London to the Isle of Wight pt 3

Day three: Thursday 15th September

59km, av. 15.1km, max 52.8km/hr, 3hr 53 mins (MapMyRide)

Today’s ride is meant to be more leisurely, but there’s still a time constraint – getting the ferry back to the mainland in time for a 4.15pm train from Portsmouth Harbour. Also, with no swimming action yesterday, I’m determined to do at least one sea swim, so my plan is to check out as many of the beaches as time allows.

I’m on the road just after 9am (after a big breakfast), and first stop is the beach at Colwell Bay. But the tide’s in and it’s actually pretty chilly, so I don’t hang around. It’s a similar picture just down the road at Totland Bay (well, duh!) so I cycle on, up a massively steep hill towards Alum Bay and the Needles. The attractions here aren’t yet open, so I pretty much have the place to myself. I get a great view of the Needles, and those famous multi-hued crumbling cliffs.

Remarkably, the cable-car that I remember from my childhood holiday is still there and hasn’t fallen into the sea yet. It looks tiny though! When I was 8, going on it was possibly the most exciting thing that had so far happened in my life.

From here I hit the Alum Bay Old Road towards Freshwater Beach. Although the temperature’s rising it still doesn’t look that inviting, so I pedal on. Now on the Military Road (presumably built to allow the military to get all their firepower to the Needles Battery), the next beach stop is Compton Bay. Although there are now people in the sea (mostly surfers) and kids building sandcastles on the beach, it’s not quite what I’m after. Onwards…

The hills are getting bigger and seem to go on for longer – cliff passes, basically – and fatigue is creeping in as the temperature rises. It’s time for music, mostly songs that I listened to on the Asia trip (Nobody’s Empire by Belle & Sebastian) as motivation and a reminder that this is nothing really. It’s not even that hot in comparison to Cambodia…

Getting to Blackgang and beyond is a bit of a slog, but eventually done. At Niton there’s a junction and a choice. The quicker route – the one I was planning to take – via the appropriately named Undercliff Drive – is marked as ‘Road Closed’. The longer route via Whitwell is, well, longer, so I decide to ignore the warnings – which explicitly include cyclists and pedestrians (“that’s unusual”, I think to myself) – and hope that whatever is closing the road isn’t making it completely impassable.

There’s a big downhill to get to the scene of the closure, which makes me even more adamant that I’m not turning back. Before this, I speak to a lady pushing a pushchair if she thinks I’ll be able to get through. She says she’s heard people are getting through on bikes but can’t guarantee it. At the closure – there’s been a huge landslide from the cliffs above, by the looks of it – there’s a big wooden door across the whole road, and metal railings around it. I explore on foot and it seems pretty obvious that you can push your bike round it. The place is deserted so I decide to go for it.

Without too much difficulty I get through, and feel instantly vindicated. I hop back on and start riding, thinking “that’s it, I’m through”.

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Around the corner, another fence and more signs. Although most of the houses here seem abandoned, there is a lady in the front garden of one house and she tells me there’s no way through. Bugger. She says people are getting through when there are people working on the road, but not when they’re not, like today. She says the landslide happened two years ago!

Not to be defeated, I again investigate on foot as she and her husband look on. It seems much more difficult to get through the second layer of fences, but not impossible. There’s a rough, steep, slippy path in some scrubby woods to one side and, carrying first bike, then coming back for the panniers, I just about manage to get through. Just.

Cycling on, with the road at my sole use, I feel relieved to have squeezed through, then slightly nervous that some bored cops might pull me over for trespassing – there were surely CCTV cameras, as well as curtain twitchers, watching me.

I’m soon in Ventnor though, and worry quickly fades because I’ve finally found my beach nirvana. Fish and chip shop? Check. Hot sunshine? Check. Sandy beach? Check. Cool, clear waters and gentle waves? Check.

After a huge fish & chip lunch on the beach, I jump straight in (probably not advisable, but time is tight) and have 10 mins in the refreshing waters. Then, with the clock ticking, I have to dry off, pack up and get a move on, making a beeline for Shanklin, where I can pick up the train to Ryde, since I don’t think I’ve got the time or energy to cycle there and make the 3.47pm boat.

Although there is a cycle route on this stretch, I guess that since it’s off-road it will take longer, so I stick to tarmac. This means I have to go up another huge hill before a great stretch of downhill where I break the 50km/hr mark – with helmet dangling on my wing-mirror… oops!

