diamond geezer

 Friday, August 31, 2007

  WALK LONDON
  Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk

  Kensington Gardens to St James's Park (3½ miles)


Diana Memorial WalkwayThis isn't one of London's six Strategic Walks, but it seemed sort of appropriate to walk it today, ten years on. I'm planning to walk the southern half of the figure of eight route, starting from Kensington Gardens and heading towards St James's Park (via Hyde Park Corner). I'll be reporting back live, via email, at various points along the way - including a playground, some palace gates, a fountain and a memorial service, amongst other assorted Diana-ry. There's no official website for the walk, neither (inexplicably) has the Daily Express yet published a 32-page souvenir pullout guide. But if you want to follow the route on a map, I've knocked one up here.
(read from the bottom up)

The Guards ChapelThe Guards Chapel: Outside the Wellington Barracks, on the southern fringe of St James's Park, an ever increasing crowd has gathered. We gawp across Birdcage Walk, past a wall of staring white-shirted policemen, to the steps of the chapel beyond. An almighty cheer greets the arrival of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, their limo perfectly timed to be not quite late. At 12 noon precisely the service begins, relayed to those of us outside through a handful of loudspeakers. Comforting choral musics washes across the road, which we struggle to hear beneath the racket of helicopter blades from above. Some have brought with them orders of service printed from the internet and join in with each hymn in faltering soprano. Others are less subdued and get shushed as they chatter. With undignified irreverence the crowd around me erupts into applause at the end of Prince Harry's tribute speech, like a mob of emotional barbarians. I'm embarrassed by their lack of stiff upper lip and slink off to leave others to their remembrance. I leave them singing Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer into any lens a TV crew dares to point at them. Diana may have been dead for a decade, but her lingering influence remains unextinguished. And me, I'm heading out of the park and off shopping. It's what she would have wanted.
posted 12:37

Hyde Park Corner: A brief frenetic interlude from the remainder of this delightful parkland walk. The walkway cuts through the middle of this six lane roundabout, past grand statuary and Antipodean war memorials. A trail of fresh horse manure marks the path that Diana's coffin trod, beneath the Wellington Arch and on to Westminster Abbey. As then, the police have sealed off Constitution Hill to all but royal traffic. Four black limousines cavalcade past, at funereal speed. I make the mistake of trying to photograph them, rather than looking to see who they actually contain. I have more luck standing in the crowds outside Buckingham Palace. Princess Anne and Peter Phillips are driven by, followed a minute later by Prince Charles. Through the half-open car window he looks every inch the not quite grieving husband, and rather older than I remember. Round the corner, the memorial service is about to begin.
posted 11:57

Diana Princess of Wales Memorial FountainDiana Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain: Whatever its detractors may say, this loop of grey Cornish granite has a genuine tranquil charm. On sunny summer afternoons you'll find happy families all around the perimeter and legs a-plenty dangling in the water. This morning, however, is pre-autumnal and overcast, and the enclosure is nigh empty. A pair of Japanese tourists attempt to take photos whilst keeping each other out of shot. The only child present - an angelic ringletted girl - dares to stand on the granite sill and is glared at by a watchful attendant. Her finger prods "Sit Down Now!" There are just two floral tributes here, petrol station bought, laid beneath an immature sapling at the water's edge. The fountain gurgles, and prays for sunshine.
posted 11:29

Serpentine Gallery: I'm taking a brief spiralling diversion up around the edge of Eliasson's 2007 Pavilion. This is a temporary wooden helix with a tearoom in the middle and parkland views from the top. A must-climb, any time between now and November.
posted 11:06

Kensington Palace gatesKensington Palace: A crowd has gathered outside the gilded iron gates. It's not quite as big a crowd as that fateful morning ten years ago, and there are far fewer floral tributes, but it's a respectable turnout all the same. The laminators of Middle England have been busy overnight. All along the railings are weatherproofed photographs of the princess, lovingly handmade banners (Diana Forever) and printouts of conspiracy webpages. There are also several fawning mawkish poems, written by emotional matrons with too much time on their hands and too little literary talent. The crowds stop to read, and take photos of each. On one bench the Diana Circle have set up court, and are playing "Time To Say Goodbye" from a tinny speaker. And all around hover the intrusive lenses of the world's media. They poke their TV cameras at anyone who expresses any form of emotion, maybe pinning their bouquet to the railings or just standing in silent contemplation. Even a decade later, the media are still on Diana's back.
posted 10:40

Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Playground: It's a little bit too early for a spin on the roundabout or a scramble over the pirate ship. Gates to this adventure utopia don't open until ten. But there are already mums and pushchairs massing round the entrance, peering inside the tree-trunk birdcage and gobbling down muffins from the cafe nextdoor. There's an age limit of 12 years and under, so none of these children will remember the flawed mother whose death inspired this mega-playground's construction. A sign on the gate reads "No adults without children". I feel excluded and unwelcome but take heart from the fact that, were she alive today, even Diana herself wouldn't officially be allowed inside.

 Thursday, August 30, 2007

  WALK LONDON
  Capital Ring
[section 10]
  South Kenton to Hendon Park (6½ miles)


Capital RingWhat the hell was I doing in South Kenton, up at the obscure end of the Bakerloo line? No offence to anybody who lives here, but this is not premier walking country. But the Capital Ring footpath has to circle London somehow, and if that means traversing dead ordinary suburban streets to get from one green bit to the next, then so be it. Even if the green bits are as ordinary as Preston Park. It was the first "highlight" of my walk - a very typical municipal rectangle of bowling greens and swings and tennis courts and trees. No doubt it's much loved by locals, but it wasn't worth buying a Travelcard extension for.

