A London Tourette

On Sunday 29th December I joined The Fridays‘ annual Xmas/New Year Day Ride.  This year’s ride was christened the London Tourette by Simon, the Fridays’ leader, and was a ride around the city’s best architecture.  We started, as usual, at Hyde Park Corner and finished, as usual, at All Bar One, Shad Thames.  On the way we made eight stops and Simon, himself an architect, gave a personal account of his choices.

Getting there

Getting to Hyde Park Corner by 10.30 a.m. by public transport from Northampton was not easy on the Sunday between Christmas and New Year.  No trains were running south of Watford Junction but a bus replacement service was promised for the final part of the journey.  I left home on my Brompton folding bike in the dark on the frostiest morning of the winter so far.  From Kingsthorpe onwards the roads were clearer but became frosty again on approaching the station.  No mishaps and I caught the 0753 service.  The ticket collector announced that the promised bus replacement was cancelled but that passengers could use the London Overground from Watford Junction instead.  The train arrived late and missed the Overground connection but a replacement coach was offered. This turned out to be an “express” service in that it didn’t stop at Harrow & Wealdstone!  It reached Euston just before 10.00 a.m.

Three miles of quick pedalling along a direct route (quiet on this Sunday morning) meant that I was one of the earliest to arrive at Hyde Park Corner.  By 10.30 a.m. we were ready to go – and the Tourette proved to be well worth the effort.

The Household Cavalry see us at the beginning of our ride

The Household Cavalry see us at the beginning of our ride

1 Westbourne Grove public toilets and florists, Piers Gough, 1993

Westbourne Grove public toilets and florists, Piers Gough, CZWG, 1993

Westbourne Grove public toilets and florists

Our first stop was at these remarkable public lavatories (unfortunately closed on Sundays).  Local residents took the initiative of commissioning this design as an alternative to Kensington & Chelsea Council’s own mediocre proposal. An area of triangular paving was reclaimed from the centre of two diverging roads and furnished with benches and trees. The plan of the building echoes the triangular site with the lavatories at the wide end.  The plinth at the sharp end is partially enclosed by glass to form the florist’s kiosk.  Gough is an architect in the CZWG practice.

2 The Royal College of Organists, Kensington Grove, Henry Cole Jr, 1875

Royal College of Organists, Kensington Grove, Henry Cole Jr, 1875, with charming sgaffito decoration

Royal College of Organists with charming sgaffito decoration

This building – which looks to me as if it really belongs in a medieval town centre in Germany or Austria – is opposite the Royal Albert Hall on the west.  It was the original home of the Royal National Training School for Music, now the Royal College of Music.

3 Natural History Museum (Alfred Waterhouse, 1873-80) and shared space of Exhibition Road

Exhibition Road shared surface with Natural History Museum

Shared road surface outside the Natural History Museum

Waterhouse’s museum was a very modern building in the 1870s: an iron frame on which rest terracotta tiles, so much more interesting than the stodgy V & A next door.  The shared space controversy seems to have died down a bit.  Taxi drivers make life interesting.

4 The Michelin Building, 81 Fulham Road, François Espinasse, 1911

The Michelin Building, François Espinasse, 1911

The Michelin Building

To quote Simon, “Zut alors! You want decoration?  You got decoration!  The Age of Motoring has arrived.  To be followed by the Age of Eating Out.  Both involving Spare Tyres.”

Stained glass window featuring the original Bibendum

Stained glass window featuring the original Bibendum

Notice how the original Bibendum (or Michelin Man) was made of cycle tyres and had a pince-nez for eyes.

5 The Royal Danish Embassy, 55 Sloan Street, Arne Jacobsen, 1977

Royal Danish Embassy, Arne Jacobsen, 1977

Royal Danish Embassy, Arne Jacobsen, 1977

Designed by the late great Arne Jacobsen this modern embassy is shared by Iceland too.

6 Lambeth North Underground Station, Westminster Bridge Road, Leslie Green, 1906

Lambeth North Underground Station, Leslie Green, 1906 - ox-blood-red tiled façade, arches

Lambeth North Underground Station

Leslie Green designed over thirty London Underground stations in five or six years after 1900.  They have iron frames covered in ox-blood-red tiled façade and the semi-circular windows of the first storey – arches in all but name – indicated straightforwardly to the Victorians and Edwardians that these were railway stations!  The arch serves no purpose at this level – but railways meant arches!  The tiles were resistant to London soot.

Opposite this station is a church – a Congregationalist chapel – with an interesting historical connection.

Lincoln Tower above Christ Church Chapel, (1) E C Robins (2) Paull & Bickerdike, 1876

Lincoln Tower above Christ Church Chapel, (1) E C Robins (2) Paull & Bickerdike, 1876

Erected on the centenary of the United States Declaration of Independence, the driving force behind it was Christopher Newman Hall.  He had lectured extensively in support of the abolition of slavery during the American Civil War and afterwards he raised funds for the tower as a London memorial to President Lincoln.

Lincoln Tower - Stars & Stripes detail

Lincoln Tower – Stars & Stripes detail

7 Christ Church Spitalfields, Nicholas Hawksmoor, 1714-29

Christ Church Spitalfields, Nicholas Hawksmoor, 1714-29, west front

Christ Church Spitalfields –  west front

The highlight of the tour!  Christ Church Spitalfields makes it into Jenkins’ hundred best churches in his 1999 book “England’s Thousand Best Churches”.  Then – fourteen years ago – he noted that the restoration was far from complete: “the ceiling seems to rest … on gloom and dust”.  In 1970 the church was near to collapse but Jenkins was able to describe it as “London Baroque at its most self-confident” although he does quote Pevsner’s view that it “could not be called anything but ugly”.

Christ Church Spitalfields,  interior facing east

Christ Church Spitalfields, interior facing east

8 The Blue House, Hackney, FAT (Shaun Griffiths), 2002

The Blue House, FAT (Shaun Griffiths), 2002

The Blue House

A delightful final stop.  Domestic house and offices by FAT, the practice that has just announced that it is calling it quits.  We see the cut-out form of a diminutive pitched-roof house, stuck on to a cartoon office block.  “Adolf Loos on the inside, South Park on the outside,” as Griffiths put it.

And so to the bar

Ten minutes riding from Hackney, across Tower Bridge, and we were at Shad Thames where Simon had reserved tables for the group.  Much beer was drunk, food was eaten, conversations had, and plans made.  Old friends who had not made the ride were welcomed on arrival.  Like the whole day, a good time was had by all!


Getting home

So much easier than getting from home!  A straightforward bit of pedalling from Tower Bridge to Euston station, a train to Northampton, and a final pedal saw me home by mid-evening.

My route for the day in London (starting and finishing at Euston station) is here on Ride with GPS.  My friend Els had an interesting account of the day here on her blog with additional pictures, often lovely little asides, here on Picasa.

The Fridays in Normandy – Wednesday ride report

To St-Vaast-la-Hogue (elevenses), Barfleur (lunch) and the Phare-de-Gatteville

The eagle-eyed and sharp-witted will see that elevenses and lunch were swopped around from Sunday’s ride.  But we took quite a different route (and, of course, different eateries) for this ride around the north-east coast of the Cotentin peninsula.

We gîtists pedalled over to the château to meet up with the big group – and, before one or two members left early, a group photo at the front of the chateau.IMGP6233The sun was bright, the lanes were lovely and traffic-free.  A stop in St-Vaast for coffee and bakeries and then two stops in Barfleur, the first for a light beer and cider aperitif; the second for moules crême with more cider.IMGP6239Then we went to the lighthouse at Gatteville – the second highest lighthouse in Europe.  Unlike the white Stevenson lighthouses for the Northern Lights, French lighthouses turn out to be grey.  It’s a popular outing for the locals and they, and all the drivers on the little lane to the lighthouse, were astonishingly polite.IMGP6240We then went up a corker of hill (the coastline is difficult and bumpy at this point), decided we needn’t do any shopping in Cherbourg and looked for a quiet way back to Brix.   Tiny lanes, huge bulldozers and a little girl on a pink tricycle – who overtook us shortly after we had overtaken her!

My room-mate Charlie was on cooking duty this evening and made a lovely spicy Moroccan vegetarian dish based on chick-peas.  More beer, cider and wine were drunk.  A wonderful day!

Route here.  Mileage for the day = 55.  Cumulative mileage = 284.

The Fridays in Normandy – Tuesday ride report

To Quineville (elevenses), Carentan (lunch), Volognes (aperatif) and Ruffoses (dinner).  The day also took in Utah Beach and the Orglandes German war cemetery.

From the summary above, you’ll see that this was a long and pleasant day!  We gîtists made an early start and, by the time we got to the château, everyone was ready to roll.

The start of the day

The start of the day

The opening ride was delightful, through hedged lanes, going east to the coast and Quineville – with a lovely coffee stop.

Next we rolled south along the coast, perhaps the only flat part of the Cotentin peninsula and where the American forces had landed on D-Day.  We spotted the Îles St Marcouf, the first part of France which they liberated, at about 4.30 a.m. on 6th June 1944.

That's the Îles on the horizon!

That’s the Îles on the horizon!

We stopped at the monument that commemorates the landing of General Leclerc’s 2nd Armoured Division – the Free French forces – at the beginning of August.

The Fridays on Utah Beach

The Fridays on Utah Beach

We passed the Utha Beach museum.  Although suitable sombre, this whetted the appetite for another visit later in the week.

Lunch was in the pleasant seaside town of Carentan.  Pâté, steak haché in a camembert sauce, and a cheese plate.  My choice too cheesy, you say?  Well, I was in Normandy!

Lunch in Carentin

Lunch in Carentin

After lunch we were on and up away from the coast.  We stopped at Orglandes German war cemetery, where over 10,000 German soldiers are buried from the Battle of Normandy in 1944.  Quiet and moving.IMGP6224Cider and calvados at Valognes again!  This time only the three hardened drinkers: Olaf, Gordon and myself.

Suitably fuelled and in lovely sunshine, the short climb from Volognes to Ruffoses was a delight and, far from being late, we were the first to arrive at “Chez Cri-Cri” for the first of our group dinners!  Sliced meats for starters, beef for mains, a huge cheese plate, and a crême brulée – washed down with copious amounts of beer, cider, red wine and calvados.  If I may quote Martin: “Last night at Chez Cri-Cri was epic.  Noise.  Huge portions.  Vast amounts of red falling-over juice.  Industrial quantities of Cidre.  Four courses.  €22.50 each.  No wonder we’re going back on Thursday night.  Oh and it is downhill on the way there and downhill on the way back.”IMGP6231


Route here.  Mileage for the day = 77.  Cumulative mileage = 229.

The Fridays in Normandy – Monday ride report

To Carteret (elevenses), Briquebec (lunch) and Brix (aperatif)

We left the gîte nice and early to meet the main group in the Place Robert Bruce in Brix.  It turns out that an ancestor of Robert the Bruce was from Brix and had crossed with the Conqueror; Robert de Brix had become Robert the Bruce.IMGP6175

Martin’s CycleChat account of the day is a classic:

“Another absolutely stonking day.  Thanks to the Weather God that overlooks and protects all outings by The Fridays there was no need to don waterproofs at all.  A tailwind blew us to the coast and we turned left, across the traffic, with no real problem apart from a nice lady in a campervan needing to be told to stop, and whizzed southwards.

The coast cannot be far!

The coast cannot be far!

An excellent coffee stop saw lots of hot blooded chaps queuing in the boulangerie in the hope that all such places are staffed by beauties such as we see in the Brix version. Alas we just had to buy cakes and walk away disappointed, albeit only slightly.

For some, the boulangerie is not enough!

For some, the boulangerie is not enough!

A quick 12k saw us in Briquebec for lunch, where someone riding a Brompton was seen at a trailer that was selling chips. Someone else cast a covetous eye on a kebab house and some of us made sure Gordon was supervised as he took his ladylove out for her birthday lunch.  As he had already celebrated her birthday with a Calvados at the coffee stop we worried he might become slightly overcelebratory and we’re not here for that malarky.