I roll into Shanklin and make the train with about 10 mins to spare. From here, it’s a ticket to Ryde (always wanted to say that) on what can only be described as 2 old London tube carriages cobbled together to form a train.

It’s a rickety ride to Ryde, but fun, and I’m glad to not be slogging the final few inland miles, which don’t look especially scenic. Instead, there’s time for an ice cream on the beach before hopping on the ferry and then the train back to London, just before the sunshine gives way to massive thunderstorms. Fortunate timing!

It’s been a fun, challenging three days, although perhaps a bit more time to explore and relax wouldn’t have gone a miss. Maybe next time…

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A blue and groggy looking promenade train

London to the Isle of Wight pt 2

Day Two: Wednesday 14th September

118km, av. 18.5km/hr, max 47.8, 6hr 24 mins (MapMyRide Part one / Part two)

Day two is harder and longer than expected, despite the early start. Skipping breakfast (I still have food left over from yesterday), I’m on the road by 7.30am, aware that I’ve made a plan to meet a friend in Portsmouth for lunch at 12.30pm. I have no idea whether the wind will be in my favour, or how easy route navigation will be, so I decide to set off early and maybe, just maybe, get there early. All I know is it should be pretty flat.

Things start well, with a massive downhill from the youth hostel down to the seafront. Then, for the first 20 km at least, the wind is definitely behind me, as I cruise along effortlessly (OK, smugly) at 25km/hr, while hordes of huffing and puffing commuter cyclists go past in the other direction. It’s Cycle to Work day, so I shouldn’t be surprised to see so many of them.

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I pass through Worthing and I’m flying. At this rate I’ll be there by 11am. As usual though, things deteriorate. A mixture of tiredness, hunger, lack of concentration, strong headwinds, and crap route-marking all seem to conspire against me for the rest of the way. I guess I coulda shoulda done some actual route planning, rather than assuming everything would be sign-posted. The problem is that I’m not sure what route I’m following, National Route 2 or the South Coast CycleWay. They seem pretty interchangeable to be honest, and the marking is massively hit and miss.

At one point, NCR2 points me into a sort of park-cum-school-playing-field, but then doesn’t tell me how to get out of it. And more than once I end up on the really busy and fast A259, with no path or hard-shoulder. I don’t mind riding on roads, but this is one I don’t feel safe on and instinctively want to escape from at the earliest opportunity.

A can of coke at Bognor Regis (ah, the glamour!) restores some energy and purpose, and from here it’s inland on quieter roads to Chichester, and then on the (now much quieter) A259 to Havant and, eventually, Portsmouth. I meet Tom at 12.45pm, so only 15 minutes late in the end.

For lunch we head to Southsea, which to me still feels like Portsmouth but I’m assured is most definitely not, to Pie and Vinyl. I’m really interested to see this place, and to eat a massive pie of course. Happily, as well as their own pies, they do Pieminister, so I order my old fave, the Heidi Pie. It’s a great little joint, with quirky decor and a well stocked vinyl shop, even if it does feel a little cramped.

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There’s just time for a (possibly ill-advised) lager shandy in the sunshine at the harbour, before saying farewell to Tom and heading straight onto the 3.15pm catamaran sailing to Ryde. The 22 minute crossing is smooth as you like, and on the other side memories of Bestival (endless queues, carrying my rucksack along that bloody long pier) come flooding back. This time though, I have the pleasure of cycling effortlessly along the wooden slats to dry land.

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My target for the afternoon is to cycle across the island and make it to the hostel for about 6pm, so that I can put in my order for food at 7. I take the main road towards the ‘capital’, Newport, where somehow I end up on what must be the only stretch of dual carriageway on the island. Nice one, Joe!

The main road across the island, the ‘Middle Road’, is surprisingly busy so, part by accident and part by design, I take a slightly quieter route to the north, which takes me to Yarmouth. It’s hilly, but mostly those fun undulating hills that you zoom down and then momentum takes you halfway up the other side.

There’s the occasional bit of cycle route too, this time NCR22, but again, it’s piecemeal and sometimes frustrating. There’s a stretch which takes me off the main road, then the signposts give up, it take me a couple of minutes to get back on track, and within a few hundred yards, the route’s taken me back onto the main road again! Thanks, NCR22.

