Monday, January 26, 2015
THE UNLOST RIVERS OF LONDON
Walthamstow → Leyton (2 miles)
[Lea → Dagenham Brook → Lea → Thames]
The most important thing to be clear about the Dagenham Brook is that it goes nowhere near Dagenham. Instead it's a very Waltham Forest kind of river, an artificial tributary of the River Lea dug for drainage purposes along the eastern edge of Leyton Marshes. Go back quarter of a million years and it's thought the Lea itself flowed this way, but now it's merely one of several ways that water flows from upstream of Walthamstow towards the Olympic Park. The expansion of suburbia has made it a very urban river, tracking between the back gardens of E17 and E10, but still open enough in a couple of places to be quite pleasant. I'm indebted to the Waltham Forest Walks team for their damned useful pdf with map and directions. [5 photos]
To find the start of the Dagenham Brook, make your way to St James Street station in Walthamstow and head down Coppermill Lane. The parallel residential streets cease before the reservoirs kick in, where St James's Park (not that one) exists to give local dogs somewhere to run amok. Follow the railway viaduct down to the big river - that's the curve of the Lea Flood Relief Channel - and look for the much smaller brook beneath the bridge. The Dagenham Brook emerges from pipes on the far side of the railway line, fed in from the upper Lea, and traces one side of a triangle of pleasant woodland. Almost narrow enough to step across, a muddy footpath follows one bank while the backs of allotment sheds abut the other. This is the Low Hall Wood Nature Conservation Area, a dead-end corner where I stumbled across a man leaning against a remote tree trunk reading the paper. His eye never wandered from the printed page as I stepped onto the riverbank for a photo, but why he felt the need to hide out here beats me.
The brook continues along the edge of the Low Hall Sports ground, home to two recreational mouthfuls. The Leyton Orient Advanced Soccer School Football Club (LOASS for short) kickabout on one side, while the Asian Cricket & Sports Club step out from the Mohsin Beg Pavilion. These Leaside marshes are also home to a substantial industrial presence, sprawled out across extensive yards and warehouses, thoughtfully tucked out of sight of suburbia. Let's not go there. Instead the closest through road to the Dagenham Brook passes a memory of its Victorian past - the Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum. No longer required to move water, the building houses two restored Marshall steam pumping engines, while the yard is outside is rammed full with mechanical and transport ephemera. I spotted a Routemaster, a steam locomotive and a Victoria line carriage, as well as other machines that help tell the industrial story of the Lea Valley Corridor. Closed for a refit since 2013, the Museum hopes to reopen with a splash on Sunday 1st March, and those of you who like this kind of thing should put that date in your diary now.
For the next mile, sightings of the Dagenham Brook become somewhat intermittent. There's one from Cockerell Road, a residential cul-de-sac seemingly squeezed in for the sake of it, with the lingering whiff of water tanks and a recycling centre adding to the challenge of living here. A strip of allotments block direct public access south, hence a ridiculously roundabout route is required to follow the river fractionally dowstream. The residents of Luther King Close seem particularly unwilling to welcome visitors, slapping up 'Stop' and 'Private Property' and 'Vehicles will be removed' signs with such abandon that I decided their management committee must be a bunch of joyless isolationists. Nevertheless I strode through to catch a glimpse of the river, as directed, and can reassure you that the view through the railings isn't worth the bother.
Rather more tasteful, and completely out of character in this part of town, is Tudor Court. A grassy close of mock-timbered houses leads down to the river, hidden behind a swoosh of garages, in sharp contrast to the Victorian terraces that cover most of the southern half of Waltham Forest. Acacia Road is one of these, and Theydon Road another, the latter sloping down to the river on a gradient steeper than the trickle at the bottom would suggest. I sparked the curiosity of several locals by pausing on Bridge Road to take several photos of the river that passes between their back gardens, but I think I got away with it. I was less inconspicuous on Lea Bridge Road, waving my camera over the top of a wall at the narrow channel passing underneath. I'd never noticed the brook here before, labelled 'Lee Bridge Road Culvert' by the signwriters at the Environment Agency, and continuing equally incognito on the other side. Somewhat appropriately, residents of Dagenham Road are the last to have gardens backing down to the brook, while on the opposite bank is the homeground of Leyton Football Club (the ordinary one, not the Orient).
After hiding behind more allotments and a secondary school, the Dagenham Brook finally reemerges along the edge of Leyton Jubilee Park. Formerly known as Marsh Lane Playing Fields, it was given an Olympic spruce-up a few years back, and is now a livelier place to play. In a fenced-off corral at the bottom of the park are the relocated Manor Farm allotments, infamously shifted to make way for London 2012, now finally acquiring a smidgeon of the character of their predecessor. Closer to the brook the Eton Manor Athletics Club HQ building is now shared by a fully accessible (and very reasonably priced) cafe, decorated with external teagarden mural. And alongside is a swish new bridge over the river, with punched-out motifs in the metalwork depicting various forms of sporting activity, rather grander than the waters beneath would seem to demand.
As part of the park's rebirth a riverside path has been created alongside an elevated nature reserve, this now the most pleasant part of the brook's two mile flow. A series of pipes and culverts of various diameters feed in, with that beneath the wiggly footbridge being particularly broad. Past Ive Farm the river cuts a deep channel approximately two metres wide, before one final footbridge links the path to Orient Way. You're not supposed to carry on, but a minor track leads to the edge of yet more allotments, and the chance to tread carefully down the bank to the water's edge. Public access goes no further, with the final quarter mile proceeding unseen behind a scrappy hedge along Orient Way. Look carefully just before the recycling centre and you'll spot the concrete portal where the Dagenham Brook heads back underground, presumably to duck beneath the Eurostar depot and enter the Old River Lea unseen. The watermills at Temple Mills are long gone, but the brook which fed them still somehow survives.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, January 25, 2015
(unless of course you know better)
7) Mile End
8) Burnt Oak
9) Green Park
10) Bond Street
11) Canary Wharf
12) Covent Garden
13) Russell Square
14) North Greenwich
15) Leicester Square
16) Piccadilly Circus
17) Willesden Junction
18) Tottenham Court Road
19) Great Portland Street
20) High Street Kensington
One-word Underground stations
10) Heron Quays
11) Pontoon Dock
13) Island Gardens
14) Deptford Bridge
15) Pudding Mill Lane
17) London City Airport
19) Custom House for ExCel
22) Stratford International
29) Cutty Sark for Maritime Greenwich
9) Gospel Oak
10) Kensal Rise
12) Wanstead Park
13) Imperial Wharf
14) Hampstead Heath
15) Kilburn High Road
16) Dalston Kingsland
17) Clapham High Street
18) Highbury & Islington
19) Leytonstone High Road
20) Finchley Road & Frognal
21) Walthamstow Queens Road
24) Caledonian Road & Barnsbury
9) Ampere Way
11) Lebanon Road
12) New Addington
13) Dundonald Road
14) Beddington Lane
15) Mitcham Junction
16) King Henry's Drive
17) Beckenham Junction
9) Abbey Wood
13) Chadwell Heath
14) Ealing Broadway
15) Liverpool Street
16) Hayes & Harlington
17) Heathrow Terminal 4
18) Tottenham Court Road
London National Rail stations
14) City Thameslink
15) Alexandra Palace
16) Woolwich Dockyard
17) Carshalton Beeches
18) Northumberland Park
20) Loughborough Junction
22) Stratford International
23) West Hampstead Thameslink
National Rail stations
20) Stansted Mountfitchet
21) Bradford Forster Square
22) Ebbsfleet International
23) Birmingham International
24) Birkenhead Hamilton Square
25) Southampton Airport (Parkway)
33) Rhoose Cardiff International Airport
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, January 24, 2015I don't know what you call this building.
