I arrived at Le Delice for my breakfast at 9.30 am on a bitterly cold Sunday morning, and already 3 other riders had arrived. While I consumed my porridge and coffee, riders continued to gather inside and outside the cafe and by the time we left, there were 17 of us! Impressive in the deep mid winter. With the two that joined us en route, that made 19 riders.
We took the Waterlink Way to the riverside at Deptford first, a roundabout way to Severndroog, but an opportunity to show off the new swing bridge. I am already really happy with this latest addition to the riverside…it’s small but perfectly formed and is such a useful and much needed little link on the Thames Path. One gripe only, the barriers at the end of each access ramp, might make it a bit difficult for something like a tricycle. As non standard bikes tend to be more often used by cyclists with disabilities, this is a bit of a concern. Perhaps we should test it out.
Through Greenwich, where we had a bit of a moan about there being no contraflow cycling lane up King William Walk which means cyclists have to negotiate the one way system with a bit of lane crossing thrown in…not good for less experienced cyclists, of which we had some. However, there were enough of us to keep the newer cyclists well protected, and in Boris’ words, if you keep your wits about you, it’s safe enough. But, given we are talking about access to our parks and open spaces, there is really no excuse not to make getting to them as easy and safe as possible on a bike.
Up the hill, some walking, some riding, no problem. Both techniques used and acceptable on this kind of ride and both a good way of warming up on a cold winter’s day. Then across Blackheath following the cycle route to Kidbrooke which provides a safe and motor traffic free crossing of the urban motorway that is the A2. Then quiet roads all the way until we emerged on to the main road that runs alongside Castle Wood, wherein is hidden the folly itself, right at the top of the hill.
It was too muddy even for the mountain bikers in the group to take the off road path! So, we took the main road up, although our less experienced riders opted to walk…riding up a steep hill being passed by fast motor traffic is not that pleasant…luckily it’s a very short stretch of road, and the walkers were not far behind those who chose to ride the whole way! Shooters Hill is a tough climb and some of us, me included, were riding up at walking pace, or slower, anyway! (and walking the last few yards, too).
The cafe at the castle is not big and was a bit overwhelmed by us, I think. A fair number of us sat outside, while some got seats inside, others went up to the top for the view. The folly has been beautifully restored. It was built in 1784, by Lady Anne James, in memory of her husband. A real little gem of history and architecture in a lovely setting. I guess she was proud of her husband’s military exploits, but looking back from the 21st century, naming a loved one’s memorial after a military campaign, surrounded by quite a bit of double dealing involving our country backing out of various agreements along the way, seems a little strange. The tower is named after a a foreign fort, Survarnadurg, that was located between Mumbai and Goa on a small island in the Arabian Sea. Strategically important to many of the powerful elites in the area. If you’re interested, google it!
Sitting outside was fine for the first twenty minutes or so, till the effects of exercise began to wear off and our body temperature began to drop. So, we rounded everyone up and began the ride back. Down the steep paths through the old rose garden, we emerged from the woods and on to quiet residential roads and eventually onto Westmount Rd, a long ride up and over the A2 again, and then quiet roads to Eltham High St, which was very busy. But not too difficult to negotiate, as the motor traffic was moving slowly through the various sets of lights.
We were soon on quiet roads again, passing Eltham Palace and then on to King John’s Walk, which seems to whisk you for a few moments on to country lanes, horses grazing in the fields as you ride by. One glance to the other side, however, and you are reminded that you are still in the city, as the view of Central London is clear from here, especially as the clouds had broken and the sun and blue sky graced us for a short while at this point.
We managed to squeeze our way efficiently through traffic jammed Mottingham. It’s hard not to feel smug, as you ride easily past long rows of stationary cars, beeping each other to no purpose, and back on to quieter roads again.
Then, on, over the border back to our home borough and in to Chinbrook Meadows, through the first of some very silly barriers that seem to say, no bike wanted here. Yet, I happen to know that the friends of Chinbrook Meadows do indeed want to encourage people to ride their bikes here…they need to start opening up the gates properly if this is the case.
The park keeper kindly guided us through the car park exit on our way out, so we didn’t have to negotiate another of the bike hating barriers. Then, following the cycle route up across Baring Rd at Coopers Lane. Baring Rd is usually very busy and to run a cycle route across it without any form of assistance is unhelpful at best. Today we were fairly lucky, a Sunday, so we managed it without too much difficulty. Then on to the continuation of the cycle route down Railway Children Walk, which really makes one think that in calling this a cycle route, the authorities are possibly, as they say, ‘aving a laugh.
Because, you have just brought nearly twenty riders and their bikes through the ridiculous barriers in Chinbrook Meadows and then you are faced with a very narrow kissing gate that necessitates up ending every bike to get it through, followed immediately by a railway bridge where bikes have to be carried, unless you can actually manage to use the channels on only one side of the steps up and down. Then, immediately, another very narrow kissing gate, so all the bikes need upending again. Luckily we were all pretty fit, able and strong. If you had children, or any kind of disability or non standard bike, this route would be pretty impossible to use. We have asked for it to be looked at…now we have a few photos to back our argument…maybe more are needed to show how this route penalises anyone with a disability, too.
But, we didn’t let this little blip spoil the ride…we had had a great time so far and once through this barrier we were off again, through to the Downham Woodland Walk, a downhill glide along a tree lined path. It’s really surprising to find the busy A21 when you emerge! A useful crossing took us safely over this (if it can be done on the busy Bromley Rd, why not on Baring Rd) and then into Beckenham Park, from where we took the longer route home by wiggling through the Bellingham Estate on to the Waterlink Way. I was hoping to see kingfishers as they are becoming a regular sight on this riverside route, but sadly, not today. Gradually, along the way some riders peeled off when they neared their particular home routes, so at the very end, back in a Ladywell Fields, there were only ten of us.
Despite the cold and the one or two silly path barriers, a great little ride which we’ll definitely repeat in the spring or summer. Thanks to everyone who came along. Especial congratulations to Debbie, for whom this was her first ride over a few miles in a long while, and who I had rather misled into thinking it was an easyish ride….there’s actually not far off a thousand feet of climbing in 20 miles..which is quite hilly. So, it’s not particularly easy. For someone who hasn’t done much riding lately, she looked remarkably fresh at the end!