This cycle ride follows the entire UK coastline with a few inland diversions so that a few extra pubs of note can be incorporated into the route. Not too many detours mind you, otherwise it would get rather silly. But it is easy to get go off-piste and get pissed instead of focusing on the mission.
The route sticks to the coastline and all tarmac roads are included along with some off-road riding and cycle routes. Only where it is impossible to follow the coast does the route go around obstacles such as oil refineries, secured docks or ports and nuclear power stations. There are also some areas where cycles are not permitted on footpaths. However, the route is pretty pedantic or punctilious in that it goes along plenty of dead ends in order to tick the completist box. The route also calls upon some long-lost taverns where the tide has gone out for good. Consequently, if you are a tadge obsessive then you may wish to follow in our wheels. Alternatively, you can pick and choose amid these travel notes and do a little corner-cutting. We will not be scoping your Garmin or Strava pages to check!
There are people who like to cycle from A to B in rapid time. For example, in June 2018 Michael Broadwith cycled from Land's End to John O'Groats in 43 hours, 25 minutes and 13 seconds. In the previous year Mark Beaumount pedalled for 221 hours over 14½ days to complete his journey around the coastline of Britain. Clearly this pair did not call into a pub for a few beers en-route. Indeed, their average speed suggests that calls of nature were conducted in the saddle!
For me, the best record-breaking End-to-End attempt was that of Ellie Bennett who, along with her best friend Mick, ran up a massive bar tab between Cornwall and Caithness. On the first day they got waylaid by an excellent pub just 16 miles north of Land's End and ended up having a session. Somehow between rounds she managed to scribble down her account of the journey for a wonderful book entitled "Mud, Sweat and Gears." Treat yourself to this book - believe me, you will fall off your bar stool at some of her stories.
So where am I heading with these examples at both ends of the cycling spectrum - from G.C. Contenders to the Lantern Rouge? Well, if you are chasing Strava KOM's then this route guide is not for you. This is more about seeing Britain close-up and personal, along with meeting people on the way. The journey is broken up into leisurely days of around 80 kilometres each stage. This allows for lots of exploration, enjoying the scenery and nipping into the pub for a beer. We stopped to look at most places and locations of interest so each day is full of intrigue and adventure. So forget the average speed for what is the point of circumnavigating the country without appreciating the rich tapestry the journey has to offer.
Did I mention the tent? No? Sod that for a game of soldiers. Indeed, once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I did rough it in uniform. On leaving the world of bivvy bags and trench-digging, I vowed that I would not be kipping under canvas again. If you require a new definition for the phrase "pissing in the wind" try to conjure up an image of darting out of a tent after downing a few pints of bitter in the local cliff-top hostelry. Add to that the inevitable stumble over the guy rope or worse - treading barefoot on a protruding tent peg. Or how about a flip-flop blowout in something squelchy underfoot in the dark. No thank-you, I want a comfy bed, a proper loo and a hot shower at the end of a day in the saddle.
Fellow grimpeurs, consider also the fact that only a complete idiot would want to lug extra kilograms of canvas and equipment up steep climbs out of sleepy fishing villages. If you look up oxymoron on your favourite online encyclopaedia there will be an image of a glamping cyclist. And yet on the road we have encountered those who insist on carrying their kitchen sink around the countryside. They are usually pushing their bike up an incline. The term push-bike went out of fashion when fancy derailleurs became standard equipment. Sir Cliff saw out the 1950s by singing "No comb and no toothbrush, I've got nothing to haul, I'm carryin' only a pocket full of dreams, a handful of love, and they weigh nothing at all." You can even hum "Travellin' Light" as you glide past pannier-bursting cyclists struggling up the hill out of Robin Hood's Bay after a hearty lunch and a few beers in the Laurel Inn.
Undoubtedly, the most leisurely way to cycle around the coast is to be a free spirit and park up overnight wherever your heart desires. Alternatively, if you plan ahead you can sleep in relative comfort at very affordable prices within a Travelodge or Premier Inn. The key reason that we use these hotels is that you can take your bikes in the room for extra security and added peace-of-mind. Indeed, when you stop anywhere for a beer or to have a mooch, DO NOT leave your bike unattended. Bike locks can be removed in seconds and your heart will sink when your pride and joy, along with all your valuables inside the panniers, have vanished. Some of the folks running B&B's do not seem to appreciate this when you ask to park inside the house or garage. By the way, if you wish the likes of Travelodge or Premier Inn to continue allowing bikes within their rooms, please do not treat the place as a garage. Bike cleaning, repairs and maintenance should be conducted outside the building. Care should also be taken not to mark or scratch the walls and/or furniture.
Technically, you can start and finish the route from anywhere on the coastline. However, the geographer within me determined that the logical place to embark on such a trip is the Royal Observatory at Greenwich. Hey, there's a quiz question ... how many times will this journey cross the prime meridian?
The second quiz question, and one I come back to often myself, is why did I elect to travel in an anticlockwise direction? Most people undertaking the End-to-End ride start at Land's End because the prevailing south-westerly wind provides a little assistance during the ride. Or a lot of assistance when it is blowing a gale. Unless, of course, one rides during the Spring when there is a higher frequency of north-easterly winds. Considering that Greenwich is partly a memorial to John Harrison, a good quote to roll out here is courtesy of Stefan Emunds who once said "Time is an illusion, timing is an art."
So, logic would seem to suggest clockwise is the correct way to travel around the coastline. However, the poet and author Anthony Liccione once said that "timing is everything. But then they say, there is never a perfect time for anything." One element of my logic was that my riding partner, La Goddess du Vélo, does not particularly like riding up steep hills. Consequently, I thought the gentle terrain of Essex and Suffolk would be a good opening gambit rather than hearing obscenities being hurled at me when climbing out of Kent's shoreline villages. Apparently, it is my fault that the map contours are closer together in such locations. It doesn't matter how good the beer may be in The Coastguard at St. Margaret's at Cliffe, the climb up Bay Hill is guaranteed to get the heart rate going and the language blue.
I won't bore you to death with too many details about equipment and planning as everyone has their own method of doing things. I purchased a used bike on e-bay for this trip so I wouldn't fret too much about getting it knocked about a bit. The previous owner had looked after the bike and, after a bit of a clean-up this is pretty much how it looked. The Van Nicholas Yukon, a titanium touring machine, was almost a decade old but still rolling along nicely. As luck would have it, a matching titanium seatpost appeared on e-bay a few days later so this was quickly added, along with a new saddle to fit my wider hips.
I took the second-hand machine to my local bike shop to have a safety check and service. Reece Lowe of Brotherton Cycles also set the bike up to the measurements he determined on a recent bike fit. And, as he is also an all-round good bloke, he ensured the bike was in tip-top shape for the journey. The tyres had plenty of tread but I inserted some inner tube liners for added puncture protection on this trip.
Van Nicholas had issued this bike with a triple groupset and the teeth on the chainrings were in reasonable shape. A long cage derailleur also enabled large sprockets so, combined with the lightweight frame, I was well equipped for the climbs. I added a Tubus titanium pannier rack. These are fairly expensive but they weigh next-to-nothing. I did have to bend the titanium rods to custom fit to the bike and to avoid the rear caliper brake. If you go down this route I thoroughly recommend that you buy a tube bender. These can be picked up for less than £20 and make the job so much easier and neater than pliers, grips and a vice, the bonus being the rods do not get scratched during the process.
