31 May 2010

Quirky London 19 of 20: Follow a ley line

Where is it? Trafalgar Square, Strand, and ultimately to Arnold Circus.

What's quirky about it? It's Strand Ley, one of the many lines of mystical forces across London and Britain identified by Alfred Watkins. He noticed that whenever there were two points of great, ancient spiritual significance - Glastonbury Tor, say, or Lord's - they were always connected by a straight line. Which can't be a coincidence.

Why bike there? Can't you feel the force?

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30 May 2010

Quirky London 18 of 20: DIY Skyride

Where is it? Constitution Hill and The Mall, by Buckingham Palace.

What's quirky about it? Every Sunday, these two grand thoroughfares are closed to traffic. So, if you enjoyed the London Skyride last year, you can recreate it without the 65,000 pesky people on bikes getting in your way, or the marshals telling you not to do whatever you're doing.

Why bike there? Swan up and down unmolested by traffic to Buckingham Palace, St James's Park, Wellington Arch, and (most of the way) to Admiralty Arch, Trafalgar Square, Houses of Parliament, etc etc...

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29 May 2010

Quirky London 17 of 20: The Old Kent Road tank

Where is it?Between Page's Walk and Mandela Way, off the northern end of Old Kent Road, on a triangular patch of grass.

What's quirky about it? It's a real T-34 tank. Part of the fleet used to crush rebellion in Prague in 1968, it was bought and installed by a local property developer in frustration at his not getting planning permission to build on it. The gun turret, it's said, points to the council offices. It gets regularly resprayed. (There was also a Follower-of-Banksy mural behind it on our visit, though maybe a follower-of-Robbo has sprayed over it by now.)

Why bike there? Cyclists who have just had another close call with a lorry may well feel that a tank would be a more appropriate way to travel the Old Kent Road.

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28 May 2010

Quirky London 16 of 20: The Camberwell submarine

Where is it? Akerman Rd, between Myatts Fields and Mostyn Gardens, Camberwell.

What's quirky about it? It's just the protrusion into our universe of a boiler room thing below the road, but it looks just like a submarine. They should paint it seakelp green, and put a periscope on it. Actually, inside it looks pretty much like a sub too, only without the sweaty sailors desperate for a fag stop.

Why bike there? Myatts Fields is quite a nice little park and has a large scale map of the world you can walk around, though its geographic accuracy is open to question. You're not far from Kennington Park (with a nice little cafe) or Brixton.

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27 May 2010

Quirky London 15 of 20: Cycle inside a canal

Where is it? Running south into Peckham centre.

What's quirky about it? Not just a canal towpath, this is cycling along the canal itself: the old Surrey Canal, which finally evaporated in the 1960s.

Why bike there? It's a neat traffic-free route to Peckham... in the day. Probably best avoided at night, unless you have good martial arts training. It ends up at stylish Peckham Library: half book repository, half Stirling Prize winner, half surfboard. At its north end, this bit of cyclable canal turns west into Burgess Park, site of the old canal basin, and the tarmac cycle path has an odd bridge-from-nowhere-to-nowhere (right) going over it.

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26 May 2010

Quirky London 14 of 20: Ride a free ferry

Where is it? Woolwich, out east along the Thames path.

What's quirky about it? That rare thing, a free ride: as the link between the North and South Circular, the ferry shuttling over the Thames between North and South Woolwich has to cost you nothing. So there is, after all, such a thing as a free launch.

Why bike there? Bikes can head straight to the front of the road queue, and be first on the car deck when the boat docks. If you you join the ferry with the foot passengers, you’ll have to schlepp your bike up and down some stairs. At times when the ferry isn’t operating, or just for something different, push your bike through the foot tunnel just downstream, similar to Greenwich’s (but slightly longer, at 500m). Look for a pointy, round brick hut.

The ride along the Thames Path between here and Greenwich goes past the Thames Barrier, unsettlingly like alien landing craft, and the O2 dome. There's a curious optical illusion as work as you do so: the three skyscrapers in Docklands (HSBC, Citigroup, and ‘Canary Wharf’ or 1 Canada Square) appear to swop places as your river path winds round.

The Woolwich Ferry route is one of the chapters in my 50 Quirky Bike Rides book.

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25 May 2010

Quirky London 13 of 20: Crossing the meridian

Where is it? Greenwich observatory, in the park overlooking the old naval college - but possibly not quite where you think.

What's quirky about it? Your chance to straddle the meridian line. Here, balanced on a knife edge, are the two hemispheres: on one side the mystic east of Woolwich and Dartford and beyond; on the other, the wild west of Lewisham and Brixton.

A steel monument and strip by the Royal Observatory, heavy with queues of visitors intent on Twitpic-ing a holiday snap, show the zero line.

Except it's not the GPS zero. The line shown by the observatory is the 1884 meridian; today's zero, at least the one that your GPS will show as 0.0000 longitude, is a hundred metres east in the park (map, right: the marked line is in blue, the GPS zero line is in red).
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Why bike there? Greenwich is a lovely, mostly traffic-free, bike ride along the Thames path. In the park, it's a nice ride up to the observatory for that view . You can see the splendour of the old Naval College, now home to Trinity College of Music, with the blocks of Canary Wharf behind and, over to the east, the exoskeleton of the O2 dome.

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24 May 2010

Quirky London 12 of 20: Lombard St for bikes

Where is it? At the beginning of the ornamental canal just after St Katherine's Dock, east of Tower Bridge.

What's quirky about it? San Francisco bangs on about its steep and eight-hairpinned Lombard St being the 'crookedest street in the world' (it's not: San Fran's own Vermont St is steeper, and the crookedest street in the world is Wall St, har har). Well, this is London's bike answer: a six-hairpin traffic-free scoot down on to a canal towpath.

Why bike there? Calm, delightful, traffic-free canalside cycling from touristy St Kat's Dock to... well, as far as Paddington or Birmingham, if you want (see Quirky London 10). The Ornamental Canal has a trim, Dutch new-build feel to it.

The 'London's Lombard St' route is one of the chapters in my 50 Quirky Bike Rides book.

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23 May 2010

Quirky London 11 of 20: The flying canal

Where is it? On the Grand Union Canal Paddington Arm, about five miles west of Paddington station.

What's quirky about it? The quiet, rural-feeling canal is clearly at ground level - you think. But out of nowhere, the North Circular suddenly appears far below you: disorientated, you realise you're on an aqueduct.

Why bike there? The ride here from Paddington along the towpath is traffic-free and pleasant, going past Notting Hill. You might just see David Cameron or Madonna on a bike, but more likely some Polish blokes sitting on a bench with cans of lager.

Another six miles or so along the towpath from the aqueduct, go left into bustling Southall, whose High Street is more like India that west London. Eat fabulously and cheaply, buy delicious honey mangoes, and cycle back in a bargain sari. Or catch a train from back to Paddington.

The aqueduct route is one of the chapters in my 50 Quirky Bike Rides book.

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22 May 2010

Quirky London 10 of 20: The floating towpath

Where is it? On Limehouse Cut, where the canal ducks under the A12, just before Bow Locks.

What's quirky about it? It's Britain's only floating towpath - it was the only solution to making a cyclable and walkable towpath under the main road.(There's supposed to be a floating and movable towpath where the Rochdale Canal goes under the M62, but as far as we know it's not currently in operation.) The tunnel used to be lit up in extra-terrestrial green, but the lights were turned off last time we were there.

Why bike there? It's a relaxing and pleasant trundle up the towpath from St Katherine's Dock, by London Bridge, along the ornamental canal, over Limehouse Basin and up the Cut.

After the floating towpath, go on alongside Bow River past the Olympic sites, then take a left on the cut joining the Regents Canal. Carry on from there to Kings Cross and Paddington - and then Birmingham along the Grand Union, if you have time.

The floating towpath route is one of the chapters in my 50 Quirky Bike Rides book.

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21 May 2010

Quirky London 9 of 20: London Bridge (rems of)

Where is it? The King's Arms, a pub at 65 Newcomen St, just off Borough, a bit south of London Bridge.

What's quirky about it? Its coat of arms is the only surviving bit of the original, medieval London Bridge, the one that was always falling down or burning up.

The arms come from the bridge's southern gatehouse, and were added on to the medieval bridge in the 1728. (Presumably that '1760 GIIIR' stuff is a later addition.) That bridge was replaced by a new one in the 19th century, which was in turn taken up brick by brick and shipped to Arizona, and replaced with the concrete bore we know and do not sing about today.

Why bike there? Borough Market; Southwark Cathedral; the bike-friendly and historical George Inn just down the road.

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20 May 2010

Quirky London 8 of 20: St Paul's in Vauxhall

Where is it? Vauxhall Bridge, a bridge in Vauxhall. Cross over the wide, fast bridge and you'd think it's central London's most boring crossing. But you're on a bike, not a bus or car, so stop and peer over the parapet.

What's quirky about it? You see eight large female figures depicting the arts and sciences that adorn the upstream and downstream sides of the bridge. They're all flowing art-nouveauish graces that could be advertising a safety bicycle in a 1900s-Paris poster by Mucha.

One holds a palette and a little sculpture of a person (right, who may be holding an even littler sculpture of a person, etc, in a Borges-style recursion). The best is Miss Architecture 1906, who holds a model of St Paul's Cathedral (top right).

Why bike there? Lots to see: the Pink Floyd view of Battersea Power Station's dead sheep to the west, Tate Britain on the north bank, the Eye and other postcard-London goodies downriver, or the Stalinist-cake architecture of the SIS (aka MI5, MI6) building at the south end (right). There must be some sort of pub-quiz-question you can ask here, such as, 'From which bridge can you photograph both the MI6 building and St Paul's Cathedral?', or, 'Why are you arresting me, officer?'. There's an excellent Portuguese cafe nearby, the Madeira, under Vauxhall railway arches.

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19 May 2010

Quirky London 7 of 20: The London Stone

Where is it? 111 Cannon St, in the heart of London, which means a busy road with anonymous shops and bland modern blocks. But at least there's a pub called The London Stone just down the road.

What's quirky about it? It's said to be the original centre of London in Roman times: the stone to which all distances in Britannia were measured. Things are more modern now, of course: we have a horse's bum to mark that (see Quirky London 20). It's been moved around quite a bit over the centuries and nobody's quite sure how old or original it is, and to be honest one stone looks much like another.

It's hidden unceremoniously behind a grille with a plaque on top which reads: This is a fragment of the original piece of limestone once securely fixed in the ground now fronting Cannon Street Station. Removed in 1742 to the north side of the stree in 1793 it was built into the south wall of the Church of St Swithin London Stone which stood here until demolished in 1902. Its origin and purpose are unknown but in 1188 there was a refernce to Henry, son of Eylwin de Londenstane, subsequently Lord Mayor of London.

Why bike there? Packed by day and comparatively deserted by night, combining brash modern trophy architecture with the odd historical survivor, the City is a curious place to cycle round, quite different to the rest of London. A bike can whiz you around the sights much more comfortably and quickly than on foot; londontourist.org has some itineraries.

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18 May 2010

Quirky London 6 of 20: The Roman bath

Where is it? 5 Strand Lane, off Strand/Surrey St, hidden away in a back lane and probably half a building site.

What's quirky about it? It's a National Trust property which is the "remains of a bath - possibly Roman". To see it, you press a light switch on the outside wall and peer in through a grimy window with a grille. You'll see something like the picture on the right (nicked from Wikipedia), or possibly just a grimy window and a grille. Apparently you can make an appointment with Westminster Council on 020 7641 5264 to view it, free, though don't say you're going by bike: they're a bit anti that sort of thing.

Why bike there? There's lots to see and do in Strand and Fleet St, and Somerset House is almost next door.

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17 May 2010

Quirky London 5 of 20: The oldest shopfront

Where is it? 56 Artillery Lane, in higgledy-piggledy back streets off Spitalfields Market not far from Liverpool St station.

What's quirky about it? Built in 1756, it's said to be the oldest surviving shop front in London. Don't know what it ever sold - top hats, probably, or lampblack or snuffboxes or vittles or something.

Why bike there? Curious little backstreets round here to nose around: this is Lannan's Ice Dind ('London's East End'). Spitalfields Market is full of trendy boutiques, bars and eateries, and you're just round the corner from Brick Lane, with its 24-hour bagel shop; or run its gauntlet of questionable curry places.

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16 May 2010

Quirky London 4 of 20: The oldest house

Where is it? Cloth Fair, just south of Smithfield Market.

What's quirky about it? It's said to be the oldest surviving house in London, a miraculous survivor of the Great Fire, the Luftwaffe, and the even worse Developers. It's been sympathetically restored quite a bit, apparently, but would be instantly recognisable to its original inhabitants of the 1590s.

Why bike there? Cloth Fair (right) is a pioneering bike contraflow street, so you can legally ride the wrong way up a one way street. The ancient church of St Bartholomew opposite does some funny bun-throwing stuff every Good Friday.

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15 May 2010

Quirky London 3 of 20: The giant plug

Where is it? At the west end of Ganton St, just off Carnaby St in swinging Soho.

What's quirky about it? It's, um, a giant plug. Maybe a reminder of those ancient days when your company's computer was the size of a small factory, and your electricity bill the size of a round.

Why bike there? This is shopping-bag London - Regent St, Oxford St, Liberty's, etc etc. So you'll probably want to lock your bike up somewhere, in the unlikely event you can find a spare rack.

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14 May 2010

Quirky London 2 of 20: The trompe l'oeuil houses

Where is it? A bit north of Hyde Park. Head west from Paddington Station about half a mile to the end of the road and it's there in front of you.

What's quirky about it? Nos 23 and 24 don't exist, despite being decorated with proper window and door frames and balconies. The windows are only painted on (right), because there's nothing behind: the 'houses' sit over an Underground railway. Like so much in London, they're just a facade.

If you nip round the back, via the bike cut-through to Porchester Gardens, you can see the sham exposed, the supporting metal joists, and the rail line (below).

Why bike there?
All pleasant territory to nose around by bike. Hyde Park is just over Bayswater Road to the south, and there are lots of little mews and well-to-do streets to explore. Leinster Gardens also has a few shops.

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13 May 2010

Quirky London 1 of 20: The flat house

This is the first in a series of posts about quirky stuff in London best experienced by bike. Of course, London's full of quaintly useless old stuff whose purpose is lost in antiquity, much of in Parliament Square. But this set is about curios that make a good target for a bike ride, and which are in some way uniquely enjoyable by bike.

Where is it? The south terrace of Thurloe Square, just south of the Victoria and Albert Museum. (Map below)

What's quirky about it? To squeeze the square against the railway line, but keep the architecture consistent, the builders had to make this last house in line wedge-shaped. View it from the right point, and it looks like it's about to fall down on Buster Keaton. Don't stand in front of it in a storm. The Google map below shows just how needle-shaped the end of the block is.

Why bike there? You can nip up to the V&A, which is free, full of fantastic art-and-design stuff, and has decent bike parking near the main entrance. West of here is South Kensington, full of elegant terraces and quaint mews, nice to poke around.

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Watch my lips: No new taxis

I did a quick radio interview yesterday afternoon with Jack Thurston, who presents the Bike Show on the excellent Resonance FM.

We were talking about Cycle Superhighways. I presume he'll edit out my expletives before the show goes out.

Route CS7, Merton to City, will charge up Southwark Bridge Road. This already has a mandatory green cycle lane on it in both directions. According to the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, 'mandatory' means that no vehicle may enter the lane, and they may not park in it. According to the taxi drivers on Southwark Bridge Road, 'mandatory' means 'park where you like and have a fag'.

So on the evidence of yesterday, CS7 will be blocked by illegally parked taxis and cabs just as the cycle lane is now.

Southbound, on single yellows, was this procession (above right) of parked TfL-licensed cabs yesterday. It was 3.15pm. That presumably counts as evening, because it seemed they'd knocked off for the day.

Northbound (right) was this black cab, sat on double yellows. He obligingly left it there half an hour while I went home, had some tea, got my camera, and came back. Amazing how the number plate is yet again appropriate (see also 19, 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1.)

12 May 2010

Getting a fix at launch parties

I was at a launch party for Foffa Bikes the other night. Based in E1, they build single speed and fixed-wheel bikes, mostly using recycled and rejuvenated parts. The main bike builder, Dani, used to work in the City (How many people work in the City? About half of them! etc) but the lure of bikes proved stronger than money, which is obviously where I've gone wrong too.

Anyway, it was a very agreeable evening, and it was good to chat to Dani and his PR genie Tyler, both thoroughly good company. Upmarket retro fixies or SSs are probably not for me, but there'll be plenty of people with a whizzy job in the City who want an off-the-shelf piece of kit as cool as these. One stylish young lady there had had her bike built in black and pink, to match one of her outfits.

Mind you, it was pretty obvious that this was a bikey event. There were several attractive and dashing young people of either sex, sometimes both, and there was some beady-eyed, nudge-nudge slavering going on - all of it over the bikes, on display on the launch-party cafe walls, though.

11 May 2010

I've seen the future and it's blurred: Mayor's transport vision

The mayor, Boris Johnson, has just set out his transport vision for London. "The Transport Strategy is a key part of a strategic policy framework to support and shape London's social and economic development over the next 20 years", it says here.

Here are the bits that mention bikes:

Page 3: "the pace of life can suddenly slow from one street to the next... children can grow up in safety... people can be
seen walking or cycling with no purpose other than enjoyment"

Page 4: "I want to create a cycling revolution and to make walking count – not only to help reduce congestion and carbon dioxide emissions, but also to improve the health of Londoners... I also want London to lead the world in new green technology – from electric vehicles to a new low
carbon bus and bike hire scheme"

Page 17: "Congestion on London’s roads is a huge hindrance to businesses, costing about £2bn each year. The
Mayor will implement a package of measures to smooth traffic flow and, in particular, achieve more reliable journey times. These include improved traffic control, minimising the impact of planned and unplanned events (such as roadworks and collisions)"

Page 18: "Well-designed public spaces can provide attractive places to spend time and can also support walking and cycling"

Page 19: "The uptake of physically active modes of transport will be promoted through information campaigns, travel planning, training and improved infrastructure such as cycle hire schemes, Cycle Superhighways, cycle parking provision, key walking routes and consistent wayfinding (such as Legible London). In addition, new developments will be planned in a way to increase the attractiveness of walking and cycling."

Page 20: "The Mayor recognises that feeling safe while cycling, walking, or using public transport is a very important part of the journey experience"

Page 21: "The strategy will therefore promote better balanced streets and an improved urban realm to make the roads physically safer, particularly for vulnerable users such as pedestrians and cyclists... In addition, the strategy will seek to create a culture of mutual respect, where all road users show consideration for each other"

Page 22: "Fear of crime and antisocial behaviour in deprived areas can dissuade people from walking, cycling or using public transport. The strategy therefore promotes measures to... improve the urban realm..."

Page 24: "Encouraging walking, cycling and public transport use together with smarter travel initiatives for people and goods will further reduce the environmental impact of transport in London"

Well, erm, let's hope so. Changing the subject completely, above is a picture of Wellington Arch: something that London's cyclists go through every day. Impressive, eh?

10 May 2010

Trunk route: Collect elephants on a jumbo bike tour

Any excuse for a ride around London... 250 life-size baby plastic painted elephants have been placed around the city, each painted individually by various artists. A fine bike tour in the making.

They're on display until until mid-June, and are there to raise awareness and money for conservation projects aiming to save the animal from extinction.

After all, its natural space is being eroded, it's under constant attack, and though it seems to be thriving in some areas, overall its numbers are struggling. As cyclists we know the feeling.

Many are round City Hall, Green Park, Trafalgar Square and the Eye, with a few adventurous individuals out at Heathrow Terminal 5, the Museum of London in Docklands, St Pancras, and of course the Elephant and Castle (where many of them were painted).

One of our favourites is this one (right) at City Hall. Peer inside through its portholes, and you see a plastic melange of London architecture, roamed by more elephants.

There's a map and location list at elephantparadelondon.org. Collecting the set would make a set of bike trips you'd never forget.

They'll be herded together at the Royal Hospital grounds, Chelsea from 24 June to 4 July. On 3 July they'll be auctioned off, so you can have your very own elephant in the room.

Dunwich Dynamo comes of age: Vote now

The Dunwich Dynamo - London's most remarkable open-to-all bike challenge - is on the night of 24/25 July this year, and booking for the return coach journey (about the only way you can sensibly get back) has now opened.

It's still Britain's most famous best-kept cycling secret: an annual ride of 200km through a full-moon July night from London to the Suffolk coast along with about 500 other people.

It’s not for charity, it’s not organised, it’s not a time trial. It’s not a demo or a commemoration, it has no official start or finish line, and there are no medals or certificates for those who complete it.

Southwark Cyclists help organise the ride, and their Dunwich Dynamo page has lots more info and an online coach-booking form. Early-booked tickets are £14.

This is the 18th DD, so it's come of age. Now it can go out and do irresponsible things, such as go to the pub, or vote.

(Pics: Simon Nuttall.)

09 May 2010

Fair outcome: Fruit of your cycling labour

Just time between the showers today to pedal your own free smoothie at the final day of the Fair Trade Festival (right) in Potters Fields, right underneath Tower Bridge.

The blender-bike here comes from Kitchen Academy, who provide mobile cooking services at various events. So if you want a bike-powered drinks generator for your own event, you know where to go.

The Fair Trade festival offers a range of activities highlighting the organisation's activities, such as Hook-a-Banana (like hook a duck, only more equitable) and banana jousting (so you can have fight after one too many at the bar and still get one of your five a day). And various free samples. Which is fair enough.

08 May 2010

Pulling up the Cable: More CS works by Tower Bridge

Cable St is one of London's showpiece cycle tracks - which is a bit like saying Andy Murray represents Britain's fine tennis tradition.

But the western end, near Tower Bridge, is something of a war zone at the moment.

It's being hacked up as part of the preparation for the two Cycle Superhighways opening this summer. Cable St will be part of CS3, Barking to Tower Gateway.

But don't worry, the works are only temporary. The sign there tells us they'll be finished by Friday 7 May.

Oh. That was yesterday, when I took the pictures.

And just think of how much better things will be when they're painted blue.