Ride report Saturday 11 November Gravesend and over
Twas a good and eclectic bunch that met at the Cutty Sark at around 10am: Andy, Elaine, Jim, Nigel, Phil, Steve, Teri, Tosca and me. Nice mix ranged from cheap mountain bikes to quietly expensive hand-built roadsters. Andy got the bottle-cage prize ..3 in all: water, orange juice and thermos of coffee,
Despite the dire weather forecast, mild and sunny. Wind at our backs.
We did the first 4 miles to Woolwich ferry on the main road the half-hearted white line bike lanes providing good parking for loads of cars and vans. At the ferry we hit the riverside path, the Arsenal bit not yet open despite earlier promises. The 1.5 mile diversion round the 300 yard Arsenal stretch is interesting but not signed at all. The really useful Sustrans Garden of England cycle route map (Greenwich 180 miles down the river, round the coast to Hastings mail order on 0117 929 0888, about a fiver) says of this bit "the route past the Royal Artillery Museum will be closed for much of 2000. Please take care when following the diversion signs". Any there any at all?
We got back onto the riverside as soon as we could, West Thamesmead. The next 6 mile stretch is really excellent, a mixture of concrete and gravel surfaces that takes you through a lonely wooded area, loads of rust belt, the Grade 1 listed Victorian Crossness Pumping station (sewage), brand new ELSIE next door all curvy huge and stainless steel and a cross between the Flood Barrier and Sydney Opera House. Congrats to Thames Water ..a modern shed would have served just as well to dry and cook our sewage into electricity for the national grid but they took some trouble to put up a beautiful modern building. Out of the pong came forth sweetness. Not Norman Foster, TWs in house team I think. ELSIE: East London Sludge Incinerator. Those dreadful Europeans made a reluctant British Government order it 10 years ago to stop all those barges dumping Londons crap in the North Sea. Good.
Loads of good birds along this stretch ..including good flock of green plover, shelduck and a few dunlin.
Then the Ford ferry that takes some workers over to the Dagenham factory.
Erith arrives at 11 miles .loads of house building on the riverside and unprompted obscenities from Essex man and girl in 4x4 tonka. The esplanade and pier by Morrissons supermarket is very seasideish, complete with anglers. We didnt do the river Darenth detour, to save some time, but it is an incredibly evocative part of the route, and got back onto the main road at Slade Green, sadly lacking signs. There is a real flaw here on the above mentioned Sustrans map .this stretch is blanked out by a box containing Dartford town centre. No sign at all of the M25 and cycle route under the Thames tunnel.
We went down to pretty Greenhithe village and tried to get along the riverside there and probably could have pushed our way through with mountain bikes and machetes. Some fascinating deserted piers hereabouts. We went back to Greenhithe and up onto the A26 for a bit. A couple of medium hills here that make a change after all the flatness, and then theres a left off the road and down a ridge between two huge factory filled chalk quarries. An overgrown alley has recently been cleared so all of a sudden youre right on the huge river and on the outskirts of Gravesend, opposite the 30s trans-Atlantic liner terminal, Tilbury container port, the power station and heavy working river. Loads of tugs moored here.
Gravesend is an interesting mess that the car hasnt quite ruined. In bits you can still feel the old coach road to London and the riverside is fascinating. Perhaps the smallest arts centre in the UK (Chantry Heritage Centre in a tiny old church) was open for once. It was now nearly 2pm so a fine old hotel of a pub (name forgotten) did for lunch .baked potatoes were the highlight of a limited menu, but very ok.
We decided to leave the Ship&Lobster for another time and got the 3.05pm ferry over to Tilbury (Saturday ferries go at 5 and 35 past the hour. No Sundays). £1.90 single with bike. Smart, tiny little boat. (NNB Sustrans .just east of the Erith esplanade is the old warehouse stretch and then very narrow alley between wall and fence theres a very dangerous raised drain cover half-way along that knocked Elaine off).
Quick look at Henry V111s Tilbury fort .turfed and star-shaped with 2 layer of moat, no time for another destination, the Victorian Coalhouse Fort 4 miles to the east. Next time.
Then west through boring Grays to the Dartford Bridge. Wed phoned in advance and waited 10 minutes for the police range-rover and trailer. Watch the trailer its floor is incredibly slimy-slippery. And you try not to look back at the bouncy backless trailer and the driver always says weve never lost a bike yet
And then it started raining. The 14 miles back to Greenwich along the main roads were very wet and windy but somehow the wind had turned and was again at our backs.
We split up back at the Cutty Sark .we should really have digested/dissected the ride properly over a beer but Id said Id meet some friends up on the South Bank and off I had to whiz. ..
So, 42 good miles in fine, weather that was fine until the last bit and nowhere near as bad as forecast. The 9 miles from West Thamesmead to the mouth of the Darenth is all riverside and a huge, unstated local resource that the Arsenal bit, when at last open, will help liberate.
I worry for the wild woody bits and all the estuary birds though. The history panels at Crossness tell you some good stuff about the works .and help hide you from the birds. The house builders though are moving into every local niche and cranny with their production lined look-alikes. So ride it soon before its Croydonised.