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Touring Stories

LeisureCycling.co.uk

Down South

If you’re taking on a tour or cycling challenge and would like to write a diary of your experience then please get in touch as we’d love to follow your story! Simply e-mail us at leisurecycling@outlook.com and we’ll be in touch!

What am I doing?

My name is Dave Read and I’m a bikeaholic. There I’ve said it. I love cycling and everything that goes with it which is why I started this website a year ago. My aim has always been to inspire people into taking up cycling or pushing themselves a bit further either for a good cause or just for the sheer fun & freedom being on a bike gives you. We’ve been fortunate to have followed some truly inspirational people on their amazing cycling journeys in our blogs and tour diaries sections. I thought it is high time I joined the ranks with a tour of my own and to hopefully raise funds for a very worthy cause.
The website for cyclists of all ages and abilities. We aim to be the one stop resource for charity, fun and family ride listings. We also offer a place for cyclists to publish blogs about  your cycling experiences, touring stories and to showcase your recommended cycle friendly places to stay & activities.
My cycling challenge is to ride a circular route taking in much of the south coast of the UK while also taking in some of the fantastic heritage sites we have in this country. I set off on 10th July and aim to cycle the 700-800 miles in 10 days and will be doing it solo and unsupported. All of the accommodation and food on the trip will be financed by me so everything I raise will go directly to the Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospitals Charity Trust.  

Why?

I have a heart condition which I’ve lived with for over 20 years and have visited Brompton on many occasions. In addition to this, three of my friends have recently had major heart surgery and might not be here without them. My friend, Darrell Freeland and I started raising money for the charity in the last couple of years. Darrell has spent over 18 months in the care of the two hospitals for a congenital heart problem and was placed on the list for a transplant. In the end his condition improved enough that he could have a second valve replacement (he’s only 40!) and an aortic root replacement. The specialists and all the staff at both hospitals were absolutely superb throughout his time there and we’re now trying to give something back by helping raise funds to help them continue developing groundbreaking research and cutting edge technology to improve heart and lung care.
Here’s my approximate route for the tour of the south of England which starts in Gravesend and will end with visits to Harefield Hospital and finish at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London. If you would like to help by donating whatever you can afford then please visit my Just Giving page here.

The fun starts Sunday 10th July!

Join me for my tour diary as I travel along the south coast of the UK before heading up to Gloucester, over to Cambridge and back to London. Google maps says it’s 779 miles but that will be without me taking wrong turns, diversions and seeing somewhere I’d like to look around en route. Thanks for taking the time to read this and I hope you’ll enjoy my tour diary. You never know, you might want to plan a trip of your own. I’ll be updating every day (or at least when I can get wifi) and will be adding photos of all the wonderful places I see along the way. One final thing, if you see a fat cyclist struggling with a big orange backpack along the way that’ll be me so give me a wave and a smile!

Day One: Gravesend to Margate

Day one started with a three hour train ride at silly o’clock in the morning to get to Gravesend to begin my little jaunt. The ride started with a whimper really as I’d programmed as flat a start as I could for the first day just to get me into the swing of things. Everything went swimmingly until Google Maps made it’s first abberration of an eventful day. Now according to Google, Basser Hill is flat. I beg to differ! To say I struggled would be an understatement! Checking on the web I find it has an average gradient of 5.6% with one section a massive 14%! Now that may not sound a lot to you but when you’re a fat bloke on a hybrid with a weighty backpack on it hurt! Thanks Google part one. After that I steamed off insearch of The Freewheel Pub/Cafe near Graveney which was to be my coffee and food stop. Step in Google Maps second interesting suggestion. It sent me on a wild goose chase and ended updoing a satnav on me by leading me to a field whereit swore blind there was a cycle path!  Anyway, The Freewheel didn’t disappoint with friendly staff, a bike repairs and a large screen tv with live cycling. Pretty much everything you need! I had two lovely cappuccino’s and biscuits, my main regret was arriving just as the Sunday roasts were finishing. They looked spectacular and well worth trying. I watched a little of the Tour before heading off for a ride along the seafront taking in Whitstable & Herne Bay before heading off to my overnight stop in Margate. Tomorrow will be a lot more challenging heading off to Hastings. Day totals, 68 miles with total elevation of 1,175 feet. Onwards!

