Dover Castle & Tour 2019

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  Southern Section diary

“The leather trousers and lightweight WPs or my leggings?” “I suggest your full WPs. I know it could get warm later but ... “ I replied. “No I’m wearing .....” And so the debate continued. The weather forecast for the Dover Castle break was so informative as to be unhelpful. A severe weather warning had been issued for Tuesday with hell fire and brimstone, torrential rain, then more rain, Wednesday was dull with more rain, before cracking the flags on Thursday. In an ideal world Mrs. M needed her entire motorcycling wardrobe to cover every conceivable weather condition but we were only going for 2 nights.

Our discreet party setting off
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The route took us through some of the lovely lanes of Surrey, West Sussex, and East Sussex before arriving at jewel in the crown of the South Downs National Park, the Seven Sisters. We headed, coast-bound, through the beautiful village of Alfriston. The sun had begun shining down on us and picking up the coast road, passing Cuckmere Haven, the classic geography field trip country. As we passed, the River Cuckmere could be seen meandering back and forth across its flood plain producing ox-bow lakes and many other river features. The A 259 then climbs the rolling chalk hills offering some stunning biking roads excepting the continuous flow of heavy traffic.

A quick right-hanger saw us on track for Birling Gap, with its fantastic views along the chalk cliffs back to Cuckmere and scene of much coastal erosion. A quick stopover and we headed on to Beachy Head for a refreshment stop.

Tuesday morning opened with heavy rain clearing just before we set off and by the time we reached Billy’s on the Road, the roads were still very wet but the last of the rain was gone. With my superior advice on clothing to my wife, I was over-dressed and needed a quick change in the loos at Billy’s to avoid severe overheating. So much for experience.

Once our small party had gathered, a high risk strategy was adopted with me leading using the notorious Garmin 5. The planned route ran smoothly until a turning off the A24 was closed to traffic. Expecting diversion signs in the vicinity we were disappointed, the SatNav was in disarray, and, using a combination of intuition and untried mapping we explored the nearby lanes. With little confidence in Garmin, I waved Mike (cartographer, retired) past us to take the lead, a lead short lived however, when for once, TomTom failed us. Bizarrely, Garmin suddenly kicked-in and directed us back to our missed waypoint at Partridge Green and onwards.

Alfriston, Birling Gap (2), Beachy Head (2), Battle (2)
Returning to the original route we soon rode across the Pevensey Levels avoiding Bexhill and Hastings, through the first of the Cinque Ports, Rye, before heading across Romney Marsh to Dungeness. Post-Beachy Head, the most remarkable aspect of the landscape was its flat, remoteness. So remote, Dungeness is the site for 2 of Britain’s nuclear power stations and, with its unique shingle landscape, location for a number of films requiring ‘desolation’ including, Doctor Who, Silent Witness and Time Bandits.

With the temperature rising, our stop required another refreshment break and left us perfectly timed to see one of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway’s unique miniature trains pull out of the station hauled by the beautiful locomotive, Hurricane. As it chuffed into the distance we started on the final leg of our journey to Dover. We followed the coast road with its extensive shingle beach to our right and chalet bungalows to our left for several miles, until we hit the outskirts of Folkestone. With Garmin playing ball for a change, it was my error that we missed a loop in the one-way system but it wouldn’t be a ride-out without at least 1 u-turn.

The sight of the Premier Inn was very welcome, as was meeting up with Godders and Chris  - and a beer!
Dover and The Castle

The weather had maintained its unpredictability with a sea mist and persistent howling gale throughout the day. Being a sophisticated bunch, we decided to leave the bikes at the hotel and grab a taxi saving on finding parking, over-dressing and/or carrying stuff round all day.

Next stop coffee, then more exploring until a strategic decision was made; if we went around 12ish to the Bunkers all the others should be in the tea rooms for lunch. We were nearly right. The tour explained the Bunker’s role as nerve centre for Operation Dynamo, the extraction of the British Expeditionary Force from the beaches of Dunkirk. The presentation was slick but bordering on rushed, whilst the size of the network of tunnels, originally constructed as a defence against invasion during the Napoleonic Wars, was remarkable. Following a little more sightseeing including, the Underground Military Hospital, we called our friendly taxi driver to return to the hotel suitably exhausted.
Dover Castle was something of a surprise in that it was more extensive than expected and had seen continuous use in military and religious roles for nearly 1,000 years, only finally ‘de-commissioned’ in 1982. We grouped near the entrance to the Secret Wartime Bunker and the general consensus seemed to be that if it was so secret, judging by the number of German students ‘queuing’, somebody had already let the cat out of the bag. Putting the bunker on hold, we opted to explore the Castle’s medieval keep, still trying to avoid being blown into the moat. If all else failed, we could grab hold of a group of school kids as ballast.
Typical Southern Section pose
Views around the Castle, Palace Gate, Expert assessment of Mappa Wensdi, Royalty installed
Way to go

Thursday morning saw an improvement in the weather and, with no plan, a last minute route comprised of a cross-country ride to Tenterden and the Kent & East Sussex Railway, followed by lunch at Bewl Water.

Getting on track was entertaining with the requirements for a brief pit stop leading to a tour of the historic back streets of Folkestone. We soon got onto the rural lanes of the Kent Downs but still weaving back and forth over the M20 before passing the Channel Tunnel site entrance. Once away from this area the roads were near-perfect. Rolling hills, sweeping bends, sunshine and little traffic; it doesn’t get much better than this. 
Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay surveying the Channel
We soon rolled into Tenterden and its station, as a GWR 1600 series loco shunted backwards and forwards. Idyllic. We rode across the level crossing and into the gravel and grass car park where I decided that my bike must be tired by now so let it have a little lie-down. I’d stopped on a gradient with gravel on it and as I pulled away to join the rest of the party, failed to give it the necessary beans, only to have it stall. Dead. Nowhere for the feet, so found myself rolling down the hill, sans bike. Embarrassment aside, nothing serious.
We wandered around the charming station, coffeed, and returned to carry on in an upright position, on a little further to Bewl Water. Bewl is a comparatively recently constructed reservoir with sports and recreational facilities on the shores. The sun was beating down by now and a light lunch stop saw us back on the road for a cross-country tour back home.
Back on 2 wheels, unscathed

Bewl Water
We thoroughly enjoyed the company and received the best complement a tour planner can ask for, “I haven’t laughed so much in ages.” This makes the effort so worthwhile. Thanks to everybody who joined us.
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