From the turn of the century to 2007 it was known as the Millennium Dome. But you probably call it The O2.
The name is a marketing invention, of course, and utterly meaningless if you stop and think. O2 is the chemical symbol for an oxygen molecule, which the Dome patently doesn't resemble, and which is approximately three trillion times smaller. But O2 is also the name of a mobile phone company who've paid millions for the naming rights, hence you lot dutifully chant their brand name every time you reference the building.
But for how much longer?
Hong Kong's richest businessman Li Ka-shing, who already owns the Three mobile network, is currently in talks to buy up the O2 network as well. If successful the two companies would be combined, and the O2 brand name most likely lost. And whilst that's probably good news for Mr Ka-shing and his PR team, what might this mean for North Greenwich's most famous attraction?
If the O2 phone company adopts a new brand as part of the buyout, it's inconceivable that The O2 will keep its current name. That's not how naming rights work - they exist solely to pump a marketing identity into the public consciousness. So what might the new O2/Three hybrid company be called, should it be forced into existence?
Ten possible names for a merged O2/Three company
• O2Three (alas the telephone code for Southampton)
• O23 (looks better than it reads)
• 3O2 (chemically undistinguished)
• O3 (a runner, I think)
• Ozone (which is of course the preceding name written differently, and therefore much too clever to be adopted)
• ThreeO2 (which sounds like the number two above three hundred)
• Throw2 (that's just silly)
• Threeieeio (ditto)
• 3PO (targeting the Star Wars demographic)
• Plinth (if Orange and T-Mobile can call themselves EE, then O2 and Three can call themselves anything)
OK, now take one of those ten names, add 'The' in front and try imagining this building with a new name.
It's not easy, is it?
"One Direction are playing tonight at The O3"
"This is North Greenwich, change here for The Ozone"
"I've booked us tickets for the cinema at The Plinth"
But in fact there is a very strong clue as to what's about to happen, because it's already happened in Ireland. Last year Three took over O2 for mobile customers in Ireland, and nobody bothered to create a new brand name at all. Instead Three swallowed O2 whole, and the O2 name is disappearing altogether.
O2 is becoming Three.We'll likely see the same thing happen here in the UK, with purchaser company Three (customer share 12%) completely erasing O2 (customer share 29%). Who cares that Three is possibly a worse brand name than even O2? In the world of corporate takeovers it's dog eat dog and winner takes all, so Three wins.
We will soon be welcoming O2 customers into the Three family. You’ll see the O2 logo disappearing on the high street and online and start to be replaced by Three, but for you, it’ll be business as usual.
The Irish experience also provides a more precise lesson in venue rebranding. Ireland's largest indoor arena was formerly called The O2 (I know, total lack of originality), but as of last September it was renamed the 3Arena. Since then Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga and The Who have all played the 3Arena, and Dubliners now think nothing of calling the old venue by its new name.
So if the UK's O2 takeover does take place, we'll likely be calling The O2 something Three-related pretty soon afterwards. The 3Arena has to be a strong contender, because we already know these naming rights people have a fairly limited imagination. But alternative possibilities include The 3Dome, The 3Bowl, The 3RingCircus or even The Three.
All of these sound pretty stupid at present. But you'll get used to it, whatever trumped-up name they choose, because you did last time.
posted 03:00 :
Friday, January 23, 2015Paid £15 and gone up the Orbit yet?
If not, maybe a recent tweak to the ticketing system will help persuade you to visit.
The Orbit opened during the Olympics, and access was only available to people with a ticket to an Olympic event. Going up top was fun, I thought, not least because the view below was of an Olympic Games in full effect, and a buzz of sport and colour.
2012 Admission price: £15
But then the Orbit closed for almost two years while the land below was reconstructed as a park. It reopened last Easter, at the same time as the southern half of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, to what I could describe as a volley of indifference. Tourists didn't rush to see the capital from above, and Londoners weren't that keen to view a building site in the East End at close quarters. Plus the Orbit was still an expensive experience. Tickets cost the same as they had during the Olympics, with just £2 off to residents of neighbouring boroughs on production of proof of address.
2014 Admission price: £15
2014 Admission price (local residents): £13
I've been a regular visitor to the Olympic Park since it reopened, but I've never seen the Orbit busy. Indeed I've never seen more than one group of visitors at the ticket office, nor a queue at the entrance, nor a crocodile of people descending the exterior staircase. The gift shop beside the cafe had a tumbleweed feel so was emptied out at the end of the summer and the sale of souvenirs moved elsewhere. Indeed the whole attraction has had the air of white elephant about it - never completely empty, but near enough.
So this year the management have introduced a cut in the Orbit's admission price and an important modification to the terms and conditions. If properly promoted, and especially if you're local, this could be a game-changer.
First of all the bad news - a ticket up the Orbit still costs £15. That's if you turn up at the ticket office on the day, which is of course the case for the vast majority of QEOP visitors. Turn up unplanned on a sunny afternoon and think "ooh, it'd be nice to go up there", and you'll still end up paying full whack.
