Heritage: A schoolboy cycle trip from Hainault to Weston-super-Mare

Cycling in 1952 - jockey Lester Piggott. Photo: PA

Cycling in 1952 - jockey Lester Piggott. Photo: PA - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Hainault resident Derek Hall remembers a bicycle trip he took as a schoolboy with five friends to Weston-super-Mare

We used to love cycling.

The old airfield at Fairlop had a great big cycle track round it, and we used to practice on that – speedway cycling, when it all came into fashion in the 50s and 60s.

We used to get an old bike, take the handlebars off and get a piece of plumber’s piping, thread that through the handlebar section and that would be our speedway bike.

We’d drop the saddle right back so that it would skid just right, and we used the speedway track at Fairlop.

Eventually this progressed into teams which competed against other teams in the area.

What started out as a muck around with the boys actually became quite a big event that we’d all look forward to.

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You used to go to motorbike speedway races at West Ham, and they’d have them all over different areas of London – Wimbledon, Wembley, over in west London, so mum and dad used to take me to those.

That’s where it came from – this desire to be a speedway racer.

We trained on that two or three mile track when five of my friends and I set off one day to cycle to Weston-super-Mare – that was an adventure.

We didn’t have good bikes, we just had the old Reilly heavy-framed bikes with the old Sturmey-archer gear, none of these flashy thin gears – we had three gears and that was it.

So we set off from Hainault and through Gants Hill, round the North Circular, past the London Airport and up the A4, and we got as far as Marlborough – 90 miles – in the first day.

That’s amazing when I come to think of it.

We stayed in youth hostel association bedding, stayed there until about 3 or 4am, and then we got turfed out for making too much noise.

So we then continued the next 60 miles to Weston-Super-Mare.

Where the first day had been relatively flat the second day was much harder going as we got into more hilly areas.

As we got up towards Bath it got quite hard going, but in the end we just about made it to another youth hostel there in Weston-Super-Mare.

We decided to leave our bikes there and head into town to get some fish and chips.

They were great. But we came out of there and had a four-mile walk back to the youth hostel.

We were tired, fed up and mucking about, so there was a coach station about half a mile outside Weston-super-Mare, and they were cleaning the coaches.

So we said to one of the chaps, ‘can we get a lift back to this village?’, wherever it was.

But he said to us, ‘no, I’m done for the day, Just cleaning my coach so it’s ready for tomorrow’.

We decided to tell him our story, how we’d cycled up from London and blah blah blah, and eventually he said ‘you’ll have to pay me’.

So we said ‘yeah, okay’ and rustled up about half a crown in pennies and sixpences, because we needed most of our money for food and whatever on our cycle back home.

We got all that together, about 12 and a half pence, and he said to us ‘that’ll do’.

We all jumped on the coach and he took us off, we eventually got back to the hostel at about 10pm.

We went in and the warden said, ‘how have you got here? Did you walk, cycle or run?’

So we told him we’c actually got a coach, and he turned to us and said: ‘right, out. You can only stay at this hostel if you got here under your own steam’.

So we got our bikes, this was around half 11 at night, and we cycled back to Weston-Super-Mare to try and find ourselves somewhere to sleep.

We found these old Victorian beach huts and had to sleep in those with our cycling capes and big wooly hats on.

Anyway, at about 4am, police came along, and told us we couldn’t stay there and that if we were still there in the morning we’d be arrested.

We didn’t have much choice, so we tried to get some rest on the freezing cold beach until the sun came up, before we began our ride back home.

As you can imagine, we were absolutely exhausted by the time we made it home.