Cycling the Garden of England – orchards, cliffs and maritime history

Bike Touring Collection by Amy
3-6 days
3-6 h / day
189 mi
5,850 ft
5,850 ft

Fruit trees laden with ripe treasures line fertile farmland, castles stand proudly in acres of cultivated parkland, wildflowers bring colour to sprawling marshlands by the sea – Kent is called the ‘Garden of England’ for good reason.

The Garden of England Cycle Route takes you from the heart of London to Hastings, exploring beautiful corners of the South East. This diverse region offers everything from flat grasslands to towering cliffs as you ride 193 miles (311 km) over 7 stages.

The stages in this Collection average 28 miles (45 km) in length, which should give you plenty of time to explore the sites along the way. Of course, if you want to complete the route in fewer days, you can easily adjust them as you wish.

You are never far from a hotel, train station, or hot coffee so you can be completely flexible and hop in a pub if the weather turns. There's also plenty of accommodation available, ranging from hotels to hosts on Warmshowers (warmshowers.org).

Your adventure takes you through green countryside inland to the dramatic coastline overlooking the Channel. Cycling along the spectacular White Cliffs of Dover, which have welcomed travellers to England for centuries, is a unique experience on a bicycle.

You can ride the Garden of England Cycle Route at any time of year, although summer is your best bet for sunny days – perfect for enjoying an ice cream on one of the many beaches.

With only a few hillier sections along the coast, this route is fairly flat most of the way, so it is the perfect choice for all ability levels, even if your muscles need awakening from hibernation.

If you plan to cycle with your kids, you may want to consider avoiding central London. Instead, you could start from stage 2 in Gravesend. Although the route avoids roads where possible, your children should have some experience riding in traffic.

The route follows traffic-free trails, bridleways, and gravel tracks such as the Crab and Winkle Way almost half of the way. Whilst most of the cycle paths are paved, you will encounter some gravel and mud, so leave your thin racing tyres at home. Other than that, any type of bike is up for the job. There are also plenty of bike shops en route in case you experience a mechanical failure.

Thanks to its location on the south-easterly tip of the British Isles, Kent has a uniquely diverse history. The towns of Hastings, New Romney, Dover, Rye, and Sandwich, which once formed the Cinque Ports, lie en route. Once important trading and military ports, these towns were rife with smugglers many centuries ago. Further inland, you visit the UNESCO city of Canterbury, known for its cathedral and Roman heritage.

Your adventure begins in central London, making it convenient to reach by train from across the UK. You can also easily catch a train home from Hastings, the finishing point, too. Alternatively, how about following the Downs and Weald Way all the way back to London to finish on two wheels?

For more information about the Downs and Weald Way, visit: komoot.com/collection/905482/from-london-to-the-sea-a-great-adventure-on-the-downs-and-weald-way

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

    Intermediate
    03:09
    31.8 mi
    10.1 mph
    700 ft
    700 ft
    Intermediate bike ride. Good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Weaving down buzzing streets in the capital as you loosely follow the Thames is an exciting way to kick off your adventure along the Garden of England Cycle Route. Stage 1 takes you 31 miles (51 km) through the capital to Gravesend. With 680 feet (210 m) of elevation gain, you can take it easy, leaving plenty of time to explore London’s unique culture and vibe.Your journey begins on a cycle path along the river which winds past some of London’s most iconic sites. The city’s historic bridges will take you across the river to enjoy the skyline from both sides. Cycling in London is notoriously hair-raising due to busy traffic. Luckily, this shouldn’t be a problem for you as you ride along a traffic-free path for the majority of the way. However, London is still London so take care and look out for pedestrians crossing onto bike lanes.After riding through London’s old docks, continue through the Isle of Dogs peninsula. Once the industrial heartland of London, this area welcomed thousands of ships over the centuries. Dismount and push your bike through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to cross the river. Although plans for a new bike-friendly crossing are underway, you can’t cycle here just yet. Follow the water’s edge as it flows through Greenwich and on to London’s outskirts. Although stage 1 is fairly urban, you can still find oases of calm en route, such as the green fields of Dartford Marshes. Next, you rejoin the river briefly before heading inland to Gravesend, marking the end of your ride. According to one theory, the town’s name dates back to a dark era of history, marking the end of the graves of plague victims in the 14th century. With the world’s oldest surviving cast iron pier, a beautiful clock tower and a statue of Pocahontas gifted to the UK by the Governor of Virginia, Gravesend has many interesting places to visit. When you’re done exploring, you can relax in a pub or restaurant or head to your accommodation – there’s plenty to choose from in the town.

