Saturday 20 June 2020

Cycle route: South London to Central London (mainly traffic-free)

As more and more people take to two wheels, particularly around London, I wanted to share a route I took last Sunday when going from my local area, Crystal Palace, to central London.

On Blackfriars Bridge

This is a route that a lot of people will take, particularly if are among those who don't work from home, and therefore must travel to their place of work in London. Others may even just want to go to London for a recreational visit, stroll around the royal parks, go shopping, or meet a friend - in a socially distant way of course!

Quite a lot of people talk about how dangerous it is, how there are too many cars, how cycling unfriendly London is.... Well, I took this route and I was quite happy with it. It's a route I would recommend to anyone who wants to cycle into London. It's around 10 miles, goes along quiet roads, segregated cycle paths, and through parks. You can even do the route at a leisurely pace and enjoy the scenery and landmarks that London has to offer.

For this ride I rode an E-Bike, the Liv Thrive E+, which I have been riding of late, to get around London and beyond. It's been so useful to have it - including for me, as someone who also does training rides. Sometimes it's just nice to have a bike that can give me a little bit of assistance after a training session, especially when getting out of hilly Crystal Palace while I'm a bit pooped!

Leaving Crystal Palace

The first section of the ride takes me across Betts Park in Anerley, and onto Maple Road to reach Penge. Going up through Penge is where the climbing starts. It is possible to ride up through Crystal Palace Park to reach the top of the hill, though I stayed on the main road as there is a wide enough strip marked out for cyclists, and the road is wide enough to accommodate motorists and cyclists.

The top of the road near the junction and mini roundabouts has a bus lane, and cycle paths to get you across the junction to turn right for the descent along College Road. 

In Edward Alleyn's backyard

College Road is very popular with cyclists of all ages and levels. And on this sunny Sunday there were many riders out and about. Given that part of it is a toll road, there are fewer motorists than on other roads. Just beware of the speed bumps!

Dulwich Village
College Road and Dulwich College, on that road, are two well-known features that form part of The Dulwich Estate, founded by the actor and friend of William Shakespeare, Edward Alleyn in 1619. 

This guy was big in Dulwich, having set up the Estate as a charity to provide education for underpriviledged children through its various schools - including Dulwich College and Alleyn School. 

A number of roads and a pub are named after Edward Alleyn. The Estate owns a large amount of land and property, including Herne Hill Velodrome. Between interests like the tolled College Road, income from rented properties and leased land, the Dulwich Estate has the means to keep the listed buildings of Dulwich Village and the surrounding areas looking immaculate. 

Once at the bottom of College Road I reach Dulwich Park, another stretch of land originally owned by Edward Alleyn. These days the Grade II listed park is run by Southwark Council, and I must say it's always a pleasure to stop by there. 


Onwards from Dulwich Village, my route goes to East Dulwich, where there is a traffic-free cycle path called Green Dale. It is a steady climb up to Denmark Hill, where you cross the road, go through some back streets to reach Ruskin Park - named after the artist and painter John Ruskin who later settled in the Lake District.

South London massive

Very soon I am at the large medical teaching and research centre, King's College Hospital. From here there is a distinct ambiance of being in "urban London", as some of the tall buildings of the city come into view. The route goes through the back streets of Camberwell, Myatts Fields, and Kennington, to reach Elephant & Castle roundabout.

This junction used to instil fear into most cyclists, and was sadly the scene of a number of cyclist fatalities. Thankfully, following a £25m overhaul of the roundabout, including improving the cycle lanes and quiet ways around there by the Mayor of London, you can cross the junction safely.

Elephant & Castle is the first place where you find a segregated cycle superhighway, and in fact from here on in, the route is largely traffic-free as there are various segregated cycle paths to use. This path leads to Lambeth, near Westminster Bridge, though I turn right before that onto a spur road to St George's Circus, where I reach the extensive Cycle Superhighway (known as CS6) that goes to Clerkenwell, via Blackfriars Bridge. 

This is a nice and wide that allows two-way traffic for cyclists, complete with cycle-specific traffic lights too. On a working day huge numbers of riders snake up and down this path and, dare I say it, even a bit of commuting racing going on!

Welcome to Westminster

At the end of Blackfriars Bridge a left-hand turn gets me onto another Cycle Superhighway along the River Thames to Westminster. It's an iconic stretch giving views synonymous with the famous London skyline - South Bank, the London Eye, Big Ben (once they remove the scaffolding)!

On The Mall - traffic-free on a Sunday
From Westminster a system of traffic lights takes me across to the different lanes on Parliament Square, and into Great George Street to reach St James's Park and Buckingham Palace. 

With segregated cycle paths either side of this Royal Park - along Birdcage Walk and parallel to The Mall you are spoilt for choice. 

On a Sunday, the day I was there, the choice was even better as The Mall is traffic-free on this day and on bank holidays. 

So you can happily ride up the main carriageway and dodge around walking tourists rather than London taxis!

My route then goes up the path next to Constitution Hill, to reach Hyde Park Corner. Some cyclists who like a challenge will ride along the main carriageway of this busy junction, mixing it with London traffic as it whizzes around Wellington Arch. However, most people will use the crossings that take cyclists, pedestrians, and horse-riders safely across the thoroughfare to enter Hyde Park.

Park Life

On entering Hyde Park you can either turn left to ride along the segregated lane on South Carriage Drive, turn left into another parallel cycle path that goes towards Rotten Row, go straight on along the shared use path known as the Broad Walk, or do what I did and take the new segregated cycle path that goes along Park Lane. This is one of many pop-up cycle lanes that were quickly built as part of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, designed to entice more people to travel by bicycle rather than crowding out public transport.

This path is slightly narrower than the permanent cycle superhighways in London but it is still functions well, and I must say it is better than putting up with the sharp bumps on the parallel Broad Walk. The path ends at Marble Arch, from where you can end your journey there and head into the shops and cafes nearby Oxford Street.  

Hyde Park, near the Serpentine Gallery and Lake
I'm not big on shopping so I just continued through the park along North Carriage Drive and got onto the segregated path that took me past the Serpentine Gallery and the lake, and down towards Knightsbridge.

Made in Chelsea

I exited Hyde Park via South Carriage Drive, near the opulent Mandarin Oriental Hotel, to pedal through the back streets of Belgravia to reach Sloane Square. Like Dulwich, which has a lot of places named after Edward Alleyn, this area is named after the main landowners, the Cadogan family and the Grosvenor family (surname of the Duke of Westminster). 

Quiet roads and little mews with luxury cars parked outside are the characteristic feature around here. Yes, there is a car culture, but the cars seem more for show than to actually drive around - which suits me fine when I'm trying to get from A to B on my bike! Eventually, I emerge at the bustling Sloane Square, and stop to enjoy a light snack on the benches before heading home via Pimlico, Vauxhall Bridge, and Oval.

My total distance door-to-door was just over 40 km (25 miles), though the ride from South London into Central London is around 16km (10 miles). If you don't want to ride home it is possible to jump on a train (while remembering to take a face covering or mask) at Charing Cross or Victoria Stations to get back to South London. 

This was a very pleasant bike ride for me. I feel blessed to have so many cycle lanes to take me into and around Central London, and be able to ride around some of the most famous places in the world.

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Anonymous said...

Excellent. Wud luve to join u on a trip like that.

Firebird said...

This is great......will send to my daughter who now cycles through London. Thanks for your generosity in sharing your tried and tested routes !

2Wheel Chick said...

Thanks Firebird and Anonymous. Yes, it's a nice little route; worth trying out.