Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Cycling Europe 2016 : London Cycling Off The Beaten Track

You are at - Jotaro's Blog / AhPek Biker -Europe 2016 / Cycling Europe-Cycling England / London Cycling Off The Beaten Track
                                                       AhPek Biker - Riding Adventures                                                    
London Cycling Off The Beaten Track
Greater London, England, Great Britain : 8th September 2016
Cycling Distance: 12.44 km.     |     Level: Easy
Time : 9:30 am - 12:30 pm
Time Taken : 3hrs. (including stops at various points of interest, viewing Changing of the Queen's Guards, morning tea at park, photo-ops, & rest)

Route Recommendations :
1. The route is fairly flat, and riding in summer is great as there is no need for thick clothing.
2. At certain areas, cycling is not allowed (eg. certain sections of parks, etc), just push you bikes through.
3. Points of Interest:
    - Lincoln's Inn (GPS: 51.51643, -0.11448), to view the Old Buildings.
    - Lambeth Bridge (GPS: 51.49457, -0.12335) for a great view of the Thames.
    - Dean's Yard & College Garden  (GPS: 51.49867, -0.12894within Westminster Abbey.
    - Westminster Abbey (GPS: 51.49867, -0.12894).
    - St. James's Park (GPS: 51.50245, -0.13481).
    - Buckingham Palace (GPS: 51.50136, -0.14188).
    - Cecil Court (GPS: 51.51072, -0.12771)
    - Goodwins Court (GPS: 51.51095, -0.12634), famed for it's shop windows scenery used in Harry Potter's movies.
    - other nice little lanes along the way.
4. The timing of the ride is just correct to view the Changing of the Queen's Guards, and their marching pass along The Mall boulevard (view from edge of St. James's Park)(GPS of best march by view location: 51.50302, -0.13787).
5. Food:
    - Morning tea at Inn The Park (GPS: 51.50378, -0.13143).
    - Lunch (after the ride) of sausages & chips at Calthrope Arms (GPS: 51.5248, -0.1162).
6. This is a guided cycling tour with the Cycle Tours of London - Sights of London Tour. The charge for this tour is £20/=, payable only at the end of the tour.


Whenever I am on a holiday with non-cycling friends, I try to take some time off to scratch my itchy cycling legs. This time round I am in London, and had booked ahead on-line for a morning cycling tour with the Cycle Tours of London. They are a smaller concern (a one-man organisation run by Mathew), which I preferred as it would probably mean a smaller ride group that would have personal attention of the guide. A one man show was also great as it would probably mean Mathew (Matt) knows the heart and soul of London well.
On this early morning, I woke up full of zest, eager to start. After a quick breakfast, I popped onto one of London's famed red double-decker bus. Riding the red bus was another first for me, so one can understand my childish excitement. But as usual, I screwed up a bit...
Using Google Maps as a guide, I got off the bus at the Snow Hill Stop and walked over to Shoe Lane (where Google had indicated the bike tour place would be) ..... Funny? They don't seem to be here... I walked around the block a bit and asked some people, but to no avail! They seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth!

I did a quick check of their website. Alas! They were not at Shoe Lane anymore, but at Bloomsbury Square Gardens. I did a quick twenty-minutes stroll (quick meaning almost dashing) over and reached there close to five minutes late. (Google has since then updated their maps with the new location)
There was Matt, all alone, patiently waiting for me, albeit with a worried look. Looks like I was the only customer for the morning ride. He had long hair, looked kind of hippy-ish, with a free-spirit air. Good, I have a kindred all to myself, even better!
Let's go riding!

The route will pass by most of London's main tourist attractions but avoided using the busy main roads. It goes through interesting narrow lanes and alleys which are mostly off the beaten track.

Right from the start Matt was already full of surprises. Just opposite the garden, we pushed our bikes up some steps under an archway leading indoors into the Pied Bull Yard.
Hey... Aren't we going cycling? But it was an curios start to our tour; we won't be just cycling but will be seeing a side of London not often exposed to visitors. This is going to be interesting.

Pushing our bikes through the dim narrow corridor we exited on the other side and was soon riding down a cycling lane which led to narrower streets.

Our first destination, Lincoln's Inn. No cycling is allowed inside, so while Matt guarded the bikes I went in to have a look, with some tips on what to look out for from him.
Inside, it was fairly quiet and I wandered around the large green compound admiring the buildings, especially the Old Buildings which although not looking old are actually centuries old. The tranquil atmosphere augmented my reverence for this old institution, with thoughts of centuries of lawyers discussing and helping establish a strong English Law in these hallowed halls.

Further in and not to be missed were the vaulted archway, a beautiful piece of architecture with column lines leading up to the ceiling. Hah! Lawyers do appreciate beauty after all.

Leaving the Inn, we rode pass another legal institution - the Royal Courts of Justice situated at the Strand. Although not as old as Lincoln's Inn, it is housed in a large, impressive Victorian Gothic style grey building.