Ortlieb panniers are not the lightest bags on the market but they are renowned for being both robust and waterproof. You should only head off with cheap canvas panniers if you have everything wrapped or double-wrapped in plastic bags! Ortlieb panniers also hold a lot of kit - not that you want to fill them up too much. As you can detect from the above paragraphs, I tried to go as light as possible. Weight-saving can be the key to success or failure on the hill climbs. That is, of course, if you consider walking uphill to be a failure. It isn't, especially when you are lugging heavy bags so give yourself a break and do what is comfortable. I am rather stubborn or pig-headed when it comes to climbing uphill but remember you are supposed to be having fun not torturing yourself.
I do not normally use a saddle bag because the road tart in me worries about ruining the aesthetic of the bike. However, for such a journey one needs to carry mucky stuff like chain lube and a convenient place to store a bike lock. If I have a criticism of the Ortlieb bags it is that there is no small compartment for stuff that you do not want to leak into your clothing. I guess they do not want to compromise on the waterproof properties by stitching a pocket on the outside. Anyway, there was no way I was going to risk putting a bottle of chain lube into the main bag.
The bidon attached to the seat tube is used for emergency repair equipment such as tools, levers, one of the spare inner tubes, chain links, and a host of other bits that will get the bike going again should something pack up. If you think that you require two water bidons then you are clearly not spending enough time calling into a hostelry for a locally-produced beer. The front end or cockpit should have a light, mapping device, top tube bag for food bars, lens wipes, latex gloves etc. The latter are essential for preventing the transfer of oil or grease to your clothes and bar tape should you need to fix something. A bell is also a must-have bit of equipment for warning pedestrians that you are approaching on a shared path. Right, that's enough on kit - if you need further help or advice you can send a message and I will try to help you out.
Reserving spaces for our bikes, we travelled to London on the Virgin Trains service to Euston. We were not starting our coastal journey until the following morning so we had an afternoon to explore the areas further upstream from Greenwich, particularly Rotherhithe.
To avoid the pedestrian clog on the South Bank, it is best to cross the river at Tower Bridge before heading eastwards alongside the Thames. From the bridge one can see part of the old Courage brewery that operated on the southern side of the river. Once over the bridge it is only a few wheel revolutions to the first of this journey's pub stories. Although now gentrified, from the footbridge across St. Saviour's Dock it is possible to visualise and get a sense of the busy activity tackled by the cranes and warehouses in days of old.
A tidal inlet first dug out by Bermondsey Abbey's monks in the early 12th century and named after their patron Saint Saviour, the dock was created at a point where the short River Neckinger enters the Thames. Apart from times of flood, the watercourse was never up to much and is now largely within the sewer network. However, its macabre name is thought to derive from "devil's neckcloth," otherwise known as the hangman's noose, due to it being one of the locations used in the 17th century to hang convicted pirates.
The Victorian historian Henry B. Wheatley wrote in 1891 that there was 'much good evidence' that the 'Devil's Neckinger' ... the ancient place of punishment and execution' was at the site of the Dead Tree Inn on Jacob's Island.' Looking from the footbridge, Jacob's Island is to the left of the Dock.
Rolling alongside Bermondsey Beach, the path passes through Cherry Gardens in which a number of cherry trees were re-planted in the early 1980s to commemorate the orchard frequented and patronised by the likes of Samuel Pepys. As an administrator of the navy, the diarist would often pass through the gardens on his route to the Royal Dockyards in Greenwich. His diary entry for June 13th, 1664 records "and so to Cherry-gardens and carried some cherries home." Pepys possibly believed that the cherries possessed some aphrodisiac properties for he wrote that, following his supper, he went to bed with "my wife lying with me." On another occasion she, along with two maids, accompanied Pepys to play bowls at the nearby pleasure gardens connected with Jamaica House.
After a few wheel revolutions the statues of the Salter family come into view, along with one of the great pubs of London. Here, Dr. Alfred Salter looks towards the river. His wife Ada Brown is stood a few metres away and against the wall is their daughter Joyce, along with the family cat. The figures were created by Diane Gorvin and unveiled in 1991 but the statue of Alfred waving to his daughter was stolen in November 2011, presumably sold for scrap metal. A local campaign group raised £60,000 which, combined with funding from Southwark Council, enabled a replacement statue to be placed here in 2014. Named Dr. Salter's Daydream, the ensemble of statues shows Alfred in his old age imagining his daughter Joyce as she was before her tragic death at the age of 8 through Scarlet Fever. It was a terrible price to pay for the couple who elected to live in the slums of Bermondsey in order to improve the conditions of the poor and impoverished. Social reformers, environmentalists, pacifists and Quakers, they launched the 'Bermondsey Revolution,' an experiment in municipal government that attracted attention throughout Europe. After reading about their lives and personal beliefs, they were perhaps the greatest socialists of the 20th century.
As teetotallers and supporters of the Temperance Movement, Alfred and Ada would have been saddened to see us retire to The Angel. However, this historic house is a place to enrich the soul. This view from Bermondsey Wall shows the relationship between the building and the River Thames. Affording superb views across the river, it is thought that J. M. W. Turner painted The Fighting Temeraire from the tavern's balcony. If this story is accurate then the plasterwork within the building was still drying alongside the artist's oils for the building was, according to the corner panel, erected in 1837. A survivor of the Battle of Trafalgar, HMS Temeraire was towed to the breaker's yard during the following year.
As you can see from this photograph, The Angel stands in isolation these days but the building was once surrounded by the workshops of barge builders, grain warehouses and a sea of housing. Just behind our bicycles was the old Rotherhithe Stairs. The tide was in and the water was slapping up against the building. A sign inside the pub asks customers to close the windows at high tide. The panel on the corner states that: "The Angel, rebuilt c.1837, in its present form is by far the oldest tavern sign in Rotherhithe. It is recorded in the 17th century and may go back to the Middle Ages. The Angel was once diagonally opposite, alongside the moat of King Edward III's mansion." You will find an information board next to the foundations of this manor house which was discovered when the old warehouses were demolished. The old tavern was referenced by Samuel Pepys in 1682 when he no doubt enjoyed a tipple or two at "the famous Angel." Less authenticated is the legend that James Cook prepared for his voyage to Australia from here.
The remains of King Edward III's pile were of lesser interest to us than seeing the fabulous interior of The Angel. The former Courage pub was saved from long-term neglect by Samuel Smith's Old Brewery at Tadcaster. The Yorkshire firm also operate the Anchor Tap, another fine old tavern nearby in Horselydown Lane. Undertaken around 2005, the restoration project saw the introduction of new timbers but the dark-wood partitions look terrific and maintain the Victorian feel of the pub's interior. Purists may sneer at the absence of original timbers but the Tadcaster brewery made such a splendid job of the restoration it is something of a showcase. Indeed, it could be argued that it should act as a template for other pub companies who have gone down the 'contemporary' route and created empires of homogeneity.
Not so Victorian but lovely nonetheless is the terrazzo flooring of the bar areas. You can see how low you have to stoop to access the other areas of the bar through the partitions. It's all very lovely. A group of old men were playing dominoes in the far room. Indeed, the Tadcaster brewery like to promote traditional bar games in many of their houses. Already noted for banning piped music, in 2019 the company introduced rules forbidding the use of mobile telephones, tablets and laptops inside their pubs, the aim being to bar activities that discouraged conversation. We love this but I wonder how the younger generation will cope without an electronic device?