The only interesting thing that happens is  meeting a fellow cyclist heading the other way who is in need of some air in his tyres. Amazingly, I have a pump (unused up until now since I still haven’t had a puncture on the Dawes) and I am able to be of use to someone. Hurrah for forward planning!

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Yarmouth is pretty, and I have a little rest at a sweet spot overlooking the sea, the boats of Lymington in the distance. From here there is a proper cycle route, on the disused railway line, which takes me very close to my final destination. This is a lovely little stretch, with calm creek waters to the right, the odd dog walker, and yet more blackberries to scoff.

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I roll into the YHA at Totland (this time well sign-posted and easily found) around 6.15pm, to a very warm reception from the housekeeper, and well in time for dinner. My fears of there being no room at the inn are unfounded – I’m the only person eating and I have the entire dorm room to myself.

This is more like it! Peace, solitude, and a bottle or two of Ale of Wight to end the day. Bliss.

London to the Isle of Wight pt. 1

With a week’s annual leave booked, and without the requisite short-haul flight for yet another anodyne city break to go with it, I started to think closer to home. The weather forecast for the week was spectacular (including the hottest day of the year so far – in mid-September), so a three day trip by bike to the Isle of Wight seemed like the obvious thing to do.

Day one, Tuesday 13th September 

At least 93km, av 17.4km/hr, max 47.3, 5hr 22 mins (route on MapMyRide up to the point the battery died)

For day one, I decide to keep things relatively straightforward, with a ride from SE14 to a youth hostel just outside Shoreham-by-Sea. On paper, around 90km. On the hottest day of the year.

Due to having some errands to run, I don’t get going until about 10.30am, by which time it’s already pretty damn hot. I head out of London via my ‘usual’ route through Croydon, Purley, up onto the expanse of Farthing Downs, and then that awesome downhill over the M25 that I’ve come to know and love. It’s then familiar country roads to Redhill, followed by a stretch on the Brighton Road, down past Horley.

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Here, road fans, I decide to stick with the more direct B2036 rather than the route suggested by Google Maps, which in retrospect is perhaps a mistake. This is a busy, narrow, fast road. Not massively fun to cycle. It got me thinking, is there an online map that shows how busy/fast (and therefore safe for cyclists) a road is, because clearly being an A or B road doesn’t really mean much in this respect. Turns out Google Maps does this already (of course it does), so will give this a go next time.

The road passes close to Gatwick Airport, and I enjoy a noisy lunch in a field right under the flight-path, as Sleazyjets take off over my head every couple of minutes.

After crossing over the M23, the road passes through woodland, providing some welcome shade, and then a turn onto the B2110 through Handcross provides respite from the traffic.

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There’s then a bit on the MapMyRide map where I seem to have gone on a bit of a tangent. I was trying to take a shortcut across some farmland to Burnthouse Lane, but it turns out that while there is a footpath, it’s got one of those annoyingly non-bike-friendly kissing gates halfway through the route, and there’s just no getting through. It’s also a ‘permissive’ footpath (ie: the local residents don’t really want you there at all, since the path passes through their estates) so I decide to give up and turn back rather than having the hounds set upon me.

After a pit-stop at the crazily air-conned Co-op in Cowfold to pick up some essential supplies (a nice cold cider and some Skittles), I carry on – making pretty good progress. Eventually I pick up my old friend the Downs Link, only this was the bit that I missed last time I cycled on it. It’s great to be finally cycling off-road and the path isn’t as bumpy as some of the other stretches.

Pretty soon I pass over a small river, the River Adur, with the sun still hot in the sky. It’s about 5pm, the perfect time for a swim, so I lock up and wander down to investigate. The river is barely moving, although there is a lot of weed and mud. It looks a little like other people have clambered down the bank before me, so decide it’s probably safe. One foot in to the soft mud, then another, and I’m in. So refreshing! There’s not much room to swim before becoming entangled in weeds, but it’s still totally worth it.

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Afterwards, I crack open the cider and enjoy what can only be described as a few minutes of bliss. The warmth, the stillness, the sense of having got here under my own steam, with 80km on the clock. This is why cycling rocks.

Conscious of the fact I need to be at the hostel by 7pm to get dinner, I can’t hang around too long though and it’s back on the road. I also keep on getting distracted by the plentiful and oh-so-tempting blackberries at my every turn. And sheep.