The birthday girl outside the chosen restaurant

The birthday girl outside the chosen restaurant

At lunch I learned that an unnamed Friday peep not only knows all about Lenin’s Linoleum but has also spoken to John Lennon and Mick Jagger.  However I managed to recover a small bit of self-confidence by working out a route back to the château that avoids a bit of the Brix hill. I shall name this the Enigmatic Variation because while it removes some climbing it also removes a chance to stop in the bar in Brix.  And I am ashamed and shocked – SHOCKED – I tell you to reveal that the entire membership of this trip seems to have stopped there and is probably drinking Calvados as we speak.  If Greg was here this would not have happened I can tell you.  However it is not all bad news as it allowed me to raid the secret store of cider without anyone knowing. An ver’ niysch it ish, too.”

Sahar, Simon and Giorgos are among those sampling calvados, beer and cider

Sahar, Simon and Giorgos are among those sampling calvados, beer and cider

And the menu at lunch?  Assiette viandes, andouillettes, cheese, cider and coffee!

The route is here.  Today’s mileage = 43.  Cumulative mileage = 152.

The Fridays in Normandy – Sunday Ride Report

To Barfleur (elevenses), St-Vaast-la-Hogue (lunch), and Valognes (aperatif)

There was damp in the air but this made no difference to the Fridays riders on their first full day in Normandy.  And what a way to begin!  Gordon led me to the boulangerie in Brix so that we could obtain breakfast supplies from the legend that is Madame.

But the real business of the day started when he led the gîtists back to the château for the gathering that was to become the ride to Barfleur.

I can do no better than borrow from Martin’s CycleChat thoughts recorded on the day itself: “Great day. A few spots of rain but not enough to get the gear on for. Coffee in Barfleur. Fish and chips in st huge le vaaast (other spellings are available); some had fresh oysters to boot. Others had crêpes. Return was through idyllic lanes. As you do. The Splittist Tendency of The Fridays International Brigade went off in search of Calvados on the return. The Orthodox Front returned direct to Le Chateau.”

Fish & chips, and cider, and oysters in St Vaast

Fish & chips, and cider, and oysters in St Vaast

Yep, I had the fish & chips – accompanied by cider (a first) and preceded by half-a-dozen fresh oysters (another first).  Our fellow gîtists, Andy and Jo, got stranded on the far side of the harbour when the bridge opened; my, how we laughed!

Andy can just be seen, with his back to the camera, starting his long walk around the harbour

Andy can just be seen, with his back to the camera, starting his long walk around the harbour

Jo - none the worse for her adventure

Jo – none the worse for her adventure

And yes, I was a member of The Splittist Tndency – a small select group who  lingered in Valognes for calvados and cider.  Valognes is pretty quiet on a Sunday afternoon and we had difficulty finding a bar.   I resorted to asking people on the pavement.  The first family were Dutch and also looking for a bar – an ice cream bar – to satisfy their young son.  No mistake with the second group; one gentleman looked quite drunk already.  Oh yes, he replied, there are two bars open; the one at the station is always open; but, nearer, you will find La Civette.  I learned that you do not ask for “un calvados” but rather “un calva”!

Le Tendence Splittiste enjoy "un calve"

Le Tendence Splittiste enjoy “un calva”

Back eventually to the gîte and a marvellous chilli pasta, cooked by Jo and Andy.

Andy cooks his chilli special

Andy cooks his chilli special

Route for the day here.  Today’s mileage = 60.  Cumulative mileage = 109.

The Fridays go to Normandy – The Prologue


After the epic that was LonJoG (see the report in “Cycle”, Dec 2012), this year The Fridays expedition was to Normandy.

Prologue Day 1 – Friday 14th June – Northampton to Portsmouth

I felt very organised in the morning.  My Dawes Galaxy touring bike was prepared with four panniers (two front and two rear) and a rack pack.  I knew where every item was and everything was waterproof.  The bike had been very recently serviced and was as sweet as a nut.  Pedalling to Northampton station was easy.

