Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Dry run

Here's something a little bit different as it’s a post without any beer. There might have been beer, and it was my every intention that there would have been beer, but the best laid plans and all that!

To elaborate, it was the Late Spring Bank Holiday Monday, and I decided to take my bike for a ride. The household chores were up to date, it was too hot for gardening and whilst we were planning a barbecue for later on, it seemed a good idea to get out into the countryside and enjoy a slice of the great outdoors.

There’s a new cycle-way opened locally; actually there are two cycle-ways, as I discovered earlier. To set the scene it’s worth looking back to the long-awaited opening of the new section of the A21; the London to Hastings trunk road. For years motorists travelling between Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells had to put up with a two and a half mile section of single carriageway. Seeing as the aforementioned settlements are the largest towns in the area, this was not a good state of affairs, and the congestion along that stretch of the A21 was never good, and often appalling.

Starting with the Blair government in 1997, successive administrations  played political football over widening the so-called “missing link”. A scheme would be agreed, the necessary planning consent approved, funds were made available, and then there would be a change of government. The project would be cancelled, as part of a spending review and it would be back to square one.

So when work started back in 2015, there was some optimism locally that at last it would be possible to drive between Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells, along a decent, dual-carriageway road, free from any hold-ups. After a few delays, the new section of road finally opened late last year, and straight away it brought a massive reduction in congestion and a significant reduction in journey times between the two towns.

Driving along the old road, and watching the new one slowly taking shape, did show the construction of what looked like some sort of “service road” running alongside the new dual-carriageway, and it was later revealed that this was to be a new off-road, cycle path, between the two towns. Actually, the path runs from the edge of Tonbridge to the top of the North Farm Industrial Estate - Tunbridge Wells Retail Park.

Once the landscaping work along the road had been completed, news broke that the cycle-way was now open, with the official opening taking place a couple of weekends ago. The MP’s from both towns, were photographed at the opening ceremony, riding their bikes at least part of the way along the path' although I wonder how far they actually went, once the photographers had disappeared!

If they could do it, then so could I, so on Bank Holiday Monday, I set off on my rather basic hybrid bike which I bought 20 years ago from Halfords, to see how far I could get along this new, and very welcome local amenity.  The sun was shining, and with hardly a cloud in the sky, temperatures were already in the mid-twenties by midday. Fortunately, there was a bit of a breeze blowing, but in sheltered spots the sun felt really fierce.

The cycle-way begins a short distance away from the Vauxhall roundabout, and almost straight away it starts to climb. As mentioned above, the path follows the A21, and as this road passes Tonbridge, it climbs steeply up Castle Hill; the site of a former Iron Age Hill-Fort. Monday was the first time this year that I’ve ridden my bike, so I was a little out of practice. I therefore don’t mind admitting that there were at least three occasions when I dismounted and pushed.

Despite the noise of the traffic, just a few feet away but behind either an embankment or a fence, it was great being able to cycle without fear of being tailgated or even getting mown down by irate motorists in a tearing hurry. As the route took me nearer the summit of Castle Hill, I turned round to enjoy the view back towards the outskirts of Tonbridge.

Eventually I reached the top, where the path flattened out and then began to slope away slightly. At this stage I was on the old part of the A21, which is now used solely as access to the farms and cottages which look out onto the road. With the new dual-carriageway hidden behind an embankment, the occupants of these dwellings  must surely be enjoying a much deserved boost in the quality of their lives.

I carried on until I reached a newly created underpass, which allows access from both sides of the carriageway, to a side road which leads down towards Capel. Rather than carry on to the end of the path at North Farm, I decided to dive under the carriageway and see where the route led.  This was because the first option meant a downhill ride thereby losing  much of the height I’d gained.

Taking the second option led me to an alternative, off-road route first to Pembury Hospital, and then to the large village of Pembury itself. In the future this would be a good route to follow, especially as there are three reasonable pubs in Pembury. Yesterday though, I decided I’d come far enough and it was time to retrace my route and head back down towards Tonbridge. I had a few items of shopping to pick up in the town and after my exertions, I also really fancied a beer.

I turned the bike around and sped off, confident in the knowledge that the vast majority of the route home would be downhill. You get a real smug feeling when free-wheeling downhill, especially when you meet people puffing and blowing, as they struggle uphill in the opposite direction. To give some idea of how good the return journey was, it took me just over 5 minutes to get back to the Vauxhall roundabout, compared to over 35 minutes on the uphill, outward stretch!

I headed towards the centre of Tonbridge, via the “mini-bypass”, using the completely pedestrian-free pavements as an impromptu, off-road cycle-way. There are plans to extend the new cycle-path into the town centre, but for the time being I’m completely at ease in breaking a rarely-enforced, 19th Century law, than risk disappearing beneath a juggernaut.

