Tag Archives: cycling

The Loneliest Landscape

Sunday 29th September 2013

I had a rare Sunday off so decided to go on one of the bike rides listed in ‘Lost Lanes’, something I’ve been meaning to do for a while now.  I’ve never been on long rides in the UK.  The longest I’ve ever ridden is from Rotterdam to Arnham over two days, which was pretty good as the routes in the Netherlands are very clear.  The National Cycle Route in the UK, I found out first hand today, isn’t as clearly marked.  It’s not as awful as I was expecting it to be from some of the feedback that I’ve heard from others, but it is inconsistent at junctions.  Some places are better signed than others.

I did route #6 from ‘Lost Lanes’, which starts at Gravesend and finishes in Strood via All Hallows.  A few things that I saw along the way that I felt were interesting follows:

Firstly, it didn’t start very well.  I arrived at Cannon Street Station for a train to Gravesend, but when I took out my wallet I realised I had left my bank card at home in my other jacket and I had no cash.  So I had to go home to get it before starting all over again.  That cost me an hour.  Anyway,

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Down the Thames river.

Coming out of Gravesend Railway station I was greeted with a road heavy with motor traffic.  I thought to myself ‘this is inviting for someone setting off on a gentle Sunday ride’.  It took a while before a gap opened up and I could finally join the road.  Around the first corner, though, and I found a whole queue of cars tailing back from a mini-roundabout.  I sneaked my way through and got onto the bank of the Thames (picture above).  It was good to see the Thames as I’d never seen it before.  Most of my experience with the river has been the parts that flow through London itself and it’s easy to forget that there’s more up- and downriver.

It wasn’t long before I encountered this:

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National Cycle Route 1 runs through these abandoned warehouses.  As interesting as it is, the road was cobblestones with a ton of debris, not exactly pleasant to ride on.  Is the point of the NCR to provide a good route from place to place or is it to take people on a tour of local areas?  I always thought it was the former.  Also, being new to this, I’m not sure how much preparation people do before going on one of these rides.  Do people know exactly the type of surface they’ll be riding on the whole route?  Or is that what touring bikes are for, and you use wheels and tyres suitable for anything surface?  Lucky I didn’t come with a road or track bike.  But there’s more rough roads to come.

Then I came across a sign that pointed to the right, but that road hooked back around to where I came from.  I went backtracked to the sign to discover that behind it and to the right was a very well hidden path where the NCR 1 continued.  It’s not obvious at all.

At this point I was feeling like the whole idea was a bit of a mistake.  The ride was grim and I wasn’t enjoying it.

Not long after this I was on a long straight paved road.  Only problem was there were a few people on moped who sped by at about 40mph.  The road led into a nature reserve, so no more motor vehicles, but it was a rough gravel road.

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Also had shit like this to contend with:

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Note the desire path to the right.

After exiting the nature reserve I was on a nice (ish) paved road with speed humps across the width of the road.  Not yet had I had a comfortable ride in over 6 miles.  First there was traffic, and then cobblestones, then speeding mopeds, then gravel, then metal shit, then speed humps.

Seriously, do I have incredibly high standards?  Remember, I didn’t just turned up at a random road expecting it to be great for cycling.  I am on a National Cycle Route.  I don’t think many cyclists like these obstacles.  I think they put up with it because it’s easier to get on with it and forget about it.  Or perhaps people have got use to whole thing and know what to expect.  As I say, I’m a first timer on these sorts of rides in the UK, I found it really quite annoying and I was disappointed.

There are more things that I have complaints on the second half of the ride as well, but I couldn’t be bothered to stop and take pictures of those.  My favourite one, however, was the NCR route sign directing me into a ‘public footpath’ where there were signs that said ‘Cyclists Dismount’, and technically there is no cycling on the footpath.  And this wasn’t a short footpath either.  Had I really dismounted and walked along the NATIONAL FUCKING CYCLING ROUTE, it would have taken me about 20 minutes or so.  But I cycled along it though, slowing down and passing pedestrians safely whenever I encountered them.  And by the looks of the tracks on the path, I wasn’t the only one who thought it would be ridiculous to walk it.

Anyway, between the speed humps and the ‘no cycling’ bits of a cycle route, there were some nice things to see.

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Here I’m in Cooling (there really wasn’t any angle to get a good picture of it.  You might be able to make out Charles Dickens on the sign.  Apparently when he was down here he saw the churchyard had little grave stones for children who had died and that inspired the setting to the beginning of Great Expectations.

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Not the ones that Charles Dickens saw, obviously.

Compared to the very flat Dutch countryside, the British countryside is a bit more interesting.

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Higher hills than I saw in most of the Netherlands.

The Easterly point of the route is also the most Easterly point of the river Thames.  I rode a few miles down towards the Thames Estuary where the river Thames and the river Medway both flow into.  The very end of the route is on the banks of the Thames where the London Stone could be seen.  The Stone marks the end of the jurisdiction of the City of London Corporation and the end of the river Thames.

The very last portion of the route is a footpath and when I reached the end of paved road I was faced with a locked fence.  I was so close to the coast.

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There was an A4 in a plastic sleeve tied to a post that said something about re-paving of roads but I didn’t take any more notice of it.  All I knew was I had come all this way and I couldn’t make that last little bit of the journey nor could I see the London Stone.  Pissed me right off.

I did think about hopping the fence, but I thought better of it as I had no idea who owns it or what the general deal is with trespassing.  I assumed that hopping the fence would not be good.  So I turned around and rode back West and on to Strood.

The route to Strood had a few down gradients, which I was happy about.  However, one of them was dangerous as FUCK.  It was a narrow path that is shared use.  It’s so incredibly narrow only two people can walk along it side by side and not comfortably.  It has 6 foot fences that lined both sides of the path with foliage obscuring the view, and lastly, the path curves round making the whole thing one big blind corner.  Riding down it I would’ve picked up speeds of up to about 30mph maybe more.  If I had done that and someone was walking or riding up the other direction I wouldn’t have had the time or the braking distance or the space to avoid hitting them.  So I had to squeeze my brakes the entire way down using them to control my speed down.  And right down at the bottom where the path ends are staggered fences to stop me from bombing straight out of the path onto the road, but which I could easily have smashed into at 30mph and severely hurt myself.

I can’t say that there was anything along the way that I found particularly interesting and the ride wasn’t very nice either, but I eventually got to Strood.

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It’s not a very good picture but the place on the other side of the river (Medway) is Rochester.  It actually looks quite nice over there and I was tempted to ride over to take a gander.  But it was getting late and I was feeling kind of odd after the ride, and so I got on the train home.  I did see a submarine though.

 

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Overall, I’m glad I did it.  It was an experience that I won’t forget.  There were moments when I stopped and I was truly alone and I could hear the silence, or near enough.  I came across a few other cyclists, all of whom I waved to and said a quick ‘hi’ to as we passed each other.  Not enough of them, though, I felt.  In the little villages I saw rows of cars.  I saw more cars in those villages than people.  I couldn’t help but think how much they must rely on their cars to get to other villages and towns, and also how uninviting cycling is as an alternative that they would ruin otherwise picturesque villages, filling it with pollution and dirt.  I also saw a few people walking down the country roads, I thought how much more convenient it would have been if they were on a bicycle.  The only reason that I can see, through my bias eyes, is that cycling is seen as just for leisure – that’s what I was doing there on a bicycle after all – and not for anything ‘useful’.  That makes me sad.

When I arrived back in London I was so happy to be riding around on London streets again.  It was Sunday night so there wasn’t much traffic, which meant it was a really nice journey home.  I actually felt like circling the block a few times because I just felt like cycling.  I take that as a sign that the day as a whole was a positive experience.  I look forward to my next ride.

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London Underground Cycling Routes

I have an idea for cycling.  The idea probably isn’t original but I think it will be fun.  The idea is based on the London Underground.

There are many ideas based on the London Underground, such as the Tube Challenge which is listed in the Guiness Book of World Records, and there is a smaller scale Tube challenge is based in solely in Zone 1.  There are also people who walk the routes of the Underground takes ‘overground’ because the places the routes take are really interesting as well, but they’re generally missed due to them being on a train and not paying much attention.  Also, the Tube has changed the development of London more than anyone can imagine.  This can be illustrated by what happened to places where it didn’t go (a nice short documentary here about the never-built Northern Heights here on youtube Unfinished London)  This is because a railway line, or any form of transport that has a ‘permanent way’ brings a guaranteed transport link; unlike buses, they can’t change routes.

Anyway, so my idea is that I want to cycle the routes on the Tube above ground.  And here is what I intend to do.  It’s nothing too ambitious:

I want to cycle from one end to the other of all the London Underground, Overground, and Docklands Light Railway lines. My route will be planned out in advanced and also GPS tracked whilst I ride and uploaded onto RunKeeper.

Each route shouldn’t take more than half a day. I’m doing the shorter routes first so hopefully by the time I get to the longer routes I’ll be a bit fitter and faster. The branch lines on the District, Northern, Metropolitan, and Central Lines will be done on separately, either on the same day if I’m feeling up to it, or on another day, possibly with others who want to join me as they’ll be much shorter.

To begin with, the easiest one to do (in my opinion) is the Circle Line. Journey time from Hammersmith to Edgware Road via Aldgate on the Circle Line is approximately 80 minutes.

Circle Line

Start point: Hammersmith
End point: Edgware Road via Aldgate (clockwise/Outer Rail)

A serious purpose to this is to see how easy or how hard it is for people to cycle to and from various different places instead of using the London Underground, especially for commuting. With Spring and Summer coming up this is the perfect time to get on a bicycle and get fit whilst getting from A to B.

I did a test run today round the Circle Line. The route I took was 17miles through rush hour traffic. I took two 10 minute breaks and with that included the whole journey took just over 2 hours.
It’s a bit like a morning workout before work.

If anyone wants to come with me then you’re more than welcome. I am doing all Tube lines in order of what I judge to be easiest to hardest, and then the Overground and Docklands Light Railway. Feel free to contact me if you’re interested.
Finally, I am not very fit at all and I am a very safe and considerate cyclist. Don’t think that I’ll be blitzing any of these routes. We’ll be going a nice leisurely pace and finding the quieter routes where possible.

I won’t be doing very many before June but I hope to do some as I’m very much looking forward to it, as demonstrated by going out today on a test run on a whim.

Cycle safe everyone!

Part 7 – Amsterdam

I arrived in Amsterdam with crusty shit in my eyes, a laid back posture and a laid back attitude.  Waking up in a six sleeper couchette there was only one other traveller in there with me.  This made for a very comfortable and quiet journey and I slept so very very well.  20 minutes after waking we pulled into Amsterdam Centraal and the familiar rows of bicycles outside were there to greet me.  I had forgotten just how many there are and so was even a little overwhelmed.

The private room I had booked was with a couple who I had told I’d be checking in around 4pm.  It being 8am I had a bit of time.  I put my stuff into the lockers available at the station (a fantastic idea and every major train station should have them) and went off on my way to settle in.  First port of call – a bike rental shop.

On my travels I had been mainly worried about getting around cities I had never been to before.  Even then I did only a little research.  And even though I was familiar with Amsterdam I wasn’t so familiar with it that I could just stroll around and know where I’m going.  So I bought a guide book, mainly so that I could get a map and a list of bike rental shops.  I didn’t refer to the book beyond that but I’m sure someone else would find it useful.

Of all the listed bike rental shops the recycled bicycle shop jumped out at me the most.  The owner, Vitor, takes discarded parts and puts them together to make a bike.  Some of the parts are pretty decent and so they become pretty decent bikes.  For 5€ a day it’s the cheapest around town, AND there aren’t any labels on them.  Yellow Bike are bright yellow and have ‘Yellow Bike’ on the frame.  Mac Bikes are the most obvious and, according to the guide book, are the ones that scream “TOURIST!!! I’M A TOURIST!”  As a self-proclaimed ‘anti-tourist’ who likes the idea of recycling, Recycled Bicycles was perfect.  In fact, there was no question that this was the type of place I would go to.

The Bicycle

I think I cycled a bit too much over the four days I was there.  The bicycle itself was pretty cool.  It was a shabby looking, fixed gear, freehub (so I could coast) bike with a back pedal brake.  Perfect for getting around the city.

Was it the bicycle?  Was it my blazer? my glasses? my overall apperance?  Everyone thought I was a local, or at least Dutch.  Everyone who started talking to me or served me in a restaurant or shop started talking to me in Dutch before I had to break it to them that I was an English speaker lacking in any language skills, and I didn’t understand a word they were saying and that I’d appreciate it if they spoke to me in English.  Sorry about that.  But it did make me feel quite at home, knowing that when the actual locals looked at me and judged me they didn’t think ‘pfft, tourist.’.

In a way I wasn’t really a tourist.  I was off work for a long weekend and I went to places I’d usually go to on a long weekend: to cafes, to the park, and most importantly, to the cinema.

EYE

(the low building on the left)

The National Film Institute of the Netherlands built and opened a new and interesting building in Amsterdam.  It houses 4 auditoriums/cinemas, a bar/restaurant, and it has an exhibition space.  The current exhibition when I was there was the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition, which I subsequently went to and will talk about with pictures.

I loved this space.  The building from the outside is an interesting shape with sharp and funny angles.  It has space where you don’t expect it to and it looks quite low from the exterior but once inside you realise the space is huge.  Inside is one main cinema with a few smaller ones.  There is a small cinema shop that sells the usual cool stuff at slightly higher-than-you’d-pay prices, a large dining area, bar, and spaces to just sit.  Spaces to just sit is, I think, very lacking in many spaces in London.  A trip to any London Underground Station and you’ll find not many seats, especially in the newer stations like Southwark and Westminster on the Jubilee platforms.  A trip to the Trocodero, which is fucking atrocious, and there is nowhere to sit unless you pay for something.

The EYE is situated in Amsterdam-Noord and there is a view across the canal to Amsterdam Centraal Railway Station, still, unbelievably, undergoing upgrade construction work.  I was there three years prior and it was being upgraded then as well.

A free ferry takes people across the canal to three different locations in Noord.  Only vehicles small enough are permitted, including these really tiny cars (a Canta) that I’d never come across before.  Also mopeds, scooters, and of course bicycles and pedestrians.  The ferry timetable changes every half a year.  Last Winter it didn’t run 24 hours.  This Summer it did.  Don’t know if it still will during this Winter (2012).  I took the ferry quite a few times to get over there and back.  I watched two films and visited the exhibition.

The Stanley Kubrick Exhibition

This was a brilliant exhibition, one of the best I’ve ever been to.

From Kubrick’s early days as a freelance photographer people saw that he had an eye for a picture.  Not long after that he went into filmmaking.  He made many technological advances in photography, such as developing a new lens to film Barry Lyndon in super low light, near candle light.  He was also brilliant in the use of sound and music.  He was one of the first film directors to use existing music to provide a soundtrack for a film.  The inspired use of The Blue Danube in 2001: A Space Odyssey is an example of his genius in this area.  Quentin Tarantino being a modern example of inspired use of existing music in films.

The exhibition had loads of props, costumes, production designs, early sketches and much much more.  There were areas screening clips of every single one of his films, with an additional documentary about each of the films.  There was plenty to see; very informative for anyone not so familiar with Kubrick’s work, and lots of interesting bits and bobs that a Kubrick fan would love.  I spent just under 3 hours in the exhibition and could easily had spent more.

Here are some pictures I took of only some of the things in there:

Spartacus Costume

The War Room Miniature Model “…but they’ll see the big board!”

The miniature model of the War Room with a clip of Dr. Strangelove screening in the background.

Sketch of the War Room. Reflection of the screen playing Dr. Strangelove.

A model of the ship on the Jupitar Mission in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

HAL… actually really glad that the red light was not on. I would have been slightly freaked out if it was on.

Alex’s costume from A Clockwork Orange.

A model of the Maze from The Shining.

There really was so much more, and there are more pictures that I took on my flickr account.

Cinema

With the Stanley Kubrick Exhibition on it’s no surprise that they had all the films of Kubrick screening as well.  I had never watched Barry Lyndon before so was going to watch that, but I wasn’t in the mood for it but I really wanted to re-watch 2001: A Space Odyssey in a cinema.  With a ticket for the exhibition you got a discounted cinema ticket as well, for any film of your choosing, didn’t even have to be a Kubrick film, that’s the lovely kind of people they are there at EYE.

On a separate day I watched Moonrise Kingdom.  I had been out for over a month in the UK and a few people I knew had already watched it.  In my time away I had not really seen anywhere that was screening it and this was pretty much the first opportunity I had.

Moonrise Kingdom was fantastic and I can recommend anyone to go and watch it, unless you hate Wes Anderson films.

Going back a bit, within an hour of my arrival to Amsterdam I popped into a bookstore that I had been in before that I knew sold imported magazines, specifically Sight & Sound published by the bfi.  I found them and they were overpriced obviously but I bought them anyway.

The whole experience of the exhibition, the cinema (including the times I went in Prague and Berlin), and reading the magazine had rekindled my love with cinema which I felt had been fading for a while.  At least it wasn’t something that I had kept up with over the last 5 years, but this really reminded me of how much cinema means to me and how much it has influenced my life.

Overall, I didn’t do much in Amsterdam except walk around a bit, cycle around a lot, sit in cafes drinking coffee, writing in my notebook, and reflecting on my trip so far.  It was the first time in 19 days where I felt no pressure in actually doing anything specific to the city that I was in.  No pressure to see things, to do things, or to experience things.  And yet I had a wonderful experience  and saw a bit more of life in Central Amsterdam.  It was a nice weekend and one that I imagine I would be spending more often if I had the money and the time to do it more often.  I am already thinking about doing it again.  Any time of the year is fine, just need to find some of it that’s free.

And so… onwards to another city I’ve been to before; one I had been to many times before and wasn’t much impressed by.  Travelling to Paris this time I had no expectations whatsoever, only that once I arrived I would only be one stop from home.