My first night ride to the coast was back in 2013 and since then they have become a firm favourite of mine. I have lost count of the number that I have taken part in since then but they always cause a little buzz of excitement - the first in the season perhaps more so. This one was London to Southend and the weather was set to be kind in terms of chances of rain.
I made the short journey to the start point near not far from the London Eye and decided to take a photo to mark the occasion. Naturally I could have taken many more but decided against it and resisted the temptation.
At the meeting point there were many familiar faces. Jenny, Sam, Chris, Lisa, Charlie, Stuart, Greg, Bob and ride leader (and now Brompton owner) Ross. Later on Dr John made an appearance.
With the moon full in a cloudless sky, Ross gave his rider stalk that included the ever popular interactive safety instructions and we readied ourselves for the off.
Being only 55 miles, the off time was a little off the traditional stroke of midnight, perhaps as we might have arrived at the halfway stop and end too early.
We made very good progress and the moon illuminated our way throughout the night/early morning in a pretty much cloudless sky. It occurred to me that it would make for very good night photography and sure enough I saw several people dotted around with tripods doing just that.
We stopped briefly at St Dunstan's Stepney which has been a place of worship for over a thousand years. Part of our route took use on part of the route use Brompton peeps have used for years for our rides hugging the Thames near Wapping. This also has an abundance of cobbled roads and reminded me of the 'Cobble Monster' that will be returning in a few weeks time featuring lots of cobbles too.
Our progress was very good and there was an absence of mechanicals or punctures for the entire ride. The absence of rain really does help with that. We arrived at Stratford in very good time and it was an interesting location to stop at. One lady was having a heated exchange on her phone and whoever was on the other end was definitely for it. That person on the other end actually turned up and was told face to face what she had told him on the phone and as she proceeded towards him he turned heal and was off! Not long after that four police officers arrived but anticipating this the lady was last seen running in the opposite direction. To my knowledge she evaded them completely.
This was a new route for Southend however some of it seemed to me part of the old route to Burnham-on- Crouch. A couple of hours into the ride and the urban more or less gave way to rural and the absence of street lighting was the sign for me to turn on my extra front light.
Sanctuary came in the very welcome form of the 1st Doddinghurst Scout hut. This group of scouts formed over 110 years ago and the funds raised from our halfway stop will go towards some new lighting. I have to report that the homemade cakes and sandwiches were excellent and I do hope that if we go to Southend again, we will pay them another visit.
We stayed inside the warmth for about an hour and of course most of the Brompton riders brought their beloved bikes inside rather than leaving them outside as the big wheeled riders had. The bonus of a folding bicycle I suppose.
When we made our goodbyes to the lovely people at the scout hut, perhaps as usual, I (along with many others) started to feel the cold. I put on a couple of neck warmers and decided that I would try and pedal faster in order to warm up. This took a while and although I did later take off one of the neck warmers, one stayed until I boarded the train home!
The route took us to the same little ford that we cross on the Burnham-on-Crouch route. We were warned against trying to ford it and there was no way my beloved Brompton was going through it. Perhaps urban myth, but I am sure someone needed to be rescued from the middle of it as it was that deep after heavy rain on a previous ride!?
I took the helpful little path to the right of it, happy in the knowledge that no Brompton bicycle would be harmed by a rush of blood to the head and cycling through it!
As we progressed there were a few inclines and one fellow Bromptonian on a rather lovely P Line quite simply raced up each and every hill. Anyone thinking 4x gears may not be enough, might have to think again.
For this ride my beloved Orange Titanium came out to play. I really do love this bike and have been itching to get it out again for ages.
Part of the appeal for these nocturnal rides is the transition from night to day. Birds start singing and the sun makes an appearance. Slowly it can be seen rising from the horizon, casting wonderful colours - often orange tones - and it is one of the reasons I like these rides so much.
In addition the scenery as you go by and little villages and interesting buildings are also something to look forward to seeing.
One these rides you do meet all sorts of people. Very often catching up with friends is very much on the cards but you have the chance to have a chat with however is cycling at your side.
Our ride leader Ross also had a very good eye for a photo and I took one of him taking a photo of the riders with the moon in the background.
With the back of the ride almost broken we cycled the last few miles into a slight headwind. It was going to be a beautiful day.
We regrouped on the same high street we always do before making the last final push to the end of the ride.
In the distance the remains of Hadleigh Castle could just about be made out. Build after 1215 on soft London clay it has suffered from subsidence over the years. Hopefully its Grade I listed status will preserve what remains.
With the famous mile-long pier in the distance we had made it to Southend. The end of the ride was at the Beaches Cafe a little way past the pier but with some great view of it and the Thames Estuary.
With a photo opportunity not to be missed I lined things up and then waited for Dr John. He decided to stay for breakfast but as per usual I decided to head for the station.
I got the first train to Fenchurch Street station and the 55ish minutes flew by. Trying not to nod off was a real struggle and there were times when I was abruptly woken from my slumber. Once at Fenchurch Street I made the journey home and was back well before 10:00 a.m. so I was very pleased.
This was a great start to the night rides to the coast and I already look forward to the rest. Many thanks to Ross for leading the ride and the Tail End Charlies for their vital shouts of 'all up!'
Until next time, stay safe out there people!