I have just returned from yet another stag. Let me tell you, it is tough being such a popular guy. This time the stag weekend took place in London which on the face of it is not the best place for a stag weekend; expensive drink, spread out city and cold weather but when you get the guys together it is always a good laugh.
Again I am not here to discuss the ins and outs of a British stag weekend, for one thing that would contravene the strict omerta that exists around such events, but instead to touch on cycling in the capital.
The first night saw everyone meet up and have some food before hitting the pubs in XXX. The inevitable hangover followed the next morning although a combination of not being able to sleep and some pretty seismic snoring I decided to get up (or down really considering I was on the top of a triple bunk) and seek out some food. One of my good friends was also in the same situation and we ended up in a quant tea room in Kensington. Rock and Roll.
The first activity of the day was all the way to the east near the O2 where we would be indulging in a brewery tour and importantly some beer tasting. Classic stag activity really.
When we manged to coral everyone at the hostel the big discussion was how to get there, the obvious answer to take the tube. End of conversation. Or was it?
I decided to offer a more leftfield option; why don’t we get some bikes and cycle across town? “No chance” was the reply by most of the group but I knew that I would get some traction from my cycling buddies within the group. Gav was in. Smurph had been struck by his now infamous hangovers and could barely muster standing let alone pedalling.
This was a bit of a coup for me as I now had someone with local knowledge of the streets and could guide me through the mean streets of the capital. We headed out and went to the docking station right beside the hostel. After wrestling with the payment system for a longer than expected we had a couple of “Boris Bikes” in our possession. I would describe them as utilitarian, design and speed compromised for robustness and functionality. With our three gears we started the eight mile journey across town.
From the hostel it took us a few wrong turn to get to the Southern edge of Hyde Park where it was mostly plain sailing on bus lanes. We seemed to get stopped at every traffic light which meant a lot of time spent trying to get the heavy bikes back up to speed.
As we cycled along Hyde Park I realised that I was ticking something off that had long been on my bucket list. There is no doubt that British media is London-centric and casts a rather uninteresting eye beyond the M25 and as a result you are left with the impression that London is the centre of the universe. Yes I could mix it with the traffic in Aberdeen and Glasgow but these were mere villages compared to London. I wanted to have a taste of commuting in London, perhaps to feed my regret that I never spent any time living in such a vibrant city.
We were now gathering speed through Piccadilly, past the Ritz and onto Piccadilly Circus where we swung right towards Trafalgar Square where we stopped for the obligatory picture in front of the National Gallery as the rain started to fall. Rain in London? Who would have thought!
A couple more rounds fighting with the London traffic and we were on the banks of the Thames pedalling on the East-West Cycle Superhighway. The hard part was over and we could now follow the water to our final destination and the rewarding pint that would inevitably follow.
The rain had progressed from an irritable drizzle to a full shower but we had accepted that we were going to be wet but it didn’t make for pleasant riding in civilian clothes. It was also at this point that we seriously miscalculated the distance we had to cycle. Maybe we were still drunk from the night before but the 8 miles that we thought we would be cycling morphed into more like 18 miles when we stopped to reappraise our route. This was a lot of cycling for someone who had basically not been on the saddle all year. Still, this was bucket list territory for me so I wasn’t going to let a bit of rain and tired legs sour the moment. On we went through the East End of London, places I had never seen before as a tourist but was getting a feel for now thanks to the bike.
Onto the Isle of Dogs and through Millwall, known to me only for its football team and “passionate” supporters. It was quickly becoming apparent that between us and the O2 was a rather large body of water and no discernible place to cross. Upstream, bridges were ten a penny but down here there was nothing. In our desperation, consulting Google Maps essentially told us to swim across the Thames since it was plotting a route where no bridge stood.
The hangover, the tiredness and the rain had clouded our judgement. We should have been looking for a tunnel, the Grenwich Foot Tunnel to be precise. Despite being ridiculously late to meet the other guys (see previous mix up in the route length) we somehow managed to obey the rules and not jump on our bikes through the tunnel.
Back on surface and back on the road. Through Grenwich and finally to the O2 via a wrong turn down some cobbles. Our own version of the Carrefour de l'Arbre was exactly what we did not need at this time. What we needed was to dock the bikes and sink a pint.
Not in a million years did we think that there would be no place to dock the bikes at the O2. I mean it is one of the most popular destinations in London. Back onto the TFL map to find the nearest docking station…would you Adam and Eve it, it was back across the tunnel! We had now went from fashionably late to appallingly late and wet.
Finally, the bikes were gone and I was sitting having a recovery pint with the guys. Gav had chucked it and went home for a sleep and a revitalising shower, those extra ten miles in the driving rain proving too much.
This was no time for reflection on the fact that my bucket list was now one item shorter. This was a stag and drinking now deserved my full attention but despite the weather and the stress towards the end it was a great cycle. It reaffirmed that the best way to see a place is by bike; fast enough to see a lot but slow enough to take it all in.
I will reflect in more depth about my experience of cycling in London in another blog so please, let me enjoy this pint!