Monday, 30 December 2019

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 7, Windsor Great Park

Kms ridden: 133
Running total: 503
Kms left: 0

Weather: sunny, 12 degC

Parks: Bushy; Windsor Great; Gunnersbury; Chiswick; Holland; Regents; Hyde

Route on Strava

Although today's post is entitled Windsor Great Park, that lovely park in Berkshire to the west of London, this was actually a mega ride that went all the way back into central London and took in Royal Parks before returning to Crystal Palace.

Bushy Park - the unsung hero of Royal Parks

Having roughly 130km left to reach the magic 500km, I had toyed with the idea of doing the whole lot in one day.

As long as I left the house early I would be able to do the ride.

This would be a largely flat ride as there would only be small lumps at Virginia Water and within Windsor Great Park.

Also, given that the ride would be mainly within the London conurbation even if it got dark this would not be a problem as the roads would be well lit, as opposed to be stuck out on misty country lanes of Sussex in the dark.

So I set off from home at around 9am, passing through a misty South-West London. Fortunately, the sun did come out and all mist was burned away. So by the time I reached Richmond and Twickenham the day looked lovely.

My first park of the day was Bushy Park, the unsung hero to me. Folks rave on about the nearby Richmond Park and Wimbledon Common, and Hampton Court Palace across the road, but forget about Bushy Park.

If a park like Bushy existed in any other town people would be marvelling at how beautiful it is. But because of its more "glamorous" neighbours it doesn't get mentioned much.

Even I admit that many a time I have breezed straight past the place when on a cycle ride to Hampton Court, or en route to Windsor. So today, I was happy to ride a route that took me right through Bushy.

Bushy Park is pretty large, pan flat, with a lake and ornate fountain. It's an extremely pleasant place to do a run. In fact, the Park Run - something that millions of people up and down the country do every Saturday morning - began in Bushy Park. The event has one of the biggest fields, with numbers regularly exceeding 2,000!

Otherwise, if you are feeling less energetic there are plenty of places to just stop among the regularly arranged trees and have a picnic.

Once back on the road I breezed past Hampton Court Palace and pushed on to Virginia Water, one of my favourite parks in the South-East. Along the way, I saw lots of groups of cyclists. That is not an uncommon sight, but what struck me more was the pace that people were riding at - almost like there was a sense of urgency. It made me think that they were probably trying to get in their Festive 500 kilometres before tomorrow's deadline!

As usual, Virginia Water was packed with Christmas walkers from Surrey and Berkshire. From there, I rode up through Windsor Great Park and into Windsor, where there were humongous queues to get into the Castle. I can't believe that people would hang around all day standing in line!  At least the sun was out.

A brief period of calm on Eton Bridge, after the bustle around Windsor Castle
Once past the tourists in Windsor and Eton my ride took on a much less glamorous landscape as I passed through drab suburbs near Slough, and then up through places like West Drayton and Southall before reaching Gunnersbury Park.

This park took me back to 30 years ago when I was a student at Warwick University, and spent a summer in Ealing. Gunnersbury Park felt like the centre of the universe! Today, it was a modest, though still pleasant neighbourhood park. 

By the time I reached Chiswick it was getting dark and it was getting a bit desolate being stuck out on the busy South Circular Road.

Finally made it to Westminster - 500km done!
Thankfully, that spell didn't last long, and my route then took me through Hammersmith, Kensington and then into central London via Holland Park.

Being in the West End I couldn't omit to go around the Royal Parks, so I did a quick stint around Regents Park while getting overtaken by lots of chain gang club riders. Then I had to battle my way through the crowds visiting Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park.

My 500km were achieved in Dulwich, South London however I chose to do my photo shoot in Westminster where it would be better lit at night.

