diamond geezer

 Tuesday, June 30, 2015

THE UNLOST RIVERS OF LONDON
Beam River
Stapleford Abbotts → Romford → Dagenham (3 miles)
[Bourne Brook → Rom (+ Ravensbourne) → Beam → Thames]


Technically the Beam River begins three paragraphs down today's report, at the confluence of the Rom and the Ravensbourne. But I decided to break off from part one of my report early because a) it balances the two halves, b) the character of the river changes below Roneo Corner, c) there's only so much Havering you can take in one go. Next stop, Dagenham. [10 photos]

After crossing the main road at Roneo Corner, the Rom is allowed to return to being a river rather than a concrete channel. Initially it's a slow transition, up a trackway past the YMCA, but then green banks open out alongside yet another patch of recreational space. Despite the lovely weather Grenfell Park is not over-occupied, my visit interrupting one middle-aged couple being amorous on a bench, and absolutely nobody else. I can only assume that Havering's children don't go running around outdoors any more, or aren't allowed to. An unsigned path leads through a thicket to an extensive riverside meadow, which I follow with increasing joy at being the only person here. Eventually the grass tapers out and a narrow path weaves into a strip of woodland beside the meandering river. The path is well-trodden enough that it must lead somewhere, but there are no clues as to precisely where. Fingers crossed.

At one point an earth bank appears to my left, so I scramble up and am surprised to find myself staring at a young driver through a stationary windscreen. She seems reticent to turn left and move on, down what looks like a minor private road serving absolutely no houses at all. I later discover that this peculiar facility is the Cardrome Learner Centre, a 12 acre network of pseudo-roads for the benefit of those learning to drive. Opened in 1955 (and it looks it!), users can hire a car or bring their own - ideal for any not-yet-17 year-old keen to get behind the wheel. And on the far side is the Rom Skatepark, Britain's only Grade II listed skatepark, unchanged since 1978 and built from seamless pressurised concrete. A series of hollows and ramps provide considerable challenge, including an obligatory halfpipe and the iconic Vertibowl. Alas the surrounding wall means you'll only catch a glimpse from a passing double decker, or satellite mapping, or even better by getting out your board or BMX and coming down.



It's here or hereabouts, at the foot of Harrow Lodge Park, that the Beam River officially begins. The Ravensboune joins the Rom unseen, having disappeared beneath the hillside after pooling in the park's (rather attractive) central lake. This is also where my progress south switches from the Havering to the Barking and Dagenham side of the stream, at a single track lane leading to some riding stables, in what feels very much like the middle of nowhere. I'm negotiating the hidden delights of The Chase Nature Reserve, while to my right is Eastbrookend Country Park, a vast tract of gravel pits transformed into public space 20 years ago. At this least-accessible end I find a group of grazing horses, and also Britain's rarest native tree, a Black Poplar inside its own fenced-off enclave. There are also other people - it's been a while - most of them out walking the wolves that pass for dogs in these parts.

The Beam River's progress feels wonderfully natural, through reedy shallows along banks strewn with manure, until the stream meets the District line and disappears through an arch beneath the tracks. If you've ever ridden out towards Upminster you'll know The Chase Nature Reserve as the big green gap between Dagenham East and Elm Park. There's only one footbridge across too, in a not entirely accessible location, screened off more vehemently than usual to prevent local youth from damaging passing trains. The Beam is readily spotted on the other side, with a further bridge leading to yet another floodplain park where Havering dare not build. On the B&D side I'm left to wander flourishing riverbanks tinged with summer's red, with the occasional weir and stepping stones, again wondering why nobody else is out to enjoy the scene.



And finally a road! There's been no other through road cross the river since Roneo Corner over two miles back, which just goes to show how much of a barrier a natural waterway can be. This particular dual carriageway links Old Dagenham to South Hornchurch, the latter blighted by a large landfill site on the eastern riverbank. Thankfully the footpath follows the western bank, entering the Beam Parklands, a major flood prevention scheme completed in 2011. To the untrained eye it looks like a bowl of woody parkland, but in fact there's sufficient drainage capacity here to fill 180 Olympic-sized swimming pools should the Thames come knocking. Also present are the remains of a canal, the not so legendary Romford Canal, on which work began in the 1870s but was never completed. This is the wrong time of year to see it, dry and overgrown, but a rough indentation can be clearly seen where footpaths cross the former channel.

Another (brief) river joins the Beam here, the Wantz Stream, arriving in a blaze of colour through a stepped concrete weir. Here too is an fenced-off sluice, installed by the Environment Agency to permit a gap in the flood defences. I shouldn't have headed this way to escape, the gate at the end was locked, so I was forced to nip up and over into one of the adjacent protected estates. And I'd not be getting much further after that either, sorry. The Beam's last three quarters of a mile run through private land, the former Ford Dagenham car works. This vast post-industrial swathe now includes Eurostar tracks, a large Tesco distribution centre, the elevated A13 and what remains of Ford's operations, including car parks full of imports and the odd giant windmill. One day there may be 5000 homes and a new station here, Beam Park, but don't count your chickens. Until then the Beam reaches the Thames unseen, except perhaps from Belvedere on the opposite shore, but let's not go there.

 Monday, June 29, 2015

THE UNLOST RIVERS OF LONDON
River Rom
Stapleford Abbotts → Romford
→ Dagenham (6 miles)
[Bourne Brook → Rom (+ Ravensbourne) → Beam → Thames]


Well what did you expect the river that flows through Romford to be called? It's a long one too, given three different names on its downhill journey. The River Rom rises just beyond the M25 as the Bourne Brook, a dully tautological name, but thankfully that's in Essex so I've not got to walk that bit. Three miles down, in the village of Stapleford Abbotts, it turns south and transmogrifies into the Rom. Then below Romford, at the confluence with The Ravensbourne (no, not that one), it changes its name again to become the Beam River. This last three mile stretch perfectly defines the border between Havering and Barking and Dagenham, which just goes to show how crucial rivers are in defining modern London. Checking on a map before I set out I assumed I'd be walking a lot of the route along roads, but this turned out not to be the case because there were extensive riverside paths. Indeed what I'd been expecting to be a trifle purgatorial proved anything but, although I doubt the riverbanks would be quite so welcoming in February. [10 photos]



Stapleford Abbotts is the first village out of London on its far northeastern rim, located a few dips beyond Havering-atte-Bower. As such to reach it requires travelling on one of TfL's least frequent buses, the 90-minutely 375 from Romford, and some carefully coordinated scheduling. About half of the passengers on the post-shopping run alight in H-a-B, while the rest of us continue to the straggly strings of mostly modern houses that define S A. The Bourne Brook has its own bus stop, which is more than this trickle of water between cottages rightly deserves, and its own lane which doglegs off towards Lambourne End. The stream next appears at Bourne Bridge, as a barely perceptible feature, and it's from this point down that the river is officially known as the Rom.

