10 East London Cycle Adventures

Like many Londoners, I've recently rekindled my wild love affair with cycling. I'd only ridden a bike sporadically in London since being a student, a wonderful time when me, my terrible peroxide hair and my beloved Purple Peril were featured on a London cycling blog. My cycling skills were a bit rusty as result, but it didn't take long for me to become completely and utterly infatuated with my new set of wheels. In just over 6 weeks I've notched up about 500 miles on the road (/bouncing along Epping Forest's blancmangey trails). 

My job (which is in accommodation-based support, so I often need to be on site) is based in South London, so I commute to Lambeth from Walthamstow by bike 3 times a week - a fun, bracing 50 minute wiggle round Lea Bridge, through the backstreets of Hackney and straight down the A10 into the epicentre of the City. 

However, my heart (and free time) belongs to East London, and we Walthamstonians are truly spoilt for choice, with beautiful networks of forest, waterways, marshes and valleys in every direction. Here are 10 of my favourite local destinations so far:

1. Valentine's Park Lavender Garden

I recently cycled over to Ilford to visit a friend via a scenic and relaxing route through Wanstead Flats, and we went for a jaunt around Valentine's Park. The park is incredibly beautiful and it completely took me aback as I'd visited Ilford many times but I'd only ever seen its hectic town centre and nondescript suburbs. 

Some of my favourite features were the lavender garden in full bloom, ancient fruiting mulberry trees, a quaint boating lake, a giant enchanted Lebanon cedar, and everyone's favourite whimsical Victorian landscape feature, the ha-ha. The park is also home to a grand old stately home called Cranbrook House where you can have a cup of tea and watch the butterflies drift by.

2. High Beech and Gunpower Park

3. Roding Valley
I've spent a lot of time cycling through Epping Forest recently, and one of my favourite routes took me in a big loop through High Beech, an adorable secret village tucked away in the middle of the forest, and down to Gunpowder Park, once the home to the powder mills that produced the munitions used at the Battle of Waterloo. 

It's a bit of a climb through winding forest lanes to reach High Beech, but at the top you can find the infamous 'anti-gravity spot' where the curve of the trees creates an optical illusion that makes it look like you're rolling uphill. Then you'll be treated to glorious stretch of downhill freewheeling along the wheat field-bordered Avery Lane right to the teasel-flecked meadows of Gunpowder Park.

On one of the hottest days of the year, I raced a looming thunderstorm down to Loughton (and involuntarily achieved a new top speed pelting down the high road past the strategically placed cardiac centre). From there I went for a cruise along the meandering River Roding which sits in a tranquil valley full of electric purple loosestrife that discretely conceals the M11 on the other side.  

As the sun set I cycled on down the rather mobsterish-sounding Snakes Lane West. After that, things took a bit of a turn for the wild, and I ended up cycling along a rather hair-raising and bare leg-scratching stretch of srcub path along the Roding next to the North Circ and felt very relieved when I reached Wanstead!

4. The Olympic Park

I adore the space and freedom of the Olympic Park and no amount of hipster tiki bars popping up along the adjacent canal can dent my enthusiasm. I cycled there from South London via the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and the Isle of Dogs during the recent heatwave, arriving just in time to see this nuclear sunset catching alight behind the stadium. 

The area is a cyclist’s paradise, with broad purpose-built paths, lots of signposting and easy routes on to central (via Cycle Superhighway 2), Hackney and Leyton, whichever way you want to go. There’s even a great bike hire place called View Tube Bike near the Pudding Hill Lane entrance to the park if you just fancy a few hours of relaxing cycling.

5. Ponders End Lock and the Lea Navigation

I’ve done a few loops down from Chingford, round Ponder’s End Lock and along the Lea to the west of the William Girling Reservoir back to Walthamstow, and a cycle along the tow path is always eventful. Most recently, I saw sheep grazing the bank of the reservoir, goats pottering by the lock, and further down at Alfie’s Lock (renamed after a former beloved local lock keeper) there’s a beautiful gaggle of white geese that live in their own house on the canal. 

The route provides a stark juxtaposition of quasi-rural and urban life: on one side, the sprawling industrial estates that fringe the North Circ, and the London Energy incinerator (which fills the air in the immediate vicinity with what I call The Edmonton Pong);  on the other, fishermen, swans, coots and blissful tranquility. 

6. Muswell Hill and Alley Pally 

The first time I visited Ally Pally in 2012, I was breath-taken by the view of the glittering city unfolding below me at night, enhanced even further by seeing the fireworks lighting up at the closing ceremony of the Olympics by compete coincidence. 

I've recently done a few cycles over to the palace and once up past the park to Muswell Hill, or intended to until a mountain got in my way and I ended up pushing my bike up the side of it like a precarious mountain goat. The views from the village are well worth the pain though, and the descent down Archway Road is a proper nerve jangler. It also takes you under the rather Venetian Hornsey Lane Bridge, which also offers incredible views of the city.

7. The Greenway and Bow Creek

The Greenway is a 4 mile grass track for walkers and cyclists between Victoria Park and Beckton on top of the embankment that contains one of Bazalgette's giant sewers. Despite its less salubrious origins, the swathe of green is a tranquil artery through East London, and at one point you'll pass the Britvic juice factory where the air smells of peaches and pineapple. 

Back towards Stratford, the path also connects to the bucolic Mill Meads path around to Three Mills Island, an islet encircled by the Lea and the Channelsea River that is also home to the iconic Three Mills Film Studios. The island is a lovely spot to relax after a walk along the banks of the meads, a favourite spot for fishermen. 

8. Wanstead Flats

After passing through the Flats briefly on the way to Ilford I wanted to go back to explore the series of ponds that slink round the River Roding at the south east side of the park. The park now forms the southernmost part of Epping Forest and has at various points in history contained grand villas and hunting lodges. 

The walls of a ruined grotto can be seen across the waters of one of the ponds which gives the tree-lined pathways a gothic atmosphere. On the way back I cycled past the edge of the fancy-schmancy Warren Cotteges golf course where I saw a sleepy fox napping by a village hall, then went for an exhilarating bounce in the twilight around the imprompu dirt tracks of the trails round Hollow Ponds. 

9. Walthamstow Marshes

When I first moved to Walthamstow a few years ago and made my first trip to the Marshes, I remember feeling like I'd stumbled into a dreamscape of fields and thickets that seemed so incongruous with city life. In late summer the marshes are full of blackberry pickers (there's also juicy wild pears up for grabs), you can visit the friendly ponies that live in the paddocks around the Lea Valley Riding Centre, and you'll even spot a few cows grazing in the meadows. 

If you follow the road from Walthamstow past the reservoirs and down towards Springfield Maria rather than turning off into the Marshes, you'll pass under a very low railway bridge so it's best to dismount or you might get a bump.

10. Chingford Plain

One of my favourite parts of Epping Forest is the Chingford Plain just to the north of Chingford High Street, a beautiful grassy plateau surrounded by idyllic views of the woodland in every direction. It's also home to the Elizabethan Hunting Lodge, where Good Queen Bess would chill out in between bagging some stags. 

Head west and you'll hit Sewardstonebury, where Essex's finest have their mansions and occasionally descend to the Chinford Golf Course for a few rounds. Head south east and you'll reach Highams Park Lake, one of the biggest lakes in the forest and a lovely spot to have a picnic on one of the many jetties around the edge. The pathways here resemble radio waves, so make sure you have a comfy bike seat!