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Woolwich to Old Street

I’ve been meaning to write up some of the routes I take through London. Or Mordor, as a cycling acquaintance calls it, which adds some frisson of terror to the whole exercise. One does not simply ride into London. I will try to pepper this with relevant Google street view pictures, but won’t be attempting to embed maps. I find that their tools for doing that are decidedly unfriendly, and seem to assume you are working on a 24″ screen with a tablet rather than a 15″ laptop with a trackpad.

For me the route starts at Wellington Park in the Woolwich Arsenal, because our bikes are in the underground carpark beneath it. A few minutes noodling down to the Thames Path and along to the entrance of the Woolwich Tunnel. This has only recently been reopened, and touch wood it will stay that way because it’s a huge time-saver compared to the ferry. The other end of the tunnel emerges in the car park / bus stop for the ferry, and you head east initially following the A117. There is a half-hearted attempt to make a bike lane along a few meters of this, which disappears at the first corner. Be careful here, the road narrows considerably, and if you have come out at the same time that a ferry has unloaded, you get a lot of impatient lorry drivers trying to go through at the same time. I tend to plant myself in the middle of the lane for safety. Continue east along the A117 past the park on your right and over the bridges. The bike route and lane goes over the first (narrower) bridge on the carriageway, but the lane goes off just before the second bridge. Blink and you miss it, this part of the London Cycling Network (don’t laugh)


For whatever reason, this is the Sir Steve Redgrave Bridge. The end of the London City Airport is quite close to the bridge, so you can get an uncomfortably close view of the bottom of planes as they come in to land. You continue north (did you know you’d turned north?) to the giant roundabout, following the somewhat intermittent signage that shows you the London Cycle Route – the route continues on the sidewalk here, across several sets of traffic lights to get around this roundabout – don’t try to ride on the carriageway here unless you have a death wish. You want to keep north, and keep going up the A117


The bike route really is along that very overgrown path beside the road – it’s rare to meet anyone coming the other way, but exciting when you do. I have reentered the carriageway at the lights and gone around this corner, and several times have had irate BMW drivers leaning on their horns because I’m in the way – the turn is narrow, and vehicles tend to go around it fast. The bike path rejoins the carriageway as a bike lane just around this corner, and is reasonably good although a bit narrow. You continue along the A117 tending North West toward Beckton, through three roundabouts. The first two are ok, and usually very quiet, although they do the usual thing of disappearing the bike lane 20 meters before the roundabout and reappearing it 20 meters after. For, you know, magical teleporting bikes. The lane stops entirely as you go through the third roundabout, at Beckton itself. There are a few contradictory signs pointing the cycle route as going in a variety of directions – ignore them, they are all entirely wrong and will get you killed. (I suspect they intended bikes to go off to the left on a bike path just before the roundabout, across the pedestrian crossing, and then into the green space beside the A117, but this is a dead end and there is no route through).

Fortunately the road on the other side of this roundabout is quite wide, even if the cycle lane is narrow and intermittent, so you can nip along quite nicely to the enormous confusion that is the Newham Way intersection. This is where you join the Cycling Superhighway 3 (CS3) and need to start watching for blue. It’s also the point where you turn west and actually start heading toward the City. All of this will have taken you 20-30 minutes.

Now, if you glance at a map, you might ask a fairly obvious question: when you come out of the tunnel, why not go west immediately and head off up the A112, North Woolwich Road, and Silvertown Way to get to Canning town and join the CS3 there? Noodling along south of the airport, on the map, looks like a conveniently short route, doesn’t it. The trouble is, most of the A112 and area around there has been consumed by the Crossrail project, and what remains is one way, the wrong way, and very crowded and narrow. It’s just not possible to cycle it. Additionally the roundabouts near the entrance to the airport are not great: they are the hunting grounds of fare-starved taxi drivers. This is frankly bloody annoying, because there’s quite good off-road cycle routes running along the DLR route to West Silvertown, and the road route from their to Canning Town is not bad.