Day Two: Margate to Hastings

Well what a day that was! 87 miles (yep thanks Google maps!), over 2,000 feet of climbing and a 30mph headwind to battle against virtually all the way. Day started out benignly with a nice ride along the coast from Margate, through Broadstairs, Ramsgate and then down to Deal. Lovely sunshine and had great breakfast at Wellingtons on the Deal seafront. Then everything changed. As I headed off towards Dover the wind really whipped up and I wondered on many occasions for the rest of the day which idiot decided a ride along the coast would be a great idea! Plenty of climbing around Dover where I managed to take in the Battle of Britain Memorial, a steep downhill on the wonderfully named Smallpox Hill going into Folkestone before heading again along the seafront to Hythe. The wind was so strong that if I stopped pedalling I stopped in about 2 seconds flat! Hythe to Dymchurch was uneventful but then Google maps decided to send me on another wild goose chase, admittedly around quiet roads but also around 10 miles out of my way. Last time I use that on my trip! Anyway once back on route I made it onto Rye and then the final few miles on rolling terrain into Hastings. A lot easier day tomorrow and please, no headwind! Day totals, 83 miles with total elevation of just over 2,000 feet.
Deal, Kent

Day Three: Hastings to Littlehampton

Undulating, that’s a good description of at least the first part of this journey. I’d decided to move away from the coast as the headwind was still there albeit not quite as ferocious as the previous day so missed Eastbourne & Beachy Head and rejoined the coastal route once more at Seaford. I knew that once I’d passed through Newhaven that would be the end of the hills for the day. Cycling along the seafront in Brighton was superb with all the dedicated cycle paths and then on to a suprisingly quiet Worthing. Stopping there to refill my water supply, the lady in the kiosk said I was her fourth customer of the day and that was around 3pm so quiet indeed! Just 20 miles left to negotiate which would have been easier if the heavens hadn’t opened and the roads quickly turning to mini rivers! Finally made it into Littlehampton just after 4.30pm and into my B&B for a change of clothes and out for an extremely large mixed grill! Early start for the trip to Salisbury tomorrow as heavy rain forecast there in the early evening. Day total, 62 miles with an elevation of just under 1.000 feet.

Day Four: Littlehampton to Dinton (nr Salisbury) or a Tale of Two Cities

After a good night’s sleep and a cracking breakfast at Leeside B&B in Littlehampton, I set off at 9am heading towards Chichester where I did the touristy thing taking pictures of the cathedral in the sunshine (yes it was actually sunny!). Tourist moment satisfied I headed on to Fareham, the outskirts of Portsmouth before heading on towards Southampton and one of two slightly hilly parts around Eastleigh. It felt really good to be inland and away from the harsh headwinds from the last couple of days. The last minor hill appeared just before Salisbury where I spent more tourist time, another cathedral in another city. Rain was never far away and I managed to avoid the sudden sharp downpours until the last five miles from Salisbury to Dinton and my overnight stop, the Penruddocke Arms. The food was absolutely superb and, knowing what is in store tomorrow, I overloaded with carbs, pasta, chips & garlic bread. Hope that meal together with a fry up in the morning will keep me going on the longest and most difficult stage of the ride. Day total, 78 miles, total elevation of around 1,500 feet but with the highest hill only just over 300 feet.

Day Five: Dinton to Seaton

Well that was a day! Had a great breakfast and decided to go a few miles out of my way to visit Old Wardour Castle before heading off to Seaton. One problem, while I was walking around the castle I found the keys to the hotel room in my pocket! This meant a trip virtually back to my starting point to return the keys. 20 miles in the legs and I hadn’t even started the day’s riding! Because of this little faux pas I had to change the route a little and decided to leave the visit to see the Cerne Giant out. Even with the change it left another 60 odd miles to go for the day and with a fair amount of climbing “interesting” hills to come. Heading off through Shaftesbury and on to Sherborne the landscape levelled out with only the occasional hill to struggle up. Everything was going well until, in the middle of nowhere, a puncture decided to slow my progress once more. Once sorted I headed off towards the hills of Devon I’d heard a lot about. Well I have to say, they certainly didn’t disappoint and I quickly came to the conclusion that being 16 stone and carrying a backpack weighing 7-8 kilos, I was going to struggle. The hills from Axminster to Lyme Regis nearly killed me and I had to stop a couple of times. Lyme Regis was lovely and I thoroughly enjoyed a quick carb top up and a rum & raisin ice cream (remember those?) in an hours break to try to get something back in my legs, mindful of still having 6 or 7 miles to go to get to my overnight stop in Seaton. One final big hill later and I found myself on a nice downhill run into Seaton and my B&B for the night. Day total 61 miles (or 74 if you count the extra in the morning) with over 3.300 ft of elevation and some really sharp climbs!

Day Six: Seaton to Weston super Mare

I was dreading this day after seeing some of the Devonian hills the day before but in fact, it turned out to be a good one! Up until this stage of the journey I’d been struggling with heat exhaustion but today was near perfect, 16 degrees and drizzling. The road to Axminster was taken easier and quicker than I thought, I listened to Google maps again and it introduced me to National Cycle Route 33 which takes you through a wildlife reserve near Chard before taking on a real country lane (and steep hills) section into Taunton. I would definitely recommend that route! Most of the remaining 30-40 miles were on flatter terrain and it wasn’t long before I was trundling in for my overnight stop at Weston super Mare and ahead of schedule! Plenty of time for a slap up fish & chips meal and a couple of pints of cider! Day total 66 miles, with around 1,400ft of elevation.  

Day Seven: Weston super Mare to Gloucester

Day seven was quite an easy day with not much climbing which came as a great relief after the past couple of days! It started rolling off through Weston super Mare, on through Clevedon & Portishead before joining National Cycle Route 41 all the way to Gloucester. I chose this route as a little respite from the climbing over the past couple of days and also I had to bear in mind the longest stage of the whole trip is coming tomorrow. Looking forward to that! I stopped in Gloucester for a look around and for my evening meal, knowing I only had 8 miles to go to the farmhouse B&B I was staying at. I had a massive meal in The Chambers, XL Hunters Chicken, which was lovely but also meant I had an extended break as I didn’t want to start riding again on a full stomach. Eventually, an hour later, I headed off for the short trip to Staunton and my bed for the night. Day total 75 miles with only around 900 feet of elevation and 250 feet of that was in the last 3 miles! So much for an easy last leg.

Day Eight: Gloucester to Northampton and a little puncture

It was an early start on day eight as the forecast said it was going to get up to 28 degrees in the late afternoon. After a decent breakfast at the B&B I trundled off to Cheltenham, planning a quick look around but things didn’t quite work out as planned! Just three miles outside Cheltenham I was pulling up to some traffic lights and suddenly heard a loud POP! from behind me. Luckily there was a grass verge I could decamp to to survey the damage and found a dirty great nail sticking sideways out of my back tyre. The perfect start to the day! I set about extracting the foreign object from my tyre and changed the inner tube. A group of cyclists out on an early morning ride stopped to see if I was ok and needed any help which was nice. As it was, the replacement was done and just needed the wheel to be popped back on so all was good and I was ready to start again. Less than 10 miles into the day and I was already coming up to an hour behind schedule, that didn’t bode well for the rest of the day! I abandoned my visit to Cheltenham and headed straight off through Evesham and onto my lunchtime stop in Stratford upon Avon, a lovely place with bucketloads of history to see. After a very healthy portion of pasta and picking up a new supply of fluids, I set off first through Royal Leamington Spa which again looked a beautiful place and I really wish I’d had more time to have a proper look around but I had to press on, it was getting warmer, my backpack was hurting and I still had more than 30 miles to go. Another three long hours in the saddle took me through Nacton on the Hill, Braunston & Althorp before finally hitting Northampton around 6pm. A very long, tiring day and it was while going through my coat & backpack I found I’d done it again! Keys for the B&B room in Gloucester! Time for another apologetic and red-faced phone call with the promise of posting the keys back the following morning on a special delivery. Note to self, always check your pockets before leaving a hotel or B&B!!! Day total 93 miles, with over 1,600 feet of elevation during the day. Back in the hotel I noticed weather warnings for tomorrow, 30-34 degrees - not the best cycling weather so planning began on an alternate, shorter route. Things are about to get a whole lot tougher!