Once I reached Cannon Lane Bridge, I used the tow-path which runs alongside the River Medway to take me into the heart of Tonbridge. The developers have been at work here, with rows of expensive-looking houses lining the opposite bank. Fortunately the massive gas-holders, and the old gas works site on my side of the river, preclude, for the time being at least, further houses being built.

After a brief pause to admire the scene at Town Lock, I made my way to Tonbridge Castle, fully expecting the town’s Food & Drink Festival to still be in full swing. Fuggles had a stall there, so I was really looking forward to enjoying a nice refreshing pint in the courtyard beneath the ancient castle walls.

Imagine my disappointment then at discovering the festival had finished the previous day. All the tents, stalls and other associated items had been cleared away, leaving nothing in the way of refreshment or sustenance for a tired cyclist to enjoy. There was nothing for it, but to pedal across the busy Sports-ground to the Nelson Arms, which I was sure would be open.

It was a double whammy then to find the pub well and truly closed, but at least there was a note on the door informing thirsty customers that the place would be opening at 4pm. I was 90 minutes too early, so gave up. I could have cycled back to Wetherspoon’s, but Bank Holiday Monday in a garden full of screaming kids and loutish blokes stripped to the waist, had about as much appeal as a wet weekend in Bournemouth.

Instead I called in at Waitrose, for few bits of shopping, picking up my “free” cup of coffee on the way out. So as you can see, there should have been beer, and a nice, long, cool and refreshing pint (or two) of beer would have been the perfect way to end my cycle ride; but there’s always next time.

For the statistically-minded amongst you, my bike ride was 9.16 miles in length and my average speed was just under five miles per hour. However, it did peak at 23 mph on the long downhill stretch. I also gained 350 feet in height, and burnt off  1,000 calories.

These stats come from an App on my phone, called Map My Walk. I use it regularly to monitor my lunchtime walks. It’s a bit of fun really, as I don’t take it too seriously, but it’s a useful guide, all the same.


Martin Taylor said...

Looks a good cycle route, and I can vouch for the benefits for drivers of the new road ! Incidentally, what's wrong with a wet weekend in Bournemouth ? All those great pubs. Oh.

Russtovich said...

"especially as there are three reasonable pubs in Pembury."

Always thinking ahead. :)

"it took me just over 5 minutes to get back to the Vauxhall roundabout, compared to over 35 minutes on the uphill, outward stretch!"


"So as you can see, there should have been beer,"

Well, that explains that. It was intended but things worked out otherwise. :(

"called Map My Walk."

I have that on my phone as well. Don't use it all the time, but it's nice to have it there, just in case. :)


PS - "although I winder how far they actually went"

They probably didn't go far if they were 'winded'. :)

Paul Bailey said...

Nothing at all wrong with Bournemouth, Martin. I made a fleeting visit to the town, whilst camping in the New Forest, many years ago. My parents spent their honeymoon there and, perish the thought, I may even have been conceived there! It’s just that I was wracking my brains for a seaside town where not to spend a wet weekend.

The new section of the A21 is certainly a vast improvement, and the cycle-way is an added bonus. I’m tempted to cycle to Pembury next time; three pubs, all worthy of a visit.

Thanks for pointing out the typo, Russ. I knew when I clicked on the “publish” button I could rely on you to spot any errors, so I didn’t proof read the piece too thoroughly. That’s the problem with me posting late in the evening, and is why when I’m publishing reports at work, I always leave it for a quick read through the following morning, when I’m more awake and my mind is fresher.

Syd Differential said...

" To set the scene it’s worth looking back to the long-awaited opening of the new section of the A21; the London to Hastings trunk road. "

You do know how to excite your readers Paul ....

RedNev said...

"It was my every intention that there would have been beer, but the best laid plans and all that!"
My commiserations on such a nightmare journey.

Paul Bailey said...

Syd, "The long-awaited opening of the new section of the A21" was exciting for us locals; particularly after enduring years of being stuck in bumper to tail traffic jams.

Nev, I wouldn't have described it as a "nightmare journey". I enjoyed getting some exercise, whilst being out in the fresh air. A couple of pints at the end would have been nice, but things don't always go to plan.

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

I'm humbled.

I would have waited the ninety minutes at the Nelson. There must have been a patch of shade somewhere to have taken a nap.

I can't bear disappointments like that.



Russtovich said...

"I knew when I clicked on the “publish” button I could rely on you to spot any errors, so I didn’t proof read the piece too thoroughly."

Not sure how to take that (j/k). :)


Paul Bailey said...

Hi Russ, my comment about relying on you for proof reading, was meant in jest, so apologies for any offence caused.

If it’s any consolation, one of my many roles at work is to proof read all the company’s artwork (labels, cartons, instructions for use), prior to printing. I’m normally OK at picking out other people’s errors, but not always so good at spotting my own!

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

My best-ever cycle run in recent years was up the Taff Trail for some 30km round trip.

If there hadn't been a pint during and at the end of it, then I think that I'd have started a fight.

I can relate to what you say about the free-wheeling bit though.

But hey, I've got twenty minutes to spend trying to get past reCaptcha now.

(It seems a bit odd, that it now apparently depends on robotic image enhancement to pass, doesn't it?)

Onwards and upwards...



Russtovich said...

"Hi Russ, my comment about relying on you for proof reading, was meant in jest, so apologies for any offence caused."

Good lord man, my turn to apolgise.

Never worry about causing offence Paul. Having survived two teenage sons (and being married for over 30 years) I am impervious! (LOL)


PS - Have one on me as compensation. :)

Russtovich said...

By the way, not sure about on that side of the pond, but (j/k) over here means "just kidding", so no offense taken, or intended. :)

In other words, it's my way of being in jest. (LOL)


Paul Bailey said...

Hi Russ, I wondered what “j/k” meant. It probably is in common usage on this side of the Atlantic, but until now it hasn’t made it to the Bailey household. I imagine it dates back to the days of “text speak”, and I’m sure son Matthew will know it, but his dad is getting on a bit these days and things sometimes pass him by.

Anyway thanks for clearing that one up and I will, when a suitable occasion arises, have one on you. I’ve got a bit of driving this weekend – an evening wedding reception this evening and a visit to the brother-in-law’s tomorrow, but I’ll certainly grab at least one on Sunday. I haven’t been back to the Nelson yet, and it’s been open for over a week. Standards are slipping!

Ethelred The Unsteady said...

You might not have touched on beer, or on a live pub experience, but that was nonetheless an enjoyable read for me Paul.

I do some writing myself in a small capacity, and you succeed in one of my main objectives, but by different means. You write freely, apparently sincerely, in some detail., and I find that you offer a clear window onto another part of our shared world in that way.

One of my outlets is posting comments on a well-known pub review site. I keep my eyes open when I go to pubs, and if there's some incident of colour, or something puzzling, or mysterious in any way about what I observe of the pub life there, then I try to make that the focus of the comment. It might trigger a reflection of related matters, and I'll write that too. (Heaven forfend, I might even try to make the reader smile on a good day).

What I don't do though, is to compile a spreadsheet-style list of facilities, prices, beer badges and so on. I'm writing for the casual reader, who would otherwise skim-read, in such a way that hopefully he or she might be drawn closer to what I say, and that my words might gladden the weary hour for a moment. I am not competing with train-spotters, stamp-collectors, beer tickers or with any other kind of collector, as to how devoutly I might be pursuing the faith.

I did write for another site, which purported to be "for pub lovers of all persuasions" for a time, but evidently that broad category didn't include me. It seems to be run by a group of enthusiasts who fall into the latter category of my previous paragraph, and for whom my comments were not what they wanted. That's absolutely fine, but perhaps the site shouldn't claim otherwise.

Whatever, keep up the good work Paul.



Matthew said...

Ethelred - you sound like my sort of pub reviewer, experience over evidence.

I do enjoy the real life detail in Paul's posts.


ETU said...

Thanks Matthew, I take it that you mean "evidence" in the sense of "information"?

Otherwise, for me, my own experience very much is evidence!

Well, in the interests of brevity (a good thing in review site context), there's a lot that can be clearly implied, without needing to repeat expressly, and to the irritation of the reader. For instance, if you say that somewhere is a "great pub" where you enjoyed "cracking ales", then it goes without saying that there reasonably has to be a fair offering of well-kept ones, that the staff were not sullen or dishonest, and that the other customers were at least law-abiding.

That leaves space for a bit of whimsy, if it takes your fancy.



Paul Bailey said...

Thanks Ethelred, I understand where you are coming from with trying to convey, through, subtle nuances, the true character of a pub. CAMRA attempted this when it increased the length of the pub descriptions in the GBG; the idea being to draw customers to a particular pub by extolling what it had to offer.

Unfortunately, as regular users of the Good Beer Guide will testify, it didn’t quite work out like that. Not all guide surveyors are writers; some can barely string two sentences together, let alone convey anything of meaning.

If you desire proof of this, just ask the poor souls whose job it is to check and edit the survey forms, and impart some degree of order to them.

Matthew, glad you are enjoying the detail. I always like to set the scene, rather than jump straight in, feet first!