diamond geezer

 Tuesday, July 25, 2017

What are the Needles?



The Needles are three chalk stacks at the far western tip of the Isle of Wight. There used to be four, but the thin pillar which originally gave the feature its name crumbled into the sea during a storm in 1764. Long treacherous to shipping, in 1859 a lighthouse was built at the far end, which became one of the last such structures in the UK to be fully automated.

But how do you get to the Needles?



Unless you have a helicopter, the best way to see The Needles up close is to take a boat from Alum Bay. Pleasure boats run throughout the summer from a jetty on the beach, with a choice of fast/expensive/whizz or slower/cheaper/cruise. I plumped for the 20 minute option, the one you don't need to wear a lifejacket for, and hopped on deck in return for payment of six pounds. The crew delivered us out into the bay, along with a proper non-recorded commentary, then edged the boat up close-ish to the rocks as the wash rocked us around. The chalk looks very un-needle-like from the side, with only a single row of seabirds perched along the top as an indication of quite how thin each ridge is. Looking shoreward, the cliff face above Scratchell's Bay is exceedingly white, as if the outermost layer only recently slumped into the sea. A couple of small caves can be seen as the returning boat hugs the northern flank of the headland, weak points which will eventually lead to the creation of arches, then stacks, then nothing, as the inexorably slow cycle of coastal erosion continues. So that was fun.

But why go to Alum Bay?



The geology of the Isle of Wight is amazing. A chalk spine crosses the island from west to east, from the Needles to Culver Cliff, with less resistant rocks to either side. At Alum Bay the sedimentary strata are folded almost-vertical, exposing a sequence of soft sands and clays in a multiplicity of colours, each created by a subtly different combination of minerals. Most visitors don't give a stuff about the geology, they just think the cliffs are really pretty. Catch the right light and the rockface resembles a palette of autumnal shades, with the stripes more sharply slanted the further from the chalk they go. It used to be possible to collect fallen sand from below, but plastic tape now blocks footfall above the pebble beach to reduce the risk of landslides. Never mind, you can always sit uncomfortably on the stones and gaze out across the bay towards the Needles, or maybe hop into a boat to see them up close.

But how do you get to Alum Bay?



From the Needles Landmark Attraction you can walk down the cliff path and its multiplicity of steps. But how much more fun to take the transport option modern health and safety legislation forgot, the Needles Chairlift. I'm not saying it's unsafe, far from it, but no 21st century attraction would have been built with a drop-down bar you could wriggle out of above so deep a drop. It's fabulous. 50 double-seats swing round on a looped cable, a bit like a ski-lift, but here you head down rather than up. Wait your turn and sit back into the chair as it comes up behind, trying not to get caught up in the bar/footrest combo as an operative lowers it over your head, then take off into a wooded glade. So far so tame. But then the ground below falls away, as indeed it once literally did, and a vista opens up across the bay towards the Needles. At the cliff edge is one of those masts with rollerwheels to change the angle of travel, over which you pass, and then descend much more steeply above unstable sand towards beach level. If aerial suspension gives you the willies it's now too late to back out, but I felt unexpectedly calm as the dangleway descent continued. The ultimate landing spot is on a pontoon in the bay, where a large wheel rotates and passengers hop off... and another three quid saves you a walk back up the steps later.

But why go to the Needles Landmark Attraction?



Actually that's a good question. The collection of kiosks and amusements above Alum Bay has evolved over the years from a clifftop sideshow to a full-blown adventure park, a bit like the entertainment atrocity blighting Lands End, but not quite that bad. A "4-D cinema" is never a good sign, I find. As well as fairground rides and a dino-themed crazy golf course, visitors are also encouraged to pay to look round a glass-blowing workshop and a sweet manufactory, or insert their offspring into a plastic globe and watch them roll around on water. The unique attraction is the opportunity to make your own souvenir by filling a glass container with coloured sand. A vast array of potential shapes is available, from tubes to teddies and lighthouses to lightbulbs, into which you scoop your choice of shaded grains one layer at a time. It's a great way to take Alum Bay home with you, but only so long as nobody ever shakes your souvenir and mixes up the colours... a lesson I learned the hard way almost fifty years ago.

But how do you get to the Needles Landmark Attraction?



The Isle of Wight has an excellent bus network, plus a trio of open-topped sightseeing buses which run throughout the summer. The Island Coaster runs only once a day for most of the summer, which isn't terribly practical, plus the ride along the south coast between Alum Bay and Ryde takes almost three hours. More useful for Alum Bay purposes is the Needles Breezer, a half-hourly spin round the Freshwater Peninsula, starting and ending in Yarmouth. The route passes various spots of almost-interest, with a commentary provided by a disembodied voice which sometimes sounds like it's reading from Wikipedia. But you do get to see the field where the fabled Isle of Wight Festival took place, and the Tennyson Memorial high on the chalk downs, and the birthplace of Robert Hooke, and plenty of narrow lanes. The highlight (or the proper scary bit, depending) comes when the bus takes the clifftop road up from the Needles car park towards the Old Battery. For a couple of minutes it hangs just that little bit too close to a sheer drop before negotiating a further ascent up a hairpin bend, before turning back and doing the whole thing in reverse. The road is closed during force 8 gales, which is not usually an issue in summer.

But why go to Yarmouth?

It's the western gateway to the Isle of Wight, innit? An ancient market town with a Tudor castle and a Victorian pier - the latter the longest timber pier in the country still open to the public - and a harbour for people who like yachts and own one.

But how do you get to Yarmouth?

The Isle of Wight ferry from Lymington (or a bus from Newport)...
etc etc etc

» eight west-IoW photos

 Monday, July 24, 2017

Route W5: Archway to Harringay
Location: London north, inner
Length of journey: 4 miles, 30 minutes


You should definitely ride this excellent wholly north London bus route, said a reader. So I did. And then I walked the whole thing back the other way.



It's an oddity, the W5. Not because it's stubbornly indirect - most London buses don't go direct. Not because it's operated by little 1-door minibuses - around a dozen London bus routes have those. It's odd because the vast majority of the journey is Hail and Ride, and entirely unsigned Hail and Ride at that, weaving its way round the backroads of Haringey like a shadowy secret. Catching the W5 mid-route might be a challenge, but it's easy enough at each end, and when I boarded behind a nun carrying a packet of Wagon Wheels I knew I was in for a noteworthy ride.

What have they done to Archway? Last time I was here major roadworks were underway to remove the gyratory, and now it's gone, and in its place is a massive new pedestrian piazza with cars diverted round three sides. It makes for a nicer experience on foot, though not necessarily so in a car, and is presumably supposed to be a lot friendlier to cyclists too. Indeed pride of place in the new piazza goes to a twin-lane cycle track running straight up the centre, which I saw being used by absolutely no bicycles whatsoever, although I was only here for ten minutes which might of course be unrepresentative. It took me several of those ten minutes to try to locate the bus stop where the W5 begins, because it's hidden behind the Archway Tavern and signage from the tube station is non-existent-to-poor.



For a little bus, the W5 runs impressively frequently and is well used. About a dozen of us pile in at the first stop, including a police officer called Brian, an old lady in a brown-brimmed hat and the aforementioned nun. She's been to Poundworld and, as well as the aforementioned Wagon Wheels, her bag also contains a half-price packet of tea bags and some black plastic sacks. I suspect she's catering for a 'gathering' of some kind, and am agog to see where she gets off. One lady gets off at the very first stop up the hill, just past the statue of Dick Whittington's cat, which I charitably assume is because this is outside a hospital and not because she's inherently lazy.

