Tags: Crab and Winkle Way, Five Go to Smuggler's Top, Linen Shed, Miss Mollett's High Class Tea Room, Morelli's
This year’s Kentish cycle tour took us through a wealth of different terrain (we were east of the Medway so I think I should actually say that it was a cycle tour of Kent rather than a Kentish cycle tour). We enjoyed coastal paths, flat marshland, woods, hills, wheatfields, hop fields and plenty of orchards – and the vast majority of our riding was on designated cycle routes as Kent is very well-served in this respect.
Dick and I took the high speed train from Stratford to Broadstairs. Traveling from east London should have been convenient but it was actually a bit of a faff given that the station is situated in the middle of a building site at the moment. Bikes need to be taken on a very circuitous route to get onto the platform and then on a shuttle bus to the station itself. Once in Broadstairs we found our way to our seaside hotel and then set off to explore the town. Dickens connections here are strong – he lived and worked in Bleak House, which is perched above the town, and the Dickens House Museum, on Victoria Parade, was once the home of Mary Peason Strong – the original of David Copperfield‘s Betsy Trotwood. The museum showcases all sorts of Victoriana, as well as letters written by Dickens from or about Broadstairs.
In the evening we treated ourselves to ice creams from the legendary Morelli’s. Opened in 1932, Morelli’s was refitted in the 1950s and the Broadstairs branch retains much of the charm of this period – pink leatherette seating, a soda fountain, jukebox and a truly bizarre ceiling feature. The ice cream is excellent and I think Julian et al would approve – there are many flavours to choose from as well as a host of weird and wonderful sundaes (the Brazil comes with a miniature palm tree stuck on top).
After an early morning dip in the sea (bracing and a bit sea-weedy) we set off on the first proper day of cycling: Broadstairs to Canterbury. We took the Viking trail along the coast to Ramsgate and then on to Sandwich. The first section boasts gorgeous views of the sea and coastline and although the final stretch is largely alongside a busy road it’s nicer to be on a separate path than borne down upon by impatient and speeding traffic. After a stop in Sandwich to get some provisions we set off on National Cycle Route 1, a truly beautiful ride through luscious orchards and (later on) cool, dark woods. We picked up some apples for sale by the side of the road and had to eat two right away – they were warm from the sun and wonderfully juicy. I couldn’t resist also buying a jar of home-made damson jam – probably foolish given I would have to carry it around for another 70 miles.
We stopped to picnic in an orchard and after a post-prandial snooze (we did drink some cider with our bread, cheese and apples) and some hills, we arrived in Canterbury in the late afternoon. We stayed with my lovely friend Emma whose nearest FF character would probably be a cross between the sweet Jennifer Mary Armstrong (Five Run Away Together) and one of the excellent FF hostesses like Mrs Thomas of Billycock Farm.
The next morning we made for Whitstable via the Crab and Winkle Way. Canterbury is nestled in a hollow so we had a steep climb out of the city and round the university before joining (parts of) the disused railway line that used to run from coast to cathedral city. Sections of the route are quite undulating – a fact which proved the downfall of the line as Stephenson’s poor Invicta engine couldn’t quite handle the gradient. When we arrived in Whitstable the sun was out. So, even though we were laden with cycle panniers (including that heavy jar of damson jam – argh!) we had a paddle before some oysters (for Dick) and brown shrimps (for me) before pressing on to Saturday night’s destination, the amazing Linen Shed in Boughton-Under-Blean. After long flat stretches around Seasalter we began a series of climbs up to Boughton. Happily we were rewarded with stunning views back across the countryside to the sea, then our first hop field and then, upon arrival at the Linen Shed, a refreshing shower followed by tea and home-made granola flapjacks, and later on, wine, on the verandah.
Vickie is, in short, an incredible hostess and has created a beautiful place to stay. This feature in the Wealden Times gives a flavour of this wonderful weather-boarded buiding which stated life as an army drill hut before having stints as the village hall and even as a cinema. Breakfast the following morning was certainly on a par with the best Blytonian feasts: grilled vine tomatoes and Serrano ham (me), a full cooked breakfast with rosti and creamed mushrooms (Dick), fresh breads with raspberry and lavender jam, ripe peaches and raspberries, passion fruit and Greek yoghurt. This set us up well for our longest day of cycling so far – approximately 40 miles down through Kent, via Ashford to Rye in East Sussex.
