Monday 1 September 2014

Windsor to Tower Bridge on a Brompton

What a weekend of Brompton cycling. After the near drought of rides I found myself cycling well over 100 miles over Saturday / Sunday.

Saturdays ride was a 50 mile jaunt from Windsor and Eton Riverside railway station to Tower Bridge. Many were making the journey to Windsor and Eton Riverside station by train from central London. This would of course normally be my preferred option but I had a notion that I could actually cycle there instead.

Anyone who knows me will be surprised to hear this. I have always loved adventures and the unknown and have no qualms whatsoever about getting lost. I write this as I frequently get lost. My navigational skills are at best, next to useless. However, I had a burning desire to actually try and navigate myself the 10 miles or so to the meeting point. Armed with my Nexus 5, a google map cycle route punched in and an earphone bud so that I could hear turn by turn directions, I set off with my usual optimism.

I actually set off rather early. Google maps informed me that my route would take about an hour. To account for the odd wrong turn, photo opportunities and calling a taxi in case things went bad, I aimed to be at Windsor and Eton Riverside at least an hour early!

As I set off I still could not quite believe what I was about to do. As I got off the tube and pressed start navigating via google maps I wondered how hard it could be? I mean it was only 10 miles or so.

The first few miles were great. As I had started so early, traffic was very light and soon I was on small lanes and didn't really encounter traffic at all. The route google had found was a pretty good one. I would eventually end up on Sustrans Route 61 which would take me along a nice stretch of the Grand Union Canal.

As I pressed on the route became more rural. Roads became country lanes. Lanes became narrow paths. All was perfectly fine and amazingly, I hadn't got lost.

I couldn't help taking the odd photograph on route. There were lots of small privately owned stables along the way. The horse in the picture below nearest the fence was quite happily having a good old itch.

I was really enjoying this navigating lark and felt confident that all those trips to the Royal Geographical Society in my formative years paid off. That is of course when things took a turn.

Sustrans route 61 was going swimmingly when with no warning the country lanes and narrow country lanes turned into an open field! In the distance was a large horse. From my previous mention of all things equine you may have got the impression that I like them. I can tell you I do not. I can also tell you that yours truly is more than a little scared of all things horses.

It was with some trepidation that I minced along what I could make out to be the path. Certain in the belief that like dogs horse can also sense fear, I travelled as quietly as I could.

Thankfully the animal in the picture was on a long rope bridle fastened to the ground. My newfound confidence didn't last as it was one of those extendable leads dog owners insist on having. I was right about the horse. It took one look at me, did not like what it saw, whinnied and neighed at me and took a running race towards me. I was only saved from possible embarrassment as it couldn't get anywhere near to me!

What followed was a field where the path all but disappeared. I started to carry my Brompton on my shoulder and walked across said field until I reached a small path where I could join a section of the Grand Union Canal. My thoughts turned to my childhood hero, Sir Wilfred Thesiger the great explorer and I wondered what on earth he would make of my antics?!

Once off route 61 things started to return to my liking - empty roads, quaint country lanes. In the distance I could make out Windsor Castle and knew that I had at least been heading in the right direction.

As I cycled over a bridge I saw a man very purposefully shovelling....ahem...stuff for his roses perhaps? Even though I was perhaps 200 metres away the smell was quite strong, so what it must have been like for the man in question I can only guess?

Crossing a bridge over the Jubilee River I stopped to take a few snaps. This river is actually manmade to act as an overflow to the River Thames. It isn't that old but I cannot remember when it was established?

I soon arrived at Eton College. I had made it to Windsor and Eton in one piece and had actually navigated all the way on my own. I was rather proud of myself and succumbed to more than a little smugness. I was brought firmly back down to earth when I fancy I could hear faint, hearty laughter from old Etonian, Sir Wilfred Thesiger!!

Passing the parking spot of the Headmaster, I could not resist my rebellious streak and decided to not only park my Brompton there but take a picture or two.

