Cycle ride: Get your kicks on Route 66 (a tour of Thamesmead)

Where: Get your kicks on Route 66 (a tour of Thamesmead)
When: Sunday 29 September 2013
Meet: 11:00 @ Cutty Sark Gardens, London SE10 9LW

“Well if you ever plan to cycle west
Just take my way that’s the highway that’s the best
Get your kicks on Route 66″

[with apologies to the ghost of Bobby Troup]

A short ride from me this weekend, east along the Thames Path to the border between Greenwich and Bexley boroughs, and then around southeast London’s very own Route 66. The ride will be taken at an easy pace, and, being on flat ground and largely away from traffic, is designed for cyclists of all levels of experience and ability. Fun for all the family. Note the later than usual start time of 11:00.

Thamesmead is a product of 1960s social engineering. Designed by the Greater London Council to relocate working class families from overcrowded slums in southeast London, Thamesmead was originally planned as a new town that would take up to 100,000 residents. Today the target is a more modest 50,000.

Being located on marshy ground in the Thames floodplain, Thamesmead’s building design places much of its living accommodation at first floor level and above, with basements and ground floors reserved for storage and car parking. Pedestrian transport between high-rise building blocks is provided by overhead walkways. Thamesmead contains is a mix of modernist town houses and medium- to high-rise apartment blocks, some of which featured in gritty urban films such as Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 cult classic A Clockwork Orange. This helped seal Thamesmead’s reputation for being a bit dodgy.

The reality of Thamesmead is modernist urban engineering that was an award-winning product of its time, and is today a living community for tens of thousands of Greenwich borough residents. The buildings may be concrete and grey, but they are set in a green and leafy environment criss-crossed with canals inspired by Swedish experiments in urban housing projects. Such water features were through their calming influence thought to lessen crime and vandalism by the young. How one could test this sociological hypothesis I do not know.

We set off on our tour of Thamesmead from Cutty Sark Gardens in maritime Greenwich, riding east along the Thames Path to Woolwich. From Woolwich we continue east along the riverside to the borough boundary with Bexley, just past Thamesmere lake. We then follow a largely anticlockwise and circularish path around Thamesmead, sticking mostly to cycle paths which are in relatively good condition owing to under-use.

Shopping and other facilities are relatively few and far between in Thamesmead, so for lunch we will stop at the Morrisons supermarket café. After feeding and watering we continue south and east, and head up High Tor View. With a peak elevation of 20 metres this sounds grander than it actually is, but the panoramic view over London is impressive. From High Tor View we will make our way back onto the Thames Path, and from there retrace our path to Cutty Sark Gardens. The total distance is around 38 kilometres (190 furlongs).

Although we will not be straying far from civilisation, please ensure that your bikes are in good working order, with tyres free of puncture causing debris. Bring tools, a puncture repair kit, a spare inner tube or two, and lights in case of poor visibility.

This ride is brought to you by the Dog & Bell Crew: an informal collective of London Cycling Campaign members and others devoted to organising and leading social cycles rides for people of all levels of experience and cycling ability.

RSVP, but it’s OK to turn up unannounced on the day.