The Tadcaster Brewery produces very little cask ale and some of the pubs do not stock any at all. However, we compensate for this by ordering the rather excellent Pure Brewed Organic Lager Beer. We have enjoyed a couple of great moments when rolling up to a pub on a hot day and ordering this lager. It really is a great thirst-quenching drink and enjoyably more bitter flavoured than many lagers. Officially, the beer is produced "using only organic malted barley, organic hops, medium-soft water and a bottom-fermenting yeast which is matured at low temperatures to bring out its delicate flavour and soft hop-character finish." Today, on a hot afternoon it was most agreeable.
Back outside we were surprised at how quiet it was on this section of Bermondsey Wall - and yet we were only a short distance from busy central London. The 21st century visitor can perhaps yearn to hear the calls of boatmen, barges being unloaded, cranes hoisting up sacks into the warehouses and the general sounds analogous with the old river trade. Today, when the tide is low, one is more likely to encounter mudlarkers unearthing the city's past on the muddy foreshore. On a larger scale, the old warehouses may have gone but there is something quite pleasurable with London's palimpsest being rolled back to reveal fragments of the 14th century next to one of London's pub treasures.
We cycled a short distance before stopping to look across the Thames towards Wapping. The focus of our attention was the Captain Kidd public-house at St. John's Wharf. The pub was opened in the 1980s within a former coffee warehouse. At one time coffee was just one of the more expensive commodities to be brought up the Thames to the docks at Wapping. All manner of spices, rum, tobacco, silks and fur were deemed ample booty by the pirates that plundered ships operating to and from London.
The pub commemorates William Kidd, one of the most notorious pirates who was eventually captured and put to death at Execution Dock in 1701. Judge George Jeffreys, the man dishing out many of the death sentences, was said to visit the aforementioned Angel public house in order to watch men perish across the water at Execution Dock. It is also claimed that gallows were located at the dockside so that the tide could wash over the body three times. To deter potential thieves, pirates and other miscreants, convicted nautical plunderers were left to hang in a metal cage in what was a ghastly spectacle. William Kidd was hung twice as the first hangman's rope snapped. His decomposing body was gibbeted over the River Thames at Tilbury Point for three years.
Rolling into the heart of Rotherhithe we trundled along Elephant Lane from the site of The Torbay to appreciate The Ship, a very tidy-looking inter-war edifice on the corner of St. Marychurch Street. Looking at old maps, it would appear that the older Ship was on the other side of the street close to the graveyard. According to a sale notice of 1868 The Ship still occupied a corner position. The building stood at the northern end of Henley Close, a housing development named after Alderman A. G. Henley, who was killed fire-watching during World War Two. Many of the immediate buildings and yards were devoted to the timber trade, almost all for barge builders. At the time of The Ship opening on this site in 1939 one old barge builder told a reporter that in his younger years the old sailing ships used to lay up with their bows, figureheads and all, jutting across the streets of what was still a village. He remembered The Ship and Pilot, the Waterman's Arms, the Black Bull, the Jolly Waterman, Bunch of Grapes, White Lion and The Torbay, the latter being the only survivor at that time.
Further along St. Marychurch Street is St. Mary's Free School, a building with two figures of school children on scroll corbels. Thought to be the oldest elementary school in London, it was founded in 1612 by the seafarers Peter Hills and Robert Bell for the education of children of other local seafarers. The school was moved to this house in 1797. The school was later amalgamated with other local charity schools. The building was requisitioned during World War Two and used by the fire brigade.
The small building to the right of the old school is the former Watch House from which local watchmen would patrol the locality keeping an eye out for criminal activity, particularly body-snatchers in the graveyard. There was a demand for bodies by surgeons at the nearby Guy's hospital who required corpses to conduct medical research or for use in anatomy lectures. The Anatomy Act was passed in 1832, which made it an offence to rob a grave. Prior to the Act the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes were the bodies of those condemned to death.
The Church of Saint Mary at Rotherhithe was rebuilt in 1714-15, to a design by John James, an associate of Sir Christopher Wren. Due to a lack of funding, the tower was not added until 1747. There are many interesting links to the church, particularly the story of Prince Lee Boo of Palau who came to Rotherhithe from the Pacific Islands and lived with Captain Wilson and his family. He contracted smallpox and was buried close to the entrance to the church. A communion table and two bishop's chairs within the church are said to have been crafted from timbers taken from HMS Temeraire, the warship immortalised on canvas by J. M. W. Turner from the balcony of The Angel.
Within the churchyard of Saint Mary's there is a memorial to Christopher Jones, master of The Mayflower ship that sailed to the New World in 1620. Around the ship-shaped base of the statue there is an inscription that reads: "To the memory of Christopher Jones 1570-1622, master of the Mayflower. He landed 102 planters and adventurers at Plymouth, Massachusetts 21st December 1620. They formed the Mayflower Compact and the first permanent colony in New England." The statue is thought to represent Jones looking back at England, while a child he is holding is looking towards the New World. The statue was paid for by the 'Sons and Daughters of the Pilgrims.'
Christopher Jones was almost certainly born in Harwich, the Essex port where it is thought that The Mayflower was built. There is no certainty on these facts, though there are very strong grounds that both are accurate. Jones was married twice at the Church of Saint Nicholas in Harwich, both wives being from families with maritime interests. By 1820 Christopher Jones was a part-owner of The Mayflower and living in Rotherhithe from where the ship was operating as a goods vessel. Some sources suggest that he cunningly moored close to Saint Mary's Church in order to avoid paying dock fees and taxes further down the river.
Considering that this was the place from which The Mayflower sailed, it was something of a surprise that we did not encounter any tourists from the United States. The ship is something of an icon in American culture. More surprising, perhaps, that there was not an inn sign commemorating the ship in Rotherhithe Street until 1958. And so, like true pilgrims, we made our way to the tavern. We walked our bikes through the churchyard and narrow cobbled street which, with only a little imagination, conjurs up the image of a pea-souper fog in the dark. Perhaps the odd scream or two in the distance! Certainly, the locale is evocativley Dickensian.
The Mayflower is a charming little pub. There were 102 passengers aboard The Mayflower and, despite the fact that the tavern has a first-floor dining area, I get the sense that they would struggle to squeeze 102 people into the premises. Thankfully, there is a toilet - there was no such fancy convenience on the vessel crossing the Atlantic ocean. On their way to the New World, passengers were expected to make their own arrangements! Sailing into westerly winds, the journey took two months and rations were running low so I imagine that the bowel movements of most passengers was thankfully not so regular!
Beer was the safest drink on the voyage to the New World and the passengers drank little else. In the spirit of the 17th century voyagers, today's Mayflower is well-stocked with real ales. The handpulls dispense beers from regional brewers and a few exciting ales from the likes of Dark Star. One handpull often has a house beer named Scurvy, a disease from which the pilgrims suffered en-route to the New World. The 17th century theme is palpable throughout the interior fixtures and fittings whereby a sense of being at sea was the objective of its design. Contrivance I hear the from the pub puritans but such stratagems have been rolled out in many a tavern over the years.
The alternative to a retro-styled public house was a modernist new build once the dust had settled after World War 2. Rotherhithe was hit very badly by Luftwaffe bombing missions and a merry night in the pub was wrecked by a high-explosive bomb blowing the upper floor off completely. The boardroom members at the Charrington's brewery made the decision to rebuild from the ground floor shell up.
