London's secret cycle routes

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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)

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    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 Tottenham

    7 miles (one hour)

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    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)

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    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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23 comments
Steve
Steve

I've been cycling and running round the canals in East London for four years now and they are great, the whole of this part of town is transformed fromwhenthis was written and you would be unlucky to have a bad experience - I never have.

Barrie Birch
Barrie Birch

Tottenham to the Olympic Park , Stratford along R Lea is a nice ride and well laid out for cyclists. It is a good first run for beginners. It is surprisingly rural given the inner city areas it runs through. There are a couple of pubs on the way an a neat cafe at Downhills Park ,right on the Lea. Another enjoyable ride on the Lea is from Enfield Lock northwards via Waltham Cross (King Harold's grave and great Eel Pie and Mash opposite) up to Hoddeston and even Ware. Absolutely lovely and very cycle friendly.

Peter
Peter

Limehouse to Little Venice - I was very lucky as the autumn sunshine shone all the way. A total mix of derelict buildings and new 'medium rise' flats edge the canal from Limehouse. There are some civil works underway at Victoria Park, and the pond has been emptied. Care needed entering the bridges as some cyclists (the minority) do not slow down as requested. Camden Lock bustling with people and food stalls, glorious views and autumn colours passing by Regents Park, Little Venice a bit shabby, and almost like a boater's scrapyard. Recommended, but as other readers suggest, get the road routes between towpath closures and tunnels sorted before you go.

Simon
Simon

I think the tenor of the reviewer's comments are correct. I rode along the canal beside Victoria Park and had a half brick thrown at me by precisely the kind of band of feral youths mentioned. Reason? None (or, rather, the reason was they knew there were too many of them to take on). Import? Worrying.

fredo
fredo

Wow, some parts are really beautiful, but take a very good and extremely detailed map if you are going to do the canal ride. In the middle (and pretty much on other places in the west) you have to go off the canals and into the streets... and to find the canal back is not easy! So enjoy, but be very prepared!

Caio Cesar
Caio Cesar

Thank you TimeOut, I found this information really helpful and I'll use it as a guide. Cheers!

Caio Cesar
Caio Cesar

Well, in my opinion this bike routes are likely to be informative and give a good clue for new riders in London like me... I have been many times riding along Walthamstow, Tottenham and other places, that's true these places have a bit of grafitty and junk yards around, but if you are going for a ride, it should be a pleasant time instead evaluating where you are ridding. I did enjoy riding at the north of Walthamstow, as this article made a few comments about the the animals around near the country side, for me that area was very pleasant to ride. Make sure that you are mentally positive when riding your bike, in my thought I think it MUST be pleasant. Many people have different opinions due to their experience, I would suggest if you don't like certain areas, try to avoid it and find out another routes more suitable to you. Remember, you are riding for pleasure... Cheers!

trtr
trtr

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Kofi BangBang
Kofi BangBang

None of these routes are a secret, they can all be found with a little curiousity. As for the 'oooh east london is scary' crowd, grow up!

ANDREA
ANDREA

the richmond - hampton court cycle ride is pretty rough also- i was mugged on route for my i pad & bicycle

Gary in Hackney
Gary in Hackney

The canal route from Carpenters Road through Stratford is closed until June 2011. After years of neglect, Boris has decided to make it look pretty for sports tourists who will grace our shores for a month next year! You can't argue with the logic that starts resufacing work during the ideal cycling period of Spring and re-opens during the hottest part of the year. Fingers crossed for a nice tar surface and a heatwave!

Elliott Burton
Elliott Burton

God some of you people need to chill out....Im born and raised in walthamstow and i found the review on the east london ride hilarious...and lets be honest, theres more than a hint of truth, how may of you outraged commenters would walk through clapton or tottenham alone at night?

beatrice
beatrice

" 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."...are you kidding me? when was the last time you went to east London, in 1983?

alana
alana

Obviously Time Out must believe that no-one in Stratford, Bow, Leyton, Hackney, Clapton, Walthamstow, Stamford Hill, Tottenham Hale or Edmonton buy their magazine. Maybe it's too posh for us, just like John & Derek.

Dee
Dee

Why not just call this cycle East London an have done with it? This article is rubbish. Life does not begin and end in frikkin' Hackney.

Garry
Garry

Wanted to stick up for Walthamstow here and the East London side, ignore the fear-mongering going on, there's nothing wrong with any of the routes, and you'll find more heart and pleasantries in the ride than any of the overcrowded elitist routes elsewhere at the moment - Epping Forest can't be beat, until more people find it, of course

sven
sven

A visitor to London I did Walthamstow-Tottenham-Bow-Limehouse and further along the Thames path in 2008 without a map and without knowing it was "secret" or even dangerous. Don´t miss House Mill 1/4 mile downstream Bow. A marvel of industrial heritage run as a museum by volunteers (check out the limited opening hours). River Lea passes conveniently close by Stansted AIrport, I am thinking of using this route next time.

max
max

i can cycle hayes middlesex to central london west end in 50mins to an hour approx 13mls stopping at traffic lights included IS THIS ANY GOOD i can go quicker on less busy roots

Chris Goodman
Chris Goodman

The Richmond - Hampton Court ride is great on a sunny day, one of my favourites, but can become difficult in wet conditions. Extending this to start from either Putney, Hammersmith, Barnes, Kew or Twickenham is also reccommended, as is continuing onwards as far as Staines or Windsor.

Daniel Mintz
Daniel Mintz

Great article. If you are into off road mountain bike cycling in London then check out the The Trax which is a new club and website for the off road cyclists of North London. http://www.thetrax.co.uk

George Coulouris
George Coulouris

Take a look at this site: maps.camdencyclists.org.uk It shows the 'official' London Cycle Network and many other routes contributed by London cyclists. Why not contribute your favourite route?

James Broad
James Broad

I've cycled from Holborn to Walthamstow & across the marshes at night for about 6 years and have never seen so much as a evil pigeon. Maybe not recommended to female riders on their own but it's pretty safe!

fred lahner
fred lahner

You would be very foolish to attempt cycling through Walthamstow Marshes after dark, as muggings along this route are a regular feature.