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It’s somewhere around here that phone #1 dies and I’m trying to navigate the last bit with phone #2 and its shonky GPS. Big mistake not to check the exact instructions and route for finding the hostel. Because it is literally in the middle of nowhere, on the top of a hill on the South Downs Way.

I totally miss the path (since I’m expecting a road) and cycle on way too far, almost all the way to Shoreham, as dusk falls. I end up turning around and pushing the loaded bike up a steep, bumpy track – the South Downs Way – in semi-darkness, finally arriving at the hostel at half 7, having done well over 100km… (my bike pedometer is playing up as well, recording only 93km). Knackered, but hugely relieved that they’ve kept my dinner!

The hostel itself is fine, if a bit basic (no plug sockets in the bedroom, what’s up with that?), and quite busy. I’m too tired to socialise so, after a much-needed shower, I just read and watch the news before nodding off to sleep in the super-warm, super-snory dorm.

Bike near Beachy Head

Ambling around SE England, part 2

Day two: 62.3km, av. 15.3km/hr, max 49.2km/hr, time on bike: 4hrs 3 mins

The plan for day two is to take it easy, cycle to somewhere with a station and then head home. I debate heading deeper into the South Downs, towards Royal Tunbridge Wells or perhaps the High Weald AONB, but decide I’ve had enough of hills.

I think to myself that I’ll stick to the coast where it’s flat, and have an easy ride to Eastbourne. Unfortunately there’s the small matter of the South Downs where they turn into the huge cliffs at Seaford Head and Beachy Head to content with.

Once the morning rain eases, I head out of the YHA and head south towards Newhaven, via a field full of sheep and a path covered in sheep shit. Bike and, to a lesser extent, rider, are both covered in the stuff by the time I escape their enclosure.

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There’s not much to see at Newhaven, so I head east – and into a strong headwind – toward Eastbourne, on NCN Route 2 . It’s not brilliantly marked but I do eventually manage to find the remains of Turnmills, a small village built around a tidal mill and evacuated in the 1930s after one too many flood. I also come across a bizarre road which ends with a roundabout and two roads to nowhere. Maybe the money ran out.

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From here it’s on to Seaford, passing one of the Martello towers along the way. It’s unfortunately closed today. After admiring the spectacular cliff view, I head inland, following Route 2, but at a junction which is missing a marker, I decide to take a right, and end up at the top of the cliff, Seaford Head, and find myself cycling around a golf course / nature reserve! Exploring on foot, I come across a small wooded area / cubby hole with a path leading into it, so have a look. Inside I spot about 5 or 6 empty packets of codeine + paracetamol . Not a great thing to take when you’re next to 100ft cliffs. Hope the person didn’t jump.

Speeding back downhill, I pick up the route again, which then sends me cycling through more fields full of sheep. This is pretty off-road stuff that a road bike might struggle with, but I just about manage it on my tourer. It’s great fun though, and the views are pretty great too as you head down towards the Cuckmere River.

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After crossing the river I again must have missed a routemarker as I find myself going uphill on the busy-ish A259, not a massively fun experience. At Friston I spot a chance to take a right and head towards Beachy Head, so take it. Immediately back on quiet roads and countryside, and the clouds start to lift. Beachy Head is spectacular, and spectacularly accessible. I don’t quite realise how close to the edge of the cliff I got (for a photo, obvs) until thinking about it after. Anyway, it’s a great spot for lunch.

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From here, there’s more up, until eventually there is no more up, and it’s all downhill towards Eastbourne. By the time I’ve got there the skies have cleared and it’s positively beach weather. I celebrate with some fish and chips (eaten indoors, to avoid the seagull attacks), where I bump into the OAP guy from the hostel last night. He’s on a motorbike, and despite leaving the hostel later than me, arrived at Beachy Head much earlier, when it was still covered in thick cloud and drizzle. My timing, it turns out, was impeccable.

I then have a wander around the pier (there’s literally nothing to see) and a bit of a sunbathe on the beach. It’s even warm enough (just) to dip a toe in the sea.

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It’s now decision time. Do I spend another hour or two chillaxing with all the oldies in Eastbourne, taking care not to be hit by a mobility scooter and maybe checking out the model railway village(!) Or do I cycle on to the next place of note, Bexhill, where I can check out the De La Warr Pavllion if I get there before 6. I decide to go for it. Into the headwind, again… Why Joe, Why?

