Back to Kent

12 weeks since I’d  ventured beyond the M25 that signals to a London rider the city is now well behind you, rolling over one of those smaller old roads that’s either been buried under or swept up and over the motorway.


My way out took me under at first. The potholed surface of Chelsfield Lane that rumbles roughly up and down, dipping under the big road through two dark concrete tunnels less than a mile from each other. The lane itself, in spring and summer, becomes a tunnel in places, but a much lighter and brighter one, arched with the leafy branches of trees from each roadside, filtering the sunlight.

The final stretch of Chelsfield Lane dips a little, then a bit more down the other side of Well Hill, to give you the first proper descent of this ride.  I couldn’t resist lifting hands off the handlebars, spreading my arms wide and doing something we used to do when young and foolish.  It’s as close to flying as you can get as a kid, riding down a hill, no hands, (well, apart from riding off the edge of first floor scaffold planks on a building site, but that’s another story. Which didn’t end that well, if I’m honest).  And, for a minute or so, I was ten years old on a bike again, doing something stupid, but enjoying it.  It goes without saying, I don’t recommend anyone do this, by the way. Cover your brakes at all times, is the cycle instructor’s sensible and recommended mantra.

Timberden Bottom

Luckily the bike flew safely over every rut and pothole on that rutted lane and I arrived at the T junction at the bottom, hands safely planted on the brakes pulling slowly to a stop. Here is Timberden Bottom, with Shacklands Rd weaving through the valley. From here the road sweeps gently up and down just a touch to the turn for Shoreham.  It was here I realised I was going to be early for my meet with a friend I hadn’t seen since well before lockdown. So I did an extra little circuit to the Badgers Mount roundabout, exploring a little off road track to complete the circuit back from the Orpington bypass on to Chelsfield Lane again!

This time, I turned right on to Shacklands Rd and was soon on my way to our meet point in Otford, through Shoreham, along Filston Lane.

Now we were two!  We had no clear route planned, just thought we might include Knatts Valley in the ride somewhere, and that my lack of miles and hills recently and my need to ride all the way back home might limit our miles a bit. So we headed up to the Pilgrims Way.

Not having seen each other for a while we were chatting and socialising rather than punching out the miles, so the pace was easy. Also, pausing in our chat, we realised we needed to turn left at some point or else I’d be heading so far out it would be a long ride back for me!  We had missed Cotmans Ash, which I’d vaguely thought we might use, so Terrys Lodge Lane was our way back up on to the ridge, but mid conversation again, we sailed past Knock Mill Lane without realising and once crossing the main road it was a nice surprise to find I was on a stretch of road new to me! Doesn’t happen often round here. The southern section of Ash Lane. So chose Billet Hill and Crowhurst Lane as our route to the valley.

I then realised the reason the roads didn’t feel too familiar is because I rarely use this route now as it leads to  Knatts Hill Lane, a rough, potholed winding track, which is not as car free as it was years ago. But we were there now so down we went. And yes, we had to brake and slow to avoid a few vehicles.  Which always spoils a descent.

Now we were two!  We had no clear route planned, just thought we might include Knatts Valley in the ride somewhere, and that my lack of miles and hills recently and my need to ride back home for might limit our miles a bit. So we headed up to the Pilgrims Way.

Not having seen each other for a while we were chatting and socialising rather than punching out the miles, so the pace was easy. Also, pausing in our chat, we realised we needed to turn left at some point or else I’d be heading so far out it would be a long ride back for me!  We had missed Cotmans Ash, which I’d vaguely thought we might use, so Terrys Lodge Lane was our way back up on to the ridge, but mid conversation again, we sailed past Knock Mill Lane without realising and once crossing the main road it was a nice surprise to find I was on a stretch of road new to me! Doesn’t happen often round here. The southern section of Ash Lane. So chose Billet Hill and Crowhurst Lane.

I then realised I rarely use this route now as it leads to  Knatts Hill Lane, a rough, potholed winding track, which is not as car free as it was years ago. But we were there now so down we went. And yes, we had to brake and slow to avoid a few vehicles.

