Bikepackin’ and lumberjackin’

I promised my Dad I’d help him out chopping up some logs this weekend but rather than endure the drudgery of the M20 I’d decided instead to ride, fitting in a camp en route.

The forecast didn’t look great with heavy rain due to hit around 3pm and even a storm promised on the Friday. Typical British summer time then…

Still, one of the upsides of working from home currently is that less than five minutes after switching off my laptop I was out the door, heading east and chasing the fading light along the North Downs ridge to reach camp before nightfall.

I say fading light, there never really was any this particular day, just grey menacing looking clouds. The plan then was to put down as many miles as possible before the rain hit.

I didn’t have to wait long but the miles rolled by easily, following the North Downs and Pilgrims Way, mostly tarmac interspersed with a few trails, dropping down at Hinxhill to skirt around the back of Ashford before rejoining the Pilgrims Way to Westwell.

I had originally planned to wild camp but a reccee of my intended woodland a few days earlier didn’t turn up too many likely spots to hang, luckily I was able to book a spot at Lacton Manor Barn, a campsite offering both field and woodland pitches.

The woods were perfect with hammock suitable trees in abundance. A little noisy being close to the M20 and HS1 but this was offset by the provision of plenty of firewood, giving me a chance to dry out and warm up before catching some Zs.

If the ride to the campsite was largely functional, the second day route was much more fun. The North Downs Way from Charing all the way to Hollingbourne is almost entirely off-road – barring a short ribbon of tarmac after Lenham – far better suited to the Longitudes 2.8 inch tyres. Despite heavy rain the day before, the trails were relatively dry and I made good progress, eventually dropping down towards Maidstone via a sweet bridleway.

A quick traffic free blast through Mote Park delivered me into the busy Maidstone streets. It was nice to see Maidstone making some effort with segregated bike lanes but there’s still a long way to go. The final stretch involved a tarmac but traffic free route along the banks of the river Medway, very familiar turf for me. This trail used to be natural before it was paved a few years ago, it’s taken away the rural feel of the route somewhat but I guess it’s good for those seeking an escape from the snarling Maidstone traffic.

No sooner had I arrived and I was put to work, wielding the axe to whittle down a huge pile of roundals that less than a year ago had been a towering pine tree which suddenly died and needed felling.

We made good progress and the work was satisfying but there was more than a day’s work so instead of riding back I stayed a second night and spent Saturday chopping in exchange for a fish and chip supper.

Departed homeward Sunday morning which was a far better day for the ride, windy but dry with occasional bursts of sunshine. Retraced my steps almost exactly, dodging Sunday dog walkers along the river and through Mote Park before clambering back up to the Downs ridge and the first section of muddy Byway at Hollingbourne.

Made good progress until I attempted a cut through at Conningbrook Lakes just outside of Ashford, getting hopelessly lost in what I thought was the Country Park but turned out to be just another of Ashford’s new build estates. Soon picked up the route again, darting around the back of town to rejoin the Pilgrims Way before finally picking my way through the lanes and back home.

I’m still not quite acquainted with the geography around what I call my “new” home despite living here for the best part of three years. The familiarity and instant orientation I get when arriving back in Maidstone – that network of roads, trails and cheeky cut throughs that take years of trial and error to build up and sear into one’s mental map – hasn’t yet developed down this part of Kent but I’m sure it will in time and trips like this only help in building the map!

All in the trip was 82 miles of riding and a great chance to try out some new kit including my titanium alcohol stove and lightweight ridgeline from Henge Hammocks, both of which proved up to the job. The Longitude continues to pull its weight and after a windy night in the hammock I’ve realised I need to up my tarpology credentials a notch or two!

Pedal power might not be the most efficient way to travel (and pretty exhausting bookending two days of lumberjacking with bikepacking!) but it certainly makes for a far more rewarding journey…


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