Cycling routes throughout the South East, accessible from Guildford in a day
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Weather at Start:
Route 1: Guildford to London via the Wey and Thames towpaths and London Parks
Weather at Finish:
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|Summary Cycle to London? You must be mad! Well, not necessarily. This route provides a remarkably quiet ride right into the heart of London following the Wey Navigation towpath to Weybridge, then the Thames towpath to Ham House. Then the route cuts out a long bend in the Thames by crossing through Richmond Park, then follows reasonably quiet back streets through Putney and Chelsea to enter Kensington Gardens near the Albert Hall. Then ride through Hyde Park and Green Park to Buckingham Palace. Follow a cycle path beside the Mall and behind Whitehall to arrive in Parliament Square, before making your way to Waterloo Station.|
43 miles; whole day
Guildford Mainline Station
Alternatively, the route is easy to join at several points along the way eg car parks at Bowers Lane (Burpham), Pyrford Lock, Thames at Weybridge, Pembroke Lodge (Richmond Park).
Alternatively, you could shorten the route by cutting to the mainline stations at Weybridge, Surbiton, Wimbledon or Clapham Junction
Guildford residents will probably cycle direct to the start at Guildford Station. You could arrive there by train, or park in nearby car parks (usual city centre parking fees apply), Or park free at one of the alternative start points (see above).
From Waterloo station, there are frequent trains back to Guildford. Check train web sites for cycle carriage policy, but bike carriage is usually OK (and at present free) outside weekday rush hours. There is usually one or more special bike carriages:look for the bike logo next to the door. Check train operator websites for engineering works, especially at weekends: replacement bus services will not carry bikes.
|Conditions under the tyre: Apart from some modest hills in Richmond Park, the route is pretty flat. The towpaths are generally good surfaces, though they will get muddy after prolonged rain and in winter. The Wey Navigation path can be narrow in places, and watch out for tree roots. The Thames towpath is prone to flooding on its tidal reaches (ie downstream from Teddington Lock). The towpaths (especially the Thames tow path) can get busy with pedestrians at weekends and in the summer, so be considerate, keep your speed down and use a bell to warn of your approach. The paths in the London Parks are good all-weather surfaces.|
|Reverse route: You can of course do the route in reverse, taking the train to Waterloo and ending at Guildford. This gets the 'catching the train' bit out of the way first, although it somehow seems less satisfying starting with the novelty of cycling in London, and finishing with the familiar (Guildford). One factor to take into account is wind direction. Check the Met Office web site: if the wind is from the south westerly quarter, go Guildford-London, from the north easterly quarter London-Guildford: it makes a big difference having the wind behind you.|
The Google map shows some variations.
Variation A (Wisley Airfield): Make your way out of Guildford via the High Street and up the Epsom Road (A25/A246) to East Clandon. Then via quiet lanes to Ockham Village, over Wisley Airfield to reach the footbridge over the A3 at Elm Corner, past Wisley Gardens (possible coffee stop) to join the main route at Pyrford Lock.
Variation B (Richmond and Kew Gardens): Instead of cutting through Richmond Park from Ham to Putney, stay on the Thames Towpath through Richmond and past Kew Gardens and Chiswick, to rejoin at Putney.
Variation C (Battersea Park): From Chelsea, instead of heading North to Kensington Gardens, continue over Albert Bridge, through Battersea Park, back over Chelsea Bridge, then via back streets to Lambeth Bridge.
From Guildford station, either push across Walnut Tree Close at the pedestrian lights, bear left and take a small alley and carry your bike down steps to the Wey Navigation towpath, or (avoiding steps) go under the subway and follow signs to the High Street, to loop back to the Wey tow path opposite the Electric Theatre. The towpath as far as Ladymead has recently been improved for cyclists (although it is still rather loose sand in parts). Cross Woodbridge Road (CARE) and move to the other bank, then after a while cross Woking Road (CARE).
The area to the right between Stoke Lock and Bowers Lock, and between the Navigation and the (noisy) A3 is Stoke Meadows country park, which is quite a good spot for birdwatching. Now follow the towpath all the way to the Thames.
Once you get out of Guildford, the Navigation is (literally) a peaceful backwater, passing through many picturesque locks and flanked by pleasant watermeadows. You cross from one side to the other several times. About a mile past Pyrford Lock the waterway flows beside the (elevated) M25,and joins with the Basingstoke Canal. The presence of a railway bridge provides an interesting juxtaposition of modes of transport ancient and modern.
And so, on past New Haw and over the A317 at Weybridge and arriving at the final (first?) lock on the Navigation, Thames Lock. Here, follow the Google map carefully via a few paths (dismount) and streets to emerge on the Thames towpath.
