Ken introduced himself by saying how he’d cycled to school and been really interested in bikes as a kid. But then, like many of us, he lapsed and then returned to cycling in the 1980s with a commuter run. But after that he started doing long rides (e.g. John of Groats to Lands End, taking a note book with him. But people were suspicious of the note taking, so he used maps as a disguise. He stated strongly that cycling adds experience to a journey.
Ken read extracts from his books, but the one about cycling in London from “Staying Close to the River” seemed to strike a chord with us. He has given us permission to quote it here
Over the past decade I reckon I have cycled nearly 20,000 miles – enough to get me to the Andes and back – but most of these have been in the form of working journeys in and around London. Over the years I have had a share in, or use of, offices at the Elephant and Castle, in Soho and more recently Kings Cross and I’ve enjoyed cycling every mile. That’s the point about cycling – it’s not so much where you go as the sheer range of experience that cycling brings to any journey. For me cycling is, as Wittgenstein (a bicycle owner himself) might have put it, another way of “being in the world”. It’s an intensely physical form of transport, and brings into play nearly all of the senses. This makes it an ideal way of travelling in a city like London that is itself kaleidoscopic and in a process of continual change and transformation. A back street route from Hackney to Kings Cross can be partly derelict one year and gentrified or radically cosmopolitan the next; the demolition of an old cinema can suddenly transform an urban panorama. Yesterday’s office block becomes today’s archaeological dig.
The graffiti and fly-posting on the walls and fences keep you constantly in touch with the latest political outrages, community festivals and jazz gigs. The urban street is a living newspaper and the city itself is a form of instant communication: cycling is the best way to read and understand it. I admit that I’m lucky in that, as a freelance writer, I don’t have to do the same journey every day, though many of them are fairly regular runs. The longest journeys have taken me through the futuristic landscape of London’s docklands, the multi-racial communities and cultures of Southall, Brixton, Brick Lane and Notting Hill, the measured and urbane uniformities of Hampstead Garden Suburb to the bleak wastes of the Greenwicjh peninsula, abandoned gas works and all. Taxi-drivers have even asked me for directions, assuming often correctly, that the city cyclist knows the minutiae of a city’s geography and topography better than most.
Ken also talked of several organised rides he’d done: Santander to Oporto, Bordeaux to Barcelona and Krakow to Budapest. He said that on the whole he prefers inhabited landscapes, but has vivid memories of wild tracks over the Pyrenees and of fields of grasses alive with wild flowers.
Ken’s most recent book is “350 Miles: An Essex Journey” an illustrated account of the coastal path in Essex.