Following its restoration, the building was subsequently named The Mayflower. It had previously traded as the Spread Eagle and Crown and remained as such immediately after the war when the house continued to trade, presumably with a temporary roof! A glimpse of the old tavern can be see in the wonderful Pathé film above which shows how the building was both pub and post office. Apparently, The Mayflower is still the only pub licensed to sell US & UK postage stamps.
The post-war rebuild was not the first time that the pub has had to be repaired. The building was badly damaged by fire in the early 19th century. The building lost its roof when fire spread from the neighbouring Blue Mountain granary at Church Stairs in November 1834. The firemen concentrated their efforts on preventing the flames spreading to the church. The pub and several houses were severely damaged by the conflagration.
The first tavern to stand on the site was the Shippe Inn and may have dated from the 16th century. Serving ales to thirsty sailors and boatmen, it is thought to have been erected with the timbers of wrecked vessels. Of course, there is conjecture that the house featured timbers from The Mayflower which was left to rot in the Thames after it sailed back to Rotherhithe battered and bruised from the trans-Atlantic ordeal. Something to ponder if you nab a seat on the wooden jetty at the rear of the pub from where there are fine views of the river.
There is a milestone embedded in the frontage of The Mayflower; Rotherhithe Street once formed part of a key route along the docks. Across the street is the Sands Films Cinema Club and Theatre, a marvellous resource and facility founded by Richard Goodwin and Christine Edzard in the early 1970s. The cinema hosts a wildly eclectic programme throughout the year.
A few metres further on Rotherhithe Street opens out into a square, the centrepiece of which is the Brunel Museum located in the old engine house designed by Sir Marc Isambard Brunel as part of the infrastructure of the Thames Tunnel. Connecting Rotherhithe and Wapping, this was the first tunnel constructed successfully beneath a navigable river. Though the project was long and arduous, including the loss of lives, it was an engineering triumph and became a major tourist attraction in the mid-19th century. Isambard Kingdom Brunel, son of the designer, saw the project through and the tunnel opened to the public in March 1843.
Entrance to the museum is £6 but we were pressed for time and didn't want to leave our bikes for any lengthy period so we will return to the old engine house on another trip. However, we still had some fun outside. La Goddess du Vélo plonked herself on a model of Hungerford Bridge. Designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the suspension bridge was opened in 1845 but was demolished in 1860 to make way for the railway. The piers of the bridge are still in use. The chains from the old bridge were recycled and used in the Clifton Suspension Bridge at Bristol.
We did not have to cycle too far before encountering another marvel of engineering. Rotherhithe Street passes over Surrey Lock via a chunky rolling lift bridge. This entrance to Surrey Basin and Island Dock was formerly spanned by a swing bridge constructed in 1858. However, the old bridge had lost its faculty for swinging after being damaged during the blitz of the docks at Rotherhithe and Bermondsey. In the post-war years the bridge was replaced by a Scherzer bascule bridge. Weighing some 720 tons, it is a beast of a bridge. Apparently, it took only three minutes to raise the colossal structure but, like its predecessor, it has also lost its mojo and can heave no more. Thankfully, it rests in its horizontal position so cycling across does not involve climbing ropes!
There had used to be a boozer next to the old swing bridge, along with two more just across the lock. The loss of these watering holes is partly compensated, not by the Greene King-operated Salt Quay, but with the thrill of pedalling alongside the trunnions under the counterweight. It is rather like entering the mouth of a giant whale with a cello section striking up the opening bars of the "Jaws" theme. Given the frightening nature of the rolling mechanism, I am surprised that I have not seen them featured in a film. You know, something like James Bond being tied to the base with Auric Goldfinger shouting from the control house "No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die." The wonderful film clip above shows the bridge being opened by Viscount Waverley, Chairman of the London Port Authority, on a grotty day in March 1952.
We followed the road around the tip of Rotherhithe. Until recent years the old pumphouse next to Lavender Pond Nature Reserve was home to the Rotherhithe Heritage Museum but the cash-strapped local authority pulled the plug on its funding. It is a sad indictment of the times that councils are being forced to cut vital services with remaining facilities and resources being increasingly reliant on voluntary staff. Despite engaging the local community, a project such as the Rotherhithe Heritage Museum is deemed extraneous. However, cutting the funding simply makes austerity easier for the accountants to live with. Economics is not the only measure of the value of local resources. Victorian philanthropists realised this but current governments have seemingly forgotten such ideals.
We cycled along the Thames Path to Pageants Stairs where the Queen's Head traded until 1928. In May 1881 the publican Leonard Deal started a boxing club at the house. To inaugurate the opening night he laid on a supper for his guests, following which an evening of 'capital boxing' took place. Jack Start and Harry Vanner slugged it out for three rounds before a bout between Johnny Welch of Mile End and H. Franklin. Another pugilist in action during the evening was W. Phipps, better known as "Touch O!"
Close to the site of the Queen's Head is a curious obelisk, apparently sited directly west from Canary Wharf Tower, part of the symmetrical axis planned by the London Docklands Development Corporation. And so we looked directly east towards Canary Wharf where work still continues on another ivory tower. When it is finally finished the development will be the workplace of 100,000 people within banking, finance and business services. It is reckoned that more currency whizzes through the computers within these glass towers every day than some nation states can accumulate in a year. And yet Canary Wharf is part of Tower Hamlets, one of London's poorest boroughs with high rates of unemployment and poor health. For many, Canary Wharf symbolises boom and bust on the Isle of Dogs.
We pedalled along the Thames Path to Cuckold's Point, a salacious designation demanding further investigation. Inevitably, there is a legend that the name evolved during the reign of King John. Not content with upsetting his barons with shoddy fiscal policies, he almost lost his head at the hands of a miller in Rotherhithe. The story goes that the King was hunting in the locality when he encountered the wife of a local miller. During the act of seduction the husband returned home and was intent on killing him until he revealed his real identity. As penance King John offered the miller the lordship of a chunk of land in Charlton extending to the bend in the river at Rotherhithe.
Who am I to let the truth get in the way of a good story. More certain is that a large pole surmounted with the horns from a ram became a landmark at Cuckold's Point. Maintained by the Guild of London butchers over the centuries, the pole became associated with the name Cuckold's Point, and was mentioned in the diaries of Samuel Pepys. Curious to know how their wives had conducted themselves during months of absence, the landmark is said to have invoked mistrustful thoughts in the minds of sailors returning from sea. Why horns? Well, it is also thought that King John also granted the Horn Fair procession which commenced from Cuckold's Point to Charlton on St. Luke's Day.
With thousands of people arriving by steampackets, the fair was notoriously riotous and made the contemporary Notting Hill Carnival look like a temperance tea-party. Inevitably, it was all too much for the straight-laced Victorians. In a fit of Phariseeism, one newspaper editor claimed that the fair "had the effect of bringing into the locality all the vice of the metropolis and was injurious to public morality." Opposition to the debauchery grew during the 1860s and the authorities eventually abolished the fair in 1872.
