Parks Ride Sunday 1st March 2015
Such a different sky as I stepped outside the door this morning, than that under which I had ridden out the day before. No drizzly rain, no steel grey clouds, just blue sky and a few white wispy bits drifting across it, and a bright, yellow brisk, early spring sun. And a brisk, early spring breeze to accompany it.
Already at the café around half a dozen riders, and as I arrived two more rode up that I was so pleased to see. The amazing Sidney Schumann and his lovely wife, Mary. Sidney, our very own super record breaker, the holder of the hour record for his age group, the 80 to 84 year olds. He is such an inspiration, this man, and they are such a lovely couple.
I was hungry for porridge, toast and coffee and we breakfasted and chatted together, as the café filled up, mostly with our riders. When we left half an hour later, there were 21 of us, meandering through the park on the first leg of the Waterlink Way.
I was a bit worried about leading such a large group on this very popular and well used path, which isn’t terribly wide. I needn’t have been. Our entire group were considerate, well mannered, giving way to people walking dogs and to those leading small children, carefully and cheerfully. I could hear the thank yous echo down our line.
At the infamous crossing of Southend Lane, we guarded each lane of traffic so all could get across without being stranded and, happily, on this occasion drivers were courteous and stopped without irritation. Such a shame this lovely traffic free path ends at this horrid crossing. Good news is, we have some local councillors on our side in our campaign to get it made safer. Bad news is, this may take time with the council struggling with budget much reduced by central government.
On to the second leg of the Waterlink Way, some of it charming, like Cator Park, some not so pleasant, like the industrial estate on Kangley Bridge Rd. We emerged on to Kings Hall Rd and turned into the passageway under the station at Kent House, politely giving way to people on their way to the platforms.
After this there is a bit of cycling infrastructure which allows you to cross Beckenham Rd, fiddly but safest with a group of mixed abilities and road experience such as we were today. Soon more parkland, then one more toucan crossing to get us over the fast and busy Elmers End Rd and we were in South Norwood Country Park. It was pretty muddy here and there, and we rode through, glimpsing the pond on our right. There is a path right down to it, but it was very muddy as I rode past and the viewpoint at the bottom is tiny, no real room for a group as large as ours to comfortably view the wildlife, so we passed by, content with viewing it from the saddle.
We then retraced our steps for a mile or so. There is a way round this but it involves a footbridge over the railway. We already had one of those coming up later in the ride. I couldn’t face getting over twenty riders up and down another one of them, so thought the mile or so retrace worth it. As we emerged from Kent House Station we took a few turns till we were heading westwards on Lennard Rd, and began the slow, gentle climb up Lennard Rd.
It’s not steep, but remember that brisk, Spring breeze I mentioned earlier. Now it was right in our faces and made the climb a wee bit tougher than it should have been.
But all made it without walking. And after crossing Sydenham High St by another toucan it was just a minute or so before we were in Mayow Park.
The café here is lovely. But it’s small and it was already busy. We sat outside but the staff were a bit overwhelmed by our sudden descent upon them and it took a bit of time for everyone to get drinks and snacks. After half an hour or so we were ready to leave. It’s a lovely little park, but the café tables are in full shade most of the day at this time of year. We were beginning to feel the chill.
We were not cold for long though. Next came the climb up and over the railway footbridge, which everyone managed without extra help, this followed by the climb up Wells Park Rd, with a hilly detour into this very underrated park. The hilliness of it gives it its beauty, a huge sweep of grassland upwards with some amazing specimens of mature trees. The old paddling pool where I spent many happy summer days is long gone. But it’s still one of my favourite Lewisham parks. It’s apparently named after medicinal wells which people visited here, up until the late 17th century apparently, when this part of London was still very much rural Kent.
We exited the park and finished the climb up Wells Park Rd on the road itself. Then out onto Sydenham Hill, which seemed very busy with traffic after all the traffic free and quiet roads we had been riding. In truth, it was fairly quiet, this Sunday morning. It was just the comparison. Then all that climbing of Sydenham’s hill gave us the reward of turning on to its descent. As you turn left at the roundabout, just before you begin to drop, London’s famous skyline suddenly appears as if by magic. The descent is steep and fast, so it disappears almost as quickly, but on a clear, bright day like today, it’s the icing on the cake for a London based ride.
At the bottom we crossed via another toucan and entered Horniman Gardens. We emerged only halfway up the hill on this side, but the skyline was still just about visible.
A few more pleasant tree lined residential roads took us to Camberwell Old Cemetery which seems to have been tidied and smartened up a bit. This seems all wrong to me…cemeteries should be wild and overgrown places, full of atmosphere and mystery, hidden secrets, slightly sad, neglected and melancholy. The clean up seemed to have swept away much of its character. Every so often there was a glimpse of a path leading away down a wilder, more overgrown bit that seemed to have escaped the clean up, a reminder of what it had been. And I heard no woodpeckers which used to be a common sight here. I wondered if the tawny owls still lived here, whose calls I used to hear regularly from the overgrown trees and hedges as I climbed the hill up Underhill Rd just outside its high fence on dark winter mornings.
We reached the grave with the urban myth attached to it, of the traveller family who had applied for permission to erect this amazing huge marble, well, almost a whole room, in memory of one of their beloved matriarchs. The story goes that they were refused, as it was too big and out of keeping, but they broke in overnight and put it up anyway. The council gave in and it’s still there.
I have no idea whether this story is true or false, but I want it to be true anyway, as it is kind of in keeping with the spirit of South East London in many ways, in its intolerance of authority and red tape applied too rigorously in a situation when it’s protecting no one’s interest particularly.
Now it was another lovely glide under clear blue skies down Underhill Rd this time, another view at the top of the descent of that famous skyline, before we dipped back down this time to the valley of the River Peck, which must have been flowing, unseen, somewhere below our wheels as we rode across the Rye and climbed a little way up to go over the railway, this time on a more bike friendly path that is part of LCN 22. Another few minutes and we were back in Ladywell, where the group chatted for a while, before dispersing completely, in time for a well earned Sunday lunch.
Thanks all, for twenty miles or so of very pleasurable Sunday morning London riding.