By now we have passengers standing, in part because the ascent up Highgate Hill is quite daunting, but mostly because no other bus heads where we're going. That's off to the right down Hornsey Lane, after an expectedly long wait for the traffic lights to change, heading for the covered reservoir and the amazing Archway Bridge. This cast-iron Victorian span hangs high above the A1, with a blinkered view down the dual carriageway which perfectly frames the City skyscraper cluster. It's also an infamous suicide spot, the spiked parapet no insurmountable deterrent, the most recent loss having been mid-afternoon at the end of June. A letter from the family of the deceased is tied to the railings, thanking those who stopped to talk to him during those last fateful moments, and seeking if possible to find out more. Maybe the long-pledged anti-jump fence will be going up sooner rather than later.



The W5 rumbles on, still with actual proper bus stops, then makes a break for uncharted waters. Stanhope Road heads steeply down and then back up, with what looks like a railway bridge at the dip in the middle. In fact this is the Parkland Walk, a former railway turned nature reserve, and a fascinating green walkway to boot. I've walked across the top of the bridge several times, but never underneath. At the top of the rise is Shepherds Hill, a residential backwater blessed with 'courts' rather than flats, and some rather nice villas. Once a ridgeway bridlepath through fields, part of the northern flank was saved from development in 1893, thereby opening up a broad vista from Queens Wood to Ally Pally. With a screen of trees in the way, very little can be seen from the bus.

Our halfway point is Crouch End, one of Haringey's more bijou quarters, as the names of some of the boutiques along Park Road attest. Kiss The Sky. Niddle Noddle. Crystal Life. Rubadubdub. A lot of passengers alight on Middle Lane, the closest stop to the Clocktower, including a couple of ladies who've been droning on and on about work politics since Archway. The nun is still in her seat. After a fresh bunch of passengers have boarded the doors close, fractionally too late for one shopper who proceeds to tap on the glass for admission. Our jobsworth driver's having none of it and pulls away, only to get stuck behind a parking car while the abandoned passenger glares in vain through the window.



The route the W5 takes beyond Crouch End is very different eastbound to westbound, which I assume is to minimise the hassle of one minibus meeting another minibus coming the other way. Westbound the route passes Hornsey Library (a striking concrete and brick confection, which I note from the plaque outside is four days older than me) and the former Hornsey Town Hall (a Modernist pioneer with tall brick tower, which may soon be converted into an out-of-reach hotel). Eastbound we merely get the Crouch End Picturehouse, Kwikfit and the YMCA, which isn't quite as great.

The W5's role is to serve the population east of Ferme Park Road by threading through a grid of streets running from ridgetop to vale. This is serious Hail & Ride territory, with not a single actual stop between here and the end of the route, and the driver picking his moments carefully to pull in to the side. All the locals seem to know precisely on which street corner to wait for maximum effect, or when to ding to hop off at exactly the right spot. I begin to suspect that several pseudo-bus-stops exist when one passenger presses the bell the instant the bus's doors have closed after a drop-off, and the driver continues a few hundred metres down the road before stopping again, at what is evidently precisely where the passenger wanted to go.



The finest view on the route is in the opposite direction only, heading down Uplands Road, from the top of which comes the sight of Alexandra Palace behind a descending chain of chimneyed roofs. And it's at the summit on Mount View Road that the nun finally alights, taking her coffee morning treats with her, destination (in this convent-free zone) alas unknown. The W5 turns again more often than Dick Whittington, and its next detour diverts it down to Harringay station, sub-optimally in one direction only. When I come to walk back the route in the opposite direction I will get repeatedly lost, unable to remember quite which way the bus went, and with absolutely no bus stops or timetable boards to help me.

Escape from the suburban labyrinth brings the bus to Endymion Road, a one-sided affair skirting the northern rim of Finsbury Park. It's also where the traffic jam starts - approximately above the New River - because the lights at the T-junction with Green Lanes are merciless. Only ten seconds of green are provided, every not very often, and the queue creeps forward only a few cars at a time. We're still officially Hail and Ride, so the driver opens the doors and allows passengers off, which is just as well because the bus spends almost 25% of its overall journey time on Endymion Road attempting to turn left. Perhaps this is why, when another green spell fades and all looks lost, the driver blatantly follows two other cars through red to escape another couple of minutes of queueing purgatory. Tut.



To finish, we turn right at McDonalds into what TfL like to call 'Harringay Superstores', although super is surely overdoing it. A Sports Direct and an Argos have been airdropped onto the site of the Harringay Stadium, plus a number of other utterly typical warehouse-sized chain stores, all bookended by a Homebase and Sainsburys. The W5 terminates round the back of the latter, ideal not just for groceries but so that the driver can dash off to use 'the facilities' at a convenience TfL hasn't had to pay for. The bus simply waits to deliver another batch of shoppers back to non-existent bus stops round a swirl of streets you'd never need to visit unless you lived there, which is fortunate, because otherwise you might never know.

Route W5: route map
Route W5: live route map
Route W5: timetable
Route W5: The Ladies Who Bus

 Sunday, July 23, 2017

How 50 London places got their names

Aldwych: lair of the ancient sorceress
Arnos Grove: small wood, formerly belonging to Arno
Barbican: where barbecues were permitted
Barking: Henry VIII's favourite hostelry
Barkingside: close to Henry VIII's favourite hostelry
Barnes: place for agricultural storage
Battersea: site of heavy wave action
Blackfriars: known for its overcooked fish
Bloomsbury: a subterranean garden
Brixton: huge pile of building materials
Camberwell: a nicely-sloping road
Catford: where kittens crossed the river
Crossness: known for its angry residents
Dulwich: lair of the boring sorceress
Ealing: site of Cockney 'ospital
Feltham: home of the infamous Pigstrokers Gang
Finsbury: shark cemetery
Fulham: a lot of pigs lived here
Fulwell: hole which overflowed with water
Goodmayes: most excellent labyrinth
Greenwich: lair of the inexperienced sorceress
Hackney: place where half a leg was lost
Hatch End: closed-down chicken farm
Hatton: place to find millinery
Hayes: susceptible to fog
Highbury: hilltop cemetery
Hurlingham: home of the infamous Pigchuckers Gang
Kew: where the line to enter London began
Kidbrooke: riverside grazing for young goats
Kilburn: place of murder and arson
Kingsbury: royal cemetery
Ladywell: women's hospital
Limehouse: bright green cottage
Maida Vale: wedding dress headgear created here
Nunhead: place of habit
Paddington: huge pile of stuffing
Pinner: where ladies were tied down
Ponders End: place for contemplating death
Poplar: a lot of people used to live here
Purley: seat of Cockney royalty
Riddlesdown: a very wet place
Shacklewell: a particularly good torture chamber
Slade Green: parkland for duelling
Spitalfields: saliva-strewn pasture
Sudbury: cemetery for washerwomen
Tooting Broadway: avenue lined by owls
Wandsworth: marketplace for wizards
Wapping: huge place
Whetstone: rock in a river
Woolwich: lair of the knitting sorceress

 Saturday, July 22, 2017

5 Coulsdon & Purley/Caterham & Warlingham
Not every district proposed to become part of Greater London in 1965 made the cut. Coulsdon and Purley made it in, and probably would've rather not, whereas Caterham and Warlingham were left outside, and remain resolutely part of Surrey. Today a seemingly arbitrary dividing line wends its way across the suburban landscape, with one side genuinely part of the Home Counties and the other merely looking the part. In trying to work out where to visit for today's post I realised I'd been to Coulsdon, Purley and Caterham but never Warlingham, so headed there, then threw in a bonus trip to Woldingham for good measure.