Barn Hill PondMore endless pavements followed, across Preston Road and along the avenues of Uxendon. At last, down an alleyway between two white-painted semis, I entered the western tip of Fryent Country Park. It was only a bit of scrubland alongside a Jubilee line embankment to start with, then opened out into an unexpected hay meadow. Here I engaged in cowardly dog-avoidance tactics by lingering and pretending to admire the view for a bit, whilst secretly waiting for two bouncy alsatians to pass by across the top of the field. Phew. There followed a woodland climb to a delightful secluded hilltop lake (where I stood face to face with a fox for half a minute and, in contrast, felt no fear whatsoever). Through a break in the trees there should have been an excellent view over Wembley Stadium, just a mile to the south. Excellent on a fine day, that is, but I'd ventured out beneath a flat grey sky and so, alas, the arch was almost perfectly camouflaged amid the gloom.

In the car park at the bottom of the hill, on a particularly uninformative noticeboard, came the official civic greeting - "Brent Council Environmental Services Landscape & Leisure Division Welcomes You". I felt duly underwhelmed. The country park continued across a busy main road, where I encountered several sorrowful magpies flapping their way through a series of muddy meadows. This is how rural Middlesex must have looked before the railways came - all hay and hedgerows. I got to see how built-up Middlesex looks today in a 270° panorama from the top of another low summit just to the north. And then it was back down, past a swooping kestrel, for another over-long walk through a maze of residential backstreets. Here milk floats whirred silently down Reggie Perrin avenues. Trainee drivers reversed L-plated cars around well-rehearsed corners. Yet another dug-up front garden succumbed to crazy paving for off-road parking. It was all so very Metroland, and so very familar.

St Andrew's, KingsburyKingsbury has two highly unusual parish churches. St Andrews number 1 is built of flint rubble with a squat short spire, and is almost 900 years old. The building still stands, but only just, shored-up by the efforts of local parishioners and the Churches Conservation Trust. Graffiti sprayed on the outside walls and a graveyard of semi-toppled tombstones both suggest that there is much expensive restoration work still to be done. Nextdoor is St Andrews number 2, seemingly a very typical Victorian building in neo-Gothic style, except that the entire church was moved here brick by brick in 1933 from its original location just off Oxford Street.

I passed down the lane beside the twin churches and approached the shores of northwest London's largest reservoir - the Welsh Harp. It was constructed in the 1830s to feed the Grand Union Canal, later becoming increasingly popular as a site for fishing and funfairs. The opening of a local station in 1870 brought Londoners flooding to the banks of the reservoir for picnics, racing and general frolics. More recently the Welsh Harp has evolved into a site for watersports, notably sailing and canoeing, as well as becoming an important wildlife reserve. I was expecting rather more impressive views across the water, to be honest, but the northern path ran behind a screen of trees for most of its 1km length so I was mildly disappointed.

Welsh Harp reservoir

I should have cut and run at the eastern end of the reservoir, after a particularly hairy crossing over a very narrow road bridge. But no, I was stupid enough to continue along the Capital Ring path until the end of this section, along various residential streets with no redeeming features whatsoever. Here the car is king - this is no place for walkers. I crossed three major roads in fairly close succession, first the A5 (a busy high street), then the M1 (in embryonic form, slightly north of Junction 1) and finally the A41 (a jammed-up dual carriageway). I passed very close to Brent Cross shopping centre, without ever noticing it was there. And I ended up in Hendon Park, another pleasant but non-special grassy quadrant. The Green Belt, alas, is several miles further out. But if you want suburban realism with the occasional rural treat, the Capital Ring's the way to go.

Follow in my footsteps [map]
Other people who've walked this section: Mark, Bertuchi, Richard
Lots more about Kingsbury and the surrounding area (from Jag)
I've been taking photos along these walks (and here they are on a map)

 Wednesday, August 29, 2007

  WALK LONDON
  Thames Path

  Hampton Court to Richmond (7½ miles)


Hampton Court - through a gateThis is magnificent. A meandering stroll along the leafy banks of the Thames, out west where the river is wide and the motorcruiser is king. We're talking rustic, affluent and tranquil. Erith this is not. And where better to begin than the royal palace at Hampton Court? Don't expect to see much of the 500 year old tourist attraction, not without paying. There's a semi-good view of Henry VIII's Privy Garden through a heraldic gate on the riverside, but the path soon strides off around the edge of the estate. And the estate is huge! It takes a good three miles to walk round the southern perimeter, round the back of a hidden golf course, no deviation permitted. Don't worry, you won't tire of the view. On this side of the river there's an arboreal strip of meadow, on the other the detached marinas of Thames Ditton. The drab grey estuary is still tens of miles away.

Kingston Bridge is a scenic arched affair, and supports the only road across the river between the start and end points of this walk. The Thames Path takes this opportunity to swap banks, thrusting walkers into Kingston's vibrant retail centre. Try not to let the shops distract you. On through Canbury Gardens, looking out from municipal parkland to vast riverside mansions opposite. Those who live here have a few million to spare, plus a jetty at the bottom of the garden to moor up a speedboat or two. This stretch of the Thames is also a popular place for sculling and rowing, and you may spot several oar-ed eightsomes thrusting by. But only so far.

Teddington Lock footbridgeSluice gates jut out into the river at Teddington, channelling downstream traffic through a narrowing sidestream. Teddington Lock forms the upper limit of the North Sea's tidal influence, and it's also the site of Thames Television's legendary TV studios. Kids teatime stalwart Magpie was filmed here, as well as Monty Python's fish-slapping dance (down by the lock itself). Pause for a while to enjoy the view from the ornate spiky pedestrian footbridge, before continuing north along another mile of isolated towpath. Tracks lead off into an overgrown expanse of flood meadows and reclaimed gravel workings, now the Ham Lands nature reserve. Somewhere worth exploring in greater detail, I suspect. And out in the middle of the Thames, inaccessible from the southern side, lies Eel Pie Island - Twickenham's most unusual suburban hinterland. Its seven wooded acres provide a semi-private residential outpost for creatives and eccentrics, as well as the odd boatyard and burned-down jazz venue.

Ham HouseRound the bend, in the middle of nowhere, a grand Stuart mansion looms out of the trees. It may look inaccessible by road, but coachloads of old ladies wandering through the entrance gate tell a different story. Ham House is a rare survivor of Stuart nobledom, snapped up by the National Trust and filled with gaudy furniture and delicate hangings. There are no electric light fittings in the house (and all the curtains are kept closed) to ensure that various portraits and tapestries are protected from premature fading. The semi-darkness may also enhance the house's reputation for ghosts and hauntings (or that may just be psychic tosh). The house's famous gardens, of which there are several, are quite splendid. Some are very formal, with shrubbery laid out to pristine perfection, while others look gorgeously natural but are in fact 100% 17th century artificial. Ham House is a detour well worth taking (but be warned - not on Thursdays, Fridays or any day during the winter months because the gates are very shut).

Richmond E GrantYou can abandon the walk here by taking the foot ferry across to Marble Hill House, but it's not too much further ahead to Richmond. The path crosses Petersham Meadows, a key part of the famously-good view from Richmond Hill above. Don't be tempted to ascend the hillside, stick to the Thames-side path. It's here that the Richmond riverside kicks in, the first intrusive civilisation for miles. A new wooden cafe has just been opened beneath the tallest plane tree in London, should you be thirsty. A variety of tickets are available for cruises both down and up river, should you be tired. And keep your eyes open for local celebrity residents strolling along the towpath, should you spot Richard E Grant in a white t-shirt and jogging bottoms carrying designer shopping bags. Like what I did. See, I told you it was classy along here.

Follow in my footsteps [map]
The Thames Path (official website)
Other people who've walked this section: Stephen

 Tuesday, August 28, 2007

  WALK LONDON
  Jubilee Walkway

  The Camden Loop (2 miles)


Jubilee WalkwayThey're all over the centre of the capital. They're scattered sporadically across pavements, squares and piazzas. They've been there for the last 30 years. They're the metal plaques of the Jubilee Walkway. You've probably seen them, but I bet you've never tried to follow them. Good, because you'd have failed utterly. There are no signposts, no indications of which way to go next, just a few silver circles underfoot. It's quite impossible to trace the route from one to another... unless you have a copy of the Jubilee Walkway leaflet. So, I got hold of a leaflet.

It's 14 miles altogether around the Jubilee Walkway, from Buckingham Palace in the west to St Katharine's Dock in the east. The route runs both north and south of the river, and has been designed to connect the majority of London's key attractions. Most of the walkway was established to commemorate the Queen's Silver Jubilee, but I decided to follow a more recent "Golden" addition - the Camden Loop. I hoped it would be an exciting trek through the backstreets of Bloomsbury, from Holborn up to the Euston Road and back again. Alas, it didn't quite turn out to be exciting.

Brunswick CentreThe Camden Loop breaks off from the main Jubilee Walkway beside a special plaque along Chancery Lane. This is the heart of legal London, surrounded by Inns of Court, solicitors chambers and shops that sell smart clothes for posh barristers. Look around you on the route northward and you'll probably spot some poor underpaid clerk wheeling a trolley of ribboned documents from one Georgian terrace to another. That'll be a highlight. The officially designated route manages to miss the more interesting half of Lamb's Conduit Street, preferring the "launderette & lavatory" end to the "boutique & bistro" end. It diverts around Coram's Fields - a much loved half-term haven for energetic kids and their frustrated parents. And it cuts through the Brunswick Centre - a residential glass ocean liner with a revamped shopping arcade at its heart.

Marchmont Community CentreDon't come this way expecting to walk through history. These are the genuine back streets of Bloomsbury, where residents live and shop and hang out in the local community centre. They share the area with several hotels, some aligned in elegant crescents, others crammed together in ugly terraces, but all desperately seeking to attract visitors arriving at nearby Kings Cross station. The walkway follows a seemingly random path through the backstreets, emerging briefly onto the Euston Road before plunging back into residential anonymity. British Library users should join the route here. Keep your eyes peeled and you might spot a blue plaque on a council-infill tower block, revealing that it was built in 1972 on the site of a centuries-old pub. OK, so maybe there is plenty of history here after all, just not the sort you were expecting.

At last, from Euston station southwards, the walk improves a bit. The route passes by, and through, the campus of the University of London. Ignore that, and concentrate instead on the series of leafy squares that follow. Gordon Square was once the hub of literature's bohemian Bloomsbury Group (Virginia woz ere). Woburn Square is rather smaller, and narrower, and most definitely more of an Oblong. The path skirts Russell Square, entered past the quaint green Cabman's Shelter in the northwestern corner, with a brief glimpse of the stark tower at Senate House along the way. the ceiling of the Great CourtAnd then, most unusually for a long distance foothpath, the route passes directly through a public building. When the British Museum is closed you'll have to find your own way, unsignposted, round from the back to the front entrance. But during opening hours you can walk directly through China, and Egypt, and any other ancient land that takes your fancy. Not even the Pennine Way can beat that.

After the Great Court's millennial glass triangles, the rest of the Camden Loop is somewhat of a disappointment. Streets of faux antique shops selling replica trinkets to tourists. A huge abandoned GPO sorting office whose sixth floor cracked panes are open to the sky. And the murderous thundering traffic of High Holborn and Kingsway. End of loop. It's been a two mile diversion to Euston and back, and for what? The direct route would have taken no more than 10 minutes, and passed the veritable delights of Lincoln's Inn Fields and the Sir John Soane's Museum. Next time I'll save my shoe leather and take the shortcut.

Follow in my footsteps [map]
The Jubilee Walkway (official website)

 Monday, August 27, 2007

  WALK LONDON
  The London Loop
[section 5]
  Hamsey Green to Coulsdon South (6 miles)


southern City outpostThe London Outer Orbital Path (or LOOP) footpath skirts the rim of London like a muddy one-lane M25. It's a marathon route, 150 miles long in total, divided up into 24 manageable chunks. The first section to be officially opened was the southernmost, scudding along the bottom of London along the border between Croydon and Surrey. This is an especially scenic section, linking four expanses of City-owned chalky downland. It's also the only section not to have a map and full downloadable directions on the Walk London website. Grrrr. I knew it would be a bit risky trying to follow the route without an official leaflet or guidebook, relying only on signposts and waymarkers. But I like a challenge.

Riddlesdown: Catch the 403 bus south from Croydon, along cosy Tudorbethan avenues, and you'll eventually reach the suburban outpost of Hamsey Green. It boasts a Woolworths (which is pretty impressive for somewhere I'd not heard of before) as well as a Co-op and the Thread Bear needlework boutique. The Loop walk begins at a signpost on the tiny village green, outside the Good Companions pub, and heads west towards the grassland summit of Riddlesdown. There's a bit of meadow first (the only stretch of the walk within Surrey) and then a glorious view out across the hills above Whyteleafe. Listen carefully and you might hear an Oxted-bound train emerging from a tunnel beneath the chalk and whistling along the valley below. The official footpath skirts three sides of Skylark Meadow, avoiding a disused quarry with sheer white cliffs. Descent is via an old Roman track, Riddlesdown Road, once the main route south to the coast but now just a leafy bridleway with well-spaced dog bins.

glider at KenleyKenley Common: Cross the valley via Barn Lane, at the top of which a staircase of 82 wooden steps leads even further up the hillside to the next downland plateau. The Loop passes through the woodland and grazing pasture to the north of the common, missing out completely on the excitement to be found on the other side of a tall hedge. Whoosh! That orange and white blur was a glider swooshing a few metres above your head, coming in to land on the runway at the old WWII Kenley Airfield. So long as you stay outside the perimeter track, the MoD don't mind you getting right up close to watch operations on the airfield itself. Look - a pack of yellow jeeps swarms around each returning craft, reattaching a rope to the nosecone ready to yank the glider back up into the sky. If the wind's right it won't be long before you see (and hear) a take-off launching steeply into the clouds, with the cable parachuting back to earth a few seconds later. Don't get too jealous, but these unpowered pilots have a far better view across the landscape than you'll ever get from the ground.

Coulsdon Common: I got rather lost (and rather muddy) on the next short section of the walk, which deviates unnecessarily around a field close to the Wattenden Arms pub. I was back on track soon afterwards, only to find two disturbingly frisky horses guarding the next field and eyeing me with hoof-kicking intent. When even their owner failed to control them ("whoa!!!") I retreated rapidly back over the stile and hunted for an alternative route. A short detour by road sufficed, past a far more docile fox, although this meant missing out on a close-up view of the Croydon Astronomical Society's white-domed observatory. There followed a brief residential interlude up Rydons Lane past the homes of the almost-rich, including one particularly offensive bungalow with nine cars parked on the crazy paving out front. A short stroll across Coulsdon Common followed - all very green and pleasant, but still relatively ordinary compared to the rest of the walk.

Happy ValleyHappy Valley: And now the best bit - the unspoilt contours of Happy Valley and Farthing Downs. Both are easily accessible, but abundant hordes of local dog walkers seem to prefer not to venture too far from the car parks at either end. Happy Valley was an unexpected treat, with a criss-crossing network of footpaths to explore across acres of sloping wildflower meadows. A good place for a picnic, if only I'd thought to buy some appropriate comestibles in Waitrose in Sanderstead several hours previously. I thought I was alone on the track through Devilsden Woods until I came across an Indian lady gyrating by the bridleway. She stopped and yelled "not yet!!" down the wooded slope... to two men with a film camera... and then continued her silent dancing after I'd passed.

signpost atop Farthing DownsFarthing Downs: Before long the woodland track emerged onto a long finger-like ridge on the very roof of London. I don't know what I'd been expecting from the map, but this was better. One mile of chalky upland, scattered with Iron Age tumuli and grazing cattle, with an unfenced road passing unobtrusively along the centre. Halfway along stood a windswept beech glade (one of whose trees dates back to 1783), beside a much younger Millennium Cairn (recently fenced-off due to post millennial vandalism). The views to either side were a majestic mix of rolling green hills and farmland, threaded with suburban veins of white-fronted semis. Directly ahead lay the urban sprawl of Coulsdon, my ultimate destination, and beyond that something far more recognisable. A row of distant City skyscrapers, one of them definitely Gherkin-shaped, marked out the centre of London 15 miles to the north. Canary Wharf was unexpectedly far to the right, behind the TV masts at Croydon and Crystal Palace. It was then a gentle descent down the tip of Farthing Downs, past a City-of-London-owned cattlegrid (honest), before retuning to civilisation with a bump. This section of the walk ended, conveniently, at the footbridge over the tracks at Coulsdon South station. I could have carried on along the Loop for another 100 miles or so, clockwise round to Rainham, but I wimped out and returned home on the quarter past three.

