I spent Sunday afternoon following up my outbreak of midsummer madness by taking up the Bike the Borough challenge. Not Greenwich – although I did get myself a natty Greenwich Council waterbottle on Woolwich Common on Saturday – and not Lewisham, but Lambeth.
One of those schemes to encourage people to cycle, Bike the Borough involved following an 18-mile course around the perimeter of Lambeth borough, picking up stamps in a passport (if you started early enough) to prove you’d done it so you could be entered in a prize draw.
It was a great idea, although its fundamental flaw is that cycling around the back streets of Streatham is arse-achingly dull. Especially in a heatwave. I’ve nothing against the citizens of SW16 or the place itself, but I almost cried with joy when the postcode switched to SE27 and I reached Tulse Hill. But before then you get to ride through the South Bank, around the Oval, and to peek at posh bits of Clapham.
I didn’t actually finish the course – I’d already ridden nine miles to Waterloo along the river, but as the temperature rose away from the Thames I started to feel a bit woozy by Clapham Common, and decided to abandon the circuit at Brockwell Park. It was the best idea I’d had for ages – by the time I’d got home I’d done 30 miles and was suffering from dehydration. Not even that Greenwich Council water bottle could save me from that, sadly. So there’s no pretty photos from my trip – I was too exhausted.
But it was an imaginative and well-executed idea. The route was largely easy to follow, especially in the north of the borough, although in the south, I’m not sure how having to navigate through a smelly alley underneath Streatham Common station will encourage more cycling. But full marks to Lambeth for giving it a go.
All of which set me thinking – could it be done in Greenwich? There’s a geographic disadvantage here in that we have some punishing hills – many cyclists love them, but the valleys of south-east London deterred me from riding a bike for years. I suspect those hills would rule out a similar scheme in Lewisham (climbing Telegraph Hill isn’t exactly an attractive prospect, no matter how nice it is there). Local authority boundaries aren’t exactly logical, either, but Lambeth’s ride happily sailed through parts of Wandsworth too.
I sketched out a route from Twinkle Park in Deptford and back – climbing the hill at Hyde Vale, Greenwich, leaving the borough briefly to cross Blackheath via Long Pond Road, via the Cator Estate to Sutcliffe Park, past the back of Eltham Palace, through Fairy Hill Park in Mottingham and up to Avery Hill Park, past Eltham Park, across Woolwich Common to Herbert Road and Plumstead Common, down to White Hart Road and along Abbey Wood Road, but then having to leave the borough to navigate Thamesmead (but with the bonus of passing Lesnes Abbey) before returning via the river. That was a whopping 29 miles, mind – not much fun during a heatwave either, although 11 miles of riverfront would mitigate some of that.
So – could you think of a route that would show off the delights of Greenwich borough (or Lewisham, if you can skip the hills; or even both) and encourage people to get on their bikes? It could be a good thing to do – and might also remind planners that dowdy suburban streets need to be made as good for cyclists as wide riverside paths.