Cycling from Dover to London
What is it like to cycle from Dover ferry port to London in two days? In this blog we look at this beautiful route of 195 kilometers (about 120 miles) and give you a good idea of what you may encounter along the way.
Every arrival in Dover is an adventure. The imposing white cliffs, the hustle and bustle of in and out going ferries and the embarking and disembarking traffic, combined with the echoing sound of shrieking seagulls are a spectacle. You would nearly overlook the promenade with its beautiful Victorian row of houses. Our cycle route just about touches it before taking the steep climb to the impressive Dover Castle and the nature reserve on top of the white cliffs itself.
It is striking how quickly coastal scenery can change. At Deal, only five miles to the north, the cliffs have disappeared. Here, you will cycle along a pebble beach, with the impressive castle fortifications of Walmer and Deal. From here, our route heads inland via a flood plain to the town of Sandwich. This was once a harbour town, but its silted up estuary lies far inland now.
Just outside of Sandwich you will cycle past Richborough, an old Roman settlement of which you can admire its foundations and some still standing walls. From here, Kent county truly shows its face what it is renowned for; a ‘Garden of England’ with light rolling hills covered with fruit orchards. Country lanes, turning left, turning right, take you to famous Canterbury.
The Cathedral of Canterbury is the official home of the Church of England and this status makes this old town popular among tourists. At the old city gate on the north side of the town centre you also have the opportunity to admire the place from the water with a scenic boat trip. On the Crab & Winkle railway path you will have left all the hustle and bustle behind you. It takes you across Lowes Wood.
From here the route flattens. You will be mostly cycling across a wide flood plain, with scenic Faversham and the picturesque harbor of Conyer to spice up the scenery. The route bypasses the large town of Sittingbourne via a new bypass road blessed with an adjacent cycle path. To get here you will briefly cycle across wasteland and, a little further, via a travellers site. Then the Swale district with its fruit orchards, the last truly rural section of the route, awaits you. If you want to cycle from Dover to London in two days, you should find a B&B or campsite in this area for your overnight stay.
Medway is an urban area flanking a wide estuary with the same name, incuding the historic towns of Chatham and Rochester. A gravel path directly along the water of the Medway takes you into Chatham. The place is known for the biggest naval defeat of the British navy. During one of the many Anglo-Dutch wars, the Dutch managed to burn its flagship in 1667. The ‘Historic Dockyard’ is a great sight, with lots of historical ship to explore. The route continues with a look at the ‘Great Lines’, a high line of defense built after the Dutch raid.
Rochester has a long high street where various signs display scenes from the books of Charles Dickens. The Rochester castle ruins date from the 12th century and for Rochester Cathedral, the first foundations were laid in 604 AD. With a last view over the Medway estuary near Upnor Castle, the journey continues to Gravesend on the Thames.
Beyond Gravesend you will end up in an alienating landscape with disused pit mines, intersected by various motorways and the Eurostar high speed train line. You will look down into some deep mine pits, reclaimed either by nature or by people. The massive Blue Water Shopping Center in one of the pits offers a surrealistic spectacle.
Dartford is notorious among motorists for the endless delays on the only Thames crossing east of London. For cyclists, Dartford won’t be rated high either. Pedestrian-shared narrow cycle paths on pavements next to busy main roads and a route via multiple ugly industrial estates will make you wonder why you ever decided to cycle here for a holiday.
The answer to this question comes when you find yourself on the towpath along the Thames, where you will feel the space of this wide estuary until your arrival at London’s Tower Bridge. The path starts with some poor surface and a few nearly impassable barriers requiring taking off your pannier bags. Then it goes up and down via concrete slaps, passing various industrial installations. Once all this is done, at last a smooth ‘red carpet’ along the water will push further and further into the British capital, with a great new view after every bend in the river.
At Woolwich Arsenal, ammunition used to be stored for the navy and some warehouses are still there. The Thames barrier is your next attraction before reaching the Greenwich meridian. Here you can choose a route via the park on the hill with great views over the former headquarters of the British navy and the business district Canary Wharf. You can also stay on the riverside, passing the historic ship ‘Cutty Sark’.
The Thames tow path takes you further west from here, around the O2-Arena and via the Brunel Museum. At Rotherhithe, you will pass a conveniently located youth hostel directly on the route. After the picturesque St Saviour’s Dock and the scenic street Shad Thames with its old warehouses you will find yourself suddenly cycling under the Tower Bridge. You have now truly arrived in the City of London. Another time you can read more about our continued route across the British capital.
You can start this ride from the Dover ferry port and Dover Priory Station. Crossings from Dunkirk and Calais take one to two hours, served by operators DFDS Seaways and P&O respectively. Taking a ferry over the Channel Tunnel shuttle train service is preferred, as by train you would arrive in England in Folkestone, miles away from our cycle route.
The described route section ends at London Bridge station, with good rail connections further afield. In England, bicycles can be taken on the train for free, but not during peak times and depending on the capacity of the train. On some routes you need to make a reservation for bicycles.
We do not recommend the use of any bicycle trailers, cargo bikes, bike trailers, etc. This is due to various barriers on cycle paths with tight corners and narrow gaps. You may also encounter difficulties on narrow towpaths, steep slopes and when taking your equipment on the train. Note e-bikes can only be charged at booked accommodation on the way; public charging points are rare.
The route in of this blog is partly signposted as Route 1, but when just following the signs, you will miss out on many highlights such as Canterbury Cathedral, the Medway Great Lines, Greenwich Park and St Saviour’s Dock. To cycle the route comfortably, we recommend using our ‘London-Land’s End Cycle Route’ guidebook. This guidebook contains route directions, maps, cycling-focused tourist information and facility listings with campsites, youth hostels, B&Bs, hotels and bicycle repair shops along the way. Order your copy now and you will receive the guide in your mailbox within a week! GPS tracks of the route will be sent to you by email.
Do you fancy reading more? See below for other available blog posts: