Thursday, July 26, 2012

Crossings of London Part Four: Final Stage

When I started this crossings of London challenge I never expected it to run into into four days and span March to July. I never do things the easy way. Today would definitely be the final stage with just seven crossings to do, two of those stupidly overlooked on my last trip. It was a warm summers day in London and I was looking forward to the day and finally finishing this ride! Annoyingly during the time I have taken to complete this ride the cable car over The Thames, The Emirates Air Line has opened at Woolwich meaning there would be one method of crossing the river I hadn't done, but seeing as it wasn't an option when I was in that area I excused myself from it. Will do it one day though.
I got to Fenchurch Street and rode to the first bridge, and one of the two I'd forgotten, the Hungerford Bridge and Golden Jubilee Bridges.
It was a pleasant two mile ride along Lower Thames Street and The Embankment to the bridge. The Hungerford Bridge is solely a railway bridge leading into Charing Cross but it has two footbridges either side, the Jubilee Bridges. I'd missed the second one on the previous ride and if you ask me it's pretty pointless having two identical footbridges either side of a railway bridge but there you go, just making excuses for missing a bridge that was clearly indicated on my itinerary!

Crossing Twenty Seven: The other Jubilee Bridge I missed.

I just wanted to get to where I called it a day last time which was Kew Bridge to continue the ride to the finish line, Teddington Lock. Then I remembered I had to chalk off Fulham Railway Bridge. This meant,  a train to Putney Bridge, which rather conveniently ran from Waterloo station that was a two minute ride from the Jubilee Bridge.I stopped for a Burger King, and thought just how much London Waterloo station has changed since DelBoy met Raquel there in 'Dates' in 1988...

I took the next train to Putney and rode back along the Thames to Fulham Railway Bridge, carrying my bike up to some tough iron steps. It was a bland bridge, just a footpath along a railway bridge which meant I had to wheel my bike along it. There were some dubious looking drunk eastern europeans on the bridge so I just moved on quickly and ticked it off.

Crossing Twenty Eight: Fulham Railway Bridge.

I now had a 5 1/2 mile ride just to get to my start line, it meant passing past several bridges I'd covered before and also past Fulham Football Club, no chance of getting in there like I did with Charlton on Day Two of this ride but I did stop for a quick photo.

I now had a very pleasant ride along the north side Thames Path which made a nice change from the previous trip when I rode along muddy cycle paths on the south side, this was all paved along side quaint riverside cottages and nice looking pubs. A sign on a fence covering a new housing development caught my eye for its irony.

Are they taking the piss or what?

After riding leisurely past previous covered bridges, Putney, Hammersmith, and Barnes I got to Kew Bridge and it felt like the day's challenge had begun.
The next bridge was Richmond Lock Footbridge, three miles upstream and reached mainly by an annoying and busy road ride. There was no signposting, the Thames Path had disappeared and I ended up finding it by instinct, I rode down a pleasant tree lined street to find the Footbridge, looking magnificent in the summer sun, as did the Thames itself.

                                           A duck enjoying the crystal clear Thames water

Without doubt, one of the most elegant Thames bridges.

Crossing Twenty Nine: Richmond Lock Footbridge.

A mere quarter of a mile upriver and already in sight was my next bridge, the boring and uninspiring Twickenham road bridge. The main purpose of this bridge is to connect the nearby M3 motorway to Central London. I was amazed to discover it is a grade 2 listed building! It was tick box exercise again for me so I pedalled over to the south side, which was now the north side in effect due to the way The Thames snakes its way westwards. It felt like the south though! 

Look closely and you can just about make out the bridge name, if you want to...

Crossing Thirty: Twickenham Road Bridge. 

Now totally confused as to what bank of the Thames I was on I pedalled down to a bridge I was looking forward to seeing-Richmond Bridge- based on the write up by Rob, the website author where I got the idea for this ride. Richmond Bridge is a grade 1 listed structure, and significantly is the oldest bridge on the London stretch of  the Thames, dating back to 1777. It was pretty, without being spectacular. There were nice views up and down the Thames, now looking very peaceful with people relaxing on the banks and a few rowers in their thin boats going up and down stream. 

Crossing Thirty One: Richmond Bridge.

Significantly for my challenge it was my last road bridge too.I rode over into Richmond and joined the riverside path. I'd almost forgotten that the Thames was still tidal at this point. It very much resembled a peaceful country river, with seemingly still water, ducks and lilly pads. However I quickly got a reminder that it was still very much under the influence of the moon when the cycle path ahead of me was under 20-25cms of water, didn't expect that. I had a choice, deviate around or try to slowly ride through it. I could see people in the distance riding through so I decided to brave it. The water felt quite deep, with the level just a fraction below my shoes. It was strangely satisfying riding about 300 metres through deep water and also slightly unnerving that I couldn't see any underwater obstacles and also that I couldn't stop if I wanted to.
Further on, however, I came across river bank flooding that I couldn't navigate through. Halfway to my next crossing the path ahead, this time an unmade muddy path, was obviously under deep water. A man on a mountain bike coming the other way said it was too deep for my road bike and would be at least half a wheel deep and would also submerge my paniers. Annoyingly I would have to retrace my steps and reach Ham House for the Ham-Twickenham ferry by road. This was one of the quirky crossings I was most looking forward to. It's a tiny, on demand ferry that goes between Ham House and Twickenham. 
'Ferry' really is pushing it a bit.
A very tranquil looking Thames from the bank at Ham House

It is one of only four remaining crossings of London not to be replaced by a bridge or tunnel and is operated by a nice relaxed bunch of lads who were very friendly and helpful, who sat discussing their evening plans as they went back and forth. I paid my £1.50 and crossed over to the Twickenham side and turned straight back, as earlier I'd seen a road sign to my ultimate destination, Teddington Lock. 

View of the Thames, looking downstream from the Ham Ferry.

All I did on the Twickenham side was take this photo.

Crossing Thirty Two: Ham Ferry

With the end now firmly in sight I retraced my path back to the road and to the road leading to Teddington Lock Bridge. It was a mile along quite residential streets, a right turn along a cycle path and I was there. I couldn't see it initially but suddenly I saw it through some trees. It is actually two bridges which connect on a small island and were built between 1887 and 1889. My finish line that I had put so much effort in to reach was in sight.This challenge was to ride all the crossings of the Tidal Thames and strictly speaking it is above the Tidal Thames but I didn't care, I had done it.

The Finish Line

Crossing Thirty Three, and final one on my challenge:
Teddington Lock Footbridges.

I wheeled my bike over the bridge into Teddington and into a welcome looking pub called The Anglers. I needed a pint!

The challenge I begun back in March was over and I was proud I had done it, just surprised it took four trips. I'd somehow covered 137 miles over the course of the whole trip and had seen parts and sights of London I'd never seen before and in the case of the Greenwich crossings brought back some nice childhood memories. It was time to head to Teddington train station for the trip back to Waterloo station and the long trip from the far suburbs of leafy West London and home.

A timely reminder I'd reached the end of the Tidal Thames.

The End: Homeward bound.

Total mileage for the day: 34.