A footpath tracks the Rom's first few hundred metres, running up the side of a house with horses, then across a field littered with evidence of their diet. Within a clump of trees two narrow footbridges lead across a tributary (the Spurgate Brook) and then the main stream, now at least with perceptible flow. The next mini footbridge may not look significant but it's where London begins, as can be deduced by the Essex-style footpath marker on one side and a Havering-esque roundel on the other. Alas by now the river has darted off across private land, the local landowners confining ramblers to a narrow strip of grass between paddocks so that their horses can safely graze.

You'll know the next bit if you've ever walked London Loop section 20, ascending a low hill along the wooded edge of Havering Country Park. There's also a fantastic view across central London, from the spiky Dome and dense Docklands cluster to the familiar silhouettes of the South Bank and City. I've trained my camera on the horizon, across the green indentation of the Rom valley, and very definitely not on the farmer and his family out inspecting the horses at the foot of the nearest field. Nevertheless I'm unnerved to see his Shogun slowly ascend the slope, pull over alongside and wind down the window for a chat. In the awkward conversation that follows he moves from outright suspicion to inviting me to pop down to the farm to share the negatives, and I think we're both equally relieved as the other moves on.



That's it for fields. The Rom hits built-up London alongside Carter Drive, where some suspiciously young lads in baseball caps sit in souped-up motors waiting for me to get out of the way. This is Havering Park, a low-spec interwar estate which would have swamped the valley to the north had not the Green Belt been slapped down. I'm expecting to have to walk the streets but was pleased to find a freshly-mown waterside path to follow between the backs of tiny gardens - the Collier Row Green Link. The river is barely visible beneath lush billowing vegetation, a more than pleasant scene which will be repeated at several other points downstream. And yet absolutely nobody else is out taking advantage of this half mile natural amenity, presumably because local residents are more car people than walkers.

I enter Collier Row Recreation Ground behind a trio of young girls leading their toddler brother towards the playground. "Run!" they shriek, "the old man's going to get you!", and the littl'un runs with all his might. It's a very friendly borough, Havering, so long as you fit in. The Rom gets a namecheck on the bridge at Collier Row Road, flowing through its first drab concrete channel between a builders' merchant and the Gospel Hall. And then it dashes off across inaccessible nomansland, past allotments and the back of a school playing field, so please bear with me while I walk fifteen minutes of pavement.

King George's Playing Fields are a triangular kickabout space, seemingly for the walking of dogs around the perimeter, with the Rom forming a decorative border along one side. Approaching the 'Teenage Area' the river looks at its most normal, a shallow brook overshadowed by trees, with the mandatory blue rope dangling above the shoals. And then the river escapes again, ducking beneath the Eastern Avenue dual carriageway to enter a wedge of retail sheds to the north of Romford town centre. The cul-de-sacs leading off North Street have names like Brooklands Approach and Riverside Close (very close, if you live in the latter).



Romford has learned to be cautious of its namesake river. In August 1888 the Great Flood inundated the High Street to a depth of several feet, destroying shopkeepers' stock and washing thirty thousand beer barrels far downstream. It took the town six months to clean up, and the disaster finally spurred the council to build better drainage across the town. In the 1950s the Rom was reengineered as a deep concrete channel, with what looks like a slightly-raised footpath to one side, the banks now much beloved by grafitti artists. Meanwhile the section between the ring road and the railway was permanently culverted, much of this stretch now covered by The Brewery superstores complex, or more accurately its car park. Little do they realise as they hunt for a parking space, or take the scenic escalator to the cinema, or waddle into the Toby Carvery, that the town's namesake river lies beneath.

The Rom reappears beyond the viaduct, still tamed by concrete, emerging to public view on the ring road (round the back of an office building which, damn, I've been trying not to revisit for over 15 years). The river has been honoured with its own streetname, Rom Valley Way, and consequently by the Rom Valley Way Retail Park (which boasts both a Mothercare and Carpet Right). It's a shame there isn't a computer warehouse for some wag to name Rom ROMs, but the river always feels tolerated rather than celebrated round here. And then we're at Roneo Corner, named for the Roneo Vickers factory that once stood here, now an extra-busy road junction. It's here that the boundary with Barking and Dagenham feeds in, and continues to the Thames, but we'll do that tomorrow if you don't mind. Or even if you do.

 Sunday, June 28, 2015

It was a lovely day yesterday, so I went for a 12 mile walk. I am eventually going to tell you all about this 12 mile walk, in more detail than you'll probably require, because that's how I roll. But to do this properly will take more hours than I have available, so you can have that report later, whether you want it or not. In the meantime I'm going to write about my day out from a completely different angle, and one which hopefully completely disguises what I did.

It was a lovely day yesterday, so I went for a 12 mile walk. This wasn't the plan when I woke up, indeed I had no plans at all at this point, so over a cup of tea I selected a "Thing To Do" from my great unwritten list. Of all the things I could have chosen, this felt like a suitably offbeat way to waste a gloriously sunny afternoon of opportunity. I wasted the morning away, and had a bath, and had another cup of tea, and finally at twelve noon I was ready to leave the house.

I took a couple of trains to a town in outer London, where I walked through the main shopping centre but didn't buy anything, not even a snack or a drink or anything. If anyone ever comes with me on any of these trips they invariably stop for liquid refreshment at this point, usually caffeine based, because they know I won't have organised my day out based on proximity to barista availability. But I was fine at this point, because I'd had two cups of tea for heavens sake, and there was only a 12 mile walk to go. One bus ride later, off I strode.

There were no shops in the village where I started, so far as I could tell, so it was just as well I wasn't hunting for a bottle of water. I should have brought one with me, to be honest, but I never remember, and my London 2012 bottle leaks anyway so what would be the point? I found the footpath I needed down a country lane, and set off south across the dung-strewn fields. There even was a damned excellent view of central London at one point, which was fortunate because I could point at it when the highly suspicious local farmer drove over to ask what on earth I was taking photos of.

Eventually the countryside faded out and, somewhat suddenly, the suburbs of London kicked in. There are no shops in these back streets, I suspect everyone drives to Tesco, although I understand I narrowly missed a Costa Coffee at one point because everywhere has to have one these days. There wasn't a footpath where I really wanted to go so I had to divert, past a parade of shops which had a newsagent but it was sponsored by The Sun, so I gave that a miss on principle. In the next playing fields I spied a cafe of sorts, which I was sorely tempted to pop into for liquid refreshment, but it appeared they'd closed two minutes ago, dammit.

