I had more than three hours to cycle the ten or so miles to Dungeness. Generous, even at my pace. So I was in no rush to get going, and instead spent a while rummaging through the stalls in the Malthouse Arcade, the antique centre at one end of the High Street in Hythe.
When I eventually got going, I realised that since Dover I had switched from NCN Route 1 back onto NCN Route 2. If I stayed on this, it would retrace my route all the way back to Penzance. Out of Hythe the route left the main coast road to follow the Royal Military Canal, originally built in the first decade of the nineteenth century as a third line of defence against Napoleon.
On the hill above the canal is a large concrete ‘sound mirror’, designed as an early warning system for Britain to detect enemy aircraft. It worked on the principle that its curved surface would concentrate the sound of incoming enemy aircraft and focus it onto a microphone or stethoscope. There are three more, side by side, closer to Dungeness, but this particular one stands alone, and is in a sorry state.
A mile or so on and I cycled alongside the perimeter fence of Port Lympne wild animal park. As a young boy, I remember being on a Sunday drive near here, a year or so before the animal park formally opened. We didn’t even know it was there at the time. My grandmother was sitting in the back seat, and suddenly declared that she had just seen a rhinoceros. My father humoured her, and let it pass without commenting. It was only after she died that the park opened, and we realised that she hadn’t lost her marbles that day after all.
Still keen not to reach Dungeness too early, I stopped for coffee at Lathe Barn, the small children’s farm which had been such a favourite with Zoe, my eldest daughter. On her first visit she had fallen in love with a rabbit named Fudge, and we were always relieved to find Fudge in his hutch each time we visited, year after year, although he wasn’t always the same shade of brown. In fact, one year Fudge wasn’t brown at all.
Before the final push I discovered that England had beaten Australia, and had regained the Ashes as a result. Darren, a friend from my cricket club, tweeted that he had just arrived at Dungeness for a double celebration – the Ashes regained and The Beacon Bike returned!
I got a text from Allan saying that the police were holding up traffic on the M25 because of two horses on the hard shoulder. Ironic really, because when I asked Allan the previous week whether he would be there for my return, he told me that wild horses wouldn’t stop him.
— Edward Peppitt (@thebeaconbike) August 8, 2015
As I cycled through Dymchurch I sent a quick text to Donna, a friend who owns the gift and toy shop in the main street. She was waiting for me at the traffic lights for a hug to welcome me home. The last five miles from New Romney were a bit of a blur, although I was aware that they seemed a lot easier than when I had covered these same miles back in May. I guess if you cycle 3,500 miles then you should expect to be a bit fitter at the end than at the beginning. I recorded the last mile on the little video camera on which I’d planned to film the whole route, but which had remained at the bottom of a pannier since day three. I passed Derek Jarman’s cottage, then Mrs Thomas’, the fish stall. I saw a decent crowd gathered around the base of the Old Lighthouse up ahead, and dared to believe that they were there because of me.
The first person I recognised was Lottie, my youngest daughter. Only she runs like that. As I drew close, a very British round of applause began, to the bemusement of others around. Allan was there, having fended off the wild horses. My brother, a Trustee of Shift MS, even gave a speech about how the money I had raised might be spent. My lovely friend Sue had driven down from London, as had Douglas, my very first boss from my Stanfords days. Friends from the cricket club, from the village, from the school gates, and from afar all turned out. It was humbling, and I enjoyed wondering what other event or occasion might bring this particular group of people together.
I would love to claim that my return prompted a moment of epiphany, or that it heralded a change in the way I viewed the world, or felt about myself. But over a BBQ that evening, dressed in a favourite t-shirt and jeans that I hadn’t worn in months, my main reflection was that I had seen an awful lot of lighthouses, and that I had cycled a bloody long way.