Saturday, 11 August 2012

Olympic Sightseeing Road Race ...and Box Hill

All of two week’s ago practicalities reigned and ‘the sure fire gold' had been shot down by other teams’ tactics – such is life ... and for a while the lonely face of defeat shone out ...

The peloton passes down The Mall at the start of the
Men's Cycling Road Race on day 1 of the Games

... now however the tone has changed as Rio 2016  is ahead – amazing dedication ... but probably more so the importance of support by team members and the fact British cycling is so successful ... the success is being heralded, the defeat forgotten .... Brazil lies ahead.

Regardless of that - let’s take a blog tour of those London and Surrey landmarks – ancient sights mostly – along the road race route ... 156 miles (250 km) for the men, 87 miles (140 km) for the women ...

Surrey countryside

... we used to live further west in Surrey, but would travel into London through some of these areas, or slightly further south in the London environs to see my father’s sister, or further east to see my father’s elder brother on the Surrey/Kent borders.

But now to catch up on some of the history of the area; remember after the War – Heathrow was not a commercial airport, or even called that; there was no M3, M4 or M25 (motorways) ... it is now all conurbanised (if that’s a word!).

Putney Bridge, 1793, by J Farington.  This
view shows a square-rigged 'West Country'
barge, fishermen netting for salmon and (note)
erosion of the riverbank.

The Race starts at The Mall and Buckingham Palace proceeding into Constitution Hill – so called from King Charles II’s habit of taking  “constitutional” walks along it.

Through South Kensington past Harrods and over Putney Bridge – George II, as a Prince, was inconvenienced too often on his return from hunting in Richmond Park – the ferryman was often drinking in the pub on the north bank – a bridge was requried! 

The first bridge was built in 1729 – it was a toll bridge and was at that time the only bridge between London Bridge and Kingston Bridge.

Isabella Plantation,
Royal Richmond Park
Richmond Park comes next and is a National Nature Reserve as well as a Site of Special Scientific Interest ... created by Charles 1 in 1634 ... and is still home to red and fallow deer. 

The walled Royal Park is the largest park in London being close to the wealthy suburbs of Richmond, Ham, Kingston-upon-Thames, Wimbledon, Roehampton and East Sheen.

Decorated brick chimneys at
Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace – a wonderful backdrop to the Cycling Time Trial Gold medal run a few days later – situated on the Thames ... was originally built for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, but when he fell from favour, the Palace passed to King Henry VIII in 1529.

Finally the suburbs yielded to the green fields of Surrey – this forms part of London’s commuter belt but it also boasts some stunning countryside.  The River Mole has cut its way towards the Thames on its way creating the fabulous wildlife Mole Valley.

One of the paths up Box Hill

Box Hill at 224m (735 ft), at the south-eastern corner, rises to the summit of the Surrey North Downs – whereas I live at the bottom of the South Downs in Eastbourne, Sussex ... it’s where I go up the Downs to get anywhere.

The cyclists too went up Box Hill nine times, while the women went twice ... once would be enough for me!  It’s within an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and takes its name from the ancient box woodland found on the steepest west-facing chalk slopes overlooking the River Mole.
St Michael and All Angels Church
mentioned in the Domesday Book

Within this setting the picturesque, scenically quintessential English village sits – Mickleham – recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, but known to the Saxons as it sits on the old Roman road known as Stane Street.

16th century Running Horses pub

To my surprise I see we pass the village of Gomshall – I’d never heard of this before – but I went through on the train a few weeks ago on my way to Oxford – probably a lovely journey .... but the weather was atrocious.

Gomshall Granary at the Mill
Gomshall a Saxon feudal landholding also appears in the Domesday Book ... and is on the North Downs Way.  The pub looks a good place to eat – and I’m sure there must be some interesting history here.

The local industries were based on the plentiful and constant water supply of the River Tillingbourne ... and were corn milling, watercress growing, and leather tanning.

Bridge over
River Mole

Just noticed I’m going clockwise round this route – while the cyclists went anti-clockwise ... oh well backwards-forwards through ‘til we return to Hampton Court ...

... after which they all hurtled  over Kingston Bridge connecting the counties of Middlesex on the north and Surrey on the south side of the Thames ... Middlesex being the territory of the middle Saxons – derived from Anglo Saxon, i.e. Old English, ‘middel’ and ‘Seaxe’ ... and was first recorded  as Middleseaxan in 704AD.

Kingston - the Hogsmill flowing under
 Clattern Bridge.  The bridge is mentioned
in 1293 as 'Claterynbrugge'
Kingston was a medieval market town and would not have been so successful but for the bridge – described in 1318 as being in a dangerous condition ... it was constantly being rebuilt after civil strife ... but a crossing had existed since Saxon times or earlier.

The cyclists were now back riding through recognisable suburbs, if they had time to look, back through Richmond Park, across Putney and over its bridge, through South Kensington ...

... along the southern edge of Hyde Park, down Constitution Hill (though I don’t think a constitutional would be needed), round Queen Victoria’s monument,  into The Mall for the finish ... delighted to complete the course ... and all feeling like Kings or Queens of the road.