By now I'd been walking for over five miles and was re-approaching the town I'd passed through earlier. This was packed with queueing traffic and reddening people in t-shirts, most of them milling around the main shopping centre for the opportunity to consume. It's the last place I'd want to spend an afternoon, an artificial conglomerate of pizza restaurants, big chains and cinema, so I eschewed the opportunity to join the masses and their frappucinos, and walked on.

In the retail park beyond the ring road, the only purchasing opportunities were clothing, white goods and a sit down meal, so my burgeoning thirst went unquenched. Never mind, I thought, I've brought a tube of Polo mints with me and one of those will see me through. I was then expecting to follow the main road for a mile except there was an unmarked footpath so I took that instead, which turned out to be an excellent move. However no liquid dispensaries were located along this route, indeed I passed nobody at all, just a stretch of languid river unsuitable for consumption.

The horses along the next section seemed to have enough water to drink, but I was now set on a southerly course somewhat distant from civilisation. A few dogwalkers schlepped by, but I was amazed by the solitude afforded by this lengthy London stroll. I'd now survived over six hours without a drink, which for you might be the end of the world but for me, even on a sultry afternoon, was merely par for the course. A locked gate forced another mile's detour, which my legs didn't especially enjoy, and took me no closer to anywhere selling bottled anything.

At the very end of my walk I spotted a conveniently-located McDonalds, except there was a bus leaving in two minutes so I waited for that instead, only for the driver to pull off from the stand and leave everyone standing. Muted curses ensued. At this point I thought I'd just head home and have a drink there, because how long could it take, the answer being a whole extra hour of slightly parched tongue. And once through my front door I gulped down a large glass of water, and made myself a cup of tea, and checked on the scales and noted that I now weighed three pounds less than I had that morning. It's not a recommended dietary option, the 12 mile dry walk, but I complete such journeys far more often than you'd think.

I shall tell you this story again tomorrow, but with the emphasis on geography rather than refreshment. My apologies that the proper report may be less interesting.

 Saturday, June 27, 2015

How expensive is it to rent in London.

Very, obviously. But how expensive, roughly? I've tried to numbercrunch, borough by borough, to find out.

Suppose you're on the average London salary - that's about £28000 at present.
Suppose you're willing to pay out up to a third of your salary every month.
And suppose you're looking for a property with an average (median) rent.

Here's a map showing how many people earning an average salary would need to club together to pay the rent.





To live in Westminster requires four of you to flatshare to make the property affordable. The remainder of a central island stretching from Islington down to Wandsworth requires three people on an average salary to share. If you're hoping to live as a couple, anywhere else in London will do. But if you're single, or just fancy living by yourself, then these average properties are no longer affordable.

Maybe you should lower your sights. Don't aim for an average property, go for a lower quartile rent instead, that's three quarters of the way down the housing stock. And then the map changes.





To rent a smaller property, Westminster no longer requires four salaries coming in but three. Almost the whole of the rest of London is affordable to couples, or to two people willing to share. But if you're single, or just fancy living by yourself, only Barking & Dagenham, Havering and Bexley are affordable.

If you're a singleton and willing to increase the proportion of your salary paid on rent, say to 40%, then more of Outer London opens up. Specifically that'd be Hillingdon to the west, Enfield to the north, Newham and Redbridge to the east, Greenwich, Lewisham and Bromley to the southeast and Croydon and Sutton to the south. But inner London is essentially off limits for solo tenants unless they're wealthier than average, or willing to fritter away more than half of their hard earned salary on rent.

We're not all fortunate enough to earn as much as the average salary. What if, instead, you're on the London Living Wage? This currently amounts to £9.15 an hour, and I'm assuming you work a 38 hour week. My final map shows how many London Living Wage earners it takes to share a lower quartile property, i.e. not a very big one.





No borough in London is affordable if you're on the London Living Wage and have only one income coming in. Pair up with someone else and most of Outer London is available, bar a few of the more affluent boroughs like Barnet and Richmond. But inner London is again a no-go zone unless there are three of you... and this in a property that's very likely to have fewer than three bedrooms. As for the West End, essentially the poor can bugger off, unless four or them of are willing to cram together.

Welcome to London 2015, an increasingly overcrowded over-expensive city with insufficient housing stock and relentlessly rising rents. And a city in which, unless you've gained a toehold on the property ladder, it's increasingly untenable to live alone. The queue for your bathroom can only lengthen.

 Friday, June 26, 2015

For one of the most peculiar walks in London, head to the western edge of the capital. That's the very western edge, as far west as you can go, in a nomansland just beyond the end of Heathrow's runway. Normally the authorities don't like you walking right up close to the perimeter of a international airport, this for reasons of safety and security. But a broad strip of open land exists between the M25 and Terminal 5, somehow with public access, where you can be divebombed by whatever giant plane is taking off for foreign climes. And I stumbled into it completely by accident.

Let's get the geography sorted first, starting from Heathrow Terminal 5. To the west of that is a bus station, a hotel and a swirl of access roads, then the airport's Western Perimeter Road. That's followed by not one but two rivers, the Duke of Northumberland's and the Longford. Both were diverted when Terminal 5 was built, and both also provide a passive security perimeter, a useful means of keeping pedestrians out. Stanwell Moor Road is next, linking the northern and southern edges of Heathrow, across which a recent motorway spur emerges. There then follows the strip of land we're interested in, an undeveloped swathe of rough meadow no more than half a mile wide, on either side of the River Colne. And that's followed by the M25, just to the north of Junction 14, along the edge of which London suddenly becomes Slough.



I'd been precisely here before, back in 2009, with a report from the roundabout that's the westernmost point in London. Grim, I think would sum the place up, not least the litter-strewn thicket at its centre. I hoped never to come back, but Saturday found me in the village of Stanwell Moor attempting to escape. It's a strange place Stanwell Moor, a few cut-off streets with a number of rivers threading through. The main shopping parade (such as it is) features the T5 Stores and the Heathrow Launderette, and a fat boy sits on the swings by the village hall haranguing random passers-by (although he may have been a one-off). It also now has a rotten bus service, the 441 having recently been diverted elsewhere. And I couldn't walk to Terminal 5, because that's not allowed, so headed instead to what Citymapper told me was the nearest Oyster-enabled bus stop, a mile and half north on the Bath Road.

There are no public footpaths or accessible roads to the north of Stanwell Moor, which was a pain. But a map on my phone suggested there was a mysterious path, or track, or something, wiggling up the side of the M25, so I thought I'd risk it. This first required returning to the very western roundabout I'd hoped to avoid, crossing the boundary back into London in the process. I left the main road into unkempt undergrowth, stepped past a pile of dumped clothes in boxes and headed cautiously through a concrete subway. And here I found a gated entrance, not quite welcoming, to an area called the Heathrow Biodiversity Site. Access seemed possible, indeed there were just enough signals that this probably wouldn't be trespass, so I continued through the trees.