Related posts
Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 6, South Downs National Park

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 5, Box Hill

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 4, Knole Park

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 3, Beckenham/Croydon

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 2, East/Central London

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 1, Richmond Park

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 6, South Downs National Park

Kms ridden: 23
Running total: 370
Kms left: 130

Weather: Sunny, with evening mist, 10 degC

Parks: South Downs National; Preston 

Route on Strava

As those who have done or are doing the Festive 500 will know, the most challenging aspect of the riding is finding the time to get out and ride. For me this has been pretty much the same too, with days flying by and being dominated by bike riding.

Sadly, we ordinary folks don't have the luxury of someone to clean up our bikes after a messy day out, or someone who can do our laundry for us or prepare our meals. And of course there's just the simple deed of getting life done, which becomes difficult to juggle when you are out riding at least 40 miles every day.

I decided I needed to have a bit of breathing space, so today was the day to catch up on other things a little rather than going on a bike ride first thing in the morning.

Entry into the South Downs Park, from the Brighton end of Ditchling Road
As a result I set off for Brighton by car at lunchtime in a hope of riding around the South Downs National Park.

The intention was to park somewhere near central Brighton and then do a loop up to Ditchling Beacon, over to Devil's Dyke and then back.

That didn't quite work out though because parking in Brighton was a real challenge. There are some areas where I have managed to find spaces in the past, but today it was nigh on impossible. In the end I found a space on the edge of the city, just off the Ditchling Road - which I guess was a handy place for the start of my ride.

By the time the ride began it was not long before 3pm, so I only had an hour to do the circuit before night fell. Realising there was no time to waste I just pushed on as best I could. Riding up to Ditchling Beacon from this side of the hill was a novelty for me, as my normal route would be to approach it from the north, when doing a London to Brighton ride. Going up this way the road was an uphill grind, but it was not as steep as I had anticipated, considering how fast the road is when coming down into Brighton. Also, it wasn't a constant climb, but more like an undulating road.

Today had been a glorious sunny day - at least when I was driving down from London. However, as the South Downs drew nearer the atmosphere became cooler and my glasses got steamed up as it became misty and damp.

Once at Ditchling Beacon there were still quite a lot of walkers and mountain bikers riding along the South Downs Way trail. But there was a very low number of road cyclists compared with the numbers you normally see huffing and puffing up the hill from Ditchling village.

From my vantage point, at around 235m above sea level I would normally be able to see the city of Brighton including the Brighton i360 ride and the AMEX Stadium, home of Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club. However today, everything was shrouded in mist. Furthermore, I was getting colder and colder as it became less fun to be there.

So I ditched my plan to go to Devil's Dyke and just turned back and retraced Ditchling Road to return to central Brighton. I was glad to have brought with me extra coats and high vis as it was pretty cold on the descent, and there was a bit too much mist for comfort, as I descended the twisty road, which still had its fair share of motorists.

Once back in Brighton I did a little loop around Preston Park - a place where I have raced in the past, and did a mini tour of the town centre, which as usual was just Brighton - with all it's hip shops around the North Lane area.

Riding back up to the car from central Brighton was pretty testing, and that probably explained why the earlier ride from my car to Ditchling Beacon had been more like a false flat - because the steep climbs kick in close to the city centre, so that on the edge of city limits things actually level off.

In the end, my ride was only 23 kms long, though it felt like I had ridden double the distance! It had been a short day in the saddle but I think my body and my mind appreciated a low mileage day for once.

Related posts
Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 5, Box Hill

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 4, Knole Park

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 3, Beckenham/Croydon

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 2, East/Central London

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 1, Richmond Park

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 5, Box Hill

Kms ridden:77
Running total: 347
Kms left: 153

Weather: Cloudy, mild 9 degC

Parks: Oaks; Box Hill Country; Gatton; Crystal Palace

Route on Strava

As it had been a while since I was last at Box Hill I decided to include this route in my Festive 500. After all, Box Hill is set within a country park, so why not have it as part of my park life theme!

My route into the Surrey Hills was slightly circuitous compared with my "plain vanilla" route via Coulsdon and Kingswood. Instead I went via Woodmasterne, Banstead and Epsom. It is slightly hillier, and a longer route than usual, but given that I am in the business of clocking up miles at the moment, I wasn't complaining!

