For keen cyclists based in London one of the key focal areas to ride a bicycle is Richmond Park. Go there on any Saturday or Sunday and you will be struck by how many people are riding around.
The perimeter road of the Park is approximately 7.5 mile in circumference, so it is a convenient distance for any cyclist.
For the novice 7.5 miles could be a challenge, especially when going anti-clockwise and tackling the climbs up to Richmond Gate and from Kingston Gate. Racing cyclists enjoy practicing chain gang training rides over multiple laps of the park and challenge themselves to complete a lap in under 20 minutes (without being caught for breaking the 20mph speeding)!
I used to really enjoy going to Richmond Park, both for cycling and for running (the park is popular with hundreds of runners too!). Being there is like being in the countryside despite being less than 5 miles from Chelsea. It is peaceful, lush and there is even a bit of wildlife in the form of deer which have been there since the time of Henry VIII.
I miss Richmond Park, with its lovely trees, nature reserves and beautiful views over the suburbs of London. But the great news is I have now found the answer to that here in the Northwest - Tatton Park!
Just after the pretty, upmarket town of Knutsford is Knutsford Gate, which leads into a vast area of parkland, that gave me the same feeling of openness and freedom as Richmond Park. There are quite a few similarities between these two Parks. Both parks have listed buildings and stately homes with bijou tearooms. Both have nature reserves and green spaces where you can lose yourself away from the madding crowd. Both of them seem to be under flight paths to major airports!
There a couple of small differences. Richmond Park has a few hills, and Tatton Parks has a couple of long lakes (or meres). However, there is no doubt that on any Saturday or Sunday both parks become awash with walkers, runners, horseriders, people fishing and cyclists doing laps.
So that's where I was last Sunday with a group of cyclists from Manchester Wheelers. This club, which is quite active in the North-West had organised a women's training ride in the park. Although it was the first time I was meeting the other riders everyone was very welcoming and I felt quite at home with them within a short time of starting the ride. One lap of the park measured five miles and was largely flat, with a section of the lap going outside of the park boundary.
Around 15 of us turned out for the ride and we split into ability groups. Acouple of guys were there to give tips and advice on "through and off" and "holding the wheel". It was all useful stuff, especially as I was a little rusty on all of this given my lack of road racing activity last year.
Riding around felt like the good old days - enjoying a training ride, seeing other local cyclists and saying hello and returning home feeling motivated and invigorated to do more.
So, I think I will be back in Tatton Park before long. I get the feeling that this could become one of my local hangouts over the coming months.