The track opened out onto a lush rolling slope, once a gravel pit, hemmed in between the motorway and an unseen stream. This was the River Colne, lost as a line of reeds amid a weave of white and yellow wild flowers. In the near distance, beyond further open country, stood the long silver shed of Terminal 5 with its Control Tower to one side. And every minute or so another plane shot up off the northern runway, sometimes small and buzzy, sometimes huge and booming. Annoyingly, never the latter when I had my camera trained on the terminal roof. The footpath curved round to join up with another track from the J14 roundabout, this gated and locked, which was odd because OpenStreetMap had suggested this should be open and the path I'd just followed was barred. Thankfully the path beneath the M25 motorway spur was still clear, passing a stilted concrete lagoon where the waters of the Colne inelegantly pooled.

Beyond the viaduct the planes drew closer. I'd reached a point half a mile from the end of the northern runway, a seemingly insignificant distance but enough for pilots to have started to turn in readiness for the first stage of their flight. This meant there was by now no one line of ascent, more a curving fan of possibilities, with a slight deviation all it would take to drive an aeroplane overhead. The footpath headed up a particularly prominent ridge just as one such monster appeared above the trees. The British Airways A380 seemed almost low enough to touch, booming low across the meadow, and I wished I'd been thirty seconds further ahead to have been directly beneath the fuselage. I suspect you can get a similar sensation on the roadside near Hatton Cross, but this was all the more surreal for being in a pseudo-rural setting.



And so isolated. Nobody else was out enjoying the HBS, which given that it links the almost-edge of two minor villages was perhaps not entirely surprising. And yet Heathrow's management seemed to be expecting people, with one sign urging visitors not to spread footwear-borne disease, and another giving the field's postcode should I need to ring 999 in an emergency. It was perhaps best that I didn't quite twig what that might have been referring to as I passed underneath. The track now passed a fenced off area named Orchard Farm, here more directly beneath the flightpath, although on this occasion nothing quite so giant emerged up the runway. And at the Bath Road further signs confirmed that I had indeed been within my rights to pass through, but no motorcycles, and watch out for nesting birds, and horseriders please stick to the bridlepath. Here I waited for a number 81 at London's most westerly bus stop, as yet more aeroplanes screamed over, and promptly made my escape.

The Heathrow Biodiversity Site (Colne Valley) is one of several spaces watched over by the airport to boost its green credentials. Others include Harmondsworth Moor, just to the north of where I ended up, which is a fascinating place (and can be explored via this Discovering Britain walk). But Heathrow aren't acting as eco-guuardians purely out of the goodness of their hearts. They need wetlands to soak up the risk of flooding around their large expanse of tarmac, and they prefer nobody to live in the liminal areas where planes are loudest and at greatest risk of a crash. But most importantly it helps them to own this land to make any potential expansion of the airport easier.



Terminal 6 is pencilled in for the heathland to the west of Terminal 5, and any new NW Third Runway would see Orchard Farm and the northern half of the Heathrow Biodiversity Site vanish beneath an enlarged apron. Should the Davies Commission recommend the wildcard option, the two mile western extension of the existing northern runway, then the whole of the HBS will be unceremoniously sacrificed to the gods of international travel. The Colne will be culverted, the M25 sunk into a tunnel, and the wildlife I saw will have to find somewhere else to be biodiverse. In the meantime I'd recommend a visit to this remote mile of unkempt valley only if you're a fervent plane-spotter, or perhaps if you ever want to get away from it all without actually visiting an airport.

 Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sorry, I'm running a bit behind schedule here. But the arrival of the Night Tube also means the launch of a brand new tube map. Hurrah?

Most of the first media outlets to report this news on Monday had in fact got excited by the old night tube map, originally released in 2013, which had been attached to their press release by mistake. They'd then cut and pasted a selection of TfL's spoonfed sentences into their news articles and pressed publish, because that's modern journalism, before swiftly updating their articles with the new Night Tube map later in the morning. It's the official Night Tube map, as seen below, and I wonder what you think.



It's certainly pretty. The two-tone blue background looks rather swish, and provides a recognisably different design to the ordinary daytime map. It's easy to imagine this map in poster form adding a bit of class to a nightclub wall or a student's bedroom. There are far fewer lines than on the ordinary tube map, so the whole thing looks more like a transport network and less like a bowl of spaghetti. It doesn't have an advert for a credit card slapped across the bottom of it, at least not yet, or for some other big name brand that fancies buying nocturnal streetcred. And who wouldn't love the cute owl logo that's been created to give the Night Tube its own identity? I fear that at some point it may be given a name, but this is surely an image destined for stacked shelves of mugs, t-shirts and sofa cushions.

And yet the key test of a tube map isn't how well it sells, but how well it works, and the Night Tube map doesn't appear to have been designed with usability at the top of the agenda. In particular, consider the choice of colours for the background. Two not very different shades of blue make it anything but easy to distinguish the boundary between, say, zones 2 and 3. More importantly, two not very different shades of blue make it bloody difficult to distinguish the lines themselves. The Piccadilly is a dark blue line on a dark blue background, and virtually invisible. The Northern is a black line on a dark blue background, and almost as unseen. The Jubilee and Victoria lines are brighter, although are from the same colour palette as the background so not as contrasty as they could be. Of the five Night Tube lines only the Central truly stands out, indeed even the River Thames is markedly more obvious than the other four.

But then I've been looking at the map on my laptop, where it's quite small. View the map instead at its largest resolution and each line is edged by a strip of white, which makes everything much easier to see. When this map is printed at full poster size and stuck up in a frame at a station, it should be relatively straight-forward to follow the lines and trace a route. Indeed there's a hint here that the map has been designed by someone with a big screen, to whom everything would always have looked fine and dandy. But below a certain resolution the white borders shrink away to insignificance, and the darker lines almost merge with the dark background. One can only hope that there aren't millions of excessively-blue Night Tube maps printed and ready to go at the same scale as the existing folded tube map, because at that size they'll likely be unnecessarily difficult to read.

And then there's the font. On a normal tube map the font size has to be small, otherwise you couldn't squeeze in the station names between the tangle of lines. On the Night Tube map there's a lot more space, because more than half of TfL's lines don't appear, but still the same tiny font size has been used. I'm sure there's room for larger and more legible station names, which for anyone long-sighted would be enormously helpful, but instead the designers have matched the same size font as the daytime map and so the visually-deficient will have to squint. They've also insisted on keeping the same kinks as the daytime map, even when there's nothing in the way. The Central line for example bends unnecessarily towards Bank, and then incorporates another twist west of Bond Street that's only existed on the actual tube map for a month. This in particular could have been straightened out, providing a useful stylistic straight line across the centre of the map. But instead the Night Tube map merely mimics the daytime layout, incorporating its less than ideal features in an attempt to be consistent.