The route took me past Oaks Park, near Wallington. There wasn't much to see there as I was on my road bike so couldn't advance very far into the park. It was also too early into the ride to do a coffee stop there either. So I pressed on past there and the lavender fields opposite.

There is a lot of parkland en route to Box Hill, notably on the Epsom Downs and around the Racecourse. But these are not technically named as parks so I couldn't give them a name. But just to suffice to say that there is a lot of green space in this area - much in keeping with the various parts of London where I have ridden so far.

Weatherwise, things were improving. There was still no sign of any sunshine, but at least the temperature was rising a little.

No sunshine, but still loads of cyclists out on Box Hill
On reaching the zig zag road up to Box Hill I saw many riders all doing the climb up to the National Trust cafe to the top at different paces. That's the great thing about Box Hill.

It must be the most ridden hill in the UK not just because it is regularly ridden by pros during the 2012 Olympics year at Ride London, but anyone who has a bike likes to have a go.

Granted, most people are on road bikes but there are still plenty of folks on hybrids - I even saw someone riding up there on a Brompton once. Whatever bike you ride and whatever pace you do it, everyone queues up for a snack at the top. So it is a democratic hill, and a busy hill - as it was today.

I did a couple of videos while at the top, and attracted the attention of quite a few riders who came up and chatted. People admired the fact that I was doing the Festive 500, though I must admit that it was surprising that none of the people I spoke to were doing it. It was hardly as though they were incapable of taking on the challenge given how strong they looked.

The most common reason given for not taking on the Festive 500 was family commitments over the Christmas period. I can understand that. With or without family commitments it isn't easy to ensure that you get in the miles. I have found that doing the Festive 500 does require a bit of thought and planning. At this time of year it is so easy for a day of bad weather, visiting a friend or family member, or even illness can just throw everything out of line and you are immediately playing catch-up.

If you go away to a training camp it is easy enough to get in 500km because that is the specific reason for being in Mallorca or Club Santa, or whichever warm-weather destination. The weather is inviting too.

However, when you're at home it is hard to fit things in around all the other distractions, and the weather at this time of year makes it all too easy to just say "computer says no" and get on with other things. So maybe it's not all that surprising that many people shun the idea of doing the Festive 500.

While at Box Hill I bumped into Bridget Malarkey, a fellow rider from when I was at Addiscombe Cycling Club. It was good to catch up with her after what seemed like years. She was looking lean and fit, although she said she didn't feel that way at all, and was a bit worried about not being fit enough to get through the rides on her upcoming trip to Colombia. The Festive 500 could have been good preparation for her trip, but ironically she was too busy to do it.

For my return route home I skipped Walton-on-the-Hill and Kingswood, and instead opted for another circuitous route to take in the extremely fast descent of Pebble Hill, to then ride into Reigate and go via Gatton Park. This route also led me discover a cheekily steep climb on Wray Lane, a road which goes right past the park and to Reigate Hill car park. I was quite caught out by this climb, and almost put my foot to the ground (shock horror)!

In my manor, Crystal Palace Park
The nice thing is I was rewarded with a lovely descent through Gatton Bottom, and my run in back to Croydon was gently downhill. Then once back in my neighbourhood I felt refreshed and ready to take on a couple of small hills in Crystal Palace and in the park before going home for a well-earned mince pie.

Related posts
Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 4, Knole Park

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 3, Beckenham/Croydon

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 2, East/Central London

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life Tour: Day 1, Richmond Park

Friday, 27 December 2019

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 4, Knole Park

Kms ridden: 85
Running total: 270
Kms left: 230

Weather: Cold and cloudy; 7 degC

Parks: Lullingstone Country; Knole; High Elms Country

Route on Strava

Knole House, home of the Sackville West family, in Knole Park
Today's weather was not anything to write home about. It was cloudy and cold, but the fact that there was no rain was a blessing - especially after the torrent from yesterday.

