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