For our first day ride of the year we set our sights on an easterly journey of just over 70km, destination – Southend on Sea. An early start was always going to be a relative concept given Ade’s proximity to the brewery (Ade is the Ops guy at Crate Brewery in Hackney Wick) so at length I arrived at the Peanut Factory (Ade’s house) at a leisurely 10am. The few miles cruise down from Highams Park some of the best of the day. Joggers jogged, teams assembled on the playing fields poised for imminent battle and cyclists in great numbers headed out in the opposite direction bound for Epping Forest.
In these few peaceful miles the bare naked trees lining the sleepy streets of Walthamstow Village cast deep shadows across the brightly sunlit buildings and parked cars, the mottling effect a natural camouflage for the day to come. Along the towpath of the Lee Navigation lines of nameless narrow boats two abreast rest calmly upon the glassy waters, “Ellesmere”, “Soporific” and “Wind Shadow” puff smoke from their tiny chimneys in effort to warm their occupants. Opposite this tranquil scene lies a vast construction site, the legacy of the Olympics being built into its new environment, communications buildings repurposed as centres of learning, trees planted in neat rows and bridges spring up from the earth across the water connecting the old and the new.
The road out of London proper is an A road we’d rather not cycle again. The motorists of Romford, Ilford and Basildon are not particularly tolerant and seem to be out to get us. We’re involved in too many near misses for out liking. The behaviour of a vocal minority is frankly embarrassing. Telling a cyclist to use the pavement is clearly foolish, calling a cyclist an expletive because they’re in the road where cars are parked in the cycle lane is just a joke isn’t it? Thanks for your kind words guys in the Renault Espace.
Things improve as we leave behind the squat local authority blocks and enter the Semi Detached suburban sprawl of Upminster. The roads, if not quieter, the drivers are certainly more considerate. The highlight of a very short hill is a wonderful windmill at one end of a long green. We use this as a marker to see how far we’ve come in the hour and a bit we’ve been cycling. As we push on through fen like flatlands we’re focusing our intentions on a summit known as One Tree Hill. At 10% gradient this is a punchy little ascent that has us up out of the saddle and breathless for the first time on the ride. We’re loving it. The view from the top is a pretty good one. Not bad for 90 minutes out of East London.
With no sign of a cup of tea occurring any time soon (Pitsea is short on cafes big on fast food) we crack on towards the coast and the promise of fish and chips with a giant cup of tea. We’re out of the rural and back into a built up area following the old A13. It’s not a bad road, the drivers are erratic again but there is nothing we can do but keep our wheels turning and heads down, with a course set for sea. The final run into Southend is tidy. Wide open roads bank steeply down to the promenade and the safety of the green two way cycle path that hugs the coastline. We pick it up at Chalkwell through to central Southend and a long awaited brew.