My featured park of the day was Knole Park, a very pleasant deer park just south of Sevenoaks.

It's got the same feel as Richmond Park - undulating ancient parkland with deer, a stately home (owned by the Sackville-West family, of Bloomsbury fame), lots of walkers, and a big car park.

If the road through the park was wider and did a full unbroken circuit of the park I suspect there would be more cyclists there. But I think the National Trust, who manage the park I much too savvy to allow that! Instead, there is a relatively narrow road which gets quite congested with two-way traffic, and a car park that gets a bit overcrowded as all of Kent descends on this green space during holiday periods.

Still, it is a very pleasant place to be, and when I manage to get as far as here on my bike it's quite a treat. 

While in the park, a BBC Radio 5 Live reporter, Lesley Ashmall stopped me and asked me about my bike riding. She was doing a piece on how people feel the need to get out and be active after spending Christmas sitting in front of the telly, stuffing themselves with lots of chocolates and biscuits.

I didn't really want to blow her report out of the water by saying I'd cycled over 100 miles over the last few days, so I just gave an answer around how nice it is to be in the park and I was hoping to be able to make it back to London by bike. She was impressed with my ride and was quite chatty. The show aired on the early evening radio show, so I listened out for my vox pop.

Interestingly, for all the interviewing the reporter did with me, the editors only actually used one sentence from our conversation! It reminds me of the episode of Gavin and Stacey when Mick Shipman (played by Larry Lamb) is interviewed for a news programme. All his family and friends make a big occasion of staying in to watch his 15 minutes of fame on TV to see him, but in the end the broadcast included barely four words from his interview 20-minute interview. Oh well, 5 seconds of fame it is then!

As for the ride, it was a good day out with some quality miles put in. The hardest parts of my ride were on two hills - both called Old Hill. The first Old Hill was in Chislehurst, a road which I regularly ride. It's only a short hill, but it has a stiff gradient and the road is quite narrow, meaning motorists often have to stop and give way to me as I grind up the road. Thankfully they are quite patient, and sympathetic!

The other Old Hill is near Cudham - also a narrow steep road, but on a one-way street. This is slightly more manageable than its counter part in Chislehurst, but as I was tackling the hill towards the end of my ride it was that bit tough for me.

A notable nice area of the ride was around Eynsford where I passed Lullingstone Castle, and then later, Knatts Valley. Along this area there were hardly any motorists and the area was wild and desolate with the odd farm house or oast house dotted around.

Today was also a day where I saw a number of cyclists along different parts of the route. This is a popular area for South London based clubs - not just for the beauty and the quietness of the roads, but also for the undulating roads which are great for training. I definitely felt like I'd worked when I arrived home.

Related posts
Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 3, Beckenham/Croydon

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 2, East/Central London

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 1, Richmond Park

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 3, South London suburbs

Kms ridden: 35
Running total: 185
Kms left: 315

Weather: Heavy rain and windy; 7 degC

Parks: Cator; Beckenham Place; Kelsey; Spring/Monks Orchard; Spring/Sparrows Den; Lloyd; South Norwood Country

Route on Strava

Given the forecast for continuous rain all day, I decided that my ride would be short and close to home. So this was mainly an off-road ride on trails in local parks.

Mansion at Beckenham Place Park
On one hand, being off-road in woodland areas meant that I kept clear of the worst of the heavy rain. On the hand though, being off-road meant that my mountain bike ride was a lot slower than if I had been on the tarmac, and furthermore, I rode through such muddy terrain that by the time I finished my ride me and my bike were one soggy mess.

Initially, when in the first couple of parks - Cator Park and Beckenham Place Park - the sun almost came out, and I thought that I may have gotten lucky with the weather. But it was not to be, and as I travelled towards Shirley the day became darker and darker as the rain got heavier, eventually becoming torrential. 

At Bethlem Hospital I took a little breather to regroup and consider whether I should amend my itinerary. In the end I just pressed on, knowing that there would be a number of bail-out points if I felt I'd had enough. 

