Are there times when you want to cycle along on your bicycle at a slower pace and enjoy your surroundings? – At times, this can be quite difficult in the busy streets of London. Well, the other day I discovered a trail in south London that allowed me to pedal along like a slithering snail while nature generously provided numerous leafy parks to make me feel relaxed along the way.
The Wandle trail sign guided us away from the width of the Thames towards the very slow-moving Wandle river. We pedalled under traffic filled bridges, past a brick laden brewery and towards the vast open space of King George’s park. The park gave you the sense that you had left the busy streets of London behind. We weaved through the park passing teenagers kicking footballs, elderly folk strolling hand in hand among flower beds and panting dogs out for their morning run.
We exited through the grandeur of the parks gates and continued to follow the Wandle trail signs as they lead us through the quiet suburban streets of Earlsfield and all its identical houses sitting side by side. We came upon Garrett park and found the Wandle river again with its unhurried flow of water waiting to take us further along its route.
The path beside the river was made up of fine gravel and better designed for walkers. Nature had taken hold of the river banks and everything was tangled spaghetti, all wild and overgrown like it was protecting the river from harm – we felt like we were in the midst of the English countryside. It was peaceful, isolated and fun having the long grass tickle your ankles as we pedalled towards the Wandle Meadow Nature Park.
It was here that we had to search for the signs. They appeared to be missing? We did a few loops of this park and after a few twists and turns we got back on track and soon found ourselves looking at an interesting array of arts and crafts on display at the outdoor markets of Merton Abbey Mills. This place had a relaxed hum of locals catching up on gossip and grabbing a bite to eat in the local food stalls. We joined them by eating at a small Chinese stall where the owner happily cooked our meal on his outdoor hot plate.
With our stomach’s full we pedalled onwards admiring the fully restored watermill with its huge wheel turning through the River Wandle. We easily avoided the families making their way to and from the very popular Deen City Farm which is full of noisy farm animals. The trail took us into the depths of the very leafy Morden Hall Park. This park is very beautiful and along the river lies the site of two 18th century watermills where they once use to grind tobacco into a powder, after it had been dried in kilns. A local volunteer was very informative and she chatted to us with great enthusiasm about the history of the mills.
An elegant iron bridge, very Victorian in style, took us over the Wandle river and under huge trees that were dropping their colourful leaves in time for Autumn. Squirrels bounded about in front of us, scurrying on the ground looking for food to store for winter.
Three very young children wearing their cycle helmets were pedalling in front of us on their tiny bicycles. They were very focused on staying balanced, pedalling as fast as they could. We came up behind them and one of them shouted sounding like an intercom out to the other two “Keep to one side, keep to one side – bikes coming past! “
It was such a great moment. They loved the fact that I took a photo of them – the one in front was smiling from ear to ear! The path carried on taking us through the very cosy Ravensbury park. With its graceful swans, curious ducks and weeping willows the park made us believe that we had found our very own secret garden…
I suppose it wasn’t long after leaving that park that we somehow missed a sign and we ended up getting very lost, heading up a steep hill on a very busy road towards Brighton? We back tracked a bit and finally ended up in the lush open space of Beddington Park.
While stopping to admire the very impressive Carew Manor we decided that the end of the trail would have to wait another day. We had wandled so slowly it was already getting beginning to get dark. Cycling back on a more direct route on the busy roads got us home very quickly, but I have to say if I had to choose I preferred the Wandle!
I have more photos of this cycle ride on my Facebook page if you are interested in taking a peek.