Family-friendly bike rides
All around the fair fringes of London, you can find enjoyable cycle rides for all the family. Here we pick two easy routes that explore the peaceful eastern and western margins of the capital
West: Richmond to Hampton CourtDuration: 90 mins
If you live in the vicinity of west London, how about an enjoyable eight-mile riverside jaunt along the picturesque Thames Path from Richmond to Hampton Court?
Because there are no hills, this is an exceptionally easy ride for all the family; just warn the kids not to ride too fast on the slippery gravel sections, or your trip might end earlier than planned.
Depending on your preference, you can either take your bikes on Transport for London’s revamped London Overground line and hop off at Richmond, or put your bikes on the back of the car, drive to Richmond Park and park in one of the car parks. Whichever transport method you choose, just make your way to the riverside where you’ll see signs for the Thames Path. (From Richmond Park it’s quite simple to make your way towards River Lane, which runs straight towards the river, by using Richmond Gate and turning onto Star and Garter Hill).
Start with a light snack in one of Richmond’s many riverside cafés and head off along the left bank path in the direction of Kingston and Teddington Lock. One of the first places you pass on your right is Eel Pie Island, home to Pete Townshend’s famous recording complex.
Shortly thereafter, the path becomes bounded by trees and general undergrowth. Along this stretch you’ll also pass the odd stony beach where you can stop and perhaps break open a picnic or simply watch club rowers. Then it’s onwards upstream towards Teddington Lock, beyond which the river’s tidal section ends and the serenity of the (suburban) countryside begins. Incidentally, if you’re on mountain or freestyle bikes and are familiar with riding rough terrain, there’s a seemingly homemade and rather dangerous-looking bike jumping park hidden just to the left of the lock gate.
Once you’ve licked your wounds, continue onward a mile or so, push the bikes over Kingston Bridge and pick up Barge Walk on the other bank. Then skirt the enormous Hampton Court Park (on your right) en route to Henry VIII’s magnificent gaff at Hampton Court Palace. While you’re there, grab a snack and a cuppa on the finely manicured lawns, let the kids loose in the world-famous maze, perhaps absorb a little olde worlde culture and then mosey on back to Richmond. There are quite a few pubs and eateries along the route, but bear in mind that their prime riverside positions mean they’re often very busy. Derek Adams
East: The Lee ValleyDuration: 60 mins
Thanks to the 2012 Olympics, the Lee Valley is now famous across London, but locals loved it long before it got global pretensions. Created in 1967, the Lee Valley Park is a 26-mile-long ribbon of rivers, reservoirs, nature reserves and meadows running north from the Thames, past Three Mills Island in Bow, Hackney Wick and Homerton, Leyton and Edmonton and all the way to Ware in Hertfordshire, ten miles north of the M25.
The best thing about the Lee Valley – apart from its many parks and recreational opportunities, which include angling, bird-watching, rowing and ice-skating – is that once you’re in it you don’t have to cross a road. You can be in Walthamstow Marshes and only hear the sound of dogs barking, kids playing and birdsong. No wonder parents love it. Apart from the odd inconsiderate cyclist (there’s always one), there’s so much less to worry about.
As far as cycling goes it’s easy-peasy. A mountain bike is best, but any old machine would get you along the pathway alongside the River Lee Navigation (it was straightened 200 years ago to improve barge traffic). Head straight for the beautiful Middlesex Filter Beds Nature Reserve and on to Hackney Marshes. Go south from here and you’ll come to the bright blue wooden wall surrounding the Olympics site. We turned north along the Lee Valley Pathway, which skirts the pitch-and-putt golf course (in the Waterworks Nature Reserve & Golf Centre) and the paddocks of the Lee Valley Riding Centre, with the meadows of Walthamstow Marshes on either side.
At Coppermill Lane we ducked under a five-foot railway bridge and scooted around to the marina and Springfield Park. For lunch, choose between a cheap-and-cheerful Riverside Café (Riverside Cottage, Spring Hill, E5/020 88064448) or go up the hill to the Spark Café (White Lodge Mansion, Springfield Park, Upper Clapton Rd, off Springfield Lane, E5/020 8806 0444). The Spark, in the Grade II-listed White Lodge mansion, serves juices and shakes and is the healthier option. Afterwards, head back down by the riverside and look out for swans, moorhens, mallards and many kinds of warblers and waders, near the narrowboats nestling under the retaining banks of the reservoirs. We cycled as far as Stonebridge Lock in Tottenham Marshes, where you can hire canoes and kayaks. They hire out bikes, too, so you could make this your starting point for a grand day out in the saddle. Dave Swindells
Lee Valley Regional Park Information Service (01992 702 200/leevalleypark.org.uk). Lee Valley Canoe & Cycle Hire, The Wateredge, Stonebridge Lock, Tottenham Marshes, N17 (07747 873831/www.lvcc.biz). Visit www.thamespath.org.uk and www.thames-path.co.uk
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