Monday, 5 March 2012

Climbing Through the Smoke

London is a wonderful city. It's a place that keeps on giving, full of interesting people, hundreds of events going on, and plenty of new places to explore. Such is the scale of the city, I'm sure you could ride round for years being constantly surprised by different areas. Unfortunately, surprise isn't always a positive emotion, and new areas aren't always places that you want to return to...

Setting off early on a sunny Saturday morning, the route planned was a forty mile loop heading over my old commute into Blackfriars, up past Kings Cross to Highgate, over to the Epping Forest and then back down via Mile End and Tower Bridge. There's certainly a romanticism attached to cycling through cities (as propagated via the fixed-gear scene and classy-looking black and white images published by a certain high-end cycling-attire retailer). The reality is slightly different. Despite leaving at 7 a.m., the roads were by no means quiet, and the large amount of construction work seems to have taken the air pollution levels to a new high. Oh, and the road surfaces seem to have been imported straight from the third world, being often covered in debris, and strewn with gaping holes. Not to worry though, positive mental attitude, and all that (not sure how far PMA gets you when a pothole gives you a double blowout in the pouring rain).

Passing through Camden it wasn't long until I got to Swain's Lane (and the first quiet road of the morning):
Swains Lane from the base...
...And from the top
A good little climb, Swains is popular with cyclists as it offers something of a gradient in a City dominated by flat roads. Nothing too difficult but it does have you out of the saddle and breathing hard by the top, so great for hill repeats. Alas, this wasn't my plan for the ride and I continued North through Muswell Hill (no sightings of Michael McIntyre or his racist baby unfortunately). At Ally Pally I stopped for a quick photo op which shows quite how murky a morning it was:
View through the gloom
Heading up White Hart Lane (where, bizarrely, the famous football ground is not based) and then through Tottenham, it was here that I realised why I had never been to Tottenham before: because it is less than scenic (a dump!) and full of not-so-friendly characters. Of note on the high street to Edmonton was this particular 'restaurant', complete with giant copper statuette of a doner kebab:
Yoda didn't look impressed with the Doner
And people sneer at South London! Heading further North still, it wasn't long until I came across my second surprise of the morning: London's hidden reservoir and wide open green space within the M25. Further up was the turning into Mott Street, the second categorised climb of the day.
Blue skies and green countryside - inside the M25

Street signs, sponsored by Instagram

Going up
The Mott street climb could have been in the middle of the countryside, with its tree-lined road and farmland to either side - quite a contrast to the busy A112 where it starts. Again, the climb itself wasn't too testing but did go on for a bit before levelling off into the Epping Forest. Getting a bit carried away with the smooth-surfaced roads and finally some peace and quiet from the traffic, I promptly put my head down and missed a turn before realising and back-tracking a mile or so. Bizarrely the roads were lined with a number of 'Beware Cattle' signs. I didn't come across the slightest whiff of beef, so I can only assume that these are there because of some kind of a nightmarish plague involving 'vampire cows'. Either that or it's a warning for motorists to be aware of fast-moving kamikaze bovines. It's the only rational explanation.

An uneventful ride back through my old stomping ground of Victoria Park and Mile End saw me home through the traffic and over Tower Bridge. The all-important recovery was based at Bermondsey's local raclette stall (yes, that's right, Bermondsey has it's very own cheese) which was as delicious as it looks (that is, very) and full of all the cheesy-potatoey-oniony-goodness that a cyclist needs:
The French were really on to something
when they thought of this
Finally, the post-recovery party ended up in the Piccadilly Institute, packed full of under-age, under-dressed, and over-intoxicated individuals, as well as one very sweaty, very dancy 30 year old and a soundtrack of 'classic' 90s dance music. Suffice to say that I didn't end up going on my planned ride on Sunday
The neon dancefloor...

John was suitably unimpressed with
the 'pass the sweaty hat' game

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