2015 Admission price: £15
2015 Admission price (local residents*): £13
* Barking and Dagenham, Greenwich, Hackney, Newham, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest
But book online in advance, and now the deal is 20% off. In fact you'll be offered fractionally over 20% off, because the going price is £11.95 rather than the strictly accurate £12. There is a disadvantage to pre-booking, of course, which is that you might plump for a day that turns out to be dull, wet and/or foggy and then get a fairly miserable view. But twelve quid's definitely a better price than fifteen, so might well help to entice more visitors up top. And there's even better news for residents of the six Olympic boroughs who still get their £2 off, if booking by phone, which brings the admission price down below a tenner.
2015 Admission price (booked online in advance): £11.95
2015 Admission price (local residents): £9.95
And yet that's still quite a lot to pay for a view of East London, so it's the second amendment that could make all the difference. In the past your ticket only allowed you up once, but from now on your ticket is automatically an annual pass. You go up first at the time and date stated in your original booking. But then you can come back again, and again, and again, until a full year is up.
2015 Annual pass (booked online in advance): £11.95
2015 Annual pass (local residents): £9.95
I haven't seen the precise terms and conditions to check whether there's a hidden limitation, like only being allowed to go up once a day, or once a week, or whatever. But even if you only choose to come back once, to see a different season of the year or because you're passing through, this cuts the price of an ascent to under six pounds.
2015 Admission price (two visits): £5.98 each
Like I said, I'm local so I find myself in the Olympic Park quite a bit. Normally I walk straight through, or go and explore some other aspect of the landscaped zone, but now I have the option of popping up the Orbit for half an hour if I so desire. I love a good view, especially one that includes the City, Canary Wharf and my house, so the opportunity to treat the Orbit as an almost-free viewing platform really appeals.
2015 Admission price (three visits): £3.98 each
2015 Admission price (four visits): £2.99 each
2015 Admission price (six visits): £1.99 each
2015 Admission price (ten visits): £1.20 each
2015 Admission price (monthly visits): £1.00 each
2015 Admission price (weekly visits): 23p each
2015 Admission price (365 visits): 3p each
Now OK, that list gets rather silly at the end, but you get my point. If you live in East London, and can remember to come back rather than lose your ticket, this is a bargain. If you visit Westfield frequently and fancy a sky-level view and an exhilarating descent before you start shopping, this is a bargain. If you spot an amazing sunset in the offing, or if swirling snow is suddenly forecast, this is a bargain. If you're not one for views and only ever visit places as a one-off, then don't bother. But if you'd like to make Britain's tallest sculpture part of your everyday Olympic legacy, then £11.95 might well be an appealing price to pay, now every Orbit lasts a year.
2015 Admission price (as many times as you like for 365 days): £11.95
(local residents £9.95) (concessions £9.95) (child £5.95)
• Opens at 10am daily, with last entry at 3.30pm (Oct-Mar) or 5.30pm (Apr-Sep)
• An obvious one, this, but come on a sunny day, East London's prettier that way.
• Come on a sunny morning for the best view of all, with central London lit from the front.
• On an early afternoon visits, photos of Docklands will be into the sun.
• On a late afternoon visit, photos of Central London will be into the sun.
• The view up top isn't 360°, there are restricted views of the northern Park and none of Leyton.
• A lot of the views would be a lot better if there wasn't a frame of red bars in front.
• The only views that aren't behind glass come immediately after you exit the lift.
• Don't be in a rush to move on, you can stay as long as you like on each of the two upper floors.
• The floor-to-ceiling curved mirror on the viewing platform is ideal for Facebook selfies.
• Don't go down in the lift, take the external walkway, it's not a vertigo-inducing experience.
• Check the Orbit's events list for special activities up top, used as visitor-boosters.
• The Shard's viewing platform is three times taller, but costs more than twice as much.
• My review from Summer 2012 might be a bit out of date, but you'll get the general idea.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, January 22, 2015Towards the end of Betjeman's 1968 TV documentary Contrasts it becomes clear why Sir John is making the journey from Marble Arch to Edgware - he's in mourning for a county.
The sisters Progress and Destruction dwellThe county of Middlesex had been swallowed up by the creation of Greater London a few years previously. Its loss was keenly felt in northwest London, as residents on either side of the Edgware Road suddenly found themselves in Brent or Barnet overnight. But Sir John was lamenting more than just a name - he'd been around long enough to remember the landscape before it was overwhelmed by suburbia. He liked a good housing estate it's true, but he loved the villages they'd replaced more, and it's on such rural images that his documentary unapologetically lingers.
Where rural Middlesex once cast her spell.
Dear vanished county of such prosperous farms,
Where now are gone your weatherboarded charms?
Still in my dreams I see your sudden hills,
Your willowy brooks, and winding lanes and rills,
The red-brick Georgian mansions' garden wall,
The little church, the spreading cedar tall.
See the Welsh Harp, with undulating shore,
And hear beyond the road's arterial roar.
Your swinging signboards, barns with curly tiles,
Your little lakes on which the sunset smiles.
Keats and Leigh Hunt in better lines than these
Have praised your misty fields and towering trees.
Constable's brush, with light and liquid fire,
Immortalised this unforgotten shire.
Dear Middlesex, dear vanished country friend,
Your neighbour, London, killed you in the end.
Welsh Harp: When Sir John reached Staples Corner, it wasn't yet the concrete megajunction we know today. The M1 connection wouldn't be made for another 10 years, so he never paused to decry the despoliation of its careering viaducts. Instead he pauses fractionally further on, to the west of the Edgware Road, at the Welsh Harp lake. Its sylvan setting is deceptive, the truth being that it's a reservoir formed by damming the River Brent and flooding farmland, almost 200 years ago. You can't fish here but you can sail, and the watersporters were out in number at the weekend taking advantage of the wind. Unfortunately they were all up the far end near Neasden, so all I got to see were some swans and cygnets watched over by a number of pigeons.
The eastern end of the Welsh Harp is overlooked by a curve of semi-detached houses, not many in number, though rather more sit further behind with no view of the water. It's all very Metro-land, and therefore unobjectionable today, but imagine the fuss when the foreshore was originally built over. A similar story is being told today on the north arm of the lake where Barratt Homes are creating Hendon Waterside, a "flagship regeneration development". In this familiar tale a former council estate (here York Park) is being replaced by a high-density housing project, in this case exchanging 680 homes for 2171. Some of these new homes will be in 29-storey towers, with balconies overlooking the water, utterly out of keeping with the existing lowrise neighbourhood. But none of this is at odds with Brent and Barnet's future plans for West Hendon and Colindale, in line with the hint that Betjeman first spotted a short distance up the Edgware Road some fifty years ago...
