Sunday, April 1, 2012

Crossings of London Part 2, West Ham to Blackfriars Bridge

With the UK's early summer-like weather continuing and a late change to my university schedule giving me Friday off I decided to crack on with my challenge of crossing every one of London's bridges, tunnels and ferries.
On my first stage a few weeks ago I got as far as the Woolwich ferry before I called it a day- this meant my first crossing today would be the Woolwich Foot Tunnel.
I had a nice chat with another cyclist on the train who was using a very different cycle, called a recumbant cycle. It looks like a reclining chair on wheels and I was very intrigued. Would love to try one out one day. I left West Ham mainline station and rode the five miles down past City Airport, Silvertown and the lovely Royal Victoria Docks area on my way to the tunnel. They have retained the now defunct cranes here as a visible reminder of the Dock's former life and they make for a very impressive sight.

  The Woolwich Foot Tunnel entrance is a elegant circular buidling and a grade two listed building. I nearly missed it again as now it is completed encased in scaffolding and coverings for major renovations. I had to carry my bike down the spiral staircase which was very uncomfortable but I was on my way back south of the water again.

Crossing Five: Woolwich Foot Tunnel.

It's a 504m walk through the tunnel to South Woolwich with annoying barriers to prevent cyclists from riding through the tunnel. Next on my crossings list was the little known Hilton Hotel Docklands ferry, although the author of the website I found that inspired this ride advised against it. It's £4 for a 2 min crossing and is only really used for hotel guests so I thought I'd just make up my mind when I got there.

 Whilst riding along the Thames Path I began thinking about this ride and how to get as much out of it as possible. Sure I could just ride between crossings, take the obligatory photo and move on to the next. I considered that a waste.There were so many sights and attractions on the way I made a decision there and then to stop as often as I liked at places of interest on the way, otherwise my ride would just feel like a 'tickbox' exercise. I was about to ride through Greenwich but what caught my eye next gave me an idea for a little detour, a sign for Charlton Athletic Football Club's ground, The Valley. I thought I'd pop in and try to get a photo inside the ground. I rode up and put their reputation as one of the friendliest clubs in England to the test. Within two minutes a friendly security guard ( itself a rarity) was escorting me through the stands to the pitch. Try doing that at The Emirates!

In the home team Dugout.

With glorious sunshine making for perfect cycling conditions, I made my way along to my next crossing, the Greenwich foot tunnel back to the north side. I also made a short stop to have a look at The Thames Barrier.

. Whist riding through Greenwich, and past the eyesore that is the O2 arena formally The Millennium Dome, I fancied dropping into the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. I stopped for a nice packed lunch of bananas, grapes and coffee on the lawn at Greenwich Park. It's a beautiful park and on this summers like day it was glorious.

 I went up the impossibly steep hill on which the observatory sits and really struggled to push the bike up. I felt like the boy in the Hovis ad pushing his bike up Gold Hill...
It was obviously very touristy at the observatory and the tour parties of Japanese and Americans didn't take long to get on my nerves. The view though back over Greenwich Park took my mind of them though...

I took the obligatory shot of me standing either side of the Greenwich Meridian Line, the point of which all of Earth's time is calculated.
The rest of the world to my left, the rest of the world to my right.

 To be honest, aside from the Meridian Line the rest of the observatory wasn't that good. There's some interesting exhibits on the history of time but I decided to move on. An employee told me of a hill which led back down to the park, I wish I'd known about it earlier! I got up to 28mph on my way down and rode on to the nearby Cutty Sark which wa right next to my next crossing, The Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Major renovation works are going on by the ship, presumably connected with the tragic fire in 2007 that almost destroyed one of Britains's best loved historical ships. The Cutty Sark was Britain's last built clipper ship built in 1869 and was a merchant vessel.

Again, this area was swarming with tourists, and I was glad to leave them behind and move on to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. This tunnel, opened in 1902, links South Greenwich to The Isle of Dogs on the north side and is an almost carbon copy of the Woolwich one. It's 370 metres long.

Crossing Six: Greenwich Foot Tunnel.

I briefly stopped at the Hilton ferry but just like the website author, decided to skip it. It just wasn't worth the money.I carried onto past a impressive and very expensive looking Isle of Dogs riverside apartment complex along the north side Thames Path to my next crossing, and one that filled me with some trepidation, the Rotherhithe Tunnel.  According to that website listing all the crossings this isn't one to be enjoyed but as it's legal to use as a cyclist and a footpath exists it had to be done. although I really wasn't looking forward to it.

