Saturday 14 February 2015

Eventful London to Gravesend Ride

Today was Valentines Day. Never has a day seen such near pointless commercialism, apart from Halloween, Mother Day, Fathers Day...the list goes on. I certainly don't need one day a year to show Mrs Orange that she is the most important person in my life. As such I decided to go on this rather intriguing ride - London to Gravesend, across the Thames on the Gravesend Ferry and then cycling back to London.

The meet point

The meeting point was the London Eye at 09:15. I arrived in good time and the usual suspects were already there. The ride was the brainchild of David and he had as usual put together a very interesting route.

The brave few

My partner in crime, Andrew arrived in the nick of time with his usual skidding stop. I was glad to see him as it was touch as go as to whether he would attend today.

The weather was a strange mix. When I started out it was quite cold but by the time I reached the London Eye things had turned milder. Heavy cloud cover threatened rain but the odd bit of blue indicated that we were destined for typical unpredictable English weather, where just about anything could happen!

The ever stylish Mr D was wearing a pretty fine pair of leather cycling shoes, matched with an argyle sock.

As we stopped at a set of lights I saw an advert for a particular television programme that I am enjoying a great deal. I made a mental note to watch the first two episodes again later on with Mrs Orange.

Just over 4 miles into the ride Anne suffered a puncture. Earlier we had tried to avoid glass but some of this caused this flat tyre. David managed to change it pretty quickly with help from Andrew and managed to get out the little shard to glass that caused it in the first place.

As this was done a murder of crows noisily looked on from a crane almost cawing their disgust at proceedings.

With the repair made good we pressed on further east. The familiar sight of Canary Warf and later the O2 came into view.

David pondering on whether we'd make the 14:00 ferry?

This part of the journey is always of interest. It seems to be in a constant state of development and it's as if there is something new every time we pay it a visit.

One infamous stretch is but a step away from a building site. The ground is sandy mud and very difficult to cycle over.

The last time I was here a huge body of water blocked our path. On that occasion decided to take the higher ground and ford this near lake via a small hill running parallel. To my horror some silly ass had removed said hill!

I have to confess to succumbing to a moment of melancholy as I knew I had to cycle through. Cursing, I started to cycle. I suspect you will not believe me when I write that in places I fancy it might have been over 2 metres deep! At least that it how I perceived it.

Thankfully I made it through to the other side, vowing never to return until it is all tarmac and lined with tasteful riverside developments or they put that little hill back!

We pressed on and saw the familiar sight of the Emirates Skyline (always fun). The further east we cycled the more industrial and raw the scenery became. I actually love this and wished I had more time to take lots more photos.

A pretty fine helmet

Soon the Thames Flood Barrier came into view. It seems like a while since we have been this far. I really like the Barrier and it always makes for an interesting photo.

As I stopped to take the photo below, memories of cycle rides with Mark (King of the Hill) were recalled and I missed the fact that he was unable to attend today.

At the Thames Flood Barrier there is a lovely little cafe where we stopped for a few refreshments. John and I opted for a mozzarella and tomato panini and it was pretty good.

My new Walz cycling cap was worn with great enthusiasm and it did a sterling job of protecting onlookers from the dreaded helmet hair. Sleebus as you can see in the picture below had the classic 'newly ploughed field' and suggestions were made that he too needed a cycling cap.

Our journey had taken us on busy roads, cycle paths and pot holed tracks as you can see below.  Cycling on these required concentration due to the copious craters.

As we cycled further still the Thames and its industrial uses started to become more and more evident.

The clouds began to look rather dark but apart from the odd spit of rain we didn't have to worry too much.

One small section had a very steep incline. Liking hills this proved to be a plus point for me. David was first and glided up with ease as usual. Some weren't able to do it, mainly due to the wrong gear selection or having to stop for someone in front.

Andrew has no problem at all and powered up confidently as you can see in the series of photos below.

Looking out at the Thames and all the mud made me think of 'Our Mutual Friend' by Charles Dickens.

Darting around for food in the mud was a huge variety of wildlife. Along with Black Headed Gulls, there were Common, Herring and Lesser Black Backed Gulls. In addition Sandpipers danced back and forth and for me the star of the show and my favourite bird the Oystercatcher could also be seen and heard.

Old barges and cranes sat rusting, almost looking out at a view that has for them changed for the worse. Now in their retirement I wonder what tales they could tell of a busier river Thames?

Sadly, we left the close views of the Thames and cycled on the open road and dedicated cycle tracks. The views weren't as good but we had the ferry at Gravesend to look forward to.

At about 26 miles the group started to thin out and our 14:00 ferry slot looked doubtful. Andrew had fallen back and when he caught up he didn't look too good. I suspect he had worn too many layers and as he had rushed at the last minute to make the ride he had not taken enough water. He took his waterproof jacket off and cycled on again.

At a sustained incline he was a little way back so I waited. When he caught up I suggested we get to Gravesend and then decide whether to continue or get the train back to London. Whatever he decided I would do too.

We headed off and when we caught up the group, Chris pointed out that my rear tyre was almost flat. I stopped to have a look and it was indeed pretty low on air. With Andrew and Graham kindly assisting I managed to make good my repair.

Upon reaching Gravesend the rest of the group decided to find a place to get a quick bite before getting the ferry. I actually think that he could have made it back but wisely Andrew headed for the station. As he is my riding friend I headed there too. (The real reason is that there is no telling what mischief he would have got up to on his own)!

Andrew and I found the station and got our train to Charing Cross. We cycled together as far the middle of The Mall before going our separate ways...until next time.

This was a very interesting ride for me. I have cycled as far as Gravesend on night rides and to see it in daytime was a treat. I love the industrial buildings all along the Thames and the further east one goes the better they become.

I am sure this ride will be repeated (hint to David) as I would love to go on the Gravesend ferry and see what the other side of the Thames was like on the return.

As always thanks to David for putting on another great ride!

Map and ride data


  1. I love reading your ride reports. Someday I will make it to the UK and when I do I plan on stopping to see some of the sites you have shown. Ok mostly I am looking forward to some of the pub food you eat.

  2. I picked up my brand new racing green Brompton on Saturday (when you were on your ride) and on Sunday cycled part of this route in the opposite direction - from the Thames Barrier to Greenwich. I live locally and I' concur with your comments on the interestingness of this part of the Thames. I keep my boat at Greenwich Yacht Club and love exploring the river out to the estuary. Anyway, just to say it was one of those little moments of synchronicity when I got home from my first ride on my Brompton (apart from the ride home from Compton Cycles) to read your piece.

    Interestingly, on my ride I received compliments on my Brompton, including one from an old boy riding a 1968 Moulton - a true classic.

    1. Lovely colour and you're going to love it. Perhaps it will get an outing on one of our rides.


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