Thursday, July 16, 2009

31 May 2009 - Day 1: Hastings to Bexhill

10.15 am

Unloading the bike from the car, the back tyre is flat and won't hold air. Disaster looms, when miraculously Tom and Laurie from my Breathe Easy group arrive to represent our Breathe Easy Canterbury group.

Tom has wine, a Breathe Easy banner, and most importantly inner tube skills. He sets about mending the tyre, while three members of Hastings Urban Bikes arrive - Melanie, Sheena and Bernie - who will be riding with me to Bexill. Brook and Valerie, friends from home, also turn up. While Tom is mending the tyre, I meet folk from Hastings Urban Bonfire Group and exchange details about our plans.

11.30 a.m.

26C, 29% humidity, wind north-easterly but changeable.

O.S. Explorer Map No. 124
Distance cycled: 5.2 miles

We cycle along the promenade, passing Hastings landmarks: the pier which is locked, lonely and unsafe, and Marine Court - flats built in the thirties to represent the luxory of the Queen Mary liner.

We pass rocks called Goat Ledge, and close to Bexhill, My Lord's Rock.

Pedalling feels harder than I expected. I'm not even carrying the weight of the tent as this is being delivered to Bexhill by Rita. With a following wind and a level surface I still don't have enough oxygen to speak. After small but quite steep section of the A259 where I have to get off and push, we arrive for a rest at the Beach Cafe and I realise the front brakes are locked onto one side of the tyre. Bernie adjusts them so after a drink we carry on around Galley Point along the top of the sea defence wall and onto the Bexhill pier, passing the Bexhill 100 Motor Club's vintage car exhibition on the way, with crowds cheering its organiser.

My companions recommend the Colonnades cafe below the de la Warr Pavilion as cheaper by far. And so it turns out to be. This part of Bexhill is alive with a delightful chaos of architectural styles, from the art deco of the Pavilion to nearby minarets influenced by the Maharajah of Cooch Behar at the turn of the last century.

Sheena departs for a Hastings Area Archeological Research Group Roman dig she is expected at, while Bernie cycles on to visit his daughter-in-law who has a beach hut further on. When he returns he speaks of his father, a fireman who never smoked yet died from emphysema, at a time when there was little awareness of the pollutant nature of smoke and ash from fires.

Above the Colonnades is the de la Warr Pavilion where we meet Rosemary and Laurie who have driven out from East Kent.

Laurie Duggan is an Australian poet whose work is grounded in his walks and other travels.

After dropping my bike and baggage with Mary, who I will stay with tomorrow night, we head back for Whitstable, listening to Edward Thomas' "Roads", and "The road not travelled" by Robert Frost on the radio.

There is a party at home in Whitstable that I don't want to miss at the new Salt Marsh restaurant (01227 272955), just opened by Tony Tarratts who also runs the "achingly rustic" cafe - a true community hub at the other end of our road.

A big thank you to the Hastings Urban Bike people - Sheena, Bernie and Melanie, the rides co-ordinator - for supporting my first day's ride. I hope we meet again.