    by
    Amy
    Intermediate
    02:52
    28.6 mi
    10.0 mph
    825 ft
    850 ft
    Intermediate bike ride. Good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    In contrast to your first day of adventure, stage 2 takes you through peaceful Kent countryside, giving you your first taste of the colourful county known as the ‘Garden of England’. Bid farewell to the River Thames and switch onto a tow path along the Thames and Medway Canal. Quiet nature surrounds as you cycle through wildlife-rich marshes, watching birds fly above.The canal ends in Higham, where you join a country lane lined by farmland, wild flowers and high hedgerows. Skirt around Wainscott and follow a cycle path along the magnificent River Medway, crossing the river and arriving in Rochester. Occupied by Celts, Romans, Jutes and Saxons over the years, Rochester has a diverse history. Author Charles Dickens lived here, too. There are loads of delicious food options in the town, as well as shops to stock up on snacks. The river accompanies you as you take a cycle path out of the city, riding through quiet scenes of ducks bobbing in the water and the Riverside Country Park.The route is slightly hillier as you enter the green countryside surrounding Sittingbourne, but nothing major. A final descent will take you into the town centre, where you can park your bike for the night. The town is used to hosting visitors as it is a popular resting point for pilgrims visiting Thomas Becket’s grave at Canterbury Cathedral. As such, you can find everything you need here for a good night’s rest.

    by
    Amy
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  • Intermediate
    02:30
    25.1 mi
    10.0 mph
    625 ft
    650 ft
    Intermediate bike ride. Good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Rusting shipwrecks haunt sandy beaches and wild ponies roam the wetlands as you continue your adventure through Swale in Kent. Today, your legs will power you 24.8 miles (40 km) from Sittingbourne to Whistable. The first section takes you through farmland on a network of bridleways, farm tracks and lanes. With hardly any elevation gain, you can warm your legs up gently. Watch out for the mud here, especially if it has rained recently. After 4.3 miles (7 km), you reach Conyer Creek. Sprawled on its banks, Conyer village offers a nice place to stop. You can sit on a pub terrace, admiring the eclectic boats moored a few metres away. Continue to pedal through countryside scenes, into Oare village, and the charming town of Faversham, located on another winding creek. The route now weaves its way to the mouth of the River Swale estuary and meets the sea for the first time on your trip. Enjoy a coastal road which takes you around Seasalter town, before taking a cycle path parallel to the busy Thanet Way ring road. A left turn takes you into Whitsable where stage 3 concludes. Whistable is a charming town with hidden alleyways lined with unique art galleries and independent shops selling coastal trinkets. As one of the culinary centres of the region, the town is known for its oysters, fine dining, and good ol’ fish and chips. After gorging on delicious food, you can relax in your comfortable accommodation of choice.

    by
    Amy
    Intermediate
    02:38
    26.4 mi
    10.0 mph
    825 ft
    825 ft
    Intermediate bike ride. Good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    From historic cities to seascapes and rolling countryside, stage 4 showcases some of the very best Kent has to offer. In Whitstable, join the Crab and Winkle Way, a wonderful section of traffic-free gravel through tall coniferous trees and secluded nature. There’s one short climb up to 260 feet (80 m) here. The trail leads you into the city of Canterbury, a famous cathedral city and designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city attracts many thousands of visitors to its diverse historical sites dating to the Romans, Normans, and other bygone eras. It’s definitely worth planning to spend a good few hours in the city. A path through a park on the city’s edge brings you back into rural life. In Fordwich village, you briefly meet the Great Stour River before joining a lane flanked by thick layers of green foliage with golden farmland beyond. With nature’s full colour palette on show, the landscape here is lovely as you ride through Stodmarsh Nature Reserve, which is home to many rare species of birds.Keep wiggling through the patchwork countryside along quiet backroads, crossing the Little Stour River and passing through Preston, a small village with a shop and pub. Aside from the occasional farmer, you will probably have the road to yourself as you ride the final few flat miles into Sandwich. Known for the invention of the famous bread snack, Sandwich town is a good choice to end stage 4. If you still have some power in your legs, you could take a short ride to Sandwich Bay to enjoy a picnic (with sandwiches, of course) on the beach. There’s plenty of accommodation here, too.

