The raindrops had stopped falling, dark grey skies above seemed to change to a lighter shade last seen in an Excel spreadsheet and the sun started to shine through a gap in the clouds.
In Trafalgar Square, just below The National Gallery looking like an assortment of Quality Street, the shiny bright colours of Bromptons gathered. Lime Green, Orange, Pink and Blue – owners’ finery matched their Bromptons in the stylish way that is de rigeur with The London Brompton Club. Faces I knew and some I didn’t all gathered around to meet and greet before paying particular attention to the safety talk. Just as we were about to leave, a Yellow and Black Brompton arrived – The Legend was fashionably late but not irredeemably so.
Cycling along the Strand, tourists were out and about whilst most of London’s residents slept in. Through to the City and down to Tower Bridge which always looks so iconic whatever the weather.
As we headed eastwards, a conversation with The Legend confirmed everything I thought about The London Brompton Club. Not an elite, can-you-keep-up-with-me, call-that-a-bike?, point-scoring, ego-driven group of people who want to brag about what they can do and what they have, but simply a worldwide collection of Brompton owners who just want to ride their small-wheeled, Andrew-Ritchie-designed bicycles.
The atmosphere of each ride is matched every time regardless of the distance or destination. It has the same ambience and ambition as The Fridays – a cycling club that rides through the night to the coast. The rules are a little different because Fridays rides are longer, a through-til-breakfast-at-the-seaside commitment and therefore predominantly on full-sized bicycles but the warmth of spirit is very similar. Each one is simply a ride with friends.
Making our way along the towpath, runners, dog walkers and dogs shared the space. Passing a row of narrowboats I caught sight of a small, wooden dinghy that transported me back in an instant to a time I had forgotten.
Many years ago, before Bromptons and bicycles formed part of my travels, walks along the towpath at Richmond were regular events. Escaping shoppers on Saturday afternoons, or taking exercise after enormous Sunday lunches the walks were always followed by cake in a tea shop and a review of the recently taken riverside photographs.
A particular photo of a small dinghy was chosen for my first ever attempt at painting in watercolour. I would sit for hours and hours trying to replicate the photograph, until eventually it was agreed that there was some similarity between the two.
It was the beginning of a passion for painting that lasted for decades – none of the results are any better than an eight year old can achieve but have taken me on another series of journeys to galleries and exhibitions that have been inspirational to me. From Seurat to Bridget Riley, The Tate Modern to The Saatchi Gallery, discovering how moments of time can be created by the eye of an artist and caught on canvas forever.
Here I was, years later, staring at a similar little boat that had started me on that rather different but equally rewarding exploration.
Keeping up with the Bromptons, we rode under bridges, over bridges until we eventually reached the Bow Flyover. The expression Cycle Superhighway is yet to live up to its name – there was definitely nothing super about this cycling experience.
Eventually reaching the entrance to the Greenway, a route following the London sewerage system the gates were locked shut. After a moment of deliberation Plan B was introduced which gave us the opportunity to cycle along the new bus stop design – where cyclists were now in conflict with pedestrians hurrying for buses.
Soon we were cycling along the Greenway, travelling south heading for the Woolwich ferry which brought us under the flight path of the London City Airport.
The way the pilots were handling the gale conditions was quite amazing. For a second or six a few of us became plane spotters as we watched this incredible expertise bringing the planes into land. On to the ferry where TfL were promoting the opportunity to vote for a new river crossing (ends 12th February 2016) and onto the south side of The Thames.
A few moments later we were cycling on our very own cycle helter-skelter. A piece of cycling infrastructure that was really easy to use (being not too steep nor too narrow) which took us over the A13. Another engineering treat!
We reached the lunchtime destination The Meantime Brewery at 1pm and it was an absolute delight to discover that rather than being a dining marketing ploy, the menu was both impressive and the food delicious. If ever there was an opportunity to say The London Brompton Club can arrange a party in a Brewery – this was it!
Definitely worth a revisit and hopefully very soon as the mug has my name on it.
After a very relaxed lunch, we were soon out into the sunshine, me towards Greenwich whilst the others looped back over the river on the somewhat windy Emirates Air Line.
Cycling along the river path in glorious sunshine, seeing small sandy beaches there were moments when it was difficult to believe Hyde Park Corner was only nine miles away. Once in Greenwich I took the opportunity to ride up through Greenwich Park (twice) for a little hill practice. Apparently 30 of these are the equivalent of Ditchling Beacon…. The view across the river to the Isle of Dogs and beyond was as breathtaking as always.
Back down on sea level The Cutty Sark looked almost seaworthy under blue skies. Explorers, engineers, artists the achievements of mankind never ceases to amaze me. Looking across the river at the north entrance to the tunnel, a stream of bright colours whizzed along the river bank, before coming back to meet me in via Greenwich the foot tunnel. Perfect timing.
Cycling into the sunset, our numbers reduced and conversations moved to food and fitness. Although the I Quit Sugar diet seems to be working well, training for long rides needs fitness focus. Apparently it takes 21 days to change a food habit so only 14 days to go before the teatime thoughts of cakes disappear from my mind. The Great Sport Relief Bake Off recipe leaflet seems to have a recipe that makes me think it may be possible to create a Carrot Cake without sugar – we shall see.
The importance of a heart monitor was raised as a key part of understanding appropriate levels of intensity on the heart rate. Amazing how swapping information can help. A little research (Google) here and there
In no time at all we were outside the Mayors’ Office and with the sound of goodbyes, thankyous and see you next time I headed off into the sunset. London Brompton Club is indeed a very special club.