The 1250 train to Euston was very crowded but I got the bike into a good space and found a seat opposite.  London was busy (busier than I’m used to – because I’m normally pedalling in London on Saturdays and Sundays) but the journey from Euston to Victoria was straightforward.

Once in Victoria station I quickly met Gordon and Lonica.  Gordon had been on the recce trip and he and his wife were staying at the same gîte as me.  We got our bikes onto the Portsmouth-bound train and travelled comfortably to Portsmouth & Southsea station.  The three of us were staying at the Travelodge hotel opposite the ferry terminal and, after a short walk through the pedestrianized city centre and then pedalling along some quiet back streets, we were soon there.

We met Pam (Anything But Vanilla) and Dan at the hotel and the five of us went out for an evening meal, pedalling over to the new harbour developments at Gunwharf Quays and a branch of Café Rouge.  Scampi, lamb, and treacle pudding – accompanied by Hoegarten and Merlot.

We returned to our hotel and I was waiting for my room-mate Charlie.  The pub next door – The Sovereigns – had last orders just before eleven o’clock on a Friday evening, which struck me as very old-fashioned.  But Charlie soon arrived and, as I knew he would be, he was good company as a room-mate throughout the entire tour.

Mileage for the day = 16.

Prologue Day 2 – Saturday 15th June – (a) Tour de Portsmouth (b) A high-speed ferry crossing (c) Cherbourg to Brix

(a) After breakfast in The Sovereigns, six of us pedalled to StuAff’s house in Portsmouth for a guided tour.  We went out of the city to an elevated vantage point at Portsdown Hill where we had a view of the whole city.  Stuart pointed out that, properly speaking, Portsmouth is an island.

On Portsdown Hill - (l to r) Charlie, Gordon, Lonica, Stuart

On Portsdown Hill – (l to r) Charlie, Gordon, Lonica, Stuart

We then swept down to the historical dockyard where HMS Warrior, one of the first “Ironclads” is moored – accompanied today by a statue commemorating the “mudlarks” – before moving on to elevenses at Southsea Castle.

HMS Warrior

HMS Warrior

We went then back near StuAff’s house to meet up with Claudine, Sonia and the others at The Star & Garter for lunch.

Portsmouth route here.

(b) And so to the ferry terminal for the high-speed catamaran crossing to Cherbourg.  I sat next to (mmm)Martin – who is always good value; met Andy and Jo who had arranged the gîte and managed to get to sleep while almost all the others were seasick.

(c) With that organisation for which he is famed, Simon (DZ) had arranged for luggage to be carried from Cherbourg to Brix and so my bike was relieved of its panniers for the eleven miles or so to the château.  Energetic cooks had already been working and, amongst other, Jim, Steve and Rachel had prepared a meal of pasta, cider and wine – what’s not to like?  And the gîtists were quickly onto our final destination.

Our gîte

Our gîte

Route from ferry terminal to château here.

Mileage for the day = 33.  Cumulative mileage = 49.

Twenty-four hours in the life of a Brompton

On Friday evening, I had planned to go to the Fridays’ LonJoGers Reunion in Clapham.  Train ticket had been booked well in advance for the 1725 from Northampton to Euston.  The train system, however, wasn’t playing along – the overhead cables at Hanslope, just north of Milton Keynes, had become dreadfully tangled – like a kitting playing with a  ball of wool.  Where coach travel could be laid on, there were coaches from Northampton to Milton Keynes – but the train service south of MK to London was dreadfully disrupted.  And there were coaches (albeit only a few) from Northampton to Wellingborough to catch the unaffected service into St Pancras.

Brompton to the rescue.  It was a simple decision to pedal from home to Wellingborough station – and this had the added attraction that the route would take me near the site of the first LonJoGers’ breakfast at Wellingborough Tesco.  I didn’t eat another breakfast but did catch a quiet and efficient train into St Pancras.

