Yesterday was a GORGEOUS day here in London – cloudless blue skies, cool autumn air, a mild breeze, PERFECT weather for a bike ride.
London may not seem like a great place for a leisurely bike ride, and for day-to-day practicalities, that’s pretty much true. London roads are riddled with traffic, pollution, potholes and a surprising lack of good views. Fortunately, there are plenty of great parks scattered about, including Hampstead Heath, London’s largest (791 acre) parkland. I decided that “the Heath” seemed like a great destination, but I wanted to to enjoy the journey, too. So I Googled for “Stoke Newington Hampstead Heath Bike Route” and that is how I discovered Bikely.com.
Bikely is basically a place for cyclists to share their bike routes. Anyone can create a route on a Google map, then tag that route with helpful terms like “hills”, “scenic”, “commute”, “offroad”, etc. You can also search for routes near a specific city.
What makes Bikely WORK is that a lot of people from all over the world actually seem to use it so there’s plenty to choose from.
The route I found was the Stoke Newington Hampstead Heath circuit, a 15mi loop tagged as “training”, “steep” and “scenic”. Steep and scenic it was. I had no idea such hills existed in London! But I’ve gotta give props to “happyhenry”, the route’s author – most of the ride was on VERY quiet streets and it took me to places in London I never new existed, such as Queen’s Wood, a 21-hectare patch of ancient oak-hornbeam woodland just a few miles from my house. How could I have missed that?
Hampstead Heath rocked my world – trees everywhere, leaves falling, ducks, ponds, woods, grassland. And glorious sunshine! As it was a Friday afternoon, it was very quiet except for a few rich people and their dogs, a small film crew, and a very happy runner taking a load off in the sun. Unfortunately, my camera ran out of juice so I couldn’t take any pictures. But by that point I was pretty pooped from the ride, and I still had to cycle back home. The whole trip took about 2.5 hours (an hour more than I estimated, no wonder I was so hungry when I got home).
I love cycling and shouldn’t let London limit my horizons. I’ll definitely be using Bikely again. There were a few longer loops from Stoke Newington that go beyond London and into the country. I can’t think of a cheaper, greener, or higher energy way to escape the big bad city!
I leave you with one of the few photos I took before the camera batteries died. This was taken atop of a hill in Crouch End. Behold the blue sky!