Follow in my footsteps [map]
Visitor guides for the four City-owned commons

Other people who've walked this section:
John, Richard, Mark, Bertuchi, Stephen, Tom and Fred

 Sunday, August 26, 2007

  WALK LONDON
  The Green Chain
[sections 2 and 3]
  Erith to Oxleas Meadows (6 miles)


Erith waterfrontMmm, Erith. Down on the underwhelmingly flat bit of the Thames estuary, on the last bend before the eastern edge of London. We're not talking gorgeous here. Erith had a brief spell as a tourist resort in the 19th century when paddle steamers ruled the river, but most of the place was rebuilt in the 1960s and 70s, and any charm the town might have had was sucked clean away. The London Loop walk begins here, down by the muddy-brown riverside. From the end of the rickety wooden landing stage you can look straight across the Thames to the walk's finishing point on Rainham Marshes - less than a mile as the seagull flies, but 150 miles away on foot (via Uxbridge). Erith's river wall is also one of the starting points for the Green Chain Walk - a 40-mile network of interlinked footpaths sprawled across four southeast London boroughs. The first signpost is located in a particularly grim spot, well away from the town centre on the river wall beside some graffitied apartment blocks. Quick, let's walk away from the grey-brown water and try to find a view with a bit of green in it.

Lesnes AbbeyThere isn't an awful lot of open space and woodland in this corner of Bexley, but the Green Chain is very good at linking together what little exists. This section of the walk heads first for Frank's Park, a tree-packed oasis atop the hilly ridge above Belvedere. Watch out for the dog mess - they don't seem to be very good at pooper-scooping round here. Next there's half a mile along suburban sidestreets, with a view to the north across terraced rooftops to an industrial Thamesside skyline. Then, just beyond a pub which the guidebook tries to make sound interesting but isn't, the walk enters the unexpectedly glorious surroundings of Lesnes Abbey Park. Follow the wooden posts up to the heathland summit tumulus, where a carpet of purple heather blooms, and then descend to view the razed ruins of Lesnes Abbey. Only the outline of the 12th century abbey remains, etched out in low stone walls across a grassy lawn. I was duly charmed. From here you can look out across the marshes once owned by the local monks - now covered by the estates of Abbey Wood and Thamesmead. An unloved information centre tells the abbey's story on peeling display cards, and directs visitors to the elevated fossil beds on the woodland plateau where shark's teeth can still be found.

Green ChainAt Bostall Common the Green Chain splits in two. It does this a lot, so you really have to know where you're going or else you might end up in Woolwich by mistake. My choice was southwest through the woods, emerging shortly afterwards at the entrance to Plumstead Cemetery. Here sat Sally, beneath a limp green parasol, attempting to sell bouquets and floral tributes to a passing trade of non-existent mourners. Up next onto East Wickham Open Space, a very ordinary scrap of common but with a newly-planted avenue of oak trees down the centre, just to give us Green Chain walkers somewhere interesting to go. The world's most pointless cycle gate has been erected at the western exit, spanning just halfway across the path so that even a motorbike and sidecar could easily squeeze by. This may be a good time to stop for a reviving shandy in the Glenmore Arms, especially if it's suddenly started chucking it down. Try not to let the pub's complete absence of punters disturb you.

Of all the walks I'm following this week, the next few hundred yards were the narrowest and most overgrown. Not somewhere you'd want to walk through in shorts, not unless you're a masochistic nettle addict. Far safer to heed the sign at the entrance announcing that "This land belongs to clients of KSLAW LLP Solictors" and warning that members of the public use it at their own risk. And then, wholly unexpectedly, the path breaks out into open farmland. Freshly harvested fields, piled-up hay bales and hilly hedgerows ripe with blackberries, all highly unlikely sights in the suburban backwaters of Zone 4. The backside of a petrol station soon ruins the rural illusion as the path crosses Watling Street in its modern guise - the A207 atop Shooters Hill. And finally into ancient forest at Oxleas Wood, its leafy bridleways reprieved from severance by an unwanted ring road as recently as 1993.

Oxleas caffThe end of the walk is marked by that most welcome of sights - a tea hut. It's tarted up as a proper cafe these days, but it still sells everything a weary long distance traveller might reasonably expect. Egg sandwiches, fried breakfasts and steaming jacket potatoes for starters. A chalked-up menu above the bar displays an impressive list of culinary options, eagerly served up by a crack team of smiling food and beverage operatives. Just don't ask for an ice cream if the tub's only just come out of the freezer, otherwise you may be standing waiting for some time. Five of the Green Chain's ten walks start or finish at this most civilised of locations - a veritable footway service station. And they'll sell you a pack of Green Chain route maps from behind the counter for just £3.50. Even better value than a cheese roll and a cuppa, I thought.

