Friday, February 24, 2012

Romford to Central London at night.

When Chris suggested a night ride into London I have to admit I was a little sceptical, I'd never done a night ride before and I wasn't sure I'd enjoy it. I was itching to try out my new fancy pedals so I went for it. I'd bought these new pedals and shoes called SPD's which your feet lock into and are meant to make cycling easier. The man in the cycle shop advised me to practice a lot leaning up against a wall to perfect the unlocking your feet technique. Foolishly, and I can't emphasise that enough after riding up and down my road several times, after managing the technique but coming nowhere close to mastering it, I set off to meet Chris at Romford.

I'm ashamed to admit my first falling off came sooner than I thought- 300 yards from my house at the junction with the main road. I had to stop quickly to allow a van to pass and ended up on the pavement, still very much attached to the pedals much to the amusement of a passing car full of boy racers.
I couldn't even make it to Benfleet station without another pedal mishap, although this one was more annoying and embarrassing than painful. I stopped outside a shop and leaned against the wall, and and just couldn't disconnect from the pedals. It took me a full ten minutes to free my feet.I got to Romford without further incident via Upminster and the 1970's train that runs between the two.
I met up with Chris outside the station and we headed off, south at first via Dagenham and Barking. This was not the prettiest area and roads were quite busy. Somewhere in Barking I had another pedal related accident. Roads were quite busy and we were approaching a set of traffic lights. I forgot to 'clip out' of the pedals and of course the lights abruptly changed to red. I couldn't clip out either foot and with the back of the car in front rapidly approaching I hit the adjacent pavement hard, with my left hand taking the full impact of the fall. It hurt like hell as did my pride, especially when a passing woman stopped to check if I was OK.
After dusting myself down we carried on through the rest of Barking to the Cycle SuperHighways, a Ken Livingstone project designed to aid cycling into the capital. We kept to the vivid blue paths where they existed through Beckton, getting constantly frustrated by the inexplicable disapearance of the blue cycle paths. We stopped at a petrol station in Newham for a mars bar where Chris tried to loosen off my pedals and I noticed some blood seeping through my trousers from a previously unnoticed wound...The Cycle Superhighway thankfully departed the A13 and we headed south, trundling through East India Dock and Canning Town into the start of Canary Wharf and the Docklands area.

We were soon in Wapping and the location where the Only Fools and Horses episode He ain't Heavy He's My Brother was filmed. Suddenly, standing there looking at the now converted Docklands warehouses, everything Uncle Albert said in that episode made sense. You could just imagine workers unloading goods onto the dockside,ships coming and going and the hustle and bustle of a trade belonging to another era. The London docks had to close as the world developed and the shipping trade used bigger ports upriver, but standing here amongst all the trendy multi million pound apartments that the docks were converted into was quite thought provoking.

Then we rolled into Wapping with impressive views of Canary Wharf skyscrapers next to us.

We stopped off at London's oldest Dockside pub, The Prospect of Whitby. It was a charming old pub and we stopped for a quick drink. We sat outside with glorious views of the Thames and enjoyed the unseasonably warm evening weather. I'd never have thought it possible to sit outside anywhere and be comfortable in February.
We then moved on a short way further along into Wapping to a pub Chris knew of that I was looking forward to, The Captain Kidd pub. It was a microbrewery which meant no mass produced beers like Stella or Guiness, only beer produced by the Samuel Smith brewery themselves. Captain Kidd himself of course was a famous pirate, executed near here in 1701.It was a lovely atmospheric old pub and very cheap indeed.

Nearing the end of the ride now we approached St Katherines Dock that I insisted we ride through, Chris had to fend off a potentially inflammatory moment with a large group of Asian youths with an attitude problem, all he did was say " alright" as we passed them at a gate to the Thames Path. It passed without incident but being totally outnumbered.
We stopped off for a some spectacular night shots of Tower Bridge. Chris, having worked in this area for years wasn't as impressed as I was but it has to be said, Tower Bridge at night is one of the most spectacular sights in the world. I can only apologise for spoiling the view below...

Just to do it justice, here's one without a sweaty cyclist in the foreground.

With only St Katherine's Dock left that I insisted we cycle though, Chris and I went our separate ways at 2245, me to Fenchurch Street and Chris to Liverpool Street. I had enjoyed a thoroughly different ride and let's be honest, it made a change from Kent!

Total milage: 22.

Footnote: An x-ray today showed nothing broken...