OK, how to get to Warlingham? From here I think the Overground to Croydon and then the 403 bus. Weather forecast looks OK. I'll pack the suncream just in case. Who let that school party onto the train? Must be an end of term trip. We didn't have to wear hi-vis in my day. I see they're all wearing special stickers too. What an excitable racket. I can hardly concentrate enough to read my book. Actually it's not a very good book is it? The cover makes it look a lot more interesting than it is. Never mind, I can take it back to the library on Monday.

West Croydon bus station's odd. And new-ish. Not bad looking, a bit like a chalet. But how on earth am I meant to cross the tram tracks to reach it? Would it have been so hard to add a direct pedestrian crossing? Everyone just walks across the tracks anyway. Oh god, the speakers are playing muzak. I quite like the electronic display showing when all the next buses arrive. Shame the lettering's so small you can't read it from any of the bus stops. Why are there never Countdown displays at bus stops in bus stations? And why are there three police officers on patrol here? All they're doing is standing around watching proceedings. Easiest job ever. They should be somewhere else being useful.



Bus to Warlingham. Top deck front seat obviously. How far round the houses are we going? Although the houses are quite nice round here. I wonder if my auntie's in. Hang on, it's raining. It wasn't supposed to do that. Aha, I recognise Hamsey Green, this is where the London Loop goes through. Didn't that wasteland used to be a pub? I see it's going to be a Lidl. Rain's coming down a lot harder now. I can hardly see out. Warlingham looks quite splotchy. I'll stay on until Sainsbury's. Let's hide in the shelter for a bit. I see everyone's had the same idea. Well this is a bit grim.

OK, if those old ladies can brave the weather, so can I. It's only rain, I'll be fine. Where's High Lane? I can see why there's a sign warning cars with satnavs to stay away. Gosh, there's almost a good view down there. Oh, the entire valley is filled with a golf course. Rain's easing. Is that a wolf coming the other way? Ah no, it's got a man with it. It looks hungry. Good, it's on a lead. Ah, the path goes straight past the clubhouse terrace. I don't think these golfing gentlemen appreciate having a man with a rucksack interrupting their al fresco drinks. I shan't stop. Which way does the path go?



I guess this is quite pretty on a decent day. Today is not that day. I could always hide out in that garden centre for a while. But it's only drizzling now, and quite frankly I'd rather get wet. Woldingham has how few buses a day? Sheesh, this is what happens when you live a couple of miles outside London. There again, the station has a brilliant service. It's down here isn't it? Typical that the only shop outside the station is an interior designer. Ticket office has just shut for the day. Village of two thousand people has a ticket office open for six hours every morning, and yet all the ticket offices on the tube have been closed.

Let's try following a bit of the Woldingham Country Walk. Useful that there's a map immediately opposite the car park. I'm not sure whether the track through that farmyard is a public footpath or not. Ah bugger, here comes a dog not on a lead. It looks like it owns the place. Such an over-confident swagger. Damn, the owner is on horseback, so can't directly control it. Hang on, I'll just retreat up this side path for a bit. And wait. And wait. And back on track. The footpath must be across the edge of this field, somewhere. Nice old brick bridge over the railway, weight limit three tonnes.



The footpath heads off into deep woodland across the mouth of the tunnel. It's a bit overgrown. It'll be fine if I duck. Ouch that was a nettle. Path goes on a bit, doesn't it? Ah, I appear to have most of last night's thunderstorm soaking into the bottom of my jeans. Hopefully it'll dry off before I bump into anyone else. But I don't think I'll be meeting anyone else on this path, not in the middle of a weekday. If I had an accident here and fell unconscious, I wonder how long it'd be before anyone walked past and noticed? I am not going to have an accident here and fall unconscious. This is fabulously isolated. I adore remote-footpathing midweek.

Ah, here's the tiny church. I shall take a free history leaflet from the plastic dispenser on the gatepost. Only somewhere as rich as this would the leaflet be printed on glossy paper with a single colour photo. Ooh, the door opens. What a wonderfully trusting country we still live in. OK, it's nice, but it's not as quaint inside as I was expecting. More chapel than church. On the lectern by the font are a prayer book, a copy of the electoral roll, a history of the church in a plastic folder, the guidebook for a Maltese chapel and a copy of the parish's Policy for Safeguarding Children 2017. I'll only read one of them.



Some of these houses are enormous. Not unattractive, but enormous. Reassuringly unfortress-like too. I wonder which one Davina McCall lived in. And Jordan. Oh look, someone's dropped a half-full packet of Morrisons Iced Slices on the pavement. Reduced to 30p too. How very un-Woldingham. The telephone box looks a bit forlorn now it's had its phone removed. I wonder what the flag up the pole on the green is. So many private roads everywhere. I missed the Zumba class at the village hall this morning. All the essential shops for a highfalutin commuter village are here. A mini-supermarket, an estate agent, a catering company, a beauty parlour and a saddlery. That saddlery'll outlive them all.

I'll try a different footpath back to Warlingham. Sadly there are no butterflies up Butterfly Walk. I blame the weather. It's quite a climb. Ah, the next field contains cattle. Beef cattle with horns. Does that mean they're bulls? Please let them be at the bottom of the field, not up here where the path is. Phew, they're at the bottom of the field. I shall risk it. I wonder how quickly bulls can run up a hill if they want to. They don't seem to be moving. I shall speed up anyway. Lovely meadow, and a lovely view, if only I had time to enjoy it. The next gate seems a very long way away all of a sudden. And... through. That's better. Nice coal post.



Time to take a shortcut through the nature reserve. It's surrounded by houses, but there's absolutely nobody else here except me. My jeans still have specks of seeds stuck to them. They're not quite dry yet, but then none of me is. I think the suncream was a mistake. Let's see what's going on in the latest parish council minutes. The road outside the retirement flats has been badly resurfaced. Several entries for the flag/logo competition have been shortlisted. Timetable changes mean the morning rush hour buses are now too close together. The chairman is very concerned about flyposting for the Sausage and Cider Festival.

Time for one last look around the village green. It's mostly shops and a war memorial. The flowerbeds are immaculate. The bank has just closed for good, and so has the petrol station. A concrete mixer is parked outside the fish and chip shop. If I ever own a wine bar I will never call it Chez Vous. Ludovic charges £9 more than Mickaël for a cut and blow dry. Only in well-off commuter villages are there boutiques selling 'shoes, clocks, jewellery and collectables'. Alas it seems half-day closing is still a 'thing' round here. Is the bus home due yet? Damn, it appears to be school-chucking-out time.

 Friday, July 21, 2017

5 Coulsdon & Purley/Caterham & Warlingham
Not every district proposed to become part of Greater London in 1965 made the cut. Coulsdon and Purley made it in, and probably would've rather not, whereas Caterham and Warlingham were left outside, and remain resolutely part of Surrey. Today a seemingly arbitrary dividing line wends its way across the suburban landscape, with one side genuinely part of the Home Counties and the other merely looking the part. In trying to work out where to visit for today's post I realised I'd been to Coulsdon, Purley and Caterham but never Warlingham, so headed there, then threw in a bonus trip to Woldingham for good measure.

Warlingham

Warlingham's a village on a hill, or rather the scarp of the North Downs, which grew from medieval manor to commuter nirvana over several centuries. The heart of the village is on the Limpsfield Road around a triangular green, at the centre of which is the war memorial, and above which flies a Union Jack, because its that kind of place. It's also the kind of place that still has a 'hardware' store and a newsagent that sells books, as well as an independent cafe and a gift shop for dogs (as beneficiaries, not as shoppers). But not a bank, because NatWest just whitewashed the windows of the branch on the corner, nor an old-school petrol station, because that's barriered off awaiting transformation into a dozen flats.



