On Saturday I decided to finally load my bike on a train and go have a little ride in the countryside-as I need to escape London every 15 days or so to prevent myself from going insane.
The whole ride was a roundtrip: I took the train from King’s Cross to Ashford and then cycled to Dungeness, Camber Sands, Rye and back to Ashford.
Naturally I packed all the wrong things. The weather forecast warned of rainy spells and clouded skies so I packed my waterproof gear. The temperature was also meant to be quite high so I packed my swimming suit and my short wetsuit. I also packed both my locks because London has a way of making a cyclist paranoid.
The result of this preparation is I got back with a sunburn and my shoulders aching from the weight of my backpack. Bear in mind that I am not a serious cyclist and this has been my longest ride so far. After getting lost for more than half an hour trying to find the correct way out of Ashford (surely there must be a way to avoid the A2042 without having to initially go over fences and across train tracks), I was eventually on the right path to Dungeness- and relying solely on my phone for navigation (Note to self: buy that power bank).
When you get to the cycling path, the way to Dungeness is actually pretty straightforward, mostly following National Cycling route 2. I cycled through Newchurch to Lydd and then followed the aptly named Dungeness Road to Dungeness.
It soon became apparent that I had no idea what to expect when I arrived there. I cycled through what I now understand was the natural reserve bit, an expanse with lakes and water patches all around; I spotted birds, hikers and kite surfers in the distance as I was passing through. Then I got to a fork on the road, one side leading to the EDF nuclear power station (which up to that point I thought was non-operational) and the other leading to what is referred to as the ‘Estate’. I cycled towards the nuclear station with the intention of passing through it. Judging from the signs pointing to the ‘visitor’s center’ it is actually possible to visit-if that’s your kind of thing. Being conscious of the fact that I was on a tight schedule in order to catch the train back at 7pm I decided to skip the visit.
I then stopped a couple of helpful police officers on patrol to ask which bit is the reserve. They told me what I was looking for was the Estate and let me through a gate to that area. The Estate bit is the part you will see in photographs when you look for ‘Dungeness’. You have a long shingle beach (apparently Dungeness is one of the largest shingle expanses in Europe), a few dark-coloured cottages by the seaside or scattered around inland, lighthouses and an old train station, which belongs to the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. I am guessing it is served by a rather old train, judging from the sound it was making in the distance.
There were two lighthouses in between the railway station and the sea, where cowboy anglers fish for nuclear fish. The one closer to the water was operational and beeping loudly at regular intervals. The nuclear power station looms over this desert landscape and the white beach, making for a dreamlike sight.
There is one pub in Dungeness, advertising the fact in the sign. I really wish I could have stopped for a beer but unfortunately I couldn’t spare much time in the area and began heading back for Lydd. On the way back out of the reserve I cycled by Prospect Cottage-except not to my knowledge at the time. This little black cottage belonged to film director Derek Jarman.
After reaching Lydd once more I headed for Camber Sands, a popular beach in the area, famous for its sand dunes. The tide was low when I arrived and the sea didn’t look particularly good so I decided to skip the swim after all and just walk around the beach for a bit.
After Camber I headed to Rye, as one of my colleagues had suggested. The road from Camber to Rye is a scenic one, passing by little ponds and fields of flowers in bloom. I always find it amusing how the cattle and sheep turn around and stare whenever I cycle by, although it is a bit rude.
Rye is a small medieval town by the sea, once an important port. It is very picturesque and made for an ideal stop for an iced coffee.
The ride back to Ashford was a bit of a struggle, as the road was slightly inclined for most of the way. My backpack was slowly cutting off the circulation to my arms and my legs were getting heavier by the minute. I did plan to get to Ashford an hour before my train journey though, just to be certain I would make it in spite of any likely complications. As I reached Ashford my phone battery died, leaving me without a map. Fortunately the locals knew where the train station was and I finally reached my destination.
Despite the sunburn and the exhaustion it was a great day out and Dungeness is definitely worth a visit. The return ticket to Ashford is a little more than 20 pounds, so it’s definitely an affordable daytrip to the wild west of England.