Friday, February 17, 2012

Canvey to Kent

Whenever I've gone for a ride around Kent via the Tilbury Gravesend ferry I always get the same response from Chris, " why didn't you ride to Tilbury then?" It was always doubt over
my fitness levels and a desire to keep those twenty miles 'in the tank' to burn south of the water.But yesterday, well the day before actually, when I noticed the weather forecast said it would be a mild 10c and light winds I thought, let's see how tough that twenty mile trek to the Tilbury ferry actually is. The time taken to get to the ferry and my fitness levels woul determine how far I'd cycle on the other side.

On the bridge by Benfleet Station

Decked out in my new Hi Vis cycling gear I acquired from Ebay for a ridiculously cheap amount I set off for Tilbury. My only real decision was how I would get to the old A13 and the way west- the busy and potentially dangerous A130 Canvey Way or the route all the cycle route planning websites recommended and go through Benfleet. I'd ridden Canvey Way before and not only are the cars whizzing past at 50mph without a buffer of a cycle lane it is monotonous and tiring. It was an easy choice, 'Benfleet, A(n) Historical Development' it would be. Just passing onto Benfleet from the bridge is the 'Welcome to Benfleet' sign which has caused a weird grammatical debate. The signwriters and indeed the council believe the correct way to phrase the tagline is ' A Historical Development', however locals believe it should ' AN Historical Development. Cue someone continually adding an 'n' after the 'a' and the council rubbing it off again.

I coasted through Pitsea and and Vange, stopping only to take a photo of a haggard looking old cat.

Crossing Five Bells roundabout I was into Fobbing and on the old Southend Road west, stopping for a a photo by the NCR sign that I seem to spend half my cycling time looking out for.

I continued on through Corringham with the first sign of tiredness creeping into my legs at the 10 mile mark, exactly halfway to Tilbury. At Stanford Le Hope I got a little disorientated and and had to ask the way to Tilbury and I was glad it was the downhill option over the railway tracks via the nice little village of Linford.

Are these self taken photos looking a bit 'samey'?

A welcome very steep downhill stretch at Tilbury saw me hit 32mph and dumped right in on the edge of the town centre, which is a pitiful depressing looking eyesore if ever I saw one. Pretty soon I was at the dock, odometer showing exactly 20 miles, I was proud I'd finally done it. I was also pleasantly surprised, if not overwhelmed, that the ride through some south Essex towns that would hardly be described as salubrious, was actually quite nice.
It was mainly countryside once I was past Five Bells and only the eyesores of Pitsea and Tilbury let it down. I even had a nice view over the river at one point.
I managed to arrive at the docks at the time when the ferry stops running for an hour for the operator's lunchbreak so I just waited, chatting to another passenger.There were plenty of people waiting and it always surprises me how popular this service is.
I didn't have a definite plan on what to do once I'd hit Kent and Chris suggested Meopham, a nice village that claims to have the longest village street in Kent, at 7 miles long. With time running short I decided to give it a go, stopping for an English Breakfast in Gravesend first and thus piling back on all the calories I'd expended up to that point. Couldn't knock it though, £.2.95 for a breakfast that was so big I could barely finish it.

After leaving the suburbs of Gravesend heading south I had to admit the worst, my legs had gone. I hadn't cycled anywhere in a month and I'd hit the wall, just getting my excuses in early! It's quite hilly there as it's the beginning of North Kent Downs and some hills, well most if I'm honest, beat me.

I eventually rolled into Meopham at around five with nothing open apart from a dodgy looking pub called the Railway Tavern. I know of two other pubs called The Railway Tavern, one in Stanford le Hope and the other in Gravesend. Both are the kind of pubs where people stop talking and look at you the moment you walk in. Meopham's own Railway Tavern wasn't quite so unfriendly but not by much. It was definitely a local pub for local people and I'm sure that in past generations sawdust would've been sprinkled on the floor.

I only saw the first part of Meopham, which apparently is a collection of villages in a collective parish. There wasn't much from what I saw but I'm sure there is more to see. The claim to have Kent's longest village street is a bit tedious to say the least; it is simply the A227 which connects Gravesend at the northernmost point to Tonbridge in the south, passing through Meopham and several other villages on the way.
I had a pint of a local Kent ale and headed back to Gravesend for the ferry home, inadvertently making the last possible connection for the last ferry of the day.
I'd had a good day but my lack of fitness concerned me, I'd ridden further than this but suffered less tiredness. Was glad to get home for a long soak in the bath.

Total Miles for the day, 32*

*probably around 2 of those walked...