From here, it is pretty straightforward to follow the towpath for the next tranche of the route. Reaching Hampton Court Bridge, cross over and follow the N side on a good path to Kingston Bridge. Finding your way through Kingston can be tricky: follow the Google map and the cycle route signs for National Cycle Route 4 to emerge back on the towpath through Canbury Gardens, then carry on until you reach Ham House (National Trust). From the riverside car park, take the road (Ham Street), and make your way across Ham Common, again picking up NCR4 signs to the Ham Gate of Richmond Park. On the left, inside the gate, is a good cycle track. At the road junction, a short diversion left will take you to refreshments at Pembroke Lodge. Otherwise continue on the car free road (signed NCR4) down to the Pen Ponds car park, then turn left to pass the Royal Ballet School and eventually exit the Park by Roehampton Gate. Keep on following NCR4 signs to reach the river again near Barnes Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, then follow the river to Putney Bridge.
This is where riding the tow path ends, although I believe there are plans afoot to open more of it to cycling. From here a mix of reasonably quiet roads is followed, but take care because they are not traffic free. Basically, follow the signs for NCR4. Cross Putney Bridge then take a right down Gonville Street, and make your way around Hurlingham Park and Chelsea Harbour, emerging on Cheyne Walk. Turn left into Beaufort Street, leaving NCR4. Follow the Google map through reasonably quiet streets to arrive at the south western gate of Kensington Gardens. Go up the Broad Walk and turn right onto the cycle path which soon follows Rotten Row beside the Serpentine through Hyde Park to Hyde Park Corner. Take care with busy road crossings from here on. Cycle through Wellington Arch, then cycle through Green Park alongside Constitution Hill to reach Buckingham Palace. Now head down the cycle track on the N side of the Mall, then take a right down Horseguards Road, past Horseguards Parade to emerge on Parliament Square (take great care of traffic here: walk if necessary). Then finally over Westminster Bridge, make a left on Belvedere Road to reach journey's end: Waterloo Station, for your train home.
Refreshments: The towpath routes run close to civilisation, so you are never far from a
refreshment stop, here are some of many possibilities.
Burger Van outside B&Q at Ladymead Retail Park.
Riverside pubs at Send (New Inn) and Pyrford Lock (The Anchor)
Coffee Shop at Wisley Gardens entrance (off the main route, on the 'Wisley Airfield' alternative).
The Minnow, Thames Street Weybridge (just where you pick up the Thames towpath)
Tea shack by Walton Bridge
Several pubs and eateries at each end of Hampton Court Bridge
Cafe in Canbury Gardens, Kingston
Tea room at Ham House (National Trust, entry fee)
Richmond Park (Pembroke Lodge, Pen Ponds car park tea shack, cafe at Roehampton Gate)
On the Richmond variant, there are several cafe's and pubs clustered around Richmond Bridge, and several pubs close to the river further on.
Various tea shacks and cafes in the London parks.
Points of Interest
There is much of interest to see along the way. If you stop to see it all this route would take days!
Stoke Meadows Riverside Park: was formed around a lake created by gravel workings for construction of the A3. The park is good for birds. The reed beds alongside the river harbour sedge and reed warblers in summer. The area opposite Stoke Lock floods to form a lake in winter, and a particular rarity in winter is the water pipit.
The meadows between Sutton Place and Walsham Gates weir are particularly scenic, with busy locks such as Papercourt, and narrow boats adding to the scene. Coxes Mill at Coxes Lock is an impressive conversion of an old mill.
On the Variation A route, Wisley Airfield provides a vast but empty, stretch of concrete. The site was requisitioned for an airstrip in WW2, and was subsequently used by Vickers for test flights, finally closing in 1973. Make the most of it though, because the site has constantly been proposed for various developments, the latest being a composting site. In 1986, was used as a set for John Boorman's film 'Hope and Glory'. a complete street of semi-detached houses was built here, then burned down (deliberately, to simulate the blitz).
Hampton Court is one of the great historic palaces, and the only riverside royal residence surviving west of London, others at Richmond and Oatlands having vanished. Henry VIII recognised its tourist potential when he nicked it from Cardinal Wolsey.
Ham House (National Trust) is an elegant Stuart mansion on the banks of the Thames.
Richmond Park is a fantastic green space in the suburbs of SW London, with preserved oak forest and grassland, frequented by herds of deer.
London's Royal Parks (Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Green Park, St James Park) are traversed by this route. The barracks of the Household Cavalry are near Hyde park, so you may see them exercising on horseback, or processing to the changing of the guard at Horseguards.
|Finding your way The towpaths are easy to follow, although you do have to cross over banks occasionally. The route from Weybridge, through Richmond Park to Chelsea largely follows National Cycle Route 4, and is well signposted as such. Nevertheless, the relevant Ordnance Survey Explorer maps will be useful for clarification, and for negotiating surrounding areas should you wish to leave the route. For the central London parts of the route (from Chelsea via the Parks to Waterloo Station) a large scale street map is invaluable. I thoroughly recommend the FREE London Cycling Guide maps: Sheet 9 covers Kingston through Richmond Park and Sheet 7 does the rest of the route through the Parks. Sheet 1 covers Central London including the route from Hyde Park at an even larger scale. See the links page for more details.|