You are viewing the archives for October 2011Francis |
One of Greenwich’s lesser kept secrets is the perennial building site that is Cutty Sark Gardens. It is a maze to navigate for pedestrians and cyclists, and Thames Clippers do themselves no favours with the bit of path near the entrance to the boat terminal. Totally inadequate signage, including details of restrictions on the particular lifeforms that may use this hallowed passage.
Now I am aware that the footpath along the front of the old naval college is technically off-limits to cyclists, but when funnelled into it on leaving Cutty Sark Gardens, unable to cut straight through into the college grounds and along the official cycle path, I couldn’t care about transgressing the rules. What I object to is being shouted at by some pea-brained creature with an evident over-fondness for pies. The gobby one, clad in a Thames Clippers vest, tried to block the path with his hand as I passed at the front of our group. This would have been unfortunate for him had his hand made contact with my person. Luckily for him, it didn’t, so I proceeded on my way, having completely ignored his protestations.
Seemingly peeved at such humiliation, the vested one then turned his attention to another of our number, calling him an “idiot”, and declaring loudly that children used the path. Golly gosh! Children? Who’d have thunk it?
Once we had freed ourselves from the spiritual death grip of Greenwich Town Centre, the ride continued at a gentle pace eastwards to Woolwich, with the prospect of a cup of coffee at the Firepower café, and the first bacon sarnie of the day for our very own Dr Senior.
From the Arsenal it was on to the borough border with Bexley near Thamesmere lake, where we cut south along leaf-strewn paths and childebeest-calming water features. Past Birchmere lake and a car boot sale, Comrade Coordinator Austin left us for a luncheon appointment, and the rest of us continued along the “Route 66” cycle path toward the heart of downtown Thamesmead. The café in Morrison’s supermarket wasn’t as busy as we had anticipated, and the food was cheap.
An overheard conversation near this point:
Small child asks her mother: “Why are all these old people on bikes?”
Mother to daughter: “I guess it’s because they must really like cycling.”
From Morrisons we headed south and west, leaving the main road by Gallions Park. After a quick tour around the houses, we spiralled our way up High View Tor, to be met at the top with a splendid panoramic view of London.
The return to Greenwich was along the same Thames Path covered a few hours previously, and we were back by four o’clock. It was a good ride, largely flat and gentle of pace for the less experienced cyclists, yet fairly substantial, with a total distance covered of around 40 kilometres. This must be one for the Greenwich Book of Rides. If any of you wish to lead a tour of Thamesmead, or simply enjoy it for yourself, I can provide a GPX file.
Onwards to Gravesend by road rather than Thames Path, we set a brisk pace, and an hour and thirty-five minutes later arrived at the café on Gordon Promenade. Which was shut, and didn't open for another 30 minutes. At Gravesend were waiting for us John from Hither Green, New Eltham cabby Dave, and sans bike, with a copy of the Grauniad tucked under an arm, and cleat-less shoes on feet, Jurek, with whom I had cycled a similar route two weeks previously.
After tea and a chinwag on the prom, six headed east out of Gravesend, and onto the Hoo Peninsula at Lower Higham. With the motor traffic behind us, the pace eased, and we enjoyed the winding lanes and fruit trees of the Hoo as we rode north toward Cliffe Pools, and east to Cooling.
After passing Jools Holland's gaff (Cooling Castle), we stopped at the church of St James, which provided inspiration to Charles Dickens for his novel Great Expectations. Just down the road from the Cooling church, we parked up at the Horseshoe and Castle pub, where a dejected-looking Katie from Lewisham, who had just witnessed our beloved Wales lose a major international sporting contest by just one point, sat on a wall. Food and ale sorted that out, and a short while later our spirits were uniformly high.
Our route now took us up Lipwell Hill and on to High Halstow, before turning northeast to Allhallows: Terra Finis, the End of the Earth. I say that, but over the water, in the far distance, one could just about see Southend, about which we shall say no more. At this point, Jane did the honourable and comradely thing, and dipped her toes into the North Sea on behalf of all of us there assembled.
