Rod Azlan Charity Bike Ride Training – Chatham To Maidstone
27 miles round trip
With just 6 weeks till London to Brighton, I’m getting much more comfortable with slightly longer rides and pacing myself. Today I took a trip over to Maidstone and knew before starting out this one was gonna included some climbing at Maidstone is the other side of the South Downs.
Slightly prepared by checking out Google Maps and also Sustrans bike routes. Weather reports were all pointing out 20mph winds coming from South West which didn’t excite me at first because I’d not ridden in such high winds before. This trip would be straight into a headwind. Ouch!
The main way Google wanted to send me was long steady climb via Hempstead area and up through Boxley. In a car this barely feels like a hill but my legs knew exactly how steep things were. The wind wasn’t helping out at all with loads of small broken branches on the cycle path. I didn’t want to risk riding on the road where possible just in case.
Making it to the top parts of Boxley was good but the wind was so strong up there I was starting to have second thoughts. Should I carry on or turn back?
I knew that only a few small hills to climb and then it was downhill to Maidstone which is a very low lying town, it is always flooding in bad weather. I pushed on sometimes in granny gear against the wind, then some lovely hedges shielded me from the wind all the way to Boxley Hill. At top of this winding hill, I took a quick water break.
Okay, let’s get going whoosh!!!!!!!
Wow, this was fast a bit too fast actually. Even cars were getting in my way with braking at turns as I hit over 40mph whoosh!!!
I’ve been down this hill hundreds of time in a car and knew there was a really tight turn coming up at the bottom so plenty of brakes were needed. Even with a conservative bit of braking the road is fast enough to keep the momentum going up to car speeds easily.
Following Boxley Hill all the way down you past some lovely house and a nice Pub. A quick bridge over the M20 reminds you that there is another way to travel but luckily this scary motorway is quickly forgotten as the steady climb back up into Maidstone starts.
Travelling by bicycle really does get you close the contours of the land. Previous tiny bumps now become Everest in proportions and gear selection is important. I manage to climb through the Penenden Heath area and onwards. As I was reaching the very final hill before an exciting roll into Maidstone I had to really dig deep. Not because I was tired but it was so bloody steep. Finally, on the Boxley Road, I could coast down into Maidstone.
I found my way to Maidstone Prison area where the Kent County Council is based at County Hall. I had a small break on the benches outside. There are some information plaques saying about how at one time it was the most expensive Prison in Britain. Wow, I never knew that!
After a bit of refuelling, I wandered down towards the river. This is actually The River Medway but feels like a different place indeed. There are miles of Towpaths along the River and I was hoping to follow one all the way to Teston but the weather was still bad. I didn’t want to get caught in the countryside without preparations. So I decided to take the opposite direction back towards Chatham.
Now I got a bit confused in the town centre as to which side of the river the Towpath was. I tried to ask directions in the local cycle shop but to be frank, they were clueless. Having a bicycle shop in the middle town right next to a nation Cycle Route and not knowing where it is, is a big fail in my opinion.
After asking a random cyclist I found that the council were working on the Cyclepath and some of it was closed. I had to follow the main road for a short distance before jumping onto the correct Cycle Path by the river. Once onto this NCN Route 17 I found that I could hug the river instead of taking cycle path directly. This was a good move as the Maidstone section of River Medway is beautiful. Just a stone’s throw from a noisy Dual carriageway was this idyllic village atmosphere. So peaceful I only cycled at about 5mph for most of the way.
Many lovely boats on the river and also HouseBoats. They were definitely living the good life down there. I got a bit worried that I’d strayed too far from the Cycle Route whilst hypnotised by the peaceful river. I stopped and asked some folks who said to carry on all the way as eventually, the path will end at Aylesford. Okay, I carried on past locks and more lovely boats.
On arriving at Aylesford I had a familiar problem. No decent signs for the cycle route. None at all. I was in a car park at the edge of town with no real clue where to go. Only pedestrians I saw had no clue of the cycle path, so I decided to follow my old car drivers knowledge and headed toward Aylesford Priory.
The road to the priory was nestled alongside the South Downs Bluebell Hill area, about halfway up. I knew it might go uphill but it wasn’t too bad. Once near to the priory, I followed road signs to Burnham and Eccles. Both would lead me eventually to the countryside part of Strood.
This part of the road is rolling hills and quite pleasant for a cyclist of reasonable fitness. The payback is fantastic views of the river valley below.
It’s comforting to see the river on your left hand side as every hill is traversed. As the huge M2 Motorway Bridge loomed closer I know I was nearly back at base. A few very fast descents into the back end of Rochester and I was cruising along side the river as it entered the City. Once back on familiar ground I picked up the usual NCN Route 1
Unfortunately didn’t take any photos on this first trip into Maidstone but I’ll try to do the same route again over the next few weeks and update this post.