Follow in my footsteps [map]
Places of interest along the route
The Green Chain Festival (15-23 September 2007)
Buy the Green Chain information pack (a bargain at only £3.50)

 Saturday, August 25, 2007

  WALK LONDON
  The Lea Valley Walk

  Ponders End to Waltham Abbey (3 miles)


Lea Valley WalkFor starters, let's clear up the name of the river. The river is the River Lea, but the man-made channel that runs close by is the Lee Navigation. The valley is the Lea Valley, but the recreational area is the Lee Valley Park. If it's natural it's "Lea", and if it's artificial it's "Lee". Honest. Simple. OK, let's go for a walk.

cob, pen and seven cygnetsI could have gone for a Lea Valley walk a few metres from my front door, because the official route ends close by at Bow Locks. Instead I headed rather further north, to Enfield's industrial quarter, and strolled along a less familiar stretch. First stop Ponders End station, in the shadow of four landmark tower blocks, as I attempted to follow woefully inadequate signage down to the riverside. After a tour of various local dual carriageways I eventually found the pedestrian entrance to Ponders End Lock, and was welcomed to the waterway by two swans and their seven overgrown cygnets. It was a winning start.

It soon became apparent that this stretch of the Lea Valley forms a narrow north-south netherworld sliced off from reality. The western bank is hemmed in by warehouses and long thin industrial estates, while the view to the east is blocked by the grassy slopes of a giant reservoir. Everything runs parallel to the river, not across it - the roads, the railways, the cycle tracks and even the electricity. It was possible to trace by eye the route of the river for several miles, just by following the army of pylons stalking towards the horizon.pony nibbles pylon These pylons make fishing difficult - there were signs everywhere barring anglers from casting any line that might cause accidental electrocution. But horses nibbling grass around pylons' feet in the riverside meadows didn't seem to mind, and elderberries grew perfectly ripe beneath the silent hum.

The isolation ended, briefly, at Enfield Lock. This is murderous country, with the surrounding housing estates built on land previously given over to the manufacture of armaments, gunpowder and munitions. The brick-built Royal Small Arms Factory, which once produced Enfield rifles, now forms part of the shopping centre at the heart of a modern development of Courts, Mews and Closes. Elite residents enjoy a waterside location, parking up their 4x4s outside fake cottages behind secure electronic barriers. The two main attractions beside the lock appeared to be a boarded-up fun-pub, ripe for demolition, and a wildlife-free "Swan and Pike Pool". The London Loop walk crosses the river here. It is perhaps unfortunate that long-distance strollers should be forced to visit this washed-out spot twice.

narrow boats along Rammey MarshMy view of Leaside improved somewhat further north along the river. Housing faded away as the towpath doglegged around the Green Belt haven of Rammey Marsh. Scores of immobile narrow boats were tied up here, providing a home from home for smiling couples sat at picnic tables on their own patch of riverside lawn. A bit further ahead, crossing the valley on concrete stilts, six lanes of rumbling M25 severed the landscape. Somewhere in the gloom beneath the motorway bridge is the spot where London meets Hertfordshire meets Essex. It's not a charming spot, that's for sure. I stopped off at the Hazelmere Marina cafe for a well-deserved ice cream (being, alas, too late to enjoy a proper cooked breakfast). And a few steps later, past one final swan, I reached my destination at Waltham Abbey Lock. I could have carried on along the Lea for another 35 miles, to Luton, but I'm not that much of a masochist. The Abbey and its gardens were a much more pleasant target, and considerably close at hand. Time to Lea-ve.

Follow in my footsteps [map]
• More about the Lea Valley Walk
• More about Lee Valley Park
Other people who've walked this section: Urban 75, Bertuchi

 Friday, August 24, 2007

  WALK
  LONDON


London's a great city to walk in. The centre's compact enough to cover on foot, full of sights and parks and bustle and so many things to see. And the suburbs are perfect for a ramble, full of footpaths and woodland and peace and quiet. But we Londoners rarely get out our walking shoes to explore the capital properly. Oh no. Most of us just end up sitting in cars or trains or buses instead, on our way to the same old destinations over and over again. And that's a shame.

the London LoopTransport for London agree, which is why they've established a network of six strategic walking routes across the capital. These are specially signposted routes, some walkable in a day, others requiring rather longer. They cover every corner of London, from Trafalgar Square to Cockfosters, and there's bound to be one near you. Some of the routes follow major rivers, some look a bit random, and others appear to have been sketched out on a map by someone attempting to draw a circle with a pair of wobbly compasses.

Details of all six walks can be found on the new Walk London website. There's an interactive map to help you to decide where to go. There are pages devoted to each of the walks, and in some cases to each subsection of each walk. There's another page where you can order free leaflets by post - although the service is very slow, and not terribly reliable, and restricts you to a piddling three leaflets (out of 60) in each submitted request. But never mind, because most of the leaflets can also be downloaded direct from the site, which means you could be out and walking within the hour.

I couldn't let August pass without doing something special. So I thought I'd go out and take a stroll along each of London's six strategic walks. Not the whole of each route, you understand, but a section of each. It would take far longer than a week to walk the lot... and anyway, several people have already beaten me to it. I've picked sections across all corners of London, not just in the middle. And I've had a great time so far, exploring byways, bridleways and towpaths I'd never even considered visiting before. I hope I can polish off the rest of the six walks before next Friday. If so, expect to read a report about each over the forthcoming week. Because sometimes the journey can be more enjoyable than the destination.

London's six strategic walks
Thames Path: follow the meandering banks of London's greatest river (67 miles within the Greater London boundary)
Lea Valley Walk: a waterside stroll beside East London's not quite so famous river (12½ miles within Greater London)
Capital Ring: a circular footpath around the edge of Inner London, sort of Zone 4-ish (78 miles, in 15 sections)
London Loop: a circular footpath around the edge of Outer London, sort of Zone 6-ish (150 miles, in 24 sections)
Green Chain Walk: a network of interlinked paths cutting across four SE London boroughs (40 miles, in 10 sections)
Jubilee Walkway: perfect for tourists, wandering around central London's most famous sights (14 miles, all in Zone 1)

Go fetch your trainers, and let's go for a walk...

