Teynham Level and Luddenham Marshes

Distance: 60.9 miles. Elevation: 3176 ft.

Happily, this post starts in the same way as all recent ones: “it was a glorious sunny, hot day”, with a few clouds this time to add a bit of interest. I modified one of my existing routes to Oare Marshes to include an off-road section along the sea-wall between Teynham and Oare.

The journey didn’t start off too well. First I was delayed at the roadworks traffic lights at Linton Corner by what felt like an eternity, but turned out to be 2 minutes when I checked the data later. It was enough for me to give up waiting at the red and ‘bypass’ the lights by riding up the pavement and across the pedestrian bit. The rest of the traffic continued to wait at red for ages afterwards, but I was off and gone.

The next delay was caused by my having to stop and adjust my cleats – I had realised that they were too far forward on the shoe; it felt like I was riding on tip-toes. This explains why I got numb feet on a previous ride.

Three minutes later, while cycling over a bumpy stretch of road, my movie camera dislodged from its cable-ties and crashed to the ground and bounced along the road – “oh no!” I exclaimed (or something to that effect). I went back and picked it up and continued with it stuffed in my back pocket. (Inspecting it later it appears almost unscathed from the incident). Three problems in less than four miles! What next?

This route included Hollingbourne Hill, which I managed to ascend 1:15 quicker than I had back in April (yay!). However, note to self: Do not underestimate Hollingbourne Hill. Months after climbing a hill it’s easy to forget how serious it was. Time seems to erase the memory of the effort, and you think “yeah, I can easily do that again”. Recently, to help me train for Mont Ventoux next year, I designed a ride that went up (and down) Hollingbourne Hill four times in quick succession. “I’m glad I didn’t attempt that route” I thought to myself, as I was grinding up the steep (18%) top section of that climb today! There’s no way I would want to go up it a second time, let alone four times!

There are some beautiful lanes on top of the North Downs. I enjoyed the next ten miles on such roads as I wound gradually down through places such as Rodmersham, Bapchild, Tonge and Barrow Green, and then to Teynham, where the off-road part of my journey began

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Teynham Church

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I met 2 other cyclists at the first gate to the Marshes. One of them asked me if they were able to cycle to Whitstable using this path. Apparently they had been told by someone in the bike shop that you could ride all the way to Whitstable along the sea wall. I said I wasn’t sure, but I re-assured them that the route certainly went in the right direction for Whitstable. I fumbled my bike through the really narrow swing gate and off I went, bidding them good luck. There were lots of gates on this path.

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The path along the ‘seawall’, which appeared to be one continuous mound of concrete, was mainly grass-covered, but rocky underneath. It was quite smooth going at this point. With the warm breeze and peaceful isolation it was really pleasant to ride alongside The Swale, the strip of water that separates North Kent from the Isle of Sheppey. There was no-one else around, except for those two other cyclists way off in the distance, still considering whether or not to do the route, I imagined. Just over the other side of the water was the nature reserve that had been the scene of another one of my rides, The Tour of The Isle of Sheppey. This side of the water was similar to that, except that this path was much narrower with a steep drop either side.

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A couple of miles further along, the surface of the path became much rougher and more difficult to cycle over. Obviously a mountain bike would have been more suitable. By the end of it my arms, hands, wrists, elbows, knees and butt were really feeling the effects of bouncing and jarring over the uneven surface and I vowed there and then to never get into mountain biking. I was so glad to get back onto smooth tarmac!

On the way back, while cycling up a narrow country lane, I saw three or four sheep ahead of me roaming freely in the road. I would have been quite happy to cycle cautiously between them, but once the nearest one to me got spooked and started running away from me, the others swiftly followed suit. And so I found myself herding sheep as they ran along the lane in front of me. Luckily they turned into a drive further up the road – I had visions of herding them all the way home!

Earlier in the ride a large fly or something had flown almost into my mouth but got caught at my lips so I spat it away. On the way back while cycling though some woods, a much larger flapping insect, almost certainly a dragonfly, did the same thing – it got caught between my partially opened lips. Disgusted, I instantly spat it away from my mouth with a loud exclamation of something like “BWAR!” Now I know what it is like to be a frog, or a bird!

