Westminster sunset

Westminster-sunset

And this is why I love cycling home after a long day at work. Just look at that sunset!

After two months of cycling home in the dark, it lifts the heart and the spirit when I leave the office at around 5.45pm and it’s still light outside.

This evening the sky was awash in a perfect blush pink, which deepened into peach and gold, as the sun moved closer to the horizon. My route home is west-bound, so it was like cycling into a beautiful watercolour painting.

When I got to Westminster Bridge I decided to park the bike up for five minutes so I could take this quick photograph on my iPhone. It’s not particularly sharp or well framed, and it doesn’t even begin to capture the vivid richness of the colour, but it gives you some idea of this evening’s magical sunset… It’ll probably snow tomorrow.

Cycling the Viking Coastal Trail — on a Brompton

Brompton-by-the-beach

Remember that lovely little magenta-coloured Brompton I received at Christmas? Well, she made it to the seaside on Friday (pictured above). It was her maiden voyage — and she performed superbly.

I’d been wanting to cycle the Viking Coastal Trail in Kent for years, but I’d never actually got myself organised enough to do it. But having a Brompton at my disposal meant it was simply a matter of heading to Kent on the train — all I had to do was (learn to) fold-up the bike and I’d be on my way.

So, on my day off last Friday, my Other Half and I caught the train to Margate from Kings Cross St Pancras, with overnight rucksacks on our backs, bike helmets on our heads and Bromptons neatly folded in our hands.

Viking Coastal Trail sign

The idea was to tackle the 32 mile route in a clockwise fashion over two days: Margate to Ramsgate on Friday afternoon, then Ramsgate to Margate, via St Nicholas-at-Wade and Reculver, on Saturday.

DAY ONE

Margate-to-Ramsgate

Distance: 10 miles

We didn’t leave London until after 12-noon, so by the time we got to Margate and had figured out how to unfold the bikes (!), it was almost 2pm. Fortunately, we weren’t in too much of a rush because we’d already pre-booked a hotel room in Ramsgate and didn’t have to check in until 5pm, giving us plenty of time to cycle the 10 miles along the coast.

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In fact, we didn’t set off until close to 3pm, because we had a bit of a potter along the harbour arm first (pictured above). We even snuck in a delicious half-pint of craft ale at The Harbour Arms, a microbrewery on the waterfront. Indeed, it was so relaxing sitting in the sun, nursing our beers, we half-contemplated the idea of spending the entire afternoon there and catching a taxi to our accommodation instead of cycling.

But that would destroy the purpose of our visit — which was to give our new bikes a little outing. So we mounted our Bromptons and headed east, following the well-marked Viking Coastal Trail / Regional Cycle Network 15 signs, which hugged the coastline.

Kent coastline

It was only a relatively short journey, but we took our time. We stopped frequently to take photographs or to admire the scenery. It was such a perfect day for leisurely cycling: blue sky, sunshine and a little nip in the air, although the strength of the breeze increased as the afternoon wore on.

There were also a few hills to tackle, mainly along the Eastern Esplanade, which proved testing on a bike with just six gears. But on the whole the route was largely flat, with just a few inclines. My OH may beg to differ.

Broadstairs

When we at last reached Broadstairs we went slightly off route and headed for the harbour. Here, we tucked into a very late lunch of freshly cooked hot chips, while we sat on white plastic chairs and admired the view — the colourful beach huts lining the seafront; the higgledy piggledy buildings hugging the curve of the bay; the distinctive-looking Bleak House (pictured above) sitting atop the east cliff, made famous by Charles Dickens, who holidayed there in the summers while he wrote David Copperfield.

Then it was back on the bikes for the final push to Ramsgate — only to find that we had to get off, because cycling is not allowed along the waterfront parade.

