21 June 2009
Sod Stonehenge: For a proper solstice, bike to Regents Park
At Stonehenge this morning the solstice was celebrated in the time-honoured English way: by 36,000 people jamming roads. The place to get away from all the crowds was, in fact, Primrose Hill in London.
The annual midsummer gathering of a cosy 500 or so cyclists took place there this morning, somewhere from 4am-ish to about 5.30am-ish (all pictures). As parties go this was fairly low-key - F minor, say - with no music, thank goodness, a few discreet bottles of beer and other relaxants, and a lot of chat.
(Added 23 Jun: The agreed attendance figure by Southwark Cyclists/Tower Hamlets Wheelers is now 350 at the solstice and 70 at the cafe, by the way!)
Some arrived en masse in borough groups, Greenwich having set off at the heroically early time of 2am. No, actually, it wasn't that heroic; most had just gone there straight from the pub. I'd ploughed my own furrow through central London some time around 3.30am.
London at that time is an odd patchwork of sodium-lit stasis and boisterous commotion. Silent Westminster Bridge had only a couple of street cleaners, and the ink-black Thames reflected impressionist daubs of colour. Leicester Square on the other hand was a chaotic, noisy mass of those pesky pedicabs, taxis, night buses, and crowds of bleary-eyed young drunks stumbling into the road.
Once the sun was up, it got bizarrely darker and chillier. Thirty or so of us headed south for coffee at Leon's, behind Tate Modern, which had opened specially. The peloton clanked like a goods train across an empty Millennium Bridge. Of course there's really no cycling there; usually you can't anyway because it's full of tourists.
So it was nice to start the summer proper with some benign, spontaneous illegality. Surely that's what solstice celebrations should be about.