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Fuel:

  • 2 bidons
  • 1
  • 2 slices of
  • 1
  • 2 or 3

Ride notes:
Don’t cable-tie the Contour Roam to the handlebars
It might fall off!
Don’t underestimate Hollingbourne Hill
Don’t take up mountain-biking

Contour Roam
High5 Zero Sports
Mule bar
Fruit Loaf
High5 IsoGel
Jelly Babies

Going for it

Went out this evening on this ride:

It was a beautiful sunny evening. I really went for it, hoping to beat my last average of 17.2 mph. My legs were still aching from yesterday’s 53 mile/4000 ft ride and I’d only had 4.5 hours sleep last night. Right, that’s the excuses out of the way! I really gave it everything I had (left).

By the time I had covered the 11.6 miles to the foot of Yalding Hill I had averaged 19.1 mph and was over a minute up on my previous best. But I had nothing left for Yalding Hill. I went up it as fast as I could. I kept getting out of the saddle but the pain in my legs was too much so I’d sit down again. Then I got up again, and down again. “Work, you bastards” I said under my breath (but actually out loud) to my legs, but they had had enough. I pushed as hard as I could to the top. It was such an effort that I thought I might have beaten my previous time up the hill, but later analysis showed otherwise. At the top of the hill I saw 17.6 avg on the Garmin so I knew I was still up on my previous best for the journey as a whole. I pushed as hard as I could for the last mile, most of which was still slightly uphill, and managed to end up with 17.4 mph. I had beaten my previous time by 51 seconds, even with the slower climb of YH.

Now my legs are aching even more.

Knatts Valley

Distance: 53.4 miles. Elevation: 4166 ft.

As is typical of this beautiful Summer we’re having, it was a glorious sunny, hot day. I modified one of my existing routes around Wrotham Hill to take in Knatts Valley and, specifically, Lockyers Hill, which is one of the few ‘double-chevron’ hills around here (follow the link for more info about that).

But the discovery of the day concerns the title of this post. What a beautiful road it is that runs through Knatts Valley. It meanders gently like a river along the bottom of this wide shallow valley. For much of the way there are no houses or fences or other evidence of mankind. What’s more, it gently descends over its 4-mile length by about 300 feet; it’s barely perceptible, but you find yourself going very fast with little effort.

No cars passed me in either direction and for those 12 minutes I was in cycling heaven. 15 miles later I would be in cycling hell, as I climbed the 25% gradient that is Lockyers Hill!

Actually it wasn’t that bad at all – I just couldn’t resist using that dramatic link!

Also included on today’s ride was the ever-popular Cotman’s Ash Lane, which rises 200 feet in about 0.3 miles. That one only gets a single chevron on the OS map, indicating a gradient of over 14% but less than 20%.

I modified the last bit of the route, too, to cut through some byways and woods, adding a bit of off-road action, eventually emerging in Barming.

Then I plunged down the steep hill to the River Medway at Barming Bridge and climbed the short but sharp 18%+ Saint Helen’s Lane on the other side. And then home.


Fuel:

  • 2 bidons
  • 1
  • 1
  • 1
  • 6 or 7

Ride notes:
Don’t rely on movie for screen grabs
It’s not reliable/good enough – stop and take pics with proper camera
Tightening chain-ring bolts cured creaking
A persistent creaking from the bottom-bracket area (ooh-er missus!) when under load was cured by tightening the chain-ring securing bolts, after my having previously tried tightening the cranks and pedals
Contour handlebar mount is too shaky
…as can be witnessed by the videos on this page. Best success I’ve had was with cable-tying a camera tripod quick-release adapter to the bars
Old pedals cause numb feet
I changed back to my old pedals to see if it would cure knee pain (too early to tell yet) and instantly got numb feet syndrome, which I haven’t had with the new pedals, even after 91-mile ride.
Always wear mits
Didn’t wear my mits today, in an effort to try to even-up my tan – I have brown arms and white hands because of all the sunny miles on the bike! But I ended up with sore thumbs! So now I know why I should always wear mits!

