Saturday 28 January 2023

Brompton Canary Wharf Winter Lights 2023

Last Saturday saw the return of the Canary Wharf Winter Lights, sadly cancelled a few years due to the C word. At this event, several light installations are dotted around Canary Wharf that you can peruse at your leisure. 

The ride started at Brompton Junction in Covent Garden, who were very kindly allowing us London Brompton peeps to gather and have a cup of tea or coffee. The ride itself would not be that long and for me part of the appeal was getting there and getting back. 

I set off from the wilds of SW13 with about 8 miles to cycle more or less all hugging the River Thames. It was a lovely route and if I had not been rushing for the start time, I would have taken dozens of photographs. Luckily, knowing that stopping to take one would result in stopping to take more, I resisted the temptation. 

Brompton Junction was resplendent and the downstairs was the place to be. After catching up with a few familiar faces and eying up the many goodies on offer, it was time for the first of several group photos. 

At more or less 17:00 we ventured outside for the off, but this was of course put on hold for another group photos. For London Brompton peeps one is rarely enough!

As always, London looked particularly lovely at night and the weather was reasonably kind. (More on this later though)!

We headed east with the River Thames never too far away. Canary Wharf came up rather quickly and once we ascended the stairs leading up to all the lights, the Canary Wharf Winter Lights began. 

There were many light installations to see but almost instantly it became obvious that the best way to see them was on foot. I have to confess that the lights were not really the main draw for me. The cycle ride in London at night and the company was what really mattered. 

At various points we stopped and those wanting to see (and of course take photos) could leave their bikes to be watched by those not wishing to do so. I chose to view the lights from a safe distance, with a caring hand always on my Brompton...just in case!

By the time we reached an installation of the Earth, the hyperactive nature in me was getting distracted but luckily the ride had reached its end. A few took the tube and various other forms of transport to wherever home was. A few cycled back. 

I cycled back too but wanting to go faster and a slightly different route to the main group, I said my goodbyes and headed off. 

My route back to NW8 was about 10ish miles and I enjoyed every pedal stroke. However, a rather strange thing happened. When I cycled past Sadler's Wells Theatre, I really started to feel the cold. It was as if the temperature had been turned down a few degrees?! I was glad to reach a place of warmth not too many miles further.

Many thanks to Jenny for leading the ride and to Brompton Junction for being such good hosts. 

Until next time, take care out there people!

Saturday 7 January 2023

Brompton Thames Triple Chaser

It might be ten or more years ago since Mark (King of the Hill) offered his first version of this ride. I recall Mark and I going on a recce of the route, with me keeping him company. Back then parts of the Thames path were not really there and I remember us having to climb over a 2 metre fence - and get our bikes over too - so that we could continue travelling east. Since then, I have been this way many times and it always keeps me interested. Today was Mark's first offering for 2023.

The meeting point was Trafalgar Square at 09:00. It was soon obvious to me that I might be a little late as I have left NW8 with a cavalier attitude to time. Firing off a text to Mark I managed to get there fashionably late by a couple of minutes. 

After the obligatory group photo we headed off in a light drizzle and no more. We didn't get too far.

Sadly, after only a few hundred metres we heard that Auntie Kay had succumbed to a puncture. Thankfully, it was a front wheel rather than a rear but the words 'Marathon Plus' were mentioned and those of us in the know steeled ourselves for a wait of several minutes. 

A team of volunteers came to Auntie Kay's rescue and the inspection of the tyre began. Several items were recovered from small cravasses within. Pillars and fingernails could not remove said small items. My suggestion that Mark could use his teeth, politely declined. Eventually, all foreign bodies were removed and the tyre was ready to be put back on to the wheel.

Paul took this on with his eyes betraying fear. As this took place, I remarked to Peter that in years gone by, the courage and strength of individuals in small villages was not only whether they could put a 'Marathon Plus' tyre on a wheel with their bare hands but how fast they could do it. Paul completed this near labour of Hercules in record time!

