For the past year, we have been getting a bit of stick for sticking to the areas around Heathrow. There's two reasons for this. Firstly, it's part of our commute, our school is literally a couple of miles from the airport. Secondly and it's partly because of the commute, but we have been exploring the areas around Heathrow to see if there are any hidden trails to be found and we can successfully report back that there is. So we've put together a route of the West London area with as much trails/gravel we can think of in one big loop. The only area we struggled to fit in was the Grand Union Canal but if you are feeling adventurous and fancy a detour, you can hop onto the waterway at Hayes. Do be warned, this is quite an urban route, it can be a bit stop/start and you might come across a few youngsters on mopeds/scramblers in certain places but you will be rewarded with a few hidden gems and possibly some very rare wildlife!
NITP Ride Breakdown:
0-10miles: I've chosen to begin at Richmond Park again for two reasons. One: mostly everyone knows RP, there's shops nearby and a train station for anyone travelling in from afar. Second: it has the Tamsin Trail. A pure gravel path that loops around the outside of the park. I've decided to send you clockwise because the downhill section of Broomfield can be quite sketchy (especially with brakes like ours). Plus, beginning from Richmond Gate, you'll have a good warm up as you roll all the way around to Ham gate.
Shoot out of Ham Gate (the small common is another place for some quick trails) and follow the river down to Kingston. Cross over the bridge and enter Bushy Park from Hampton Wick side. Another gravel path awaits but it will be busier in here as it is very popular with walkers/joggers/dogs. If it's too busy, you can just cut straight through Bushy and into Hampton. Plenty of dear to spot as well as the very vocal parakeets!
Segment Challenge #1: Richmond Gate to Ham Gate, 9.1km.
10-20miles: Welcome to my endz! Like I mentioned before, it will be a bit stop/start here and there but you'll be treated to a bit of muck and gravel. Pass through Hampton to find Hatherop Park (part of a nature reserve behind Kempton Racecourse). Popular with dog walker but you wanted gravel right?! Cross the a316 once you finished here and you will enter Hanworth Airparcs where the historic house (hidden in the woodlands) is actually in the consultation restored. You can actually cycle a loop if you want to before you have to do some urban rat running under Feltham.
Next part is a little grimey in places but it all balances itself out because in the end, you'll end up in Bedfont Lakes Country Park. Pure gravel territory. This is somewhere where you can also cycle a loop and if you're animal lover, there is a wildlife centre on the West side of the park. It can be popular with families but it is a bit of a gem location. If I am not mistaken, I do believe it is home to some cross races...
Segment Challenge #2: Bedfont Lakes Straight, 0.7km
20-30miles: You'll probably notice the noise of the aeroplanes taking off and landing and you'll be heading that way. Cross over the a30 and dive down the cut through shared path which will take you to the edge of the perimeter road. This road can be quite fast and busy but jump on the grass as there is a trail that follows it and then merges itself to a proper paved segment. Stay on this until the road starts to bend and cross the Longford River, you'll be entering the back of Stanwell.
When you hit the reservoirs, follow the shared path all the way around into Staines. There is a very muddy trail that veers off into the actual moor. I did try once to follow it but it was ankle deep in muck! The path will drop you off in Staines town centre, ideal place to grab a coffee otherwise you'll turn in a northerly direction to find a secret cycling path that follows parallel to the m25.
Segment Challenge #3: King George's Reservoir, 1.9km
30-40miles: You're now in scrambler territory. The bikers have ruined a few paths so they can be a bit sketchy but follow the paths on the outside for the better terrain. Keep with it though because you'll end up at one of our favourite places on the route - Harmonsdworth Moor. A gravel paradise. I've created two of my own segments: The big bowl and the baby bowl so if it's quiet in there, have a go and see how you fair against me, I hold both KOMs (and yes, there are other people on the leaderboard!). There is a tiny climb in there with a decent lookout point.
Once you're finished exploring, head around Saxon Lake. When you cross the raised path, do not go left as it's usually flooded and don't go under the tunnel, pointless because it doesn't take you anywhere apart from into West Drayton eventually. Plus, the river easily overflows and can become very mucky. The lake path will pass through a cemetery and then into the village of Sipson. You'll often see Sipson on the news when they're discussing the plans for the new runway which if it goes through, is a travesty for the area as it can be a nature haven.
Follow the back roads into Harlington. You'll pass through QPR's training ground if you happen to be a fan. You can either continue down to Cranford Park or follow my route which will go under the M4 twice to get you at the top of the park where you can explore the woodlands and dodge the untold rabbits that shoot out of the bushes! This park is part of my commute and is only really known to the locals but it has some serious history behind it. It's reported that this church has stood since the Saxon times and is mentioned in the domesday book. My challenge though is to see if you can spot it's resident - the Cranford buzzard. We have had a few close passes with it and you'll find it perched near the neighbouring trees to the church. I've plotted the route to snake up and down in the country park but feel free to explore your own trails.
Segment Challenge #4: Harmondsworth Big Bowl 1.6km
40-50miles: It's not over yet by a long shot! Cross the Bath Road and cut through Waye Avenue Park. This little place kinda means a lot to us as we have been helping out Cranford Action Group clear up the river, fly tipping and sadly, remnants of camps people have made in the woods. It is also home to a very rare specie of dear which we have now seen 3 times (possibly due to restoration of the area) - Muntjac deer. There's rumours to be a pair in here but we have only seen one. You're treated to another raised segment but annoyingly to get to the next section of trails, you have to turn back on yourself to cross the dual carriageway to get to the nicely named Donkey Wood.
If it's been raining, it can be a little mucky but there's another raised path although it does have a technical turn at the beginning so approach with caution otherwise you might topple into the bog. Now, I don't know if it's the same Cranford buzzard but I spooked one sitting on one of the stumps so keep your eyes peeled. You'll cross over a couple of small bridges and then you have to cross a road to continue on into the back of Hounslow Heath.
Another raised path? Yep, I believe the local rambler community restored some of the trails in here. My first explore in this area wasn't pleasant but it's been looked after. You'll come to a T junction where if you turn left, you can explore Hounslow Heath or follow my route into Pevensey Road nature reserve which links itself into Crane Park. Only section to take care on is under the railway, it's very very dark.
Cross into Crane Park and follow the gravel section all the into Meadway. If you've had enough, you can pass through Twickenham and back to Richmond. Or follow the Duke of Northumberland River around the iconic Twickenham Stadium. Snake your way through Isleworth to reach the Thames towpath at Richmond Lock (once home to a very popular seal). All this section will be bound to busier than you've experienced compared to the past 20miles so take it easy and enjoy the backdrop of Richmond Hill. You can cut up the hill back to Richmond Gate or aim for Petersham where another gravel trail awaits. This will turn you back onto the Tamsin trail for one last climb back up to HQ.
And now you know, London does have gravel!
Segment Challenge #8: Crane River Slog, 2.2km