Distance 59 miles (95km)
Climbing 615m (2018ft)
Duration 4-6 hours
Maps OS Explorer 150 Canterbury & The Isle of Thanet
- Download the route here
If you weigh your pasta portions meticulously and only eat pudding on 25 December, look away now. This ride may be 59 miles long, but there are more calories consumed than metres climbed. A lot more.
Today there will be no energy bars, no chasing of Strava segments or sprinting for town signs. Instead, there will be lots of cycling by the seaside and frequent stops to enjoy cornets and sundaes in Kent’s best ice cream parlours. Training can start again tomorrow.
Full cream ahead
The route of this ‘sundae club ride’ with a difference begins a few miles inland at Rough Common just outside of Canterbury, since it seems sensible to get at least a little bit of riding in before indulging in gelato.
The A290 towards Whitstable is up and down enough to warm the legs nicely, and after just a few minutes I’m heading downhill towards the sea.
Whitstable is most famous for its oysters, celebrated in the town’s annual oyster festival. In recent years it’s become something of a centre for local arts and culture, too. With its pubs, cafes, vintage shops and shingle beach, it’s very easy to lose track of time here.
Fortunately the owner of Sundae Sundae opens the shop right on schedule. As well as ice creams, the shop sells old-fashioned sweets, buckets and spades and beach toys. Alongside the ice creams there are sorbets and frozen yoghurts, mostly made on the premises. With so much choice I struggle to decide which flavour to go for.
After patiently watching my indecisive chin scratching, the owner disappears into a back room and returns with another tub of ice cream. “This is from my secret stash,” he says. “It’s Marmite ice cream.”
Now, I’m partial to Marmite on toast, but in ice cream? “It’s sweetened with caramel and chocolate.”
My taste buds aren’t sure if they’re eating breakfast or dessert, but that doesn’t stop me finishing the cup.
Just one cornet(to)
In between licks I find out the Marmite-loving ice cream man (Sid Sundae on the sign outside but real name Chris) has been running the shop for a year or so after taking over from the previous owners. I explain that I’m spending the day riding from one ice cream shop to another and he suggests a parlour in Ramsgate called Sorbetto. I make a mental note to stop there while Chris prepares a cornet of peanut butter and Hershey’s chocolate ice cream with a fudge spiral. On the bench outside the shop I tuck in and watch the world go by.
Then it’s back in the saddle, riding east towards Herne Bay. The Oyster Bay Trail runs along the seafront. On a weekday morning it’s quiet, but the route will be busy on a sunny weekend. The B2205 is just a little way inland if the seafront is crowded and you’d rather press on.
Today the clouds are starting to threaten in time-honoured British summer style, so I almost have the coast to myself. The dark sky is reflected in the charcoal-grey sea, and I wonder if a warming cup of tea might be better than an ice cream at my next stop.
The trail meets the road just west of Herne Bay. There’s a sharp right-hand bend, and a sudden climb up onto the cliff. Looking out to sea I can see a tangled mess of metal about a kilometre from the shore. As I ride closer to the town I realise it’s the wreck of the old pier, severely damaged by a storm in 1978 and largely dismantled a couple of years later.
Just beyond the old pier I find the day’s second stop, Makcari’s. The original parlour opened as Macari’s in 1931, but when the family business was sold to the KC Coffee Group in 2008, the ‘k’ was added to the name. The new owners also opened a new parlour at the bandstand, and as the rain starts in earnest that’s where I take shelter for a very self-indulgent lunch.
Looking indecisive pays off again, as I’m treated to free samples of the bubble gum, Turkish delight and peanut flavours. All three are delicious. There’s no need to ask if they’re made on the premises as I can see the ice cream machine hard at work behind the counter. I choose the Knickerbocker Glory, find a free table, and eat my way through some of the most delicious ice cream you could hope to taste. A large Americano washes the ice cream down, adding a caffeine hit to the sugar rush.
Buzzing like a kid who’s eaten one sweet too many, I get back on the bike. The clouds are clearing and the temperature is rising as I cycle past the clock tower on the seafront and set about burning off some of those calories.
There’s something about Herne Bay. Like a lot of British seaside towns, its grandeur may have faded but there’s still a little bit of it left, especially now that there are some patches of blue in between the grey overhead.