The ride isn’t that great, mainly because I lose Route 2 somewhere along the way, and end up on the now massively busy, super-fast A259 instead of the no-doubt lovely Herbrand Walk route. And, truth be told, the Pavilion is a bit disappointing. I’ve seen it before, and think I was disappointed last time, too. At least I made it in time before it closed for the day.

And with that, the day is done and I hop on the train back to the Big Smoke. An enjoyable couple of days although I probably shoulda stopped in Eastbourne. Sometimes you can cycle too much!

 

Dead wood forming natural sculpture among flowers

Ambling around SE England, part 1

Day one: 124.5km, av. 17.4km/hr, max 45.9 km/hr, calories 1668, co2 saved 18.6, time on bike: 7hrs 7 mins  (a new record!)

With the sun shining and an unexpected few days off work and in the UK (plans to cycle in Germany as part of the ride to Ende Gelande didn’t quite come off) I decide instead to ride for a couple of days in SE England, staying over night at a youth hostel for the first time. I’m no youth but I’m reliably informed that doesn’t matter any more, and at £13 a night (£10 for members) you can’t really argue.

I set off relatively early (for me) at around 10.30am in glorious sunshine on my now usual route out of South London, although this time going via Sydenham Hill station (Fountain Drive) to get to Crystal Palace, which is a much nicer route and makes me wonder why I haven’t done it before – it also avoids the absolutely killer steep bit directly up Sydenham Hill Road.

After Croydon and Purley I take a right and head towards Banstead. Somewhere near Epsom I end up cycling right through the racecourse, which is kind of odd, and then through some woods along a bumpy, steep uphill dirt track which is part of the national cycle network (Route  22) but would surely be impassable in winter. Fun though!

Eventually I get beyond the M25, though this time  via a dark little tunnel going under, rather than a euphoric downhill woosh going over. Beggars can’t be choosers; it’s still great to escape London’s clutches.

Suddenly, I’m in the Surrey Hills and find myself back on Leith Hill, for want of taking the quieter route. I stop for lunch part 1 (split lunch into two halves for double the enjoyment) at the top, in woods, sitting on a log as the birds sing around me and the sunshine peaks through. It’s lush. As is the downhill…

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Back on the main roads, I dick-up near Dorking, riding about an extra 5km for no good reason. Back on track, I suddenly find myself again in glorious countryside, heading towards Coldharbour. Whizzing downhill, ringing my bell thrilled at how amazing it is to be cycling here in such beautiful, green surrounding, I (stupidly) get my phone out to take a photo and somehow capture the moment (you can’t, silly!)

At this point, with only one hand on the bars, I hit some kind of pothole and nearly – oh so nearly – come off. I pull on the brakes instinctively, skid a little, and head towards the verge, but somehow stay upright. I breathe a huge sigh of relief and begin to think just how much damage I might have just done to myself had I come off at 35km/hr, which is probably what I was doing. And of course while I packed a tool kit in case the bike needs any patching up, I didn’t pack anything to patch myself up…

Lesson well and truly learnt.

Finally, and a little later than planned, I hit the Downs Link in the village of Rudgwick. The link is a cycle track on an old railway line down to Shoreham, shut after the infamous Beeching report in the 1960s. The guy rightly gets a lot of stick, but at least on the plus side we now have a legacy of green corridors for wildlife and cyclists, walkers, and horse riders.

The first thing I come across is the crazy double bridge, which also makes a great lunch (part 2) stop. They built one bridge but then realised it was too low, making the gradient too steep for trains to get to the nearby station, so they built a second bridge on top of it. Genius. Nearby there’s a beautiful glade and nature’s own sculpture…

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From here on the ride is enjoyable, although the surface is a bit tricky at times (you couldn’t do it on a road bike), and I do start to yearn for a bit of tarmac. Or just a track you can ride on without shaking all of your bones. It’s also sometimes a bit weird being stuck in a green corridor without much of a view – although it would be amazing in summer if you need shade. By now, it’s clouded over and there’s even a few spots of rain when I stop at the abandoned station of West Grinstead, so it’s actually quite gloomy cycling under the canopy.

