Riders: Claire (organiser), Alan, Steve, Dan, Beckie, Andrea, Keyna, Paula, & Mark
Support & there for the Big Night Out in Staines: Sarah, Bruce, Marion & Chip the dog (who enjoyed his evening watching TV at the Travelodge)
We set off at 8am sharp from Northbrook Street on a beautiful clear but cold morning, and blasted along the tow path of the Kennet & Avon canal for the 20 miles into Reading in just over 2 hours. It was a little too enjoyable having a coffee break in the sun outside The Oracle by the big M, but we dragged ourselves away to join the Thames path and follow it up to Sonning. National Cycle Route 4 then turns off the tow path and takes an “off road” section along the A4 – this being a cycle lane on the pavement. From Wargrave though it was on small lanes up to the high point of the whole route – Bowsey Hill at 130m – the ride down the track the other side was a mile of pure pleasure. Scenic farm lanes took us into Maidenhead where we were impressed with the route signposting through the housing estates, and we were soon out the other side rejoining the Thames at Bray. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a suitable pub for lunch so we snacked on nibbles at Boveney Lock before continuing along the Thames into Windsor. We didn’t see much of Windsor, as we religiously followed the NCR4 signs through housing estates and into Windsor Great Park encountering another small hill up to The Village from where there was a good view of the castle. We finally found a pub we all agreed on as we left the park at Bishopsgate – now only 4 miles from our destination.
The last 4 miles took us a few hours. First we detoured at Runnymede to visit the Kennedy memorial (stepping foot on American soil) and the Magna Carta memorial. Then Dan got the first (and second) puncture of the weekend. Whilst he spent the best part of an hour faffing with inner tubes and rubbish pumps purchased from Lidl, the rest of us dozed in the sun. No sooner had we got going again with Staines in our sights, when Andrea got a puncture. Everyone gathered round to help and we were away again in 10 minutes!
We took a while locking our bikes to the entrance of Staines Travelodge, utilising several locks that Bruce had carefully spent the previous evening selecting. After sorting out rooms and hot showers it was cocktails in the bar next door before a very nice meal and plenty of bottles to drink at Mamma Mia’s – where we spent £6 on vegetables and £163 on wine! Some then drifted off for an early night whilst the usual suspects managed to appreciate the night life of Staines into the early hours.
It was a nice easy start on Sunday following the Thames path out of Staines to Laleham. It was then on minor roads at Shepperton, where we encountered thousands of riders going in the opposite direction on the Palace to Palace charity event (and who kept shouting out to us that we were going the wrong way). When we turned off at a roundabout we did manage to fool a few who started following us! We were too early for the ferry at Shepperton so carried on along the road to rejoin the Thames at Walton, where we stopped for bacon butties and tea at a riverside kiosk. A long stretch on the Thames path followed, stopping to admire Hampton Court Palace, before leaving the Thames to go through Richmond Park on traffic free roads. It was back to the Thames for a short stretch to Putney, where we then had to brace ourselves to tackle the London traffic. Following the NCR4 signs through London were a challenge, but the route (when we were on it) did take us through some interesting quieter back streets and the miles flew by. We stopped for lunch at a small cheap cafe in Pimlico, and rejoined the Thames at Lambeth. At the London Eye Andrea departed us for Waterloo to return home for a prior engagement, but to everyone’s shock Keyna joined her, mumbling something about wanting to see her new curtains hanging in her lounge. Keyna will never be allowed to forget this moment of domestic weakness!
The South Bank route proved even more of a challenge to follow, and it wasn’t just because it was now raining – there were some places where we were convinced the signs had been moved round. Disaster then struck in Bermondsey, when Alan’s gear derailleur literally fell apart. It seemed like this was game over, but Dan came to the rescue and using the tools we had between us, he removed the whole gear mechanism, took out the broken cogs in the chain, and refitted the chain in one position. This seemed to work and Alan was able to continue, albeit having to stop every 5 minutes or so to reposition the chain when it fell off. We were soon in Greenwich, the end of NCR4, and we celebrated at Starbucks. But nothing could stop us completing the final 6 miles of the Thames Path, and we all continued to the Thames Barrier, a very lonely place on a wet Sunday afternoon.
The journey home then commenced, and we were all excited about taking our bikes on the Thames Clipper for the 45 minute journey back up the Thames to Westminster. The idea had then been to take the bikes on the circle line to Paddington, but unfortunately it was closed, and given Alan’s bike problems and that it was now getting dark, we decided not to cycle to Paddington, but take the tortuous 3 hour train journey back from Waterloo. Although we didn’t all make the same train, we all met up again at Reading. The final sting in the tail was when Claire got on her bike at Newbury – to discover she had a puncture – and thus had to walk the final mile home!
The total distance cycled was at least 100 miles – including the extra mile or 2 ridden to and from the start – except for Claire who walked the last mile so only did 99!