Another feature that's been copied, this time for entirely understandable reasons, is the presence of accessibility blobs to show stations with step-free access. There aren't many of these on the Night Tube, indeed on the Central line only two step-free journeys will be possible, namely from Stratford to Woodford or Hainault. What blobs there are appear in two colours, with white blobs for step-free access from street to platform and blue blobs for step-free access from street to train. The white blobs appear most clearly on the blue background, but alas it's the blue blobs that represent gold standard access, and they're by far the harder to distinguish. On the brighter side, non-step-free interchanges stand out rather better, and they make up three-quarters of the dozen interchanges on the Night Tube.

I thought I'd finish by presenting a Night Tube map of my own. I don't claim it'd be any use for navigation, but it does depict the network's topological information in a much more geographical way. What I've done is to count up the number of Night Tube stations in every London borough, and hopefully got the totals approximately right, then shaded the map accordingly. Now at last you can see where the Night Tube actually goes, and where it actually doesn't.



The three most fortunate nocturnal boroughs are Westminster and Camden, as you might expect, and Redbridge, which you might not. TfL have been very kind to Redbridge and agreed to service both sides of the Hainault Loop, admittedly only every 20 minutes, but lucky them. Ealing and Lambeth also do well, in each case because two Night Tube lines pass through the borough giving fairly decent coverage. East London does less well than west, this because the District line and DLR aren't yet on board, and North London does better than south, but then 'twas always thus. Hackney and Greenwich do particularly badly, each with only one overnight station tucked away on the very edge of the borough, which means night buses for the majority. And an entire arc of Outer London from Richmond round to Romford gets nothing at all. To be fair, most of these zero-scoring boroughs have no Underground during the day either, but something's certainly awry when Essex gets two Night Tube stations and Lewisham gets none. I should at this point also mention Thameslink, which already runs early hours trains every morning except Sundays, so technically Croydon's not as disconnected as it looks.

Things will eventually change. If the London Overground comes on board in 2017 as planned then cross-capital coverage will greatly improve. The eventual addition of the DLR will help to fill in some obvious gaps in east and southeast London, although this can't happen before 2021 when the current franchise expires. The sub-surface lines may follow after that, although if you live in Pinner or Upminster don't hold your breath. And the Bakerloo line probably won't join the overnight party until twenty thirty something, but if you look at my map of existing geographical coverage you'll see that's not necessarily a critical loss. At least when it does finally arrive the brown should show up properly on the official Night Tube map... assuming they haven't ditched the over-dark-blue background by then.

 Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Comments on Tuesday's Night Tube post
» I am sorry but I think this is a very rare occasion when you have written a complete load of rubbish... I think you have looked at the lack of weekend closures on the Night Tube and jumped to entirely the wrong conclusion.
» I don't usually play the player, but blimey what unrelenting negativity. TfL do something good, something that the public have wanted for years and now it is "PR spin" and "massaged". Not sure what happened yesterday to deliver this negative post, but poor form, DG.
» I agree about the negativity of this posting, as well as the excuses about engineering works etc. etc., yawn...
» I'm sorry, I agree here. You're presuming that weekend closures are inevitable, and seem to be mixing up engineering works to enable the system to tick over, with engineering works for the purposes of upgrading and strengthening the system, much of which was chronically overdue.

Comments on Wednesday's Night Tube post (text 86% the same, data identical)
» This reads like a PR puff, I'd like to read something written with a more impartial/even handed approach.
» I am having the weirdest deja vu.
» I am having the weirdest deja vu.
» Smartarse stuff.
» Sorry, I don't care about TfL's night tube, I live far to far away to take advantage... Or could you think of nothing to write today?

If you thought the Night Tube was going to be good, there's a secret added bonus that'll make it even better.

When the Night Tube begins in September, London's nightowls will gain a faster and more convenient way to travel around town. Every Saturday and Sunday morning a skeleton service will run through the small hours on five selected tube lines, delivering partygoers home and earlybirds to their place of work. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, that is, until the first time there's engineering works and this new-found freedom is cruelly snuffed out. You can imagine the social media moaning even now, I'm sure, not to mention the hell of being forced to take the rail replacement night bus.

But there's no immediate need to worry. I've been keeping a regular eye on TfL's regularly-updated list of 'Track closures six months ahead', and it turns out the first Night Tube closure isn't happening any time soon. Here's how.

Let's start by looking at the engineering works scheduled on the London Underground before the Night Tube begins. For reporting purposes I've chosen to ignore the Overground and the DLR, because these won't be seeing overnight services any time before 2017 and 2021. I'm also ignoring the Waterloo and City line because it's barely significant in this context, and because no engineering works are currently planned. That leaves ten tube lines to consider. I've shuffled them so that the five Night Tube lines are in the bottom half of the table, and added a coloured blob if engineering works are pencilled in for a particular weekend.

JunJulyAugustSep
27 4 111825 1  8 152229 5 
Bakerloo
Circle
District
Ham & City
Metropolitan  
Piccadilly
Victoria
Central
Jubilee
Northern

Eight out of these ten London Underground lines have some kind of engineering works over the next eleven weeks. The District line has the most closures, with only two weekends when there isn't a break in service planned out west, out east or in the centre. The Hammersmith & City and Victoria lines will see four weekend closures, the latter in conjunction with a blockade between Walthamstow Central and Seven Sisters lasting for most of August. Only the Bakerloo and Northern lines get away with no engineering closures at all, while the Central line has just one, tucked in on the last possible weekend before the Night Tube officially begins.

The Night Tube officially begins in the early hours of Saturday 12th September, and runs again in the early hours of Sunday 13th. If you check TfL's official list of track closures you'll see that absolutely no engineering works are scheduled on the London Underground that weekend, helping to ensure that the media's focus is on the good news of overnight services. Engineering works then start up again the following weekend, but what do you know, not on any of the lines on which the Night Tube runs.

SepOct
121926 3 1017
Bakerloo
Circle
District
Ham & City
Metropolitan  
Piccadilly
Victoria
Central
Jubilee
Northern

For the four weeks after the Night Tube's launch, the only track closures are on the Circle, District and Hammersmith & City lines. These aren't part of the Night Tube system (and won't be until their signalling is upgraded, for which read mid-2020s, if we're lucky). Then on the weekend of October 17th/18th there's the clearest possible signal of an apparent divide, as all five non-Night Tube lines have engineering works and all five Night Tube lines have none.

Except then, dammit, this happens.

Oct
24
Bakerloo
Circle
District
Ham & City
Metropolitan  
Piccadilly
Victoria
Central
Jubilee
Northern

Out of the blue, on Saturday October 24th, a rogue track closure pops up on the Piccadilly line. Is this the long awaited First Night Tube Closure? Well no, as it turns out, because these engineering works are taking place only between Acton Town and Uxbridge. All overnight Piccadilly line trains will be going to Heathrow, not to Rayners Lane, which means there can be a complete closure of the Uxbridge branch and the Night Tube won't be affected.