Day Nine: Northampton to Clophill

My original plan for today was to catch up with a friend in Wellingborough at lunchtime before visiting Cambridge and on to my overnight stop in Clophill. The impending hot weather, above 30 degrees forecast, forced a change in my thinking. I called my friend and arranged to have a catch up over breakfast instead and, after an hour or so of eating a very unhealthy fry-up and reminiscing it was time to head off, this time heading for Milton Keynes and Bletchley rather than Cambridge, cutting my planned distance by around 20 miles. By 11am it had already reached 28 degrees and I seemed to be stopping every hour to top up my water bottle. The ride itself was very up and down but with no major hills. The problem was the heat was just sapping every bit of energy I had. Bletchley was nice and soon I was on a nice cycle route going past an old windmill and lake at Caldecotte and on towards Woburn. Once more I had to stop, this time in a great pub, the White Horse, for a pint of orange juice & lemonade with half a glass of ice. The lovely lady behind the bar also refilled my water bottle (again half full of ice) and I set off for my next target, the beautiful picture postcard village of Ampthill. By now it was over 30 degrees but I knew I only had five miles to my overnight stop so stopped in yet another pub for more of the same. Refreshed once more, the trail to Clophill through Maulden was reasonably flat and then it was down to finding where the Eco Lodges were. Finally finding the signpost I headed up a thankfully treelined track up to the lodges literally in the middle of nowhere. The peaceful surroundings made for a perfect evening just sitting out on the balcony listening to the owls, kestrels and many more birds. It really is a great place to go if you want to get away from everything (including TV) for a while! Day total 59 miles with a total elevation of 1,600 feet. A great day through some stunning countryside with more to come tomorrow albeit a lot shorter day.

Day Ten: Clophill to King’s Langley

Just 40 miles today, the short trip to King’s Langley began with smothering myself in factor 50 suncream and having yet another hearty breakfast then hitting the road early to try and crack on with a few miles before the 30-35 degree heat forecast really hit hard. I’m really glad I decided to take this approach as virtually every road in the route to Leighton Buzzard was on country lanes with scant cover or shade. I’d already reached my lunchtime destination by 11am so had time to stop, refuel and refill before cycling through Tring, Berkhampsted, Hemel Hempstead and finally King’s Langley. It was a fairly flattish route with the biggest hills coming as I went through King’s Langley (Gallows Hill) and on to find my bed for the night at the King’s Lodge Hotel, a 17th century hunting lodge by the Lord of Langleybury who later became Charles I of England. As I’d arrived early I had a little time to explore and found a lovely river full of canal boats and more pubs that date back to the 16th & 17th century. Lots of history to be found in King’s Langley! Day total 41 miles with an elevation hardly worth talking about, just 500 feet over the whole day. All that is left now are the 30 or so miles along the riverside and the Grand Union Canal taking in visits to both Harefield Hospital and the finish line at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London. 

Day Eleven: King’s Langley to London and the finish!

Thankfully the weather relented and it was back to the traditional British summers day, overcast with a nice cool breeze. The first part of the journey was along the towpath of the River Gade until one final kick in the tail, Springwell Lane, a hill from the canal up to Harefield. It’s probably not as steep as a few I’d encountered on the trip but was tough as it was so unexpected! It was only 10am and I was already at Harefield chatting to the fundraising team there and having a couple of pictures taken. Then it was just a case of finding my way to the Grand Union Canal for the final 26 miles into central London and the Royal Brompton. The sun came out as I trundled along the stony tracks (glad I was on a hybrid as it was fairly rough in places) with only a few sections being a decent surface. After 10 days of travelling mainly on country roads or through parks etc on National Cycle Routes it really hit me hard when I reached the noisy and industrial areas of Uxbridge, Hayes and Southall. I certainly wasn’t used to being in such an urban environment! The Grand Union wound its way through some of the busiest parts of London until the end at Little Venice near Paddington. Here I was thrown into city life with a vengeance and had to negotiate the short trip through Hyde Park past thousands of tourists, past the museums into Kensington and finally to Sydney Street at 1pm where a group of the Brompton’s fundraising team were waiting with a beer. Happy days! Day total 35 miles with an elevation of 225 feet, all from that last pesky hill on Springwell Lane! Trip total 734 miles… That’s the end of my tour diary, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed following my travels. If you are in a position to help the Royal Brompton & Harefield Hospitals Charity Trust to “treat and beat heart and lung disease” and would like to donate please visit my Just Giving page https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Dave-Read7. If you would like more information on the charity then click on the logo at the top of the page to visit their website. Thanks to all the fantastic people I’ve met along the way, you have helped make this a wonderful trip. One more challenge left for me in this year of cycling challenges and that’s a far more sensible 50 mile ride from London to Windsor in September. Cheers all!