Colindale: Merit House was brand new in 1967, a gleaming 12 storey office block located immediately alongside the Edgware Road on the site of the Hendon Tram Depot. So new that it was still empty, its only tenant the Brylcreemed caretaker at the front desk. Betjeman greets him with some incredulity, wrongly assuming that he must be very lonely, even very frightened, sitting here alone all day. His tone becomes increasingly patronising towards the unfortunate employee, the best that Sir John can say of the building being that the views from the top floor must be marvellous. "It would be a very good place to have an office, if one could get here," he adds, overlooking the fact that Colindale tube station is barely five minutes walk away.
I found Merit House relatively easily, although at present it's the tower with no name. The entire building is being renovated, or should I say repackaged, to better appeal to relocating businesses. Thus far the exterior has been reclad in environmentally-friendly louvred glass, as is the modern fashion, and there are workmen in helmets out front and on the roof. The developers claim to be "regenerating an unsightly, under-used and outdated office building into a positive, high quality, high performing, sustainable building", which is more the sort of thing you expect in NW1 than NW9. Heaven knows what Sir John would have made of the "open plan break out area featuring Wagamama-style benches and private booths set against a stunning feature wall", but I doubt he'd have been impressed. Instead his lift ride to the empty echoing top floor inspired my favourite of the four poems in the documentary.
One after one rise these empty consecutives.The true purpose of Betjeman's ascent was to view his beloved Middlesex, and to point out pockets of countryside within the extended metropolis. Distant Mill Hill boasts green slopes to this day, and the Silk Stream still trickles through the nearby recreation ground, but the great flat stretch of Hendon Aerodrome has long succumbed to redevelopment. Part exists beneath the RAF Museum and part below Hendon Police College, but the majority lies under the Grahame Park Estate, first occupied in 1971. One of the GLC's larger mistakes, designwise, it too is getting another lease of life as Barnet council and some bulldozers attempt a second start. Indeed one gets the feeling from visiting Colindale that everything here is being replaced, from the old hospital by the tube station to the tube station building itself. One high profile casualty is the British Library's cavernous Newspaper Library ("Land Acquired"), another the amazing Oriental City market/restaurant complex closed in 2008 and still not yet rebuilt as ugly townhouses and a Morrisons. Whilst planners hope they're creating a vibrant and cosmopolitan urban quarter here, all the signs are that Colindale is fast becoming a densely-packed and characterless residential blandspot, its de-Middlesex-isation sadly complete.
Now we have come to the uppermost floor.
Where in the car park are Jags of executives?
Where far behind them the bikes of the poor?
Ghosts of the future are waiting to settle here,
Click of the typewriter, buzz from the boss.
The tea trolley's tinkle and hiss of the kettle here,
"Hurry up Myrtle, he's ever so cross."
Pig troughs of light will hang down from the ceiling,
Holiday postcards this bareness adorn,
Brave indoor plants give a tropical feeling,
Eyes will look lovingly, hearts will be torn.
Somewhere they'll raise where the views are extensive,
Beige, pink and soundproof, a partition wall
At fine-figured walnut, on leather expensive,
Here may be sitting the top man of all.
Edgware: Betjeman omits Burnt Oak, which is a shame, because he says he liked the place. Instead he skips from the Silk Stream to the end of the Edgware Road, which is of course in Edgware. Production notes for the documentary show that Sir John planned to film a sequence in the Green Shield Stamp Building "which defaces Edgware", ideally with a tea trolley in shot, but this never transpired. Instead the camera lingers briefly on the parish church ("very low, but not worth close inspection inside") and Station Road (where the boarded-up Railway Hotel awaits rebirth as a Tudor-fronted 100-room hotel), before departing the Edgware Road altogether. Betjeman's final stop is St Lawrence church, Little Stanmore, as fine a place of worship as this small country town could deserve. The verger leads him inside the Baroque building and turns the pages as Sir John sits at the organ, the payoff being that the organist here was once none other than your actual George Frideric Handel. I hoped to look inside myself but the church only takes visitors on a Sunday afternoon, so my attempt to follow Betjeman to his closing credits faltered right at the end. But I commend his choice of route, and his sequence of stops, and can confirm that the Edgware Road's Contrasts remain, indeed have strengthened, some fifty years on.
My Edgware Road gallery (there are 50 photos - 16 of them new today) [map] [gallery] [slideshow]
Contrasts: Marble Arch to Edgware (first broadcast 31 January 1968)
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, January 21, 2015The Edgware Road is the longest straight road in the capital. As the former Watling Street that's no surprise, but in London it's highly unusual to be able to travel in the same direction for three miles without deviation, let alone nine. I have blogged about the first mile of the Edgware Road before, precisely ten years ago (when I didn't used to write so much). But this time I'm going all the way, following in the footsteps of Sir John Betjeman and his 1968 documentary Contrasts: Marble Arch to Edgware. I'm assuming you've iPlayered it by now. Yesterday we got as far as the Marylebone flyover, which is hardly any distance at all, and today we'll continue to the North Circular.
Ah, what a change. Breadth, leafiness, space.Maida Vale: Sir John was clearly relieved to reach Maida Vale, as it had architecture far more to his liking. He stopped off to admire "a charming villa, like an English spa", a step change in residential desirability compared to main street Marylebone. But in doing so he missed the dominant housing type around here, the redbrick mansion block, characteristic of the estate laid out here at the end of the 19th century. It makes for an elegant neighbourhood, not least the broad sweeping avenues so wide that there's room for a linear parking space down the centre. Like Elephant & Castle the area is named after a pub - the Hero of Maida, which used to stand near the Regent's Canal. Like Waterloo the area is named after a battle against the French - the Battle of Maida, which took place on the 'toe' of Italy. As for the Vale, that's long built over, but sufficient green spaces survive to hint vaguely at the rural past.
And all the time the traffic goes on and on and on.Betjeman paused on camera to bemoan the heavy traffic, more specifically the lorries, that plagued the Edgware Road. They still rumble through, though are less dominant today because the majority of long distance traffic takes the Finchley Road instead. These two former turnpikes run roughly parallel through northwest London, the A41 now a more important artery than the A5 despite its lowlier number. While the Metropolitan follows the former, it's the Bakerloo that tracks the Edgware Road, though generally at a distance. I would say more, but most of the stations on this section of the Bakerloo celebrate their centenary this year, a couple in ten days time, so best keep stumm til then.
