Exploring the gravel of Kent

Cycling in London can be a bit boring sometimes.

Sure, you can spice things up with some hill loops in North London, spot a giraffe as you do another turn around Regent's Park, or ride out to Epping, but it starts to feel a bit samey after a while, at least to me. That's when I look to the Sustrans National Cycle Network . Contrary to what you may think, this national network is actually pretty wild, taking the unwary cyclist across a variety of dubious surfaces, through industrial wastelands and secluded spots of natural beauty.

This weekend I took off from Hackney with my goal of arriving at a friend's house in Broadstairs: 180km, mostly traffic free. After heading down the canal and getting on the Thames Path at Canary Wharf things were looking good. The weather warning in place for strong winds seemed to be manageable, and before long I was past Greenwich and out into the wilds of the Thames Estuary. The tide was out and revealed an amazing array of riverine sandbanks along the working river. Pausing on the big gravel section near Erith (see above), I spotted three seals sunning themselves on the foreshore. Amazing to see seals in this semi-industrial landscape.

As I rode on through the gravel, it turned into singletrack, and I was more than glad of my 35mm tyres and the dampening of the CG-R seatpost on my Diverge . My set up also handled the concrete sections of the industrial hinterlands and their surprise CX-style sand traps with ease.

After skirting central Dartford, I headed out past shopping malls and motorways as it came to rain. It was more of a monsoon than a shower but I pressed on, protected by my 7mesh Revelation jacket . Being so light, it's perfect for bringing along on trips like this. The cut means you can wear it out and about off the bike too.

After navigating through the outskirts of Gravesend and more gravel, I started to head out into rural Kent. The hidden lanes and quiet villages are amazing to see. It's almost like cycling back through time.

It's incredible that it is still possible to travel like this, quiet roads and ancient paths, winding your way across the country. National Cycle Route 1 actually runs from Dover to the Orkneys. Maybe another day...

You don't tend to see sights like Reculver towers on a ride round Regent's. This stuff is all out there, and only a ride away.

I finally made it to Broadstairs, after almost 10 hours. I got wet feet, I cycled through sand, I saw some nature and marveled at ruins. I was tired as I sat on my friends couch with a beer, but it was a perfect day of cycling.

So I rode home again the next day.

I rode my Specialized Diverge for the trip. With it's all-road geometry the Diverge is super comfortable for mixed terrain. The CG-R carbon seatpost adds a whole other level of comfort on the rough stuff, sucking up the bumps. You can really feel the benefits at speed. Running 35mm tyres at around 70psi makes a huge difference to both comfort and traction. Using MTB-style pedals means you can easily walk if you need to, perfect for snack stops and sightseeing. Modern bikepacking bags mean you don't need a rack for short overnighters. This photo is actually from a camping trip I made a few weeks back, so for this trip I took a much smaller seatpack from Big x Top and a small bar bag. We'll have these in store soon.

Maps of the National Cycle Network are available from Sustrans and from Stanfords if you are in London.