Ramsgate marina

When we did eventually get back in the saddle, we reached Ramsgate in ultra-quick time. We had about an hour to fill in before we could check in to our accommodation, so we headed to the Belgian Cafe on the seafront for a well-earned cherry beer. We drank it outside, as you do on a chilly evening in early March, and then, with hands and feet too numb to cycle, we walked our bikes about half a mile to our hotel, which overlooked the marina. The view from our hotel room (pictured above) topped off what had been a lovely, relaxing afternoon.

DAY TWO: MORNING SESSION

Ramsgate-to-Nicholas-at-wade

Distance: 10 miles

After a rather good night’s sleep in a comfy four-poster bed, and a hot cooked breakfast, it was time to continue our little cycling adventure. But first we had to buy a spanner: Other Half’s seat post kept slipping down and needed to be tightened up. Once that was sorted and we’d stocked up on some water, we were on our way: destination St Nicholas-at-Wade.

From Ramsgate the coastal trail followed the coast down to Pegwall Bay, past the distinctive-looking Pegwall Bay Hotel, before heading inland — and onto trafficked roads — at Cliffsend.

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A little further along and we came across the route’s namesake — the viking ship Hugin (pictured above), a replica of the ship that sailed from Denmark to Thanet in 1949 to mark the 1,500th anniversary of the invasion of England by two Saxon chieftains: Hengist and his brother Horsa.

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The heritage landmarks kept on coming: at Ebbsfleet we were wowed by a giant Celtic cross in the middle of a field. St Augustine’s Cross, erected in 1884, commemorates the landing close by of St Augustine and 40 monks in AD597. He was charged with bringing Christianity to England, from Rome, and it is said he preached his first sermon near this site and met King Ethelbert, whom he later converted.

From there we rode through Minster (where we compared vehicles with a 90-year-old chap on a mobility scooter who was intrigued by our fold-up bikes and wanted to have a long chat), Monkton and then the pretty little village of St Nicholas-at-Wade, our lunch-time destination.

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At the Sun Inn, we sat outside in the front beer garden, where I enjoyed a half-pint of beer, a pint of soda and lime, and a feed of rather yummy fish’n’chips.

DAY TWO: AFTERNOON SESSION

Nicholas-to-margate

Distance: 14.5 miles

But we weren’t even half-way yet — and the best was still to come.

Our next destination was Reculver on the coast: we could see the twin towers of the former monastic church on the horizon, some five miles away. The trail, largely traffic-free along this section, wound its way through fields of flailed maize and other crops.

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And then the road turned almost 90-degrees, crossed some flat marshland and the busy Thanet Way, before we found ourselves competing for road space with Saturday afternoon traffic, including the local bus service, all headed to Reculver and its architectural wonder perched by the sea.

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The imposing landmark of the Reculver Towers (pictured above) was a sight to behold. Until I’d researched this adventure, I’d never heard of this ruin before. Once a 12th century Anglo-Saxon church, and before that a Roman fort, it reminded me very much of Whitby Abbey — but far less Gothic.

From its position on top of a hill, we could see a seaside town to the east and presumed it was Margate: it was, in fact, Birchington-on-Sea. We reached it by cycling the sea wall, a relatively wide pathway shared with pedestrians, that seemed to stretch on and on forever (pictured below).

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We stopped for water and shared a snack (a Pret chocolate brownie bar if you must know), but it was too windy (and cold) to stay still for long. So we mounted the bikes, again, for the final few miles to Margate.

This was a quick section to ride, mainly because it followed the promenade along the waterfront, some sections of which cycling is banned between May and September (make a note if you’re planning to do this journey in the summer months). It was amazing riding along here, not least because one false move (or faulty brakes) and you could find yourself sailing off the edge and into the sea below (there are no safety rails), but also because it was so quiet — we barely saw another soul for three miles and had the entire route to ourselves.

When, at last, we reached Margate it was back to the Harbour Arms for a celebratory pint. Sadly, the outside seating was in the shade and because the sun was low in the sky it was too cold to linger long: once we’d downed our beers, we headed back to the train station, folded up our bikes and caught the 16:53 to St Pancras.