Kilburn High Road: Kilburn dates to Anglo Saxon times, long a stopping point on the great march north, and grew up near the start of a stream now known as the Westbourne. Indeed if you look up above one of the empty shops on the southern stretch, near the Overground, a plaque declares "This was the site of the Kilburn Wells". The High Road is now the site of considerable retail activity, and for quite some distance. On the western side, in Brent, are the rather lacklustre market and the vibrant Tricycle Theatre, now with a single screen cinema tucked round the back. Meanwhile on the eastern side, in Camden, are the larger chain stores and an ex-2000-seater cinema, once one of the largest in Britain, now the hangout for an evangelical church.
And then there are the pubs. Kilburn's always had several, and they like to compete in the game of "who's oldest" with dates emblazoned on their frontages like a game of heritage Top Trumps. The Black Lion announces Rebuilt 1898, while The Old Bell lays claim to Foundation 1600. That's nothing, says the Cock Tavern, which can boast Licensed 1486, and Rebuilt 1900. And the Red Lion laughs at them all, with Established 1444 and Rebuilt 1800, or would laugh if only it hadn't been reborn recently as a one-star cocktail bar called Love & Liquor. But then pubs are an essential staple in an Irish part of town, which is Kilburn through and through, creatingly an oddly appealing fusion of emerald and spice down the main street.
Ho for the Kilburn High Road! Ho for a sumptuous feast.
It's your road and it's my road, and Ireland meets the East.
Let's mount the Sixteen bus with care, it's empty, wide and free.
It will take us out of everywhere to the days that used to be.
Forget the littered pavements, the chain stores row on row
And the super-super cinema where our parents used to go.
With Shoot-Up Hill before us we leave the hemmed-in town
And raise a country chorus to Cricklewood and the Crown.
There stood a village marketplace where now you buy your yams,
And I like in memory to trace the red electric trams.
However far their journeys made they always waited here
And in this terracotta shade their passengers drank beer.
Cricklewood: Beyond Kilburn the road to Edgware rises up the delightfully named Shoot-Up Hill before descending as Cricklewood Broadway. What a difference a mile makes. Cricklewood lacks the oomph of its trendier neighbour, and you'd be harder pushed to window shop down the high street. Betjeman thus focused on one of its most important buildings, namely The Crown pub. Built on the site of an 18th century tea gardens, and a smaller subsequent hostelry, The Crown's enormous size is down to two contrasting quirks. Firstly in the 1880s it was selected by the London General Omnibus Company as the terminus of its horse-drawn double-deckers operating from Marble Arch. Secondly it was at the time the only permitted licenced premises in Cricklewood, so obviously the bigger the better. Many of the drinkers were Irish, the forecourt outside being a key daily recruiting point for casual labour, and Dexy's Midnight Runners shot most of the video for The Celtic Soul Brothers within and without. The Crown's reputation wasn't great, but the building itself is gorgeous, and the pub still boasts a lengthy bar capable of coping with weekend crowds. A jarring note is struck by the hotel of the same name more recently attached to the side, all curves and sheets of glass, opened to appeal to a globetrotting Wembley-bound audience. But I suspect that if John Betjeman were filming his documentary again today, this sandstone edifice would still catch his eye.
My Edgware Road gallery (34 photos - 14 of them new today) [map] [gallery] [slideshow]
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, January 20, 2015John Betjeman recorded several programmes for the BBC, the most famous of which is Metro-land. Eight of his documentaries are freely available on the iPlayer, should you wish to enjoy Sir John's idiosyncratic style, including the travelogue I've chosen to feature this week. Filmed in November 1967 and first broadcast in January 1968, it's called simply Contrasts: Marble Arch to Edgware.
This is where we are, Edgware Road, in the heart of London. And we're Edgware-bound. We're going the whole length of the road from Marble Arch to Edgware.In this one-off programme Sir John sets off from central London and travels northwest along a transport artery, stopping off at various points of interest along the way to record pieces to camera and talk to local characters. This sounds familiar, but unlike Metro-land this half hour is in black and white, and lacks jaunty backing music, and there are no trains. The programme's subtitle is "A lament", because Betjeman spends much of his time mourning what's been lost rather than celebrating the present. But Contrasts is also a charming reflection of its era, and includes four poems written especially for the programme, of which this (delivered from the top of Marble Arch) is the first. It's not his best.
How beautiful the London air, how calm and unalarmingMarble Arch: When Betjeman came to Marble Arch in the late 1960s, this corner of Hyde Park had already been despoiled. The gyratory system we know today had been carved out a few years earlier, looping round a patch of lawn and a trio of concrete fountains. Sir John chose not to mention the Odeon cinema on the corner of Edgware Road, which had been reopened earlier that year with the largest screen in the country, though a brash ribbed box viewed from the outside. He also skipped over the site of the Tyburn gallows, once the focus of the baying mob, now reduced to a stone plaque in the centre of a traffic island. Instead he hid himself inside, and then on top of, the Marble Arch itself. This triumphal structure once stood outside the front of Buckingham Palace, but was relocated here at Cumberland Gate during the enlargement of the royal residence around 1850. It then took on a new life as a police station, which is how Betjeman describes it on his visit, though the cameras show an empty room used only occasionally, with a stepladder required to reach the vantage point on the roof.
This height above the archway where the prospects round are charming.
Oh come and take a stroll with me and do not fear to stumble.
Great Cumberland, your place I see, I hear your traffic rumble.
See Oxford Street on my left hand, a chasm full of shopping.
Below us traffic lights command the starting and the stopping.
And on my right the spacious park, so infinitely spacious,
So pleasant when it isn't dark but when it is - good gracious!
What carriages below these skies came rolling by on Mondays.
What church parades would greet the eyes here in Hyde Park on Sundays.
And trodden by unheeding feet a spot which memory hallows:
Where Edgware Road meets Oxford Street stood Tyburn's fearsome gallows.
What martydoms this place has seen, what deeds much better undone.
Yet still the greatest crime has been the martyrdom of London.
For here where once were pleasant fields and no one in a hurry
Behold the harvest Mammon yields of speed and greed and worry.
The rights of man, the rights of cash, the left, the right, the centre;
Come on, let's off and make a dash, and meet it where we enter
The road that no-one looks upon, except as birds of passage:
Oh Edgware Road be our abode, and let us hear your message.