The absence of pubs in neighbouring Sanderstead and Woldingham meant that several could be supported here, although Ye Old Leather Bottle has upgraded to tapas, The Hare and Hounds has downgraded to coffee, and most of the others now prioritise food over ale. Of these the half-timbered White Lion looks by far the most appealing, although the phrase 'Free House' painted on the side wall is alas no longer true. Gold gothic letters above the door confirm the inn as '15th century', but also warn off potential canine visitors with 'No Dogs Please' in similar script.

All Saints Church is 13th century, and is said to be where Archbishop Thomas Cranmer first conducted a service from the Book of Common Prayer. It's definitely the site of Britain's first ever televised church service - the BBC filmed the Harvest Festival here in 1950 - while the inventor of the incandescent light bulb, Sir Joseph Swan, is entombed in the graveyard. Of more immediate importance (if banners plastered all around the local area are to be believed) is the 2nd annual Warlingham Sausage and Cider Festival, taking place all this weekend at the John Fisher Sports Ground, with a rumoured appearance by Randy and the Rockets.



Warlingham's centre of gravity has shifted noticeably west since Victorian times, thanks to the arrival of the railway. Ironically Upper Warlingham station is at the lowest point in the village, but a steep flight of steps leads up to a residential quarter where the avenues are more sweeping and the back gardens more spacious. Less stockbrokerish types can enter the village by London bus - the 403 rumbles regularly across the border through Hamsey Green, and terminates at what used to be Chelsham bus garage but is now a large Sainsbury's.

How to walk from Warlingham to Woldingham

1) Follow the track opposite the Village Hall into Blanchman's Farm Local Nature Reserve. The farmhouse used to be opposite the pond. On the opposite side, where the narrow lane of Bug Hill starts to tumble over the escarpment, look out for the historic coal post masquerading as a gatepost. To avoid any traffic, take the footpath across the very top of a steep pasture, focusing on the great view and trying not to wonder whether the Longhorn Beef cattle sharing the field are all bulls. Then hairpin back down a long path called Butterfly Walk and follow the remainder of Bug Hill down to the crossroads.

2) At the village sign, just past Sainsbury's, turn off down High Lane (which Surrey County Council wisely signs as inappropriate for vehicular traffic). Plantation Lane hugs the rim of the delightfully-named Halliloo Valley, and swiftly narrows, bordered by anguished signs warning dogwalkers to keep their charges under firm control. After a pleasant half mile the track swings down into the golf course which fills the entire valley floor, passing an ostentatious pillared clubhouse where players gather on the terrace for a post-round drink. Don't linger, stride on towards the gates, and they won't look at you too funny.




Woldingham

The next village south is very much not part of London, more a sprawling web of lanes dotted with detached homesteads. Woldingham covers approximately the same area as Caterham on the opposite side of the A22 but has only a tenth of the population, such is the allure of a Downland hideaway. This time a bus service isn't an option, not unless you catch one of the two minibuses a day, but the East Grinstead railway provides a perfect commuter link to the City. The station's small car park fills up fast (BMW, Landrover, Lexus, Landrover, etc) so latecomers are forced to leave their vehicles in single file down Church Lane, 50-strong, rather than endure the inconvenience of a long walk down Long Hill.



Woldingham's village green looks a lot more rural than Warlingham's traffic island, with horse trough planter, recently disconnected phone box and almost enough space for cricket. The remains of an air raid shelter can be seen in one corner, while a nearby cottage proudly displays an inn sign out front despite the fact it hasn't been a pub since 1884. Local residents' retail needs are met in The Crescent, a brief parade offering semi-permanent eyelash extensions, replacement windows and, at the far end, a saddlery. A key difference between Warlingham and Woldingham is that the latter only supports one estate agent, not two, but the majority of its properties top the million threshold.

St Paul's is a flint church in medieval style, but built in the 1930s, as the artsy craftsy lettering round the tower subtly hints. Of rather more interest is Woldingham's former parish church, St Agatha's, hidden up a lane to the south and built on the site of a 13th century chapel. This is one of the smallest churches in England, seating 20 in six pews either side, but still perfectly functional and still used for a weekly service. Lift the latch to look inside and admire the (old) piscina and (much more recent) stained glass windows. The ash tree in the churchyard is reckoned to be 800 years old, while an ancient yew shades the burial ground where generations of Woldingham paupers lie in unmarked graves.



Close by is the entrance to Great Church Wood, gifted to the Forestry Commission by conductor Sir Adrian Boult. Walk its shady paths half a mile to the south and you reach the crest of the North Downs, indeed the very section of the North Downs Way I told you about on Sunday. It seems incredible that so pastoral a viewpoint could ever have been considered for the southern edge of Greater London, but Surrey would not let go, and Woldingham's rich and famous certainly prefer it that way.

» Warlingham Countryside Walk 1
» Warlingham Countryside Walk 2
» Woldingham Countryside Walk (recommended)
» Woldingham Millennium Walk

 Thursday, July 20, 2017

There are 2563 National Rail stations in the UK.
Some of them have quite similar names.

EXACTLY THE SAME NAME
Adlington (Cheshire) / Adlington (Lancashire)
Bentley (Hants) / Bentley (S Yorks)
Bramley (Hants) / Bramley (W Yorks)
Brampton (Cumbria) / Brampton (Suffolk)
Earlswood (Surrey) / Earlswood (West Midlands)
Garth (Mid Glamorgan) / Garth (Powys)
Gillingham (Dorset) / Gillingham (Kent)
Hope (Derbyshire) / Hope (Flintshire)
London Road (Brighton) / London Road (Guildford)
Millbrook (Bedfordshire) / Millbrook (Hants)
Moreton (Merseyside) / Moreton (Dorset)
Newport (Essex) / Newport (South Wales)
Rainham (Essex) / Rainham (Kent)
Reedham (Surrey) / Reedham (Norfolk)
St Margarets (London) / St Margarets (Herts)
Swinton (Manchester) / Swinton (S.Yorks)
Whitchurch (Cardiff) / Whitchurch (Hants) / Whitchurch (Shrops)

TECHNICALLY THE SAME NAME
How Wood / Howwood
Queen's Park (London) / Queens Park (Glasgow)
Charing Cross / London Charing Cross
Waterloo / London Waterloo

FIRST LETTER DIFFERENT
Barnham / Farnham / Warnham
Batley / Gatley
Billingham / Gillingham
Borth / Porth
Bosham / Cosham
Boston / Moston
Buxton / Cuxton
Cottingham / Mottingham / Nottingham
Cowden / Howden
Dalton / Malton / Walton
Darlington / Harlington
Dartford / Hartford
Darton / Marton / Parton
Denham / Lenham
Denton / Kenton / Renton
Diss / Liss
Fareham / Wareham
Foxton / Hoxton
Goole / Poole
Gorton / Yorton
Hatton / Yatton
Horley / Morley
Lye / Rye / Wye
Selling / Welling

ONE LETTER DIFFERENT (not the first letter)
Althorne / Althorpe
Alton / Aston
Barking / Barming
Bellingham / Billingham
Bolton / Boston
Barnham / Burnham
Dalton / Darton
Deal / Dean
Fareham / Farnham
Hersham / Horsham
Hooton / Hoxton
Honley / Horley
Hope / Hove
Kearsley / Kearsney
Lee / Lye
Malton / Marton
Malton / Melton
Neston / Newton
Otford / Oxford
Perth / Porth
Shalford /Shawford
Sheffield / Shenfield
Staines / Strines
Strood / Stroud
Swindon / Swinton
Whiston / Whitton