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Somewhere near West Grinstead, my phone (and with it MapMyRide) dies, and it’s around here that I accidentally lose the Downs Link route as it passes through a housing estate. But this is no bad thing as I need to get to a place called Southease (love that name!) in time for dinner at 7pm, so it’s time to get back onto the roads.

I end up on the A281 heading through / over the South Downs, near to Devil’s Dyke, passing the 100km mark as I do. I won’t lie, it’s hard work, but I push on through, and then enjoy the long descent into Brighton.

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There’s no time to enjoy any of the attractions in Brighton though, and I ride on, via the coastal path that I last cycled on in December, with the waves crashing over the sea wall. There’s no such drama this time, but it’s still great to be beside the sea, after a day spent cycling in the countryside. Eventually, Google Maps tells me to take a bridleway for the last bit of the route.

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The bridleway is basically grass, uphill, through a huge field. Completely nuts but good fun. It eventually returns me to a road, and there’s a final bit of downhill joy before I eventually hit the Youth Hostel at Southease. It’s in an old farm building and has real character. I’m just in time for dinner (no time for a shower first) so I literally sit down and then eat. Lots. It’s pizza and I have to say I temporarily put any pretence of being vegan or even veggie aside as I pig out.

Apart from post a load of pics to Instagram, and chat to the two guys I have dinner with (one a retired guy riding a motorbike, the other a young Lithuanian carpenter staying overnight between jobs), there’s not too much to do other than go to sleep. I’m in bed by 11, tired but glad to have cycled further in one day than I ever have before!

To Windsor with London Bike & Beer

96.7km, av. 19.1km/hr, max 47.2km/hr, CO2 offset 14.5kg, time bicyclating: 5hrs 2 mins

Sunday 13 March is a glorious, sunny day, but still really quite cold. London Bike & Beer group have organised a ride to Windsor and, although I’ve been to a gig on Saturday night and getting out of bed so early on a Sunday is a struggle, I’m glad I did.

I cycle on my own to Richmond Park – having done it a couple of times now I almost don’t need to check the map – but I am rather late and get the feeling they may have already left. I kind of dawdle around the cafe for a while, considering my options (maybe a few laps around the Park and then a relaxing ride back to SE London) when I spot Sophie, who’s organising this ride and who I know from previous events. It turns out I’ve been stood right next to the LB&B lot, I just don’t recognise any of them, since they’re pretty much all different to the people I cycled to Box Hill with.

These guys have been here for a while so as soon as I’ve found them, we’re off. This time the pace is more manageable, in the Park at least, and it’s quite a big group (maybe 18 of us at the beginning), so I don’t have the same worries about keeping up.

We also manage to go the whole day without any serious mechanical faults or even punctures slowing us down, which is a rarity on rides like this. And we have a nice easterly wind pushing us westward most of the time. There are still the long stops at shops and service stations for people to use the toilets, get a coffee and roll a cig. We also spend a good 15 minutes trying to figure out where a girl who got left behind after stopping to take photos of some ducks is, and whether she can catch us up. She never does, but we do later see her in Windsor.

I’m not entirely sure about the route we take, as it’s definitely not direct. It starts off similar to the Box Hill ride, passing Hampton Court Palace, and then through Walton on Thames and on towards Chertsey and, eventually, Chobham Common, where the landscape opens up. On a grassy spot by the road we take an impromptu lunch break, as some of the group are feeling the effects of the hills – which haven’t been massive but if you’re on a bike with only 3 or 5 (or no) gears, I guess they’re gonna be hard work. We also lose a couple of riders who turned up on mountain bikes and are finding the pace and/or the distance a challenge.

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At one point we cycle past the same junction for a second time; I’m thinking either it’s a weird case of deja-vu or I’m going slightly mad, but apparently it’s all part of the plan. By this point Sophie has dropped out as she’s finding it tough going, which means we’re back in the hands of speedy Sam, who’s super-fit and has a snazzy road bike, which makes him super speedy. He and some other road-bikers tend to cycle off ahead then wait at junctions or turnings for everyone else to catch up. It’s kinda weird, and also means for the slower peeps trying to keep up, they never really get to rest and always feel like they’re holding everyone else back, which is why people tend to drop out, I think.

I like the idea of riding in a group, but the question of pace is always asked by people in advance of the rides, and the same response is always given – “we don’t go that fast and we’ll always make sure we never leave anyone behind”. The second part is true, but I definitely think there’s a case for organising separate rides for the speedy road-bike crew, and ‘leisure’ rides for people who enjoy cycling, just not that fast.

