it was close by and a nice area (I already knew it well from other non-cycling visits), (i) to try out my new camping gear and (ii) I wanted to get post winter cycling fit. Both were successfully achieved. My new gear, acquired over the winter performed excellently: Vango Banshee 300 tent, Alpkit Slim Airic mat, Alpkit Skyhigh 600 sleeping bag and a Trangia stove + other bits and pieces. The bag is worthy of a commendation, I had a film of ice on the tent on Thursday night but was always cosy and comfortable, except my nose! Still need to find a decent pillow though, used a cheapo inflatable one from the Poundstore which gave me neck ache.
I found the only real problem was food. I have previously camped extensively – from backpacking in the Lake District in February to southern Africa, surrounded by big cats, hippos etc , and have cycled a lot since my youth, usually using the YHA or B&B, however this was my first combined cycling and camping trip. I took some dried food products bought in Sainsbury’s, which all things considered were just about edible, supplemented by energy drinks, malt loaf, fig biscuits etc whilst riding, but when you are burning calories 6 to 9 hours in the saddle each day I found they just didn’t provide sufficient energy.
All-in-all it was a successful ride which I enjoyed immensely which and augured well for my future cycle camping adventures. The prime aim of this trip, however, was as a ‘shakedown’ for bigger plans a few weeks later, touring the D-Day beaches of Normandy – more of that later.
STATS – MAPS – STUFF
Ride: 22nd to 25th April 2010; 4-days
Day-1 Redhill to Herne Bay 52.50 miles
Day-2 Herne Bay to Folkestone 56.35 miles
Day-3 Folkestone to Norman’s Bay 56.00 miles
Day-4 Norman’s Bay to Eastbourne to Home
Total Mileage: 191.15 miles
OS 1:50,000 maps: 178 / 179 / 188 / 189 / 199