Southend to Maidstone via the Tilbury ferry. One of the shittiest rides of All Time. The forecast was for fairin’ up but it lied.
I left Southend via a short off-road section through Belfairs woods and past some very expensive-looking ponderosa style houses which were probably built by wide boys and city slickers during the Thatcher era. From there I headed down the 14% hill past Thundersley church and on toward Sadler’s Farm roundabout where the Highways Agency have financed an enormous hole in the ground. A spiteful squall had me scrabbling for my waterproof and after that I walked for a while until I had crossed the new bridge over the enormous hole, at one point finding myself almost ankle deep in water where the surface is decidedly temporary. Eventually I took to the road again and then took a wrong turning in Pitsea. Next was Vange, possibly the most unpleasant town name in the UK, evoking, as it does, a revolting disease, or, at least, its byproduct. If you are in Vange, then Fobbing and Mucking are never far away.
I expected, once I had crossed the A13 at the Five Bells roundabout, that the traffic would become less, and indeed Stanford le Hope was rather more pleasant than I remembered it, but once I joined the minor roads towards East Tilbury and Tilbury Town it largely became worse. I had forgotten that Tilbury has, since the Victorians built a large sewage treatment plant there, been the Anus of London, and other forms of waste treatment now appear to nestle cheek by jowl with the plant dealing with the human kind. By this time it was blowing a gale and the rain was torrential and huge lorries bearing delightful substances thundered past. One appeared to be labelled “Meat recycling” (yum) but I couldn’t be sure as my glasses were streaming with rain, my eyes stung with the sweat washed into them and I was struggling against the headwind at about 4 mph.
None too soon I arrived at the ferry terminal and the ferry boat lay in the slip and
old Ted the boatman I boarded, took my bike into the sheltered area and dripped. I was in good company as the shelter’s roof was leaking and towels had been distributed to soak up the water. £3.50 later and I was in Gravesend, wondering how to escape. At least the rain had stopped but now I had to contend with hills. After a bit of an effort I passed a huge building reminiscent of Brighton Pavilion and, given that the Guru Nanak Football Club had its playing field in front and the adjacent St. Michael’s C of E Primary School had a handful of turban-wearing lunchtime parents, my guess was that it was a sikh temple.
Once I found the right road I continued to climb and I had numerous competitors for the pinch-points in the form of impatient motorists. I climbed to the roundabout junction of the M2, A2, or A2(M) and then crossed the bridge over the railway line serving London, Brussels and Paris and then, suddenly, I was in the country. The headwind was still there as I was now heading mostly south, but with some meandering to circumnavigate the highest of the hills. The showers were fewer and lighter and I was treated with occasional sunshine. Most importantly, the traffic had almost completely disappeared, although what little there was drove too fast. One 4 * 4 driver slammed on his brakes and skidded towards the hedge, so slow was he to realise that he was no longer on a motorway.
The contrast with my morning riding was striking as now I was in beautiful wooded hills with scenes, farms and a variety of farm animals, including some fairly young pigs rooting around a muddy compound. I climbed above 600′ and when I was least expecting it suddenly the trees thinned and I had an absolutely amazing view from Holly Hill down towards Birling. I was unable to let the bike go on the chevron as there was plenty of detritus on the road and a stonking sidewind, but in the distance I could see Bluebell Hill and, beneath it, Maidstone. A bit more faffage through the Mallings and Barming and I was on the A26, scene of the first stage of the Tour de france some years ago. I arrived, sweaty and exhausted, but now mostly dry, to find Jan and Martha building towers with bricks.
So I’ve realised an ambition: to ride from home to my daughter’s house, but I don’t think I’ll be repeating the experience in a hurry.