The other thing that might have occurred to you is to ask why when you come off the Steve Redgrave bridge you can’t go across the top of the airport, through the Excel Center. Yeah, bloody good question. You can’t. The bike paths around the University of East London don’t connect to anything at all (you cannot even ride to the huge sports centre at the roundabout there) and the bike path that should exist along the top of the water there does not. At all.  There may be some tricks for getting through this area without going along the A1020, but I’ve not yet found them. I’ve tried the A1020, and my recommendation is don’t. It is spectacularly bike unfriendly and I believe dangerous, particularly in poor light.

The CS3 from near Beckton will take you all the way in with little hassle, and is a good route, as long as you can find it. Mostly you can find it by looking for the blue path, or the blue bicycles painted on the road, but in a few patches it more or less disappears. The first section nips along to Canning Town station off the road, although there are frequent road crossings you have to make which makes it slow. The first point that it really disappears is at Canning Town station itself. You need to go left to the main pedestrian and bike crossing, then go right and over the top of the station to pick up the blue path again until it disappears completely near East India Docks. The path meets Leamouth Road, and the signage seems to indicate you should keep straight ahead – don’t, because the marked route disappears under the Crossrail works again. Instead you have to stay on the footpath and go left down to the pedestrian crossing, and through the hole in the wall


Even then things are not straight forward – the replacement path that was put in place since the Crossrail ate the main path has in turn been replaced. Up until a few weeks ago you would go straight ahead through Sorrel Lane, but that is blocked. Instead stay on the footpath and go down Leamouth Road toward the big roundabout (Leamouth Circus), and turn right up Saffron Avenue, through the boom gate and past the parked buses. The markings have now almost entirely disappeared, and there are no signs. What there are instead are some tiny discrete blue diamond painted on the paving in the nice courtyard to your left as you pass the buses that lead you across the courtyard and under the DLR through the brick arches. Turning onto this paving is an adventure if it’s been raining, there is always a very deep puddle filled with sharks and eels. As a consolation, there’s usually a coffee van parked here in the morning that does quite nice coffee. You’re going to need it for the next bit.

After a few minutes sitting in very nice surroundings with a cup of coffee, you go through the arches and under the DLR. This is still the CS3, and you will find the CS3 markings, but first you have to ride over a large cobbled area. It’s not clear who thought it was a great idea to put cobbles on a cycling super highway, and I would rather like to meet them and discuss the matter with them. Riding over this is something like having a jack-hammer up your butt.

Keep following the CS3 signage, which leads you up to and along Poplar High Street. This looks a bit mad, but the traffic is always at a crawl (and theoretically limited to 20 MPH) so it’s quite safe as long as you ride assertively. You are probably in company by now, it’s around East India that the lycra heroes are appearing, given you’re only a couple of miles from the Tower now. The only things you have to worry about as you toddle along the highway now are Boris Bikes, and as you go past Tower Hamlet College, hordes of sleep-deprived students aimlessly strolling across the street.

There is one oddity as you go along Narrow Street and turn right up Horseferry Road:


Hopefully the photo above shows it, but what you have to do is cross the traffic (and cut in front of any bikes coming down Horseferry) to ride along the right side of the road while oncoming cyclists come down the left, before crossing the narrow bridge over Limehouse Link and into St James Gardens. Do stop to appreciate this garden, it’s a lovely little space that seems to get very little use, but is well kept and quite peaceful. After the park, you are taken up onto Cable Street, and the path is off the road for the rest of the way.

You have definitely entered the realm of Boris Bikes, Bankers, and worst, Bankers on Boris Bikes. There are usually a lot of riders on this path commuting in from this point, and they all seem very proud of the mile or so they will ride. You are allowed to feel grizzled and smug, having ridden something like 10 miles at this stage.