High5 Zero Sports
Banana
Mule bar
Fig Rolls
Jelly Babies

Lockyers Hill

 Date climbed  26th August 2013
 Elevation gain  193 feet
 Length  0.3 mile
 Duration  3.4 minutes

I first heard about this hill whilst on a club run. It was described as one of the few ‘double-chevron’ hills in the area. Lockers Hill OSThe double chevron symbol on an ordnance survey map indicates a gradient steeper than 20%. In this case it’s 25%!

It’s one of those hills that has trees and woods on each side. As you struggle to climb it there are no visual clues as to the severity of the gradient. The absence of any man-made verticals, like gate posts or brick walls, combined with the lack of long-range view makes it almost impossible to get any sense of how steep the incline might be. Your legs will let you know though! Standing on the pedals in your lowest gear, putting loads of effort in and going virtually nowhere fast are all the signs you need to tell you that it’s ‘kin steep. Like all good hills, this one gets steeper and steeper. And, as if you don’t already have enough to concentrate on as you grind your way up, the surface isn’t very good either, so you have to spend effort dodging the potholes and staying off the gravel.

And now for the good news: it only lasts three and a half minutes or less!

lockyers

I climbed this hill during this ride. Although Lockyers is steeper at 25%, it didn’t feel as tough as Cob Lane, a mere 20%, which still holds top spot for the toughest hill I have yet encountered.

Wiggle Mendips Sportive 2013

My ability to focus leading up to this sportive was compromised somewhat when the clutch failed on my car the previous evening, just as I was arriving in Bristol to stay with friends overnight before the event. I ended up stranded on an industrial estate late on Saturday night and waited over two hours for the recovery service to haul my car to my friend’s place. Luckily I was able to borrow their car to get to the event the next day. I ended up getting about 4.5 hours sleep.

Next morning I got to the event at 7:40. The weather was fairly mild, mainly overcast, and I could see that it was raining in the distance over the hills. Also it was windy! I took my helmet to the registration area to get the timing chip stuck to it and get my competitor number which had to be attached to the bike. I put my gear on, stuffed my pockets full of food and gels and headed to the start line. To avoid traffic congestion they only allow the riders to start in batches of about 20 at a time. We were given a quick lecture about route signs, safety and suchlike; then we were let loose.

In order to achieve gold standard I needed to average 15.5 mph over the 91-mile ride, but to be on the safe side I had a figure of 16 mph in mind. The elevation image showed that there were three main climbs; I made a mental note that they were at 20, 30 and 62 miles into the journey. There was also a 25-mile flat section through the ‘Somerset Levels’. This is where I hoped I could make up time lost in the hills.

I averaged 15.7 mph over the first 20 miles. The first climb, Burrington Combe, is a gorge through the limestone of the North side of the Mendips. It climbs 700 ft in 2.5 miles and was not difficult, just a bit of a slog. But it still ate into my average and by the time I had reached the top it had dropped to 14.2 mph. It had started raining midway up the hill and continued for the next 8 miles – I got pretty soaked, although my feet remained dry. The rain really cools your legs down. My right knee began to ache quite a lot as it got cold – I’ve definitely got something wrong with that knee and I need to get it sorted. I was aware that the next hill was coming up at the 30-mile mark and as I approached it the rain had stopped and the sun was coming out so I was trying to dry my knee and get it warmed up again before the climb. By now I had recovered my average to 15 mph again. As usual I scoffed a couple of jelly babies just before the hill.

cheddar
This one was Cheddar Gorge and apart from a really steep but very short bit on one of the bends (shown above) it was a piece of cake really. My knee had stopped aching by this point. The climb starts off fairly steep in the rocky bit,mend9f

but the gradient progressively eases over the next 4 miles of climbing. And my average dropped back down to 14.4! But I now had that flat bit coming up – an opportunity to make good. A glorious 800 ft descent over 2 miles plunged us down into the Somerset Levels. Although flat, the wind was directly in our face now as I rode with a group of 5 others keeping a really decent pace of about 18 mph, enabling me to once again recover my average to 15.7. But I knew it wasn’t enough to keep gold in my sights; I needed a much higher average than that to act as a buffer for all the slow climbing that was yet to come; so, reluctantly – but realistically, I changed my target to Silver, but it still took a concerted effort to keep on track for that. I stopped at the 53-mile feed station and topped up my juice, ate a piece of flapjack and grabbed a couple of fig rolls. I was stationary for 4 minutes. By the way, 53 miles was the furthest I had ever ridden without stopping.

