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Not the World Naked Bike Ride 2020

10 Jun 2020

Context – it all happened so fast

On 31 December 2019, a pneumonia of unknown cause, detected in Wuhan, China, was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO). A month later, on 31 January, the first cases of coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the UK were confirmed. On 5 March, a first death in the UK from the coronavirus disease – COVID-19 – was confirmed. The number of known UK cases passed 100. Six days later, WHO declared a pandemic.

On 23 March, the UK was ordered into partial lockdown. We were instructed only to leave our homes for limited purposes such as: for any medical need; to go shopping for basic necessities; to take one form of exercise a day; and to go to and from work, only when absolutely necessary. By 12 April, the number of people reported to have died with the coronavirus in UK hospitals alone exceeded 10,000.

On 14 April, just 105 days after that first report to WHO in China and with more than 12,000 deaths in the UK, the inevitable announcement came from WNBR London:

“So sorry to say it, but here is the news you were probably expecting to hear. The World Naked Bike Ride in London will not take place on 13 June 2020. Participants and spectators should not go to the start locations. WNBR London has considered current circumstances and concluded we must take a cautious approach for the safety of our participants and the general public. We assume it will still be unwise to encourage public gatherings in June.

“We have seen no reliable evidence to indicate when it will be safe to take the ride onto the streets so we have not proposed a new date for the ride. It is possible that there will be no ride in 2020. We will review the situation at each of our monthly meetings and have the ability to mount a ride at short notice if circumstances change. We will let you know if there is any news.”

Many other regional rides had already cancelled, as indeed had most events across most of the whole world. We were all shut away in our homes for our own safety and the safety of others, only allowed to take exercise outdoors with members of our own household. People were dying by the thousand, while the living were going stir-crazy within their own four walls. We all needed a lift. We needed to do something. Safely.

Bowers Marsh Naked Bike Ride

Locked-down in south Essex, Esther and I decided that for one day, our ‘one form of exercise‘ would be our very own naked bike ride. Not a World Naked Bike Ride – not an official one – but one for ourselves, somewhere local, without many people about, where we could ride for at least 10km, for more than hour, without courting trouble or breaking the lockdown rules. We opted for RSPB Bowers Marsh Nature Reserve.


9:47am by Church Road: ready to roll

Royal Society for Protection of Birds (RSPB) reserve facilities were closed but its walking and cycling trails remained accessible. In early sunshine on Monday 1 June, we painted our chests with positive slogans, saddled-up in loose clothing and set off. Our start point was by Church Road, a couple of kilometres from home, just south of its bridge over the A13. We undressed in the tree-shadows of a discreet side turning.

Church Road descent

At 9:47am, we began. This upper part of Church Road passes beside a crematorium and cemetery so we took great care to check that nobody was visiting. Further along, we were ignored by a mother and daughters out walking, before we hooked right and freewheeled down the steep hill leading to St Margaret’s Church. After a brief photo stop, we continued to the end of the road and turned right, into the reserve itself.


9:48am by Church Road: waiting for traffic to clear


9:49am on Church Road: about to turn south


9:51am on Church Road: freewheeling downhill


9:53am on Church Road: a pose at St Margaret’s Church


9:54am on Church Road: under the c2c rail line between Benfleet and Pitsea


9:54am on Church Road: the parked cars of other visitors


9:55am on Church Road: into the reserve we go

Round to Great Pound

For the rest of our ride we would be bumping along stone tracks. Our outbound route would be roughly circular, going anticlockwise: north to west to south to east to north. We started slowly, our city bike wheels crackling the pale gravel beneath us. The first quarter of the ride took us to the most westerly point of our circle, the first lake of our traverse, evocatively named ‘Great Pound scrape‘.


9:58am: starting slowly off road


9:59am: no knowing what’s around each corner


10:00am: our only encounter on this stretch – a lone twitcher


10:02am: not many obstacles, but this was one


10:05am: emerging from the bushes into marshland and reeds

Between the lagoons

The south part of this circuit sent us between two lagoons: a freshwater lagoon to our left and a saline lagoon to our right. On the path by a reedbed at the first of these, we met our second twitcher; a nice chap with whom we stopped to talk for a few minutes. He wasn’t the least bit bothered by our nudity, but warned us that other people ahead might take offence. I smiled; we were natural in nature, just part of the wildlife.


