Farewell to Albion

The sun came out to see me off. After an emotional goodbye with mum all that remained was to begin.
It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Very true Mr Tolkein and how much more so when the sun is out, the wind is at you back and you have two fine wheels beneath you. A fine beginning then and as beginnings often will it started at the start: Passing my old school.

More than a few clandestine teenage cigarettes were smoked here once upon a time

I enjoyed mostly good times there, though my present self judges harshly that feckless school boy and no doubt boyhood me would be pretty scathing of my sedentry adult self. Still I thought childhood me might have approved of this open ended adventure which seemed no bad thing.

Characteristic rapeseed fields
Essex get's a bad rap. Footballers wives, TOWIE, gangsters, Nail Salons and the accent. It's easy to forget that beyond popular culture's facade lies a beautiful countryside. Land tilled and re-tilled for ages until it suits us just right. A cultivated beauty.

After cycling cross country through familiar towns to Stapleford Abbots I joined the river Ingleworth

and followed her to the Thames.

The old river in its broad reach rested unruffled at the decline of day, after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks, spread out in the tranquil dignity of a waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth. The tidal current runs to and fro in its unceasing service, crowded with memories of men and ships it had born, to the rest of home or to the battle of the sea. It had known all the men of whom that nation is proud. It had born all the ships whosenames are like jewels flashing in the night of time... 
They had sailed from Deptford, from Grenwhich, from Erith - the adventurers and the settler; kings ships and the ships of men of 'change', captains, admirals, the dark 'interlopers' of the eastern trade and the commissioned generals of the East India Fleet. Hunters for gold or pursuers of fame, they all had gone out on that stream, bearing the sword, and often the torch, messengers of the might within the land, bearers of a spark from the sacred fire. What greatness had not floated on the ebb of that river into the mystery of an unknown earth! The dreams of men, the seeds of commonwealth, the germs of empire. - Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

I followed the Thames through Purfleet, Thurock and Grays. Industrial and grey, marshes interspersed with chemical infrastructure, until I reached Tilbury and the dilapidated passenger ferry. A throw back to a bygone era before the QE2 bridge took me and half a dozen other pedestrans & cyclists across the river to Gravesend.

I spent this first night with my Great Uncle Roy. We hadn't seen each other for 10 years but that didn't matter. Over a few too many beers and a KFC we talked. I learnt of his daring exploits as an RAF gunner in WW2 and later during the IndoChinese war. The extraordinary tale of flying a Sunderland under the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the early 50's. The record for the largest aircraft to do remains to this day. Roy's a man you could talk to forever and I've little doubt that given half a chance he'd be riding along with me. but before long it was morning and time to press on.

First to Rochester as I crossed the Medway and a short stop to stomp around the castle's battlements.

Then out into the Kent countryside following beautiful off road trails which occasionally veered towards the impassable.

As I followed the old Pilgrims trail through Monk Wood, Parsons Land Wood and Friar's copse.

Before stopping for lunch at Blue Bell Hill. 

My progress had been fun but slow and so in the interests of speed I left the trails and rejoined the mainroad heading for Ashford, passing Boughton-on-lees, stopping only to replenish my water supplies before looking for a place to camp.

In my enthusiasm to wild camp I carried my bike over two styles and across a railway line before I found this spot just yards from the banks of the Great Stour river.

The views were good. My camera phone isn't. That white smudge on the hills is a crown carved into the chalk hillside near Wye.

Apart from the occasional dog walker who stopped by to quiz me on my journey I was left in piece to drink my tea and eat my dinner.

The next day I rolled into Canterbury early. The city where my parents attended university and met. Cycling along the Roman and Norman walls it was hard not to fall in love with her historic charms.

Although Having to pay to see the Cathedral was disapointing. It was Stonehenge all over again.

From Canterbury I followed the Cathedral to Coast route through quite village after quiet village up gentle hills before swooping down to meet the sea. I stopped just short outside Dover in River where I stayed with my first warmshowers.org host. As it happened their plans had changed and Phil had to work while his wife Helen visited their children. Rather than cancel on me they left the keys to their lovely home out for me and told me to make myself at home. Incredible hospitality.

After an excellent nights sleep I made my way in Dover to catch the 09:25 ferry to Calais.

I had no thought then of husband or lover,
I was a traveler, the guest of a week;
Yet when they pointed 'the white cliffs of Dover',
Startled I found there were tears on my cheek.

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