Although I was getting drenched, my layers were doing their job, and I still stayed warm. I had on a good dhb base layer, and a Rapha Brevet jersey, which was amazing at keeping me warm and dry.
I also had on Cube overshoes, which were pretty handy.

Waterproofed up from head to toe
Bethlem Hospital has a park and woodland known as Spring Park. I have done cyclocross races there in the past, and it is also used for Park Runs. So it was definitely worth doing a mini tour around there.

From there I moved on to another park also called Spring Park - in Shirley! This one was also in woodland, though was a bit bigger and set on the side of a hill, meaning a lot of care was needed as I took some sketchy descents towards West Wickham. Even in this grim weather there were still people out doing their Boxing Day walk. As I passed them we greeted each other almost as a mark of solidarity between kindred spirits.

A well-used bike from the local muddy trails
Next up was Lloyd Park, near Croydon. The best thing about this park was that there is now a tarmacked path that goes around the edge of the park, which I made use of.

Lloyd Park is a Park Run venue and is also regularly used as a course for cross country races. So it is fair to say that at this time of year the grass is constantly churned up and waterlogged - not something I found appealing today.

If I thought I'd avoided the mud of Lloyd Park, I couldn't avoid the clag in the final park, at South Norwood Country Park. Maybe because it was the home straight of my ride I became a bit enthusiastic with my pace, which meant mud splashed all over the place, and by the time I reached home I looked like I'd been in a cyclocross race.

I didn't care by this point though, and was just glad to have done the route I'd planned, and my faithful old mountain bike had not lead me down.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 2, East and Central London

Kms ridden: 70
Running total: 150
Kms left: 350

Weather: Mild and sunny; 11 degC

Parks: Brockwell; Highbury Fields; London Fields; Victoria; Queen Elizabeth Olympic; Mile End; Green; St James; Burgess; Brunswick

Routes on Strava
Ride to Highbury Fields Park run
Post-Park run ride

My day began with a ride up to Highbury Fields to do the Christmas Day Park Run. The plan had been to do a mini London tour, as I am accustomed to doing on Christmas Day. So with that I thought why not throw in a 5km run as well.
Arriving at Highbury Fields for the Park Run
Naturally I took it easy as I trotted around the five laps of the park, knowing that I would be cycling straight afterwards. Mind you, I was going to be on an eBike so I also knew that if I was flagging I would be able to add in a bit of throttle!

This Festive 500 is not only characterised by riding through parks, but also using different bicycles. Yesterday I was on my road bike; today I'm was on a Liv eBike, which I am testing. I also plan to use my mountain bike and my cyclocross bike during the week too.

After the run, I headed over to Hackney and passed through London Fields and then onwards to Victoria Park. The glorious sunny weather had brought out quite a lot of people, and many folks were out with their families for a Christmas walk. In Victoria Park there was even an amateur football match taking place.

From Victoria Park it was a quick scoot across via Wick Road, to reach the Greenway through the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It was surprisingly easy to get there and find myself right next to the Olympic stadium.

Nowadays the Olympic Stadium is the home ground of West Ham United Football Club. It seems quite a grand place to have a football ground, though I know that relocating from Upton Park to here was quite an unpopular decision with the fans. Anyway, who am I to worry about West Ham fans, particularly as they are due to play against my home side Crystal Palace tomorrow!
Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park

It's always quite a strange feeling going around a place that would normally be bustling with athletes and sports fans, but on this day there was hardly anyone around.

And even though there was this grand stadium and the Olympic Games sculpture, there was still a sense of East London dereliction, with patches of wasteland, graffiti, and high-rise social housing blocks.

Having lots of people around, and sports events taking place makes a massive difference to the atmosphere.

After a quick tour I was back into Victoria Park and pushed on through Mile End Park and then into Central London via the segregated cycle path on Cable Street.

At Tower Bridge I made the most of it being Christmas Day and rode on streets that would normally be too congested to ride through on any other day. So my ride took me through the City, past the Mansion House and then into the West End via Ludgate Circus and Holborn Viaduct.