So let me redraw my table with the Piccadilly line split in two, and show you all the scheduled closures from the launch of the Night Tube to the weekend before Christmas.

SepOctNovDec
121926 3 10172431 7 142128 5 1219
Bakerloo
Circle
District
Ham & City
Metropolitan  
Piccadilly
Piccadilly
Victoria
Central
Jubilee
Northern

One more track closure is planned on the Uxbridge branch of the Piccadilly line, but that doesn't count, which means the Night Tube remains unaffected by engineering works from September through to December. There'll still be engineering work on various non-Night Tube lines, easing off as usual during the key festive shopping season, and elsewhere there's plenty of engineering work on the London Overground all the way to December 19th. But the Night Tube itself is entirely devoid of track closures all the way to Christmas... which is where a peculiar scheduling quirk kicks in.

The first Friday night that the Night Tube won't run as normal is Christmas Day, a day when no tube trains run anyway. And the first Saturday night that the Night Tube won't run as normal is Boxing Day, a day with an abnormal service and (if past tradition continues) with earlier-than-usual last trains. Essentially the first weekend the Night Tube doesn't run as normal it's not TfL's fault, it's Baby Jesus's.

In summary, once the Night Tube begins in September it'll run undisrupted all the way to Christmas. This avoids the need to temporarily close something that's only just opened, and kicks all those angry "How dare you take away my Night Tube?!" tweets into 2016 at the very earliest. And it's likely been achieved by an increasingly efficient programme of works on the five deep tube lines specially selected to form the Night Tube service. You might have expected overnight running to reduce the opportunity to carry out track maintenance and to herald a corresponding increase in weekend closures, but not so, indeed potentially the reverse.

Now it might be that TfL's list of 'six months ahead' track closures isn't yet complete, and that further engineering works will be back-announced. It also remains to be seen whether TfL will be able to persuade their drivers to run these extra trains on overnight shifts without the threat of strike action. But it does appear that these five Night Tube lines can survive without any weekend track closures at least until the end of the year, and probably even longer. So the good news is that you won't be riding a rail replacement night bus any time soon. Rejoice, the Night Tube cometh.

 Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How far will TfL go to avoid bad news? When it comes to the Night Tube, a lot further than you might think.

When the Night Tube begins in September, London's nightowls will gain a faster and more convenient way to travel around town. Every Saturday and Sunday morning a skeleton service will run through the small hours on five selected tube lines, delivering partygoers home and earlybirds to their place of work. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, that is, until the first time there's engineering works and this new-found freedom is cruelly snuffed out. You can imagine the social media moaning even now, I'm sure, not to mention the hell of being forced to take the rail replacement night bus.

But there's no immediate need to worry. I've been keeping a regular eye on TfL's regularly-updated list of 'Track closures six months ahead', and it turns out they've gone to extraordinary lengths to delay the first Night Tube closure for as long as possible. Here's how.

Let's start by looking at the engineering works scheduled on the London Underground before the Night Tube begins. For reporting purposes I've chosen to ignore the Overground and the DLR, because these won't be seeing overnight services any time before 2017 and 2021. I'm also ignoring the Waterloo and City line because it's barely significant in this context, and because no engineering works are currently planned. That leaves ten tube lines to consider. I've shuffled them so that the five Night Tube lines are in the bottom half of the table, and added a coloured blob if engineering works are pencilled in for a particular weekend.

JunJulyAugustSep
27 4 111825 1  8 152229 5 
Bakerloo
Circle
District
Ham & City
Metropolitan  
Piccadilly
Victoria
Central
Jubilee
Northern

Eight out of these ten London Underground lines have some kind of engineering works over the next eleven weeks. The District line has the most closures, with only two weekends when there isn't a break in service planned out west, out east or in the centre. The Hammersmith & City and Victoria lines will see four weekend closures, the latter in conjunction with a blockade between Walthamstow Central and Seven Sisters lasting for most of August. Only the Bakerloo and Northern lines get away with no engineering closures at all, while the Central line has just one, sneaked in on the last possible weekend before the Night Tube officially begins.

The Night Tube officially begins in the early hours of Saturday 12th September, and runs again in the early hours of Sunday 13th. If you check TfL's official list of track closures you'll see that absolutely no engineering works are scheduled on the London Underground that weekend, because TfL needs the media's focus to be on good news. Engineering works then start up again the following weekend, but what do you know, not on any of the lines on which the Night Tube runs.

SepOct
121926 3 1017
Bakerloo
Circle
District
Ham & City
Metropolitan  
Piccadilly
Victoria
Central
Jubilee
Northern

For the four weeks after the Night Tube's launch, the only track closures are on the Circle, District and Hammersmith & City lines. These aren't part of the Night Tube system (and won't be until their signalling is upgraded, for which read mid-2020s, if we're lucky). Then on the weekend of October 17th/18th there's the clearest possible signal of TfL's intent, as all five non-Night Tube lines have engineering works and all five Night Tube lines have none. This is no accident, this is deliberate scheduling to minimise negative publicity.

Except then, dammit, this happens.

Oct
24
Bakerloo
Circle
District
Ham & City
Metropolitan  
Piccadilly
Victoria
Central
Jubilee
Northern

Out of the blue, on Saturday October 24th, a rogue track closure pops up on the Piccadilly line. Is this the long awaited First Night Tube Closure? Well no, as it turns out, because these engineering works are taking place only between Acton Town and Uxbridge. All overnight Piccadilly line trains will be going to Heathrow, not to Rayners Lane, which means there can be a complete closure of the Uxbridge branch and the Night Tube won't be affected.

So let me redraw my table with the Piccadilly line split in two, and show you all the scheduled closures from the launch of the Night Tube to the weekend before Christmas.

SepOctNovDec
121926 3 10172431 7 142128 5 1219
Bakerloo
Circle
District
Ham & City
Metropolitan  
Piccadilly
Piccadilly
Victoria
Central
Jubilee
Northern

One more track closure is planned on the Uxbridge branch of the Piccadilly line, but that doesn't count, which means the Night Tube remains unaffected by engineering works from September through to December. There'll still be engineering work on various non-Night Tube lines, easing off as usual during the key festive shopping season, and elsewhere there's plenty of engineering work on the London Overground all the way to December 19th. But the Night Tube itself is entirely devoid of track closures all the way to Christmas... which is where TfL's next bit of scheduling deviousness comes in.

The first Friday night that the Night Tube won't run as normal is Christmas Day, a day when no tube trains run anyway. And the first Saturday night that the Night Tube won't run as normal is Boxing Day, a day with an abnormal service and (if past tradition continues) with earlier-than-usual last trains. Essentially TfL have ensured that the first weekend the Night Tube doesn't run as normal it's not their fault, it's Baby Jesus's.

