Sunshine and half-term means more traffic on my 20-mile ‘rural’ ride through West London

What a difference a week makes.

Last Wednesday I embarked on a 20-mile circuit taking in Hammersmith, Richmond, Ham, Richmond Park and Barnes. It was raining the entire length of the journey. I saw very few people out and about, and when I stopped for a reviving coffee at the cafe near Roehampton Gate there were only a half-dozen others, mainly walkers, inside.

Today the sun was shining brightly, and there was a real feel that spring was in the air. I wondered why I'd bothered to dress in so many layers; I certainly didn't need them all.

And there were people everywhere. I'm used to the dog walkers along the tow path and the men pushing babies in prams, but today there were twice as many. Plus there were other cyclists (in pairs), quite a few joggers, loads of elderly people (in groups of four or more) and families with little kids running all over the place.

It wasn't until I got to Kew Gardens and saw the entire car park filled with vehicles (as opposed to the 10 or 20 I might see on my regular pass through) that I remembered it was half-term. That would explain all the people.

As a result, progress along the tow path, all the way to Ham House (about 9 miles) was very slow and, dare I say it, frustrating. Bell ringing and calls of 'excuse me' and 'bike coming through' don't seem to work on most of these people, despite the fact I'm always polite, smile and either apologise (for asking them to move) or thank them (for moving out of the way).

Once in Richmond Park the crowds only got worse! And by the time I got to the cafe at Roehampton Gate you could barely move inside! I was lucky enough to find an outside table around the back (all the tables at the front were taken) and sat in the sun with an Americano and an Eccles cake.

Mental note: from now start your cycles in the morning, rather than the afternoon, to avoid the crowds!

Total distance: 20.28miles (32.5km) | Ride time: 2hr, 6min and 27sec | Average speed: 9.6mph | Top speed: 18.9mph

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How sweet! Giant jelly babies spotted in London!

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In the past three days I've drunk more beer than I have for the preceding three months (thanks, in part, to a house guest from Canada), so today I was anxious to do something that wasn't quite as harmful to my health! Out came the bike — and the wet weather gear.

I figured, somewhat optimistically, that two laps of Hyde Park in the mid-afternoon rain would be enough to compensate my beer binge.

When I saw these giant jelly babies on a pedestal at Marble Arch, near Speaker's Corner, I did wonder if there was latent alcohol still in my system. Surely they weren't real?

The sculpture is so tall and colourful and sweet that it seems a little too surreal to be standing there in the giant traffic roundabout that is Marble Arch. But there they are, with cute smiles on their faces, beaming out at the world like the innocent creatures that they are. Indeed, they look almost good enough to eat!

According to this BBC news story, the officially named Jelly Baby Family is part of the City of Sculpture Festival "which will include installations donated by some of the world's leading galleries and artists".

This sculpture, which is by Mauro Perucchetti, will remain on display until April. The tallest jelly baby is 10.5ft high, while the smallest is 7.5ft.

There's a rather sweet video of the sculpture being installed here:

Jelly Babies 1 from Halcyon Gallery on Vimeo.

Now you don't see things like this every time you go cycling in London, but when you do it reminds you why the capital is such an exciting place to experience on two wheels.

Total distance: 10.5 miles (16.8km) | Ride time: 57min and 53sec | Average speed: 10.9mph | Top speed: 18.8mph

One downside of cycling along the Thames

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What no one ever tells you when you cycle the Thames Path is this: at high tide the path is likely to be flooded!

I took this shot, shortly after 2.30pm, near The Ship pub in Mortlake. The path normally looks like this:

Never mind, I was able to inch my way through it, and get out the other side relatively unscathed. The woman pushing her child in a buggy behind me wasn't so lucky!

Fortunately, this was pretty much the only downside of today's cycle. Initially I had intended to simply pop down to Kew, as you do, to visit a book shop, but once I found the shop I was looking for I wasn't much in the mood to visit it. (It didn't help that there were roadworks out the front and a little man with a 'Stop' sign standing there giving me a dirty look.)

I kept cycling instead, exploring some of the quieter back streets, and before I knew it I was racing down the very busy Kew Road in a dedicated cycle line (8am to 6pm weekdays) and heading into Richmond.

A quick check of my London A-Z and I figured I should just keep going onto Twickenham Road (in another dedicated — and completely separate — lane, no time limit involved) until I got to the river. Then it was just a matter of heading back to Hammersmith via the tow path.

Genius! Except the 8 mile cycle I had originally planned had now magically morphed into an 18 mile extravaganza!

No complaints though. Lovely weather for cycling in: very still and only cold if you stop!

Total distance: 18.7 miles (30.3km) | Ride time: 1hr, 55min and 24sec | Average speed: 9.7mph | Top speed: 19.9mph

A circuitous 20-mile cycle: Hammersmith to Hammersmith via Richmond

Coming face-to-face with a giant stag, wasn't on my list of priorities when I went on yesterday's 20 mile cycle. But here I was, somewhere in the depths of Richmond Park, with a huge male deer with worryingly big antlers blocking my way on the shared bicycle-pedestrian path.

To make matters worse, a woman walking three tiny dogs was approaching from the other direction. If those dogs decided to bark or strain at their leads, that stag was going to bolt — and probably in my direction.

But, as luck would have it, I needn't have worried. The dogs were well behaved and silent. The stag just stood there, only his eyelids moving as he blinked in a dumbfounded fashion. And I was able to slowly and oh-so carefully inch my way around him.

That was just one of the highlights of yesterday's adventure in the rain.

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Others included seeing a pair of rather odd-looking ducks, which were rooting around in the mud, looking for goodies to eat. They ignored me, even when I was only a few feet away from them.

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I also had a bit of an 'aaaaahh, isn't that beautiful moment' when I came across this pond, just inside the park near Ham Gate. It was so still and quiet here, no traffic on the road behind me, no people anywhere to be seen, that I stopped, parked the bike up and took stock of my surrounds. By this stage I'd been cycling for 12 miles, in the drizzling rain, but it felt good to be alive.

When I started my cycle in Hammersmith it was shortly before 1pm, and the weather, while cold, was dry. No sooner had I hit the tow path along the Thames than it started to rain. The mud, in places, was horrendous. But my new tyres were awesome. (After my last cycle in which my flimsy Bontrager tyres succumbed to a piece of broken glass, my Other Half swapped out both tyres for 'puncture-proof'  Schwalbe Marathon Plus ones. I've had these tyres on a previous bike and highly recommend them.)

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Here's an example of the mud. This was the section between Richmond and Ham, by which time I was used to cycling through it. It was the initial section, between Hammersmith and Barnes, that proved more slippy, a bit like cycling through, well, um, mud.

Of course, the entire route wasn't all wet and slushy. When I got to Ham I cycled down the High Street and round the common, before hitting the clearly signposted National Cycle Route 4.

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It was lovely to cycle along this avenue of deciduous trees with moss-covered branches, which seemed to stretch forever into the distance. It took me directly to Richmond Park, through Ham Gate, and from there I was able to cycle through the park, anti-clockwise, on a gravel path, all the way to Roehampton Gate.

I stopped at the little cafe near Roehampton Gate to thaw out. I'd cycled 16 miles at that stage and while I was all toasty warm in my fleecy clothes and waterproofs, my feet felt like blocks of ice. I sat by the radiator drinking over-priced coffee with a slice of Genoa cake and felt all the better for it.

Then it was time to tackle the remaining four miles of my journey, through Barnes and back across Hammersmith Bridge to home and the comfort of a stinking hot shower!

And finally, thanks to a new bike computer, I can provide some statistics of my ride:

Total distance: 20.2 miles (32.5km) | Ride time: 2hr, 3min and 40sec | Average speed: 9.8mph | Top speed: 18.4mph

A cycle to Richmond along the Thames Path

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I donned my waterproofs shortly after noon today and headed out on the Thames Path hoping I wouldn't get too wet. I was lucky. The sky was overcast and at times the clouds turned a menacing black, but it did not rain — and by the time I reached my destination the sky turned blue and the sun came out. It turned out to be a rather glorious winter's day.

It's been at least three years since I last cycled the 7 mile route from Hammersmith to Richmond. I'd forgotten how picturesque it is. Even in winter with no leaves on the trees, it's very pretty cycling under an avenue of bare-armed branches. And you can peek across the water and see the most amazing jig-saw puzzle scenery: pretty coloured houses, old pubs and church towers jostling for position along the river frontage.

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You can even catch glimpses of royal property, such as Syon House (above), which is the London home of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland.

Once in Richmond I sat outside the White Cross pub and enjoyed a bit of early afternoon sunlight, before clambering back on the bike and heading back in the same direction from whence I had come.

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I took a mini-diversion in Kew and cycled around the Green, stopping briefly to take this photograph of St Anne's Church, which was originally built in 1714.

Once back on the tow path, I shunted my way through deep puddles, skidded along muddy verges, bounced over slimy cobblestones and shook every bone in my body as I made my way along the rough surface skirting the river.

By the time I got to Barnes I headed onto the main road (the tow path is temporarily closed between Hammersmith and Barnes for tree pruning) and bombed my way along the dedicated cycle lane feeling really strong and fast on the bike. I was enjoying myself so much it came as rather a rude shock to realise the sudden "give" in my rear wheel indicated I had a puncture. Fortunately, I was only two miles from home, so it wasn't too much of a drama — I simply walked the bike home — but it did put a dampener on my outing.

I'm looking forward riding this route again shortly, although next time I might come back via Richmond Park and turn it into a proper circuit. Of course, I need to get that puncture fixed first. Bugger.

Total distance travelled: approximately 17 miles (27km).

Confession time: I bought another new bike

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This is going to sound really extravagant, but yesterday I had a rush of blood to the head and bought myself a new bike. It's the exact same model as the one I bought in Australia in December. I've had it "blinged up" with front and back mudguards and a pack rack. Total cost, including my CTC membership discount, was £360.

I figured it was worth spending the money to get a bike that fits me properly. Although there is absolutely nothing wrong with my old bike, a Specialized Sports Sirrus, which I bought in 2007, it's only become clear to me in recent months that it is too small for me. This causes me to hunch my shoulders, which leads to stiffness. And because the seat is too close to the handle bars I get a soreness in my left flank.

It wasn't until I went on my ride around Richmond Park on Monday morning that I figured I should do something about the situation. Within minutes of riding my Specialized I could feel the old flank pain returning and my shoulders stiffening up.

So yesterday I paid a quick visit to my local Evans bike shop, thinking I'd just have a look and see what was on offer. When one of the sales guys asked if he could help and I told him I was looking for a Trek 7.0 FX with a 17.5 frame I did not expect that they would have one in stock. But there she was sitting right in front of me. The only thing she didn't have was my name in lights flashing above her!

The rest, they say, is history.

This afternoon I took her for a quick spin around Hyde Park. She felt fantastic. Really smooth and easy to pedal. Best of all, no flank or shoulder pain for me.

I do, however, need to make some slight adjustments, first to the position of the gear levers and second to the height of the seat. Once that's sorted there'll be no stopping me! Oh, the places we'll go!

My first London cycle in three months

This time last week I was cycling in Australia surrounded by dairy cattle, native birds and the occasional wallaby.

Today I found myself face to face with a herd of baby deer.

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I was so excited to see them, I nearly fell off my bike. I quickly crossed the road, dug around for my camera phone and took a quick snap before they took off. But alas, they took absolutely no notice of me whatsoever. I probably could have given them a pat, they were so tame.

A little further along I saw a bigger herd, also babies, huddled in a protected spot away from the wind. And further still, a group of big stags sat in idle contemplation.

Now, obviously, wild deer don't walk the streets of London. These are resident in Richmond Park, which was the destination of today's cycle, my first since arriving back in the UK last Friday afternoon.

I headed out at around 10.45am and took my time cycling the 4 miles to the park. After cycling in traffic-free conditions for the past 7 weeks, it was a little bit of an adrenalin rush to suddenly be fighting for road space with buses, cars, taxis, vans and motorbikes.

I figured that once I got to the park, the traffic would ease off. Wrong!

I've never seen so much traffic in Richmond Park, and typically they were all going in the same anti-clockwise direction as me. Fortunately, there's a 20mph speed limit, so their presence didn't feel threatening.

To be honest, I was more worried about the lycra-clad road cyclists whizzing by at top speed, and dare I mention the wind? I haven't cycled in blustery, gusty, cyclone-type winds like that in a long time. They were so strong I could feel my bike being knocked out from underneath me. It didn't help that they were head winds.

This meant progress around the 7 mile circuit in the park was pretty slow. Mind you, I managed to get up the hills without getting off the bike, which is a first for me. In the past I have always had to walk the short but killer incline not far from Roehampton Gate.

Even so, my journey time was snail-like. A combination I think of jet-lag, getting re-acquainted with my bike (within minutes I could feel it causing a pain in my left flank and tension in my right shoulder — I now know this bike really doesn't fit me properly), dealing with road traffic, strong winds and lots of hills!

I took two small drink breaks during my journey and then called into the supermarket on the way home to buy some goodies for lunch.

I was back home at 12.45pm. Total distance cycled: roughly 16 miles.