Surprisingly, from the West End onwards there were quite a lot of people, and even - shock horror - traffic jams around Piccadilly Circus!

There was no public transport running as it was Christmas Day, however there were still lots of black taxis and Uber cabs. Plus, loads of tourists were around and there even appeared to be organised walking tours happening around Piccadilly and near Buckingham Palace too.

Soaking in the atmosphere at Buckingham Palace
The Mall is normally closed to traffic on Sundays and Bank Holidays, so pedestrians are free to roam around the whole street.

And it seemed that people had really made the most of this opportunity in their droves, as there were as many people, if not more pedestrians than you would see ordinarily on a Sunday.

I wondered if the large numbers was also due to people bringing forward their Boxing Day walk, knowing that the weather forecast was for a wash-out.

In any case, there was a nice atmosphere in all the parks I went to, and it was great to be out in the sunshine.

I am not sure how the motorists felt on Tower Bridge, which had quite a long tail-back to get over it. Thankfully, being on a bike meant that I wasn't held up too much. I think it is fair to say now, that the days when you could ride on empty roads through Central London on Christmas Day are gone!

By the time I reached my final park, Burgess Park in Peckham, the run, the ride, and my lack of breakfast had begun to catch up with me and I was obliged to use a bit of throttle on the homeward run - especially as the ride to Crystal Palace from here was mainly uphill.

I must say, the Liv Thrive E+ which I was on was a real joy to ride. It looked a nice bike too, and responded just when I needed it to.

When I reached home I felt tired, but happy with the sights and sounds I had taken in, and I was ready to relax with my family and enjoy a bit of Christmas food.

Related post
Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 1

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Rapha Festive 500 - Park Life tour: Day 1, Richmond Park

Kms ridden: 80
Kms left: 420

Weather: Overcast with sunny intervals; 8 degC

Parks: Richmond; Wimbledon; Norwood Country

Route on Strava

Another year, another Festive 500. It's great to get in with the spirit of this event, which has been going for 10 years now. I know some folks are a bit sceptical about it and aren't into this sort of global fad of riding 500km between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.

I have to say I have a penchant for it because it's a sure fire way of getting me out of the house to ride my bike every day - especially as I'm at an age where even sniffing at food makes me pile on calories.
So I am in favour of anything that counters the middle-age spread - especially at a time when the Christmas binge is de rigueur.

Sawyer's Hill, Richmond Park
My theme for last year's Festive 500 was disused railway lines.  This year it is parks. So I will aim to get around city parks, country parks and national parks.

Today was quite straight forward as I visited parks not too far from home.

Christmas Eve is always a difficult day as I have to fit it in around last minute Christmas preparations, so my mileage tends to be fairly average.

I was glad to get in 50 miles by doing a few laps of Richmond Park and then making tracks via Wimbledon Park, and passing my local South Norwood Country Park to reach home.

I would have like to have done Bushy Park, but time caught up with me.

As usual, there were quite a few people riding laps of Richmond Park,  though numbers were a little down partly due to Christmas commitments I imagine, as well as a dodgy weather forecast.

We've had a lot of rain recently, and today also had its share. Throughout the ride, the Kingston side of Richmond Park had angry skies above it. Everywhere looked grim, and there was a sense that the rain would come bucketing down at any moment. Conversely, on the Roehampton side of the park everywhere was bathed in glorious sunshine. Commonly, both sides were pretty cold and I didn't even get hot as I huffed and puffed up Sawyer's Hill and Broomfield Hill.

Having a break at Pembroke Lodge, Richmond Park
The cold weather was a little downer on the day as I hadn't been expecting it, and I had become accustomed to warm rain!

The forecast for this week is once again changeable, so I may also amend my itinerary to benefit from the least unpleasant weather. I guess that's a perk of having a parks-based theme. There are parks everywhere!

Here's hoping for nice weather for Christmas Day.

Related posts
Reflections on Rapha Festive 500

Why I like the Festive 500