London’s Olympic Gravel Overnighter
50 Mi.(80 KM)
% Rideable (time)
Born and raised in London, the UK and Europe have been Rory’s stomping ground for two wheel adventures. Having recently made the jump across to New York, he’s reunited with his favorite cycling companion and is looking forward to exploring new ground.
This squiggly loop packs in plenty of adventure, nature, and food whilst barely leaving the London perimeter that is the M25. At 95% traffic free and mostly flat, it makes for a perfect introduction to overnighters or a swift after-worker for the well acquainted.
Soon after the start you’ll find yourself in the middle of a tug of war between nature and city. Cycling alongside fields of horses and a serene canal, avoiding fishing rods as you go, you’ll be reminded of what you’ve left behind as you pass commuters, warehouses, and a London bus depot whilst dwarfed by overhead electricity pylons.
Upon reaching the lakes at the top of the Lee Valley Country Park, you’re rewarded with a sense of tranquility and calm. My favourite, if short, stretch of the route through a dense canopy of mossy trees and wet shrubbery at Osier’s Marsh comes soon after. When you hit Epping forest, you’re in for a treat on the gravel tracks that dreams are made of. Short bursts of uphill and downhill combined with swooping turns make for a really fun ride.
Make sure to take in some of the best nature accessible to Londoners on your way. Deer lurk in the depths of Epping Forest and otters swim in the waters of the Lee Valley Nature Reserve. Have a break at The Grebe bird hide near Holyfield Lake to see what you can spot and stop for a second to take in the size of Grimston’s Oak in Epping Forest, said to be about 350 years old.
At the end of the route, celebrate your hard work with a victory lap around the outside of the 2012 Olympic velodrome before heading to Crate Brewery for beer and pizza on the canal.
Overall: 3 / Technical difficulty: 3 / Physical demand: 2 / Resupply and Logistics: 3
This is an easy route and at 95% traffic free it’ll be enjoyable for everyone, regardless of confidence or experience. It isn’t physically or technically challenging as it’s mostly flat and surfaces are generally compact gravel, though from the bottom of Epping Forest to Whipps Cross it will be muddy when wet. If you want something a little more demanding, going off route and exploring Epping Forest is fully encouraged. There are several cafes and spots to eat at on route, but you won’t pass any supermarkets so you’ll have to make a small detour if you plan to stock up on snacks.
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- The Olympic Velodrome where team GB won 7 of their 8 cycling golds in 2012.
- Original Tea Hut, also known as “The Bikers Hut”, has been serving up hot food and drink since the 1920’s. Best for hot baps and a cuppa.
- The path through Osier Marsh in Gunpowder park is stunning and beautifully green and mossy.
- The Grebe Hide is a small bird watching hut down a short dead end track. A quiet spot for a rest and a chance to spot some wildlife.
- Epping Forest is home to probably the finest gravel tracks inside the M25.
- The ice cream truck at High Beech serves up a killer 99 flake.
- Camping at Lee Valley Almost Wild Campsite.
- Heading straight out of London on traffic free gravel.
- Keep an eye out for a herd of deer.
- When to go: Dry weather is your friend, though if you wait for a rain free weekend in the UK you might be waiting a long time.
- Logistics: The nearest stations are Hackney Wick for the Overground and Stratford for National Rail. Note that you won’t be able to take your bike on the London Underground, unless we’re talking about a folding bike, in which case, kudos! The route is easily accessible on two wheels from East London and further afield if you link up some of the TFL cycle routes.
- Dangers and Annoyances: This route follows shared use pathways through nature reserves and recreational areas so be considerate of people fishing, bird watching and walking.
- Bike: The route was designed to be rideable on pretty much any bike. The gravel and dirt are compact and there aren’t any particularly challenging moments. If I had to pick, I’d choose a gravel bike with at least 35mm tyres or something a little chunkier if you want to spend time getting lost in Epping Forest trails.
- There will be mud, a lot of mud, in the winter, particularly towards the end of the Epping Forest section.
- The Epping Forest section follows the main gravel tracks, but is also home to hundreds of trails amongst the trees. Getting lost is encouraged.
- All of the route is rideable.
- You’ll pass two campsites, Lee Valley Almost Wild Campsite and Debden House. The Almost Wild campsite would be my pick, with pitches sat amongst the trees and long grass next to a slow flowing river. It’s even within range of take away food delivery if you’d rather not bring the cookware. Make sure to book in advance.
- Note that if you plan on staying at Lee Valley Almost Wild Campsite, you’ll reach it pretty quickly as it’s flat and not far until this point. This makes it a great option for anyone planning an after worker or a leisurely late start.
- I wouldn’t recommend wild camping. It’s illegal in most of England, plus Epping Forest is busy and you’re never more than 50m from a trodden path.
- One water fountain has been marked on the map. Being only 7km from the official centre of London at times, filling up from any “natural” sources might give your body more problems than it solves.
- There are several cafes marked on route, all of which serve hot food. Make sure to check opening times as they’ll be closed before you’re ready for an evening meal.
- Plenty of breweries, bars, and pubs lie a five to ten minute cycle away from the end point and some on route.
- When you finish, visit Crate Brewery for pizza and beer on the canal. Tank Brewery, next door, also has a great selection of beers.
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