Nothing quite beats cycling London’s streets early on a Sunday morning. With the exception of the occasional bus or random car the roads are empty and it is so quiet the birds can often be heard chirping in the trees. This Sunday I found myself cycling on a part of the road which is painted a bright blue, otherwise known as the ‘Cycle Super Highway‘.
I have seen many changes in London’s infrastructure since the Mayor of London’s big push to get people on bicycles… the ‘Cycle Super Highways’ have been promoted heavily. These painted blue strips on the road are cycle routes which run from outer London into central London and are supposed to give you a safer, faster and more direct journey into the city… A lot of people question their design and safety, but on a Sunday morning I have to say I couldn’t complain.
With my boyfriend leading the way we merrily pedalled along ‘ Cycle Super Highway 7 ‘ cruising through a very sleepy south London heading north. With the breeze whipping around my ears and around my hair I find myself swallowing mouthfuls of it. With no real destination in mind the blue part of the road takes us over the beautiful Southwark bridge and into London City. St Paul’s cathedral stands grandly against the crisp blue sky. We weave in and out of empty streets and suddenly come across a small crowd outside the Guildhall Yard. It is said that during the Roman period, it was the site of an amphitheatre. Which is exactly what the buzzing crowd have turned up to see – a re-enactment of Gladiator fighting!
With curiosity we quickly lock our bikes up and manage to get some of the last remaining tickets. This event by the Museum of London ensured great efforts were made to make sure the atmosphere feels and looks as authentic as possible. Greeted by heavily clad Roman soldiers we are suddenly thrown back in time.
As we enter the open arena we find bronzed skinned Gladiators being massaged on a table of animal furs, ragged children in costume begging for coins and pipe music being played on instruments to entertain the crowd. Behind the arena is a replica Roman market waiting to be explored.
Everyone involved is in roman costume and it is so interesting to see men moulding and shaping metal over hot coals and a woman grinding wheat by hand between two heavy circular stones. In makeshift tents we are told tales of life as a Roman soldier and shown how paper is made while food in a stall sizzles next to us. I am so intrigued with it all and couldn’t wait to see the gladiators in action.
Time comes quickly and the arena fills up with no seats spare! It is exciting to think that a real Roman amphitheatre lies some metres beneath our feet. Introductions are made – The gladiators are in two teams, Londinium and Camulodunum – London and Colchester. We stand for the straight-faced Emperor as he arrives in his gleaming chariot pulled by two magnificent horses.
Some of the Gladiators are sporting skimpy loincloths and they look desperate to spill blood. Challenges are made and the fighting begins. With helmets on, shiny swords and shields in hand the battles are intense. It’s violent out in the arena, gladiators will gladly cut the throats of their wounded opponent, happily offering lashings of fake blood. Russell Crowe eat your heart out!
Some fights are swift and quick and some are devious which get the crowd roaring for more! As a crowd we are given the choice as to whether a gladiator lives or dies. The crowd gets into the spirit of it all at any given chance! We lift up our arms gesturing with our hands or thumb in the air, stamping our feet and hollering to the emperor. It is all quite compulsive and very amusing.
With an overall victory for Londinium there are endless cheers and applause and then it finally comes to an end. We leave the arena with the rest of the crowd, wave goodbye to the Roman soldiers and are quickly teleported back to the year 2011. As we leave London City, our bicycles once again join the bright blue strip of ‘Cycle Super Highway 7’ over Southwark bridge and back to south London…
To think a quiet Sunday ride on a Cycle Super Highway portrayed itself as a Roman road – leading us to a bit a of violent history that was once common place in society!