For the fourth consecutive day I was treated to glorious weather and amazing cycling. What a coast to coast journey this has been. It went beyond all expectations on both fronts. Today was like a summer day, warm enough for shorts and, if anything, too warm for much else! You would never believe this was 29th October. I understand it was raining all day further north. For once, I was pleased that the south of England was getting warmer, drier weather. Selfish, perhaps; but it certainly made me more able to appreciate what I was cycling through. And that was undeniably lovely country for as long as the daylight lasted. I knew I would not be away from Capel very early, and thus it turned out. Therefore, I had hoped to make it as far as the coast in daylight, on the basis that the last few miles would be built up areas and therefore well lit. It was a good plan and I executed it well. This was the last day before the clocks went back, marking the official end of British Summer Time. How I will miss that extra hour of daylight. So I was very keen to squeeze as much out of today as I could. In the event I cycled 94 miles, arriving at my bnb in Folkestone about 7pm, which was about perfect. It just feels so late in these dark autumn evenings!
I was once again connecting a series of dots – or village names to be precise – supplied to me overnight by the incredibly helpful Mrs W. Without this I would have little idea where to go for the best. But I can manage a dot or two at a time, and over a day I get where I want to be. What she doesn’t really know is what she is sending me through. But she does a fine job of keeping me off the busy main roads wherever possible, as well as heading more or less as due east as the roads will allow. It was not without its twists and turns and ups and downs. But that is the nature of The Weald, an upland, well forested area of Surrey, Sussex and Kent that lies in between the higher chalk escarpments of the North and South Downs. Towards the very end of the day, things flattened out and I crossed Romney Marsh on my way to the coast at New Romney. This was more open country, providing me with huge open clear skies when I most needed it, to squeeze every ray of light I could from the fading day. It was also the place to be when visibility was poorer, leaving me more time to feast on the visual spectacle that came before it. And feast I did, relishing the golden autumn light in combination with the turning trees and the always impressive buildings. As a representation of the finer side of English life, you could do very much worse than selecting this region. Living in it, I strongly suspect, comes with a hefty price tag, if the pub prices where I had lunch today are any sort of guide. But beggars can’t be choosers, and soup, chips and locally brewed beer will keep a long distance adventure cyclist going for several hours!
This part of the country is also home to many a fine country estate, some of great antiquity. There were famous names like Hever Castle, Scotney Castle, Chartwell, Sissinghurst, Penshurst Place, all on or near my route today. But there were plenty of other extravagant piles across fields and down long drives whose names trip less readily off the tongue. It was that sort of area.
Perhaps the most distinctive and memorable type of building, however, was the Oast house. These were used for drying hops and have become something of a symbol of the Weald. You see them everywhere, a low round brick tower (or occasionally square) topped by a white, wooden cone that leans to one side. Sometimes you would see a few of them together; but more often they would be standing alone, next to a house or barn. Many have now been converted into accommodation. I think having one as part of your home would be pretty cool.
I could mention a string of places; but I will pick out just three, in the order they arrived. First, Penshurst was like a mediaeval film set, with its ancient yellow stone palace and nearby half timbered village. Then later, Benenden, with its enormous village green cum cricket field, not unlike so many others; but wonderfully framing its impressive old stone church at the apex. And finally the delightful and substantial town of Tenterden, the last place I passed through before Romney Marsh took over from the hills. It has the most attractive of high streets: broad, lined with stately trees and fringed on both sides with wide green margins. There was a large, grand parish church, and old and characterful pubs, hotels and restaurants lining the way. Only the lack of available daylight kept me from stopping.
I can say for sure I will be back to explore this area again. It deserves it. As indeed does all of the slice of England that I cycled through and experienced, mostly for the first time, this week. It has been a joy and would make a fine coast to coast ride for any serious cyclist. At over 300 miles, it probably should be allocated more than the four days I took. You could happily occupy yourself for many more. And perhaps, someday soon, I will.