If you follow the CS3 to the end, it ends rather abruptly in the chaotic hell around Tower Gateway. There are a cluster of big roads here that are difficult to navigate on a bike, and it’s very hard to get across the lanes to turn right to go up into the City. They’re not too bad if you are trying to ride down to Westminster, but good luck and god speed if you want to get to anywhere in the City from here.  Whoever designed this route needs their backside seriously kicked, it’s inexcusable to just dump cyclists off the end of the Cycling Superhighway into this mess – once you get onto the A100 heading West here, you are stuffed, and it’s very hard to get off. To make it even worse, there are a lot of lorries and HGV along here, going quite fast, and it’s not a good space.

Instead, go right at the Crown And Dolphin, and up Cannon Street Road:


It’s not obvious before you turn, but there is a narrow bike lane along both sides here, usually with cars parked over it. Be warned, the road surface along here is appallingly bad, and is littered with pot holes and various drains that will make your day very interesting. Generally the traffic is ok, not going very fast even if fairly busy, and you will probably be travelling in a pack of other riders. Continue on, across Commercial Road, and up New Road. Watch out for pedestrians on these crossings, they tend to wander across against the lights. On your right is the Royal London Hospital, even if it looks like a bunch of rundown warehouses and apartment buildings. Go up to and across Whitechapel – this looks like a horrible intersection, but it’s actually quite safe as the traffic lights work very well and you should not have to deal with anything turning in front of you.

Having said that, I did have the adventure a few weeks ago in a pack of cyclists when another cyclist opted to drop back, pass me on my left and then turn  right in front of me. Suffice to say I used a variety of bad words, very loudly, to indicate that this was a suboptimal manoeuvre on his part. Note that you don’t go straight across here, you have to dog-leg where that white car is heading.


You’re more or less skirting Banker land now, and about to nip through a no-mans’s land between the Land Of Bankers and the Land Of Hipsters. Go left off New Road into Hanbury Street. This can be a bit hard to spot, but the bike path is marked on your left reasonably clearly – you would spot it more easily if you weren’t dodging cars here. Nip along Hanbury Street up to Commercial Street and cross it past the Spitalfields Market into Lamb Street. Just one word about the Hanbury Street leg though – it’s intermittently sign-posted as a bi-directional cycle route, but parts of it are one-way against you for cars. Coming off Lamb Street, the cycle path goes across the paved area in front of the markets, between two coyly marked dashed lines indicating the path and accompanied by a recommendation that cyclists slow down. Which is not a bad idea, pedestrians wander aimlessly throughout this.

Cross Bishopsgate (Liverpool Street station is just down to your left) and into Primrose Street up the glass canyon.


Primrose Street is particularly marked by pedestrians stepping onto the pavement while looking left or at their phones. If you have a bell, use it aggressively. If you have a horn, try not to gore people, no matter how tempting it is. You’re almost there now. Turn right up Appold Street, left into Worship and then right into Paul Street. This is another place where there is a two-way bike path but you are going against the one-way car traffic – don’t worry about it, these streets are always close to deserted. Go past The Fox, unless you are feeling thirsty (they have quite a good selection of ales, and are a very pleasant drinking spot) and curve left into Leonard Street.  This takes you down to City Road. The Silicon Round-About is one block to your right. In other words, you have arrived.

The Old Street/City Road round-about is possibly less terrifying than it looks – there are quite a lot of cyclists up and down Old Street, despite it being not very bike friendly and always quite busy, however the system of lights around here seem to work ok for cyclists. My suggestion is to do what a lot of cyclists do around here and just occupy the centre of the lane for safety. Heading down Old Street will eventually get you to around Holborn, or alternately heading down City Road will take you back toward Bank station. I am very ambivalent about this route though – the road is chaos with various competing building and road works, is always very busy, and the road surface is dreadful. On the other hand there are usually a lot of cyclists, and if you are moving in the pack you are (probably) safe. Getting down from Bank to London Bridge is… an adventure… and one that I’ll talk about some other time. My advice for getting around the City on bike is to keep off the main arterial roads as much as possible, take it slow, and have a thick skin.

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