Seeking some moderate intemperance to commemorate the old customs, we rejoined Rotherhithe Street just as it heads south and passes the Blacksmith's Arms. The old place possibly formed part of the three-day hedonistic horn fair. However, with the Victorians becoming increasingly puritanical, many of the old taverns were refashioned and the Blacksmith's Arms was bestowed with a Brewer's Tudor half-timbered frontage as part of a rebuild. The Fuller's-operated pub looks pretty good. We can forgive the mess caused by the building work going on next door but the ubiquitous wheelie bins detract from the view and add to the number of wasps whizzing around those brave enough to use the outdoor seating. Nice hanging-baskets though.
We ventured inside to appreciate the old fixtures and fittings. Any residue of Victorian ambience was scuppered by the sound of Wham!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" I cannot understand why pub operators play such incongrous pap during mid-afternoon when the place is half-empty. On the plus side, the woman behind the bar was friendly and the pub was selling Dark Star's Hophead, a light and hoppy refreshing beer. It seems to me that since Fuller's relinquished their brewing operations to a Tokyo-based giant, there seems to be more choice of ales in their estate of pubs. Mind you, Dark Star was acquired by Fuller's in February 2018 and eleven months later the brewery came under the Asahi umbrella. Once the big boys start to meddle with small breweries things are never quite the same and, indeed, it has been revealed that Hophead is largely produced at the parent brewery in Chiswick. I fear that the increase in production at a different site will be to the detriment of what is Dark Star's flagship beer.
The Blacksmith's Arms was also selling Gale's Seafarers Ale, an amber beer that made its maiden voyage in 2005, the year in which the Hampshire brewery was also acquired by Fuller's. Consequently, with one line dedicated to London Pride, the pub was retailing three different brands all made in the same building at Chiswick. It is all very confusing for the less-savvy consumer. Adnam's Mosaic Pale Ale was the guest ale which I assume is not made at Chiswick and travels from Southwold in Suffolk.
The interior of the Blacksmith's Arms has plenty of old fixtures and fittings. I am not sure how much of the Victorian pub remains but there is a wealth of inter-war woodwork. The pub is fairly unique in that there are folding partitions that facilitate the division of the interior into three drinking areas. The central servery acts as an anchor point for the part-glazed full height screens. These are generally folded back so the impression is of an open-plan interior. However, with the aid of some WD40 and a quick shove, the place can be quickly tranformed. Coupled with the wood panelling around the walls, it is visually appealing. There is much to like about the Blacksmith's Arms but can they do us all a favour and change the soundtrack.
The Blacksmith's Arms stood next to Canada Wharf, although the large warehouse between the pub and the river was later known as Columbia Wharf. A few metres to the south is the former Nelson Dockyard, a dry dock used for ship-building during the 17th century. A number of notable warships and clippers were built at the dry dock which operated until 1968. John Randall, owner of the dock, resided at Nelson House which still stands on Rotherhithe Street. At the time of our visit the building was being converted into apartments. Dating from the mid-18th century, it is a rare survivor in an area where the wrecking balls wreaked havoc in this locality. The listed property was protected from demolition so visitors can still appreciate the octagonal glazed cupola above the rebuilt parapet. The front of the house features a superb projecting central stone frontispiece. For my photograph I did not zoom in on the building, preferring to show the dichotomy between this part of old London with the towers of Canary Wharf in the background.
The Clipper on the corner of Silver Walk pulled its last pints and closed in 2014 following which local residents successfully defeated planning applications to create apartments on the site. They also started a campaign to save the pub housed in an inter-war building of some merit. Fingers crossed. We rejoined the Thames path close to Nelson Dock from where we saw another clipper. This was one of the catamarans used for a river bus service along the river. We were impressed by the speed of the boats which seemed to go at a fair lick. However, this looked pedestrian compared to one of the Thames Rockets which flew past Canary Wharf. This looks like an exhilarating experience in which passengers receive a free shower.
From Nelson Dock we pedalled south past the sites of Dansic Wharf, Albion Wharf and Lawrence's Wharf. There was ongoing work being undertaken at Surrey Docks Farm so sadly we did not get to visit the site and see the goats, rabbits and donkeys. We arrived at the Ship and Whale only to find the pub closed for the afternoon. A shame as it looks like a nice old pub where decent nosh can be had. The original building appears in the rate records for 1767 so it is an inn sign of some antiquity. The present building is thought to date from 1880. At one time the pub was surrounded by a sea of small houses in which dockers and their families lived. The dock workers were the mainstay of the Ship and Whale's business. The outdoor lavatories of houses in Sedger's Buildings backed onto the side wall of the Ship and Whale.
The tavern is located close to Greenland Dock from where 18th-century whaling fleets brought back their catches and boiled the blubber to produce oil. The smell must have been quite horrible. Following the decline of this trade the docks were used by timber merchants, particularly following the sale of the dock to William Ritchie, founder of the Commercial Dock Company. Following his firm's merger with the neighbouring Surrey Docks in 1865, more than 80 per cent of London's timber trade was conducted here, mostly sourced from the Baltic region.
The Ship and Whale served as an auction house in the early 19th century. In June 1832 many of the neighbouring properties in Russell Street were sold at an auction held in the tavern. Ships and stores also came under the hammer when Jonathan Hall was the licensee in the late 1820s and throughout the 1830s. The Ship and Whale was used as a mortuary after four people drowned when a ferry boat sank near the Commercial Docks in April 1834. Two men and two women were taken to the pub after being pulled out of the Thames where "every means was vainly employed for a considerable time to restore animation." The publican and his wife were praised for their efforts in the subsequent inquest.
The whaling theme has been maintained by an inn sign at Greenland Dock. Fuller's operate a large pub and restaurant that affords views across the water. I am obscuring part of the Moby Dick from my position near Brunswick Quay. I am positioned next to a sculpture erected in memory of cycling campaigner Barry Mason. The former manager of Surrey Docks Farm is remembered by a represention of his two passions in life - cycling and bird-watching. There are also metal sculptures for Michael Caine and Phyllis Pearsell. Born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite Jr. in 1933, Michael Caine was born in Rotherhithe. Phyllis Pearsall is something of a heroine in the world of cartography as she founded the Geographers' A-Z Map Company. The Sat-Nav generation will not appreciate the effort it took to produce her A-Z Map of London in the mid-1930s. She claimed to have walked 3,000 miles to check the names of the 23,000 streets of the capital. It was the start of the A-Z phenomenon. I wonder how many booklets are purchased today? It will be a sad day when the last pages roll off the printing press.
Greenland Dock was excavated in 1696 and originally known as Howland Great Wet Dock, after John Howland who gave the land as part of a wedding dowry for his daughter Elizabeth following her marriage to Wriothesley Russell, the Marquis of Tavistock. In the 18th century the south side of the dock was lined with blubber boiling houses which produced oil from the loads of the whaling fleet operating around Greenland. The site's historic association with the whaling industry proved irresistible to Fuller's when naming their pub and restaurant. It is interesting to note that the author Herman Melville plundered "An Account of the Arctic Regions with a History and Description of the Northern Whale Fishery," a book published in 1820 by William Scoresby, Jr., which actually discussed the Greenland whale rather than the sperm whale known as Moby Dick.
We enjoyed riding around Greenland Dock before heading in the direction of Deptford. We were following in the footsteps of Geoffrey Chaucer as Deptford was part of the pilgrimage route from London to Canterbury. We were on a pilgrimage to a pub once known as the Royal Marine, appropriate given that Deptford was home to the first of the Royal Dockyards, established on the Thames in the early 16th century.
