I often hear people complaining that London is too big. And I too have moaned about this in the past. However, cycling has now given me a different perspective.
When living in Oxford, a few times I brought my bike on the Oxford Tube coach and cycled around London. I was pleasantly surprised how little time it took me to get from the west end to the east end. Afterwards when I checked the map to see the distance I covered, it confirmed that distances were indeed low.
After I moved to London in May, I decided to cycle as much as possible, and record my experience.
Borough to Hackney
On one of my first weekends I cycled from my flat in Borough-Southwark to the London Fields up in Hackney for a picnic. London Fields is as far north as I would want to go on a regular basis. And there is very little reason for me to travel further south than where I live. This ride was 4 miles (6.5 km) and it took me about 25 minutes. This gives you an idea of a long bike ride in London. As a side note, using public transport this journey would have taken 40-45 minutes.
Many cool places are a lot closer. For example Southbank is 0.9 miles (1.5 km) away and it takes 5 minutes by bicycle; Angel/Islington is 2.6 miles (4.2 km), 16 minutes on the bike; Shoreditch and Brick Lane are a similar distance. On the west side, Hyde Park is 2.7 miles (4.4 km), a 20 minute bike ride.
A typical day out
On a typical day out on Sunday a couple of weeks ago I first went to The Proud Archivist in Haggerston, to see short movies that were being shown as part of the Open City Documentary Festival. The ride up there was 3.8 miles (6.1 km) and it took me about 18 minutes (true, on this occasion I was fast, but at most it would have taken me another 5 minutes).
The Proud Archivist, by the way, is a wonderful multi-purpose venue right by the Regent’s Canal. It has a cafe (where we had Sunday roast, and whiled away the afternoon with a couple of beers), an exhibition space where there was a photography exhibition, and an upstairs part where the movies were being shown. I read that they are also in the process of building a small outdoor cinema next to the cafe downstairs.
From there I cycled to the Market Place Bar in Soho, where the closing gala of the festival was taking place. That ride as well took me about 20 minutes. The friend I was with took a taxi and arrived 5 minutes after me. From there I cycled back home. The whole journey was 9.7 miles (15.6 km). And took me less than an hour.
If I had taken public transport, I would have had to use a combination of the tube, buses, and the overground train. The first leg of the journey would have been 40 min, the second leg 30 min, and the third 20 min. That’s a total of 90 min!
My London Box
Having been living in London for 7-8 weeks now, I can say that probably much of my life here will be taking place in the box shown on the map below. I might not even venture anywhere more west than Hyde Park — except for The Notting Hill Carnival. North to south the distance of this box is about 4 miles (6.5 km). West to east most journeys would be maximum 4 miles (6.5 km). The circumference of this area is 21.1 miles (34 km). And the whole of it is flat.
How does London compare to Oxford?
In Oxford I lived in St Clement’s, near the centre. I would cycle to work to Headington, which was 1.3 miles (2.1 km) away (In London I walk to work, as right now my work is based near Tower Bridge, a 25 min walk from home). The furthest south I would go was the Isis Farmhouse by the river, which was 2.4 miles (3.9 km) from my house. And furthest north was the Port Meadow and the Trout Inn, which was about 4.2 miles (6.8 km) away.
The map below shows roughly the area I was living in when I was in Oxford. The circumference of it is 12.7 miles (20.4 km). Which means the circumference of my area in London is only 1.66 times my area in Oxford!
This is more remarkable when you consider that London’s population is 8.5 million whereas Oxford’s is 150,000.
It will be interesting to see one year down line how much I will have ventured out of my London box. For example I have left out places like Brixton and Clapham, which at some point I might explore.
One can argue that Zone 1 in London is expensive to live in, and that distances from other zones would be more. True, but when living in Zone 1, I don’t have to use public transport. I can use the £200 per month I would have paid for transport towards rent. Plus, I save time.
It is also important to note that the tube in London does not always take the shortest route. Rarely does a journey take less than 20 minutes, and if you have to change, trip time easily goes up to 30-40 minutes. With a car or a bus you are often stuck in traffic, whereas on a bike you can always meander through the traffic.
Sure, sure, London feels big, it’s hectic, it’s chaotic, but actually it is small (on a bicycle).