London's secret cycle routes
It only takes half an hour‘s cycling along London‘s canal and river towpaths before you leave the submerged shopping trolleys behind and find yourself in proper countryside. Saddle up and discover hidden nature reserves, eccentric pubs and the history of ice cream
Paddington to Hayes
14 miles (3.5 hours)
Paddington to Hayes: 14 miles (3.5 hours)
Around Little Venice and Paddington (1), the Grand Union is a bit of a disaster for bikes: boat-owners, justifiably annoyed with cyclists whizzing past only inches from their homes, have erected knobbly barriers to prevent you riding on the towpath. It gets a bit more promising from the junction with the Harrow Road – a nice, wide, paved towpath, surrounded by playgrounds in the shadow of the Trellick Tower (2). Soon, on your right, is Kensal Green Cemetery (3), and on your left Wormwood Scrubs Park (4). You wind through North Acton before you get to the best bit, where the canal crosses over the top of the North Circular (A406) at Park Royal (5) – you can actually see an eight-lane highway pass under the water. Around the same point you start to see floating riverside offerings sent from the Hindu temple at Neasden (6). From here on it’s all parks – Sudbury Golf Course (7) is on your right, although the towpath gets a little scruffier from around Greenford onwards. You’re also reminded that, only about 70 years ago, it really was all fields around here, and there are still remnants of the canal’s relationship with light-industry in Southall and Hayes (Taylor Woodrow, Nestlé, EMI). It gets much prettier around Cowley and Uxbridge (Bulls Bridge, Stockers Lock) (8) but, if you’re knackered, you can always lug your bike back on the train from Hayes & Harlington or West Drayton back to Paddington.
Bow to Tottenham7 miles (one hour)
Bow to Tottenham: 7 miles (one hour)
Hmm: Stratford, Bow, Leyton, Hackney, Clapton, Walthamstow, Stamford Hill, Tottenham Hale, Edmonton… On paper this sounds like a white-knuckle cycle ride through the grimmest estates in north-east London, an assault course through burned-out cars and psychotic gangs of hooded youth. And it is, until you discover the River Lea. Also spelt, rather bafflingly, as the River Lee, or the Lee Navigation, it enters the Thames as a proper river called Bow Creek but the cycle path starts, rather unpromisingly, in Bow, where the river has mutated into what looks like a canal. There are grim views of the A12 and some skanky junkyards until you go under the DLR line and enter a semi-rural vista. You get to a junction: the right path is a picturesque but scary tributary that takes you to Carpenter’s Road (with a vertigo-inducing ten-foot drop into the canal) (1); avoid that path and instead take the left-hand turn, which takes you across a small bridge to Old Ford Lock (which has a handy drinking-water tap).
Here it gets seriously bucolic: huge skies and lush greenery, punctuated only by the odd high-rise and the occasional burst of graffiti. Go on for half a mile and you reach a second junction: here you can cross the bridge and turn left onto the Hertford Union Canal. This will take you under the A102(M) Crossroute and past the Top O’ The Morning pub (129 Cadogan Terrace, E9 5HP) and link you up with the Regent’s Canal, right near the Rose Gate entrance of Victoria Park. Otherwise, continue up the River Lea, hugging the lower end of Hackney Marsh (2). Urbanity re-emerges at Clapton, where you’ll find two canalside pubs: the Princess of Wales (146 Lea Bridge Rd, E5 9RB) and the Ship Aground (144 Lea Bridge Rd, E5 9RB). Take the small tunnel under the Lea Bridge Road, follow the bend and you reach another junction. You can cross an iron bridge into the pretty nature reserve that is Walthamstow Marshes (3), where you’ll find cows, geese, ducks etc, with a bucolic route to Coppermill Lane and St James’s Street.