Although most of the time we were along quiet streets and narrow lanes, we did ride by busy main roads. This one above was a short stretch along the Cycle Super Highway running along the A3211 throughway next to the Thames. London has several of this cycle superhighways which allow cycling commuters to ride in and out from the suburbs.

It's the quiet streets that I love most; almost devoid of traffic, lined with bricked houses and small parks.

We even went into tunnels running below the railway tracks, every once a while hearing the rumbling of trains above.

At Lambeth Bridge, the best photo of the ride. Matt had picked this spot well, from here is the Thames with the Big Ben, Parliament House and the London Eye in the background. Regular tourists would head for the Westminster Bridge for a close view of the buildings, but it's here that there is a great panoramic view. I was fortunate too as today's weather was sunny blue skies with puffy clouds; the previous four days the sky had been the usual London moody sky weather.

At Lord North Street, Matt suddenly came to a stop. I thought he had a puncture, until he waved me over to the Georgian terrace houses nearby .....

At the front of each house were narrow steel stairs which led to the air-raid shelters used Londoners during the Luftwaffe regular bombing of London during World War Two. It must have been a frightening experience for the residents; crouching inside there with fear and worrying expectation of whether their houses, or worse still their kinsmen, would still be around when they emerged.

As I followed Matt onward, I noticed ahead was a dead end.

Hmmm... another surprise? It was, we went through the archway on the right and .....

Inside was a large hidden park and at the background was a side view of Westminster Abbey.  This is the Dean's Yard of the abbey and it was a fairly large yard which surprisingly most Londoners don't even know about. Here too is the Westminster School, a school more than a millennia old and still occupying the same buildings; there's even a student boarding house here. School was in and we could see smartly dressed students walking about.

Through a large archway at the other end of the yard, we exited to the front of the abbey for a few nice shots. I had seen this archway the previous day. With a guard post there, we had thought that it was a private entry (which it was not). Thanks, Matt for showing me this secret, now I know better.

Opposite the abbey, we weaved through very quiet lanes just behind the QEII Centre. It's so quiet here that there was hardly a soul around even though it was a weekday.

We were now right at the Birdcage Walk edge of St. James's Park. Here there was a sign that said no cycling, and in smaller prints "Cycling outside designated area is subject to a minimum £60 fine!" So we dismounted and pushed; but then not too far ahead, we mounted our bikes and started pedalling away on some pathways. I hoped that Matt knew what he was doing, £60 is quite an amount of money; anyway I trusted him and just followed along.

At one corner of the park, we stopped for a breather and Matt pointed out a small brass marker embedded into the ground which stated "Vista across St. James's Park Towards Whitehall".

Looking up from it was this really nice vista! It's these little small things that made Mathew's tour interesting.

We crossed over The Mall and while Matt guarded the bikes, I walked over to Buckingham Palace. Here the crowds were thronging around the perimeter walls four persons deep, it's the time of the Changing of the Queen's Guards. Somehow I managed to get to the front but our angle was not right, the Guards were facing the other direction. Still seeing the rears of the guards is better than not seeing them at all.

Back at the bikes, I told Matt about viewing the guards' rears. "Not to worry," he quipped, "I will show you something better", and led me to a spot somewhere down The Mall (see map above for location). Here we waited together with a few others in the know; one mom even brought in a pram her sleeping tot, cutely dressed in a shirt with guards figurines, and we waited anxiously.

And here they come, the Queen's Guards,  marching down the street led by a marching band! "Wake up, my darling, wake up. The Guards are here!", the mother whispered to her baby.

The band was followed by a few contingents of other guards, all marching smartly in the red uniforms and bear-skin hats.

We adjourned back to the park, and at the Inn The Park cafe, we stopped for some coffee and cakes. Sitting outside, I saw some growth on the sloping lawn in front. Hmmmm... looks like weird purplish mushrooms.

But on closer look, these were not mushrooms but beautiful blooms!

At Admiralty Arch, with some policemen on different mounts riding by us.

After a quick stop at Trafalgar Square, another surprise! We went through a lane running under the National Gallery.

Next destination, Cecil Court which I liked very much as it was lined with old book shops and antique stores.

One of the antique shops window.

Just a bit further was Goodwins Court, which was the inspiration for  Harry Potter's famed Dragon Alley. At this time it was very quite, with just a couple there sitting lovingly to complete the picture.

We made a short loop at Covent Garden before ending the ride at Bloomsbury Square Gardens, where a very pleased looking Matt posed for me.
Many thanks mate, I will come looking for you again when I am back in London next.


A short walk away, I had lunch of sausage and fries a the Calthrope Arms, a nice little pub. Even at this time there were a few friendly locals around to banter with.

Here I am at the square between King's Cross Station and St. Pancras Station where there was a stall promoting the latest Brompton 2017 models. I also visited the Evans Cycles and Cycle Surgery shops nearby.

(For more photos of the ride, click here)

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You are at - Jotaro's Blog / AhPek Biker -Europe 2016 / Cycling Europe-Cycling England / London Cycling Off The Beaten Track
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