For what may be my last long ride for a while (baby due any day now!), I yesterday I rode national route no 4 from Richmond to Windsor & Eaton.
And remarkably, it was one of my best days of riding, ever! The weather was perfect, clear, and warm. I set off at first light around 4:30am and rode through Hyde Park to Richmond, where I picked up the marked route. Of course, not a soul in sight anywhere. The road through Hyde Park by the Serpantine wsa closed at that time, so I eeked in a pedestrian gate and made my way to the cycle path, taking some lovely photos along the way. (See flickr for lots of pictures from the ride.
No problem getting into Richmond Park, thankfully, and I did my usual route across, seeing lots of nice deer in the morning mist.
Then on to the Thames towpath, which took me pretty much the rest of the way. The surface was variable but nice and dry, and never mucky (one nice side-effect of the current drought!). I stopped for a ham sandwich at Hampton Court at 06:30 and continued along past Weybridge and Chobham, finally coming away from the Thames at Runnymeade.
Runnymede is a large swathe of National Trust property with nice forest walks and tons of memorials, ruins, and old houses. Most notable for me was the only significant climb of the day, on the worst surface I encountered all day. Probably 10-12 percent. Not so bad, though, since I'd been riding along on towpaths for most of the day!
Not too long after, I entered Windsor Great Park and spent the next 45 mins or so riding leisurely around the most beautifully-maintained roads I've seen. It's all royal, of course, so it's no surprise that it's kept up so well. It's essentially a huge and varied park, and the public has use of much of it. I was there around 8:30 or so, and the only people I saw were Crown Estate workers and the odd jogger here and there. I got some water and used the loo at the one little shop in the one little village, which was as cute as could be.
Windsor Great Park must be one of the best places for family cycling in the South East. I hope to be able to come back with Gem in the trailer or child seat and spend the day. The only slight downside is that the way markers for the national cycle routes aren't marked inside the park.
After that, there's another nice parkland ride towards Windsor, but after that the markers become really poor. I got really turned around and ended up following an A road into the centre, but that's not a major issue. After only a short break, I walked over a bridge and rode through Eton, where I found my only Sustrans waymarker of the day.
I probably should have gotten on the train there and connected through Slough, but instead I decided to ride to Slough... which only served to confirm for me that Slough deserves its reputation as one of Britain's worst towns. I've said enough about that. But that wasn't enough to sully day for me!
Important note about route 4 The most recent Sustrans map shows a long route that continues along the Thames after Weybridge that was not approved at the time the map was made. It is now approved, and signs on the street reflect that route, not the one on the map.