Rob Turner is currently the Resident Armchair Artist at The Beaney in Canterbury.
So I decided to ride along the Wantscum Channel a journey with two layers, the past and the present! I had seen some free literature about various heritage trails and national walking routes across the area, so I felt quite confident about finding my way across what looks like agricultural farm land and headed off into the landscape somewhere behind Reculver Towers. I had recreated the Channel on paper and knew the towns and villages along the way. The difference was this time I was not using any roads at all, only tracks and pathways. This overland viewpoint takes away most of familiarity with the landscape and it is as if you’re in it for the first time. A nearly lost kind of sensation.
I rode through fields, over the railway line and rode parallel with the A28 separated from it by a hedgerow. There is something quite odd about being only a few feet away from cars travelling at 70-80 miles an hour when you’re doing about 12 mph with their wheels relatively close to yours. I saw a large road sign ‘Welcome to Thanet’ and had to negotiate a very wide steel gate, with a closing mechanism that was twisted and bent, I couldn’t close the gate properly and the latch thing fell down smashing onto my thumb. Yeh…….. welcome to Thanet. I thought I’m really not going to hurt myself anymore and watched two people pass through without even attempting to lock this gate in any way. I rode on through a wall of birdsong, wildflowers, cow parsley and across a field full of remote controlled model aeroplanes flying all over the place!. A little further along saw a farm yard full of old camper vans painted with daisy’s and stickers with slogans, such as ‘Surfs Up’ and ‘Fat Willies Bar’ and ‘A Dog is for Life’.
At Sarre Windmill I read about St. Augustine arriving in the UK to convert everyone to Christianity on an interpretation panel, and saw a plastic Star Wars toy looking out of a bedroom window in the cottage next door. At Grove Ferry I met a guy called Ben, who really wanted to tell me about his many road trips he’d ridden on his bike, to places like India and stuff. He had absolutely no intention of listening to any of my adventures and only wanted to tell me about his bike, his gadgets and the routes he rode across this area.
I was lost on the marshes and decided to just follow the river. I saw a guy with a large telephoto lens on a tripod and asked if he could see anything unusual? His reply, ‘A white Throat’, I could see a small bird on a telegraph wire. After Plucks Gutter I followed the Saxon Shore Way signs along the riverside. I could see Minster in the distance. The footpath was often overgrown in places, so much so that I had to guess where the path was, and with plants sticking out of my brake levers and shoe laces I emerged into a field of brown cows that kind of cantered after me, almost galloping, making sure that I moved through their field as quick as possible. It was after this ‘cow incident’ I realised I had been stung by nettles and my legs were fizzing with the effect, which didn’t really go until the following morning.
A folk Tale
This was a nice ride and I was enjoying myself, being in the landscape. I remembered reading a folk tale about the Wantsum Worm, and I was passing through the area where I imagined it had its lair. It was from here it would swim out and somehow by magic shape shifting disguise itself at parties and dances and over a period of years had managed to eat all the young girls in the surrounding area. A series of bizarre people were brought from far and wide to locate and kill this monster, these people who seemed to be just parts of bodies, like a pair of large ears, or just a pair of large legs and a pair of huge hands, I think there was a massive nose in it as well, who all tried to locate and kill the monster.
It put me in mind of Hieronymus Bosch paintings. The last girl to be eaten was the Princess and she was supposed to marry who ever managed to get her out (she was still alive inside!) But it had a really rubbish ending where as all these bodyparts people had played some role in her rescue and it was confusing as to who actually saved her. The story asked the reader to decide who the Princess chose to marry. Oh What..I was shocked..that’s rubbish!
But now here’s the thing! It was FA cup final day and my team was in the final and I was beginning to wish I could start turning off somewhere and begin the return part of the trip and start heading home. But there did not seem to be a bridge of any kind across the river. I went under a railway bridge which was a little frustrating . At last I found a metal bridge over the river and I climbed up and carried my bike up and down the stairs. It came out inside the Richborough power station site. I spent ten minutes…more, riding around a compound surrounded by barbed wire and was unable to find a way out and had to go all the way back over the metal bridge again and back along the Saxon Shore Way.
I was beginning to think I would have to go all the way to Sandwich before I could cross over, but I found another bridge which had a sign saying ‘fragile and weak do not cross this bridge’. On the other side was an Alsatian and a security guard and who was probably his girlfriend. I lifted my bike over the fence and started walking across the bridge shouting across to them and making large hand gestures indicating I was coming over. I wondered if I was going to have cows and a dog chase me on the same day, I was mentally preparing to jump on quick and ride straight at the dog if it came over. They waved me across and the dog didn’t even get up and I rode off past the public rubbish tip and out onto the main road.
So now it’s not exactly a race home I had enough time, but I took a fairly direct route through Minster and Monkton along the roads and not really in the Wantsum Channel, more through the towns on its northern edge. I got back in time for the game and planned to revisit the channel on a second ride another time.