I had forgotten my mental note of when the next hill was. I had it in mind that it was 70 or 80 something miles, so at 62 miles I wasn’t prepared, jelly-baby-wise, for Ebbor Lane and Deerleap, a climb of nearly 800 feet in just over a couple of miles, with a 17% section halfway up! The far-away views to the South were stunning.deerleap It was a long slog, but not too bad. Especially as it was the last of the big climbs of the day (or so I thought!). There were less than 30 miles to go now and, riding on my own, I concentrated on keeping the pace as high as I could manage.

Woolard1

I don’t think many riders were ready for Woollard Lane at 85 miles. I certainly wasn’t.  After all, it’s just a small blip on the right of the elevation image. We started to climb and as I looked up ahead I saw the gradient of the road increasing as it turned the bend ahead. “That looks steep” I said to another rider, or to anyone who was listening; I was really just saying it to myself. But around that bend there was worse to come. The road ramped up to what felt like 20%, but in reality was probably ‘only’ 17%. (Addendum 26/8/13: I recently measured this on an OS 1:25000 map and the steep bit was well over 19%, so my original estimate was close).

Woolard2

There was no choice but to stand on the pedals. My legs were screaming. They felt like they were literally going to seize up with cramp. My pace slowed to a crawl as I ground the pedals round. Others were walking at this stage. And I very nearly joined them. I was seriously thinking of ending the pain by getting off, but then I saw the gradient easing up ahead just around another bend, so I forced myself onwards and eventually made it to the top. That was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do on a bike. I think that Woollard Lane, on any other day, would just be an interesting climb, but after 85 miles in the saddle it took on a whole new meaning. That was evil of the event organisers to put that climb in the route so near the end! Mercifully the next 5 miles to the finish were nearly all downhill. I finished the ride at an average of 15.2 mph, enough for a Silver.

After the ride I didn’t feel too bad. Certainly the bits that ached the most were my knees. I had my protein recovery milkshake and did some stretches before attempting the drive back.

The thing I got terribly wrong on this ride was hydration. When I got to that feed station at 53 miles I only topped up one of my bottles because the other one was still full up. That meant that I had consumed just one bidon over 53 miles or 3.5 hours of riding. That is way too low. It should be one bidon per hour. I think the rainy weather at the start of the ride wasn’t making me feel thirsty enough to keep drinking. Even though I didn’t get much of a headache I did later get one of the other extremely painful symptoms of dehydration.

So I didn’t get Gold. I am still really pleased with what I achieved. To put it in perspective, almost a year ago to the day I did this 15-mile dead flat ride in an hour, at 15.2 mph and I was so pleased at the time. Now, a year later, I have achieved the same average over a much more tortuous 91-mile route! That’s progress!

Fuel:

  • 3 bidons
  • 1
  • 1
  • 1
  • 2
  • 2
  • 6 or 7

mend5b

High5 Zero Sports
PowerBar ride
Banana
Flapjack
Fig Rolls
High5 IsoGel
Jelly Babies

Four Elms (SFA)

A club run to Four Elms. Only five of us this time. The weather had threatened showers but we managed to stay dry. Not too hilly, we managed 16.4 mph over the whole journey, although the return leg had a good average of 17.3, and over the last 16 miles we averaged 18 mph, so basically we got much faster towards the end!

I forgot to switch my Garmin on until about a mile into the journey, so it was just over 56 miles in all. Nice one.

20+ mph

Went out on a 34-mile ride this evening and averaged 20.2 mph over the 8.5 miles to Staplehurst, beating my previous best of 19.1 mph! I’m very pleased with that!

I had only taken my rear light with me and by the time I got back it was almost dark. Cycling through the woods at the top of Barn Hill, I literally could not see the road – I was guided purely by the dark silhouette of the trees. It was so dark I could see the glow of my flashing red rear light on the road in front of me! I also got 2 personal bests on the way back – probably because I was racing to beat the failing light!