 Thursday, August 23, 2007

Television+1

Why are all the good TV programmes on at the same time? Nine o'clock in the evening, usually. It's the height of peak viewing, the moment when all the mainstream channels rise to a televisual crescendo. At nine o'clock there's no scheduled news bulletin to get in the way, just a clear 60 minute slot ready to be filled with top notch entertainment. Eight o'clock can be almost as busy, and ten o'clock too, all equally susceptible to prime-time pile-up. You wait ages for a decent bit of must-see TV, and then three programmes turn up at once.

Last night, for example, the first series of Gavin and Stacey (exquisite comedy, BBC2, 10pm) kicked off at precisely the same time as the first series of Skins (unexpectedly hip, C4, 10pm). Both big hits on digital, but both launched simultaneously on terrestrial, presumably to annoy new viewers. And it's a similar mess tonight at 9pm, when I'll be torn between the latest episode of Heroes on BBC2, Big Brother on C4 and The Secret Life of the Motorway on BBC4. You might prefer the Diana documentary on ITV or even the Anglo-German football match on BBC1. Scheduling trauma, I'm sure you agree.

Now I know what you're saying. You're saying "watch it later on your BBC iPlayer". But only one of those programmes will be available on demand via the iPlayer. You're saying "get yourself a Sky+ box". I don't have one, neither am I allowed one. You're saying "get yourself a generic hard-disc-based recording system instead, then". I don't have one of those either, thanks. You're saying "just use your video recorder for heavens sake". But video recorders (and most digital TV recorders) can't cope with recording two channels at the same time while I watch another. Three simultaneous must-see programmes just doesn't compute. And who wants a hard drive full of 40 hours of programmes I'll never get round to watching anyway?

But there is a way to watch all of these programmes live, straight off the telly, because most TV channels have started showing most programmes twice. If you don't catch Heroes at 9pm on Wednesday, it's on again at 11:20pm on Thursday and yet again at 11:15pm next Sunday. Tonight's Big Brother will be repeated over breakfast tomorrow. The BBC4 motorway documentary is screened again at 11pm and 3am. And if you missed any of the latest Doctor Who episodes during the spring they're all being repeated ad nauseaum at teatime on BBC3, probably for the rest of eternity. But it's a bit complicated, isn't it? Without a copy of the Radio Times you'd probably never spot some of the more obscurely timed repeat showings. So they might as well not exist.

Which is why I'm unexpectedly impressed by the new channel from the C4 stable, Channel4+1. It's just exactly the same programmes as on Channel4, but an hour later. No new content whatsoever, just a 60 minute timeshift. Sounds pants, doesn't it? A shameless imitation of existing channels E4+1 and Film4+1. But, actually, Channel4+1 could be really useful. Switched on C4 in the middle of your favourite programme? Never mind, it'll be on again soon on the new channel. Can't remember whether Big Brother's on at 9 or 10? It's definitely on at 10, on one channel or the other. And that problem I mentioned earlier where far too many good programmes are being screened at the same time. No longer a problem, just watch (or record) the C4 programme one hour later. Simultaneous screengasm could be a thing of the past.

Who'd have thought it? Channel4+1 (and all those other +1 channels) aren't a complete waste of the broadcasting spectrum after all. Not when the alternatives are endless R&B music videos or yet more shopping channels. And missing all your favourite programmes. Although, if it proves too popular, I can see there may eventually be a need for Channel4+1+1. I bet some executive's already got plans in the pipeline for that.

sixlinks
• Is the world ending again? Catch the latest scare story at the London Evening Standard Headline Generator [courtesy of linkmachinego's Flickr set]
• If you're enjoying BBC4's motorway season, you might also enjoy the Motorway Service Area Trivia site [via i like]
• Possibly the most frightening garden ornament of all time - Meerkat Wobblers. A family of four unbearably cute polyresin mammals (one with its own red and white spotted neckerchief) which poke up from your shrubbery and quiver in the breeze (and you thought gnomes were tacky)
• How many ways can a PG Tips monkey die? 205 so far, on the Monkey Suicide website [via linkbunnies]
Simple to play, but infuriating to beat, online games (number 47): Bloons (once you pop, you just can't stop)
• What might London's skyline look like in five years time if all the planned skyscrapers actually get built? The London Skyline 2012 thread at Skyscraper City has before and after shots, as viewed from Forest Hill (and an annotated version further down the page)

 Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Television+1

Why are all the good TV programmes on at the same time? Nine o'clock in the evening, usually. It's the height of peak viewing, the moment when all the mainstream channels rise to a televisual crescendo. At nine o'clock there's no scheduled news bulletin to get in the way, just a clear 60 minute slot ready to be filled with top notch entertainment. Eight o'clock can be almost as busy, and ten o'clock too, all equally susceptible to prime-time pile-up. You wait ages for a decent bit of must-see TV, and then three programmes turn up at once.

Last night, for example, the first series of Gavin and Stacey (exquisite comedy, BBC2, 10pm) kicked off at precisely the same time as the first series of Skins (unexpectedly hip, C4, 10pm). Both big hits on digital, but both launched simultaneously on terrestrial, presumably to annoy new viewers. And it's a similar mess tonight at 9pm, when I'll be torn between the latest episode of Heroes on BBC2, Big Brother on C4 and The Secret Life of the Motorway on BBC4. You might prefer the Diana documentary on ITV or even the Anglo-German football match on BBC1. Scheduling trauma, I'm sure you agree.