10:10am: a sign of life, part 1


10:11am: now heading south-east


10:20am: a chat with a friendly twitcher


10:27am: ignoring a helicopter overhead


10:28am: freshwater left, saline right


10:29am: gates for grazing cattle


10:31am: under a big sky

The long way

A couple of women on bicycles passed while we chatted, taking no notice and surely no offence. We pushed on: first left towards the Old Saltings viewing point, then right, but a missed left-turn meant we would be going the long way around. Ahead we saw the people about whom we’d been warned, but it looked like they were only a couple of minutes’ walk from their parked cars. We waited a short while, then continued.


10:32am: first left


10:34am: Old Saltings left… but we’re going right


10:36am: a sign of life, part 2


10:38am: passing a frogless pond


10:44am: within metres of completing one circuit

Parking and picnic tables

Almost back at Church Road, we turned left onto a narrow path running alongside the pre-pandemic entrance to the car park. We walked our bikes over a low embankment, cycled across its surface of broken white shells, walked over another embankment on the far side, then veered right, around a barn and between picnic tables. On a superb morning like this, I was surprised to find the whole area deserted.


10:46am: entering the car park


10:46am: car park crossing


10:48am: one hour into our ride


10:49am: no picnickers here


10:50am: back towards the Old Saltings

Saline Lagoon

We soon completed a loop back to the Old Saltings crossroads from where we would start our long return journey. We hadn’t gone very far, however, when we took a short detour along a more overgrown track down to East Haven wildlife viewing point at the saline lagoon. Here it was private enough for us to get off our bikes and take a break, with little chance any random encounters.


10:51am: an utterly pointless gate


10:55am: up to East Haven wildlife viewing point


10:59am: us

Backtracking

It was a few minutes past 11am when we rejoined the main track. From this point on, we would be backtracking paths we’d already ridden. With a friendly nod, we passed another cyclist (clothed) and we met our twitcher friend again as he looked for marsh harriers and cuckoos. In the last quarter, we overtook a guy that we’d crossed on our outbound journey, and we passed a couple of women walkers. None complained.


11:03am: between the lagoons again


11:13am: with an RSPB van away to our right – distant, but did they see us?


11:14am: into the final quarter


11:16am: a walker we’d passed once before


11:18am: cracked my chain guard on this bloody barrier


11:22am: St Margaret’s Church in sight

Finished!

We called a halt to our ride just before we rejoined Church Road. It was 11:23am and we’d been cycling naked for more than an hour and a half. Under a cloudless sky, our backs had been baked, our nostrils assailed by pollen and our exhilaration eventually became exhaustion. Our ride was finished and so were we; but we had honoured the official WNBR spirit. Let’s hope that spirit can reclaim our cities before 2020 ends.


11:23am: end of the first – and probably last – Bowers Marsh Naked Bike Ride

Our ride on Vimeo

Our route around Bowers Marsh

Open the official RSPB Bowers Marsh Nature Reserve trails guide (PDF 156KB).

About the World Naked Bike Ride (WNBR)

WNBR is a worldwide campaign that demonstrates the vulnerability of cyclists and protests against car culture. Its linked objectives are to:

  1. protest against the global dependency on oil
  2. curb car culture
  3. obtain real rights for cyclists
  4. demonstrate the vulnerability of cyclists on city streets
  5. celebrate body freedom

From → Causes

2 Comments
  1. Chris permalink

    A fantastic achievement so well done. To cycle that far and in full public view totally naked requires a lot of courage. Surely you will do it again!

  2. Lovely account of your cycle ride, thanks. You are very fortunate to have a partner you can share the experience with. Unfortunately, a lone naked male sometimes elicits a different response from the public. Also really agree with your comments on the models selected for online drawing. In some classes there has been a noticeable preference for conventional body stereotypes. With in person classes picking up let’s hope this is temporary.

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