It was a wee bit nippy on the Allhallows prom. We didn't stay long, choosing instead to begin our return journey through the eastern and southern sides of the peninsula. I made a slight navigational error on leaving Allhallows village, and missed the turning to Stoke, which would have taken us down the eastern edge of hilly Hoo, with a good view of the Medway estuary to our left. We instead retraced our outward track through St Mary Hoo, and rectified the mistake at Roper's Green, by Hoo Saint Werbugh.
From there it was a straight westward run past Upnor and Lower Higham, where all but three of us opted for a train-assist back to London. Jane, Adam and I rode on to Gravesend, and a chocolate stop at a petrol station infested with some serious-looking young rozzers, urban combat fatigues bulging with policing kit of various kinds.
After leaving Gravesend for the second time in a day, and with our blood-sugar levels sufficiently boosted, the pace picked up for a fast spin along hilly roads through Northfleet, Swanscombe and Greenhithe. After a short and quietish lakeside detour off the A206, in a place marked "Void" on my map, it was onward to Erith.
At Erith, peace and quiet once more. There we stopped on the pier to admire the sunset, and then continued along the river past Thamesmere, Plumstead and Woolwich. And finally, the 10 kilometre home run from the Woolwich Ferry to Greenwich Pier, with the twilight sky a deep shade of red, courtesy of London's air pollution.
Eleven hours and just shy of 140 kilometres after our early morning departure, we arrived at Cutty Sark Gardensin Greenwich. And we all felt fine. On Sunday morning I was even fit enough for Eric the Unready's wrong-way spin around the Locks & Docks, about which we will no doubt hear directly from the Comrade Leader.
We didn't get off to a particularly good start, however, with a useless muppet of a ride leader getting lost around the ever changing building works around Cutty Sark Gardens. Then, just past the Cutty Sark pub, a cyclist not of our group who was returning from Woolwich explained that the ferry was not running, with no explanation provided. This was a major fail for a Tilbury cycling route that would take us along the Thames Path to Woolwich, and across the river using the ferry.
Instead, we had to cross the Thames through the Greenwich foot tunnel. That is bad enough at the best of times, but on this occasion only 14 of us went through the tunnel. Two of the original 16 - back marker Oliver and iPad Jane - became separated from the group somewhere in the maze of Cutty Sark Gardens, and were unaware of the ferry palaver. With no phone numbers stored, and a failed attempt to send an email by mobile phone later, the survivors of the trek through the tunnel proceeded east from Millennium Gardens in Poplar, following the river and docks to North Woolwich, where we joined our planned track to Tilbury.
Oliver and Jane established contact when we had reached the campus of East London Poly, but were stuck on the other side of the river, by the Woolwich Ferry terminal. Ho hum…
Still, spirits were high, and the ride to Rainham was enjoyable and trouble free. Several remarked on the interesting geographical contrasts encountered as we rode along river and through industrial estates. The odd transient patch of blue sky was also observed.
At the RSPB reserve we stopped for lunch, following which there was an interesting bordering on hair-raising ride along rough, narrow and overgrown paths, and over rickety bridges. Around five kilometres west of Tilbury, we came across a riverside patch of apple trees, and here we scrumped until our bags could carry no more.
The stretch of Thames riverside between Purfleet and Tilbury is a real treat for devotees of industrial history and psychogeography, and I am most grateful to our intrepid touring cyclist with nerves of steel, Tom Crispin, for having introduced me to this route a few years ago. Saturday's ride was supposed to be led by Tom, but other commitments led me to take his place.
Unfortunately, I forgot to pack my compact camera, and was unfamiliar with the workings of my phone snapper. I therefore have no photos of riders or the delights of the Thames Estuary to accompany this report. If any of the other riders have pictures that they could share, please send them to me by email.
Avoiding the restricted docks area, we rode around the houses of Grays, and approached the Tilbury ferry terminal from the north. Several riders left at this point, to catch a train home from Tilbury. Another three left at Gravesend station, leaving a small core to ride with me back to Greenwich via Greenhithe and Erith.
Building and riverside lights were coming on as we left Erith Pier, the sky had lifted a little, and the souwesterly wind lessened in its stiffness. The final 25 kilometres to Greenwich was taken at a brisk pace, despite tired legs and sore arses, and we hauled up at Cutty Sark Gardens, still smiling, at around seven of the clock.
Next Saturday: Hoo Pensinsula (details to follow - be prepared for an earlier than usual start!)