Coastal road to the Garden of England

Bikepacking the Cantii Way’s seaside stretch

Feature type Story

Read time 5 mins

Published Jun 02, 2022

Photographer Cycling UK

Jordan Gibbons Jordan is a freelance writer and photographer who has spent a disproportionate amount of his life trudging across bogs, carrying his bike up mountains and sleeping in damp fields, all in the name of bikepacking.

Following hot on the heels of the West Kernow Way, Cycling UK has launched the second route to make up part of a new network of long-distance, off-road cycle routes in Great Britain as part of its EXPERIENCE Project. The Cantii Way is named after the ancient Cantii people of Kent, and is a 145-mile lap that takes in the diverse scenery and rich history of the ‘Garden of England’, starting from the end of a train line.

Bikepacking aficionado and lover of all things two-wheeled, Jordan Gibbons, took a tour of the route during a rare week of exceptional March weather. Jordan gives BASE a run-down of the coastal section of the route, including his top spots to stop, tips for picking the perfect steed, and tales of tough ascents after a few too many slices of cake.   

The Route

In a committed attempt to make the best of that sunny week in March, and to collapse at the altar of culinary excess, a group of us met at the start point of the Cantii Way in Wye to see just what Kent had to offer. In what was, in hindsight, a foretelling of the trip, we met at a café with vast dessert cabinet, and more than one Victoria Sponge later, we set off and were filled with immediate regret – or at least I was.

We’d decided to make a minor detour from the route to visit the Wye Crown, this year celebrating its 100th birthday. Unfortunately for everyone, but especially for me, it sits atop a real swine of a climb. Five wheezy minutes later, we joined the North Downs Link, then basked in the sun by the Crown before a delightful single track descent back to Wye, swiftly followed by another swine of a climb, this time back out the other side to King’s Wood. The 1500-acre ancient woodland, is so named for its former use as a royal hunting ground, and offers a taste of what is it come on the rest of the route. Picking up the pace, we soon found ourselves in Canterbury and made an obligatory stop at The Goods Shed for yet more delicacies (are you sensing the theme yet?).

Out of Canterbury, the route picks up the joyously named Crab and Winkle Way, which takes its name from the old railway line that it has in effect, replaced. What followed was eight miles of traffic-free splendour; the gravel tracks eventually giving way to the coastline at Whitstable, where we ate seafood and imbibed as the sun gently dipped below the horizon.

The sweat poured out almost as quickly as the expletives did, but before long, my sleeping bag called.

An early start the next morning took us along the coast, past the twin towers of the medieval church at Reculver before we turned inland. It’s possible here to follow the coast all the way along past Margate and Broadstairs but we had something drawing us away. As luck would have it, the inland route also passed within spitting distance of one of our group’s parental homes. It would be rude not to visit, so we descended on Mildred’s mother’s kitchen like a swarm of locust. After a brief chat and once the St. Nicholas Amateur Biscuit Eating Contest 2022 had finished, we departed for Sandwich.

From there the route once more took us along mile after mile of coastline, through Deal (where we ended up with a little wooden Pinocchio – don’t ask), before the first big climb of the day up to the hills around Dover. After a little wiggle around the castle we descended into the town but didn’t stop as a longer drag awaited us on the other side.

Here the route picks up National Cycle Route 2 and we enjoyed (as much as you can enjoy) a long, traffic-free climb up towards Folkestone. The clifftops were astonishing and once more we found ourselves finishing the day heading to dinner at the sea front, with the gentle pinks of sunset washing across the sky. Unfortunately no one had told me (or I didn’t listen), so I was horrified to discover the campsite was up a giant hill out of town. The sweat poured almost as quickly as the expletives, but before long, my sleeping bag called.

Day three was to be our longest, but mercifully the flattest. After a swift descent to Hythe and a sweet but all too brief few miles along the Old Military Canal, the route once more turned to the coast at Dymchurch where it would remain for the rest of the day. Mile after glorious mile swept past as we made our way south towards Dungeness.

The Dungeness Fish Shack emerged from the shingle like a mirage – Dungeness was believed to be a meteorological desert for quite some time after all – and we dashed into it like recently rescued shipwreck victims. Piles of scallops, fried potatoes and fish rolls emerged from the shack and quickly disappeared once more, washed down with cans of lemonade and Shandy Bass. Suitably refuelled and embarrassingly distended, we trundled on past the miniature steam railway, the old lighthouse, the nuclear power station, and into the relative calm of the RSPB nature reserve before re-joining the coast once more. A quick stop at Camber Sands for an ice cream (it would be rude not to, surely?) and before long we cruised into Rye for a cobbled extravaganza on Mermaid Street, and a quizzing from local passers-by:

‘You’ve ridden all the way to Rye from Whistable?’

‘Yes, well not in one day. We’re doing a cycling tour of Kent.’

‘Kent? Kent! This isn’t Kent. You’re in East Sussex now. Why on earth would you cycle around Kent? It’s all just hills, hop farms and vineyards.’

‘Well yes – that’s exactly why.’

Geographically particular locals politely dispatched, the ancient walled village of Winchelsea, and a pub booking, called. Bellies once more swimming with local produce, we unfurled our sleeping bags for the final time.

On the last morning we bade the coast farewell and headed back towards our starting point. Here the route made it clear why Kent is the Garden of England. Miles and miles of watercolour green vistas, oast houses and woodlands acted as the perfect conclusion to the tour. A few hours later we deposited some riders from our group in Ashford to make their way by train back to London, while the rest of us finished the last few miles to Wye.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the answer is yes, we did have a spot of cake at the finish too.

Choose your steed

I rode the route on a Brother Cycles Mehteh, a drop bar gravel bike which was an ideal companion for the trip. Comfortable enough for ‘thrum thrum thrum’ of the concrete coastal paths, whilst remaining spritely for the climbs up to Dover and Folkestone.

It was fitted with large volume 650B tyres, which helped with the bridleway surfaces when we rode the route in March. What’s more, Brother is a local bike maker based just off the route in Faversham.

Do it yourself

The official start to the Cantii Way is in Wye, which is a five-minute train journey from Ashford; itself just a short hop from London.

The full 145-mile (234km) route is designed to be broken into four stages, but you can break it up as you see fit (hint: more days = more cake). You can find more information on the route, including the GPX file and full route guide here.

Jordan’s drop bar gravel bike, a Brother Cycles Mehteh (and Pinocchio).

The Cantii Way is the fifth long distance cycling route Cycling UK has launched since its riders’ route for the North Downs Way was unveiled in 2018. A sixth route will be launched at the end of summer in Norfolk.

For more inspiration for UK adventures on two wheels, check out Explore Your Boundaries. Together, Markus Stitz and Mark Beaumont mapped 24 Scottish council boundary routes to encourage people to stay active and to inspire adventures that start and finish at their own front door.

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