The Last Ride: 1 July: East Croydon to Greenwich

7 July 2012

Just before leaving for the station I saw a Facebook message from a friend doing the Capital to Coast 60-mile bike ride to and from Hove, saying they had already had hail, rain and strong winds so we packed or wore all the bad-weather gear & raced up, down and up Brighton’s hills to catch the 10.10 fast train to East Croydon. Met ride leader Jim and early arrivals Sue and Rob at the appointed tram stop. Messages to Tessa and Angelica confirmed they were on their way but would be 10 minutes late. Phone call to our son Leon revealed he’d be 20 minutes late, so we agreed that the first six would set out and Mick would wait for Leon and catch us all up at the first park.

Jim led us six carefully over the tramlines and across the traffic, beneath the skyscrapers of East Croydon to the quiet suburban roads that were marked as bike-tracks. It was a fairly complicated route and Mick and Leon went awry as were given more direct (busier roads) directions but, after a couple of phone-calls, we were reunited. Nobody around in the park to take photos of the start of the ride so we saved that for later and continued semi-circumnavigating the deserted park, up a little hill, across some more tramlines, then a major road with pelican crossing. Here we were delighted to see a fast procession of thirty or so ponies and traps & horses and carriages, trotting and cantering down the hill, some waving and some weaving among the sparse traffic.


Having read in the previous night’s Argus that the Avenue Verte was now complete from London to Paris, I was looking forward to rejoining it (i.e., NCN21) in the wood in Spring Park, although I had missed some of Jim’s previous rides. At the blue NCN sign we bumped into a woman cyclist and her dog – she kindly took the group photo and posed for the camera as mascot.

1. In The Wood

Having gone east from Croydon we now headed north to Greenwich. Emerging from another park we were all feeling peckish, and Leon shared his home-made flapjacks to tide us over till we reached the Viceroy Indian Restaurant with its promised buffet lunch. Restaurant looked deserted but food soon arrived and was agreed to be good by all. I was glad to see a couple more customers arrive as we left.

Now the route went through a number of different styles of parks and we could enjoy the green peace and see a few other cyclists and a very few children enjoying the playgrounds. Where was everybody? Had they all gone to Hove for the 60-miler? Several picturesque spots merited photo-stops:

Views from the bridge of the two clear, shallow rivers (Pool & Ravensbourne) converging.


View ffrom the Bridge,over the confluence of the Pool & Ravensbourne Rivers.

An amazing, huge, deserted, wooden climbing frame in a wild park.

Amazing wooden climbing frame;abandoned. wish I could read the sign.

And then a helter-skelter of a bike and walkers’ bridge, which provided shelter when the rains came.


Up till then Sue and I had juggled our fleeces and cheap Lidl rain jackets as we sweated or shivered in succession. Rain didn’t last long, only until we were all geared up and then had to remove it all again as few feeble rays of sun appeared. As befits a Waterlink Way beside shallow, clear water, beneath willows and superb beech and plane trees, there were no hills to heat or hinder us, and we arrived at the Thames at Greenwich having enjoyed traffic-free trails the whole of the afternoon.


It was our 45th wedding anniversary so I’d hoped to meet daughter and grandchildren at Greenwich Park, but they were stuck at Westfield shopping for kids’ shoes, so we Barry three left the Clarion group to race out via Greenwich Tunnel and Isle of Dogs, to try to cycle to the Olympic Park and its nearby shopping centre, the largest in Europe. We were beneath the newly opened gondola to ExCel and cycled the blue, so-called cycle superhighway. I was disgusted that the DLR refuses to take bikes, but eventually we reached Westfield and found out where all the Londoners go on Sunday: shopping! The nearby new green “park” is closed off and will cost £10 to enter during the Olympics, but we had a view of the Anish Kapoor sculpture and the Olympic site from the concrete jungle of Westfield. Took a train from there to Liverpool Street and cycled to London Bridge station, having photo taken on the bridge with newly installed Olympic Rings hanging from Tower Bridge in background, and newly completed Shard to the side. Arrived home 9.30 pm for last minutes of the Euro football final, twelve hours after our start. From web reading of CTC accounts of cycling that ride I see that Jim did a fine job of navigating, and thank him heartily for a memorably Super Sunday.


Jim adds:

16. Old Royal Naval College

After the departure of the Barrys for a family reunion in deepest Stratford, Angelika led the remaining four of us across the wonderful Greenwich Foot Tunnel, and into the equally wonderful Island Gardens Café for a much-needed tea and cake stop on this very scenic north bank of the Thames, with its view across the water of the old Royal Naval College and the Observatory.