Arriving a full hour and five minutes before the official meeting time I retired to a seat on the station concourse with a granola bar and cup of tea.

It wasn't too long before I was joined by others arriving early and before long we were all assembled and ready for the off.

David was our ride leader. Due to a routine operation and recuperation David has not been out on rides since the Brompton World Championships. We have missed him!! Cycling on his rear wheel, following in his wake as I have done for countless rides was great and I was very happy to see that he was indeed back. David had perhaps had some sort of optional extras installed as his pace and speed meant that he was hard to keep up with.

Our ride had a simple but brilliant theme. Cycling from Windsor and Eton to Tower Bridge we would cycle over as many bridges that spanned the River Thames as we could.

The weather was kind for David's return. Cloud cover kept the heat at bay and a gentle breeze cooled us down but did not threatened to make things arduous.

Most locations along the Thames are lovely and this route was no exception. Just when one stunning view was left behind, another took its place.

I had of course taken my new P Type Orange Brompton. As I have already reported, I really like this bike and the quirkiness of the handlebars have gone. I actually feel they are rather elegant and I am glad that I put the Brooks leather bar tape on instead of the stock foam grips or the orange rings I initially put on it.

At Walton, not only did we cycle over a brand new bridge, recently opened we stopped for luncheon.

Travelling further along we arrived at Hampton Court Palace. Lots of photos were taken, but very few of the Palace or its lovely gardens. was all about the bikes!

As we neared Richmond I spied lots of people dressed as superheroes. I am not sure why they were doing this but they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying it.

When we arrived at Richmond, there were some unusual cows munching on the grass. I am not sure what breed they are and perhaps one of your reading this might know and tell the rest of us?

At Twickenham Bridge I was rather taken by some hinges - at least that is what I think they are - that allow a certain movement to take place. I thought they were lovely and to my eye looked Art Deco.

Further still along the River Thames we started to see houseboats as well as plush riverside developments. The figurehead of the one of these grabbed my attention.

We passed what was once an industrial building of some sort. It looked derelict but I am sure it will at some point become expensive dwellings with a view.

Walking over a footbridge that also carried a railway line, in the distance I saw Trellick Tower. I was convinced that other buildings which previously obscured the view must have been laid to the ground as I do not remember being able to see it from this location before?

At Wandsworth we visited McDonalds. Andrew and I had one of their smoothies and as we had to consume it quickly I got a brain freeze - which I last experienced when I was perhaps 10 years old!

As we cycled ever closer to central London, its famous landmarks started to come into view. As we cycled along a rather nice American vintage car came into view. It confidently travelled along but its occupants - perhaps worried about taking it on the open road - looked terrified!

When we reached the Houses of Parliament I made up my mind that this was far enough and that travelling on further would be a bridge too far. Andrew must have felt the same as he joined me.

My reasons for this were very selfish. Normally, I would have parked my car at my parents residence which is not too great a distance to cycle to from anywhere in central London. On this day I had decided that I would go home via the tube.

I have a particular horror about doing this and must have claustrophobic tendencies. Trying to get over this and make my carbon footprint better than it is, the tube it was going to be. If I had of gone to Tower Bridge my fear was that things would be so busy I might not be able to. As it was things were still quite busy but I was able to find a spot on the end of a carriage and find a happy place by studiously playing with my phone.

This was a great ride. It was lovely to see David back to his usual swiftness - if any thing he seemed fitter than I remember. It was equally as good to see familiar faces and a few new ones. Many thanks to David for another interesting and fun adventure.

As I travelled home on the tube my head was racing with thoughts. I thought about the next day where I would be cycling 52 miles on the charity 'Bikeathon' ride with Andrew. I thought about how I had actually navigated my way along a route I was unfamiliar with. (Well I had a huge amount of help from google maps). I would like to think that I could do this again but I will have to do so with small steps.

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