A ride to end the holidays on
6am and the holiday let is empty but for me. The family are already home, leaving me a day to ride back to Walthamstow from the Isle of Wight, about 200km. I have a quick breakfast, awkwardly get the bike down a flight of stairs and post the keys back through the letter box.
It’s not quite light as I set off, and it’s straight onto the biggest climb of the day. Ventnor, where we’ve been staying, sits twixt cliff and sea, and the only way out is up. I’ve got a really heavy saddlebag today too, including a flipping laptop and power supply – my Carradice is full to the brim and lugging it up the 150m hill is a bit of a drag.
But it’s good to be out and on my way. As I reach the top of the hill at 7am the sun tries to come out but fails and I am left with greyish cloud cover – the theme for the day as it turns out.
I’ve got a ferry to catch at 8:30 and 25km to ride to get there – a comfortable run. Setting out early on the Isle of Wight is pretty much essential as the place is rammed with cars. It’s not a huge island, 60m/100km around it by road and there are a lot of people on it in summer. I haven’t been bothered to ride my bike all week, but I have figured out a good backroads route from Ventnor to East Cowes and soon enough it’s just me and the lanes. A quick ride along a rail trail, an A road dash into East Cowes and on the hour I get into the ferry terminal.
You are only allowed foldup bikes on the fast cat, so it’s the big vehicle ferry for me. I am let on first – there’s plenty of room:
I sit upstairs and inside for the hour long crossing of the solent. There’s rain in the air and I don’t want to get cold ahead of the ride. I sit on a coffee and do some writing on the laptop, mainly to justify carrying the bloody thing.
9:30 and I am off again, and after a few early blips the Garmin gets in the groove and takes me up and out of Southampton to the north-east. It’s raining now and even though it’s meant to clear getting wet at the beginning of a ride is never pleasant. After 30 minutes I am out into lanes and the volume level of urban life gets wound right back to nothing.
I like a lane. The ones here vary between Devon-like hedged lanes to more Essexy open views – there’s a nice variety.
The first three hours involve climbing and descending lanes and B-roads, looking at the scenery and housing stock. I always keep an eye on the house/car pairings of where I am as it says a lot about the area you are going through.
In these first few hours I get through the working farms (big sheds and land rovers), vanity farms (black barns and Discoveries) then through an area of rich farms (black barns and Range Rovers) and finally, as I hit the final approach back into the M3 valley, thatch cottages and Audis – a combination which always makes me laugh; what do these people want heritage or modernity? It seems they want EVERYTHING. Bet you these cottages are layered with iPads 🙂
The nice thing about a fairly random ride like this is that I have no preconceptions. All I know is the roads are small and it’s quite lumpy. I have no idea what I will find. This is cycling as flanneauring, just looking around. Learning about the countryside, seeing what is where. Being very London centric and not having grown up here there are still great swathes of countryside which are unknown to me.
And when you haven’t been there before every village is interesting. You come to some radio masts and realise that yes, you have been climbing for the last five minutes.
You occasionally stop and look at things by the road – driveways that lead to secretive grand houses. You find The Krishnamurti Foundation and realise it owns most of a village and a grand hall (was property investment a Krishnamurti principle?)
And roads, the many thousands of roads that criss cross the countryside and make riding a bike possible in such a densely populated country.
I stopped at the radio masts for Lunch (my friend Adam will tell you why). It was just as well I had lugged some sandwiches up with me as I hadn’t seen anything more than a couple of closed pubs along the way and I was getting properly hungry, I’d last eaten at 6:30am.
Back on the bike and the landscape slowly tilted downwards again and soon enough I was on B roads in the busy part of the country, coming up to the M3/M4 corridor. I had set my route to take me through Windsor, I had a distant memory of the ‘Grand Walk’ and wanted to see it again, but first it was through military land. First Farnham airport, then Deepcut camp. I was glad to see that the Museum of Military Logistics was still open, though I failed to visit this time due to the pressure of time.
One oddity was a garrison church made of corrugated iron – common as chips in NZ but rare here. It made me think of the famous Ranana church in Taranaki.
More big roundabouts and wide roads (but traffic was sensible), over the traffic hydrant of the 3, through Ascot and then, before I knew it, I was at the gates of Great Windsor Park. Ten more minutes riding through the outrageously pretty parkaland and there it was The Long Walk.
There’s a notice at the top of this that says ‘If you so much as wheel your bike down here we will shoot you.’ so I had to detour off and find another way into Windsor.
Windsor is basically a tourist trap, but it has a railway station and plan A had been to jump on a train and go back to London this way (I’d done 160km now so could easily have justified it) but the sun had come out imparting a sense of optimism. That and a big coffee gave me the motivation to jump back on my bike and head off for the last ‘mere’ 50km home.
Continuing the geography lesson I realised that Windsor and Slough are very close together indeed, with only the M4 separating them. It might as well have been 100 miles for the similarities between them. Windsor was tourists and happy families and pensioner playing bowls while Slough was all track pants and hot hatches – the contrast couldn’t have been greater.
I had seen something on the map called the Slough Arm of the Grand Union canal and it looked flat and interesting so I headed off down that.
It was edited highlights of all the canal action you could ever see in London, but condensed down into a few kilometers. We had alchies young and old, fisherman with a thousand pounds worth of kit to catch moulding carp, chancers on iPhones, canal boat hipsters, estate kids playing unsupervised next to drains, (very) young couples looking for privacy, dog walkers, bull-terrier walkers, the lot. Brilliant.
From here my route took me across the top of London. Now you may think of London as flat, but North London, while not Everest, is lumpy, so what followed was two hours of up and down and round and round navigating the various suburban traffic ways of London. A few massive roundabouts, not too many lights and quite a bit more traffic. This was a bit too much like comuttng, but at least I didn’t know the roads.
The North West is very different from the North East. There is less Terrace housing and the Semi regins supreme. I saw every conceivable variation on cladding, pebble dash, brick, render, plastic windows, alu windows, wood. In amongst the houses a village would suddenly spring up – an old church with a cluster of nice buildings, islands of heritage in the swamp of 19th and 20th century property developments.
Too slowly I ticked around the clock face of London – Uxbridge, Hillingdon, Ruislip, Pinner, Edgeware, Mill Hill. Every now and then I would cross a major arterial – the M1, then the A1, the Northern line crossed under a bridge then the picadilly.
I was getting tired now and the light was leaching out of the sky. Another hour and it would be dusk. I stopped in Barnet, unconsciously choosing the top of the last climb I would do today, for a well earned chocolate milk and ice block. A fresh set of batteries in the rear light, another round of Lucozade in the bottles and I set off for the last time.
When I saw the sign for Edmonton I knew the end was near. A few more clicks and I saw ‘the four towers of the apocolypse’ the four estate blocks that stand high over Enfield. From here it was a hop and a skip to my ‘home’ canal – the Lea.
Joining the towpath at Picketts Lock I only had a ten or so minutes riding to do now and I could do this bit with my eyes closed. Soon I was bombing along the tow path and then onto the back streets of Walthamstow until the William Morris Gallery welcomed me back, still with the last of the day light on it.
205km in the end. I should have registered it with Audax UK and got couple of points – but then I really wasn’t sure I could be bothered. Having done it I think the appeal was having ridden back from holiday – that and the huge variety of scenery, from the back lanes of the Isle of Wight to the arterials of north London via the South Downs and busy M3/M4 corridor.
And with that the summer kinda ended. Holidays over, back to work and school. I have no cycling goals left for the year, but with PBP and this ride in the bank I should be looking to take advantage and do at least two or three long rides this year before thinking about a winter break…