The Brent Cyclists rides in the early part of this year have not been a great success, with very low attendance and the Windsor ride cancelled twice because of bad weather.
So it was welcome that on a brilliantly sunny Saturday, nine riders converged at Kingsbury Station (closed, as usual, on a weekend). Ben had led three other riders from Gladstone Park, three joined who lived in Kingsbury, plus Tony, co-ordinator of Harrow Cyclists, from Harrow, and myself, completed the group. (All men unfortunately; there is still work to do closing the cycling gender gap in Brent.)
Setting off eastwards towards Colindale, ascending the steep slope of Wakemans Hill Road, with its curious 1920s castellated residences built by eccentric Irish-born but Kingsbury-resident architect Ernest Trobridge, the leader's bike developed a mechanical fault whereby the chain came off. The chain was refitted. The ride continued on minor roads and paths through Colindale and Burnt Oak (through the Watling Estate, an early, high-quality example of mass social housing built by the then highly progressive Hendon Urban District Council, later subsumed into LB Barnet (note the progressive: how times change)). In Barnet the LCN route seems to be marked by flowers placed by RoadPeace to show where pedestrians have been killed on the roads ruled Barnet's head of Transport, the (in)famous Brian Coleman, who now wishes to axe lollipop patrols for Barnet's children.
Roadside memorials like these make it easier to find your way on the dangerous streets of Barnet
The aforementioned chain continued to give trouble, which was eventually traced to a bent smallest chainwheel which was the result of the chain becoming jammed and distorting it, which was itself a result of the bolts linking the chainrings becoming loose. A stop in Edgware was necessary to fix this, by tightening the chainring bolts with an allen key. This treatment was successful, and the group proceeded to an assault on Edgwarebury Lane, a residential road that peters out into a track at its northern end, at Edgwarebury Farm, then crosses the M1 on a curiously large-capacity bridge, complete with overgrown, unnecessary pavements, and climbs steeply the ridge known as the "Northern Heights" to residents of this part of London.
The bridge across the M1 on Edgwarebury Lane
At the top of the Northern Heights ridge the lane meets a not very pleasant busy road, Barnet Lane, which cannot be avoided. We headed west, through the traffic-choked centre of Elstree village, and then turned north on the C road that leads past Aldenham Country Park. A notice at the entrance stated that the Country Park's budget is being slashed by Hertfordshire County Council. We negotiated a "kissing gate" to get into the park and view the Aldenham Reservoir (curiously neither the park nor reservoir are near Aldenham village, but lie between Elstree and Watford). Swiftly exiting the park (Ben worrying that "the pubs will run out of food and drink" – he is a great worrier) we took a look at the nearby Elstree (London) Aerodrome. The name seems to be trying to imply it is somehow on a par with Heathrow or Stanstead, but in fact this tiny centre for flying light planes and helicopters looks like a throwback to the 1930s, with a surprising, for this day and age, absence of security – you could easily ride or walk on to the runways.
The group (minus the leader, who took the picture) at Elstree aerodrome
We then proceeded to a nearby pub, The Battleaxes, for lunch. This Chef & Brewer establishment did well in terms of speed of service and value for money, we thought, though one of our number noted that the vegetarian selection was not very wide.
We headed north and passed Aldenham School, a privileged-looking place, and the attractive villages of Letchmore Heath and Patchetts Green, which sport some cycle-unfriendly road features, in the form of rumble strips, and just badly-maintained road surfaces. Across a bridge on Sandy Lane back to the west side of the M1, but unfortunately Ben, who had been doing sterling work as Back Marker, was running out of steam as he had had a bad cold recently, and decided to drop out and make for the nearest railway station, Bushey. (Bushey railway station is in fact in Oxhey or south Watford. Confused by SW Herts? You should be.) The remaining eight then cycled up a long hill to Bushey village centre, where a direct route through the village is blocked by an anti-cycling one-way system that forces you onto the A411 and A4140. Diving down a nice lane called California Lane, with other American-state themed closes off it, a cycle gap through a road closure (well-done to Herts, or perhaps Harrow, for this one (as it is right on the border of Greater London)) took us to another nasty road, the A409. This is marked up as a cycle route, with the blue signs, but there is nothing suitable for cycling about it, as it is full of fast traffic and narrow.