In summary, once the Night Tube begins in September it'll run undisrupted all the way to Christmas. This avoids the need to temporarily close something that's only just opened, and kicks all those angry "How dare you take away my Night Tube?!" tweets into 2016. And the whole thing's been achieved by quite deliberately massaging TfL's programme of engineering work to create a massive Night-Tube-shaped hole later in the year. It appears these five Underground lines can survive without any track closures for four months purely for public relations reasons, which is an interesting set of corporate priorities.

Now it might be that TfL's list of 'six months ahead' track closures isn't yet complete, and that further engineering works will be back-announced to put paid to my theory. It also remains to be seen whether TfL will be able to persuade their drivers to run these extra trains on overnight shifts for a pittance of additional pay. But what is definitely true is that you won't be riding a rail replacement night bus any time soon. Rejoice, the Night Tube cometh.

 Monday, June 22, 2015

Beyond London (8): Spelthorne (part 2)

Somewhere famous: Shepperton Studios
One of the UK's most famous film studios is in Spelthorne, although not actually in Shepperton, and should probably have been named Littelton Studios instead. Poor Littleton. 100 years ago the village was described as one of the least spoilt in Middlesex ("It is built almost entirely of red brick, and presents a cheerful and peaceful aspect as it clusters about the church"). But then it caught the eye of the newly-formed Metropolitan Water Board who selected the area as their site of their first water storage facility. Construction of the Littleton Reservoir took over ten years, delayed by the discovery of weak sand under the western dam which forced the realignment of the perimeter and the loss of most of the village. St Mary's Church survived, as did the manor house, but the majority of residents had to be rehoused along a New Road to the south. From 1925 until the 1950s it was largest reservoir in the the world, surrounded by an embankment four miles long and 40 feet high, holding up to 30 billion litres siphoned off from the Thames. And on the day of opening the King renamed it the Queen Mary Reservoir, as a further local snub. Poor Littleton.

The manor house and its estate now lay in the shadow of the embankment. In 1931 it was purchased by Scottish businessman Norman Loudon for use by his new film company, Sound Film Producing & Recording Studios. The Second World War disrupted production, the government requisitioning the site to build dummy aircraft, after which Sir Alexander Korda's British Lion Films took over. In 1949 The Third Man was filmed here, while Sixties' Shepperton classics include Dr Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Oliver! Littleton House remained at the centre of the site, and was used for filming of The Omen, while gradually the surrounding parkland was taken over by sheds, workshops and sound stages. Star Wars, Superman and Alien were all Shepperton-based, while other ridiculously successful productions churned out here include Gandhi, Gladiator, Channel 4's The Crystal Maze and (much more recently) Avengers: Age of Ultron. The studios are now part of Pinewood's media empire and house 15 stages of varying enormity, as well as preview theatres and everything the aspiring Hollywood producer requires.



Don't think you're getting inside. A narrow lane to the backlots off Laleham Road is watched over by a small white hut, any chance of viewing filming activity dashed by a run of woodland along the River Ash. Meanwhile the main entrance lies just past the church up the appropriately named Studios Road. Well-watered hanging baskets dangle from the lampposts on the approach, while thick leylandii hedges protect the production area from prying eyes. A fairly steady stream of vehicles use this back road, some continuing to the remote housing estate squeezed in down the far end past Stages S, R and H. Others wait at the gate house to pass security, the long list of regulations posted by the barrier including the banning of all onsite photography on pain of confiscation. The main thoroughfare beyond is David Lean Drive, leading to Peter Sellers Way and Orson Welles Road. And tucked up beside the reservoir is a 16 acre lot on which heaven knows what might be filmed, although I assume they remove the grazing sheep before the cameras roll.
by train: Shepperton

Somewhere pretty: Sunbury Millennium Embroidery
Sunbury is a lovely place. That's Lower Sunbury, to be clear, not the hideous agglomeration of office boxes at the start of the M3 in Sunbury Cross. Instead Sunbury-on-Thames nestles close to the river along part-public part-private frontage, with Thames Street a particularly charming (and narrow) street. Just the kind of community, then, who'd seek to commemorate themselves at the millennium via a highly ambitious project. Five years early a small group of residents made plans for an embroidery to capture 'Sunbury on Thames in the year 2000', the end result to be displayed in St Mary's church. A design was drawn up, and 140 volunteers came forward to sew their appointed section of the whole. The central panel features dozens of the the village's buildings and some of the wildlife to be found by the waterside, while eight adjacent panels depict Sunbury's history, community and long-standing tradition. The completed project was 25 feet long, and even the Queen made a special visit to see it. It was at this point that the organisers realised they had something special and nowhere to put it, so they borrowed a corner of the local park and commissioned a permanent gallery to be built.



The Sunbury Embroidery Gallery opened in The Walled Garden (off Thames Street) in 2006. The timber building's not enormous but it is beautifully formed with elliptical curves, and one long wall along which the whole of the embroidery can be displayed. A guide is available to point out the more interesting features, and smaller temporary smaller exhibitions are hosted in what little space remains. There's a cafe, of course, because the entire gallery project was designed to be sustainable, and I'll vouch for the cup of tea and cake being more than half decent. The outdoor tables have a good view of the Walled Garden, which is also expertly maintained, should you be seeking a particularly genteel afternoon out. The gallery and cafe are fully accessible throughout, and the whole place is totally visitable by Oyster aboard the 216 bus. It's more a ladies' destination than a Father's Day favourite, I'd say, but how excellent that this celebration of community will survive long after its creators have passed on. [4 photos]
by train: Sunbury  by bus: 216, 235

Somewhere weired: Penton Hook Island
Until 200 years ago the River Thames cut an awkward channel between Staines and Chertsey. At Penton Hook it followed a teardrop-shaped loop around a wooded peninsula, forcing a circuitous (and somewhat turbulent) detour almost a mile long. The neck of the peninsula was barely fifty yards across and often flooded, but was only made navigable in 1815 when an artificial channel was cut through and Penton Hook Lock was opened. From one tongue of land three islands have been created, the first for the lock itself where a modern lock-keeper will come and press buttons to power the gates and help your craft pass through. Two further cuts have been made by broad weirs over which the Thames now rushes, each crossed by a narrow footbridge. These lead to the main island, now a nature reserve, one complete circuit of which by footpath takes a good ten minutes. Nobody lives on the island, although on my circumnavigation certain anglers looked like they'd been settled in for some time. Whilst a couple of additional paths cut inland, the strangest sight on the island is a river flowing through the middle, this a relatively recently-added "fish spawning and bypass channel". Overlooked only by the riverside houses of a favoured few, this outpost of Spelthorne is a marvellously remote place, interlinked with neighbouring Runnymede like the lug of a jigsaw piece.

