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Cardinal Spins

Cardinal Spins 3: SE – Day 2: Wellingborough to Canary Wharf

Battersea Power station

The day began in Wellingborough in promising fashion, as all days in Wellingborough should. Breakfast at the Hind Hotel was an odd affair with an eclectic grouping of guests. The yoghurt and the bowl of Frosties were of the highest quality, the Eggs Benedict a little less so; but beggars can’t be choosers and it was all fuel for the day ahead.

I spent the morning crossing the leafy lanes of Northamptonshire and then Bedfordshire, both of which were surprisingly pleasant in an understated way. I won’t be planning to take my holidays there; but there was a succession of very pleasant, quiet villages like Harrold, Carlton and Stevington, with a smattering of thatched roofs and a historic narrow stone bridge over the River Great Ouse. The countryside was neither flat nor hilly, and I was enjoying it.

Things got a bit more fiddly close to Bedford and there was traffic to cope with for a few miles until I shook it off at the grandly named but otherwise forgettable village of Houghton Conquest, returning to back lanes through places like Maulden and Flitton. Soon after that, I reached the Chiltern hills and decided that it was time for lunch before I got too close to Luton. I found a convivial pub, The Raven, in the pretty village of Hexton, and sat outside in the warm air to eat my sausage and mash.

Hexton

I was making good progress and I may have fooled myself into thinking I was closer to a London than I really was. Things got decidedly bumpy from lunch onwards and I enjoyed the lanes and villages of Hertfordshire, with the added surprise of a watercress farm in Whitwell. I made a well timed stop for coffee and cake in pretty Wheathampstead (which announced itself as a pre-Roman riverside settlement) before the final push past the M25 near Potters Bar and then down Crew Hill, with its many plant nurseries, into Greater London. I was met by the suburban sprawl of Enfield, which seemed to go on for many soulless miles, before I landed on the cycle path that follows the banks of the River Lea south into London by way of Tottenham and Stratford.

Watercress farm

After the first green and leafy 60 miles, this final section today came as rather a contrast. The first couple of miles was an industrial wasteland; but after Tottenham Lock things improved. The River Lea is an almost continuous parade of narrow boats moored on at least one of its banks, providing what must be some of London’s cheapest accommodation. The boats ranged in appearance from the most dilapidated to some really quite lovely looking aquatic residences. There were literally hundreds of them and they continued for many miles.

River Lea

As central London got ever closer, modern waterside developments began to appear, and then a collection of cool bars and outdoor cafes heralded the arrival of the Olympic Stadium. I came to the magnificent London Olympics in 2012 and marvelled at the beautiful Olympic park they created for it. Now the stadium is home to West Ham United in the Premier League, and it feels rather different. Still good, but without the Olympic glow that seemed to make everything special back then.

Olympic Stadium

I left the cycle route and picked my way directly along roads through parts of the East End until the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf suddenly reared up to my left and a couple of minutes later I was standing in their shadow by Canary Wharf pier. Job done!

Actually, not quite, because I now had to get myself off my straight line and over to Clapham to meet Jenni. But I had been looking forward to this part: I was going to travel by Thames Clipper at speed along the River Thames, all the way upstream to newly refurbished, ultra-cool Battersea Power Station, past all of London’s most famous sights and under all of its bridges! This is absolutely the best way to see London in real style – and they take bikes aboard. Perfect. It was a spectacular, special end to a day of real contrasts.

On the Thames Clipper

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