As you may have seen in our recent post about plans for Ewan’s fourth annual cycle tour, this year we headed south after last year’s excursion over the border into Scotland. Our plan, to ride the new Cantii Way, devised by Cycling UK, around the South East corner of England.

The film of our adventure is available on our YouTube channel.

What is The Cantii Way?

During the Iron Age, the Cantiaci or Cantii tribe inhabited the area we now know as Kent and have given their name to this route launched by Cycling UK in 2021, part of a range of long distance mixed terrain routes they have developed. The ride takes you on a mixture of gravel tracks, cycle paths and quiet country lanes starting in Wye amongst the Kent Downs and taking you round the coast through Margate, Dover and Dungeness before heading back inland to return to Wye.

Travelling Down to the Canttii Way Start

We try to keep our trips low carbon and therefore use trains wherever possible. For this adventure we travelled on Avanti trains to London Euston, scooted our bikes across to St. Pancras and finished our journey on SouthEastern trains to Ashford.

A bit of a curve ball was thrown to our initial plan, travelling down first thing Saturday morning, when train strikes were announced. A quick search found a campsite in Westwell just outside of Ashford to stop at and we were able to travel down Friday evening, so a prequel day of our little adventure!

Day One – Westwell to Herne Bay (31 miles)

We didn’t quite get going with the early start we had planned, but tent struck and bikes loaded we headed off to the official start in the village of Wye as temperatures started rising. We took a moment in the welcome cool of the church in Wye, marking the official start of the Cantii Way, before heading up the longest climb of the day to join the North Downs Way and our first gravel section through welcome woodland shade. The off road cycling was a mix of wide forest trails and some narrower single track, dropping us down towards the beautiful village of Chilham where the White Horse Inn with, aptly, a bike hanging from the rafters provided delicious cool pints, cider for dad, orange juice for Ewan, and some of the most delicious (& thick!) sandwiches I’ve eaten.

After peering through Chilham castle gates and saying hello to the pilgrim statues, it was time to be pilgrims ourselves as Canterbury was our next stop via the Great Stour Way where we enjoyed the idyllic scene of punters on the river, beautiful gardens and, in Ewan’s case, the welcome sight of a shop selling chilled Juice Burst.

Refreshed, we headed UP out of Canterbury on the Crab and Winkle Way, NCN1, through the eerily deserted campus of Kent, through harvested wheat fields before dropping down into Whitstable and our first sight of the sea, always special for landlocked midlanders.

A short section along the coast, took us to Hampton Bay campsite our home for the night at Herne Bay, where my trusty Trangia cooked us a delicious meal of Aldi Spinach & Ricotta Tortellini, which we highly recommend as a camping meal.

Day Two – Herne Bay to Kingsdown (39 miles)

Sunshine & the sound of waves rattling the stony beach formed the backdrop to a day of coastal riding taking us through Margate, Broadstairs, Ramsgate and finishing in Kingsdown, just outside Deal. Other than a sneaky little climb at the end of the day to reach our campsite, it was an almost entirely flat day’s riding.

It was to be a hot day’s riding, but a light sea breeze kept us cool and we enjoyed our first sight of white cliffs and possibly the most crowded beach I’ve ever seen with my own eyes at Margate (normally I avoid busy beaches!). We had chosen to take the coastal route option through Margate which did mean, as warned, that some sections past beach huts required us to push our bikes making progress slow at times. But for us it was all about enjoying being at the seaside.

Before Margate we’d stopped off and explored the ruins of Reculver Medieval Church and read up about the nearby site of the Roman fort. I also had to do a quick inner-tube change as on return to my bike I found air only in the top of the tyre!

Lunch at Millie’s Beach Bar in St Mildred’s Bay before carrying on for an afternoon of castles, starting with a little folly, Neptune’s Tower, as we left Margate, then, as we continued along the coast we passed Kingsgate castle and the Tudor forts of Deal Castle and Walmer Castle both built on the orders of King Henry VIII to defend England’s southern shores.

We were also quite surprised to come across a large replica of a viking longship, Hugin, commemorating the 1500 anniversary of the arrival of Hengist and Horsa, leaders of the Anglo-Saxon invasion.

We made the mistake of following the exact route as we passed through Sandwich bay which took us into deep sand on a path through a golf course, our top tip would be to stick to the very nearby road to avoid pushing your bikes.

Tent pitched on arrival at Kingsdown Camping, we headed down to Zetland Arms and enjoyed Fish and Chips in the “pub garden” on the beach as the sun set.

Day 3 – Kingsdown to Lydd (47 miles)

We knew from the get-go that today was going to be challenging. Not only our longest day of riding, but we had two big climbs to do at the start of the ride and what should have been easy, flat riding for the rest of the day turned into a headwind battle.

To treat ourselves and keep energy supplies topped up, we stopped for a second breakfast at the Market Square Kitchen cafe in Dover. Then on with the second long climb out of Dover to reach Folkestone but along the way we had some amazing sights, from the Abbot’s Cliff listening mirror, an early warning system for enemy planes approaching in the days before radar, to the Battle of Britain Memorial commemorating “the few” that defended our shores in those dark hours of the Second World War.

As we cycled high above Folkestone we enjoyed great views over the Eurotunnel terminus and amazing engineering spectacle and much bigger than I’d expected.

Lunch grabbed from the cycle tourist friend, and enjoyed on the beach followed by a little, refreshing paddle. Then an afternoon of mostly sea-front riding along the prom battling some strong headwinds to take us out to Dungeness where we rode through a slightly eery and wild landscape out to the lighthouse and views of the non-operational, nuclear power station.

Starting to feel tired we skipped the gravel route through the nature reserve and stuck to the road through Lydd and to our last night’s camping at the Orca Campsite. A lovely little site where Ewan quickly made friends with children there and enjoyed time around a fire pit.

Day 4 – Lydd to Ashford (25 miles) and the return home

After a long day in the saddle yesterday, our final day was much shorter, targeted to get us back to Ashford to catch the train for our journey home.

After Ewan had finished playing with kittens while I struck camp and loaded up it was off to the lovely little town of Rye which offered some challenging cycling around the cobbled streets. Second breakfast enjoyed at Cafe Zara we turned inland (missing the loop you could take through Rye Nature Reserve). Riding past rolling fields, past Oast houses and onto our last section of gravel riding before arriving back at Ashford and the station to start our journey back home.

So should you ride the Cantii Way?

Absolutely! It’s a great ride and can be ridden on most types of bikes (the off road sections would be challenging on skinny wheeled road bikes). Other than the two hills in and out of Dover it’s offers fairly easy riding and you can always push your bike on the more technical single track sections as they are quite short. A beautiful mix of scenery and interesting new and old locations to visit it makes a great ride.

Watch out for a future post where we will post tips on preparing and what bits of the route might be worth varying dependent upon your experience and the bike you are riding.