I am a former journalist and editor, currently writing fiction for adults and children. Visit my website at www.karengrikitis.wordpress.com.
Are you a fan of the Tour de France and sit there watching the highlights on TV, wishing you were either one of the cyclists, pushing yourself physically to the limit up one of the mountain stages, or one of the spectators, enjoying the sunshine and carnival atmosphere as the riders stream past?
Well, now is your chance to try either or both, here in London. Highgate's equivalent of the Col de la Madeleine is Swain's Lane, an excruciating 800m ascent by bike, with a gradient that rockets to 18% at its steepest. I have cycled up it on a number of occasions – it's a great way to 'earn' that cream cake at one of the little coffee shops in Highgate Village at the top – and I can testify to its toughness, and the feeling of satisfaction when you cycle all the way up without getting off your bike.
If you don't think you're quite up to tackling such a challenge just yet, then you could always cheer on some of the 260 locals, visitors and cycle club members who take part in the annual Urban Hill Climb up Swain's Lane every July. Spectators can line the route up the hill, shouting words of encouragement as each cyclist goes past. The race takes place over two hours in the evening, with pairs of riders setting off a minute or so apart. If you notice any other-worldly beings along the route, don't worry, they're probably just some of the ghosts reputed to haunt this 15th century lane.
There is no entry fee for either spectator or competitor and once you've had enough of watching straining muscles and faces contorted with pain, I would recommend The Flask Pub round the corner at the top of the hill.
The nearest underground station to Swain's Lane is Highgate on the Northern Line, which brings you out about 2km north of your destination but if you have time on your hands and fancy a stroll across Hampstead Heath, take the overground to Gospel Oak or Hampstead Heath and come out on the Highgate Road side, which takes you on to Swain's Lane.