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Longer distance cycling is so much easier when you have a destination in mind and beautiful scenery to take your mind of the physical challenges.
Point me down a road with a thirty mile lap and I’ll struggle; mention a great pub for lunch fifty miles away and I’m away. It’s why I never go to the gym and sit bored out of my mind on a treadmill watching the calories used tick up one by one.
So, what are the great spots to cycle to in Kent when you set off from London?
Thankfully, you never run out of lost lanes, valleys, hamlets and villages to visit as your legs gain strength and your curiosity pushes you on. There are so many to choose from, but these are five of the best in my experience, all within a few hours total cycle from London.
1. Eynsford – to the east
Nestled in stunning and hilly countryside, the hard work is worth it when you find a castle, Lullingstone Castle, a vehicle ford with a lovely pub alongside to watch the action on a lane which leads to an English Heritage Roman Villa. If you’re on a mountain bike you can cut through on the road to the Villa and then sweep up and through the golf course to find a stunning view looking down towards the castle and the village.
Once you’ve made it this far, then I recommend exploring the often overlooked Darent Valley, following the river as it winds through beautiful countryside and villages.
2. Penshurst – to the south
Set alongside the river Medway, Penshurst is a stunning spot along the route of one of the nicest cycle tracks in Kent. Not only will you find a quiet, largely off-road route, but you’ll pass by Penshurst Place, an understated name for a massive country house. There’s a great little tea shop beside it on the east side and if you fancy something stronger, and don’t mind the steep climb to reach it, there’s one of Kent’s best pubs, The Spotted Dog, reasonably nearby with its amazing views across the valley.
3. Woldingham – inside the M25
Situated inside the M25, Woldingham is in easy reach of London, but feels miles away. As the last reaches of suburbia fade away behind you, the countryside opens up into some steep and scenic hills as the North Downs approach. It may not have a pub, but it boasts some lovely old traditional houses which you can only dream of affording, but can enjoy for free as you cycle past. There’s no village pub, but surely you can press on a little further for your reward! If you get thirsty, then pop into the White Bear to the north, a country pub nestled on the edge of London.
4. Chiddingstone – to the south
This charming village is one of the oldest and best preserved in Kent. It’s even owned by the National Trust who bought it outright back in 1939 and have ensured it retains its unique character. If you fancy a really scenic ride, then also visit Hever and its famous castle to the west.
It’s essentially a single linear street, but what a street. There’s a lovely old pub, The Castle Inn, which is next to the grounds of, yes, Chiddingstone Castle, and there is a wonderfully relaxing tea shop which sells some of the loveliest carrot cake I’ve ever eaten.
And for a nice piece of local gossip I picked up in the tea shop, Dermot O’Leary got married in the church opposite!
5. Lamberhurst – to the south east
If you’ve got the legs to reach it (or want to train some of the way), then Lamberhurst is well worth the journey, nestled among some sharp climbs and descents. It’s in the Weald, an designated area of natural beauty (AONB) that is a joy to explore as long as you can keep away from the beast that is the A21. Nearby is Scotney Castle, with its glorious lake and picture postcard setting, the ideal picnic spot on a warm day to help you forget about the long ride home.