ALMOST ONE LETTER DIFFERENT
Acklington / Adlington
Aldrington / Adlington
Attenborough / Attleborough
Carrbridge / Cambridge
Habrough / Hanborough
Heathrow Terminal 4 / Heathrow Terminal 5
Hinckley / Hindley
Hornsey / Horsley
Llanaber / Llanbedr
Pluckley / Plumley
Spalding / Yalding
West Ealing / West Malling
Wokingham / Woldingham

TWO LETTERS DIFFERENT
Alexandra Palace / Alexandra Parade
Bearsden / Bearsted
Brentford / Brentwood
Buxted / Buxton
Canterbury East / Canterbury West
(ah, maybe this list isn't as interesting as I thought...)
LIST DISCONTINUED


ONE EXTRA LETTER ON THE FRONT
Alton / Dalton/Malton/Walton
Amberley / Camberley
Ancaster / Lancaster
Earley / Bearley
Horley / Chorley
Eccles / Beccles
Eltham / Feltham
Ilford / Milford
Ockley / Hockley
Olton / Bolton
Romford / Cromford

TWO EXTRA LETTERS ON THE FRONT
Brighton / Albrighton
Brockley / Ockley
Brough / Habrough
Minster / Axminster/Upminster
Wick / Adwick

ONE EXTRA LETTER WITHIN
Adwick / Ardwick
Baildon / Basildon
Canley / Cantley
Carlton / Charlton
Chapelton / Chapeltown
Chatham / Chartham
Dalton / Dalston
Horley / Horsley
Witton / Whitton

EXTRA LETTERS ON THE END (but still one word)
Battle / Battlesbridge
Chorley / Chorleywood
Cowden / Cowdenbeath
Dean / Deansgate
Dent / Denton
Lake / Lakenheath
Preston / Prestonpans
Roche / Rochester
Ware / Wareham
Welling / Wellingborough/Wellington
Wick / Wickford
Woking / Wokingham
Lee / Leeds
Par / Partick (and six others)
Ash / Ashford (and six others)
Aber / Aberdeen (and seven others)

SOUND THE SAME
Leigh / Lye

NEARLY SOUND THE SAME
Aberdare / Aberdour
Apperley Bridge / Appley Bridge
Bishopstone / Bishopton
Chapelton / Chapeltown
Hessle / Heswall
Johnston / Johnstone
Newcastle / Newark Castle
Newton / Newtown
Wilmcote / Wilnecote

ANAGRAMS
Aldrington / Darlington
Bridgeton / Tonbridge
Dalreoch / Rochdale
Ely / Lye

...and, while we're here...

THREE LETTER NAMES
Ash, Ayr, Ely, I.B.M., Lee, Lye, Ore, Par, Rye, Wem, Wye

FOUR LETTER NAMES
Aber, Acle, Bryn, Cark, Croy, Deal, Dean, Dent, Diss, Drem, Dyce, Ford, Hale, Hook, Hope, Hope, Hove, Ince, Iver, Lake, Liss, Looe, Oban, Pyle, Rhyl, Roby, Sarn, Stow, Sway, Tain, Ware, Wick, Wool, Yarm, Yate, York

If you spot any stations I've missed off my lists, or that shouldn't be in my lists, please let me know.

n.b. I'm using the official names of the stations (so, for example, the two Ashfords don't appear in the first list because one of them is officially Ashford International).

You can find the names of all 2563 National Rail stations in a spreadsheet on the Office of Rail and Road website... or (more accessibly) on Vicki & Geoff's All The Stations website. The Underground, Tyne & Wear Metro, Glasgow Subway, heritage railways and stations in Northern Ireland are not included. If you want to know where a particular station is, the All The Stations website also has a splendid searchable map with a drop down menu.

 Wednesday, July 19, 2017

In an echo of Summer 2012, Stratford is once again hosting a two-part summer of international athletics. Last time round the Paralympics followed the Olympics, but this time the able-bodied are going second while the wheelchairs roll in first. The World Para Athletics Championships are in town all week, with acres of coverage on Channel 4 and (numerous) tickets still available from £10. But you can still join the fun even if you weren't planning on going inside the stadium to watch... because that's what Hero Village is for.



Hero Village is a temporary compound on the lawn by the Orbit "full of athletic themed activities, events and sponsor displays specially built for the Championships". The idea is for ticketed spectators to drop in on their way to the stadium, and maybe again on the way out, to enjoy the full hospitality of the companies whose generous donations have helped keep ticket prices down. But you don't have to have a ticket to get in, you only have to get through the bag check at the entrance, and then you can enjoy all the same privileges as the official crowd.

Like free food, for example. The Co-Op are here with a "brand experience" consisting of a van and a couple of trailers on a pretend running track. What they'd like you to do is chat to an ambassador and sign up for membership, but what everybody does is queue up for a dollop of free strawberry ice cream scooped from a stack of tubs currently available in your local supermarket. Elsewhere some folk from a yoghurt company are sat in their marquee wondering whether the public will ever brave crossing the threshold, while in the bottled water tent some kind of interactive exertion is being offered in return for hydration freebies.



One particular motor manufacturer has turned up to showcase their range of future-fuelled cars, not that this appears to be proving a big draw. A big name in wheelchair manufacture is here, just as they were at the Paralympics five years ago, because this is very much their target market. A German insurance company has a presence nextdoor, because para athletics is where they've chosen to channel their values-driven funds long-term. There's also a DJ up the back in a camper van, not knowingly related to any form of marketing activity, and with the volume down so low it was barely worth him turning up.

It's not all sponsors. A separate section of the enclosure features a string of activity zones, from whatever a 'Plank Challenge' is to 'Long Jump' and more typical athletic themes. What's nice is seeing a range of positive activities targeted at visitors across the range of physical ability. Many of these people have come from all around the world for their biennial moment to shine, so the accompanying events are naturally all-inclusive too. A fair number of the other visitors to Hero Village are magenta-clad members of the WPAC workforce, rucksack dangling, either here to assist spectators or participants, or simply escaping from their staff basecamp hideaway just around the back.



If the World Para Athletics Championships are your thing, perhaps stop by for some merchandise featuring the event's mascot, Whizbee the Bee. An insect of indeterminate gender, Whizbee also has one prosthetic leg, or maybe blade, which almost makes sense until you stop to think too hard about it. If you're back here in August for the IAAF World Championships you'll meet Hero the Hedgehog, a similarly ambiguous cartoon character, and also designed by a nine year-old from the West Midlands as part of a Blue Peter competition. You can buy Whizbee on a keyring, t-shirt or notebook and pen combo, if inspiration strikes, and the mascot pair are to be found in a £6 children's picture book.

And if this sparse offer sounds like pretty poor reason to pop down to E20, consider also the unique location that is 'Medal Plaza'. Winning athletes don't get their medals presented in the stadium in front of a seated audience, oh no, because sitting through the national anthems gets really tedious for spectators when there are umpteen events in umpteen categories. Instead all the medals are presented on a stage in Hero Village, once or twice a day, with all the pomp and ceremony of flagpoles, anthems and well-trained staff bearing ribbons on cushions.



I watched a Ukraine medallist receive her gong, complete with teary close-up on the electronic screen, to the recorded strains of Shche Ne Vmerla Ukrainy. Her once-in-a-lifetime moment of glory was watched by a thin crowd mostly wearing volunteer-purple, applauding politely, in sharp contrast to the standing elation I remember from the Paralympics. If you believe that heroes deserve better after years of training and sacrifice, come make up the numbers one afternoon this week at Hero Village.