Looks like everything is banned apart from cyclists, I quickly wished they were...

I entered the tunnel and and into a merky world of loud reverberating engine noise and air thick with exhaust fumes, it was a very uncomfortable experience through the 1481 metres back to the south side and Bermondsey. The tunnel itself isn't straight, its a long twisty succession of sharp bends, apparently designed to prevent spooking horses back in olden days.

Crossing Seven: The Rotherhithe Tunnel

Upon leaving the tunnel, and doing all of 3mph disaster struck. There was a tree coming out of the pavement that that had a circle cut into the pavement for it to grow out of. I didn't notice that this circle was reinforced by a ring of metal that was impossible to see. My front wheel just slipped into this circle and I fell off. Well fell off sounds dramatic, I was going so slowly I basically lowered myself to the pavement. But being caught in this ring of metal acted like a train wheel on a  track and it caused catastrophic damage to my front wheel- it was buckled almost beyond use.I just couldn't believe so much damage could be caused when going so slowly. I asked a local guy if there was a cycle shop nearby and he said there was, literally two minutes away along Jamacia Road. Problem was, it was 1715, would he be open? I was able to ride very slowly to the shop with a comically shaped wheel to the shop. All I needed was a yellow wig and a red nose and I would've perfected the clown on a bike look. Luckily the shop was still open and the owner offered to sell me a reconditioned second hand wheel for £10. I was very lucky and also very grateful that I wouldn't have to carry my bike home and I could carry on my ride. 

Next up was a Bridge I was looking forward more than any, the iconic and world famous Tower Bridge, only five minutes away from where I was. It was a great experience riding over this bridge and I stopped to take in the view.

Crossing Eight: Tower Bridge.

View down the River.

I knew now that the bridges would come thick and fast compared to the miles gaps of the ones downriver, I could look along and see the next few. I was now in Central London and the chaotic travel. It was too busy and dangerous to listen to the radio like I like to do when I was cycling, so I put it away and had the noises of London as my soundtrack. I rode past the Tower of London, stopping for a quick photo.

I rode along Upper Thames Street to my next Bridge, the rather non descript London Bridge, no more tunnels now! A famous Urban Legend exists that when the previous London Bridge was sold to an American Billionaire to be rebuilt in the Arizona desert in 1962, he mistakenly believed he was buying Tower Bridge. It's completely false but does make for an interesting story, one of those that you WANT to be true but quite simply isn't. 

Crossing Nine: London Bridge

Next up was one of what I consider to be one of London's prettiest bridges, the green and gold Southwark Bridge. I took the cycle superhighway back to the north side of the Thames.

Crossing Ten: Southwark Bridge.

With time running out I decided I only had time to do a few more so settled on two more and then I would go in search of some dinner and carry this on to another day.
Next was the newest Bridge to be built over the Thames, The Millennium Bridge, famously known as The Wobbly Bridge after some early technical problems led to users feeling that the bridge was bouncing underneath them as they walked over. It closed for some time whilst engineers tried to solve the problem.
It's a beautiful steel structure linking Bankside on the south side with the City on the North, close to St Paul's Cathedral.

Crossing Eleven: The Millennium Bridge. 

With my energy sapping and my stomach rumbling I set off for for the few hundred yards to my final bridge of  the day, Blackfriars Bridge.

I rode past thousands of City Workers spilling out on the streets from packed bars, enjoying the warm Friday evening. 
A nice Japanese tourist offered to take my photo and I completed my last bridge of the day.

Crossing Twelve: Blackfriars Bridge

With my bridge crossing finished for the day, my attention tuned to food. I decided I'd go to the only pub in London I knew that sold cheap food- a Wetherspoon's pub just off Trafalgar Square. I had a great time riding down The Strand in Central London, past |Charing Cross, through Trafalgar Square and to the pub. They were still serving food but I had a problem- nowhere to lock up my bike. The manager had no secure facilities and could only recommend locking it at Charing Cross station, 400 yards away and totally out of eyesight. I couldn't take that risk or lock it to a lampost outside as the police remove all locked bikes immediately for security reasons- Parliament and Downing Street are only minutes away. I even got thrown out of a McDonald's for wheeling my bike inside! They reluctantly agreed to let me buy a takeway before showing me the pavement, and I sat on a bench in Charing Cross eating what I'd been trying to avoid all day, McDonalds. Annoying thing was the pub food would've been nicer, cheaper and healthier.
So that was my day. I'd made Central London by the end of day two and had twenty more crossings to look forward next time. It was time to go home.