A short pedal took me to Stanford’s in Covent Garden to buy a couple of maps for an Italian adventure in early May.  And then I was pedalling on to Clapham via Waterloo Bridge, the Elephant & Castle and the Cycle Superhighway that is the broad blue line painted down the A3 (Kennington Park Road and Clapham Road).  This is the most used of Boris’s Superhighways and, at six o’clock on a Friday evening I was witness to its use by dozens and dozens of cyclists.

Clapham Park Road was easy to find and then eventually The Coach & Horses just after the road took a left turn.  And an excellent reunion it was – hosted by Simon and Susie.  Shepherd’s pie, prosecco and lashing of Wandle, the locally brewed ale.

IMGP5729 859057_892362044375_2102755719_o

And plenty of catching up with friends from the great LonJoG adventure.


That’s Olaf in the backgroundIMGP5735

and Xi looking at the camera.

The evening rushed by; farewells were made; and I set off for Twickenham where I had a bargain room (£19) at the Premier Inn.  Further pedalling along the A3, but very shortly onto the A205 and then the A305 into Richmond and then out the A305 Staines Road through Twickenham.  A huge room, a comfortable bath and a comfortable bed.

On Saturday morning, the Brompton re-traced its route along the A 305 to Richmond Bridge.


and on to the Costa Coffee near Richmond Station which was the London Brompton Club’s meeting point


You may recognise John, Mr O, who blogs as Orange Brompton.  Anyway, we were marshalled by David Parkinson who was to lead the group out into Surrey and a climb of Box Hill.  First, elevenses at Headley Village Hall:


A beautiful descent from Headley to the foot of the Zig Zag Road gave us an indication of the task ahead:


a task which everyone accomplished in good humour.  Here we are at the National Trust café at the summit


and, two hundred metres further along, a spectacular view south


On the way back to Richmond we met Alasdair, a man who takes personalising his Brompton to an extreme

IMGP5746 IMGP5747

We entered Richmond via the Thames Path.  Here we are opposite Eel Pie Island


Leaving Richmond I made it a point of honour to pedal back to St Pancras following the A205 again and then heading for Putney Bridge.  New King’s Road was very busy (some unimportant football match) so I made it through Chelsea, Sloane Square, Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner and what I think is the quickest route – up Park Lane, Edgeware Road and Euston Road to the station.

At St Pancras, East Midlands railway staff told me the west coast line had been untangled so I retraced the route to Euston.  A fairly quick train back to Northampton station and I pedalled home.

Here’s a link to the Endomondo recorded route from St Pancras on Friday evening back to St Pancras on Saturday evening.  It comes out at just over eighty miles.  Add ten miles from home to Wellingborough station and four miles from Northampton station to home and the Brommie reached a total of 95 miles on its little adventure.

Windows & Death – a Fridays Ride

As my resolution – to keep this blog more regularly – started on 1st January, I wasn’t going to make an entry for the “Windows & Death” Ride on 29th December.

But my friend SwarmCatcher has written up her account and published it today.  So I think I can at least offer a link to her blog at “Bikes & Bees”. You’ll also find a link to her rather good photographs at the bottom of her article.  She caught me on my Leninist soapbox at Clerkenwell Green:


My photographs are here.

My route, from Euston to the start at Hyde Park Corner, on to All Bar One at Shad Thames, and back to Euston, is here.

Many thanks to Simon and all my Fridays friends (aka Friday Night Ride to the Coast aka FNRttC) although, like the Holy Roman Empire, this was neither on a Friday nor at night-time nor to the coast.

The Fridays’ Tour – London to John O’Groats (LonJoG)

Well, I’m making a fresh start.  Tomorrow at midnight, at Hyde Park Corner, I join a large group of friends for a ride to John O’Groats.

I’m only going to ride as far as Wellingborough, the stop for the first breakfast, and then I’ve offered my services as a driver of the support van.

The purpose of this Blog now will be to record daily, I hope, our adventures.

Don’t expect anything too literary or imaginative from me.  I’m a rather factual writer.  On previous tours, I’ve just kept a small notebook or diary and written an entry each evening.  That’s what I’ll try to do over the next week albeit in electronic format.

Very excited!