The A409: where are cyclists actually supposed to go on this "cycle route" on which typical vehicle speeds are far above 30mph? Note the footpath signs. These footpaths are barred to cycling. Note the empty pavement, also, of course, barred to cycling.
It is typical of the inner Green Belt around London that the roads are narrow and busy and there is no provision for cyclists. The adjacent Harrow Weald Common here specifically bans cycling with numerous notices.
By means which I will not reveal, we accessed Grims Dyke. The name relates to a prehistoric ditch or earthworks that runs for quite a way in this area. Grims Dyke is a magnificent Victorian "Tudor" country house built by Norman Shaw. It was lived in by playwright W S Gilbert, most famous for his collaboration with Arthur Sullivan on the Savoy Operas. Gilbert also became a Justice of the Peace and was known as an early scourge of Harrow's motorists, being very keen on handing out fines for exceeding the speed limit. He wrote this to The Times on 3 June 1903:
Sir,--I am delighted with the suggestion made by your spirited correspondent Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey that all pedestrians shall be legally empowered to discharge shotguns (the size of the shot to be humanely restricted to No. 8 or No. 9) at all motorists who may appear to them to be driving to the common danger. Not only would this provide a speedy and effective punishment for the erring motorist, but it would also supply the dwellers on popular highroads with a comfortable increase of income. "Motor shooting for a single gun" would appeal strongly to the sporting instincts of the true Briton, and would provide ample compensation to the proprietors of eligible road-side properties for the intolerable annoyance caused by the enemies of mankind.
The only difficulty that occurs to me is as to who shall undertake the rather delicate job of stopping the motor (tearing along at perhaps 35 or 40 miles an hour) after the motorist has been killed or disabled. But, without doubt, Sir R. Payne-Gallwey has considered this point, and will supply a practical suggestion as to how it is to be dealt with.
Your obedient servant,
Harrow Weald, June 2.
Very soon after he wrote this hilarious letter, Gilbert died of a heart attack after diving in to his lake at Grims Dyke to try to save a young lady who had got into distress.
Grims Dyke, now a hotel
From Grims Dyke we proceeded to the viewpoint known as The City, where there is a wide view across west London with the North Downs forming the most distant horizon. This is by The Case is Altered pub, on Old Redding, another scary fast narrow road with blind corners that is very difficult to cross, that LB Harrow has declared to be a "traffic calmed area". The traffic calming consists in the ingenious device of an illuminated notice to drivers saying "SLOW DOWN" which is always on as they are all going too fast. Brilliant.
Surviving this, we found our way to Bentley Priory Open Space. Bentley Priory is a mansion famous as the wartime HQ of the RAF. It is now being turned into housing. The open space is a park owned by Harrow. Cycling does not appear to be specifically banned here (it says no motor vehicles), but a succession of "kissing gates" makes it difficult.
Bentley Priory also offers fine views over the Harrow area...
...plus a deer enclosure. None of us could work out what variety of deer these are, they seemed different to the ones in Richmond Park, but they had big antlers for their size.
The ride descended into Stanmore, where Tony left us as he headed home to Harrow, and thence on minor roads to Canons Park. Canons was the name of a house created by James Brydges, 1st Earl of Chandos, in the 18th Century. He spent lavishly on furniture and fittings and artworks (but his taste was considered vulgar by some contemporaries), and also employed George Frederick Handel as his "court composer" with a band of musicians. He was bankrupt at his death and the house decayed and was demolished and the art works dispersed. A private girls' school now stands on the site. The grounds became Canons Park, which has recently been tidied up, benefiting from Lottery money. There is now a café, run by the Friends of Canons Park, at which we enjoyed ice-creams. The park was busy with families in the late afternoon sunshine, and a lady had found a dog that no-one seemed to own. I was glad that this was not my problem.
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