Carry on along the west side of the River Lea and you cling to the post-industrial debris of Clapton, passing an old cockney boozer called the Anchor & Hope (15 High Hill Ferry, E5 9HG), two pleasant Stamford Hill parks (Springfield and Markfield) and a shingle track. Soon you’re at Tottenham Hale, where you pass under Forest Road and continue past a network of huge reservoirs. Go past Tottenham Lock and Stonebridge Lock and soon you could almost be in Norfolk – all greenery and gaily-painted barges. Only the enormous network of electricity pylons remind you that you’re still in London.
Limehouse to Little Venice8 miles (1.5 hours)
Limehouse to Little Venice: 8 miles (1.5 hours)
There’s a lot more to Regent’s Canal than Camden Lock… In fact there’s no such thing. The enclave where the tat stalls lie is actually called Hampstead Road Lock. Never mind, you can still stock up on noodles, nu-metal, T-shirts, aromatherapy candles and rugs while you’re there. During rush hour, the canal’s thin paths are a bit of a scrum for cyclists jockeying for position and – trust us – you wouldn’t want to fall into the water but, if you go off peak, it’s a leisurely bike ride from one end to the other.
The catalogue of modern architecture that is now the Limehouse Basin, where your ride begins, is the point at which the canal meets the Thames. Stop to gawp at the yachts in the marina and at Hawksmoor’s church (St Anne’s) before cycling northwards past Mile End Lock. On the path side you’ll see Mile End Park where you can have a freshener at the eccentric 1950s throwback pub the Palm Tree (Haverfield Road, E3 5BH). Talking of parks, the boot-shaped Victoria (1) lies just beyond the entrance to the Hertford Union Canal (aka Duckett’s Cut). The Old Ford Lock (again) is where canal boaters traditionally changed horses but your bike doesn’t need the same care and attention so carry on straight to the Hackney Gasworks (2). You’ve now reached the least auspicious stretch of the canal, passing through the bowels of Dalston and De Beauvoir Town, so keep your head down until you get to the City Road Basin, once the largest trading centre along Regent’s Canal. It’s now about two-thirds of its original size. Why not have a pint at the impressive Island Queen pub (3) around the corner (87 Noel Road, N1 8HD)? Stop off at the Canal Museum (4) if you want to learn about the history of ice cream in Britain (ignore the history of the Canal – the exhibits are on the dull side), or at Camley Street Natural Park for peace and quiet.
Once past Camden Town, where the path briefly dodges to the south side of the canal thanks to some long-gone timber yards, you can enjoy some of the delights of London Zoo (5) absolutely free. The wild boars and some tropical birds are usually on show from this vantage point. Skirt around Regent’s Park and then it’s on to Little Venice, where the Regent’s Canal ends and the Grand Union begins. Head for kitsch theatre pub the Bridge House (13 Westbourne Terrace Road, W2 6NG) (6), the fabulously ornate Prince Alfred and Formosa Dining Rooms (54 Formosa Street, W9 1EE) or ageing pop stars’ haunt the Warrington Hotel (93 Warrington Crescent, W9 1EH). You deserve a break. Emma Perry
Richmond to Hampton Court
7.5 miles (one hour)Few family-based London bike rides are more rewarding than a relaxing trundle along the Thames. One of the best routes is Richmond to Hampton Court. You could take your bikes on the North London Line and hop off at Richmond Station, and then make your way to Richmond Bridge, where you can join the Thames Path.
This is especially good as it’s flat all the way. Along the first stretch you’ll pass the odd sandy beach, where you can stop for a picnic. Proceed onwards upstream past Eel Pie Island towards Teddington Lock, beyond which the river’s tidal section ends and the countryside begins. Continue for a mile or so, push the bikes over Kingston Bridge and pick up the path on the other bank, then cruise on to Hampton Court Palace. While you’re there, grab a snack and a cuppa on the lawns and absorb a little olde worlde culture before returning to Richmond. No shortage of pubs on this route; make sure you go easy on the pints or you might find yourself taking a two-wheeled dive into the Thames.
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