With wheels rolling again we cycled along Embankment taking in the views and catching up.

At Tower Bridge many of us used the world famous architectural landmarks, as a suitable background for taking photos of our Brompton bicycles. Once one started - usually me - everyone was at it. 

The little snaking path at limehouse, as always proved to be fun to navigate and started the, 'I didn't put a foot down' challenge for several other tricky sections.

The photo below of my Brompton leaning against the fence with Canary Wharf in the distance is one I have taken at all times of the day and night and in all weathers. This ride was full of several photo opportunities just like this one. 

With our path blocked by a fence we resorted to altering our route and going up the stairs with views of the London skyline behind us and those of Canary Wharf in front. 

Arriving at Greenwich, a quick photo and I then descended the stairs that leads to the tunnel beneath the River Thames.

I managed to get a photo of the tunnel quite clear, only for moments later the lift doors to open and loads of people walking past.

The Brompton peeps made their descent too and we walked our bikes along its length until we got to the other side. 

Greeting us was the Cutty Sark, once a very fast ship, now sitting in its retirement.

Heading further east we passed the rather lovely buildings of the former Naval College - well worth a visit if you are ever that way.

The further east the less developed the Thames becomes - for now. It seems that any space will at some point become riverfront dwellings of some sort. 

In the photo below, Mark and I joked that we used to come here when it was all fields. During the first few years we came this way, the surface was nothing more than a dirt track with almost none of it developed at all. 

Along this part of the Thames are a few items of public art. A favourite is the sign below. It points north and displays, 24,859 miles - the distance around the circumference of the earth back to the sign. 

The Thames Flood Barrier, again proved its worth as an excellent background for all things Brompton.

Lots of the area in the run up to Woolwich betrays its industrial past. Many of the buildings lie derelict - for the moment - and as mentioned previously, will almost certainly be developed.

Sadly, the Woolwich Ferry was not running due to strikes and a notice informed that its weekend service would be ending. I haven't been on the ferry for years, so I will have to go one day during the week when next I am next free. 

Descending the lift at Woolwich, we went under the Thames for the second time. 

The Woolwich Foot Tunnel is very similar to that at Greenwich but it is longer. It is usually much quieter and today was no exception and we enjoyed almost having it to ourselves. 

The Cable Car across over the Thames was sadly not running due to strong winds. We did see cars travelling over but when we got to the entrance we were told it might be opening in 45 minutes time - too long for us to wait. 

The group headed back to Greenwich for the lunch stop but I made my farewells and headed back to central London. 

This was a lovely ride and one that I always enjoy. It does seem that there is unfinished business on this one - cable car, ferry - so perhaps it is one to revisit again. Many thanks to Mark for leading. 

In all, I cycled just over 30 miles. Pretty tame really but it represents my longest ride for 2023 so far. As we progress into January and beyond the miles will go up. 

Until next time, stay safe out there people. 

Sunday 1 January 2023

'A Christmas Carol' festive ride.

Last Friday, I was to join a select band of the lovely night ride to the coast peeps for a ride that would take us on a journey to some of the locations associated with 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens. The meeting point was the always convenient Hyde Park Corner. Our ride leader was night ride to the coast veteran Nick, who in addition to leading longer overnight rides, occasionally offers themed rides such as this one. 

London seemed a little quieter this morning - perhaps the run up to the New Year and people off work accounting for it. After some catching up, enjoying a cup of tea and watching the Household Cavalry doing their usual thing, we headed off in search of locations with something to do with, 'A Christmas Carol.'

'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens is quite possibly his best known work - and many might say their favourite. The appeal is of course that is it set during the Christmas period, recalling the story of old skinflint, Ebenezer Scrooge who changes his ways. It first appeared in 1843 and was said to have taken Dickens only six weeks to write. There have been several versions on both stage and screen and many great actors who have taken on the role of Scrooge, but in my opinion the greatest version bar none is 'A Muppet Christmas Carol.' 

