The weather on Saturday was almost as bad as the forecast, so we had wondered how many would turn up at Beddington Park for a brand new ride I had concocted; Crystal Palace without the hills!
The plan was to adapt the start of last year's Greenwich ride and approach the Crystal Palace Park from the south and it would have worked a treat were it not for the fact that in the hinterland that lies between Penge and Elmers End you can only cross the tram line at Avenue Road by means of a footbridge and our group was likely to include two electric bikes of the weightier variety. Maggie and I had spent the best part of Friday cycling around Kent House, not because it it much posher, nor because it has a twee coffee stop, but to search for a Beginner-friendly alternative but none was to be found, so Plan C was put into operation.
The rain had abated for the start and as it turned out there were seven of us but Colin's knee is still recovering from his spill, so he opted out of the ride itself. The route past the ancient church of Beddington and the quasi-cathedral of Croydon went well enough, and Central Croydon was negotiated safely despite buses, motorcycles and tramlines. The ride along the old Croydon Central railway line is a joy and the suburbs of Addiscombe were pleasant enough. A little drizzle added interest to the entry to South Norwood Country Park, but like Le Tour if you don't have hills you have to have a section of wet Pave for excitement!
At Avenue Road, Plan C clicked in to place; Maggie and Roger carried their bikes over the bridge while I led Sharon, Ken and Anna round the block to pass under the railway on the busy and not-too-cycle-friendly Beckenham Road (with the world's most useless cycle lane that comes to an abrupt stop just when you need it) and then the wrong way up one way McKenzie Road (well, it's very wide and we started off on the pavement, but we shan't do it again); and we were waiting, mounted, on the other side of the footbridge before the two who had crossed it.
Penge High Street is the only way under the other two railways, but we survived the short but unpleasant mixture of junctions, uphill and double decker buses into the sunny uplands of Crystal Palace Park, where cakes and coffee at the cafe near the Lower Lake and the famous dinosaur sculptures were excellent; not only that, Maggie had had the foresight to move us to a table with a large parasol and while we supped the heavens opened and everybody but the leader (whom Maggie had carefully seated to the windward) stayed dry.
You can't have a trip to that park completely devoid of hills, so we climbed past the Athletics Arena, where nearly a quarter a century ago saw Don Quarry, powerful and magnificent in gold lame kit, break the 200 metre record but which since the 2012 Olympics has become a bit of a white elephant, to Crystal Palace station and zipped down Anerley Hill a bit and a further gentle climb before we enjoyed the long, downhill sweep that is Auckland Road. Along Holmesdale past Selhurst Park football ground through Thornton Heath (where, sadly they have removed my favourite road sign which used to say "Crystal Palace 2, Dulwich 4"), through the maze of back streets that is the cycle route through West Croydon. We all smugly agreed that we had done brilliantly to dodge the weather, when the skies became ominously dark. Out of the indigo quilt hovering above us tumbled cats and dogs and in the last mile home we got as dripping wet as it is possible to get outside a swimming pool.
Still, it had been a good ride; a success, even and next time hopefully with the rules relaxed we can take a fit-again Colin along as seventh man.