Another side to England

For those that have never seen English towns, and have images in their mind of rows of depressing streets of joined-up houses, just like Coronation Street, under a grey sky…well they’re all true. I find English housing just completely depressing, something about all the houses built the same just wears me down. Somehow though, when you see the individual touches – e.g. the fake stone cladding on one house in a row of 10 – it almost makes things worse. Perhaps it is exacerbated by my living in Croydon, home of the Croydon facelift. It’s not that Croydon is bad, it’s more just that nothing marks it out – you walk down the High Street, and you could be anywhere in England

But anyway, that’s not what I wanted to write about. I’ve been on a couple of 100km bike rides over the last couple of weekends. First was to Brighton, using the national cycle network route 21 and 20, and the next was a loop from Canterbury around to Dover and Folkestone. Sustrans does a great job of building/maintaining/promoting a 10,000 mile network of cycle routes throughout the UK. The thing I’ve found suprising about them is the huge distances you can travel without going through any major town, and staying almost entirely off-road, or on minor country roads. An interesting thing is that while almost every road is sealed, often they are very narrow roads – if I was in a car, hedges would be brushing both wing mirrors. Not exactly sure how vehicles pass – a combination of gross tonnage, and out-staring the other driver, I expect.

So I’ve been able to go on some great rides, seeing very little traffic, and indeed few people. Not always the most direct route from A to B, but that’s not an issue for me – afterall, I’m trying to clock up distance, not get to a certain point as quickly as possible. Linking in with the train system is brilliant too – it opens up all sorts of journeys. Rather than having to do an out and back ride, or trying to work out some sort of loop, I can head out somewhere, then just get the train back home. Not that cheap in NZ$ to do it, but it’s not too bad. It gives me a lot more options for places to go. I think I might try heading north or west of London for my next weekend trip. Perhaps not another 100km ride though, maybe more like 75km or so.

Still a few issues to work out with my bike in terms of setup, but things are coming together. One thing I was forcibly reminded of on Saturday though – always carry a spare tube. Don’t rely on patch kits, especially when it’s raining. It rained for most of the time I was out on Saturday, so I was completely soaked through and covered in mud and crap. Getting a puncture on a small country lane in the middle of nowhere is not much fun. I couldn’t fix it properly, and ended up having to ride on with a slow leak, pumping it up every 4-5km. Luckily I only had another 20-odd km to go by then. Still, I met a couple of interesting people along the way, so it was worth it.

One in particular stood out – an older gentleman I met riding into Canterbury. He had been at a nearby village, visiting the local butcher. We got chatting, and I mentioned that I was from NZ, and was now living in London. His response: Why? Hmmm, maybe I need to think about that one a bit…

But for some of the good things London has, Suzie and I visited Lord’s cricket ground on Sunday, for the tour. I was quite suprised to find it was a very detailed tour – about 2 hours all up. A pretty interesting place. It must be very intimidating for first-time visiting teams, particularly when incoming batsman have to walk through the Long Room past the members, then between the members sitting in front of the Pavillion. Even more intimidating if you come back in cheaply, having to make the same long walk, to deathly silence.

Looks like I’ve got some weekend work coming up soon, so I might have to re-jig some of my planned rides – I think I might get the train to Brighton, then head out along the coast for 30km or so, then back to Brighton, then train home.