Crossing what was once known as Black Horse Bridge, we hit the brakes when seeing the pub that gave the crossing of the old Surrey Canal its name. The building stands amid post-war maisonette developments but was once on the corner of Hood Street and a sea of housing from where the local men trudged to the timber yards and nearby barge building works. The Black Horse boasts a superb ground-floor frontage of faïence tiling, a legacy of Truman's who were based at the Black Eagle Brewery in Brick Lane. Look out for the unusual chimney stack too! Sadly, the interior of the building has been ruined by recent refurbishments, though an inter-war Vitrolite ceiling was retained. Just like the rebels from Cornwall in June 1497 who fled from the Battle of Deptford Bridge, we were forced to beat a retreat as the White Horse has no 'proper' beer. They've got pizzas and ping-pong but without a decent beer we, like An Gof's forces, withdrew with haste.
We scooted along Prince Street to the aforementioned Royal Marine, a pub now trading as the Dog and Bell. This is not a recent name change on a whim of the publican. This is what the tavern on old Dock Street was originally called before being changed in the 1850s. The boozer was not far away from the Royal Marine Barracks at Deptford so the name would have attracted some custom from the military. Perhaps the publican was a former marine? The pub can be seen above in the livery of the Welch Ale Brewery, a company based on the Old Kent Road. The Royal Marine was one of over 100 tied houses that were operated by the brewery. However, by the time of this photograph the company had merged with the Chelsea Brewery Co. Ltd.
The building was completely gutted by fire in July 1894 and had to be completely restored. The fire started on the ground floor in the middle of the night, the strong smell of smoke awakening Mr. C. Davis who lived on the premises with his wife and family. The flames spread quickly and the staircase was completely enveloped, cutting off the escape route for the family. They raised the alarm by shouting from a second floor window, and a large crowd quickly assembled in the street. Holding blankets and rugs, the neighbours urged them to jump into the street. With the flames advancing up the staircase, the family decided to drop their fifteen month-old daughter but the people below failed to catch her and she fell to the ground. The young girl was taken to the hospital but later died from her injuries. An elder girl, aged seven, was successfully caught in a rug by the crowd. Ladders were brought to get the remainder of the family out of the burning building. The fire engines turned up shortly afterwards but the premises were completely gutted.
There were a number of other public houses along the thoroughfare in the old days. Two of the buildings still stand, though they have been converted to other uses. A betting shop on the corner of Evelyn Street was once The Globe. A little closer to the Dog and Bell was another pub that once attracted sailors; the Navy Arms traded on the corner of New King Street.
The Royal Marine would later become a Charrington's house. It was only in recent times that the pub officially reverted back to its original name but I have learned that the locals had always generally referred to the place as the Dog and Bell anyway.
Rolling up to the pub we were surprised to observe a sea of beer casks in the street with the Dog and Bell's front doors lying on top of them. Being as we were fairly close to the birthplace of Michael Caine there was a great temptation to yell "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!" I think the boozer was having a new paint job. However, although the ground floor frontage was previously a dark green, I think it was some kind of red in more recent times. Whatever, the Dog and Bell is now the colour of a post box.
We parked our bikes across the street so that we could keep an eye on them from the seating next to the window. Immediately on entering the Dog and Bell we got a sense that it was a very fine boozer. Indeed, it proved to be so good we wanted to abandon our trip and take up residence. At least this was more feasible than sticking the pub on a bike trailer and taking it with us, a notion that came to mind after downing a couple of the rather excellent strong stout on tap.
The Dog and Bell ticks all the boxes for those who relish a traditional pub environment in which to enjoy an extensive range of classic beers. Beneath the hop-laden servery there are five hand-pulled beers, mostly from local breweries. Additionally, there are several beer lines devoted to exciting craft beers. The pub also offers a decent selection of Belgian bottled ales, including classics such as Sint Bernardus Tripel and Delirium Tremens. If you cannot find a beer to love and cherish in this place then you are not quite the full ticket.
The interior of the Dog and Bell has plenty of historical interest on display. There is bar billiards and a wide selection of board games for a riotous session. The pub also runs a regular quiz night along with a celebrated annual Pickle Festival.
During our afternoon visit three blokes were sitting at the bar, all of whom engaged in some friendly banter with us Midlanders. The first test match of The Ashes was on the telly with the Australians clocking up the runs. The friendly bloke behind the bar offered tasters but we just ordered 'strange brews' for lucky dips. There are few things worse in a pub than some pretentious twerp holding up proceedings whilst going through the taps like some sort of chi-chi cretin. If I am stuck behind such a halfwit I generally remark "FFS ... just order a beer."
The first couple of beers were excellent but I then realised that the doors of the pub had been blown off by the awesome Speyside Whisky Barrel-Aged Porter, a 7.3% beer that threatened to move the Prime Meridian at nearby Greenwich. Explosive on the taste buds, this beer is produced on the other side of the River Thames at Gravesend by Iron Pier. Launched in January 2018 by Charlie Venner, James Hayward and John Warden, they brought an end to an 86-year absence of brewing in the ancient Kent town. James Hayward had previously worked at Swanscombe's Caveman Brewery whilst Charlie Venner and John Warden were operating the Compass Alehouse. This porter is both robust and smooth delivering a powerful long-lasting finish.
On ordering another Porter, the bloke behind the bar raised an eyebrow, a reference to the fact we were cycling. When asked what we were up to, we had remarked that we were cycling the Thames estuary. The fact that we had only travelled a few kilometres but had got distracted by some excellent pubs, made them chuckle. If they had realised we were embarking on a coastal ride they would have fallen off their bar stools in laughter. Mind you, two of them supped up and started putting the front doors back in place - as if having a few beers will help in putting the doors on straight. Just like the Charlie Croker cliff-hanger, we will never know how they got on as we had to wrench ourselves away from this terrific place and start pedalling again. If there is a better pub in the London area we have yet to visit it.
We crossed Deptford Creek and pedalled into Greenwich eager to see the unique interior of St. Alfrege's Church only to find that the building was undergoing renovations. Anyone following our journeys will know that this sort of thing is normal for us - we often arrive at places that are closed for a whole host of reasons. It is the story of my life. In this case it was more than a little disappointing for this church is supposedly the place where the Archbishop of Canterbury was martyred in 1012, hence the dedication to Alfrege. The present building was erected to replace the medieval church which collapsed following a storm in 1710.
Saddened at the closure of the church we were further disheartened with the cheap and tatty character of Cutty Sark gardens. I took the above photograph early on the following morning as the great tea clipper was seemingly reduced to a fairground side-attraction as the throng of people were more interested in the street food stalls and seaside-like amusements than actually looking at a historic maritime exhibit. It is hard to appreciate the vessel when trying to avoid screaming kids running around with candyfloss and sticky lollipops. Even the view of the Cutty Sark is blighted by a carousel.
Considering that the Greek state has spent decades attempting to repatriate the Elgin Marbles, I am surprised that the Scottish Executive has not bothered to reclaim the Cutty Sark. The vessel may have sailed from London's docks but the tea clipper was commissioned by a Scotsman and built in Scotland. Even the ship's name originated from the pen of the Bard of Ayrshire, Rabbie Burns. Nicola Sturgeon ought to be wielding a Lochaber Axe and raising an army to march on Greenwich to reclaim their heritage. Dunbarton's tourism could do with a leg-up - why should London have it all?