White Hill

This route was planned with the sole purpose of riding up White Hill. Someone on a club run had mentioned it and I had made a note to do it one day. And that day was today. As usual, of late, the weather was warm and sunny. I planned a 54-mile route that took in quite a lot of unknown territory.


The first 18 miles or so were covered at 16mph. There were some nice lanes around Charing, just keeping to the South of the Downs. After 23 miles I came to a lovely lake, Eastwell Lake.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALess than a mile past the lake my progress came to an abrupt halt when I was confronted with this:

gateDamn! Again I had failed to check if all of the route was on public roads. But again I figured that the route-planning software wouldn’t direct me across private land, so I once more assumed that there was some sort of right-of-way.

Footpath

tower

I looked for a way around this road blockage and noticed, a little further back from the gate, a footpath sign. This led me past some sort of old tower or something.

Through one of those anti-bike type gates and across a rough field I came to another bike-unfriendly gate. This one was too small to manoeuvre through, so I just lifted my bike over the gate next to it.

style

and found myself on a smooth tarmac road

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After about a mile of this I came to learn where I actually was, by virtue of this sign

sign

Another interesting ‘off-road’ excursion comes to an end.

About a mile and a half later I arrived at the goal of this journey, namely White Hill. As it turned out, it wasn’t too bad a hill. It’s quite long at 1.6 miles, over which it rises about 450 feet, but I managed nearly all of it in 3rd gear, so it was hardly challenging. But the view from the top was worth it.

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The next seven miles consisted of some beautiful roads across the top of the Downs before dropping down again through Lenham Heath and Grafty Green, after which I climbed Ulcombe Hill to the Greensand Ridge for the next four miles before dropping down again into the Vale of Kent. I included a bit of a twist in the tail of this journey in the shape of Westerhill Road, whose 17% gradient I just had enough energy left to climb.

Burwash (SFA)

Went for a ride with the Fairies again, this time to Burwash. There were about 9 or 10 of us riding, and again the weather was superb – mainly sunny and not too hot. The main topic of conversation seemed to be last week’s ride to Medway Bridge, which I had missed. In particular, talk centred around tales of angst regarding Lockyers Hill, near Luddesdown. It is one of the few ‘double-chevron’ hills around here, boasting a gradient, according to the sign, of 25%. Damn! I wish I hadn’t missed that one. I’ll have to plan a route there myself.

We had a coffee (plus poached egg on toast) break in a nice café in Burwash called the Lime Tree Tea Rooms. Luckily we could park all our bikes down the side alley.tearooms

It was a fairly hilly route except for the bits near Marden. 52 miles at 14.4 mph.

Greensand Hills (slight return)

Well, as promised, this route is a modification of the Greensand Hills Route I did last week, except this time the previous descents become the new ascents and vice versa.

I wasn’t really in the mood for this ride. Maybe it was the couple of beers I’d had the previous evening; I just felt a bit lack-lustre, performance-wise. It was a fairly hot day (25°C) with sunny spells.

The first climb of the day was Yalding Hill, and it felt a bit of a slog, which was worrying, this early in the ride. Then, it was down Barn and up Hunton Hill. This was the first time I had climbed Hunton Hill and it was steeper than I had expected. Nearly two miles later came Vanity Lane. Having climbed this for the first time a couple of weeks before, at least I knew what to expect; it didn’t make it any easier though! As I panted my way up the steep incline, a woman jogging (or at least to the extent that one can ‘jog’ down such a steep slope) past me in the opposite direction quipped “and I thought I was mad running down it!”. A grunt of acknowledgement was all I could muster in response, as I gasped for more air. I was glad to get Vanity Lane out of the way – the remaining hills are all less severe. Only eight more to go!

Five hills later I was wishing it could be over. When I came to the top of Windmill Hill I mistakenly thought I had completed the last one, so when I found myself descending again I thought “Drat, there must be another one to go” (or thoughts to that effect!). And there was – Headcorn Road has an ascent of 220 feet in half a mile. With that out of the way I just had 11 fairly flat miles to ride home.

Even though it was a slog I was still glad I had done it once it was over.

St. Peters, Church Hill, Boughton Monchelsea

St Peter’s and St Paul’s, Church Lane, East Sutton