Things started well. I got us a tiny bit lost (I am always convinced that the map, rather than me, is wrong) but it was nothing major and we soon found National Cycle Route 18. I was so thankful that I left the Dutch Bobbin at home this year and actually had a bike with a range of gears. We climbed hill after hill – made that much harder by the luggage we were carrying (including, yes, that pesky jar of damson jam). We finally got to the highest point of the climb, a few miles from the village of Wye, and stopped to admire the view. Here is plastic Timmy enjoying the scenery.
We started the descent, picking up speed as we whizzed down an actually quite steep hill. And then… disaster struck! Something suddenly went THUNK and my back wheel seized up. I managed to avoid an approaching tractor before stopping and dismounting to assess the damage – weirdly wedged breaks and a severely buckled wheel. I cannot repeat what I said at this point. After assorted cursing we disengaged my breaks and limped/wobbled the next few miles to Wye where we made straight for the pub for a lime and soda before bike and I took a taxi to to Halfords in Ashford leaving Dick to have a solo adventure and navigate his way into town by bike.
Spending a sunny Sunday afternoon on an industrial estate is possibly one of the most depressing things ever but happily the charming young gentlemen of Halford’s Bike Hut were able to replace some missing spokes and got me back on the road reasonbly sharpish. After a few false turns en route, Dick turned up and we decided to press on to Rye. It became a bit of a gritted teeth job, especially on the final stretch from Appledore into Rye. This was several miles of uneventful road going against the wind and wasn’t terribly fun at the end of a long day. Thankfully we’d been able to have a quick restorative cup of tea and a scone at Miss Mollett’s delectable tea room in Appledore. Although there was too much pretty vintage crockery for Dick, and too many wasps for both of us, they do serve an excellent cream tea which I would highly recommend. We finally arrived in Rye in the early evening. We felt tired and windswept but also proud that we had overcome adversity and had traversed many miles to get there.
This post has gone on far too long so I won’t say much about our stay Rye. It is, as is well know in the world of Blytonia, the original of Smuggler’s Top. It was also the home of Henry James, E. F. Benson and John Ryan (of Captain Pugwash fame) as well as once being a veritable hive of smuggling. I plan to return in a more suitably atmospheric season (mist and fog are probably necessary to experience it as the Five did), and not on bike next time. Having said that, I will certainly be going back to explore more of Kent on two wheels. It was particularly lovely riding through the orchards, especially as it was harvest time (there’s a bumper crop this year!) but I imagine a springtime trip, when the blossom is out would be quite magical too.
Tags: Dick, Easter hols, Five Go to Smuggler's Top, Five on Kirrin Island Again, hot cross buns
Hurrah for the Easter holidays! Two of my favourite Famous Five adventures (Five go to Smuggler’s Top and Five on Kirrin Island Again) take place over the Easter break, and even without adventures it’s lovely to have a long weekend at this time of year.
In honour of the ever-hungry Dick, and of Jesus, I am baking hot cross buns today (like our Saviour they are hopefully rising as I type this). These fruity, lightly spiced buns are traditionally made and eaten on Good Friday; Steven Jenkins, spokesperson for the Church of England says that they ‘are fairly full of Christian symbolism…You have got the bread, as per the communion, you have got the spices that represent the spices Jesus was wrapped in in the tomb, and you have got the cross.’
This BBC News piece discusses the disputed roots of the hot cross bun (variously suggested as Pagan, Jewish, Roman and Saxon in origin) and their transition from a seasonal treat to one that is available all year round, and in various guises – you can now buy orange and cranberry, apple and cinnamon and even (yuk!) toffee hot cross buns. Here are my more trad buns pre- and post-baking. I haven’t quite got the hang of yeast cookery yet but they tasted quite good nevertheless.