July 17 2010
My first bicycle ride is my earliest memory. Lying face-down in a bush comes a close second. Nevertheless, today the happiest and most carefree times in my life are generally spent on a bike, especially meandering along country lanes on one of the CTC London group’s weekend outings. The CTC – Cycle Touring Club – is a nationwide organisation, but for London cyclists this has to be the best way to unwind, breathe fresh air and to restore your equilibrium after a fraught week commuting and sitting at a desk.
The CTC group that I ride with generally consists of 10 to 20 people; we meet at a mainline station in London with our bikes at around 9am on Sunday. Then we board a train and head out to the country. The train journeys are about an hour and generally deposit the group at some sleepy country station. From there the rides take off. You can choose from either a two-star or more challenging three-star route, depending on your ability and stamina. Our routes are between 35 and 60 miles, but some groups might do only a five-mile ride.
There is always a pub stop, booked ahead by organisers, and a second stop for tea before returning to the station. The group generally gets back to London at around 6pm but no later. Aside from your pub lunch, afternoon tea and train fare, the cost is just £36 a year for CTC membership.
Often the routes are so tranquil that you can count the number of cars you see in a day on the fingers of both hands. You feel as if you have the world to yourself. England is beautiful but in my view you have never been properly introduced to it until you have ridden through it, free as a bird, flowing along under your own steam, completely awake to every detail. Cycling sharpens your senses, which brings the countryside into glorious focus. You will never feel quite so far from the cares of the world, nor more prepared to do battle all over again on Monday morning.