Saturday, July 18, 2009

Escaping London, in London

After yesterday's list of points of interest along the Thames walk from Westminster to Tower Bridge, time for a change. As promised its time for the "I don't want to be a tourist, tell me about something different" post.

As with the last post this was a real question asked by a friend coming through London who had headaches from spending too long looking at laptop screens in meeting rooms and sore feet from treading along the absurdly long walk suggested by ... er ... someone, and wandering around museums and art galleries: "What I want is some exercise and fresh air - any suggestions?"

Yes! - and here it is:

Take the tube to Putney Bridge - its on the District line (thats the green one) but make sure you take the right line as after Earl's Court they head in all directions: you might have to change there.

At Putney Bridge tube walk over the bridge (no prizes for guessing its name) until you get to Putney Cycles marked with an "A" in the map above. Here you can hire a bike costing £5 per hour or £ 30 per day, and that includes helmet and lock (though check the lock as the one we were given was jammed locked).

You will need photo ID and they lend out bikes on a first come first serve basis, so worth being a bit prompt.

Then you are free to explore the wonderful Thames Path, 294 km from source to sea, and heading upriver from Putney it is almost entirely car free, apart alas from the first 100m.

Once on Putney Embankment the bike route is very simple: keep the river on your right and don't fall in! (this is not a joke: at high tide there are places where the Thames Path is deep under water). At the moment Barnes Bridge is under repair so you will have to go on the road for a 100 m or so.

The simplest route is just to head out and return along the same route, but there are lots of options as to how far to go and when to stop, including:

- The Duke's Head, Putney: this is too soon! You haven't got started! Leave it till later after you have returned the bikes!

- The Wetland Centre: this is also a bit soon as its just after Putney before you've got to Hammersmith Bridge. But it is an amazing place for wildlife, in particular migrating birds

- One of the many farmer's markets along the way. Just up river from Putney is Barnes which has a market on Saturday. On Sunday you'd have to cross the river at Hammersmith Bridge to get to Chiswick. Details of various markets available here.

- Have a picnic! Having stocked up with lovely food and drink at the farmer's market then of course you'll want to lighten the load by actually eating it. There's lots of nice places to rest your bike and lie out on the green grass or even sit on one of the benches

- No farmer's market? You then have a great excuse to stop at a pub on the way - and there should be plenty of choice in the villages of south west London such as Barnes, Mortlake, Kew, and Richmond

- Explore Kew Gardens - superb, wonderful gardens, though you'd have to pay to get in and it would mean more walking. Nice place for bread and soup or cake and tea.

- Stop at Richmond - nice restaurants and places to hire rowing boats.

.... you want to go further? Wow, impressed!

But remember that bike has to be back in Putney, and as noted earlier, there's a good pub by the river where you can drink your pint and think about your day while watching the river flow by.

Hopefully you'll enjoy your day out of London, without ever leaving this great city!

Updated: An alternative source of bikes in Putney are the newly expanded Boris Bikes (technically the Barclay bikes) which are now available near Putney Bridge and Putney Railway station. Check the web site for the latest location.


Turinas said...

Ah happy memories. JP is cycled this path many times and loved it. You are so right, it's a special and not especially well-known London escape.

What I especially loved was the way you would be cycling in a suburban surrounding and then in the country and then back in suburbs.

One time I made it all the way to Weybridge!

JP said...

Impressed! How long did it take to get to Weybridge?

I remember saying in the bike shop something on the lines of "oh yes, biked all the way to Kingston and back".

There was a slight pause then the assistant mentioned he had biked all the way to Windsor or somewhere equally far off!

Hmm.... maybe should just say "biked to Kingston and back" and leave out the "all the way"!