Friday 25 December 2020

Rapha Festive 500, London Waterways - Day 2: Thames Path

Featured waterways: Waterlink Way (River Pool and River Ravensbourne), Thames Path, Docklands, Limehouse Cut and Basin, River Thames (from Greenwich to Woolwich)

Distance ridden: 63km 

Cumulative distance: 143km

Distance left: 357km

Terrain: Mainly tarmac, with a short gravel section at Limehouse Cut

Weather: Sunny but cold, 4 degC

Nutrition: Water

Route on Strava:

As is the tradition for me, the second day of my Festive 500, Christmas Day is a ride in Central London. The routes vary each year, but they always pass through the central area London. I often find it a treat to cycle around London when the roads are empty compared with how they are on other days of the year.

Mind you, with the exceptional year that we have had with the Covid-19 pandemic this has meant that we have already had a number of weeks of deserted roads in Central London. If anything, the roads on Christmas Day were busier than they were in April when we were in lockdown!

These Christmas Day rides also tend to be shorter than other planned rides because I like to finish early so that I can get on with other things like seeing my family and having a leisurely Christmas dinner.

Cutty Sark, Greenwich

My route went along the Waterlink Way, which I pick up in Beckenham and travel up through Sydenham, Catford and Lewisham to reach Greenwich. There were quite a lot of people in Greenwich; most of them were queuing up outside Starbucks. That must surely have been the only café open in the whole of London!

From there, I took the Thames Path East to reach Woolwich. This path was tarmacked and you could ride through quite quickly. However, this path is popular with walkers and joggers, so I had to temper my speed especially on blind corners. There were a few narrow sections too where I had to be ready to give way to other cyclists and pedestrians.

As well as imposing vistas of the Canary Wharf complex on the opposite side of the Thames, the other big feature is the Thames Barrier. This feat of engineering is the one thing that protects London from being flooded. It is possible to do day trips there and find out more about the Thames and the London flood barriers. I've heard it's quite fascinating. That is something to look forward to once we are out of lockdown.

Thames Barrier

 At Woolwich, I took the foot tunnel to head North of the river. According to the Greenwich Borough website the lifts were out of order, so I went into the tunnel expecting to carry my bike down and then up the steps. To my pleasant surprise the lifts were working - that must have been the Council's Christmas present to me!

Once on the North side of the Thames I headed for Docklands. Unlike the North end of the Greenwich foot tunnel where you arrive at the Isle of Dogs and there's a mini park and snack bar area, the North end of the Woolwich foot tunnel is a bit lost, lonely and desolate with various industries in the area and not much else too see. It's not particularly well signposted for cyclists - almost like the authorities don't expect anyone to go cycling there. Granted, there is no real reason to be there unless you work there, are lucky enough to live there, or are doing a project on light industry!

Royal Victoria Docks

Thankfully, there was one sign for Beckton, and to be fair, there were a few cycle paths too. So I managed to get myself to the Excel Exhibition Centre (latterly known as the Nightingale Hospital for Covid-19 patients), and to Royal Victoria Docks, a place where I have been for open water swimming.

This area had more people and even group bike rides taking place as people were making the most of this sunny Christmas Day.

After navigating through the myriad of lanes and segregated cycle paths I reached Limehouse Cut. It is when I go through these parts of East London that I really notice the contrast in the different neighbourhoods. 

For example, Poplar in Tower Hamlets looked pretty deprived and reminded me of those documentaries like "World in Action" I would watch in the 1980s, where they would talk about life in the inner city. Although many depressing high-rise blocks have been replaced with cute sized semi-detached houses, there was still a lot of graffiti around, with rubbish in the streets and beat up old cars. One small road just off Cable Street stank of urine and was full of homeless people with all their wordly goods in old shopping trolleys. Depressing. 

Limehouse Basin

Meanwhile, in the nearby Limehouse Basin were trendy, plush apartment buildings facing onto the marina, where people can just pop across the way to their gym club or a restaurant (once they are open).

I must say, Limehouse Basin was a new find for me, and it did look picturesque - as evidenced by the many people who stopped and photographed the various barges and boats moored there.

From Limehouse I did a brief unplanned stint along the Regent's Canal. By unplanned, read "I took a wrong turning and realised I'd gone the wrong way after a mile or so!"

Not a problem - I quickly wound my way through Stepney Green to reach Cable Street and head towards Tower Bridge where I picked up the cycleway to Westminster. I have probably said it before, and will say it again - this is my favourite part to cycle in London. It is great to be on a segregated cycle lane, riding past all the well-known landmarks in London. That is quite a luxury. Many people had had the same idea as I did, to go cycling along there. Cyclists of all ages and abilities, on different types of bike populated the cycle path on this sunny Christmas Day. 

The last part of my ride in Central London took me over Westminster Bridge, and along the South Bank. It was quite a treat to be able to do this, as normally this area would be heaving with people making it difficult to cycle through. Granted, there were still enough people to create a buzzing atmosphere, but the government rules around going out with just one other person, meant there weren't massive crowds. So I was able to go from Waterloo to Tower Bridge unhindered, before dropping down onto a new segregated cycleway at Tower Bridge, which took me down Jamaica Road and to Surrey Quays, from where I continued east to Deptford Creek. 

As we were getting well into the afternoon, I realised the time had come to return home as I still wanted to get back and do the normal Christmas things (well as normal as we are allowed to do things at the moment). I wasn't going to miss out on enjoying some Christmas dinner and stuffing myself with chocolates and mince pies while watching the rather aptly named Home Alone!    

It was a good day.

Related posts 

Rapha Festive 500, London Waterways - Day 1

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