ACROSS THE MARSH
ON A MOTORCYCLE
It's universally acknowledged that the south east of England is one of the most traffic clogged areas in the UK, and consequently it's not easy for riders in this part of the country to find roads and routes where there's space to stretch out on the bike.
A few years ago when I was regularly riding and reviewing new models, one of my favourite areas for putting them through the necessary paces was a network of roads across Romney Marsh; the flat expanse of coastal plain straddling Kent and E Sussex. Not only are there circuit routes that can enliven any rider's skills, but it's also a unique environment with a fascinating history.
This ride begins on the seafront in Hastings, a town that hosts many lively festivals with music at their heart, and has become the gathering place for hundreds of motorcyclists each May Day holiday. At the eastern end of the seafront abutting the endlessly interesting Old Town, is Rock a Nore where the largest beach launched fishing fleet in the country works from; and where they have preserved the old net huts which, along with the fishing history, are a prime tourist magnet.
Leave Hastings on the A259 heading east towards Winchelsea and Rye. You'll soon be away from the urban area and swooping downhill through a series of bends and through the small village of Guestling. Before you get to the larger village of Icklesham, where a thirty limit applies, there are more twisties that will up the adrenalin rate. Further miles via a lovely long straight with farmland either side sees the road dip and then up to the old, elegant and prosperous village of Winchelsea that sits on a promontory overlooking the Marsh.
One of the positives about this route is that the A259 is generally well surfaced and not trundled across by too many trucks. The main road by-passes Winchelsea via a lovely footrest scraping left hander then plunges down to an acute hairpin, before giving out onto the Marsh heading for Rye.
It's worth having a stop and stretch at Winchelsea. It dates from the 1300's and it's difficult to imagine it as one of the most important ports for moving goods and military to and from mainland Europe. The history is epitomised by the Strand Gate, one of three medieval towers that surrounded the town. The road running downhill through the tower once led to the harbour. Beneath the streets and houses are a network of cellars and tunnels, built to store and support the wine trade from Gascony in France, and the church ruins evoke a feel of ancient mystery.
Rye is heavily tramped by tourists in August. As ancient as Winchelsea, but built on a mud hill, every now and then there are alarmist reports that it is sliding towards the sea. Enjoy a stroll round the cobbled streets, it's not going to happen any time soon. The quayside in the town used to be a very popular gathering place for us riders, until the town council in their miserable wisdom placed a barrier across the entrance.
Skirt around the town and turn left at the roundabout away from the A259 towards Playden and Peasmarsh (A258). Immediately across the stone bridge turn right, and you are on the Military Road. For six miles to the village of Appledore this almost straight road is a rider's delight. Almost straight because at intervals there are shallow chicanes, left and right, right and left.
When the mighty Kawasaki ZX10 was introduced I tested one along this road with colleagues. A truly exciting and scary experience, and now the impressive power of this machine has it running at the front of BSB and WSB races.
The road runs alongside the military canal, built as a both a bulwark and transportation corridor in anticipation of an invasion by Napoleon's armies. There are only farms along this stretch and a couple of entrances to the canal for boat owners and walkers.
Time for tea
Our route turns right at the end and runs through to Brenzett, the B2080 – if you divert left into Appledore you may want to take tea at 'Miss Mollets High Class Tea Room'. The stretch of the 2080 to Brenzett runs between fields and hedges. It's exciting riding, but high level concentration and attention to the more blind corners is needed. Then when you reach the roundabout junction of the A259 again, turn right back towards Rye. This is an open stretch of Marsh road with good site lines and ample swervery.
Just past the level crossing at East Guldeford a road to the left is signposted Camber and Lydd. Another open stretch with toe scraping turns across the scrub, shingle and small lakes that form part of the national nature reserve maintained by the Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB), before you have to slow through the seaside area of Camber Sands. But then the road continues to throw another treat your way.
From Camber to Lydd it's technically challenging. You need place the bike accurately to get in and out of bends and keep it flowing. This is completely open and quite bleak terrain with fenced off disused military land on one side. On my Moto Guzzi I hardly needed to touch the brakes, but did keep a couple fingers resting on the front lever.
Now; you could turn round before you get into Lydd and do it all again. An alternative is to wander down to Dungeness, a landscape like no other. A shingle peninsular sticking out into the Channel that is home to unique plantforms, assorted fisherfolk, bohemians, artists, and those who prefer isolated living. And looming over all this like a Stalinist monolith is the nuclear power station – Dungeness A station was closed in 2006, but the B station is scheduled to continue operating until 2028 despite its age (1983).
Dungeness is home to one end of the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch railway, a tourist attraction that has been around for 88 years and operates along a 13.5 mile stretch of coastal track with one third size engines and carriages. The railway holds a fascinating history www.rhdr.org.uk and on an August day it was busy with holidaying kids and adults. But come here in a quieter part of the year and the whole experience is one of austere beauty and a working and living environment in stark contrast to the urban and provincial environments most of us experience.
There's just one road on and off Dungeness, not that well maintained and therefore encouraging adherence to the 20mph speed limit. I retraced my route and arrived at the Rye end of the Military Road having expended a good deal of energy in concentrating on flattening out and flicking through those chicanes when no other vehicles were in sight.
Because there are few highly populated centres in this small southern corner, it's possible to find other circular riding routes that are relatively traffic free and allow more relaxed touring style riding as well as more spirited miles. But don't tell too many people.
John Newman for Wemoto News
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