Cookham Ride, Saturday, July 18th 2015
19 of us gathered at Le Delice, some inside for breakfast, others outside in the sun. We rode off soon after 9am, following a mixture of cycle routes and parks across South London, aiming for Richmond Park. Moving a large group of riders of varying abilities through these streets was never going to be fast and it was nearly two hours before we were riding through a sunny Richmond Park. I had taken a wrong turn at one point, so we entered the park at Roehampton Gate, instead of the more southerly Robin Hood Gate, so we had an extra mile or so to cover than I had planned. But on such a lovely day, in such a beautiful park, no one seemed to mind that much. Especially as some of us managed to glimpse a couple of magnificent stags, with the most splendid sets of antlers I’ve seen for years, standing in a clearing, eying each other up. A few months more till autumn, though, when they will be doing a bit more than just glaring at each other.
We exited at Kingston Gate and made our way on to Kingston Bridge. Once over the bridge we picked up the Thames Path. I had feared it would be very busy, given the weather, but there were far fewer walkers than I had expected and hardly any other riders, so, while our progress wasn’t exactly speedy, we managed to keep moving without too much stopping and starting.
This western end of London’s Thames is such a contrast to the stretch of the river we South East Londoners are more familiar with, on our rides east of Tower Bridge, through Rotherhithe, Deptford, Greenwich and Woolwich. The banks of the river in our neighbourhood still carry many reminders of its trading and industrial past, even if the docks are long gone and the industries dwindling. But this western stretch is another world. It often felt like we were riding along a village river bank, even though a few yards away from the river bank, traffic still thundered through London’s suburban roads.
At Hampton Court we had to switch banks, North to South, just past this elegant, if, in my opinion, rather ostentatious palace. There, we stopped for coffee at the very reasonably priced riverside cafe just below the bridge in East Molesly.
One of our number pointed out that the River Mole starts near here, a tributary of the Thames, flowing straight down the Mole Valley to Box Hill and the Surrey Hills, another favourite ride venue we know well.
It takes a long time to get a large group of social riders back on the road again, but we managed it, eventually. Past local regattas, summer fairs in the riverside meadows, down to Walton where we chose to leave the river for a while, crossing over the bridge and continuing our westward journey on the road for a few miles, rather than keep to the south bank to Weybridge and try and get our rather large group on the tiny ferry there.
Back on the north side of the river beyond Chertsey, we were able to follow a proper road surface, rather than gravel path and we managed to pick up speed significantly before the road dipped back on to a gravel track riverside, taking us to Staines, where another rather fiddly riverside crossing took us back on a southern bank path. Strictly speaking, it’s not the cycle route here, but the narrow track wasn’t busy at all and far preferable to continue riding alongside the river on this hot summer’s day than use the cycle path alongside the busy main road to Egham. We headed all the way to Runnymede Meadows. Had to be visited in this Magna Carta anniversary year.
Then, leaving the river, we took the road to Windsor Great Park, meeting our first real hill of the day (unless you count the little one in Richmond Park) round the outside of the Great Park to Bishops Gate. It was surprising to find the park almost empty on this beautiful day. It felt like we had it to ourselves as we rode along its wide sweeping roads, through woodland, grassland and meadow to the tiny village within it. Here we stopped at the little post office and general stores, to refuel. It has a lovely little garden, where the shade seekers amongst us sheltered at wooden tables under apple trees. They also do tea and coffee, and for days when the weather isn’t as good as it was for us, soup and hot chocolate. Very friendly and helpful staff too.
Once again, the round up of riders took a while. Now we were on the last leg of the journey, about 15 miles left, a big chunk of it alongside the Jubilee River. Well surfaced track, not very busy again, ideal for a big group like us. The only downside was a few too many of those annoying pedal trap barriers, designed, I guess, to keep motor cycles away. But the rest was bliss, perfect riverside riding, views of the water, reeds swaying, herons fishing.
It wasn’t long before the track turned us out on to a quiet lane and then, rather than spoil the tranquility by heading left into Maidenhead’s busy centre before heading to Cookham, I had decided to approach Cookham from the north by going straight up from the cycle route. However, this did involve quite a steep hill, but the ride so far has only had a couple so what harm could one more do. And the descent into Bourne End was well worth it. Quite a few of us flew down at over 40mph. After Bourne End, it’s just a short half mile spin down hill to Cookham…oh how everyone was looking forward to that, a cool drink at one of Cookhams lovely pubs. And we had come all this way with such a large group, on rough tracks and gravel for much of the route and not a single mechanical. How unbelievable was that?
Well, completely unbelievable as it turned out. As we waited before turning on to the main road for the last half mile for our back marker, the last turn marker and a couple of others, the phone rang. There was indeed a puncture, all this way, on such varied terrain and then a puncture at the last mile. I decide to send the main group on to Cookham, with our trusty Brian leading. No sense in us all waiting in the hot sun when they could be sipping a cool beer so soon. Then I headed back up. Up the first shorter, less steep hill, where the last turn marker was waiting. I sent him off to Cookham. But the puncture and my back marker weren’t there. So they must be further up..I began to climb the next hill…you know that long descent I mentioned earlier, where some of us managed 40mph? Yes that one. Hoping I would find them soon, maybe just a few yards up? No. Half way up, possibly? No. Then, finally, just at the very crest of that hill, there they were.
Such is the nature of the puncture fairy, guys. I sent our back marker off…he had done a great job for the last almost 60 miles. Not the easiest of rides to back mark, especially the chunk through South London. He’s done a great job, as always. (Thanks Bob).
After some faffing trying to get the tyre seated properly in the rim, I realised either my flat fixing fu had deserted me (it’s normally pretty good) or there was something wrong with the valve at the point it’s fixed in the tube. A second tube went straight in with no problems so we were probably right about that. Or it could just have been the puncture fairy messing with our heads.
Then finally, back down the hill (I least I got the chance to the descent twice!). It wasn’t long before the group was all together again, outside the Crown on the green in Cookham.
The ride down to Maidenhead for the train back to Paddington was pleasant, short and easy. We did it in two separate groups as some wanted to leave earlier than others. Good decision as 20 riders would have been a tight squeeze on to these little 3 coach trains. From Paddington, I led a much smaller group, on a fast and furious ride back to South East London, zipping through Waterloo and the Elephant and Castle. What a contrast to our ride during the day! People were peeling off in ones and twos along the way until I finally waved goodbye to Fiona, Steven and Chi in Crofton Park before heading to my own front door.
Thanks again to a great bunch of folks for making it a ride to remember