Published: 05:02, 23 June 2022
| Updated: 12:25, 23 June 2022
Last month the charity Cycling UK launched the Cantii Way, a new long-distance cycle route around east Kent which it hopes will encourage locals and visitors alike to take to two wheels and explore the county.
With the famous (and ever-so-slightly longer) Tour de France bicycle race starting next week, we asked reporter Rhys Griffiths to get on his bike and explore part of the new trail...
Sophie Gordon from Cycling UK talks about the new route
When it was suggested I spend a sunny summer's day in the saddle, covering a few leisurely miles along the country lanes of the Garden of England, I thought I'd struck the jackpot.
What could be more relaxing? A gentle ride, in good company, the wind in our hair. No better way to get a taste of the new Cantii Way cycle route and explore our beautiful county on two wheels.
Unfortunately, and I have no one to blame but myself, the day did not get off to the most auspicious start.
My plan was to board the train at Folkestone and make my way to Wye for the rendezvous with the team from Cycling UK.
A simple enough journey, one would assume, were it not for the fact my train was posting an ever-increasing delay and my connection at Ashford was being thrown into doubt.
No problem, I breezily thought to myself, as I opened up my Maps app and calculated the alternative option of simply riding out from the station to Wye. Why let the train take the strain when pedal power will do just as well?
Best laid plans, etc. On arrival at Ashford a platform announcement told us the connecting service was in fact being held. Cue a mad rush through the underpass, bike carried aloft up and down stairs, but I made it: we would arrive at Wye only a short while later than planned.
The relief was palpable as the train slid into Wye station, and I reached for the button to open the carriage doors. Nothing happened.
Can you guess what latest calamity had befallen your crest-fallen correspondent? Correct - I was in the wrong portion of the train for this station, and looked on in weary resignation as we pulled away and headed towards Canterbury.
Next stop, Chilham, where I would finally abandon the rails and take up the final leg of my journey to Wye Crown under my own steam.
And what a reward once I did arrive, out of breath, somewhat dishevelled, but elated by a combination of the endorphins flooding my brain and the simply stunning views from atop the Downs down to Ashford and beyond.
It was immediately clear why Cycling UK, a charity which promotes bicycle use across the country, has chosen to make this spot the centrepiece of its new 145-mile route.
"The Cantii Way is a perfect introduction to the wonders of cycling around Kent and is ideal for those looking to try cycle tourism for the first time," Sophie Gordon, the campaigns officer behind the circular trail, said.
"Kent is rich in history, rich in culture and rich in cuisine.
"It's a perfect location for cycling and the Cantii Way gives you the very best of the Garden of England."
Indeed it does. As we set off along just a small section of the overall route, it was evident why these carefully-chosen routes work so well for cyclists of all abilities and experience.
Cycling UK plots a course carefully, trying to maximise the use of off-road trails and roads with the lightest traffic.
Not only does this make for safer cycling, but it also helps take riders a little of the beaten track.
And thankfully, having made it to the Wye Crown on the crest of the Downs, much of that track was down hill and it was a real thrill to pick up a bit of speed while riding out towards Canterbury.
During the ride, which would involve one mechanical breakdown and end with a well-earned pint in the beer garden of the New Flying Horse in Wye, I rode alongside Cycling UK's director of influence and engagement, Matt Mallinder, to find out more about the Cantii Way project.
"We know that people like the experience of the supported routes, somewhere they know they can go and they trust it," he explained as we covered the final miles back into Wye.
"So an organisation like Cycling UK has scoped the route and come up with pretty much traffic-free and traffic-light routes.
"It's 146-mile route but it can be broken down into manageable chunks, there's stations all the way along the route, so it really is suitable for any age or ability. It can be broken up over a number of days or taken on as a full-on challenge."
The Cantii Way - which takes in some of the best landscapes, towns and villages the county has to offer, passing through Canterbury, Thanet and then down the coast to Dover, Hythe and the Romney Marsh - is designed with a dual purpose. It is hoped that it will attract tourism to the area, but also encourage local people to explore their home by bike.
"What we've seen over the last couple of years is people really fall in love with England again. Because of Covid lockdown the ability to travel abroad has not been the same opportunity, so it's about finding new opportunities on your doorstep," Mr Mallinder said.
"Our mission is to get a million more people cycling.
"We know there's real benefit to people cycling, both personally for their own wellbeing, for fitness, camaraderie, but also a benefit of more cycling is less vehicles on the ground, less pollution, it's a win-win really."
Despite my earlier mishaps, I've had a fantastic day with Cycling UK and can vouch for the pleasure of being out and about, exploring our beautiful county by bike.
If the good weather, long evenings and the exploits of the riders of the Tour de France inspire you to get out there this summer, you will not go far wrong if you begin your next pedal-powered adventure on the Cantii Way.
Just remember to check that you are travelling in the correct part of the train. Otherwise you may find you end up covering a few more miles than initially planned.