Close to the Cutty Sark stands a pub commemorating the ketch on which Sir Francis Chichester sailed single-handed around the globe in 1966-7. In July of the following year Gipsy Moth IV was moored at Greenwich as a permanent exhibit next to the Cutty Sark. However, the ketch was trashed by too many feet tramping around the decks and was left to rot. Greenwich has a poor record of protecting its nautical treasures. A vacuum cleaner was left switched on for two days before it set fire to the Cutty Sark in 2007. The repairs are estimated to have cost over £30m and technically visitors today are paying to see a replica ship.
With Sir Francis Chichester's ketch long gone perhaps the name of the pub should revert back to the Wheatsheaf Tavern. Aside from the Cutty Sark going up in flames, Greenwich has always provided plenty of work for the fire engines. The Wheatsheaf itself was destroyed by flames in July 1868 when F. M. Orgar was the publican. A report stated that on the night of the 31st July "flames originated in the bar of the tavern, and quickly ignited the barrels and spirit casks, and before any attempt could made to reach the seat of the fire the flames rolled up the staircase and ignited nearly a dozen rooms." Thankfully, the occupants escaped with their lives.
Hopefully, the customer service is a little more genteel these days. In September 1835 when a customer named Henry Floyd ordered a pot of half-and-half the landlord, a former policeman named Latham, demanded payment in a rather tyrannical manner by shouting "Beer in one hand, and money in the other." As it was the custom to run up a tab in those days, Henry Floyd took offence and threw the beer over Latham. At the time the publican had a knife in his hand as he had been cutting bread and cheese. On being doused in beer he instantly shoved the knife into the cheek of Henry Lloyd. He thrust the knife with such force that it proved difficult to remove the blade from the wound. Another man named Harris attempted to pull it out but failed, so Henry Lloyd yanked at the implement himself but only succeeded in pulling the handle off the knife. With blood pouring from his face, Harris ran to the surgery of the local doctor where a pair of pincers were used to remove the blade. However, it was reported that he was so seriously injured as to preclude all hope of recovery.
The former police officer in R Division was taken into custody by a former colleague Sergeant Crockson. The publican was charged with attempted murder. It was stated to the magistrate that he had once attempted suicide in consequence of his wife having eloped from him, was very dejected and expressed much sorrow at what had occurred. Latham had frequently said he should have been happy had the affair happened to him instead of Henry Floyd.
Pedalling from Greenwich Pier, past the memorial to the French Arctic explorer Joseph René Bellot and along the front of the Old Royal Naval College, we arrived at the Trafalgar Tavern, one of London's celebrated riverside pubs. The tavern opened in June 1837 having been built on the site of the old George Tavern. The celebrated host Charles Hart moved from The Albion on Aldersgate Street to open the doors to the public. The impressive frontage of the building must have created quite a stir at the start of Queen Victoria's reign. Patrons of the establishment during the 19th century included William Makepeace Thackeray, J. M. W. Turner, George Cruikshank, William Gladstone, Benjamin Disraeli and Charles Dickens, the latter setting Bella Wilfer's wedding breakfast in "Our Mutual Friend" within this building.
Given the pedigree of the place I was rather underwhelmed by the interior of the Trafalgar Tavern's bar, all bright with modern wood and inappropriate music. On the plus side there are a few cask ales lines supplemented by some interesting bottled beers. The speciality here is the spirits list which is as long as a yardarm. There are also more cocktails than you can shake a stick at.
Designed by Joseph Kay, an original member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, the Trafalgar Tavern is arguably the last of the grand riverside establishments which, during the Victorian era, was a favoured place of resort for "dining down the river" and once famous for its Ministerial Whitebait Dinners of the Liberal party, the last of which was held in 1883. Indeed, the Trafalgar Tavern became known as "The Whig House" whilst the rival Ship was dubbed "The Tory House." Chief chefs at the tavern could make quite a name for themselves. After cooking here for eight years, E. H. Wheeler launched his own business on Westow Hill at Upper Norwood in 1875.
One of the really good features of the interior, of which the pub is very proud, is the private art collection on display around most of the walls. So order yourself a beer and annoy everyone by peering over their heads to view the likes of Lord Nelson and famous warships at sea, along with historical views of the Thames.
One of the peculiarities of the Trafalgar Tavern during the 19th century was that the dining-rooms were named and not numbered, each commemorating a naval hero. In the tavern's heyday, the Nelson Room represented the stern gallery of the old Victory, with lantern, capstan, carved balustrade and other elaborate fittings.
It has not all been plain sailing for the Trafalgar Tavern. With the expiry of its lease, the famous hostelry closed to the public in 1915 and passed into the hands of the Seaman's Hospital Society. Between the wars the building served as a working men's club but re-opened as a pub in 1965.
The inn sign of the Trafalgar Tavern shows the Union Flag along with the Blue Ensign, the latter being post-1707 and the Acts of Union after which the Union Flag replaced the Saint George's cross in the canton. The shield bears the Royal Arms of the United Kingdom along with the Royal Navy Crown and Anchor.
The Yacht Tavern once abutted the Trafalgar Tavern but the latter was reduced in size when part of the building was occupied by the Curlew Rowing Club, a sporting body established in 1866. Filmed in 1956, the clip above shows glimpses of The Yacht and some excellent views of the Thames. The terrace used by the Wapping Group of Artists no longer exists due to an extension of the property.
The Yacht fronts the narrow Crane Street and is a Greene King footprint close to the Prime Meridian. Not too long ago the pub plonked a chalkboard outside the front door on which it claimed to be the first pub in the west, and chalked up its longitude at 00 00 00. In actual fact the front door lies at -0.003853 which does at least place it to the west of the Prime Meridian. Not even the marking strip at the Royal Observatory lies at zero degrees, zero minutes, and zero seconds. Indeed, the meridian is 102.478 metres to the east. This means that the Plume of Feathers at Park Vista at -0.001472 is closer to the line. The Star and Garter on the Old Woolwich Road is even closer at -0.000613 and the Cutty Sark on Ballast Quay comes under that at -0.000468.
All this longitudinal stuff inspired a bit of fun for the early evening in Greenwich. Our coastal journey was due to commence on the following morning at the Royal Observatory but the site does not open until 10.00hrs and costs £16 each. That is £32 to place our front wheels on a line that is not even at zero degrees! If you want to play around with longitudinal lines in the Greenwich area you can visit several locations and capture a selfie for free! So off we pedalled along the cycle path looping around the O2 Arena. An added bonus is that you an nip in for a quick one at the aforementioned Cutty Sark pub.
The cycle route to the O2 Arena is a bit sketchy in places. A bit surprising really as I thought that this would have been tidied up for the Millennium Party, never mind nearly two decades later. Historically, the tip of the Greenwich Peninsula was known as Blackwall Point or Lea Ness. You cannot miss the Meridian Line - apart from the bold metal strip across the cycle path, there is also a road sign which displays the mileage one would have to travel around the globe to arrive back at the same spot. The answer, by the way, is 24,859 miles. The other reason you cannot miss the line is that there is usually a large party of Japanese tourists taking photographs of it from within the boundary fence of the O2 Arena. Why they would want to travel halfway around the world to look at a large tent is a mystery to me? Some of them pay £36 in order to climb to the top of Tony Blair's white elephant.