If you've ever wondered where Trafalgar Square's pigeons went after their eviction, many seem to have decamped to Marble Arch. They perch in numbers on the benches, which you'd be foolish to sit on, and flock to land by the feet of any visitor dispensing bread. Arrive in damp weather and the pavement has the consistency of dilute guano; arrive in wet and the squelchy coating might have washed away. Across the grass a giant bronze horse's head balances in front of the bus lane, again a favoured haunt of mucky birds. And humanity flocks through - mostly tourists because there's no great reason for Londoners to be here on this side of the traffic island. They selfie themselves in front of the great arch, and some walk through to admire the intricate triple-height iron gates. But few enter the two smaller archways to either side, half-gated off, to discover a unmarked door in each supporting pillar. These would have been the entrance when the Park's constables were stationed here, and also Sir John's exit point as he tottered down from the roof and crossed the gyratory to catch a number 16 bus.
Edgware Road: The first half mile of the A5 follows "that part of the Edgware Road which everybody thinks IS the Edgware Road, just faceless shops and flats." The shops and flats are still here, but perhaps a little less faceless now thanks to the Middle Eastern communities that ply their trade. Restaurants open out into the street with shisha pipes lined up beside the tables, even in January, and the shopfronts are as likely to be in Arabic as in English. It's a cosy place to hang out, perhaps picking up a Lebanese breakfast or mulling over your next luggage purchase before nipping into the Grosvenor casino. And yet ordinary high street stores survive here too, only just round the corner from Oxford Street, should you need an Argos, Waitrose or large M&S. Betjeman's documentary shows a large fibreglass sculpture adorning the exterior of Marks and Spencer - Progression by Bainbridge Copnall - long gone as the rebuilt store has no need. Indeed much of this stretch has been wilfully redeveloped in brick and steel, although many tall thin ornate Victorian villas survive inbetween.
Sir John struggles to say anything nice about the Marylebone Flyover, eventually resorting to "modern, clean lines, I suppose". This concrete span had opened only a few weeks before filming - officially on 12th October 1967 according to the plaque on the side. Charitably it removes a large volume of traffic from the street below, more realistically it's an eyesore that allows fast-moving vehicles to belch high-level pollution across the surrounding area. To help counter this TfL have constructed a Green Wall on the flyover side of Edgware Road tube station, most attractive and eco-friendly, but one suspects more as a token gesture than anything particularly effective. Meanwhile the Sixties planners' vast underground subway goes almost unnnoticed. They expected pedestrians would need to descend beneath this mega-junction to make progress, but most now choose to use surface level crossings and the subway is an eerie ghostworld of brightly coloured walls and futuristic (but very closed) kiosks.
Paddington Green: In the documentary Betjeman spends some time standing beside a car park and eulogising about what used to stand here - the Metropolitan Theatre. This music hall favourite opened on Easter Monday 1864, its architecture designed both to dazzle and to pack in as many seated punters as possible. They all played here, your Arthur Lloyds, your Marie Lloyds and your Max Millers, until the venue's final night on Good Friday 1963. A few years later Sir John is aghast that the building's demolition has created nothing more than a squalid yard to park cars, but if he'd waited as long again he'd have discovered an even more famous building on the site, namely Paddington Green Police Station. Often described anonymously in the press as "a secure central London location", its sixteen basement cells are often used to hold terrorist suspects and anyone else the government wishes to hide away. Up top a very-Sixties tower block looms down, scanning who knows what, and the entire edifice manages to be both very bland and very creepy at the same. Somewhat ironically, an enormous development site adjacent to the police station is still a car park, and has been for over 20 years. Various plans for highrise towers and a Sainsburys have been devised and blocked and stalled, so a vast tract of prime brownfield lives out its life as a £15-a-day parking lot.
In a diversion to demonstrate that not everything about the past was great, Sir John then leads us across the road into Penfold Place where five Victorian tenement blocks survive. Improved Industrial Dwellings, 1884, the plaque says, though Betjeman wonders how gardenless flats in the sky were an improvement on the little old London house then visible at the end of the courtyard. A one bedroom apartment at Miles Buildings is more desirable now, though still borderline affordable, with one intervening courtyard decorated with blue earthenware urns for that added post-poverty touch. Thank goodness the next location up the Edgware Road was more to his liking... but I'll not be following him there until tomorrow. For spoilers, or simply a damned good nostalgia trip, you can catch up on Betjeman's documentary here.
My Edgware Road gallery (20 photos) [map] [gallery] [slideshow]
posted 07:00 :
Monday, January 19, 2015London is perhaps too wedded to its past. Take Spiegelhalter's, for example, a tumbledown ex-jewellers shop on the Mile End Road. This stands in the way of a major redevelopment which could provide much needed office space in one of London's poorest boroughs. And yet campaigners are now demanding the retention of its derelict skeleton because of some alleged heritage value. Priorities, much?
Things could have been so different. When Wickham's department store looked to establish itself in Stepney in 1927, their ambitions were thwarted by the obstinate presence of a small jewellers shop in their midst. Wickham's had started out as a drapers at 69-73 Mile End Road, and had gradually bought up all the adjacent properties except for Spiegelhalter's at number 81. This Jewish family stubbornly refused to relinquish their shop, even for a floorful of sovereigns, and so Wickham's eventually went ahead and built their new edifice around them. Their grand classical facade was thus constructed with an embarrassing gap, the ionic columns broken in midair, and the great square tower positioned awkwardly asymmetrically. Wickham's could have been the Harrods of the East End, but instead it must have been a laughing stock.
Wickham's department store closed in the 1960s, outlived by the renegade jewellers and clockmakers lodged in their midst. Since then the building has limped on as a series of retail units, with a conference centre now in place on the upper floors. The peculiar structure of the building means that there are two separate banqueting suites, apparently ideal for segregated Islamic weddings, but hardly living up to the site's optimum potential. The ground floor now consists of an unnecessary Tesco Express, an independent coffee shop and a branch of Sports Direct (replacing a doomed Blockbuster Video). And, of course, that gaping hole in the middle.
Where Spiegelhalter's used to stand is a magnolia wall with glassless windows and an empty shell behind. The boarded-up frontage bears evidence of flyposting and a leftover Christmas campaign for the Dogs Trust, hardly the sign of a thriving community. And out front is the wreck of a 24 hour snack bar, quietly decaying on the pavement as planning permission for its replacement is sought. Is this the face of London we should be showing to potential international investors? Thank goodness a brave developer has come forward with plans to knock most of the building down and replace it with something more profitable.
