Saturday 20 July 2013

Cycle Route 4, Chelsea to Maidenhead, West London

A long distance route from London to Fishguard in Wales, cycle route 4 follows the Thames west out of the capital. You can pick up route 4 on Chelsea Bridge and follow it along the north bank of the river, winding through Fulham and down to Putney Bridge. From here the distinctive blue signs become less frequent and harder to spot. It is easy to go wrong, so you need to be on your toes. The route now hugs the south bank of the Thames before cutting down through Barnes to Richmond Park. Frustratingly, it isn't signposted through this sprawling and scenic green space, but you want to exit via Ham Gate and then ride west to the Thames. From here, you spend many miles criss-crossing a meandering, quintessentially English stretch of the Thames, populated by rowers, pleasure boats, lock-keepers and walkers. The tow path can be pretty bumpy and the going slow, but the luscious scenery makes up for the rocky ride.  You pass through the history of Hampton Court and the maze of reservoirs around East and West Moseley.

Confusingly, route 4 splits a couple of times on its way past Weybridge, through Chertsey and on to Staines. The southern route, which tends to follow A roads, is better suited to road bikes, while the northern route mostly meanders along the Thames tow path. The two options rejoin to take the A30 Egham bypass before plunging through some trails through the woods towards Windsor Great Park - a rolling green landscape dotted with sports grounds, distinctive houses and views of the famous castle. After the park, you work your way through the tourist-trap of Windsor, a good place to stop for lunch, cross the footbridge and head west on some rough deserted tracks past the rowing venue Eton Dorney, and along a couple of minor roads into the very prosperous village of Bray. From here it is a short ride into Maidenhead, from which it is a 45 minute ride back to London.  This stretch of route 4 makes for a picturesque, confusing and almost entirely flat day trip. It is doable on a road bike, but you would be more comfortable on a hybrid. Bring a map. 8/10