One thing I learn over the next few miles – this part of Kent is bigger than I’d thought. On the map the ride from Herne Bay to the next ice cream parlour in Broadstairs doesn’t look like much, but it’s a fair old schlep with a belly full of Makcari’s finest. It’s not challenging riding – there are no major hills to tick off, or steep descents to test the brakes and reflexes – instead, I spin easily through open farmland, pretty villages and past quiet country churches.
I pass Thanet Earth, the largest greenhouse complex in the UK. Then it’s around the perimeter of Manston airport and on into Broadstairs.
Like Herne Bay, you could argue Broadstairs has seen better days but if so it’s ageing very gracefully. After a steep downhill towards the sea and a couple of zig-zag turns, the view opens up. I look east over the clifftop gardens to the Channel, with an off-shore windfarm catching the sun in the distance.
It’s the perfect spot to stop, and right on cue I roll up outside Morelli’s. Two old ladies sat outside enjoying the sunshine promise to take care of the bike while I nip inside.
I can remember happy childhood summers eating my way through the menu at the Folkestone branch of Morelli’s a few miles down the coast. There’s something very familiar about the decor, with its painting of Venice, salmon-pink seats and free-play jukebox. I get the feeling nothing much has changed in Morelli’s for a while. Then again, when you’ve been selling ice cream in Broadstairs since 1932 you’re entitled to take an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ approach to interior decoration.
Morelli’s is busier than Sundae Sundae or Makcari’s, so looking indecisive fails to yield the usual free samples. Instead, I order a Morelli’s Special. Chocolate ice cream, hazelnuts, a biscuit, a flake and chocolate sauce. Oh, and a banana so it’s almost healthy. It’s just as good as I remember from 30 years ago.
Feeling pleasantly full again, I wander over to Victoria Gardens and look down at the sandy beach beneath. It’s quite tempting to call it a day here, but I remember Sid Sundae’s tip that Sorbetto is not to be missed.
The ride from Broadstairs to Ramsgate is short, definitely not long enough to get hungry again, but I’m sure I can find some more room somewhere.
There’s an ice cream parlour on Harbour Parade, but the sign outside says Pelosi’s, not Sorbetto. I step inside and get talking to the owner, Nick, who explains that he took over the business from Mr Pelosi on Easter Monday and hasn’t yet changed the sign outside. “Pelosi and Morelli were cousins who vied to make the best ice cream,” he says. “Pelosi was an artist.” The walls are covered with the certificates and awards this virtuoso ice cream man earned in his long career.
I’m invited to take a look downstairs where the ice cream is made. Nick shows me the machine which makes the basic ice cream to which the other flavours and ingredients are added. “Any good ice cream shop buys its ingredients directly from Italy,” Nick says.
I feel really spoilt when Nick opens up one of the freezers and pulls out a tub of Ferrero Rocher ice cream that he’d made earlier that day.
“Mr Pelosi’s ice cream recipe is a closely guarded secret. When we took over the business I was given the recipe out of a safe!” Nick tells me.
Upstairs, I order a hot fudge sundae. By rights I ought to be fed up of eating ice cream by now, but Sid was right – the ice cream here really is unmissable.
I say goodbye to Nick and his colleagues and pedal up to the cliff top, with views over the marina and harbour.
The road sweeps down off the cliff and past a replica Viking ship, and south towards Sandwich. I cut inland just outside of the town and turn onto narrow lanes that criss-cross the farmland between Sandwich and Canterbury. This morning’s clouds have passed, and I settle into a rhythm with a helpful wind at my back. Miles pass easily with hardly any traffic, just the sound of tyres on tarmac and the breeze in the trees.
The road becomes busier on the run in to Canterbury, and I catch a glimpse of the cathedral while avoiding the worst of the rush-hour traffic. There’s a final uphill kick out of the city towards Rough Common, hard enough for me to briefly wonder if that fourth stop for ice cream really was a good idea. Perhaps not, but I enjoyed it anyway.
Food and drink
You need to ask? Try Sundae Sundae in Whitstable, Makcari’s in Herne Bay, Morelli’s in Broadstairs or Sorbetto in Ramsgate. Makcari’s also does savoury food and would make a good mid-ride lunch stop, or there are numerous fish and chip shops and cafes in Broadstairs and Ramsgate. Or you could stop for a sandwich in Sandwich!
Where to stay
There’s plenty of accommodation of all kinds. Try www.canterbury.co.uk and www.visitkent.co.uk.
Local bike shops
If you need to stock up on spares before setting out, try Canterbury Cycle Centre . A few miles into the route and you’ll pass by Herberts Cycles in Whitstable.
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