You will definitely* look this happy if you cycle to Hampton Court. Since I was a kid I’ve always had these really happy memories of the palace and the huge, magical maze in its back garden. One Sunday we wanted to do a short ride out of London so this swooping 20 mile route to just the maze utopia outside the city was the perfect distance. We shattered some rose-tinted memories from my childhood that weekend. Spoilers: the maze walls aren’t really ten feet tall. On the way back, we threw in a visit to a gothic castle, too, just to make sure we were really getting the most out of The National Trust. (* probably)
Let’s introduce Lucy. [Above, grinning in a Ten Speed Hero cap] She can normally be found cycling down the road with me shouting odd bicycle-related phrases such as “WE ARE CYCLE”, an odd catchphrase from a long ride which was spent feeling not just ‘at one’ with the bike, but we were the bike (it was a long ride). Unfortunately, she has a tendon problem at the moment. As a result I’ve been looking for two wheeled adventures that are slightly shorter and less tiring. The kind of gentle forty mile round trip that wasn’t going to prove too strenuous. As an added bonus, this means we also don’t need to get up so early. Great news when you’re testing your sat nav for the first time, as I discovered, four hours after installing its software – but I digress. Whilst we’ve been doing these longer trips for a little while (e.g. to Brighton), I wanted to fill in the gaps on the map closer to the city, too. It’s been fun hunting out new places to go.
This route to Hampton Court isn’t challenging, and allows you to get both lost in Richmond and disgruntled at the unexpected small hills. Timing-wise, it took us about an hour and a half cycle to get there. Call that a three-four hour trip, depending on how lazy you’re feeling.
Hampton Court is pretty twee; no denying it. It’s nice to imagine that back in the day the Tudors would have been having a banging time inside the old orange walls surrounded by gargoyles, and enjoying the gardens and green bits. Apparently the Chapel – which we completely missed on our visit – is gorgeous. You can attend chapel services without paying the palace entry fee, which is ace. (Regular Sunday services: 11am Choral Matins or Sung Eucharist, 1pm lunchtime music recitals, 2.15pm rehearsals of the choir, 3.30pm Evensong.)
On the exit, Bushy Park is opposite the main entrance so you can glide down the strange isolated roundabout that runs through the park – it’s a funny little dream on a bike – as you zoom past the deer. I adore this road through the park. Really blissful and magic (see: unlike the maze).
On the route home is a visit to the Strawberry Hill House AKA Horace Walpole’s Gothic Castle. We actually found this by accident. In the past, a friend’s friends have actually been the National Trust folk who lived inside the house looking after it and we had an awesome personal tour of the grounds. Do go inside to explore it if you can. It’s a strange little spot that’s well worth a spy around.
I learned a few things about the route – some things I liked and some I’d change for next time. All of these changes have been made in the map below, to save you the time of rocking up at the back of Hampton Court wondering where the much more stunning official entrance is (etc).
Pick a sunny day for the ride, too – it makes all the difference and the castle really comes to life. I’d recommend you find a cafe nearby instead of the extortionate on-site cafe, too. Then, on the way home, we got absolutely lost riding back through the city, going via Chelsea and skirting the North side of the river. I wouldn’t change that at all. Speedy, silly bliss.
The map below’s adjusted for all of these tweaks.