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.
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.
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.