The keen-eyed among you will have noticed that there is a Sustrans National Cycle Network marker in the background of the above photograph. This signs states that the milepost stands on the Greenwich Meridian - so is the line correct or the milepost? You just have to let it go and enjoy the fun rather than reaching for your GPS device to look at a reading. Otherwise you end up disappearing up your own arse talking about the geodetic zero meridian on a geocentric reference ellipsoid.
Another location where you can have a bit of fun with the Prime Meridian is in Park Vista, close to the junction of Feathers Place. And here you can also combine some longitudinal levity with a visit to a nice pub.
You have to laugh at some people. Here I am banging on about a few metres difference between the former astronomical system and the current geodetic system but some folks manage to cook up a completely different concept of the Prime Meridian at Greenwich. There is a video online which shows a couple of American women having some fun at this location in Park Vista. In the clip the woman being filmed suggests that the line is where time stands still and that by jumping across the line she is going from one day to the next. Firstly, this isn't an episode of Dr. Who - time does not stand still anywhere. Secondly, she is confusing the Prime Meridian at Greenwich with the International Date Line. Still, they looked like they were having fun so what the heck!
The Prime Meridian at Park Vista crosses the pavement in a solid line and then continues across the street towards Feathers Place with a line of metal studs embedded in the tarmac - you can see this to the left within the above photograph. To the right you can see the Plume of Feathers where we parked up and ordered some beer and a nosebag.
The inn sign for the Plume of Feathers boldly states that the pub was built in 1691. Quite how much of the old fabric remains is not clear. Certainly, the breweries that have operated the pub over the years have played around with the building and replaced much of antiquity. The sign features a plume of three ostrich feathers, along with the royal coronet associated with the Prince of Wales. The Germanic motto Ich dien "I serve" is also featured on the signboard. It is thought that the tavern traded as the Prince of Wales in the early 18th century but was changed by the landlady Jane Whitall in the mid-1720s. It is generally accepted that the use of three feathers as a crest or badge was first used by Edward, the Black Prince, eldest son and heir apparent of King Edward III. However, he predeceased his father and, accordingly, his son Richard II was crowned in 1377. Charles II was Prince of Wales when this Greenwich tavern started to trade in the late 17th century.
The Plume of Feathers has grown organically over the years. Extensions to the property have been undertaken since the Rose family took over the business in 1980. The building extends backwards where once there stood four cottages in a small court, entry to which was via an entry to the left of the building. In March 1886 the annual rental for the public house and four cottages was £80 per annum when they were sold at auction in one lot. The sale possibly marked the first involvement of brewery tenancy with the Plume of Feathers. Over the years the property has been operated by the Beehive Brewery, Hoare & Co. Ltd. and Watney, Combe, Reid & Co. Ltd. In 1958 the latter merged with Mann, Crossman & Paulin Ltd. to form Watney Mann Ltd. This company's George and Dragon trademark can be seen in the leaded-glass windows. It is likely that the firm was responsible for the faïence tiling on the ground floor frontage.
The interior of the Plume of Feathers remains traditional in the sense that many public houses looked like this in the 1970s. Sitting inside this pub it would be easy to imagine that you were in a quiet rural pub in the home counties. And it is this ambience that makes the Plume of Feathers rather unique in busy London where most pubs have undergone contemporary refurbishments.
In Victorian times the Plume of Feathers was home to many clubs and societies, hosted sporting functions and music concerts. As one of the oldest houses in the locality, it was also used for many inquests by the local coroner. However, one of the most notable of cases concerning the Plume of Feathers was held in the Coal Exchange Inn at Faversham when the licensee of this Greenwich tavern was found dead in a creek. 58 year-old Edward Smith, a native of Faversham, had been running the Plume of Feathers with his wife Eliza when he made his way back to the town of his birth. Drinking heavily at the Recreation Tavern, for two weeks he was seen behaving in an odd fashion and often drunk. He was last seen leaning over the rails of the bridge at the sluice gates. His body was recovered from the creek by a policeman who found two letters from his daughters within his pockets. The court could not conclude that he had committed suicide.
An earlier licensee of the Plume of Feathers was a bit of a rogue for he undertook improvements to the rear courtyard with stolen paving stones. In August 1856 Sidney Adams and George Butters, two men in the employ of Mr. Hobbs, contractor for paving to the Greenwich District Board of Works, were found guilty of stealing a large quantity of paving stones which they sold to Richard Preece, landlord of the Plume of Feathers. When an inspector found the missing stones laid neatly at the rear of the property the publican was taken into custody and charged with receiving stolen property, thus robbing the parish.
An outdoor drinking area has been created on land formerly occupied by a neighbouring house. We parked our bicycles here and ordered a few beers. As the Plume of Feathers is free-of-tie, there are generally a couple of rotating guest ales. I am a sucker for a beer featuring a cyclist on the pump clip so ordered the Truman's Scorcher. According to the pump clip this was a 2016 beer but is seemingly making a comeback. In the early days of cycling a Scorcher was a term applied to those who, rather than sitting upright and riding around town in a genteel manner, adopted a more aerodynamic position and rode aggressively with little regard for others. The 'speedsters' were censured for their egocentric style of cycling - so, a bit like the modern fast-food delivery rider! Combining Simcoe, Azacca and Citra hops with grapefruit zest, Truman's Scorcher fairly scoots around the tastebuds but does not punch above its weight of 4.2% so may only appeal to café racers rather than the serious time-trialist.
Founded in 1666, Truman's was one of the great London beer brands with an extensive estate of pubs supplied by the Black Eagle Brewery. It was ruined with its takeover by Grand Metropolitan and brewing ceased in the late 1980s. This phoenix-from-the-flames microbrewery was established in 2010 when James Morgan and Michael-George Hemus acquired the brand name from Scottish & Newcastle. Trial brews were produced at both Everard's in Leicestershire and Nethergate Brewery in Essex, before a purpose-built brewery was established at Hackney Wick in 2013.
XT Brewing is another relatively young business but one with a growing reputation. The firm was established in 2011 by Russell Taylor and Gareth Xifaras and is based on the Notley Farm Estate at Long Crendon in Buckinghamshire. Eco-friendly and keen recyclers, many of their beers are named after animals or animal sounds and we were pleased to find their Cormorant on sale at the Plume of Feathers. To be honest, XT Brewing have issued beers with so many different names it is hard to imagine that the recipes are not replicated. It would seem that the new generation of beer drinkers have become tickers in that they demand something new every time they go out for a drink. I suspect that XT Brewing, like many others, are indulging the consumers. Named after the large, long-necked waterbird, Cormorant is a pleasant-enough fruity ale, mildly hoppy with a caramel undercurrent. It only clocks in at 4.6% so does not really qualify, in my book at least, as an IPA but that is another old school rule slowly being eroded. At this point I wasn't to know that XT would tick all my boxes with one of their other beers - more on that to follow.
These two real ales were enjoyable in the early evening sunshine. Full marks to the Plume of Feathers for maintaining a sandwich menu for the evening. Amazingly, this is incredibly rare nowadays but it was just what we wanted - and proper slabs of cheese rather than grated rubbish. A fine way to complete our prologue along the Thames. Tomorrow was to be the offical start of our coastal adventure.
Have Your Say
If you would like to share any further information on this route - perhaps you drank in different pubs? Or maybe you spotted something I missed en-route? Whatever the reason it would be great to hear of your stories or route guidance for others. Simply send a message and I will post it here.