the crash location, beneath the bridge, east of St John's

Somewhere sporting: Kempton Park racecourse
And there's this too, although there is a limit to how much of a Surrey district you can visit in one day when the trains are disrupted, so I gave the racecourse a miss. And anyway it had been hijacked for the day by the Race For Life, a collective jog for charity, which meant the car park was heaving with runners in unpleasantly bright pink. I bet no ladies wear a pink ballerina's tutu to the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, not just for reasons of high fashion but because it'd be flipping cold.
by train: Kempton Park  by bus: 290

 Sunday, June 21, 2015

Beyond London (8): Spelthorne (part 1)

Spelthorne used to be the southern slice of Middlesex, until swept away to form the only Surrey district north of the Thames. Squeezed in between the Heathrow, Hounslow and the river, it's the sixth and final Surrey district I've visited on my circumnavigation around the capital. It's also a tad dull, the largest town being Staines, and almost 20% of the district being covered by giant reservoirs. But I took the opportunity of a fifteen mile walk to try to seek out some of Spelthorne's less mundane corners, and I hope you'll agree it wasn't quite a Saturday wasted.

Somewhere historic: Staines-upon-Thames
I know, what were they thinking? Formerly plain old Staines, in 2012 the council took the somewhat pretentious step of appending "-upon-Thames" to their name, switching overnight from a homophone of "blots" to a name that sounds like there's an oil slick on the river. The town has a proper ancient history that long precedes Ali G, thanks specifically to its location on gravel at a rare natural crossing point of the Thames. The Romans knew it as Pontes, or 'the bridges', and their walled settlement now lies lost beneath the town centre. 800 years ago King John's barons set out from here to sign Magna Carta at Runnymede, just upriver, and the Civil War stopped by a few times centuries later. To get the hang of Staines and the surrounding district, be sure to drop into the Spelthorne Museum at the back of Staines library. One of its rooms is open whenever the library is, the other (plus the shop) only for three afternoons a week. How fortunate was I?



Did you know, for example, that linoleum was first produced in Staines? Businessman Frederick Walton created the famous floor covering from linseed oil, hence its name derived from 'linum' (flax) and 'oleum' (oil), and opened the Linoleum Manufacturing Company on a site to the north of the town centre in 1864. The factory grew to cover 45 acres and was by far the largest employer in the town, but closed in 1970, and the site is now covered by the Two Waters retail park and a housing estate. In commemoration (and I suspect this is unique) there's a statue in the High Street of two men carrying a roll of linoleum inscribed with a poem. “Roll out the lino from Staines to the world! Release every pattern from chessboard to twirl! In every hopeful kitchen let life unfurl..." On TripAdvisor the linoleum statue has been voted the 6th best tourist attraction in Staines, in a list of ten that quite frankly won't have you rushing.

Another Staines quirk is the London Stone, a medieval boundary marker delimiting the upper end of the City of London's jurisdiction over the River Thames. The town was once the farthest upstream that tidal flow could be observed, barely a few centimetres, but sufficient in 1285 for a London Corporation stone to be erected beside the river. In the 17th century the stone was replaced by an ornate two-foot plinth, this later raised on a stepped pedestal, and the Mayor of London would sail upriver every few years to reclaim his rights in a sword-touching ceremony. The stone's moved several times since then, its traditional location in the Lammas Recreation Ground now empty (so try not to waste fifteen minutes of your life hunting for it there). Meanwhile that's a modern replica in the Memorial Gardens, the original having been shifted in 2004 to a glass case in Spelthorne Museum, where it looks somewhat neutered behind glass.



If the thought of visiting the town excites you, next Sunday is about as good as the experience gets. June 28th is the annual Staines-Upon-Thames Day, a riverside shindig in the Memorial Gardens promising dragon boat racing, live music, a duck race and "canoe taster sessions". Spelthorne Museum will be specially opened, such is the civic joy this day engenders. Meanwhile the last Sunday in the month is also when the Staines Society of Model Engineers get out their self-built locomotives and ride passengers round a looping wooden track in Staines Park. Interestingly that's not Staines-Upon-Thames Park, neither is the town's river crossing Staines-Upon-Thames Bridge, nor is the local station Staines-Upon-Thames, but presumably that's austerity renaming for you.
by train: Staines  by bus: 117, 203, 216, 290

Somewhere random: Staines Moor
England's worst ever air crash took place just outside Staines, on a drizzly Sunday afternoon in June 1972. BEA Flight 548 took off for Brussels from Heathrow shortly after 5pm, and crashed less than three minutes later killing all 118 on board. Various factors came together to cause the crash, including an argument set off by strike action planned for the following day, and the possible cardiac incapacitation of the pilot. He failed to maintain sufficient air speed after take off, and the crew failed to notice (or believe) instruments in the cabin suggesting that a deep stall was imminent. The Trident dived out of low cloud above the King George VI Reservoir, grazed the traffic on the Staines bypass and plunged tail-first into a narrow field on the outskirts of town. No houses were damaged, not quite, but the plane broke in two on impact and there were no survivors.

A memorial to the crash has been built nearby in Moormede recreation ground, and a remembrance ceremony has been held here every year since 2004. Visiting two days after the anniversary I expected to see the floral tributes still laid out, but they'd all been removed and the 'Papa India' memorial lay bare. Instead, somewhat awkwardly, a local man sat on the benches smoking a cigarette, and seemed bemused by the interest I was taking in his seat beneath the trees. The plaque at his feet was small, meaning I had to get closer than I'd like to see it, and had to make do instead with a surreptitious inspection from behind the grassy mound. Elsewhere a significant proportion of the dogs of Staines yapped excitedly beside the playground as their owners stood and chatted, as if nothing untoward had ever happened.



Close by, beneath the bypass, is the vast expanse of Staines Moor. Two square kilometres of alluvial meadow have survived here, sandwiched between the M25 and a reservoir, unploughed for more than a millennium. The moor has a rich and diverse flora, attracts copious bird species and also boasts Britain's oldest anthills (of one particular type, before you get too excited). The Colne and Wraysbury rivers thread through the site, a remarkably open space with free public access, while an abandoned railway viaduct crosses the western flank. Yesterday the moor was dry with an abundance of yellow flowers, although I can imagine it's potentially impassable during a wet and marshy winter. At one point needing to cross a footbridge I ended up walking through the centre of a watchful herd of cattle and horses, which unnerved me somewhat, but my trek to the village of Stanwell Moor was an unexpected delight.


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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
metro-land
capital ring
river fleet
piccadilly
bakerloo

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
boredom
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters
iceland

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flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
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hurricanes
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brookside
monopoly
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penelope
bbc three
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ID cards
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