Wednesday 23 December 2015

Brompton Christmas Lights Night Ride

The Christmas Lights Night Ride on a Brompton is something I look forward to greatly. This one was keenly anticipated by yours truly as I have only really started riding my Brompton again after some time off due to injury. In addition to this the last few weeks have been manic at work and our car died resulting in us trying to scamper around for a suitable replacement.

The meeting place was Charring Cross Railway Station at 23:45. I headed out into a night that was unseasonably mild. I had only a few layers and wondered whether I would be too hot in those. In fact it was hard to believe that it was late December!

The start at Charring Cross Railway Station

Getting to Charring Cross was an eye opener. Friday night would be one of the busiest times of the year in London as it was the height of the office party. With no car I had to resort to public transport and it was with a heavy tread that I boarded a tube train.

It wasn't long until my worst fears were realised. As the tube train pulled up at a stop, I could hear wailing and singing over the sound of the train. This wailing and singing got louder as several young ladies boarded our carriage. It was a good thing that it was unseasonably mild as these ladies wore dresses that consisted of material covering not much more than the surface area of a small napkin. The wailing and singing continued and could still be heard when I got off the carriage and the tube train set off to the next station.

I stopped briefly at Trafalgar Square to take a few pictures. A couple were arguing and in the process of having a very public and heated argument. As it was all getting a little Jerry Springer for my liking I decided to head straight to Charring Cross.

The ever elegant Anne
It wasn't too long before the troops started to arrive. Ben had been the leader of an evening ride on a similar theme to the all night one. His ride ended at Charring Cross where ours was to commence.

Ride Leader

It was lovely to see everyone even though many were heading straight home having already put in a few miles.  My nocturnal cycling partner Geoff turned up as Santa. It was a brilliant outfit but totally unexpected.  Throughout the night you could hear a hearty 'happy Christmas' to passers by.

Is this really my nocturnal riding partner Geoff?

I was hoping that Mark (King of the Hill) would be able to make this ride but as we left Charring Cross there was no sign of him. He had said that he was 50/50 as he had not been feeling well in the run up to Friday. More on this later.

Trafalgar Square

Setting off into the night

We set off into the night I could not help but think of all the night rides I had been on over the years and how much I enjoy them.

The Eye

Look at the time!

David had said that there were some light he would like us to see that were something special. We soon discovered that he was not wrong.


 'Pimlico Plumbers' had a spectacular display that lit the entire street up and was great fun.

Kung fu?

My new muse?

David received a call from Mark to inform that he was coming on the ride. In fact Mark has called both David and I but we had not answered our phones. Luckily we would meet him and another participant at Tower Bridge.

We have all been on this route many times but I never tire of it. It is one where I happily take photos and the odd bit of video.

Talking about photos and videos it was my intention to shoot all my video in a high 1080p bit rate. In addition to this I had spent ages researching the best white balance settings for photos and video for night shooting. These I had saved to the memory.

Of course it didn't go that way. I shot all the video in 4K which is notoriously bad for night low light shooting and a little shaky without a shout tripod. As for my custom white balance, everything was set to auto.

There were some bonuses for shooting video in 4K. For any of the footage I shot I was able to extract an 8mp still image. Many of these are included in the photos you wee here along with ones that are at the full 16mp. Can you spot which is which?

We meet up with the King of the Hill 
Tower Bridge looking goo at night

Totally chilled

David probably had a rough outline of the route but this year he decided to take us east as far as Greenwich. This was a great idea as by the time we headed back to the traditional areas associated with the Christmas lights things would be quieter.

Geoff's Sanat outfit could barely stand the pace and luckily he wore cycling tights underneath as he would have revealed parts of Santa no one would want to see.

Oh dear Santa

Heading into Canary Wharf was fun and the lights from the decorations and office blocks illuminated our path.

