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What's that? Social distancing is going to continue for many months? Well, we've got plenty of experiences for that. But for one that brings together fresh air, a dash of booze and plenty of fun, we sent Lydia Winter on one of our favourites – a gin-soaked bicycle tour through the historic streets of Bermondsey. Here's exactly what she got up to...

Dust off your exercise books, sharpen your pencils and get ready for a history lesson. But this isn't any old history lesson: this one features gin. And bicycles. And if that sounds like a dangerous combination, fear not, because you'll be wearing a tweed hat while you're doing it – and that, as we all know, makes everything OK. 

You might think I'm talking total nonsense, but I'm describing a gin bicycle safari, equal parts scintillating and silly, and an utterly brilliant way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon in mid-September.

And so I found myself on the streets of Bermondsey perched on a sturdy Pashley bicycle, learning all about dear London's long love affair with gin, all the way from its arrival in the 18th century to our current verve for all things juniper. 

Our herd of eight intrepid cyclists – split into two groups of four for covid-19 social distancing purposes – was led by two fine dandies, Shibby and Whisky Mick (I don't think Gin Mick has quite the same ring to it), dressed appropriately in tweed and plenty of facial hair.

Where we rode wide-handle-barred Dutch bikes, their steeds were souped up with everything you need for a roving bar: ice bucket filled with ice, various gins and plenty of tonic. 

After a safety briefing, we were let loose from The Walrus pub in Waterloo, bells a-ringing and horns a-honking, pootling around the backstreets at a leisurely pace until we reached the picturesque Trinity Church Square, where we had our first stop. 

Bermondsey gin safari bicycle review

Did you know that alcohol is called Dutch courage because Dutch soldiers carried around a small bottle of jenever – gin's predecessor – which they'd glug before heading off into battle? Yeah, me neither. And this was just one of many, many tantalising tidbits we heard throughout the day, washed down by a slug of jenever itself: a spicy, punchier (and what felt more alcoholic) spirit more similar to what gin would've tasted like way back when. 

From there, we headed to Bermondsey Street, learning about the area's leather-making history; we stopped in the cemetery for a sip or five of more modern gins, paired with a Bermondsey tonic. 

We visited Maltby Street market for delicious, stomach-lining snacks (a duck arancini ball and duck fat chips, in case you're asking), followed by a picturesque pitstop overlooking the choppy waters of the Thames and Tower Bridge at high tide. 

And all the while, our tour was peppered with unexpected facts and tall tales, adding flavour to an area of London that's as rich in history as it is in, erm, booze.

Bermondsey gin bicycle safari review

My friend – a long-standing Bermondsey resident and huge advocate for South London – said it made love her area even more, and that she didn't have the faintest idea about most of it. So there you go.

Our last stop was on Leake Street for some history of a different kind. The tunnel is a shrine to street art, its walls an ever-changing canvas of artists large and small. It's got absolutely nothing to do with gin, but it made for a brilliant backdrop for our final drink, the Bushy Tail – one of Shibby's own creations. 

And when we got back to HQ, there was final, optional part of the tour: riding a pennyfarthing. Yes, the kind with the massive front wheel and the tiny back wheel. I gave it a go and I won't tell you what happened… But it's definitely not one for the faint of heart.

FURTHER READING: Social distancing can be fun, too! Here's exactly how to nail a stay home celebration.


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