London, Peckham – Greenwich – Dartford, 35 miles
After six weeks back in the UK, catching up with friends and family over countless meals we were keen to get back on the bikes for a bit of exercise. Having returned to work though, our time was limited, so we chose a local ride along the Thames Cycle Path and were pleased to discover a quiet route with plenty of interesting sights on route.
From our house in Peckham, south-east London, it was a short ride to the old, market town of Greenwich. We didn’t stop to explore the food stalls, but picked up the National Cycle Route 1 next to the impressively restored Cutty Stark. The only surviving tea clipper, when we left London in 2011 she was a burnt out shell after a fire, but now stands tall and proud again having been reopened earlier in 2012.
The Thames Cycle Path heads east along the river, and we cycled out along the front of the National Maritime Museum, with Greenwich Park behind. The park had been the venue for the horse riding during the London 2012 Olympic Games and as we headed along we passed other points of interest related to the Games and enjoyed fantastic views looking back towards London.
The route was well signposted and mainly kept to dedicated cycle lanes or footpaths, a real treat for us after some of the roads we cycled on in South America. We’d taken our hybrid, city bikes rather than our Thorn Nomads, as the path was well-paved and required suspension more than strength.
Having lived in London for over ten years, we were impressed with the route which took us to places we hadn’t visited before. We got brilliant close up views of the Thames Barrier, as the pathway weaves right around the side of the structure which exists to protect London from particularly high tides.
East of the Thames Barrier the landscape became industrial, passing factories and waterworks. Although, it doesn’t sound that appealing, it made interesting viewing. It wasn’t too long either, before we were back cycling past the old artillery factories in Woolwich which were now expensive residential apartments. This was the place munitions were made during World War One.
Gradually, the buildings disappeared and we found ourselves in more open ground, a surprise considering we were only about 10 miles away from Greenwich. For a while the cycling was a bit on and off because of having to manoeuvre through gates, designed so that motorbikes can’t get through, but we had the route pretty much to ourselves so it wasn’t too slow.As the huge Dartford Bridge came into sight we were cycling across open fields. Where the River Darent meets the Thames, we turned inland and cycled along grassy tow paths, with just a narrow track for the bikes to follow. We passed horses grazing on the pathway, just as we did in South America and it felt as if we’d escaped London yet again.
We left the route here and turned back towards Peckham, deciding to take a more direct route home. This was Paddy’s idea and consequently included a long climb up Shooters Hill where I missed my Rohloff hub as my derailleur crunched uphill. At the top, we cycled along the back of Greenwich Park and battled through the ever-blowing wind across Blackheath, the kite flyers proof of the heath’s blustery conditions.
From there it was a short ride back to Peckham and a well-deserved cup of tea. It felt great to be back on the bikes and nice to be out and about exploring again. And, it seems, you don’t have to travel to the other side of the world to discover new places, history and hills.