Heading north from Hyde Park Corner we soon arrived at Bloomsbury, passing the British Museum. 

Our first location was Great Ormond Street Hospital. One of its first benefactors was none other than Charles Dickens. When the hospital was in need of more funds, it turned to Dickens who gave a whole evenings performance of his selected works, some of which involved him reading extracts of 'A Christmas Carol.'

Dickens lived at 48 Doughty Street, a Georgian terraced house, for a couple of years. During these two years he wrote 'Oliver' and 'Nicholas Nickleby.' He completed 'The Pickwick Papers' and worked on 'Barnaby Rudge.'

Outside the museum was a chap who could have been dressed in semi-Victorian attire. (I think it was the tartan trousers that did it. It turned out that he was someone who merely liked wearing tartan trousers).

Heading towards St Paul's Cathedral, I again felt that London was uncharacteristically quiet as there were few cars. I could have believed it to be a Sunday morning. 

Just in front of St Paul's, Tim (another veteran night ride to the coast ride leader and purveyor of the best halfway stop refreshments) pointed out that somewhere there was a while tile with 'Tim' carved onto it. For a few moments we had a look but sadly we could not find it. Next time I am there I will have another look. 

In Stave One of 'A Christmas Carol' it is highlighted to the reader again that 'Marley was dead' and St Paul's Churchyard is mentioned. 

Arriving at Cornnhill, The Royal Exchange building was where the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, stops by a group of businessman discussing someone who has died the previous night. They do not seem that bothered with one wanting to know what the deceased has done with his money - and not much more. 

In the opposite direction to The Royal Exchange stands, The Mansion House - in Dickens time and now -  the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London. In the book Dickens describes the stark contrast to Scrooge's attitude to Christmas with that of the Lord Mayor. 

In the book after his clerk Bob Crachit heads home on Christmas Eve, Scrooge does the same but stops off at a tavern on the way. One possibility is Ball Court. 

Getting to this was a little Harry Potter-like and I can only image what it would be like to saunter this way after dark!

Once through the Harry Potter-like alley you arrive at Simpsons. This establishment has been serving city types since 1757, and would have been around when Scrooge was making his way home. 

The end of the alley was not a disappointment and I will return at some point to see what it is like inside. 

Through another alleyway and almost doubling back on ourselves as, The George and Vulture in St Michael's Alley. Of all the taverns it is likely that this is the one Scrooge would have visited. Dickens was a frequent visitor and it featured in 'Pickwick Papers.' Even more evidence is the fact that just before Christmas each year, descendants of the author gather in a room in the upper tavern to enjoy a Christmas luncheon. 

The nearby St Michael's Cornhill is a possible contender for the mention of a 'gruff old bell...always peeping silly down on Scrooge out of a gothic window in the wall...'

Not far away, Leadenhall Market was almost certainly the location that on Christmas morning, Scrooge awakes to find he has not missed Christmas Day, asking a small boy whether the prize turkey is still hanging up in the window of the poulterer in the next street. It was almost certainly here where the boy in the story was hold to go and buy it.  The current market replaced the old one in 1881 and you can still see the large hooks outside many of the shops that used to have geese and turkeys hanging from them.

The final location was Branbant Court. There is strong evidence pointing to Dickens having this building in mind for the home of Scrooge as he mentions that Scrooge had to grope his way through the darkness of the yard. A lovely house it is too. 

We crossed the river heading south and the group retired to a quieter tavern for some refreshments. I headed back across the river and north to NW8 and as I did, I had selected songs from 'A Muppet Christmas Carol' playing at the back of my mind.

This was to be my last adventure of 2022 and what a fitting end it was. A lovely route, ride and great company. Many thanks to Nick.

As I type this, it is now 2023 so a happy new year to you all. I do hope that I will go on many more adventures in 2023. 

Until next time, stay safe out there people!