Cycling from Harwich to London
What is it like to cycle from Harwich ferry port to London in two days? In this blog we look at this beautiful route of 175 kilometers (about 108 miles) and give you a good idea of what you may encounter along the way.
After you have arrived in Harwich with the mighty Stenaline ferry from Holland and after you have passed through British customs, you may get the feeling that you have truly have entered England via its back door. An empty roundabout and a forever closed petrol station await you. In the deserted village of Parkston you will encounter your first short climb. It is tempting to cycle directly inland from here, but the A120 main road with all its lorries still driving off the ferry is anything but cycle-friendly.
Besides, you want to get away from the main roads and get to know the real England, right? That real England includes the old town of Harwich with its North Sea promenade! That is why you will head east first, via a leafy railway path to the old town centre and across the headland from the station to the promenade. The beach is covered with breakwaters, showing the fragile state of this coast line. The waves lap continuously against gravel and sandy grit. A path besides the waves takes you along the last part of the North Sea that you will encounter for a while.
Heading truly inland via the suburbs of Harwich you will end up on the B1414 road. It is anything but quiet and the sometimes noisy traffic makes you wonder whether it was a good choice to cycle in England. Fortunately, after a few miles, near the village of Little Oakley, you will find yourself on your first quiet country lane, where you will be cycling through scenic rolling countryside. Villages on the way, such as Little Bentley, feel empty and deserted. No wonder that the old fishing port of Wivenhoe, about 12 miles away, feels busy on your arrival. With a few pubs overlooking an inlet that only fills at high tide, it is a good place to be.
Via a gravel path along the river Colne you will end up in the old Roman town of Colchester. This place has grown considerably over the last 50 years, so a river path via the suburbs and an extensive park will take you to the ‘Dutch Quarter’. Flemish Protestants found a safe haven from Spanish rule in the 16th century in this historic area. Via the High Street with a good range of shops you will end up at Balkerne Gate, the remains of an old Roman city gate. You can even cycle through it!
From Colchester, it takes a while before you are back into the countryside. Once it has arrived, the rolling, peaceful low hills of the county of Essex won’t let you go. The thick hedges that you find elsewhere in England are not existent here and you will regularly have beautiful views. Tiptree is the only notable town with shops on the way until you arrive in Maldon. With a campsite near the mouth of the Blackwater estuary and an old town with several hotels, Maldon makes a good lodging town, especially because accommodation further on towards London is scarce.
On your second cycling day in England, you may sense that your adventure is now truly starting. At the village of Woodham Walter, you way goodbye to the now familiar blue route signs of England’s National Cycle Network. From here, ‘Route 1 would take you on a very long detour west, while you want to go further south towards the British capital. On our own route however, the route quality remains of the same standard. Quiet roads will take you to the village of East-Hanningfield. Here you can visit the Royal Horticultural Society Garden Hyde Hall. Closed to the public, but no less beautiful, visible from the road, is the old flour mill of the village of Stock.
At Ingatestone, you can feel the influence of busy nearby Greater London. Various bridges over a railway and a busy six lane highway take you into an area where Essex is at its hilliest and at its greenest; fields with crops, wooded hilltops, the last campsite before London at Kelvedon Hatch and then, the M25 viaduct, cycling across London’s orbital motorway. A little further, you have the choice between some unpaved forest paths in Hainault Forest and a somewhat busier, winding tarmac road.
Both routes will take you into your first real London suburb; Hainault. Here, you will turn left and right and left again, through quiet streets. Via a gate in a fence that is only open during daylight, you will cycle through a last green lung before your journey through the London suburbs really starts; The Fairlop Waters Country Park. At a horse riding school, briefly dismounting is mandatory. You will walk your bike through a meadow in between the horses.
Back on the bike, in Seven Kings, you will find yourself suddenly in a melting pot of cultures, dominated by the former colonies of the British Empire. The next hour this exposure will continue, from one colourful neighborhood to the next, until you are cycling besides the end of the London City Airport runway and you are standing on the banks of the Thames. The Woolwich ferry sails you to the south bank in about ten minutes and then a memorable trip along the wide Thames estuary will start.
The Greenwich meridian is not just a landmark on the map of the world. If you opt for our route via the park on the hill, you will have beautiful views over the former head offices of the British Navy and the Business district Canary Wharf. If you opt for the river route, you will cross the meridian at the historic ship ‘Cutty Sark’. The Thames tow path takes you further west from here, around the O2-Arena and via the Brunel Museum.
At Rotherhithe, you will pass a conveniently located youth hostel directly on the route. The Tower Bridge can be seen on the horizon from here. After the picturesque St Saviour’s Dock and the scenic street Shad Thames with its old warehouses you will find yourself suddenly cycling under the Tower Bridge. You have now truly arrived in the City of London. Another time you can read more about our continued route across the British capital.
You can start this ride from Harwich International Railway station, next to the Stenaline ferry terminal. Crossings from Hook of Holland take six to eight hours. Night sailings are preferable, as you will travel while you sleep. This makes you can start your ride in Harwich straight away in the morning, with a full day ahead of you.
The described route section ends at London Bridge station, with good rail connections further afield. In England, bicycles can be taken on the train for free, but not during peak times and depending on the capacity of the train. On some routes you need to make a reservation for bicycles.
We do not recommend the use of any bicycle trailers, cargo bikes, bike trailers, etc. This is due to various barriers on cycle paths with tight corners and narrow gaps. You may also encounter difficulties on narrow towpaths, steep slopes and when taking your equipment on the train. Note e-bikes can only be charged at booked accommodation on the way; public charging points are rare.
The route in of this blog is partly signposted. To cycle the route comfortably, we recommend using our ‘London-Land’s End Cycle Route’ guidebook. This guidebook contains route directions, maps, cycling-focused tourist information and facility listings with campsites, youth hostels, B&Bs, hotels and bicycle repair shops along the way. Order your copy now and you will receive the guide in your mailbox within a week! GPS tracks of the route will be sent to you by email.
Do you fancy reading more? See below for other available blog posts: