Green lanes outside of Sittingbourne
Bank Holiday weekend and everyone hits the road and spends the weekend stuck in a jam on the motorway. Instead I decided to discover the delights a little closer to home and caught the train to Sittingbourne with my bike.
Sittingbourne is not an obvious tourist destination but a short cycle from town is Milton Regis, an ancient settlement with a high street of beautifully preserved buildings and the fabulous medieval Milton Court Hall. Here, at Easter, the local judge would preside over cases seated in a high chair in the upper storey. The hall is open every Saturday from April to September. Don’t forget to ask the friendly volunteers to show you the tiny town gaol with its unfortunate resident.
My old OS map drew me across the railway and the M2 towards two hamlets called Upper Toes and Nether Toes. Who wouldn’t want to visit such places? Unfortunately the modern maps seems to have done away with these names and grouped the places together under Howt Green.
Luckily apple orchards and quiet country lanes still exist just outside Sittingbourne. With the ever encroaching threat of housing the get out and enjoy them while you still can.
I finished my trip with a visit to the beautiful Holy Trinity Church, one of the oldest in Kent. Built on a site of pagan worship the churchyard is a gem of ancient headstones, including one from the 1600’s of a boy who was killed on Guy Fawkes night by an exploding rocket.
Why spend Easter stuck in a car, polluting our countryside with exhaust fumes only to arrive hot and bothered in a crowded location? Instead step back in time, catch a train, dust of your bike and discover the things right on your doorstep.
Looking back to Iron Wharf from Faversham Creek
Today I cycled out from Faversham and fell back in love with my country.
I sometimes forget how lovely England still is when I spend so much time seeing and despairing at the destruction of our countryside. At times it seems that we have become one big building site and ugliness both physical and ideological threatens to engulf us.
Today however I remembered all the good things as I weaved past the lively market and down to the boatyards of Iron Wharf where people clambered over their weekend projects with renewed enthusiasm because the sun was out and the days were getting longer. I then crossed a ever more rickety bridge over a creek and spun across Nagden Marshes.
Spring was everywhere, butterflies courting, birds singing, blackthorn spangled in lacey blossom.
Spring in England is a blessing which you can enjoy all the more after the gloom of a long winter and, even these days, when winter is not what it was, then I can revel in the first sun on bare skin. I fully subscribe to Robert Browning’s philosophy in his poem ‘O to be in England.’ and never wish to live full time in a country where the summer is endless. Like many things in life the joy of pleasure returning is all the sweeter when you’ve come through the dark days.
Away from the banks of Faversham Creek I swung down quiet lanes, passing farm workers, horseshows and stopped at St Bartholomew’s Church in Goodnestone run by the Churches Conservation Trust and stepped inside to discover it’s simplicity and cool whitewash. On, past quirkily named pubs and first pints of shandy back to town. The world had gone all John Betjeman and I was thankful for it.
This morning as I travelled into my local town I was stuck behind a small white van with a sticker on the rear. ‘Cyclists. Stay Back.’ Now, being of a bloody minded and contrary nature, my immediate reaction was to want to pass. Who did they think they were, commanding me to Stay Back?
Some would say the message was there for my own safety. That if I dared to pass a vehicle I deserved all I got when it didn’t see me and flattened me. But, I, on my bicycle am not the danger, vehicles are. Why can’t I have a jacket which flashes such demands to motorists. ‘Don’t turn left in front of me.’ ‘Sort your exhaust out it is leading me to a slow death.’ ‘Get off your phone and pay attention.’ Oh I long for the day when such a thing is invented.
While we’re at it. Why should I be forced to share town centre roads with dangerous lorries and vehicles which have blind spots and can’t see other road users? Why can’t their goods be moved by trains and distributed into towns by smaller vehicles? If these vehicles can’t be changed to be safe then should they be on our streets at all?
But would I have been so annoyed if the sign had been worded in a way which didn’t sound like it was issuing an order? That didn’t make me feel like I was a second class road user who should know my place and give way to my betters? If it had been worded in a way that made me aware that the vehicle in front wasn’t up to scratch when it came to visibility and apologised for that?
To make matters worse this sign had been issued by Transport for London. By the Mayor of London no less. Shouldn’t they be promoting green transport not blaming cyclist for road accidents? And what are they doing issuing orders to cyclists in the Medway towns anyway?
Cyclists have as much right on the roads as everyone else. After all we were there first. I won’t be commanded to stay back. I will make decisions based on my own road awareness and common sense which is more than can be said for many people who sit behind the wheel.