Pilgrims Progress

Posted by on 7, Jun 2023 in 2023 - Cathedrals, Europe, Tilly the Tandem, UK, Western Europe

Pilgrims Progress
Chelmsford Cathedral
Try getting a loaded tandem over that!

Rochester Cathedral

More hurdles….
Canterbury Cathedral
Canterbury Cathedral
Passport stamps
Windy Whitstable..
Trauma for Tilly….

A couple of years ago the English Cathedral Association and Cycle UK put together a UK English Cathedral Pilgrimage route.   They give you (£5) a passport to collect stamps at each of the 42 English cathedrals so this is our summer route.  Why? Well, you may think after our short trip to neo Nazi Bible thumping, book banning, anti trans, gun loving Florida we came back all Evangelical and Happy Clappy…but Err.. no.  It just sounds fun!

So we set off on 31st May the start of the English summer and naturally enough with our thermals, gloves, hats, scarves and leg warmers on. A wee bit nippy it was too.

Our first stop was Chelmsford – which was more like a large parish church where the gift shop was self service and you had to help yourself to a sticker for our shiny new passport page 1. We then sat in the grave yard to tuck into cheese rolls in glorious sunshine as the sun fought the cold wind for dominance of the summer. So far the sun is losing.

As we approached London the speed with which all the cars go seems to get quicker and quicker.  People seem very keen to get somewhere desperately urgently, before presumably getting somewhere else desperately urgently ad infinitum.

Unfortunately for us that means cars take more and more risks overtaking and wait for less and less time before chancing their arm. To be fair, they’ve been pretty good on clearance, for which we think our 1 meter horizontal flag pole may be responsible, but they risks bends and oncoming traffic to nip past us at every available opportunity. If in doubt, overtake, seems to the Only Way in Essex. But as long as they stay away from us that’s up to them!

We’ve also had some very quiet country roads, some great cycle paths and some nice cakes. There’s always cakes, what’s the point of cycling if cakes aren’t involved?

There’s only 2 ways to cross the Thames for cyclists east of the Woolwich Ferry, one being the Dartford crossing in an escort vehicle and one being the Tilbury to Gravesend Foot Ferry.

The Dartford crossing used to have specially built double deckers for bikes when it opened, but as they sold them a couple of years after the tunnel opened we opted for the Footferry and hit the coast at East Tilbury for an eventful ride along the shore to the ferry terminal.

You can’t complete this ride at some high tides and when we reached the end there was a metal bridge to get over the sea wall with a very steep cycle channel brilliantly located and attached to the outside of the bridge, the other side of the handrail. We unloaded Tilly and pushed and dragged her up it to find that one of the metal rails in the handrail was loose at the top and lay across the cycle channel effectively derailing Tilly and pushing her out to fall off the bridge. Remember, all this is done whilst leaning over the edge of the handrails trying to pull heave and hang on to Tilly. We did manage to hang on and haul her over this and then had to repeat the experience going down the other side – complete with another broken bit of steel rail derailing Tilly again. A few choice words were said!

The ferry was the usual British rust bucket but the two young lads operating couldn’t have been more helpful getting Tilly onboard. We again had to unload the front panniers then Tilly has to go up on her back wheel vertically and twist round a corner to get down the ramp.

Gravesend saw more obstacles for Tilly to tackle on the official cycle route. Tilly wouldn’t go through the barriers as her rear handlebars were too wide. Actually her front ones were too, but if we turned the wheel sideways we could drag the wheel through the shingle path and gap to get half way though. Obviously the panniers were off and we had to then remove the front seat and rear handlebars to get Tilly through. 6 times. Kent Council boast about how they are encouraging active travel. Now i may be wrong, but unless Active travel suddenly includes a new category of the Royal Engineers Edinburgh Tattoo disasemmbling a tandem and reassemble obstacle course, I think they need to work a bit harder. The only bike that could get through these barriers without dragging the bike through were racers with drop handle bikes. No hope for a pensioner on an electric bike, tricycle or mobility scooter. Or even the poor guy we saw with a baby in a baby seat on the front of his bike who was struggling to get the front handlebars with baby on top through these ridiculous obstacles… Fortunately Linda came to the rescue to catch the baby on the wobble and steady the bike through before any disaster unfolded….

What is a parent with a child supposed to do here? Take the baby out, lay them on the road with the dogs, joggers and cyclists and then wheel the bike through the barrier and return for the baby. Picture that happening for a car and you’ll see why we get so angry about it.

After a silent cycle onward to Rochester to calm down and reduce our stress, the city itself was a welcome sight and gorgeous place too. The castle and cathedral sat adjacent to each other with a nice high street that you could drive down but, Kent Council continuing their anti cycle policy, made cyclists dismount. Seriously?

From Rochester we had a great night full of good ‘old foagies’ ranting about how to put the world to rights over a nice curry with a friend and actually broke out the sleeping mats and bags, but slept on his sofa bed. One step closer to camping…

Our cycle to Canterbury had only the one silly cycle barrier. A kissing gate – get a bike through that let alone a fully laden tandem if you can.. (certainly no kissing thoughts during that escapade!) but fortunately the horse gate was left unlocked so we hauled Tilly over the two wooden 25cm tall blocks, knackering my back in the process.. ????

But the rest of the cycle was pretty good, especially when we headed off into the woods and found a cut tree trunk to sit on for lunch with just the birds tweeting away. Well at least someone is still using Twitter Elon!

We rolled down into Canterbury from our peaceful lunch to a city heaving with tourists and made our way through the streets for a little while pushing Tilly before heading off to a side street so we could cycle again. I’m afraid all the huffin and puffing getting Tilly through the numerous barriers has not helped my rather injury prone back. Oh well, I’m going to have to walk round like I’ve pooped myself again for a while I guess while it recovers.

The Cathedral gate was the exit, but as we were on the Cathedral Pilgrimage and hadn’t bought a timed ticket to enter we wheeled up the security staff and asked what we should do.

They were fab. Very helpful and enthusiastic. They told us we didn’t need to buy a ticket as we were Pilgrims, could enter through the exit and leave Tilly fully loaded in the rack next to them and they and the great cyclist in the sky would keep an eye on her for us.

So we went to the shop and got our passport stamped and then had a leisurely walk around one of the most extraordinary cathedrals we’ve ever visited, and we’ve visited loads! Breathtaking and if you’ve not done it, well worth a visit.

Despite it being nearly bed time for us (4pm) we decided to head on to Whistable on the coast via the Crab and Winkle cycle path that follows some of the route of first passenger railway in the world. Sadly it’s not all the route, but it was mostly traffic free and well maintained. The locomotives weren’t strong enough to haul the carriages up the hill just outside Canterbury so the railway had 2 winding engines to do that part and we certainly would have appreciated a tow up some of the gradients!

We’ve had pretty good weather so far, but it’s been blowing a cold hooly all day everyday. The suns come out in the afternoons and it’s got warm, but by the evening it’s cold so we’ve wimped out of camping and hotelled it so far and we’ve not been the only cyclists in the hotels either. In Whitstable we bumped into a group who came from Ipswich and one even lived in Stowmarket – where I grew up. Small world.

And then, on a cold windy morning having just finished hurtling down the side of a hill into Herne Bay at 42kph catastrophy struck as Tilly’s frame broke…..

One Comment

  1. Great first episode…. this iscgoingvto be a long read! Maybe you should split it into testaments … to keep with the Cathedrals theme!

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