Five headed east on Sunday morning from a relatively mild and windless but foggy Cutty Sark Gardens in Greenwich. And we are not talking here about SE London locals. All apart from me had travelled a considerable distance from home to take part in this ride to the Hoo Peninsula, one with the aid of his Freedom Pass. This was no nonsense cycling, senior style.
The ride out to Gravesend was delayed a little by two punctures (the same bike), but we were only 10 minutes over our ETA at the Gravesend Sailing Club boathouse, there to be met by LCC rides regular and sailing club member John Williams with a large pot of tea and a packet of chocolate biscuits. Many thanks to John and his club commodore!
At Gravesend, in the comfort of a heated clubhouse, we could see the skies lifting a little, and two more joined us following a train ride from London. And so it was along the now disused Thames and Medway Canal, past the college where police officers are trained in the use of organised violence, and onto the Hoo Peninsula at Lower Higham.
We then did a clockwise circuit of the peninsula, with a first stop at Cooling Castle, owned by that ivory tinkling son of Deptford, Jools Holland. And then, a few hundred metres along the road, St James’ Church, inspiration for Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. The cyclists in the attached photo stand in front of the graves of 13 infants who died of swap fever (ague).
St James’ Church is just around the corner from the Hoo Peninsula’s finest hostelry, the Horseshoe and Castle. Refreshed with Cobnut ruby red ale we headed east and north to Allhallows, there to watch a father and daughter foolishly walk out on the estuary mud at low tide, and promptly sink to their shins. Once assured that the pair were in no danger we left Allhallows, and rode down the eastern side of the Hoo overlooking the Medway estuary.
After Hoo St Werburgh we joined National Cycle Route #1 and head back toward Gravesend, where all but two of of our party of seven opted for a train home. Matthew and I continued along NCR #1 past Ebbsfleet to Dartford, and thence to Erith. That 24 km stretch of uninterrupted pedalling left my sorry arse in a state of some distress, but a short rest on Erith Pier and a banana had me feeling as fit as a fiddle.
From Erith it was a final 25 km along the Thames Path to Greenwich, with occasional stops for me to point out to Matthew various landmarks of the industrial Thames, with a discussion about the economic regeneration of the Thames Gateway, which I have followed since I was at school in Woolwich in the late 1970s. We also spoke of the proposed new river crossings, about which I have mixed feelings.
It was shortly after 19:30 when Matthew and I parted in Greenwich town centre. I then crawled my way up the hill to Blackheath, cooked a meal, sat myself in front of the devil’s lightbox to watch Meryl Streep play the role of the Wicked Witch of Grantham, and fell asleep after five minutes. After all these years the Iron Lady hath clearly lost her sheen.
Many thanks to my six companions for their company on Dr Hoo’s Midwinter Burn 2013.