Barnes to Sheerness, via Gravesend

Day 80  Weds 8 June: Apparently, you can circumnavigate the entire globe in a basket dangling from a big balloon in 80 days. Fondo, your days are numbered. We’ve barely reached 4,000 miles in that time.  Where’s the nearest bicycle/balloon part-exchange centre?

Having already cycled all the way up stream along the Thames from Southend to Teddington and a good way back, I decided to join a few commuters and tourists this morning and took a short spin on the amazing Thames Water Bus to get a good photo of the floating Tower Lifeboat Station from the water before I started riding east along the South Bank London exit route. Well worth using. Incredible acceleration, great views from the river. Must return one day to try the whole journey. Meanwhile, back on the bike. Following the river isn’t the shortest, quickest way out of town but Greenwich was a must. Terrific new wave-form, glass visitor centre surrounding the Cutty Stark. Almost as clever as the Brunel’s SS Great Britain ‘afloat’ in its original dry dock in Bristol.

A long, hot drag out to Gravesend. Thanks Ian (Duty Helm) for the warm welcome, icy cold drink and kind words of encouragement. Thanks Wayne (volunteer crew on loan from Dover) for the help with contacts around the Kent coast. Thanks Graham, for the great tales of characters assisted at sea, particularly Coracle Man, an old chap found paddling his tiny coracle up the Thames estuary, carrying just a huge, painted ostrich egg. When questioned,  he informed the Lifeboat crew that he was “taking The Egg of Peace to the Womb of The Ocean”. Graham, keen to know the location of The Womb of The Ocean and concerned about how far Coracle Man was hoping to paddle, asked the obvious question.  “Just off Clacton Pier” came the reply.

On to Sheerness. Another long haul, along some of the most sporadic cycle routes in a very bicycle unfriendly part of the country. The occasional strips of green tar and even less frequent blue Cycle Route signs that were to be found were appreciated. Shame there’s no sign of them being joined up. Even more of a shame to discover some old dedicated cycle routes so neglected, overgrown or blocked by parked cars. No wonder there are no other cyclists to be seen in this densely packed, two speed (flat out or stuck in a traffic queue) car dominated world.

The approach to Sheerness Lifeboat Station brought back memories of the industrial dock approach to Workington in North West England, some 58 cycling days ago. But grimmer. Once upon a time, a very busy Naval dock yard. Now very quiet, abandoned buildings and boat yards dominate. At the far end of this old dock yard, the Lifeboat crew were gathering for this evening’s training exercise. Within 5 minutes of my arrival, a chorus of pagers began to bleep. A shout! A call from the Coastguard for the Inshore Lifeboat to launch. With everyone already on site, the D Class ILB was immediately in the water with three fully kitted crew, speeding out through the harbour entrance. Just a few minutes later, the signal to ‘stand down’ was received.  Oh well, at least they were ready! Back to the planned exercise. Good to meet a few of the crew. Thanks Robin (Cox’n) for the 145th signature on the hallowed, fraying chart. Did you know that this corner of the old Sheerness dock yard is host to a very unusual translucent scorpion that only comes out at night, not seen anywhere else in Britain? No, neither did I. But Bill Oddie knows. He paid them a visit.

If it was windier, I might have expected esturial tumble weed to roll by. Was that another distant rumble of thunder? No. Time to refill my very empty tank.

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