Leader: John Chamberlain
Distance: 24.5 miles 39.5 km (if you started in West Hampstead)
I’m a spontaneous person. If I have a spare few hours and I fancy a ride, I hop on my bike and off I go. I occasionally arrange with friends the day before and it still works. An organised ride requires a bit more planning and notice to be successful. However, Alison Dines of Cycle Islington had been asking us if we had a ride going in their general direction this autumn. John had wanted to do the Lea Valley Ride again this year but had difficulty finding a free date.
Last Thursday we met up with Alison at the LCC Local Groups meeting where we decided to go for it and set the ride date as Sunday 8th October. John still had one final thing to clear before confirming but we were all set to go by last weekend. Would we be able to publicise the ride sufficiently in only one week. Emails went out and dates were posted on websites, but would anyone turn up? Replies came but it was mostly “Sorry, can’t make it this time.”
Although John was leading the ride, I (Geoff Stilwell) led a feeder from Sidings Community Centre, starting first. I was surprised to meet three other people there: Esther, Jiten and Dympna. I’d planned to meet Tim outside Waitrose at Finchley Road plus Juliet, Leo and JJ at the end of Belsize Lane.
Eight of us cycled across Hampstead Heath to Parliament Hill Tennis Courts where we met John and five others: Ellen, Nichola, and Siad who had come up from Kensington with his two daughters Leena and Jade; fourteen of us altogether, a good turnout for an October ride. The weather was really nice though.
JJ’s tyres needed little air and my main gear cable had snapped on the way over and I was in a high gear. John adjusted the gears so I was in a more reasonable gear for cycling and we set off south-eastward towards Islington Town Hall.
There were only two people at the town hall to meet us: Nick and Eilidh (pronounced Aylee), both on the Cycling Islington committee. There was also a guy with a bike and a camera there too but he wasn’t joining us, just taking photographs. After the photocall we again set off for the Lea Valley.
Highlights on the way were the New River (which, as John reminds us, is not new and not a river) and the lovely quiet streets of De Beauvoir Town in Hackney where all the rat runs have been closed down.
A sharp right at London Fields and then on paths beside the Grand Union Canal we came into Victoria Park. We were intending just to stop here for a ‘comfort break’. The Pavilion Cafe and area was very busy so we went to the smaller but less busy Park Cafe a little further on where many of us had coffee.
It was here the two young boys, Leo and JJ, noticed the skate and cycle park with ramps and things where they could play and have fun. Mum was a bit concerned that she would be back for another appointment so she and the boys decided to stay there and catch a train back from Hackney Wick station just outside the park. They came with us to see where the station was and then turned back while the rest of us crossed the A12 over the footbridge.
Soon we were on the towpath of the River Lea Navigation, cycling north. The sunny weather had brought out lots of other cyclists and walkers with their children and their dogs so we had to be very careful. Everyone seemed to be very considerate and patient which makes a ride so much better.
Lunch was at the WaterWorks Centre Nature Reserve & Middlesex Filter Beds. We assumed that as it was the end of their season, they weren’t really geared up to provide lots of lunches quickly. Some of us had a leisurely lunch chatting about computers and programming (we’re all nerds at heart) and some of the group went into the nature reserve to check out the nature there (photos from 2016 ride).
After lunch we returned to the Lea and continued north up the navigation and turned off at Springfield Park and across Clapton Common. Continuing west through Stamford Hill and Stoke Newington we crossed and then followed the path of the New River again up to the horrible junction of the Seven Sisters Road and Green Lanes. It’s so horrendous we walk our bike across the pedestrian crossings at the lights into Finsbury Park.
We cycled straight across Finsbury Park to the cafe where we had coffee and cake or an ice cream. We also encountered some parents out cycling with their children on the back of their bikes. They realised from our Camden Cyclists tabards that we were experienced cyclists and asked us questions about cycling opportunities and for help adjusting the saddle on a bike. It’s good to be useful. Here we said farewell to Eilidh and hoped she’d be seeing us again in the spring.
Leaving the park we crossed a railway bridge onto the Parkland Walkway. This was a pre-Beeching railway that has since been used as a lovely nature walk between Finsbury Park and Highgate, about 2 miles. This was also very busy with people of all ages out for an afternoon stroll or cycle, although the sky was more overcast now.
We came off the walkway around Crouch Hill and headed south through Elthorne Park and Whittington Park and rejoined our outbound route to get us back to Parliament Hill Tennis Courts. There were enough experienced cyclists to help the others to get back to western parts of Camden and Brent and even Kensington. With Islington that was four London boroughs represented on the ride. John had offered to replace my gear cable so I stayed and helped him fix it and adjust the gears sufficient to get me home again. Thanks John for that particular task and for leading the ride which was a real pleasure.