I was visiting friends in Surrey this particular weekend. Seemed like the perfect opportunity to do the #caferun19 as they said they lived near Giro cafe in Esher, one of the cafes in the run. Two cafes at diagonal opposites to each other, geographically who have got together and proposed a route to ride just because they’re there. And they both have cake.
I soon began to realise my friends’ definition of near differs from mine and after an early morning ride of quite a few miles through some lovely bits of the Surrey countryside, we were at Giro, a smart modern cafe on the High St in Esher.
I had an excellent porridge, with cinnamon, maple syrup, nuts and fruit. And a pretty damn fine coffee. Riders began to rock up. It’s obviously and understandably, a local meet up for the Sunday club run.
A smart selection of fairly high end, pretty carbon lined up on the bike racks, next to my forty five year old Holdsworth frame, with its singlespeed cheap build, and canal side rain splatter finish from the jaunt up the Lea River the day before. Quite a contrast!
A similarly smart selection of riders piled in to the cafe. A lot of Rapha and Castelli clad smart backs and bottoms lined up at the counter, ordering breakfast. Quite a few Kask helmets were swept off heads and began to fill up tables. I felt a little out of place in my worn Cinelli t shirt, which I love so much I won’t consign to the rag bucket, old Sombrio baggies and favourite cap of the moment (my Joy Division one, wear it when I’m vainly trying to look cool). However, everyone was really friendly, staff and other customers. No one seemed to notice or mind the fact I was definitely the scruffiest individual with the dirtiest and oddest built bike in the place.
Breakfast done, I got my little cafe run card stamped and was off to wend my way out of these smart suburbs, into and across the city to Look Mum No Hands, where I hoped to get the card stamped again and collect my free cafe run cap. That’s the idea, and it’s a good one.
I had no route set really, although the cafes suggest one of about 25 miles. I just knew I was going to make for the river, and keep fairly close to it, heading east and north, with a couple of detours round Richmond Park and across Hammersmith Bridge.
I already had ten miles and a little climb in my legs, so was warmed up nicely. I rolled along Ember Lane, and Esher Rd, wide residential streets, occasionally big cars passing fast and dozens of riders passing in the opposite direction, heading out for a greener, leafier ride than mine would be.
Up and over Hampton Court Bridge and along side the river. I am always struck by the difference in the Thames through the west of London, compared to the river scenes I’m more familiar with as a South East Londoner. In the east, I’ve watched over the years, as factories, power stations, industrial wharves and warehouses have gradually closed, been boarded up, become derelict, then been pulled down and slowly replaced by block after block of patchwork cladded towers. Urban industrial replaced by urban residential
Out here in the west, it seems to have hardly changed over that same period. Still a rural bankside for the old palaces, Parks and large houses. Pretty riverboat moorings. Still hard to believe you are that close to the centre of a huge, crowded busy capital city as you bowl along past the gilded gates of Hampton Court.
Approaching Kingston, a few clues to the proximity of the city rise up on the opposite bank. Shopping centre buildings, office blocks maybe.
Over Kingston Bridge, through the shopping centre and then I took a few wrong turnings trying to find a quieter route through to Richmond Park. But was soon rolling in to join the dozens of other riders on their Sunday blast round.
Now, it’s a fair trip across London for anyone from the east to get to this lovely park, with its perfect circuit of a smooth ride, 7 miles which almost seem purpose built for cycling. So, as I was here, I just had to try and fit a circuit in somehow. Roehampton Gate, my intended exit is only half way round though, so I had to construct a custom route which used the route past Pen Ponds, missed out a little bit of the road section and included a couple of rougher paths.
I felt a few drops of rain spatter my nose and forehead. Two sparrow hawks flew past me, aiming for the same pigeon. A flash of feathers, all three birds tangled and tumbling, almost out of the sky to the ground, then suddenly the unidentifiable mass of feathers became three birds again, flying off in three directions, the sparrow hawks to tree perch, the fortunate pigeon as fast and far away from the scene as it could get.
Down Sawyers Hill for a change. On my rare visits to Richmond, I invariably ride the other way. This way round, the view of the city as you crest the hill is quite something, I so stopped to take it in and grab a photo.
My one gear span out on the descent fairly quickly. Yet I still managed to pass just a couple of roadies. Maybe they were the only ones keeping to the speed limit!
Out of Richmond Park I made another detour to cross to the north bank via Hammersmith Bridge. Just because it’s lovely to go over this beautiful structure now it’s free of polluting, congesting motor traffic.
The rain was getting heavier all the time and as I picked my way through the quiet streets parallel and south of Fulham Palace Rd, I realised the jacket my friends had lent me that morning was not keeping me dry. At all. Luckily it was summer rain, and not really cold. Provided I kept moving I felt fine. Stopping to try and record the ride by photos, proved tricky though. Firstly the rain renders a touch screen phone operation pretty erratic. And, standing still, even in summer rain, bare legs and a wet, poorly protected core, you chill quickly.
So, through fast forming deep puddles I pedalled on, finally feeling I was really back in London, around Putney Bridge. From there, the bridges pass pretty quickly, some fairly plain and simple like Wandsworth, some pretty and decorative, like Albert. I decided to pass up the chance to detour over Albert Bridge and into Battersea Park as the rain was stair rod style at this point and visibility poor. I kept to CS8, shiny blue and slippery looking in the rain, but thankfully only in appearance.
From here it was a quick run alongside the Thames, around Parliament Square, along the cycleway, passing monuments and bridges. Both main roads and cycleways fairly quiet on this wet Sunday.
At Southwark Bridge I turned up and headed through the empty city, normally so loud, busy and crowded on my usual journeys through these same streets. Moorgate, then Old St and a quick right hand crossover to finally arrive at Look Mum No Hands. Once off the bike, I realised just how wet I was.
I locked up the bike outside, where, in contrast to Cafe Giro’s smart racks, I actually couldn’t see any carbon and the Holdsworth looked quite at home, if anything smarter than one or two of the other rides there. I left a little stream behind me as I walked in, and ordered a mocha rather than my usual coffee, needing that extra comfort the chocolate gives when complete saturation begins to chill you as the blood stops pumping quite as quickly.
After a little bit of friendly banter with the baristas, they stamped my card and handed me a hot mocha. And my cafe run cap. A really nice one, and, most importantly, dry! Although I did consider asking if they’d trade it in for a dry pair of socks.
Really enjoyed the morning, even in the pouring rain. Lovely idea from two good cafes, very different in style and atmosphere, but each with good food, drink and friendly service at each end. And a lovely little cap to add to the drawer. What’s not to like?