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A Cycle Way to Dungeness

Imagine a family in Newham, host borough of the Olympics, fancying a cycle day at the seaside.  Mum, Dad and two teenagers pedal to Stratford International and happily load their bikes onto the high-speed train for Folkestone Central.  Forty-five minutes later, having streaked across Kent and browsed Google Maps, they decide to head for the harbour and ride westwards to Dungeness.  Sunshine, seashore and wind in their faces.

First problem is lack of cycle signage to the harbour, just a crazy circuitous route for vehicles, a hangover from Folkestone’s ferry port days.  So, instinctively, they cycle downhill towards the viaduct and into Tontine Street, main drag to the harbour.  Problem two – it’s one-way and they have to push their bikes on the pavement. 

Problem three is seafront confusion.  Signs for National Cycle Route 2 direct them into Lower Leas Coastal Park.  “But Dad”, cry the kids, “why can’t we cycle on the promenade like everyone else?”  Father decides to do things properly.  They turn into the park along NCR2.  Within seconds, another problem:  they must dismount as they encounter a play area where children dart between climbing equipment on either side of the path. 

No sooner is the family riding again than vicious speed bumps, with no gaps for cycles, hamper progress.  Through the trees are tantalising glimpses of the sea but it’s lost as the cyclists are swallowed in Lower Sandgate Road, houses lining both sides of the street.  At Sandgate NCR2 joins the traffic-plagued High Street, the A259 towards Hastings.  Dad’s had enough and cuts through to the seafront.

 But, oh dear, elderly ladies “tut-tut” as the teenagers politely ring their bells.  “Cyclists have no right down here”, shouts an angry dog-walker.  Mum spots a sign for the Hub Cycle Shop and Café.  With no stands, they chain their bikes to a railing.  Inside, the friendly proprietors explain that the promenade is no such thing.  It’s a “seawall” on which Shepway District Council concedes right of way to neither pedestrian nor cyclist. 

So what to do?  Just ignore the legalities, they’re advised.  Everyone else does.  Revitalised, they push on to where NCR2 joins the seafront on The Esplanade, bumping along the coggly tarmac dual-use path where cars are parked with two wheels on the pavement.         

Beyond the Seabrook ice-cream kiosk, Dad, Mum and the kids finally spot what they’d expected – a broad promenade to Hythe with the occasional dual-use pedestrian/cyclist sign to reassure them.  Little do they realise, and nor does anyone else except a highways engineer at SDC, that cyclists have no right here either. 

 Donkey’s years ago, the signs were placed by mistake.  Cyclists should be riding on the rough grass verge on the landward side of Princes Parade, the road alongside the promenade – a legality that has also escaped Sustrans, the admirable charity that manages the UK’s cycle routes. 

Alas, it’s the same story all the way to Dungeness.  Spanking new stretches of seawall from the Hythe artillery ranges to Dymchurch and beyond are officially off limits to cyclists and pedestrians.   No designated cycle route or footpath exists along this glorious 20-mile coastline.  What should be the jewel in the crown of Shepway’s visitor appeal is a shambles of lost opportunity by those who administer it – Kent County Council, Shepway District Council, the Environment Agency and the Ministry of Defence.

 This spring Cycle Shepway launches a campaign to establish a Folkestone to Dungeness Cycle Way.  It will be a long haul.  Agency will bicker with council and council with ministry and all of them with Cycle Shepway.  In petty concerns about liability and precedent, the bigger picture will be blurred.  But we shall keep focus.  For a start, we have the backing of MP Damian Collins who appreciates the great economic and tourist potential of such a route.      

So what of the family?  Dad, Mum and the teenagers make it to Dungeness and back again to Folkestone.  But next time they visit Kent, they’ll plump for a friendlier stretch of coast like the Oyster Bay Trail from Whitstable to Reculver or the Viking Coastal Trail around the Isle of Thanet where routes are clear and maintained and cyclists feel welcome.

 CAMPAIGN NOTE:  Cycle Shepway will be collecting signatures for the Folkestone-Dungeness Cycle Way Petition from its stand at the Folkestone Green Fair on July 6 and 7 and from a stand shared with Spokes at the Sandgate Sea Festival on August 26.

David Taylor, Chairman, Cycle Shepway