Last September I bought T a copy of Tom Bogdanowicz's The London Cycling Guide, thinking it might inspire us to go on a few cycling adventures together. Of course, things went a bit pear-shaped in October, when I lost my job and the book got put aside while I used some of my payout to travel the world.
I'd completely forgotten about the book until last week, when, for some unknown reason, it popped into my head. When I asked T where it was, he had to unearth it from our storage room, where it had laid buried for the past six months.
The book features 30 different routes for exploring the capital. Having flicked through it fairly briefly on Thursday night, the one I settled on was the 8¾ mile "West London Palaces" ride, taking in Osterley Park and Syon House. But instead of starting at Richmond tube station, I decided to cycle to Richmond first, along the Thames Path, adding an extra 18 miles to the total route.
Yesterday it was such a beautiful day — bright, sunny and warm — I couldn't wait to hit the road armed with the book, Transport for London's Area 9 map and a sense of adventure.
This is where I confess that my internal compass isn't wired properly. I think it's something to do with having spent the first 29 years of my life in Australia, because I swear that I always turn the wrong way out of the tube station, thinking I'm heading north, when I'm really going south, or vice versa. Put me on a bike without GPS or any kind of newfangled map applications (I don't own an iPhone, I know, get with the programme) and you are asking for trouble.
Getting to Richmond wasn't a problem. Nor was hoicking my bike, weighed down with bottled water, two locks, a book and other sundry items, up and down the stairs at Richmond Lock and Footbridge. But once I was over the other side of the river my sense of direction disappeared into the ether.
I managed to negotiate the streets of Isleworth okay, having been here (on foot) in the past (mainly for boozing, it has to be said), and took some time to admire the views across the river. I then found myself following signage for the Capital Ring, which is a 78-mile walking route encircling London that I'd never heard of before.
I think perhaps this is where I went wrong. Because, before I knew it, I was somehow gliding past the entrance to Syon Park, and, according to Bogdanowicz's route, I was supposed to go to Osterley Park first. So, I kept pedalling on. And on. And on. In the hope that Osterley Park might rise out of the distance to greet me with open arms like a long lost friend. Or something.
Of course, it wasn't to be. And then I had a minor panic attack when I saw a large sign stating WELCOME TO HOUNSLOW TOWN CENTRE as I cycled along a dedicated cycle lane with god knows how many buses and vans and London cabs vying for road space. Woops. Me thinks I've gone too far.
So, I stopped. I extracted the book buried deep in my pack rack bag and tried furiously to figure out how to get to Osterley Park from my current locale. I thought I had it figured out, and (blindly) set off in what I thought was the right direction. I crossed the A4, as I was supposed to do, but didn't realise I was one intersection too far to the west. This meant I was headed to Norwood, not Osterley Park, but I didn't quite clock that until the streets got increasingly more suburban.
Hang on, am I supposed to be cycling past Fern Lane? Um, no.
I backtracked, and now thinking it didn't really matter that I didn't know what the hell I was doing, I was out on the bike having FUN, I stopped at a little church.
I saw this sign about 10 foot up in the air (for horse riders, I suspect) and knew I was sort of going in the right direction. I was only a mile away.
But then the hard-surface path turned into this… Yes, a field with head-high grass and lots of tethered horses. I couldn't even make out a walking trail upon which I might try my luck.
So, I backtracked (again), got myself out onto the main road, explored a few side streets, and eventually, when I spied a brick wall up ahead, I was pretty sure the Osterley Park estate was in my reach!
As I got closer I saw a hole in the wall (a literal one, not an ATM), and when I stopped and stuck my head through, I saw another blue "public right of way" sign.
There was also this most incredible field under an achingly beautiful blue sky. I had to pinch myself that I was actually in suburban London and not some ranch in the middle of Ohio or something. I kind of expected a cowboy to mosey up on the back of a horse, or a giant big wheat thresher to rise up out of the distance.
There was also a very enticing walking track.
Can you guess what happened? I dragged my bike through the hole in the wall, cycled the track and got myself to the boundary of Osterley Park. Hooray! But I couldn't get my bike through the turnstile and the barbed wire fence was too high for me to hoick it over the top.
Yep, I had to cycle back along the path, past that beautiful field and out through the hole in the wall. But at least I knew where I was headed this time.
Five minutes later and I was greeted with this… a lovely tree-lined avenue leading the way to the National Trust property I'd been in search of for the past two hours. It had only taken 18 miles of cycling to find it!
To cut a very long story short, I parked my bike up (there is bike parking available outside the cafe), had a wander through the stunning neo-classical building (I used my National Trust membership card, so it cost me nothing) and then treated myself to a (rock-hard) scone and a cup of tea in the nearby cafe.
I then made an executive decision to ditch the rest of the "West London palaces" ride — I simply didn't have the mental energy to contend with getting lost again — and headed back to Isleworth following the blue cycle signs marked Isleworth, which I'd spotted as I exited the property.
Sadly, the signage lasted for about two miles and then, just as luck would have it, was nowhere to be seen when it was most needed: at a T-junction. Do I turn right, or left? Well, whatever way I went it would be wrong, wouldn't it?
Thank goodness for my Transport for London Area 9 cycle map. (Sadly, the map in Bogdanowicz's book was simply not detailed enough to help me in any way, shape or form.) I ended up folding the map into a tiny square and wrapped it around my left-hand handlebar for easy reference, where it soon became a limp, sweaty piece of paper. But it did the job. I got to Isleworth in one piece, and then it was easy sailing — over the Richmond Lock and Footbridge again and back home via the Thames Path, where I collapsed in a heap, covered in dirt, blackberry scratches and with two very sore sunburnt arms.
Next time, I'm getting an iPhone. And taking sun block.
Total distance: 30.37miles (48.38km) | Ride time: 3hr, 08min and 55sec | Average speed: 9.6mph | Top speed: 17.8mph
NB: All the photographs taken during my trip can be viewed in my online gallery.