Saturday began with a dawn mist lying thick and low over Blackheath, crystal clear air, and a bright waning moon high in the sky. By eight o’clock, four had gathered at Cutty Sark Gardens for an all-day ride to and around the Hoo Peninsula. Those present included Bermondsey Bill, Honor Oak Jane, and Adam, a welcome stranger from Merton.
Onwards to Gravesend by road rather than Thames Path, we set a brisk pace, and an hour and thirty-five minutes later arrived at the café on Gordon Promenade. Which was shut, and didn’t open for another 30 minutes. At Gravesend were waiting for us John from Hither Green, New Eltham cabby Dave, and sans bike, with a copy of the Grauniad tucked under an arm, and cleat-less shoes on feet, Jurek, with whom I had cycled a similar route two weeks previously.
After tea and a chinwag on the prom, six headed east out of Gravesend, and onto the Hoo Peninsula at Lower Higham. With the motor traffic behind us, the pace eased, and we enjoyed the winding lanes and fruit trees of the Hoo as we rode north toward Cliffe Pools, and east to Cooling.
After passing Jools Holland’s gaff (Cooling Castle), we stopped at the church of St James, which provided inspiration to Charles Dickens for his novel Great Expectations. Just down the road from the Cooling church, we parked up at the Horseshoe and Castle pub, where a dejected-looking Katie from Lewisham, who had just witnessed our beloved Wales lose a major international sporting contest by just one point, sat on a wall. Food and ale sorted that out, and a short while later our spirits were uniformly high.
Our route now took us up Lipwell Hill and on to High Halstow, before turning northeast to Allhallows: Terra Finis, the End of the Earth. I say that, but over the water, in the far distance, one could just about see Southend, about which we shall say no more. At this point, Jane did the honourable and comradely thing, and dipped her toes into the North Sea on behalf of all of us there assembled.
It was a wee bit nippy on the Allhallows prom. We didn’t stay long, choosing instead to begin our return journey through the eastern and southern sides of the peninsula. I made a slight navigational error on leaving Allhallows village, and missed the turning to Stoke, which would have taken us down the eastern edge of hilly Hoo, with a good view of the Medway estuary to our left. We instead retraced our outward track through St Mary Hoo, and rectified the mistake at Roper’s Green, by Hoo Saint Werbugh.
From there it was a straight westward run past Upnor and Lower Higham, where all but three of us opted for a train-assist back to London. Jane, Adam and I rode on to Gravesend, and a chocolate stop at a petrol station infested with some serious-looking young rozzers, urban combat fatigues bulging with policing kit of various kinds.
After leaving Gravesend for the second time in a day, and with our blood-sugar levels sufficiently boosted, the pace picked up for a fast spin along hilly roads through Northfleet, Swanscombe and Greenhithe. After a short and quietish lakeside detour off the A206, in a place marked “Void” on my map, it was onward to Erith.
At Erith, peace and quiet once more. There we stopped on the pier to admire the sunset, and then continued along the river past Thamesmere, Plumstead and Woolwich. And finally, the 10 kilometre home run from the Woolwich Ferry to Greenwich Pier, with the twilight sky a deep shade of red, courtesy of London’s air pollution.
Eleven hours and just shy of 140 kilometres after our early morning departure, we arrived at Cutty Sark Gardensin Greenwich. And we all felt fine. On Sunday morning I was even fit enough for Eric the Unready’s wrong-way spin around the Locks & Docks, about which we will no doubt hear directly from the Comrade Leader.