Maybe it’s me, but there’s also a strange lack of camaraderie on these rides. Sam’s a great navigator but maybe not such a great communicator, and people don’t really talk to each other that much. I guess the truth is, compared to the London to Paris ride, I just haven’t found ‘my people’ yet on these other rides – maybe I should organise one (or just go off on a long ride by myself for a change).

Riding through Windsor Great Park is good fun though. The view from the top of the hill down the Long Walk towards Windor Castle is pretty cool, and yep, we also see lots of deer. There’s a ridiculous moment when a park ranger asks us to split into two smaller groups – max 6 riders per group – because other park users can find cyclists “intimidating” (but Toad of Toad Hall, sorry, Prince Andrew, ramming the park gates in his Land Rover, that’s just fine).

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We end the ride in Windsor and at this point I peel off on my own. I think it was the hanging around outside all the different food places with everyone trying to group-decide where to go, while starving, that prompted me to abandon them! I get some soup and bread from Eat and then head off for a little ride around town (not much to see, just some posh bird’s Castle), then onto Eton, where the whiff of privilege is pretty pungent. It’s ridiculous that this little anachronistic enclave continues to have such a strong impact on my life thanks to Cameron, Boris and the Royal Family.

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I cycle to Datchet station, via yet another crossing of the Thames (must be about the 6th of the day!) to pick up the direct train back to Waterloo – the easterly wind means I’m in no mood to cycle back west into London. Despite having my gloves on all day (that’ll be that cold easterly wind again), when I get home I realise my nose is sunburnt. In March.

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Critical Mass riders over Waterloo Bridge

Critical Mass London

After working from home on Friday, it took some effort to drag my bones out of the house to join the first Critical Mass ride of the year. But drag my bones I do, and cycle my flesh over to Waterloo for what will be my first ever ride on a Critical Mass.

After one of the Lewisham Cyclists warned me that they were a bit crazy, and a bit too confrontational for her liking, I’m quite excited by the prospect, but also in a weirdly anti-social mood. (That’s what working at home all day with no human contact does to you.) I’m also late, which makes finding the London Beer & Bike’s pre-meet in Bernie Spain Gardens a bit tricky. By the time I’ve got there, they’ve already gone.

Not entirely sure where the main ride leaves from, I cycle around Waterloo until eventually I spot them. They’re not hard to miss, whatever sense you’re using – the sight of 100s of flashing bike lights, the din of the competing sound systems, or the smell of herbals being smoked liberally.

I don’t recognise anyone, so I just start cycling, but this time I’m not making any particular effort to socialise. We head over Waterloo Bridge – there must be around 200 riders in total – and it’s a pleasure to be slowing up the traffic again while listening to one of the filthiest track ever recorded (to much hilarity…)

As we approach the Strand, rather than go over Aldwych we head into the normally ‘cars-only’ underpass. This is one of the roads/tunnels I’ve always wanted to do on a bike, but never had the balls to do alone, so cycling it in a big group is amazing. Bells ringing, people whooping and cheering. I open my can of cider on the way out to celebrate.

We carry on up Holborn, and I help ‘block’ at the junction outside the tube station. One taxi driver is getting particularly wound up. When I tell him we’re blocking the junction for his safety and ours (with a can of cider in my hand) his eyes almost pop out of his head. Taxi drivers need to chill out.

It’s a similar story at Euston, with the traffic on the Euston Road not liking it one bit when we block them, even though we’re basically just stopping them for a couple of minutes as they sit in a traffic jam anyway. This is the strange thing about driver aggro at being ‘stopped’ by a load of bikes.

The mood on the ride is good natured and fun. Sure, there are a few naughty kids in bandanas and there are a few riding BMX’s etc doing pretty stupid stunts and jumps in the path of oncoming cars – ducking away at the last minute. It’s not particularly dangerous or scary though, and for the most part Londoners seem either bemused or are supportive, with plenty of cheers from onlookers and the odd honk from drivers going the other way.

At Camden I decide to call it a night as I have to be back in south London in about 40 minutes time (I’m late, needless to say). Cycling back south, having to stop at red lights and generally behave, is definitely less fun than being part of a Critical Mass. I reckon I’ll be back for more next month.