Thames path fiddle to Richmond, Saturday 9 June 2001.
10am Cutty Sark/NFT 10.45am/Thames Path to (Mortlake lunch 1.30pm) Richmond town centre via the two original meridians /Richmond Park (golf-course caff tea)/circumvelogation/Kew Bridge/Strand-on-the-Green/Dukes Meadows/Fulham football/Bishops Park/Battersea Bridge/Battersea Park/NFT/London Bridge/Greenwich 7pm.
On the train back from Lizs Sudbury ride only a week ago we decided to fill the gap in the diary .and do a ride the next Saturday. We told the Greenwich and Southwark e-lists and our 6 June AGM.
So 8 of us met at CSG on a lovely warm crisp sunny morning. (Liz, Richard, Simon, Casey, Claudine, Julian, Ayioko ).
I did a quick dive into the 10am opening Tourist Info Office to charm them some Bike Week leaflets ("7 Greenwich events, more than any other boro .") I was delighted to see a pile of Pedal Powers prominent on the counter ...but, curses, why so many left? Oh, we hate to run out and photocopy loads they said. Excellent. Hey, ace customer service. Go be nice to them.
Main roads to NFT where another 5 (Linda, David, Doug, Roger, Steve) were waiting (but none of the Southwark crew). A fine assorted bunch. Coffee in the sun in the familiar armpit of Waterloo Bridge. To mention the always smelly mens NFT loos (and theyd just opened for the day) might start to push the analogy too far). The increasing tacky tourist-trap alongside County Hall was already packed so we went through the middle and carried the bikes down the western steps of Westminster Bridge (love the Wheel but not the burger tack in this non-Margate context and am I wrong to worry about County Halls loss of dignity?) and then bazooked slowly along the prom through to Terry Farrells MI6 building. Great to see a new tunnel to push the prom under Vauxhall Bridge being worked on ..guys on site said it opens around Christmas. We rode the pavement round the huge Vauxhall Cross building site and hit the river again at Nine Elms Lane two minutes later.
Sun and lots of beaches at very low tide.
Some fascinating houseboat culture along this stretch, I cycled along the desperate Nine Elms motorways for years without knowing all this was there. Then on round Battersea Power Station, with new Victoria shuttle and re-building starting at last. Into the southeast corner of Battersea Park and up to the river again. Lovely park, oddly quiet. Over Albert Bridge Road and onto new prom past flash flats and Norman Fosters all-glass HQ. Ditto Battersea Bridge Road onto prom and past the triangular new slab of Richard Rogers Montevetro flats. Mountain of glass. It worried me a lot in construction Ive always loved the little church west of it in American colonial style and was guessed it would be dwarfed like the Greenwich prom almshouses. Not. The church has been liberated and now breathes again.
Oops. Bridge too far ..thats not a road bridge its the Battersea Reach rail bridge. We turned round and overed Battersea Bridge. On the pavement past the Cheyne Walk houseboats, past the Lots Road power station (twin of less used Greenwich ditto that both supply power to the tube. and closes soonish).
Theres a glorious link between the heavy power station and the new flats of Chelsea Harbour and a surprising meadow. The 30 acres of flats etc for Sands Wharf have just started building so we edged round that site to the fat backside of Fulham round the Hurlingham Club ..under the car-closed District Line arch by Putney Bridge station are bike racks .aptly enlightened use of reclaimed space.
Over busy Putney Bridge and onto the towpath proper past the rowing clubs oar houses and scene of my nose dive onto the gravel years ago. Id forgotten how rural it is along here ..the Barn Elms wetlands reserve, the beautifully converted Harrods Suppository and under cctved Hammersmith Bridge in new Harrods green. Richard Rogers HQ and wife Ruthies River Café opposite. (Im not into flash restaurants but if I was forced to eat anywhere Bella).
Past the secret hidden ex-reservoir at Lonsdale Road (Id wanted to share it but missed the entrance ..about 15 years ago there sat watching the birds I found in the mud a tiny rusty metal label the size of a 50p .."The Triumph, an improved garden seat with teak wood from old navy ships broken up. H Castle and Sons. Millbank, SW1" .Tate again).
The towpath seamlessly turned into prom pavement at Barnes so we stayed on it .and irritated two walkers. Pity.
The Ship at Mortlake by the vast Wanted brewery had ok food and it was 1.30pm. Inevitable tourist chat about noise of Heathrow low inbound planes here. (Do they still jettison fuel on the run-in?).Then 6 miles of quiet rural towpath past the disgracefully wrecked Government building by the brutal bunker-like Public Record Office and gorgeous Kew Gardens. Just past there at the Old Deer Park was a stainless steel post Id not seen before. A slit in it gave sightline to an obelisk* with fine building further behind it. Revelation. Text told us this was the site of the original meridian that predated ours at Greenwich. It was only in 1884 that the world (well, some of it) agreed to zero-base longitude at Greenwich. The house was the Kings Observatory with dome on top. (We speculated about the meridian staying in Kew ..The Dome wouldve gone there and Greenwich would have remained unregenerated and wed never have met because, unemployed, wed all had to become economic migrants and moved away ).
Richmond first lock on the Thames then Richmond riverside was busy of course under Quinlan Terrys pastiche cliff. Not aging well. Up the steep hill of Nightingale Lane. Liz Constabled and snapped us in front of his arcadian Thames panorama, past the sad Star and Garter Home and into Richmond Park. My London favourite. We did 2.5 miles of excellent 8 mile gravel track round the edge, and deer and super trees and green parakeets (saw several, heard loads more), and had tea and cakes at the golf-course café. Very Italian and very good. We sat on the littery grass in the hot sun. The lemony cheesecake was too high on sugar/too easy on the mozzarella. The strawberry ditto was better reviewed. So much better than Pembroke Lodge which has a fine building and one of Londons best views but permanent café queues. Odd that golfers clack around in cleats too.
Then the other 6 or so miles of gravel and out of the park . A rain shower and it got cold. Roger took the lead .down Kew Road and over that bridge and onto the north bank version of the towpath .Georgian Strand on the Green cottages, river lapping onto the road here, now high tide. Now sunny again. Surprisingly huge expanse of Dukes Meadows, then Fulham, past the Rogerss, Fulham Football ground and into Bishops Park by the palace. (In one of the Exorcist (I think) films Dr Who/Patrick Trough ton got kebab by the churchs javelin-like lightning conductor here. The huge rustling plane trees here always seem slightly spooky). Then under Putney Bridge to retrace our route. back over Battersea Bridge, thro park etc.
It being a sort of exit-menu ride, some rode off to central London, a couple went for the Barnes train to Waterloo and the rest of us went on to the South Bank again. Im not clear what happened but we lost half. The 3 of us drifted past Tate Modern and Norman (ask the engineers) Fosters Millennium Bridge. One decided to train it back from London Bridge to Greenwich from there. Richard and I hit the road to Greenwich.
Im always a bit sad when rides dissolve away like that, instant post-mortems are always fun. But, good day out in rural London with huge amount to take in and a route with endless permutations and drop-off/train back points.
And all on my big London A-Z. Amazing. And the trip meters said 50 miles. None of us felt wed done anything like that, but my trusty string and OS map just proved it.
A cheap, self-propelled, re-affirmation of life, and life, in the great city.