Cycle ride: Rochester Sweeps, 6 May 2013

Where: Rochester Sweeps Festival
When: Monday 6 May 2013
Meet: 08:00 @ Cutty Sark Gardens, London SE10 9LW

A highlight of the Kentish cultural calendar is the Rochester Sweeps Festival, held over the weekend of the May bank holiday. The Sweeps festival is a mix of music, Morris dancing and various other folk arts, with most of it taking place in the streets of the historic Medway town of Rochester. The photograph shown here is one of mine, taken in 2009, showing a Border Morris dancer brandishing her mighty member.

Border Morris dancer with wooden penis, Rochester Sweeps Festival, May 2009 (photo: Francis Sedgemore)

The Rochester Sweeps Festival ends on the bank holiday Monday with a Jack-in-the-Green procession from Star Hill to the town’s castle grounds. If you can get to Rochester by train on the Saturday or Sunday I recommend it, but what I plan to do on behalf of the Dog & Bell Crew is lead a cycle ride to Rochester on the Monday, to catch the end of the festival.

This will be a rather long ride, with a ridiculously early start. The outward leg will follow my usual Hoo route as far as the base of the peninsula, before continuing along National Cycle Route #1 to Strood and Rochester. The entire ride, from Greenwich to Rochester and back, will be over 100 kilometres (500 furlongs) in length.

Those unable or unwilling to do the whole ride can bail out at various points and catch a train back to London. Gravesend and Erith are on a direct line to southeast London, and there is a train station in Rochester.

The ride to Rochester will pass through Woolwich, Plumstead, Abbey Wood, Belvedere, Erith, Greenhithe, Northfleet and Gravesend, where we shall stop for a cuppa and a snack at the café on Gordon Promenade. From there we follow the old Thames and Medway Canal to the foot of the Hoo Peninsula at Lower Higham, and join NCR1, which takes us across the base of the peninsula to the Medway estuary at Upnor. From Upnor we head down into Strood town centre, and cross the bridge over to Rochester. The outward leg will be almost exactly 50 kilometres in length.

In Rochester I propose that we lock up our bikes somewhere near the Hight Street, and agree on a time to meet up for the return journey. We will then be free to do our own thing during the early afternoon, either sticking together or exploring alone.

The return from Rochester will follow the same route back to Gravesend, and from there we continue along NCR1, which at first takes us southwest past Ebbsfleet to Watling Street, and then northwest to Dartford. From Dartford we proceed to Erith, though we will avoid the Darent riverbank path into the town as it is unsuitable for bikes with skinny tyres. From Erith the final 25 kilometres to Cutty Sark Gardens runs along the Thames Path by Crossness, Thamesmead, Woolwich and the Greenwich Peninsula.

Please ensure that your bikes are in working order, with tyres pumped up hard and free of embedded debris that could cause punctures. Bring a spare inner tube or two, puncture repair materials, water and snacks, and lights.

RSVP, but it’s OK to turn up unannounced on the day.