[Plenty more photos on Flickr]
This was not just a bike ride it was also a whistle-stop tour of many of London’s major tourist attractions. Angelika had left the length of the ride as a “challenge for riders with the gadget”, and when I showed her the final tally of 13½ miles she seemed a little disappointed. Ah, but a quality ride like this one does not need quantity as well!
We did have quantity in one respect – 11 of us gathered at Clapham Junction station for the start of the ride. As well as our resident Londoners Angelika (our leader) and Nick, and our temporary Londoners “Grandad” Roger and “Granny” Suzanne, Sussex was also well represented by Jenny, Rob, Joyce, Leon, Angela and myself; and we welcomed Ninka to her first Clarion ride. Battersea Park was soon reached, and brought back memories of childhood visits for some, although I gather the funfair is no longer there. Emerging from the park we met up with our twelfth rider, Richard, who had caught the train to London and hired a Boris Bike for the day. The sight of Battersea Power Station from Chelsea Bridge triggered a spontaneous Clarion Pop Quiz – on what Pink Floyd album did the power station figure? (Nick had the answer – Animals – and far more supplementary info than you would ever want to know.) And why was the previous album called Atom Heart Mother? Answers on a postcard please … While we waited for Richard to catch up, Joyce told us about her visit to Occupy London at St Paul’s, and the very positive atmosphere she encountered there.
But where was Richard? He was still on the south bank, and it looked like he was having trouble with the bike. Should we call Boris? But no, it turned out that he was helping Roger with a very unusual problem. Roger’s pannier strap had managed to wind itself around the gear cogs on his rear wheel and, after much fruitless tugging, Leon had to cut it off with his knife. We then fished it out with pliers.
We agreed that the association of the name “Boris” with London’s bike hire scheme was just a cheap electioneering trick by an over-privileged, overgrown public schoolboy, and should be resisted; nevertheless we couldn’t help feeling some gratitude to the mayor for the Cycling Superhighways. These are very wide, smooth, bright-blue cycle lanes, and they feel very safe. CS8 took us all the way along the north bank of the river to Westminster, where we admired the Abbey and surrounding buildings; then to our second park, St James’s, past Horse Guards and down a car-free Mall to Buckingham Palace; then Green Park, and into Hyde Park, following the Serpentine where we saw some cormorants (or were they … ?).
Over the Serpentine and into Kensington Gardens, past the Palace of the same name and down some narrow lanes to Holland Park. The café here was our lunch stop; some of us sat stoically outside but later regretted this, for there was a chill in the London air. After lunch there was plenty to see – a giant chess set, peacocks, and the Japanese garden with enormous koi carp, not to mention Holland House itself (we didn’t go in) with its intriguing mixture of architectural styles.
The return journey started off by going back along the same route, with a detour to see the Elfin Oak Tree and all the little elves and creatures. At Hyde Park Corner, however, we made straight for Victoria Station, saying farewell en route to Richard who had to “dock off” – which at first I thought was a term of abuse, before it was explained to me that it is what you do when you return a Boris Bike to its dock.
Angelika has London Bridge in her sights now; apparently the Thames Path is very cycle-friendly on that side of town. So if you were unfortunate enough to miss this marvellous ride, make sure you get the next one in your diary in good time. Thanks to Angelika for a lovely day out.