On to the valley road.  A great roll through, no motor vehicles for a change but a few other riders to greet. It’s always tempting to blast through because it’s that kind of road. But that means it’s over quicker, always a shame.

At the end we headed to Farningham and sat down by the river for our cake and coffee. Then made our way to the road that overlooks the valley below, riding along together almost to the end where it turns down to Eynsford, and I said goodbye to head up SparePenny Lane and back north to the city, about 15 miles away.

Couldn’t have had a better welcome back to Kent.

 

My route, mapped when home from memory, was sort of this…so usual caveats apply! 52here

Lockdown London Loop

Right foot down, follow on and off, pedalling down the empty street, gathering pace, legs spinning more than usual as this old frame of mine now only has the one gear.

5am. A few notes of birdsong hanging on the still cool spring air. Touch of light stealing upwards from a horizon that’s somewhere beyond the roofs and loft conversions. Dawn or city lights left on? Hard to say from my front door. Continue reading

Peckham Rye

Are we ever going to get a safe space to ride up Peckham Rye? Cars are allowed to drive across, it, park in it, but decades since I believe @southwarkcycle first asked, we are still forced into unsafe inches of space, especially southbound. I had an especially bad time today

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I’ve spent a good chunk of my working life in Southwark, doing some of the councils jobs (detached youth worker, child care worker, teacher). I’ve also lived in the borough off and on and am only just over the border into Lewisham now. I’ve always used a cycle to get around London and commuted by cycle for over forty years. Peckham Rye, east side, has been a part of that commute off and on throughout my working life and still is. And even when that commute included the Elephant and Castle 70’s style (two multi lane roundabouts, no light controlled junctions at all), London Bridge, Aldgate in fact dozens of other notorious junctions,   I’d still say that little trip up the east side of the Rye has always been my least favourite section.

Part of the reason for that is that it’s almost at the end of the return home. At the end of the day, after at least 8 hours work, mostly more, a climb, however gradual, is not really what you want on your home commute.

But mostly it’s because of the road conditions and design. For many years the surface was terrible, potholed, gravelly. That has admittedly improved. But it’s still a busy narrow road, and a rider has to cope with a climb, pinch points all the way up, and impatient drivers in cars that have got bigger and more powerful over the years making close passes at high speeds more and more common.

The descent on the way to work isn’t so bad. You’re fresh and full of energy and anyway it’s easy to ride downhill at the speed limit keeping pace with drivers, so they have no reason to overtake you. It’s easy to hold the lane through all the pinch points, so even if a driver decides they are going to break the speed limit, they find they can’t squeeze through and push you to the kerb at the pinchpoints. It’s still not that great for less experienced riders though, who may be less comfortable with riding at 20mph and just over and I’ve often seen others squeezed into the gutter, as drivers overtake them at the pedestrian refuge islands and also, a couple of times, almost t boned by drivers exiting the flats on the way down.

All these years of people being forced to fight for a tiny bit of space on a road that we all know isn’t a safe place to ride a bike. Yet right next to a community asset that could provide just that. Without any appreciable loss of its value as a green and beautiful space.

I have never been able to understand why folk are allowed to drive their cars across the Rye and a sizeable chunk of it has been turned over to drivers so they can park in the middle of it, and I believe still free of charge, yet a small strip of land can’t be allocated to allow people to ride bicycles safely down one side of it. There’s even a desire line there showing that’s where people want to go. Yet, still decades after people first asked for it, its not there.

To be frank, I’m sick of it. I had a specially bad experience this week. After a hard mornings work, which involved a fair bit of bike riding around the City, I headed back home. It’s been windy recently, you may have noticed and that day it was particularly bad. As I pulled away from the lights on the Nunhead Lane junction, that headwind just slapped me right in the face. It seemed to be blowing straight down the road from the top of the Rye, and determined to make my ride up as hard as possible.