The new project is called Department W, and has been put forward by Resolution Property, a leading European real estate investment fund. They see the Whitechapel property as a key part of their emerging portfolio, and hope very much that their mixed use development will bring a high financial return.
"The proposals seek to refurbish Dept W into modern TMT office space, with a sensitive new 15,000 sq ft extension to the top of the building. The proposals look to turn the now empty space of the holdout unit into the new, vibrant heart of the redevelopment as homage to the Spiegelhalter story. Sculptural shards will be introduced to create a bold, new public entrance on Mile End Road."Their proposed redevelopment follows a familiar model where the facade of an old building is retained, to keep the heritage nimbies happy, but everything behind is demolished. The end result often looks jarring, in this case a glass atrium behind a two-dimensional stone wall, but greatly increases the amount of office and leisure space that can be constructed behind. And niggly little Spiegelhalter's survives only as a gap, the lobby through which office workers and leisure users will enter, a century-long standoff finally brought to and end as Mammon takes victory.
So why not go further? This building's not protected, it's not even on Tower Hamlets' local list, so why not demolish Wickham's entirely. Retaining the old frontage merely holds the developers back, when what we could enjoy instead is an unfettered cuboid of steel and glass with maximum rental opportunity. Indeed there are several old buildings across the East End that no longer perform any important economic function and could all be entirely replaced by something characterlessly functional. In our post-austerity world, only an emotional curmudgeon could possibly argue otherwise.
Wickham's is a failed monument to capitalism, a victory for the little man, and as such not a educational model we should preserve. And Spiegelhalter's old shop isn't a classic architectural joke, it's the embodiment of a thorn in the side of progress, and won't be missed. So please don't listen to the head-in-the-sand do-gooders who'd like to see this 20th century wreck preserved. And whatever you do don't sign their ridiculous petition, because London's inevitable future is as a forest of highrise glass boxes with retail units underneath. The past must always be a casualty in our capital's drive to economic success.
Or did I get that wrong?
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, January 18, 2015My apologies if you've not been to the Skygarden on top of the Walkie Talkie yet, but I've now been up twice. Once after dark, and now once in daylight.
In addition to my earlier review...
• It's busier that it was, but still by no means busy.
• Go up with your free ticket before 5pm and you can buy a drink or whatever from the Sky Pod bar.
• Free online tickets are fully booked until the end of March (and April isn't up yet).
My Sky Garden gallery
There are now 30 photos - 18 in daylight [gallery] [slideshow]
posted 20:00 :
Something unusual is happening on the Circle line this weekend. It's running from Barking.
CIRCLE LINE: Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 January, no service between Edgware Road and Tower Hill (via King's Cross St Pancras). A revised Circle line service operates between Edgware Road and Barking (via Victoria). This is to allow for track and drainage replacement work at Euston Square and station improvement work at Moorgate and Liverpool Street.On the grand scale of things, this ranks well below the irrationality of the Circle line no longer being a Circle. And to be fair there are already two Circle line trains a day from Barking, both running before 6am, which I've caught and written about before. But a regular service from Barking that goes around the bottom of the inner Circle and up to Edgware Road, I think that's new.
It's also temporary, running only this weekend and next, which means the travelling public aren't generally expecting it. If they're paying attention they'll know the Circle's doing Barking to Edgware Road and the Hammersmith & City's doing Baker Street to Hammersmith, with nothing running from Baker Street to Liverpool Street at all. But your average Londoner just turns up and hopes, and your average tourist is baffled even when the system's running normally. So how's it going?
I caught this Circle line train from Bow Road. You can't tell from the picture, but I can assure you the destination on the front of the train said Circle line via Victoria. You also couldn't tell from the Next Train Indicator on the platform, because this was displaying Hammersmith (H&C) instead. It had also said Hammersmith (H&C) two trains earlier to announce a District line train to Wimbledon, but that's because Next Train Indicators on this stretch of railway are notoriously unreliable because the signalling hereabouts is ancient.
So on we hopped, those of us waiting, including several people who thought they were boarding a Hammersmith & City line train because that's what it looked like*. The onboard electronic voice confirmed the Circleness of the train in its next announcement, in case anyone realised the significance, and the driver read out a prepared script at Mile End. This startled a few people, who hopped out to change to the Central Line, which was probably the best move for getting where they wanted to go, and on we went.
* When an S Stock train turns up at Bow Road it's always a Hammersmith & City line train - it's how we tell the two possible lines apart. But from Monday we'll have to get used to the gradual replacement of the old D Stock trains on the run out to Upminster, and by the end of next year everything'll look the same.
At Aldgate East the driver read out possibly the longest onboard announcement I've ever heard. He started by confirming that this was a Circle line train via Tower Hill, and ended with the same information over a minute later. Inbetween he told us precisely what lines weren't running where, even the Metropolitan line so don't try that, and if passengers had any questions they should ask a member of station staff. Several passengers got off as a result, though I bet most got back on the next train because there was nowhere else for them to go. Anyway, full marks to the driver, an exemplary announcement.
And that should have been the end of the unusual bit. While Circle line trains are rare as hen's teeth up to Aldgate East, they're six an hour from Tower Hill, so no fresh passenger here blinked. At least not until Monument. As we left the station, the driver chipped in to apologise that the train was about to lie. "Cannon Street station is open this weekend, and every weekend," he said, "so please ignore the train when it tells you it's closed." "Cannon Street Station is closed and all trains are not stopping here" replied the train, right on cue. And then it promptly stopped at Cannon Street, having said it wouldn't, and opened its doors.
"This is Mansion House", said the train, when it patently wasn't. "The next station is Blackfriars", it continued, again incorrectly. And then we set off to Mansion House, with the train now 'one out' from the station it thought it was at. "This station is Blackfriars" it said at Mansion House, but this time only on the electronic display, and only briefly before everything at last switched back to accurate reality. These S Stock trains may be new, but their automated system appears unable to cope with the unexpected and will happily announce untruths because the programming is sub-optimal.
Finally we continued like a normal Circle line train, round the normal Circle line route, to the normal Circle line destination of Edgware Road. And here we pulled into the normal Circle line platform, which is platform 2, which is where my tale ought to end. But no, something extremely odd happened as the train prepared to return the way it came. I was expecting the display on the front and side of the train to show Circle line via Victoria, or something similar, but instead it said District line Barking.