Hero Village is open...
Wed 19, Thu 20, Fri 21: 3pm-8.30pm
Sat 22, Sun 23: 9am-8.30pm
     Medals are presented...
Wed 19, Thu 20, Fri 21: 3.32pm
Sat 22, Sun 23: 2.02pm

World Para Athletics Championships: 14-23 July 2017
IAAF World Championships: 4-13 August 2017

 Tuesday, July 18, 2017

I would like to apologise for yesterday's post, in which I suggested that this might be the ranking of our royal Houses by length of tenure.
Hanover: 186y 174d
Plantagenet: 182y 345d
Tudor: 117y 214d
Stuart: 100y 11d
Windsor: 100y 0d
Lancaster: 61y 346d
York: 23y 346d
Saxe-Coburg-Gotha: 16y 176d
A number of commenters were dissatisfied with this list because they would have calculated the data in a different way. I am very sorry that my outcome did not match their expectations.

I should have recognised that Lancaster and York are technically two cadet branches of the Plantagenet dynasty, as any fule kno.
Plantagenet: 268y 307d
Hanover: 186y 174d
Tudor: 117y 214d
Stuart: 100y 11d
Windsor: 100y 0d
Saxe-Coburg-Gotha: 16y 176d
I also specified that my list was for the last 800 years, whereas in fact the Plantagenets came to the throne 800 years and 271 days ago, hence my given total was an exaggeration by approximately nine months.
Plantagenet: 268y 36d
Hanover: 186y 174d
Tudor: 117y 214d
Stuart: 100y 11d
Windsor: 100y 0d
Saxe-Coburg-Gotha: 16y 176d
By restricting my list to only eight centuries I carelessly overlooked the previous royal House of Anjou, comprising Henry II, Richard I and John, who are generally seen as another subgroup of the Plantagenets.
Plantagenet: 330y 301d
Hanover: 186y 174d
Tudor: 117y 214d
Stuart: 100y 11d
Windsor: 100y 0d
Saxe-Coburg-Gotha: 16y 176d
Had I been even more in tune with readers' thoughts, I might have been foresighted enough to extend the given timeframe back to 1066, taking on board the reigns of monarchs following the Norman Conquest.
Plantagenet: 330y 301d
Hanover: 186y 174d
Tudor: 117y 214d
Stuart: 100y 11d
Windsor: 100y 0d
Normandy: 87y 304d
Saxe-Coburg-Gotha: 16y 176d
Of course technically the line of Norman succession ended in December 1135 with the death of Henry I, hence his successor Stephen was nominally of the House of Blois, possibly interrupted by the presumptive rule of the Empress Matilda, and I could have updated my league table to reflect this, but quite frankly life's too short.

Meanwhile my dates for the House of Stuart assumed a gap for Commonwealth rule between 1649 and 1660, whereas the precise date of the Restoration remains debatable, so I could instead have assumed a continuation of the Stuart line during this interregnum.
Plantagenet: 330y 301d
Hanover: 186y 174d
Tudor: 117y 214d
Stuart: 111y 130d
Windsor: 100y 0d
Normandy: 87y 304d
Saxe-Coburg-Gotha: 16y 176d
I should also have made the distinction that my list of monarchs was specific to England, or at least that part of the United Kingdom now known as England. Regrettably I failed to make reference to a list of the monarchs of Scotland, specifically the impressive longevity of the House of Stuart, and I apologise for this omission.
Stuart: 343y 160d
Plantagenet: 330y 301d
Hanover: 186y 174d
Tudor: 117y 214d
Windsor: 100y 0d
Normandy: 87y 304d
Saxe-Coburg-Gotha: 16y 176d
Finally, because 24 hours have now passed since yesterday's centenary, the figure for the House of Windsor must now be adjusted to an annoyingly un-round total.
Stuart: 343y 160d
Plantagenet: 330y 301d
Hanover: 186y 174d
Tudor: 117y 214d
Windsor: 100y 1d
Normandy: 87y 304d
Saxe-Coburg-Gotha: 16y 176d
I recognise that even this is probably not the categorisation you would have used if you had been constructing the table yourself, because history is subjective, hence my interpretation of the rich pageant of royal lineage is unlikely to match yours. Nevertheless I hope that the four readers aggrieved by yesterday's calculations now feel that their issues have at least been addressed, if not fully rectified.

Also, please note that the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha remains at the foot of the table, which was essentially the point of the exercise.

I would like to finish by apologising for the tedious pedantry at the heart of today's apology.

If you have any comments on the accuracy of today's post, rest assured that pretty much nobody is interested.

 Monday, July 17, 2017

LIVEBLOG - As the Royal House of Windsor turns 100, we keep you up-to-date with all the pomp and excitement surrounding today's unique royal centenary.

♕ It's time to close the liveblog on this momentous day for the House of Windsor, but the centenary celebrations will no doubt continue long into the evening, so don't forget to raise a glass to royal longevity and a century of Anglo-German unease.
18:00

♕ Still no sign of the Queen today, as the Cambridges and newly-septuagenarian Camilla hog the headlines.
17:40

♕ If today's anniversary has inspired you to take a trip to Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, please note that the duchy no longer exists, but Gotha is the fifth-largest city in Thuringia and is home to Germany's only museum on the history of the insurance business, while historic Coburg in Bavaria was once home to Martin Luther and is said to be the place of origin of the hot dog.
17:15

♕ Over the the last 800 years, poor old Saxe-Coburg-Gotha is the royal House with the shortest tenure. The House of Hanover is first, just ahead of the House of Plantagenet. The House of Windsor is due to overtake the house of Stuart at the end of next week.
Hanover: 186y 174d
Plantagenet: 182y 345d
Tudor: 117y 214d
Stuart: 100y 11d
Windsor: 100y 0d
Lancaster: 61y 346d
York: 23y 346d
Saxe-Coburg-Gotha: 16y 176d
16:45

♕ Members of the Royal Family who are entitled to the style of HRH Prince or Princess do not normally need a surname, but if at any time they do (such as upon marriage), that surname is Mountbatten-Windsor. This surname first appeared on an official document on 14 November 1973, in the marriage register at Westminster Abbey for the marriage of Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips.
16:20

♕ Today is also the first day of Swan Upping, the annual census of the swan population on the River Thames, but no members of the Royal Family appear to have turned up to that either.
15:45

♕ There are 35 living members of the House of Windsor - thirteen descendants of King George VI, six descendants of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester and sixteen descendants of Prince George, Duke of Kent. Amongst the younger members of the family are Lady Cosima Windsor, Leopold Windsor, Louis Windsor, Isabella Windsor and Maud Windsor.
15:05

♕ Queen Elizabeth II is the House of Windsor's longest reigning monarch, having ruled for 65.4% of its existence. The House of Windsor's other monarchs, in percentage order, were King George V (18.5%), King George VI (15.2%), and King Edward VIII (0.9%).
14:40

♕ In today's only other royal engagements, the Princess Royal is attending a reception at Saddlers' Hall, and the Duke of Gloucester is at the Honourable Artillery Company for the launch of the Partnership of the Mark Benevolent Fund and St John Ambulance.
14:10

♕ Confirming the extent to which relationships with Germany have changed, today the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (and their children Prince George and Princess Charlotte) flew out on a four day tour of Poland and Germany. There are no plans to visit Saxe Coburg or Gotha.
13:50

♕ The Royal family decided to change its name after being backed into a corner by a public increasingly hysterical about 'the enemy within'.
"It got to a certain point in World War I where even if you had a dachshund you were regarded as German. Pressure was applied to the king. The consensus started to be spread that the king was pro-German. It was politicians as much as anything." (Joe Little, editor of Majesty magazine)
13:15

♕ Today is the 70th birthday of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. It has been suggested that Prince Charles may have married her in an attempt to upstage today's more important royal anniversary. The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were invited to her private party at Highgrove House this weekend but did not attend.
12:30

♕ On taking the throne in 1952 the Queen declared that the royal house would remain the House of Windsor - that is, she and her children would not take Philip's name of Mountbatten. The Prince was not amused.
"I am nothing but a bloody amoeba. I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children."
The Queen made another declaration in 1960 that all non-royal descendants would be known as 'Mountbatten-Windsor'.
11:40

♕ Prince Louis of Battenberg, resident in Britain at the time, opted for literal translation and took the name Mountbatten. The original suggestion had been Battenhill.
11:20

♕ Several different potential rebrands were discussed in 1917, with the name Windsor being proposed by the King’s private secretary Lord Stamfordham.
10:40

♕ The BBC's Royal Correspondent reports on the Queen's fortuitous location this morning, and suggests that Mall-bound well-wishers should immediately relocate.



