Vegans Cycling in Richmond Park, 21/9/08

The Vegetarian Cycling & Athletic Club held one of a series of activities in Richmond Park, London to mark its 120th anniversary year.

I stayed overnight in the Earl’s Court YHA and cycled the next morning to Richmond Park, arriving at 10am. The meet-up at the Bike Hire facility near Roehampton Gate was not until 1030-1100 so decided to ride the small circular route that passed near to the centre of the park. With a warm & sunny day forecast, the park was buzzing with visitors and cyclists, many queuing up to hire bikes.

The first two arrivals were Kay di Rezze who lives locally and her friend Oak Aitken who had travelled all the way from Edinburgh such was the attraction. Oak is a regular visitor at the London Vegan Festival and registered with VRUK back at our inaugural event in 2004. With no other riders present we decided to start the first loop of the circular road around the park but just in time Kay notices another rider in VC&AC kit who turns out to be Mike Stanton who is a V70 and more noted for his running and former athletics secretary for the VC&AC.

We start at a modest pace in order to keep together. With a couple of hills around the course it certainly tested Mike & Kay whereas Oak commented that he could ride 10 times fast than this! The 2nd hill just after the Kingston Gate was certainly a tough one.

Whilst riding around I was receiving calls from Dave Arnold who arrived late. I thought it was an opportunity for Dave to race round on his high spec triathlon bike but we were not far from returning to the start when Dave & Dawn were setting off so took the shortcut to meet us. With Kay & Oak only having hired their bikes for two hours we decided to switch to the paths for the remaining 40 mins. Dave decided to take to the roads rather than risk punctures to his racing tyres and with lots of other racing cyclists on the road felt at home. By the time we had gone for a short ride on the trails including that tough climb near Kingston Gate made worse here by the loose gravel and requiring a short break for the slower rides, Dave had completed two circuits on our return. Oak showed immense ability by sprinting up the tough hill where we stopped and turned back after recovery.

It was then time for our lunch break. Kay & Oak departed to visit the Sweatshop for a pair of running shoes! Mike now stripped to reveal his VC&AC running vest from the 1950s decided to call it a day. It was very warm in the sun near the Bike Hire.

Earlier in the day there were avocado & spinach sandwiches in the adjacent cafe but unfortunately had sold out when we were ready eat.

Dave had a problem with his handlebars that had come loose and could not fix the problem. With no hesitation, Dave decided to run whilst Dawn & myself cycled behind. Dave is a talented runner so we were certainly not held back on the trails. We took an anti-clockwise route to the north and around to Richmond Gate. From there we decided to cut through the centre of the park which turned out to be difficult terrain for me at least carrying all of my luggage from the overnight stay. Riding cautiously down the hill to the lakes, Dave was way ahead. We then rode uphill on the other side and on reaching the top, Dawn discovered that she had dropped an item of clothing on route. We had to cycle nearly a mile back to retrieve it with Dave still running. From here we took a shortcut to the path adjacent to the circular road and rode/ran back to Roehampton Gate and the Bike Hire facility.

Dave & Dawn called it a day at 3.15pm as they had driven across London from Hackney.

I decided to carry on and return to the centre of the park and see what it had to offer. Discovered Isabel Plantation, a nature reserve with rare breeds of ducks. By the time I left at 5pm, the Freewheelers group appeared to reach the park and were meeting up near Roehampton Gate.

The real cycling then began for me, overtaking a lot of traffic which may also have come from the Wimbledon Tennis Centre where a Davis Cup match was being held. As I passed through Fulham & Chelsea, there had earlier been a match – Chelsea v Man Utd with a lot of blue shirts in evidence. Trying to get back to Kensington Olympia station for a 6.13pm train I cycled too far taking a detour that almost led me to Kensington Town Hall, that familiar venue of vegan events! Missed the train by minutes so took an alternative train to Willesden Junction only to find that there were only buses in operation to Harrow. I had a further 6 miles to ride, following the advised cycle route. When I eventually arrived in Harrow I thought now where is the station so had to consult my map under street lighting. It was only a short distance away and only had a short wait for my train. In fact the last 45 miles took less than an hour, arriving home around 9pm after leaving Richmond Park at 5pm!