Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Avenue Verte - Day 1 (May Day Mayhem)

Day 1: London to East Grinstead (May 2nd, 2015)
40 miles +/-, 2000' of Elev. Gain (Click for map info)

Our journey began in earnest on the morning of May 2nd in rural Oxfordshire, under grey skies, with the ever increasing threat of rain approaching. Our panniers packed to the brim the night before, saddle and pedals in a carrier bag, and excitement in no short supply. At this stage of the journey we were just 2 strong, a native Brit from Oxfordshire (myself), and a native Floridian (Pete) - both now residents of Colorado, USA. 

We arrived at Haddenham & Thame Parkway station in plenty of time to board the 8.30am to London. To our surprise we were not the only cyclists setting off from here that morning, a large group were gathering in preparation for a charity ride to Ireland over the Bank Holiday weekend, which quickly made our trip sound easy. The train arrived on time, and to our surprise there were free seats, we were quickly London bound - the "Inseine Chain Gang" adventure was finally officially underway.

Haddenham & Thame Pkwy

Our destination in London was "On Your Bike" at London Bridge, next to Borough Market. Pete and myself had opted to rent 2 Hybrid bikes for the tour (£60/week), the 3rd member of our party (John aka the "Kebab Kid") was meeting us at the bike store on his own bike. We had a little wait until the bike store opened, so wandered around Borough market, the smell of the street food really lures you in, and it was hard to even make it further than the market on Day 1. 

On Your Bike bike shop

On Your Bike is a great little bike shop, tucked right under the arches by Southwark Cathedral. The guys promptly set us up with hybrid bikes, brand new ones no less, loaded the panniers, saddle and pedals, and spare tubes were purchased (which amazingly were never needed!).

Our first stop was not far from the bike store, but the fact it was the May Day Bank Holiday weekend, and a very popular area, meant our journey started off by pushing the bikes. The Thameside Inn was our "unofficial" starting point; what better way to toast the start of the adventure than with a pint of London Bitter and some Fish n' Chips. We had locked all our bikes to the railings of the Thames side walkway, but upon exiting the pub came our first (and really the only) slight scare. The Kebab Kid had mis-placed his keys for his lock, after much searching they miraculously appeared in his pocket; we all secretly suspected the person dressed as a Pirate next to the Golden Hind boat, had cursed the keys or something.

View over the City of London from the Thameside Inn

So 2 pints later, and full of food, we officially got under way. I had loaded maps for each days route onto an older GPS etrex, which I quickly realized would only navigate properly if the routes had a maximum of 50 waypoints (not the 250 I had used to create them - a word of warning there!). After what appeared an eternity waiting for a satellite lock, and some swearing at the non-navigational maps, we were on route to the London Eye. Our first taste of London cycling was not as bad as we had suspected by long shot (well except for Pete having to very quickly adjust to riding on the left).

At the London Eye

We arrived at the London Eye in no time, and the "official" start of the Avenue Verte trail, a quick souvenir snap courtesy of a tourist and we were off again. The route starts off by crossing the Thames twice, and includes a peculiar cycle lane in the middle of a roundabout, where a young lady was getting very frustrated by us not paying attention to the hard to see cycle crossing lights. Note: The signage through this first section is a little lacking, well frankly actually almost non-existent (look for Sustrans National Cycle network (route 20) signs, NOT Avenue Verte signage). We were heading into South London pretty quickly though, and soon onto the Wandle trail. The Wandle trail provides a nice off-road route though Greater London, and often you could mistake it for being in rural England. The May Day Bank Holiday weekend meant half of the UK was on this trail, or at least so it seemed, and a 10 mph average would of been a dream pace, but this kind of average speed we would not gain until well clear of the M25 corridor.

Along the Wandle Trail

Cycling through the London burbs had plenty of unexpected surprises: streams, open spaces, parks, cafes, historic churches and even hills steep enough to make you want to cuss. It was nice though to finally reach the English countryside, and south of the M25 we had decided to deviate from the official AV route, following NCN route 21 east then rural roads south through the villages of Bletchingley and Outwood (Great windmill here).

On top of Farthing Downs - quite a climb

Outwood Windmill

We rejoined the official route again just west of East Grinstead on the Worth WayOur overnight stop on day 1 was at Cranston House B&B in East Grinstead, easy to find if you know your way around East Grisntead, not so easy if you forget to print out directions or load it onto the GPS - thank goodness for smart phones and Google maps!!. The B&B is in a great location, walking distance to town, and even has a lockable bike shed.

Curry was on the menu for night one, washed down with lashings of Tiger beer - we were pretty happy to have made it though our first day without incident, and to have had a dry day, albeit a cloudy one.

Link to DAY 2

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