It was a lovely little cycling adventure, the perfect way to appreciate a mix of rural and urban sights, seaside towns and inland villages. It wasn’t too physically demanding either — though my OH, who hadn’t been on a bike in almost two years, may not quite agree.

Total distance: 34.5miles | Ride time: 5hr 34min and 17sec | Average speed: 5.7mph

Product review: Reflective BUFF®

When cycling during winter there’s nothing worse than feeling cold. It’s uncomfortable, saps your energy and takes all the joy out of being on a bike in the first place.

I’ve been cycle commuting across London for 10 years now and I’ve had time, through trial and error, to work out what works best for me on those chilly mornings when I’d rather be tucked up in bed. I generally wear fleecy longs, thick woollen hiking socks and trainers (I don’t do the cycling shoe thing on my commute) to keep my bottom half warm, and up top I wear a wicking t-shirt (long or short sleeved depending on how cold it is), a fleece, a waterproof/windproof jacket, gloves and helmet.

The only part that ever feels exposed is my face, my ears and my neck. (I have long hair but tie it up in a pony tail when I cycle, although, occasionally out of sheer desperation, I’ve been known to keep it down on those really icy mornings simply to keep me warm.)

And then, only a few weeks ago, a colleague joked that maybe I should wear a balaclava and be done with it. “Or what about a buff?” suggested another. And so this is how I came to try the Reflective BUFF®, a “tube” of material which you wear around your neck to keep the draughts at bay.

Black Reflection Buff

What I like about the Reflective BUFF®

  • It’s lightweight (just 41g), so it’s comfortable and unobtrusive.
  • It’s long (52cm), which means you can tuck plenty of it under your collar and pull it up to cover your mouth and nose, if you so wish. (An instruction sheet that came with mine suggests that you can wear it in plenty of different ways, such as a head covering, hair tie or face mask.)
  • It’s soft (it’s made out of 100% polyester micro fibre), so doesn’t feel scratchy against your skin.
  • It has two retro-reflective strips on either side, which can help make you more visible in low light conditions.
  • You can throw it in the washing machine and it comes out looking like new. I’ve washed mine several times now in non-bio detergent and the reflective strips don’t appear to have deteriorated in any way.
  • It keeps you really warm! Wearing it has been a bit of a revelation — I had no idea so much cold air was going down the back of my neck until I started wearing this.

What I don’t like about the Reflective BUFF®

  • It’s slightly too big — I reckon about 2.5cm off the existing 24.5cm width would make it the perfect size for my head/neck. Perhaps a ladies’ version is needed?
  • The reflective strip can feel a little cold against your face, but this is easily solved by making sure the strips are on either side of your head when you put it on.

Overall opinion

I really like this buff — but let’s be honest, it’d be hard not to like a piece of super-soft material that keeps your neck/face warm. It’s promptly become part of my regular winter cycling kit — and I’m beginning to wonder how I’ve cycle commuted for so long without one.

Where can you buy?

You can order the Reflective BUFF® from Kitshack.com. There’s a range of colours and patterns available, priced from £14. The product I tried (pictured) was the R-Black, priced £18.50.

My Reflective BUFF® was supplied to me for review purposes by Kitshack.com.

February wrap-up: a disappointing month for cycling

February-calendarI’m not sure what happened to February. I feel like I blinked once and then it was gone.

Sadly, I didn’t do much cycling. As predicted in my January round-up post, I knew it wasn’t going to be a particularly active month as I had a lot of evening social engagements planned, which meant leaving the bike at home…

But I didn’t expect it to be quite so inactive. It didn’t help that I hurt my neck and right shoulder on the 15th of February — I cycled to work the next day, but I shouldn’t have. The riding position was very uncomfortable (I could barely turn my head to check for traffic) and I think I probably made things worse. The stiffness persisted for about 10 days. If I was a car and had to go in for a MOT, I’m pretty sure I would have failed it.

In the end, I cycled a lowly five times across the month, notching up just 66.19 miles in total. My Garmin says I burned 2,832 calories, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.

Here’s to a much more active March.