(If you want to follow along on this trip, a larger version of the map below, including mile markers and elevation, can be found on the Mapmyride site.)
Just after mile 41, the path crossed a bridge over an inlet into a small marina that turned out to be the former basin of the Thames and Medway canal. The path went down a sort of dark alley formed by abandoned warehouses, and then took an apparent turn to the right. As it turned out, it did turn right, but not where I thought it did. Unable to find any more cycle route signs, I doubled back, and finally found a very narrow path behind an old fence. 3 feet wide at best, it made a right angle around the end of a building (not the first blind and narrow right angle turn on this cycle trip) and continued down the most convincing example of an abandoned cycle path that I’ve ever seen on two continents. The photo above shows a spot where the path actually widened enough that someone thought it a good place for fly tipping. Carefully avoiding the broken class, the path went across what was apparently the floor of a demolished factory or warehouse, an area strewn with tire-sized blocks of concrete.
Happily, the character of the trip changed entirely at mile 42. For the next mile, a private and smoothly paved road followed the filled in bed of what had once been the Thames and Medway Canal. The pavement gave out, but the dirt was very smooth, and I could see for miles across the Shorne Marshes , which were mostly filled with salt grass, an MoD shooting range, and a lot of cows. A 19th century fort was visible in the distance. At mile 44, I stopped to let a pair of oncoming bikers pass a motorbike barricade, and we got into a long chat. He recognized that I was riding a vintage Bianchi Volpe, and I wasn’t surprised to learn he’d been a bicycle mechanic (deja vu all over again, remembering the meeting with Alan far up the Thames in Richmond). He showed me where you could just make out a fort on the far side of the Thames. At mile 45, in the village of Lower Higham, the path started following public roads again. There were mostly very quiet, and it was the only rural section of the entire trip.
At mile 48, the cycle route entered a former MoD area, making a steep hill climb through Chattendon, followed by a gloriously long and fast downhill into the charming village of Upnor (there’s a Lower Upnor, so why not an Upper Upnor?). This looked like a great place to stop for a pint, with a charming little buildings all bunched together on a steep hill with a view of the Medway Estuary in the distance. I didn’t stop. After 49 miles, I was ready to head for home.
A short offroad section dumped me out onto a dual carriageway and a confusing array of bike paths. I chose wrong, but doubled back and found the path, which soon took a steep left up a hill past an old oast house. I stopped at the top of the hill to admire a view of Richmond’s bridges and castle, and what appeared to be a WWII submarine.
The narrow path made a steep and dangerous downhill towards river level. When I arrived at Commissioner’s Road, I couldn’t find a route sign, but right seemed to be the best choice. This was the last climb of the trip, and I was starting to drag. A little bright orange car buzzed me, spraying me with wiper fluid. At mile 52, I passed the Strood Rail Station, and decided to keep pushing on towards Rochester. At the intersection of Station Road and High Street I still hadn’t located a cycle route sign, so I asked someone to confirm that I was headed in the most level route towards the Rochester Bridge.
There are actually 3 parallel bridges leading into Rochester: a rail bridge, a newer bridge that had 2 lanes of incoming traffic and a bike path, and the older bridge with the outgoing traffic. I stopped on the side of the bridge to take a photograph of the castle. The last mile through Rochester was a busy one along the A2, taking me past a remnant of the medieval city wall. With both a Norman castle and a cathedral, I’m sure that Rochester is worth a longer visit, but it was after 5pm and starting to get dark, and I was ready to head back for home. According to Mapmyride, I rode 53.17 miles between London Waterloo and Rochester Station. According to my GPS software, it was 53.75. I’ll add that to 1.5 miles round trip from my house to the Ascot rail station and take credit for a 55 mile day.
It was a fascinating trip, with a lot of interesting sites that were totally different from what I usually see on a bike ride. Very little of it was attractive, but much of it was highly interesting. Surprisingly, there multiple spots in the trip where I went several miles without seeing another person, and other stretches where I only saw people in the far distance. It wasn’t a particular fast ride, with much of the trip across rough stone, pavement, or gravel, and there were a number of barriers that required stopping, and even dismounting. It wasn’t really physically strenuous, although there are far more hills during the final 25 miles than I had anticipated. I did the trip on a touring bike with 32cm tires, and I wouldn’t recommend trying it on anything less sturdy, or with narrower tires. 35cm would have been more comfortable.