As if that wasn’t bad enough at every single pinch point, I had drivers behind me. It’s so hard to hold a lane through a pinchpoint when your maximum headwind checked speed uphill is about 7mph. Or less. And when there are at least 7 pinchpoints in that half a mile from the bottom to the top it’s impossible to stop a driver who is absolutely determined to get through and is not willing to give you the space you need to feel and keep safe. On two occasions I was unable to prevent drivers squeezing into the space alongside me at a dangerous level of speed. Horrible.

Two other drivers pulled in as they overtook me, between the pinchpoints, as they misjudged the speed of oncoming traffic, and again ended up close passing me at speed. So close I could have touched their cars quite easily.  And was dangerously close to hitting the kerb on my side. Not good.

I’ve had enough. I tend to use the desire line now, up the Rye itself, if it’s not too muddy. So why not just formalise that line with a permanent path big enough for two way cycle traffic? The junction at the bottom could be easily configured to allow cycles to cross the junction. I’d actually consider taking children on that cycle trip then. Let’s not forget it’s meant to have been a cycle route for years now. I’m now officially an older person, and have spent my teenage, youth, middle years in dangerous conflict with drivers on this short stretch.

It would be nice to ride safely and pleasantly to and from my home to Peckham and central London when I’m a proper old woman, one of the many cats with whom I will most likely be sharing my old person days, sitting in the basket on the front of an old Dutch bike. Such a simple ambition you’d think.  Seems these simple dreams involving just riding a bike or walking round your home city safely and happily are actually radical extremist ambitions in this country. Still hoping though.

Squirrel near miss

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img_3072The Enterdent: odd name for a tiny narrow lane near Godstone, Surrey, that links Tilburstow Hill to ChurchTown, a few ancient houses grouped round St Nicholas Church. It’s not long, but fairly steep and the the surface isn’t great. It’s a bit of a teeth rattler as you fly down, hoping there isn’t a vehicle coming up the other way. Continue reading

Rivers and Distilleries

A Tale of Three Rivers and Many Distilleries.

Forecast showed today as being the best in a very wet and stormy week up here on Speyside. A9C81E2E-43B8-4052-B0BB-862BB8803F51Having spent a couple of days slipping and sliding around on very wet muddy forest tracks and paths, I was finally learning the limitations of this gravel bike that’s handled pretty much everything else I’ve tried it on this last year or so. So, for a day forecast to be dry, I decided to plan a route sticking mostly to roads, apart from a few tracks I knew would be manageable and some short off road bits I wasn’t sure of, but could walk if unrideable and were necessary to avoid nastier bits of horrid A road.
Continue reading

Caferun19

D48C54E1-7D08-4840-B877-635BE19350A5I 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. Continue reading

A touch of Spring in Winter

Plumpton is a great train station! Just 50 minutes from Clapham Junction and you’re minutes away from a glorious off road trail up on to the South Downs. Was a bit of a last minute idea, but the core of it was a wish to watch the sun go down by the seaside and a memory of riding to Cuckmere Haven with my daughter about 15 years ago!

51C27CD9-22C1-4300-B634-47937E0BE9A8 Continue reading

New Years Day 2019

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Dawn arrives late up here in the northern highlands, in the days between Christmas and New Year. But can be so clear, bright and glorious, you just have to make the most of the precious sunlight.  A change of wind overnight had driven off the rain clouds. A north east wind always seems to bring a drop in temperature and clear skies in wintertime.  Continue reading

Thanks Bermondsey Bill!

Christmas Day 2016. I have never done the legendary Christmas Day Ride, despite the fact it’s been led by good friends ever since Barry Mason started it. Another good friend and legend on two wheels, Bermondsey Bill has kept it going since then, although I think a couple of years saw it led by another friend, Francis Sedgemore. There are now other Christmas Day rides. LFGSS run one, the Waifs and Strays, and there are occasional alternatives that pop up some years. But the one that starts at the Southwark Needle on the south side of London Bridge, with a feeder ride from Greenwich and a lunch stop in Edgeware Rd, is the original and best. Continue reading