10:05

♕ As yet there is no sign of Her Majesty the Queen and the other Windsors on the balcony at Buckingham Palace.
09:50

♕ The name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was introduced to the royal lineage in 1840 by the the marriage of Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Queen Victoria, the last of the Hanovers. King Edward VII (1901-1910) and King George V were the only British monarchs of the short-lived House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.
09:20

♕ The Royal Mint are celebrating this exciting anniversary with the issue of a House Of Windsor Centenary 2017 UK Brilliant Uncirculated Coin, face value £5, yours for £13.
08:45

♕ When revolution forced King George's first cousin Nicholas II to abdicate as Emperor of Russia, also in 1917, Britain's royal family were finally convinced of the need to abandon all titles held under the German Crown and adopt anglicised names.
By the KING. A PROCLAMATION declaring that the Name of Windsor is to be borne by his Royal House and Family and Relinquishing the Use of All German Titles and Dignities.
08:20

♕ The name change was driven by a rapid increase in anti-German sentiment in Britain after the Gotha G.IV, a heavy WW1 aircraft capable of crossing the English Channel, began bombing London directly and became a household name.
07:55

♕ On Tuesday 17th July 1917 King George V issued a royal proclamation renouncing the family name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and adopting the name Windsor instead.
We, out of Our Royal Will and Authority, do hereby declare and announce that as from the date of this Our Royal Proclamation Our House and Family shall be styled and known as the House and Family of Windsor, and that all the descendants in the male line of Our said Grandmother Queen Victoria who are subjects of these Realms, other than female descendants who may marry or may have married, shall bear the said Name of Windsor.
07:00

 Sunday, July 16, 2017

THE NORTH DOWNS WAY [Day 4]
Merstham to Westerham (10 miles)


If this stretch of the North Downs Way were shifted 15 miles further north, it'd be the same as walking from Victoria to Woolwich. Instead it covers the same distance through northeast Surrey, sometimes along the top of a hilly ridge, sometimes below, and sometimes swapping breathlessly between the two. Not as good as Day Three but better than Day Two, I'd say, assuming you're dividing up the route the same as me.

Merstham's an easy village to reach from London, either by train or on the number 405 bus. The North Downs Way takes the scenic route out of the centre, following the charming cul-de-sac of Quality Street past its chocolate box 16th-century-plus houses. Parishioners would once have been able to reach St Katharine's by following a quiet path north, but Church Meadows has long since been wiped away by the M25 in a nine-lane cutting, and a thin footbridge now performs the same task. Passing through the churchyard makes for a very pleasant minute on what is otherwise an unnecessary detour circling back to cross the A23.



The next half mile climbs Rockshaw Road, an unaffordable residential street where BMWs and Mercs with matching personalised numberplates are the norm. It's a pleasure to finally break free and tumble down a meadow brimming with brambles, buddleia and butterflies, even if the 'treat' at the bottom is a boxy tunnel under another motorway. This is the M23, a short distance away from the massive cloverleaf junction with the M25 which devoured most of Furzefield Wood. Try to ignore that, because the view as you ascend through the ripening wheat on the opposite side is glorious, stretching south for miles and miles. Enjoy it by turning round repeatedly on the way up, or from the trig point atop the ridge.



The village of Chaldon is only just not in London. The North Downs Way follows an old byway along the southern edge of the parish, past stables, a few isolated homes, chalk grassland and a man with a strimmer (one of which was likely only temporary). Of the view to the south there are only intermittent hints, then at Quarry Hangers Farm the northern treeline suddenly opens up and there's the Wembley Arch, Shard, Gherkin and Canary Wharf in all their distant urban glory. The track heads on to Tower Farm, named after a lone decrepit tower rising topless behind security gates, then follows the oddly named War Coppice Road. Follows it for too long, to be frank.



For those who prefer footpaths to roads, this section south of Caterham is a disappointment. It's never fun following a slightly-busy winding country lane, but land ownership and some very large back gardens have conspired to minimise the number of public rights of way hereabouts. It's a relief after a mile of tarmac to finally slip off into the trees, past the bottoms of some very large back gardens, and immediately above some steep shady slopes. Only at the Gravelly Hill viewpoint does the green screen clear, with roadside benches offering sight of tiny planes taking off at Gatwick... and police notices warning of regular patrols to dissuade dogging.



After a spin around what's left of Fosterdown Fort, mainly nothing, the path descends wooden steps ready to cross the A22 dual carriageway. A footbridge has been provided, before you worry. Each of the cottages on Quarry Road has a Beware of the Dog sign out front, as if the residents share feelings of collective isolation, then comes a surreal trot across the forecourt of a Britannia Removals depot, tucked into what was presumably once the quarry. On Winders Hill the path traces the top edge of a vineyard, then, as if to reconfirm this is still Surrey, crosses the mile long drive of a private girls' school.



On the brow of a small hill the chalk meadow swarms with butterfiles and is dotted with pink orchids. The ground cover is less sensational in the upcoming woods, where the carpet of wild garlic is yellowing and dying as summer draws on. At Tandridge Hill comes what passes for a cycle lane round here - a country lane used by cyclists - puffing up a 1 in 7 ascent while ramblers get their own segregated lane on a footpath above. There are other North Downs Way users too, as I discovered on a narrow bridleway when I heard shouts behind me and whipped my earphones out. The horse rider who'd been forced to dawdle for several minutes while I listened to Radio 4 was somewhat sarky as I let her pass, then diverted almost immediately up a completely different path.



Oxted Downs are glorious, as the National Trust have clearly recognised. This lengthy chalk grassland has recently been revived through scrub clearance and grazing, and has become abundantly flower-rich. Immediately above the Oxted railway tunnel a set of 80 steps drops steeply down the escarpment, which must be hellish to negotiate in the opposite direction, although there is a convenient bench halfway. An unnecessarily narrow path weaves across the top of the lower field, overgrown and hemmed in by barbed wire, but with verdant views across the valley worth every moment. And on the far side of the meadow the path descends again, to round a quarry, past occasional poppies in the ripening wheat. A delight, but for every descent on the North Downs Way there's always payback...



The path skirts a large field sliced in two by the M25, then joins up with the Vanguard Way to follow the edge of a dense plantation - look out for a plaque marking the point where the Greenwich Meridian is crossed. Ahead lies Titsey Park and its 16th century manor house - one of near-London's least well-known (visitable) stately homes. To avoid entering the estate the waymarked route climbs the forest bowl up Pitchfont Way, and climbs, and climbs. If you're breathless by the top there is a reason - at 267m Botley Hill is the highest point on the North Downs Way. I reached the upper car park a broken man.



