- Jamie Shannon
Not quite home, but close enough. To Brighton!
As the ferry docked in Dover, and I saw the white cliffs, I had a huge feeling of relief to be back home in England. Of course, it had only been six days since I had left Amsterdam but it had been close to a year since I had been home and after the two hour ferry crossing, I was extremely eager to get cycling again.
Leaving the ferry and having said goodbye to an English cyclist I had met on-board, I immediately received my first swift honk on the horn from a disgruntled driver because I had begun to cycle on the wrong side of the road. I had been cycling on the right for some time now and so this did take a little getting used to. This was but a minor blip as I found everything else came very naturally to me, so much so that It almost felt like I hadn’t been away. It was a surreal feeling however to know that, for a time at least, I wasn’t going to be travelling back the way I had come.
I rolled out of the port proper and made my way to the centre where I picked up some bread and some all important cookies. After this I exchanged some Euro’s into something a little more useful and made my way towards the busy road that led along the coast.
Cycling in England, it turned out, would be a very different prospect altogether than cycling on the continent. There was simply no shoulder anywhere to cycle on whatsoever. Add in some extremely steep hills, plentiful thrusts of wind and an endless convoy of trucks and you have a recipe for a flattened fish. With this in mind, I decided to take a less productive route along a cycle path that ran through the grass and bush and alongside the cliffs. The only problem here was that a fully loaded touring bicycle and a cycle path made for mountain biking didn’t quite gel and this made for extremely difficult work. In spite of this, or maybe even because of this, I decided to press on if it didn’t mean becoming road kill.
After a while, and when the traffic became less frequent, I ventured back onto the road from where I could make up some lost ground as I had insisted to my friend that I would be in Brighton by 6pm the next day.
And so it was that I cycled along the coast until I could cycle no more. It wasn’t overly hilly but after the flatness of the low countries, I found it very hard work, particularly on some sections where I had to spin the pedals excessively. I always found a way to the top however, and when I got there, what a feeling it was!
As nightfall was approaching I was directed off the main A road down a much smaller country lane where, I was assured, I would find a place to camp; either on the beach or just off the road within the trees. As there were no lights at all, and it was the dead of night, I had to use my head torch to search the side of the road in the hope of finding an open space in which to pitch my tent. This search led me another three miles down another road towards the sea and where I eventually came to a rather strange patch of scrubland
I was so overjoyed at this that I immediately, and with some excitement, began to pitch my tent straight away. I hauled my bags inside and rolled out my sleeping bag, and with the formalities done, lay down to relax and read my bookI had a blissful feeling of a job well done and sweet, albeit lethargic, contentedness. It was only after two or three minutes however that I was startled by one of the most wretched, overpowering and thunderous noises that I have ever heard. It sounded as if Concorde was flying overhead and enveloped my ears with a terrifying screech. This sound was so painful that I couldn’t even read let alone sleep. It was utterly excruciating. I even tried to stuff tissue in my ears but to no avail, and so with some hesitation, decided to pack up and search for a quieter spot. As with everything in life, things do seem to turn out well in the end. You always find you need to sail through the bad times in order to reach the good and so it proved again. I found a quite amazing place in a sort of nature reserve back up the same road and couldn’t believe I had missed it the first time.
I later found out that I had set up camp across the road from Dungeness Nuclear power station. Not the most ideal place by any stretch of the imagination.
Waking up the next day when the first rays of sunshine hit my tent, was a wonderful feeling. Similarly, the fact that I had found somewhere to camp that was, unusually for these parts, rather secluded, was a fantastic feeling. It meant I could sit back and relax with some strong coffee rather than pack up my things straight away as I usually had to. Having said this, I knew that I had a long way to go today; some 100km’s including some quite hilly sections thus I knew it wasn’t all going to be rosy.
For most of the morning I cycled along the main coastal road towards Hastings stopping only once at a beautiful little cafe outside the city for a greasy breakfast and to fill up on water. I had promised my friend that I would be in Brighton by 6pm and this was a promise I was going to keep. Being so overwhelmed that I would be seeing friends again and thus so eager to get to Brighton, I cycled as hard and as fast as I could, often, on cycle paths that abruptly and rather confusingly ended out of seemingly nowhere. Welcome to England. This, as is often the case, necessitated a leap of faith across a dual carriageway in order to continue my journey along the same bicycle path. Eventually, I found myself coasting down the main road into Brighton with two students for company who were asking a whole manner of questions. It’s quite surprising that, even in the face of how odd you may look, what with all the stuff on the back of your bike, very few people will actually ask questions. A few people do and I’m always grateful for the company.