13. Greenwich Foot Tunnel

15. Island Gardens Cafe

We were now on the Isle of Dogs, and were given a comprehensive tour, initially east and northwards along the river bank, catching sight of the Millennium Dome (O2), the new Thames Cable Car and, in the distance, the Olympic stadium. Then inland alongside the West India Dock (which effectively cuts the island off from the mainland), towards the scene of much recent criminality, the Docklands banking district. (Oddly enough, though, I saw no police “scene of crime” tape.)

We chatted briefly to the crew of a Polish sailing ship (Zawisza Czarny) and then it was off again across the island.

20. Zawisza Czarny

There had been very little evidence of old buildings remaining from the time when the docks were in use, and very little photographic evidence either; but now we did encounter some cobbled streets, and saw a few old buildings that had been modernised and a few that hadn’t; and we found a few historical noticeboards, though there could have been more.

21. Old and New

Emerging back onto the Thames but now on the west side of the island, we worked our way westwards and crossed Tower Bridge, joining a much more crowded path on the southern side for the final leg of the ride, to London Bridge station – dominated by the now-complete Shard – and the Brighton train.


Thanks to Angelika for a wonderful tour absolutely packed with interest. And a good day to see it all – we all knew that, 24 hours later, these streets would be sullied by hordes of braying bankers swilling champagne bought with our money.



The last ride: Sunday 15 May – NCN21 Gatwick to East Croydon

17 May 2011

[Many more photos on Flickr]

Eleven Clarionistas converged from all points (well London, Lewes and Brighton) to the very “unbike” atmosphere of Gatwick airport: Angela, Eogain, Helen, Jim, Joyce, Nick, Rob, Roger, Sean, Sikka, Suzanne. After welcoming our two new recruits, Eogain and Rob, we posed for our usual photo in front of a “No Access” sign, which we ignored because it was actually NOT no access, but in fact the way out … (our first example of independent thinking!).

01 At the Airport

We were very soon in the different world of the Gatwick Country Park, amidst the riot of greenery and the lake covered in water lilies. This was in fact a preview of the whole ride where the richness of nature in an area of which, I for one, knew nothing was a complete revelation. Who could guess that a ride between Gatwick and East Croydon (hardly propitious starting points) could be so beautiful and so richly green and varied?

03 Fixing the Sign

Onwards along the NCN 21, except when the sign was wrong (our second moment of independent thinking …). Jim had picked up a mistake on his recce ride, so instead of going right we carried straight on but not until, in a commendable act of public responsibility, he had put up the new professional-looking sticker he had made. He also undertook to contact the Local Authority to inform them.

02 Modified Sign

We then sailed on through what was to characterise this ride: a varied mix of quiet roads, cycle lanes, good bridleways, stony bumpy routes, nature reserves and woodland, and, whatever Jim said, some hills … On route, and once again not conforming when we eschewed the (correct) NCN21 sign to turn left because, as informed by Jim, part had been surfaced with fragments of tile and glass! But we soon picked it up. As we rode on we passed the new housing estate built on the site of the former Parcels Concentration Depot (a site of nostalgic memories for Jim).

After about 8 miles we came to our second nature reserve “the Moors”. Amazing vistas, large expanses of water and a sensation of being totally remote from any urban area. It was here we saw a cormorant – there was some debate as to whether it was in fact a shag, but I settle confidently for cormorant after checking. It was standing on a pole, totally still, with its wings held out to dry and I hope there is a good photo, it was magic. And all this it seems is formed from an old quarry – uplifting to see how nature can re-establish itself.

05 Cormorant or Shag

After more lovely quiet paths we finally came to Inn on the Pond for what everyone now needed – lunch. I couldn’t help thinking we were rather downmarket compared to the usual Sunday clientele of this establishment, particularly when we were shown to our table and noted the napkins and the wine glasses (no hope for baked potato here!). Our first discussion was about their intention to take orders at the table and not allow us to go and order our own food from the bar. But it ended to the satisfaction of everyone when they undertook to separate the bill so that everyone’s order would be clear and we would not have the dreadful calculations as to who had what, and it did work! And the food, expensive though it was, was very good, although the hour that Jim had foreseen for lunch turned into nearer two hours.