Looking down The Mall
- Union Jacks fluttering

Here too the men’s 50 km walk and women’s km walk are happening today ... while tomorrow the men’s marathon will be run ... as too are the Paralympic Games in a couple of week’s time ... The Mall has much history associated with it ... however it is not as old as those Roman roads or ways we encountered earlier.

Welcome to an area south west of London with just a little history to its countryside, which has now become one of the iconic spectacular venues that London 2012 has firmly put on the 21st century map.

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

For all of you Jane Austen fans ... I am sure you'll be fascinated by this blog ... here's Vic's post on Emma -  Picknicking on Box Hill


Annalisa Crawford said...

Whenever they mentioned Box Hill, I thought of Jane Austen. Didn't she have her characters picnic there - Emma or maybe Northanger Abbey? I kept wondering if it was the same one, or if there are many Box Hills around the country. It kept distracting me from the racing though!

Arlee Bird said...

I'd like to do the bicycle race route at a leisurely pace--no way I could keep up with the Olympians--just so I could see all these grand sites. England seems like an ideal locale for a bicycle race like this.

Wrote By Rote

Arlee Bird said...

I'd like to do the bicycle race route at a leisurely pace--no way I could keep up with the Olympians--just so I could see all these grand sites. England seems like an ideal locale for a bicycle race like this.

Wrote By Rote

helen tilston said...

Hello Hilary

Thank you for the fascinating tour. Your live in a beautiful place and I love the spot you go to when wanting to escape

I shall miss the olympics and shall miss them.
It is so uplifting.

Helen xx

Deniz Bevan said...

What a wonderful tour, Hilary! I've been in a few of these places, but not all. Can't wait to visit London again!

scarlett clay said...

Yes, I immediately thought of "Emma" just as Annalisa did. Not sure if I should boast that my knowledge of various English landmarks comes primarily from Austen's novels! Hope to learn a bit more about the north next month on my trip. What a journey those cyclists make, but even I might cruise a little farther and a little faster with all of those beautiful sites along the way!

Francene Stanley said...

I loved the beauty and splendour shown during all the road races. I'm sure anyone watching from overseas would be awed by the ancient buildings, the trees and the cheering people along the way.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Annalisa - I am so unread! I had no idea about Emma and Box Hill .. otherwise I'd have put it in! I did find this blog that might interest you ..

Thanks so much for enlightening me - I need more of this! It is Emma's Box Hill ...

@ Lee - I agree a slow leisurely ride around would be fabulous - lots of traffic though and no-one to support us! Also could I have a car ride up Box Hill! We've had some wonderful settings for these Games.

@ Helen - how lovely to see you again .. I go up the South Downs and look at the English Channel, or to the Farm shop or one of the other walks .. but one day I must go to Box Hill - we must have gone as children occasionally.

Many of us will miss the Olympics and those sights of London, let alone seeing what the athletes can do.

@ Deniz - thanks ... like you - I've got lots of places to visit .. and plenty further out of London.

@ Scarlett - you're right too - Emma and Box Hill. What a wonderful promotion of a way to learn .. through the novels you read - Jane Austen certain inspired many of you!

Your trip is coming along very soon isn't it .. and Chester will be just amazing - I hope the Conference with Knox will be 'happy', supportive and informative - I'm sure it will be.

I think I'd slow down and just let my mind wander - but with the technical superbikes I expect I'd cruise past quite happily. Then have to go back for another visit!

Thanks everyone .. lovely to see you - catch you all anon .. enjoy the last day ... Hilary

Rosalind Adam said...

I wouldn't have been able to get up Box Hill even once! But then I can't ride a bike!! So glad you've been able to enjoy the Olympics. Take care.

Birdie said...

I would have to push my bike up Box Hill. Better yet, I would hire someone to take me and the bike up then glide all the way down! Weee!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Ros - ok you can walk! I'll join you for the sightseeing walk round ... I am enjoying the Olympics at times - just needed to write about them. I'll be over to see you soon.

@ Birdie - I'll join you in the ride and we could gently wheeeee down together - there's a lovely vineyard with some delicious wine and food at the bottom -

Perhaps we can all meet up at Denbies vineyard ..????

Lovely to see you here .. cheers Hilary

So good to see you both - cheers Hilary

Annalisa Crawford said...

Thanks for the link Hilary - following some of the other links on that site, I think it is actually the same place.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Annalisa - I'm sure it is the Surrey Box Hill as you mentioned - but I thought the blog was interesting and informative and many may enjoy the link.

Glad you came back though - thanks .. have a happy week - Hilary

Jo said...

Very interesting once again. I notice the pub was called the Running Horses. I don't remember where exactly, but I once read that King Arthur and his cohorts bred black horses which they sold all over the south with the result that many pubs are called names to do with horses, particularly Black Horse.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Jo - that's interesting to read about and something I didn't know - and explains the pub, whereas I'd just thought it was a 'drove' across the Downs - which horses and carriages would have used. Fascinating bit of information .. thanks you !

Cheers Hilary