The only way from here is down, but only gently, along a leafy path shadowing the ratrun of Titsey Hill. Unfortunately I missed the sign on the steps where I was supposed to turn off and strode purposefully downhill for five minutes before realising I'd made an error, and it took nearer ten to climb back up. Crossing open fields again, and desperately getting my breath back, I considered whether it was time to call it a day. Most North Downs Way walkers pause way back at Oxted, even though the station's nowhere near, but I had my eye on catching a London bus from Tatsfield. There again, it was only a mile and a half further on to another bus at Westerham Hill, so I persuaded my feet it was worth giving that a try.



Beyond Tatsfield the North Downs Way passes seamlessly from Surrey into Kent and enters the realm of the extremely exclusive home. Few tycoons could ever afford one of the sparse mansions on Chestnut Avenue, while even fewer are dotted along The Avenue, each hidden away within a veil of personal woodland. A tradesman's van approached me here, struggling along the unmade private road, the driver pausing to ask for validation of his satnav's rogue directions before bumping gingerly on. I was much more interested in the special North Downs Way milestone placed at the county boundary, confirming Farnham was now 48 miles behind with Dover 77 miles in front. I'll get there... but first I got the bus.



 Saturday, July 15, 2017

10 Exciting things to do this weekend

St Swithun's Day is this Saturday, which means one thing: a whole host of novelty edibles will be hitting the streets of London. Getting in on the action is chic patisserie Lagrande Ballon, who've come up with a Croquembouche Surprise to celebrate. Bite into the double-decker puff pastry crust and, depending on the weather, you'll either get a mouthful of sunny lemon yolk filling or dripping Nutella cream with meringue flakes. The sweet little number will be available for one day only from the boutique bakery in Dalston, and expect change from a tenner. We'll see you there!

With a giant waterslide, al fresco cinema, unlimited craft beer and those sweeping city views, you'll get a serious case of FOMO if you're anywhere other than Primrose Hill Country Park on Sunday. Once you've worked up an appetite, it's time to do the rounds of the tasty traders, like Caribbean flavours from Jerkmama, veggie dishes from Wholegrain Heaven and everyone's favourite steamed buns from Umbika, all washed down with a Pimms cocktail from the Tiki Bar. So, what are you waiting for? We'll see you there!

Vaguely leading question: how are you planning to celebrate Wimbledon finals weekend? Well, Japanese sushi'n'street-snacks peeps Dedfish are doing it by kindly giving away slabs of sushi strawberry cake to the first 100 customers through the doors of its Wardour Street restaurant. For free! Tennis cake! Whether you like racquets, or just the tradition of strawberries and cream that comes along with it, be sure to bag one of these neat fishy twists on an old classic (and eat through the sorrow of Andy crashing out, obvs). Cake, set, match. We'll see you there!

On a searing hot summer day, the idea of descending into a Soho basement and stuffing your face may not be an appealing one, but within seconds of entering Bumble & Squirt we're sure you'll forget the heat entirely. Their new Mystic Aura afternoon tea features sugar-glazed shortbread, signature biskies and succulent hidden gem macarons, plus a miniature goblet of steaming herbal brew. Bumble & Squirt is a dentist's dream with its superfluous mix of cake and biscuit elements, and we love it. We'll see you there!

Hot-battered avocados are now a thing and you’ve got a Canadian to thank for it. To celebrate the country's 150th birthday this month, ace fish-and-chip shop Freaky Fryday will be serving up an unusual twist on a summer brunch classic: hand-coated deep-fried avocados with a pot of maple syrup on the side. The chip-meisters are promising avos with ‘delicious crispy coatings and warm centres’ which makes us feel a bit ill, really, but also strangely exhilarated. Mountie excitement, perhaps? We'll see you there!

South Londoners, dig out your baggiest trousers because FoodFest is back and your waistline is in genuine danger. Essentially, FoodFest is the dream day out for anyone who thinks Glastonbury could really do with far fewer bands and a hell of a lot more cake. That’s not to say celebrities will be in short supply – just that these food bloggers are far handier with a spiraliser than with a Stratocaster. Forget the Lambeth Country Show and its Chucklehead, and join the privileged few in Foodfest's paid-for cuisine tent. We'll see you there!

It’s Fiesta de La Tirana this Sunday, in case you hadn’t heard, which is apparently reason enough for upmarket café chain O La Fuerza to start dishing out free empanadas. Are we complaining? We are not! All you need to do is Tweet, Facebook or Instagram a pic of yourself using the hashtag #Porlarazón, making sure to add @OlaFuerza into the post, find yourself a red poncho and slip it on, then just stroll into any branch, shout ‘Hola pastelería!’ at the cashier and – ta da! – a top treat for you. Be quick though! There are only 10 free pastries going. We'll see you there!

Supperclub experts Bookventure are back this summer, with a Hungry Caterpillar-inspired dining experience that they're calling their 'biggest, boldest and grubbiest adventure yet'. They're serving up an immersive dining experience at a secret north London location, with the seven-course feast taking you from an apple-themed picnic to a sublime cherry pie and sausage feast. Expect adventures and misadventures, mysterious — but on-theme — 'additional surprises' and a chance to relive a childhood classic. We'll see you there!

What better way to celebrate summer than to watch back to back episodes of Game of Thrones on a giant screen while sitting on a deck chair sipping a refreshing beverage? Elephant & Castle shopping centre is going all out for the new season of everyone's favourite Westeros drama, screening it in its entirety on a fibreglass mountainscape with staff dressed as wraiths and a specially-themed photo-booth. One of the cast from season 2 episode 9 has promised to turn up, and there's even a lucky dip where you can win epic prizes from the centre's retailers. We'll see you there!

Hey Tom, we've been sent a press release about the launch of some food abomination called a Sugar Balloon, which looks like some kind of caramel bag full of flavoured water, and comes in seventeen rainbow flavour combinations. I know it's not the journalism you thought you were signing up for when you started your internship, but this kind of reportage is our bread and butter business these days. Could you write 100 words making the inedible sound unmissable, then pop down and film yourself eating one using as many excitable phrases as you can. We'll see you there?

 Friday, July 14, 2017

Today's post is an experiment, in an attempt to make comments easier to follow.

Please leave all your comments in the appropriate comments box.

McDonald's is a fast food restaurant specialising in hamburgers.

If your comment is about McDonald's
restaurants - perhaps you have eaten in
one, or have an opinion on their food, or
would like to tell us a personal anecdote -
please leave your comment here.

comments:

I live two minutes walk from a McDonald's drive-in restaurant. It opened 15 years ago.

I have never been inside it, or bought anything from it, because I have self restraint.

If your comment is about the
McDonald's restaurant by the Bow
Roundabout, or my sanctimonious
response to its presence,
please leave your comment here.

comments:

This week they poked a flyer through my door advising me that they now home-deliver.

They home-deliver via an app called UberEATS.



I understand the price is the same as in the restaurant, but with a £2.50 delivery charge added.

An UBER employee gets on a moped and drives to your door, so long as you live within 1.5 miles.

If your comment is specifically
about McDonald's new operation
in conjunction with UberEATS
- for example the logistics, the cost
of delivery or long-term viability -
please leave your comment here.

comments:

If your comment is about takeaway
delivery apps in general, and
the public's enthusiasm for them,
please leave your comment here.

comments:

I'm amazed that they posted the flyer through my door.

How lazy do you have to be to get McDonald's delivered from two minutes down the road?

If your comment is about the
actual subject of today's post,
which is that McDonald's are targeting
customers who live two minutes walk
from their restaurant for home delivery,
please leave your comment here.


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