As always the east of London was under construction and we braved a narrow walkway that circumvented building works that were proceeding through the early hours of the morning. The construction workers had to take a double take when they saw several people on Brompton bicycles with Santa on one too!

The Greenwich foot tunnel is open 24 hours a day, all year round. In the early hours of Saturday morning we had the place to ourselves. The child in all of us definitely came out as we travelled under the river Thames.


Coming out from the depths with the Cutty Sark in view was strange in that we were the only souls around.

Heading back towards central London we chanced upon a sign that we stopped and took photo of in honour of Brian who was unable to attend.

In honour of Brian

The Shard was doing all sorts of strange things. As well as changing colour, the occasional cloud cover brought about an eerie quality to proceedings.

As the top changed from red to green I was could not decide which I liked the best? It reminded me of Star Wars and the various light sabre colours.

At just past 03:30 we arrived at St Pancras station which would provide our refreshment stop. In the past this also served as a means of sanctuary from the cold outside. This time, the weather being so mild cold was not a factor at all to the extent I considered whether a cold drink might be a better bet.

As we neared the entrance the familiar and booming voice of Bob penetrated the night air calling my name. I was instantly transported to many a Friday night ride to the coast where Bob frequently acts a a tail end Charlie. Bob was on duty and coincidentally coincided with his break so we all headed in to the only establishment open to partake in a cup of coffee.

It was a bonus to see Bob and even though he was unable to join us on the ride I suppose he sort of did anyway for a while.

Saying farewell to Bob we headed towards Oxford and perhaps the most famous views of the London Christmas lights.

Near the many buildings near the University of London there were a few benches that many of our number took full advantage of. Again we had the place to ourselves.

Oxford Street was all but empty. Despite the mildness of the weather, it seems that even the most hardened of party goer had long gone home.

Oxford Street

The lit up arches that do look rather good proved to be an irresistible draw. Camera and phone were out in force taking some snaps as a memento of the night.

With my camera attached to my Joby X tripod my fellow participants were very obliging in cycling to and away from the camera while I attempted to record some video of their efforts. It was all great fun but with so much more to see we pressed on.

New Bond Street

Even before we had arrived at Carnaby Street we could smell smoke and seeing a fire engine conformed the worse.

As we took some photos the smell got worse and it seems that there was indeed a fire in a nearby nightclub.

The smell of fire in the air

Leaving Carnaby Street we pressed on towards our final destination, Covent Garden.

Covent Garden did not disappoint. I have to confess to not really liking this area during the day and it is not a location I choose to go to as it just too touristy for my liking.

Covent Garden

It was only fitting that Geoff boarded a special train made out of Lego and patiently posed for several photos.

Brompton Junction, a great little shop had window display which was orange in its theme. I can't put my finger on it but I though it was quite brilliant.

The ride was all but over but we stopped one last time to have a cup of tea/coffee and chew the fat for a little longer. Despite not sleeping since Thursday night, I felt fine. Saying our goodbyes until another time we all made our separate ways.

I headed for Barbican but before I got there I headed for the Millennium Bridge for one last look at some wonderful views.

From the Millennium Foot Bridge

Returning to St Paul's Cathedral I crossed the road and was about to head to Barbican when a homeless gentleman on the floor with a sleeping bag said 'Merry Christmas.' I stopped and said Merry Christmas back. Opening my cavernous Carradice zipped roll bag I searched for the bar of Snickers and 2 x flapjacks that I had packed but not needed. In my mini O bag I looked for a bottle of water. Offering then to the gentleman he accepted gratefully. After a brief chat about what I had been doing all night he told me how he came to be on the streets. To my great shame I didn't even ask his name.

St Paul's Cathedral from the Millennium Foot Bridge

This was a brilliant ride. The company was great and London at night rarely disappoints. Special thanks to David who yet again guided us on yet another wonderful adventure.

If the photos or my words don't quite convey what this adventure was like, you might want to check out the short video I made. It is in the previous post.

Map of route and ride data

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