Cycling the UK’s Viking Coastal Trail

We love our kids and we cherish our family time together, whether it’s a lazy Saturday in our pyjamas or getting our physical activity on at our local trampoline gym. As adults of small children we also need time on our own to recharge, to make ourselves mindful and fully present when we do participate with our kids. It’s a wonderful feeling to remember freedom and the before time. I believe it is also important for the kids to spend extended time with a carer other than their parents. It encourages independence and growth by giving them insight into how other people eat, live and play that may or may not be similar to our way.

When our friends invited us to join them on the 32 mile (51.4km) Viking Coastal Trail we didn’t need much persuading. For us, it’s a weekend well spent when adventurous activity is part of the package and we love long bicycle rides, especially coastal, scenic ones. After some conversation about the logistics (do we hire bikes or bring our own, do we take our cars or ride the train, etc.) we decided to make a weekend out of it. We figured it would be about a two-hour drive from London so we would leave Saturday afternoon to be there in time for dinner. Bikes loaded onto the bike rack and away we went.

We left on a Saturday afternoon and arrived at the White House Bed and Breakfast in Birchington-on-Sea at around 6:30pm Saturday evening. We planned to dine at the Minnis Bay Bar & Brasserie at 8pm which left us time to settle in and relax with our friends. The B&B was a cute “white” house with three bedrooms for guests. The owner, Sharon, was very warm and friendly upon arrival. Our two bedrooms were decorated in white and shades of blue with small touches like mason jars filled with hot chocolate, tea and coffee, extra towels and soap were provided as well. Each room was stocked with many books to suit all tastes of readers and a small flat screen tv.

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The White House B&B

Dinner at Minnis Bay was satisfactory but nothing to write home about. It was a traditional seaside British restaurant. Getting there was an easy 10-minute walk from the B&B along the beach, where the breeze tousled our hair refreshingly and the gorgeous pink and orange sunset melted into the sea to dazzle our eyes. We walked and chatted uninterrupted by little people and enjoyed it thoroughly.

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Sun setting over Minnis Bay

Forgetting that we were staying in a B&B, when we returned we gathered together in one of our rooms for some conversation and laughs to end the evening. It was near to midnight when our bedroom door was opened and we were told that we were laughing too loud. Wow, memories of childhood were creeping back to me. We remained quiet after our scolding then soldiered on to our respective rooms to retire. Yikes! It reminded me why we are not B&B people.

If that wasn’t enough of a reminder to stay in a hotel, we all were woken at around 6 am with the noises of the guests and the workings of the house. Whoa! Not enough sleep by far. We all tried to get a few more hours but it didn’t really work. It was just too noisy. I expect if we were to B&B it again, best to go to bed earlier and rise with the sun with no partying.

In the morning Sharon apologised for needing to intrude on our fun the night before. It was our neighbours that were bothered by our festivities and not her. She then offered us breakfast and took our orders like a waitress would in a restaurant with a pen and paper. She offered me a green smoothie and a vegan brekkie of bubble and squeak with roasted tomatoes knowing that I preferred a vegan option after emailing me ahead of time. What a lovely personal touch. The table was filled with an assortment of fruits and cereals, juice and coffee. It was a perfect start to our sleep deficient day that supplied us with the energy to get going.

We started off on the trail at 10:45 or so leaving Birchington and heading east towards Margate. It was really perfect conditions for cycling: blue sky, warm sunshine, 18 degrees and a slight breeze. Heaven! We had read that the path was nearly 50/50 off and on road and weren’t quite sure what that meant as we imagined off road trails. It turns out that most of the off road riding was on designated, paved bicycle trails and boardwalks. However, we did encounter some small trails through fields at the end of the ride. Most of the path was well signed with the exception of some bits in the beginning. It was a good idea to have one person navigating from their phone for the outing.

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One of the many signs marking the trail

We had read that it was a mostly flat trail.  This couldn’t have been further from the truth, as there were some steep inclines along the path that made it tough for us who don’t get to ride as much as we’d like, but we persevered. Huffing and puffing as we made it to the top of each hill, which was quite challenging without a full night’s rest.

We passed through the cute little beach towns of Margate, Broadstairs, and Ramsgate. Each with a unique down town area and beach scene different from one another. We thought Broadstairs was our favourite and that someday we would return with the kids. The beach was clean and sandy, while the adjacent boardwalk was bursting with cafes and gelato shops. We had envisioned eating lunch along the coast before the trail turned inland to circle back around but our timing didn’t line up quite right to do that. After leaving later than expected that morning and passing, in the first part of the ride, through all the coastal towns that would have been options, we decided to press on. We agreed that we would love to make it at least two thirds of the way before resting.

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Quick break in Ramsgate for a selfie

Once we turned inland, we meandered through small villages cutting through their high streets and spotting cute churches and pubs. We ended up stopping for lunch at the White Stag in Monkton. A lovely, family-run pub that was hosting a Sunday Roast when we arrived. We procured a table in the garden at the back of the restaurant to soak up as much of this rare British sunshine as we could get. The roast was delicious and, in addition to several meats, there was a vegan nut roast and more vegetable sides than one could fit on a plate.

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Mark, guarding our refreshments

Ah, the birds sang just for us as there wasn’t another sound it seemed. A weekend of activity and peace without our very dear children who we adore but who don’t offer the same feeling of solitude. We agreed this type of weekend away should be done on a regular basis. Happiness and health for mommy and daddy washes over the rest of the family. It’s good for everyone.

Completely stuffed, we ambled heavily back to our bicycles for the last hour or so and 20 kilometres back to our car. Indeed, the last bit was the hardest by far probably due to our tasty indulgence and stuffed bellies. We passed through farm fields on a single track dirt trail before working our way back to the coast. The surrounding green was so incredibly peaceful. Our bottoms were getting saddle soar and the lack of sleep from the night before was bearing down on us.

The last 10k had us on a beach boardwalk with speed bumps every two seconds, which felt like some cruel joke. The wind had picked up and was against us.  This was about where Stephen hit the figurative wall and his quadriceps started cramping up.  He insisted that we go on and that he’d see us at the end. He finished not far behind us, taking a number of breaks over the last stretch.

We are two couples who like to travel and are physically active. We all try our best to do this with our kids on a somewhat frequent basis hoping to influence them to enjoy the same hobbies. I have always loved the idea of rearing a family of like-minded outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy their time together traveling the world. However, there is a lot to be said for having adult time with freedom to act like you did when you were just a couple. I remember clearly repeating to myself “This is so great!” as I had the wind though my hair and the sun on my face while my heart rate increased as did my endorphins. What bliss! Find someone to watch your kids and get outside and be playful yourself doing what makes you happy allowing your body and soul to thrive. At the end of our weekend, we reconvened with our kids and exchanged all of our joyful stories. The five of us were all renewed and grateful.

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Success!

*We used a sitter from Kids Hub London. These ladies are primary school teachers, tutors and babysitters. They speak several languages and run holiday and summer camps. On their website they offer a weekend away package which is money well spent. They get the kids out of the house and active. My kids are never bored and always have a good time, wanting to know when we will please leave again!

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