    by
    Amy
    Intermediate
    01:46
    17.9 mi
    10.1 mph
    625 ft
    625 ft
    Intermediate bike ride. Good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Frothy waves lapping at white chalk cliffs, which have welcomed travellers home for centuries, await on stage 5. Today, you cover 20.5 miles (32.8 km) along some of the finest coast in the UK. The second half of the day will truly warm up your legs as you experience your first taste of coastal hills, although with only 650 feet (200 m) of climbing in total, it should be fairly easy. From Sandwich, head to Sandwich Bay and follow a path that runs parallel to the beach. Expect fresh, salty air and sounds of the sea as you ride, enjoying the view of the endless ocean. Next, pass through Walmer, taking time to visit the impressive Walmer Castle, and continue to Kingsdown. You have plenty of opportunities to sunbathe on stage 5, for example at Kingsdown beach, just be aware that not all of the beaches are safe for swimming. Always check information boards and signs before diving in. A two-lane road takes you through the countryside, climbing steadily uphill, and passing through St Margaret’s at Cliffe village, which has a few nice places to stop if you need a breather. Next, it’s on to the fantastic White Cliffs of Dover. These spectacular white chalk cliffs are perhaps the most recognisable natural wonder in the UK and the views here over the Channel to France are something else. Dover is a major ferry port which caters to every visitor’s needs. If time is no object, you could even hop on a ferry to France here to continue touring on the continent. Check out the Avenue Verte for inspiration: komoot.com/collection/888020/cycling-the-avenue-verte-a-beautiful-adventure-from-london-to-paris

    by
    Amy
    Intermediate
    03:23
    31.3 mi
    9.3 mph
    1,300 ft
    1,325 ft
    Intermediate bike ride. Good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Stage 6 takes you along the coast and through the countryside, with wonderful views the whole way. Your day begins tackling hills as you ride up and over the undulating coastline, collecting 1,345 feet (410 m) of elevation gain in the first 13.6 miles (22 km). Although this is the toughest section of the whole Collection, the vistas across the sea, hugged by white cliffs and crowned with green headland, are truly special. Take plenty of breaks and enjoy. After marvelling at the high cliffs, a cycle path brings you downhill into Folkestone, a harbour town between the North Downs and two cliffs. There are loads of lunch options here or you could enjoy a picnic on the beach. Follow the cycle path along Princes Parade on the seafront. This path is deservedly popular, especially in summer, so watch your speed, respect other pedestrians, and enjoy the atmosphere. In Hythe, you join the Royal Military Canal towpath which leads past quacking ducks and sleepy life along the water. Next, take a bridge over the canal and join Aldgate Lane. Wide, emerald fields and ploughed farmland accompany you for the remainder of stage 6 as you enjoy the flat agricultural land of Romney Marsh which was reclaimed from the sea.Straddling the edge of Romney Marsh, New Romney is to be your base for the night. One of the original Cinque Ports, the town would once have been on the sea. Although it is now a mile inland, a mooring ring in front of the church demonstrates its bygone days as a port town. You’ll find plenty of places to eat and stay here, ready for the final stage.

    by
    Amy
    Intermediate
    02:54
    28.2 mi
    9.7 mph
    975 ft
    900 ft
    Intermediate bike ride. Good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    Your final stage following the Garden of England route combines the very best the region has to offer – long, golden beaches, chocolate-box villages, and coastal landscapes. Today, you ride 27.9 miles (45 km) from New Romney to Hastings, climbing a total of 984 feet (300 m). From New Romney, enjoy more than 18.6 miles (30 km) of flat plains as you continue to explore an area that was once beneath the sea. From Lydd, a cycle path takes you to the seafront and into Camber. This almost completely-flat path is a joy to cycle, unless you're stuck with strong headwinds.Located behind the sand dunes of the Rother Estuary, this village is a wonderful place to take a break. Explore the former fishermen’s dwellings, take a ride on the Rye and Camber Tramway tourist railway, or explore Camber Castle, built by Henry VIII in the 16th century. However, don’t get too lost in the fascinating history here, as a short way down the road (well, a cycle path actually) lies Rye. Arguably one of the most picturesque towns in the region, Rye has steep cobbled streets lined with cottages straight from the pages of a fairytale. As one of the Cinque Ports, there’s plenty of history to be found here too. Next, a trip through the countryside brings you to the medieval town of Winchelsea and on to the coast. From Cliff End village a tough climb up to 524 feet (160 m) brings you into Hastings Country Park and down into Hastings, marking the end of your Garden of England adventure. Hastings is a thriving coastal town cemented in the history books for the famous Battle of Hastings which took place here in 1066. When you are done exploring, you can easily hop on a train home. Hastings has direct links to London, Eastbourne and Ore. For more information, visit: thetrainline.com/live/departures/hastingsIf you still have power and time, you can cycle the Downs and Weald back to London, completing a full loop of the South-East on two wheels. Check out the route here: komoot.com/collection/905482/from-london-to-the-sea-a-great-adventure-on-the-downs-and-weald-way

    by
    Amy

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    7
  • Distance
    189 mi
  • Duration
    19:12 h
  • Elevation
    5,850 ft5,850 ft

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