And this was damned confusing. The District line does run from Edgware Road, but always goes to Wimbledon. There are trains from Edgware Road to Barking, but they run on the Hammersmith & City line via an entirely different route. Circle line trains do normally run through the next 17 stations this particular train would visit, so Circle line would have been a good description. But there are no District line trains that go round the curve at Gloucester Road, hence potential passengers stared at the waiting train in some confusion.
One particular young lady stared repeatedly at the electronic display, then made a point of checking the signs on the platform which said platform 2 was for Circle line trains only. She even let the first train depart, and was equally confused ten minutes later when the next terminating train claimed to be another District line train to Barking. I had to reassure her that she really did want to get on this one, it was indeed going to "Kensington" as she wanted, and on she got. But she still hovered by the door in some trepidation, pointing repeatedly at the route diagram in the carriage which showed clearly that District line trains from here don't go to Barking. Only when the onboard announcements started up, declaring this to be a Circle line train in contradiction to the externally advertised information, did she finally smile, wave to me and sit down.
Edgware Road is a confusing mess of a station at the best of times, and this weekend it's more baffling than most. So I was disappointed by the total absence of useful information on the platforms that might have made clearer to waiting passengers what was going on. There were announcements every five minutes explaining what the Hammersmith & City and Circle lines weren't doing ("no service between...") but at no point was there a positive declaration explaining what trains from here were doing. It shouldn't be rocket science to play station-specific announcements - they'd have been exceptionally useful here - but instead it seems we get generic pre-recorded announcements for use at several stations that pinpoint nothing.
And where were the station staff all this time? I didn't see one on the platforms during the lengthy period I spent at Edgware Road, though there were a number of people who'd have found having an expert to talk to very useful. Instead I found two uniformed staff upstairs by the barriers in the ticket hall, having a nice chat, as passengers went about their journeys uninterrupted close by. I gave their indifference the benefit of the doubt until I spotted the engineering works poster in the entrance hall, which explained both what wasn't running and what was, including the Circle line's unusual path. Scribbled in black marker pen beside the map was the message READ BEFORE ENTERING STATION, in a rather patronising way, as if staff were sick of ignorant passengers turning up and asking stupid questions.
It's not ideal that all the useful information at Edgware Road was targeted solely at those entering the station, not at those changing trains, which overlooks a sizeable audience. It's not ideal that staff appeared to be targeted at the ticket barrier, and not terribly efficiently, when there might instead be a greater need on the platforms. It's not ideal that this weekend's service is inconsistently labelled, as the Circle line in one direction and the District line in the other. And it would be ideal if tube passengers came prepared and knew what was going on, but life's not like that. Thank goodness this unusual situation's only for two weekends, which leaves one more to get it right.
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, January 17, 2015You may remember that on 1st November last year, TfL took down all the content on the Walk London website, reducing it to little more than a homepage. They then transferred some of the original information, but by no means all, to a subsection of the main TfL website. Directions for each of London's seven strategic walks survived, but not maps, be that a general overview of routes or detailed maps of individual sections. An entirely unimpressive downgrade, discarding hard-won creative capital in the race for a rationalised web presence on a mobile-friendly platform.
Two and a half months later the good news is that most of those maps have returned. Or rather they've been updated, because it appears that TfL's midwinter hiatus was to coax the old style maps into a new format. Previously the maps and directions were separate and you had to print out both, and the maps were based on OpenStreetMap data. The new maps provide everything you need in one document, just as they used to do when printed leaflets were available. They're also based on TfL's Legible London basemap, which some might see as an improvement, with the route marked clearly as a line in red.
So if you fancy walking, say, Capital Ring section 7, there's now a four page pdf with everything you need. Up front is a summary overview, including a small map showing the walk's location within Greater London and a single larger graphic showing the entire route. There then follow instructions on how to reach the start from the nearest station, including close-up map, with equivalent information for the final station tacked on at the end. Inbetween are written directions for the entire walk, including additional maps to guide you through any tricky sections. And interspersed throughout are various "Did you know?" boxes outlining some historical or environmental fact, so you don't simply go for a nice walk, you learn something along the way. The text is familiar, indeed much of it appeared in those printed leaflets from two thousand and something. But it has at least been updated so that, for example, reference is no longer made to tourist attractions that have closed. Indeed there's the sense of a human hand behind all this, rather than some kind of cheap cut and paste job, which is nice. Maybe that's why it's taken so long to achieve.
Oh, but not all the maps are there yet. Many are, particularly those for the river-based walks such as the Thames Path or the Lea Valley Walk. But several sections of some walks still have no graphical representation whatsoever, just a text-only list of directions with which you might or might not end up getting lost. I'm assuming this is because the replacement project is still underway, indeed it appears that these new maps have been appearing unheralded over the last few weeks. So in case you're thinking of going walking in the immediate future here's a list of which maps are available and which aren't yet.
London walk Sections with full maps Sections with only directions Capital Ring 1 5 6 7 8 9 11 12 13 14 2 3 4 10 15
The website says 'Map', but the download is only Directions
London Loop (none) 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 Thames Path North 1 2 3 4; South 1 2 3 4 Lea Valley Walk 1 2 3 4 5 6 Jubilee Walkway 1 2 3 4 5 Jubilee Greenway 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Green Chain (none) 1 2 3 4 5 7 8 9 10 11
Section 6 is missing
So maybe don't walk the London Loop yet, and as for the Green Chain, try the SE London route's dedicated webpage instead. But almost everything else is there, and presumably the whole lot will be eventually, so you can get out and go walking round London again.
Which is precisely what's behind Walk London's sole remaining reason for existence - the organisation of three free walking weekends a year. The next of these is Winter Wanders, a collection of 41 led walks taking place across next weekend. Some are relatively short pavement-based exploits in the centre of town, more an informed sightseeing tour than a proper hike. But others are longer rambles on which you might even need proper boots, some even in Outer rather than Inner London.
This blog recommends High Barnet to Cockfosters, which is next Saturday, because I've done that one (and very muddy it was too). The next day's Cockfosters to Turkey Street is very rural too, although I've only ever tried that in summer so don't know what January would be like. I have to plug Sunday morning's Hendon to Highgate, because that follows the the Mutton Brook which I wrote about yesterday. I'll also recommend the whole of the Wandle Trail, which is the weekend's longest walk at 10 miles, and the Green Chain from Charlton to Plumstead, which is apparently usually the most popular.
The full list of Winter Wanders is here, with a map of all 41 starting points (colour-coded by day) to be found here. Or just strike off on your own on the route of your choice, which you can do now that Walk London's maps are returning to the internet. London may be taking walking seriously again, and it's about time.
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