Lewisham on high

The London Borough of Lewisham may not be part of your average tourist itinerary, and the town centre is a dump, but the borough as a whole is a large and diverse district in terms of both physical and human geography, and it contains some absolute gems.

I’ve been associated on and off with Lewisham since 1977, when, at the age of 13 I landed in Blackheath Village, and attended a dismal secondary modern sink school in the neighbouring borough of Greenwich. The less said about that particular experience, the better.

Since then we’ve gone our separate ways as a family, but retain a toehold in Blackheath in the form of the very same apartment into which we moved in the late seventies. There are far worse places to be, especially for those with initiative and the urge to explore their surroundings.

In the UK, this week is National Bike Week, and, as part of this annual celebration of cycling, Greenwich and Lewisham Cyclists are leading short evening rides within the two boroughs.

On Monday a small group of us ascended Shooters Hill in Greenwich, and rode through the ancient Oxleas Wood before descending through Eltham and Kidbrooke. This is classic Tudor London.

Yesterday was a little more ambitious, with one of Lewisham Cyclists’ regular ride leaders (the guy in the red t-shirt above) taking us at speed around the borough’s peaks. It wasn’t a long outing in terms of ground distance covered, but with around 600 metres of short, sharp ascent, the ride was in places tough on the legs. I’m used to cycling around the rural hills of the North Downs of Kent on my fixed-wheel bike, and do so without having to get off and push. Last night, however, I was defeated on a couple of 50-metre stretches around Lewisham’s suburban summits.

Our evening pedalling took us from Greenwich Pier up Telegraph Hill, then on to Hilly Fields in Brockley, down along the Ravensbourne River, up through Blythe Hill Fields, Honor Oak and One Tree Hill, Westwood Park and Forest Hill. We then stopped at a house on Liphook Crescent on Forest Hill, the back garden of which houses a splendid folly built around 1880 that belonged to Tewkesbury Lodge. Our host took up the narrow, winding staircase of the folly, and at the top we were presented with a fantastic pre-dusk panorama of London.

From Forest Hill it was on to Sydenham Hill, past Lammas Green, and a watering stop at a pub in Dulwich. The route back to Greenwich was along the main road through Forest Hill, Catford and Lewisham town centres.

This evening there is a short ride up to Blythe Hill Fields, and tomorrow we go on a Thamesside cycle from Greenwich to Tower Bridge, hopefully along the northern riverbank via the Woolwich Ferry, and a spin around the old docks in East London. Our local contribution to National Bike Week ends with a ‘mystery ride’ organised by the new secretary of Greenwich Cyclists.

All of our cycle tours this week set off at 18:30 from Cutty Sark Gardens by Greenwich Pier. You are most welcome to join us!