Nevertheless it did prompt the perennial discussion about picnics. I am well known as a picnic fan. Although of course the pub in winter is a welcome sight and I am very happy to follow the general wish. But now that the summer is coming maybe we should think a bit about the option of a picnic, perhaps combining the two when possible. Maybe this is a discussion for the Google forum …

09 The Ascent

After lunch we soon discovered that the break was a prelude to our greatest challenge on the ride. Although we did reach that before our next pleasure: the Spynes Mere Nature Reserve (yes another one), this time an ex sand quarry. Then on through green lanes, bridleways (some very bumpy) to the ascent to the North Downs – up the hill that Jim had said was the “only hill on the ride” Ha! But this one was indeed of a different nature to the ones we had already experienced. Steep, very stony and long! Most of us after a desultory attempt gave up and walked, but Eogain, Rob and Roger heroically stayed on. It was all worth it of course because the view was indeed magnificent.

10 At Caterham Viewpoint

Then the run down to Caterham station where we said goodbye to Nick and Eogain who had commitments to meet. The rest of us pressed on – little realising (well me anyway) the seeming endlessness of Croydon suburbs, and there were hills here too! This was Jim’s van territory in his previous job, so it was very familiar to him, otherwise I don’t think we would ever have found our way out. After ambling through the Croydon suburbs, by now weary, I think I can speak for many if not all the others when I say that in all the years I have passed through East Croydon station I have never seen it with such relief.

11 The View

What a ride – we must have ridden just about every form of surface, seen an enormous variety of environment, it felt like a dozen rides in one; and although it was only 27 miles on my clock it most certainly felt like more to me and I don’t doubt for some others. A full and rich ride – thanks Jim.


The next ride: Sunday 15 May 2011 – Gatwick Airport to East Croydon

3 May 2011

Please be clear that while all are welcome to join us we each take part in rides at our own risk.

Sunday 15 May 2011
Gatwick Airport to East Croydon
Gatwick – Horley – Earlswood – Redhill – Nutfield Marsh – Caterham – Purley – Croydon

“Have your fun
On Route 21 …”

This is the first of a series of special rides featuring National Cycle Network Route 21. Route 21 wends its way, in anything but a straight line, from Eastbourne to Greenwich. We are very familiar with some parts of it (e.g. the Cuckoo Trail and the Worth Way); my aim is to cover the bits we know and the bits we don’t – all of it if possible – in a series of three or four big rides, with some small gaps plugged by other rides.

With this ride we are starting off, in time-honoured tradition, in the middle. We will begin on familiar ground to anyone who has experienced my previous Gatwick rides, but continue northwards at Horley instead of turning east or west as before. In fact we will traverse, in the opposite direction, the return leg of the Gatwick–Outwood ride we did in November 2010, as far as the junction of Lake Lane and Cross Oak Lane, before we branch off onto new ground.

Route 21 beyond this point has the look of a carefully crafted cycle route which has been put there for us to enjoy, rather than (as it may seem from a glance at the map) a disjointed sequence of bits of road; in fact much of it is off-road, well-surfaced bridleway, and only a very short section (which we will avoid) has been surfaced with glass and tile shards. We will encounter no fewer than four nature reserves (if we count our old friend the Gatwick Country Park) including some that have been reclaimed from an old sand quarry at Redhill.

Lunch will be at the Inn on the Pond ( at Nutfield Marsh, and once again I am afraid I have had to book a table and so will need numbers – please e-mail me at if you are coming. (And if there are a lot of us we may need to order our food in advance!)

After lunch we will have to face up to the North Downs looming above us. But Route 21 softens the blow, and we have only 80 metres to ascend (walking!) at an average gradient of 1 in 20. Then we are on top of the world, and can admire the view before the descent into Caterham.

Anyone who wants a shorter ride can in fact travel home on the train from Caterham, but hopefully most will press on to Croydon. This will be mostly on quiet suburban streets, with one additional short off-road section.

Length: 25 miles (16 miles if taking the train from Caterham).
Terrain: See above.
Duration: About 5½ hours, including lunch.
Start time and place: Gatwick Airport at 11:00 am. Rail travellers should assemble by the lifts that come up to the airport concourse from the platforms (not the additional lifts at the north end of Platforms 1-2).

Those coming by car can meet us at Horley en route, but note that as this is not a circular ride you will have to get the train from East Croydon to Horley at the end of the ride. Alternatively you could drive to an intermediate station such as Haywards Heath, and park there.

Suggested trains: (There are plenty, so we can spread ourselves out): from Brighton to Gatwick Airport at 10:00, 10:14, 10:34; from Hove at 9:54; from Lewes at 10:16; from London Bridge at 10:12; from London Victoria at 10:17 and Clapham Junction at 10:23.

Return trains from East Croydon to Brighton at 16:52, Hove at 16:36, Lewes at 17:11, Clapham Junction and Victoria at 16:40, London Bridge at 16:33.

My mobile: 07742-963239.