Reports - Intro Notes - Back to Index

Runnymede Ride


For comparison, here is another rider's report.


Sunday was St George's Day and for the first time in my life I actually gave it some thought. I had decided a while back to take part in a Reclaim St George Weekend and managed to recruit a few fellow Bicycologists to join me. Our mission was to cycle from London to Runnymede on Saturday, camp overnight, and then cycle back to London on Sunday, stopping at St George's Hill on the way and ending up at the Tibetan Peace Garden opposite St George's Cathedral. It was great fun but it was also an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of freedom in England from a historical perspective. From the Peace Garden the plan was to move to Parliament Square (once the London Marathon had passed through) for some fun and games. This event was coordinated by the good folks at People in Common who have been campaigning against section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 which makes public expression of dissent near Parliament an offence unless prior approval has been obtained from the police. Brian Haw gets away with it because, although section 132 was written with him in mind, he has since been exempted on the basis that laws can not be applied retrospectively.

I spent most of Friday fixing up Pedals so that we could have music on the ride. The rear shifter on the tandem had not been working since DSEi 2005 but it took the prospect of a long ride to provide the motivation to fix it. The cabinet also had to come apart to install a borrowed 15 inch bass driver (I was going to buy a third Eminence Delta 15 to replace the previous two which burned out for mysterious reasons on Critical Mass but discovered that Wembley Loudspeaker can probably refurbish them).

On Saturday we did a few final preparations and eventually a group of four of us set off for Runnymede at about 2pm in glorious sunshine. We chose a route which took us through Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park before crossing the river at Kingston Upon Thames. We had a nice riverside stop near Sunbury River Stop and then pressed on to Staines where we had another brief stop during which I was talked into giving someone a short ride on the back of the tandem. We then crossed Staines Bridge and followed the towpath on the South bank to arrive at Runnymede Pleasure Ground well before dark. There were already a few people there and a few more arrived as we debated what to do next. It was decided that we would be better off moving to Coopers Hill Slopes to camp and it turned out to be the right decision. We got a fire going within sight of the Magna Carta monument and by midnight there were about twenty people there to enjoy its warmth.

Those of us planning to do the ride on Sunday faced the prospect of having to get up at 6am but it was tempting to stay round the fire chatting and listening to some fine singing. At one point three of us wandered over to look at the monument Magna Carta which was lit by two powerful lights that went out while we were there (prompting speculation around the fire that we had somehow disabled them ourselves). Magna Carta is one of the most famous of all historical documents and it is not surprising that a memorial has been erected (although I was surprised that it was done by the American Bar Association). Magna Carta was first issued in 1215 by king John but it was reissued in 1216 and then again in 1217 by his son Henry III. On the second reissue it was effectively split into two documents, Magna Carta and the lesser known Charter of the Forest.

Due to an inadequate sleeping bag and continuing revelry round the campfire I didn't sleep much and just before 6am it started drizzling - which made getting up even less appealing. Fortunately someone had been up all night keeping the fire going which was a very pleasant surprise. We packed up and set off towards Weybridge, spurred on by the promise of a cooked breakfast. There were now about nine of us which meant it felt much more like a proper group ride, and at that time of morning on a Sunday there was very little traffic to worry about. As we approached Weybridge station a few minutes ahead of schedule someone spotted an Italian cafe which was just opening. Stopping for a coffee seemed like the only logical option.

After our unscheduled coffee break we rode the short distance to the Diggers memorial stone Diggers Stone at Cobbetts Hill for breakfast. The stone was carved by Andrew Whittle to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the beginning of the Diggers' enterprise in the area and is inscribed with the words "WORK TOGETHER, EAT BREAD TOGETHER". It felt like a particularly appropriate place to enjoy our fried egg sandwiches.

The ride back to London was fairly uneventful. We arrived an hour ahead of schedule so we decided to swing by someones flat to pick up a fresh battery for Pedals and take the opportunity to get out of the drizzle for a while. After more refreshments we saddled up for a ten minute ride to the Tibetan Peace Garden which was opened by the Dali Lama in 1999 (the same year that the Diggers' 350th anniversary was celebrated). About 20 people were already assembled there, plus a few police officers who had apparently been asking questions about Critical Mass. Someone from CAMPACC used Pedals' PA capability to talk about their campaign and delicious vegan food was provided by the Hare Krishnas. At this point I left to take Pedals home while others headed off towards Parliament Square.

On my way back up to Kings Cross I swung by Parliament Square to see how things were going. There was a symbolic burning of the Magna Carta (to highlight Tony Blair's cavalier approach to our ancient constitutional freedoms) and a game of cricket was played for the ashes. A ritual then took place in which the ashes were mixed with the soil which had been collected from the Magna Carta and Diggers sites. The resulting paste was used by the low priestess to anoint the "third eye" of those present in the circle.

Despite the fact that an illegal demonstration was clearly occurring right under their noses the police refrained from intervening. Presumably they had been told to avoid any arrests because the Home Secretary was due to make this speech the following day on "the media and civil liberties" - talk about spinning! Ian Gregory 2010