This is a guest post by Julian Bell, a teacher and writer living in South West London. He blogs at www.lifelonglondoner.blogspot.com.
Note: Unless you’ve got one of those bikes that can doubles up as a submarine, I’d probably save this ride and keep it for when the weather improves.
We all occasionally get the urge to get out of London. To get away from the traffic and find some open space to ourselves. One of the perfect routes for this starts near Richmond and follows the Thames Path – a heaven for cyclists.
If you don’t fancy the ride out to Richmond, South West Trains leave regularly from Waterloo and take 20 minutes. Bikes are permitted outside of peak hours. For more on rail restrictions, take a look at the ever excellent A to B Bike Rail website.
Start from Richmond Bridge, on the Surrey (i.e. Richmond) side, 5 minutes cycle from Richmond station. I recommend the excellent Tide Tables cafe, tucked under the bridge, for a hearty vegetarian feed to fuel your ride. Then just set off, keeping the river on your right.
From here to Teddington, it’s likely to be quite busy, and you need to be sensitive to this as you ride; but there are wonderful things to see, some worth a stop and a visit if you have time.
Across the river, you’ll see Marble Hill House and Park, a gift to one of George III’s mistresses. You can reach it via one of the last surviving Thames ferries, Hammerton’s, which takes bikes. Their jetty is just outside Ham House, a seventeenth century stately home and gardens featured in many movies including Never Let Me Go and The Young Victoria, now owned by the National Trust. Not long after Ham House, you’ll see Eel Pie Island midstream. Once a notorious haunt for brothels and gambling houses, thanks to its privileged position between the laws of Middlesex and the laws of Surrey, it’s maintained its bohemian reputation, first as a music venue in the 1960s that saw the Rolling Stones play one of their first gigs, and now as home to the most disparate range of architecture you will ever see. It’s inhabited by an army of boat builders and the inventor of the wind up radio.
The going gets bumpy for a while, and you’ll need either a soft saddle or a resilient behind. Then you’re at Teddington Lock, the end of the tidal Thames. Smoother paths for a while take you down to Kingston, a major shopping centre. Here you have to cross to the other side, via the main road, and you need to concentrate through this busy section. Then it’s a long, straight, wide path down to Hampton Court. You’ll pass the magnificent classical gardens before you reach the Tudor facade of Henry VIII’s palace. Feel inspired by remembering it was the starting point of Sir Bradley Wiggins’s gold medal winning time trial at the London 2012 Olympics. Back across the river, via a pavement cycle path on Hampton Bridge, and down on to the south side.
The last stretch is not exactly open country, but it’s definitely less London, more suburban. The path is not uniformly smooth, turning to mud just after rain. East Molesey hosts one of the oldest cricket grounds in the world; shortly after, either The Swan or The Anglers are options for some riverside refreshment at Walton-on-Thames, a substantial town with many facilities, including East Street Cycles, which fixed a puncture for me on one outing.
Your journey finishes at Weybridge; you’ll have clocked up about 15 miles. Here you can take the ferry to the opposite bank and continue down the Thames Path yet further, or make your way through the town of Weybridge, and, turning right at St George’s College, discover the trail by the River Wey.
The Wey Trail is gloriously bumpy and muddy, shaded by enormous trees, and wonderfully serene; the only interruptions to your view are the trophy mansions of tabloid editors and aging rock stars. (Though the trail may not be in a good state at the moment; the Wey Valley suffered badly in the Christmas floods).
Alternatively, you can put your bike on the train at Weybridge station and head back to London. Whatever the weather or the time of year, I guarantee you’ll return refreshed, and glad to have discovered something of the earlier life of your city’s river.
For more cycle routes, checkout our London Cycle Routes eBook.
Picture via Katherine Hunter on Flickr.
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As seen on The Guardian, BBC and The Independent.