Seth's Kent Coast Adventure
When it comes to road cycling, I like to think of Kent as a bit of an undiscovered gem. Rarely championed as a two-wheeled holiday destination, I’m going to outline one of my favourite rides across the county in this article, sampling what the “Garden of England” has to offer to two-wheeled explorers. My ride is a 112mile/180km loop that starts and finishes in my home town of Whitstable, taking in some quiet rolling countryside, plenty of quaint villages, a hill or two, a couple of good café stops and, of course, the seaside. So, without further ado, let’s get cracking.
Mile 0/KM 0: Whitstable
Whitstable is the first seaside town you will arrive at when heading east into Kent from London. Having grown up here, I have been fortunate to watch it develop over the last 20 years into the thriving seaside-themed town that it is today. Boasting around five miles of pebbled beaches, some excellent restaurants and cafés, a variety of independent boutiques and a traditional working harbour, it’s certainly worth a summer weekend trip. It’s also famed for its oysters, so any visit must be accompanied by sampling the local delicacy!
Mile 15/KM 24: The North Downs
Heading southwest from Whitstable across the Graveney marshes, my route kisses the edge of Faversham. This historic market town is well known regionally for its hop farming, beer brewing and orchards. Rolling away from Faversham, the itinerary gently climbs through sheltered woodland and arable land before being welcomed by views that stretch out from the top of the North Downs. At this point, it’s also worth noting that the chronicled Pilgrims Way trail is crossed, which, on another day, makes for an excellent off-road ride.
Mile 30/KM 48: Biddenden
Dropping steeply off the North Downs, my path enters into the Weald of Kent. A dense forest in the times of the Anglo-Saxons, the Weald nowadays is primarily covered with undulating fields and punctuated with a plethora of pretty villages. The ride cuts through Smarden, a village that hosts the smallest cricket pitch I have ever seen, before arriving in the parish of Biddenden. Biddenden’s main street is flanked with charming medieval and Jacobean half-timbered buildings, but, more importantly, it is the site of the first café of the day, The Bakehouse.
Mile 46/KM 74: Rye
With breakfast devoured and a spirit charged with coffee, my ride continues from Biddenden, dissects the town of Tenterden and wiggles on a fast, undulating road to the Cinque Port of Rye. Just across the border into Sussex, Rye has a history littered with French invasions, military defence and smuggling. Today, it’s a labyrinth of vintage cobbled streets fringed by an abundance of good eateries, privately owned shops and characterful pubs. Rye deserves an extended stop, but a quick brew can be had from one of the several cafés on offer if time is tight.
Mile 51/KM 82: Camber Sands
Despite only being on the bike for around 15 minutes since the last stop in Rye, Camber Sands is undoubtedly worth pausing for. Lining the English Channel, the dunes here were used for training during the Second World War thanks to their topographical resemblance to Normandy. Thankfully, the present-day beach has a much lighter-hearted summer holiday vibe, playing host to kite surfing, sandcastle building, swimming, sunbathing and ice cream eating.
Mile 60/KM 96: Dungeness
Soon after Camber Sands, my pedalling takes me along the flat coastal road to Dungeness. Dungeness is the southernmost point of Kent, and its vast, deserted shingle beaches and looming nuclear power station certainly infuse an intriguing, “end of the world” sensation. Yet, despite its eeriness, Dungeness possesses great ecological importance, providing the ideal habitat for a remarkable variety of wildlife, including large communities of birds, rare invertebrates and over 600 types of plants.
Mile 76/KM 122: Starting the Return Leg
Now well over halfway, my ride heads north on the start of the return leg. Initially tackling some flat, exposed terrain, this section often presents some challenging wind conditions. If the Gods are feeling kind, a fantastic tailwind grants a welcome boost, but if they are foul-tempered, a headwind must be battled for the next half an hour or so. Either way, the route eventually reaches more sheltered, tree-lined roads that meander to the foot of the day’s principal climb.
Mile 92/KM 147: White Hill
Despite only being around 2.5km long and with an average gradient of about 5%, White Hill serves as East Kent’s version of Mont Ventoux or the Stelvio. The climb was paid the ultimate compliment in 1994 when it featured in that year’s edition of the Tour de France, playing amphitheatre for cycling greats such as Miguel Indurain and Marco Pantani. During my parcours, the slopes of White Hill arrive after just over 90 miles, so despite its non-alpine stature, tired legs certainly ensure that it’s a slog to the top.
Mile 101/KM 162: Lunch at The Sondes
With several hours of riding now ticked off, the ideal place for a good lunch stop has been handily scheduled. The Sondes Tea House is one of my favourite mid-ride haunts thanks to its quirky atmosphere, excellent fresh vegetarian dishes, splendid cakes and full-bodied coffee. Unfortunately, the inside of the tea house remains closed due to COVID restrictions. Still, when the sun’s shining, the decked, pot plant-filled garden is the perfect setting for a hearty sandwich, a chocolate brownie and a latte pick-me-up.
Mile 112/KM 180: The Finish!
With the course nearly complete and with a post-lunch glow, the last few miles click by in an instant. On leaving The Sondes, more wooded roads are the theme, and a sharp three-minute climb brings the wind farm off the shore of Whitstable into view. Steadily descending the other side, past a couple of curious llamas and cow filled fields, I’m quickly back in my home town. Sitting atop the beachside grassy slopes, I crack open a well-deserved beer, look out to sea and start to reminisce about what has been a superbly enjoyable ride.
My Bike - Specifications
To help me conquer this ride, I was aboard my 58cm Specialized S-Works Aethos Disc Road Frameset built up with a SRAM Force eTap AXS 2x Electronic HRD Groupset, Quarq SRAM RED AXS Power Meter, SRAM XG-1290 AXS 12-speed Cassette, a Specialized S-Works Carbon Shallow Bend Road Handlebar and Wahoo Speedplay Nano Pedals. Completing my build is the Vel 50 RSL Carbon Tubeless Disc Wheelset shod with Continental GP5000 Clincher Tyres.
My Bike - How It Rides
Despite Specialized being adamant that this isn’t a race bike, its 6.5kg total weight (including pedals and bottle cages) and excellent lateral stiffness belie their claims, producing a ride that can only be described as enthralling. Adding ample comfort and perfectly poised handling, the Aethos, in my opinion, is an equally ideal pick for gruelling gran fondos or fast, café-themed group rides. The SRAM AXS gears shift flawlessly, and the Vel RSL 50 wheels grant nimble acceleration and afford freight-train-like momentum at higher speeds.
Staying in Whitstable
Travel: Sitting around 45 miles east of London, Whitstable is served by the M2/A299 from the west, making a car trip from the capital and the M25 fairly simple. Additionally, Whitstable train station is on a direct line from London, making access by rail a cinch.
Accommodation: There are plenty of AirBnB options in Whitstable and also a selection of both independent and chain-based hotels.
Food: A choice of several independent restaurants sit centrally in Whitstable and between them they offer a range of seafood, tapas, Italian and traditional French based menus. Pub-based meals are also available as is good old fashioned fish and chips on the beach.
Cafés: Plenty of cafés are interspersed in the High Street/Harbour Street area and in close proximity to the seafront.