Now I know what you're saying. You're saying "watch it later on your BBC iPlayer". But only one of those programmes will be available on demand via the iPlayer. You're saying "get yourself a Sky+ box". I don't have one, neither am I allowed one. You're saying "get yourself a generic hard-disc-based recording system instead, then". I don't have one of those either, thanks. You're saying "just use your video recorder for heavens sake". But video recorders (and most digital TV recorders) can't cope with recording two channels at the same time while I watch another. Three simultaneous must-see programmes just doesn't compute. And who wants a hard drive full of 40 hours of programmes I'll never get round to watching anyway?

But there is a way to watch all of these programmes live, straight off the telly, because most TV channels have started showing most programmes twice. If you don't catch Heroes at 9pm on Wednesday, it's on again at 11:20pm on Thursday and yet again at 11:15pm next Sunday. Tonight's Big Brother will be repeated over breakfast tomorrow. The BBC4 motorway documentary is screened again at 11pm and 3am. And if you missed any of the latest Doctor Who episodes during the spring they're all being repeated ad nauseaum at teatime on BBC3, probably for the rest of eternity. But it's a bit complicated, isn't it? Without a copy of the Radio Times you'd probably never spot some of the more obscurely timed repeat showings. So they might as well not exist.

Which is why I'm unexpectedly impressed by the new channel from the C4 stable, Channel4+1. It's just exactly the same programmes as on Channel4, but an hour later. No new content whatsoever, just a 60 minute timeshift. Sounds pants, doesn't it? A shameless imitation of existing channels E4+1 and Film4+1. But, actually, Channel4+1 could be really useful. Switched on C4 in the middle of your favourite programme? Never mind, it'll be on again soon on the new channel. Can't remember whether Big Brother's on at 9 or 10? It's definitely on at 10, on one channel or the other. And that problem I mentioned earlier where far too many good programmes are being screened at the same time. No longer a problem, just watch (or record) the C4 programme one hour later. Simultaneous screengasm could be a thing of the past.

Who'd have thought it? Channel4+1 (and all those other +1 channels) aren't a complete waste of the broadcasting spectrum after all. Not when the alternatives are endless R&B music videos or yet more shopping channels. And missing all your favourite programmes. Although, if it proves too popular, I can see there may eventually be a need for Channel4+1+1. I bet some executive's already got plans in the pipeline for that.

sixlinks
• Is the world ending again? Catch the latest scare story at the London Evening Standard Headline Generator [courtesy of linkmachinego's Flickr set]
• If you're enjoying BBC4's motorway season, you might also enjoy the Motorway Service Area Trivia site [via i like]
• Possibly the most frightening garden ornament of all time - Meerkat Wobblers. A family of four unbearably cute polyresin mammals (one with its own red and white spotted neckerchief) which poke up from your shrubbery and quiver in the breeze (and you thought gnomes were tacky)
• How many ways can a PG Tips monkey die? 205 so far, on the Monkey Suicide website [via linkbunnies]
Simple to play, but infuriating to beat, online games (number 47): Bloons (once you pop, you just can't stop)
• What might London's skyline look like in five years time if all the planned skyscrapers actually get built? The London Skyline 2012 thread at Skyscraper City has before and after shots, as viewed from Forest Hill (and an annotated version further down the page)

 Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I have become an outpatient. For the very first time. Lucky me.

I arrive at the backstreet hospital entrance with minutes to spare, and enter the central waiting area of a nearly-Victorian building. All human life is here, sitting patiently on shabby chairs. A red LED display - reminiscent of the delicatessen counter at a 1980s supermarket - announces the lucky number of the next patient to be processed. Nearly a hundred lives are on hold here, awaiting the signal to proceed. The ceiling is high, peeling and oppressive. Had this hall been built more recently architects would surely have divided the atrium into at least two floors. A faint glimmer of natural light squeezes in through the doorway. I'm not quite sure where to go or what to do.

I try to report to main reception, but main reception is closed for lunch and doesn't reopen until 2. A hastily-printed message blu-tacked to the metal shutter advises me to go to Medical Reception instead. Medical Reception is also closed for lunch, and doesn't reopen until 1:30. I stand and wait in a narrow corridor, painted regulation magnolia (with regulation green trim). Three grey-haired ladies stare back at me, as if I am somehow too young to be here. Time passes. The queue lengthens. The list of fire regulations pinned to the wall fades imperceptibly.

Our receptionist returns from his fast-eaten sandwich. He checks in the first old lady, then hunts for her medical notes in the vast pile of paperwork filed beside his desk. "Is this it?" he asks, holding up a foot-high stack of bulging folders held together by a web of elastic bands. The old lady nods, and a nurse volunteers to carry this heavyweight medical history through to the waiting area beyond. When my turn comes, my notes are nowhere to be found. I wait for two minutes while the 20th century computer operating system boots up. My notes are still nowhere to be found. I am sent on a wild goose chase to the Outpatients Annexe, along a poorly signed long twisty corridor, where they don't have my notes either.

Eventually a third receptionist does manage to locate my paperwork, just a couple of feet away from the first place someone looked. My medical history can be summarised in a folder less than half a centimetre thick, for which I am duly grateful. I'm ushered into the waiting room beyond, again a riot in magnolia and green, where I hunt for an unoccupied corner. A table in the centre of the room is scattered with out-of-date Heat magazines, but most patients prefer to read the tabloid they've brought with them. Or just to stare into space. A husband leads his veiled wife into the room, points at the chair she must sit on and then sits down beside her. They wait in silence, as do I. As do we all.

At last my consultant arrives. I recognise him from the brief life-changing chat he gave me in a nearby hospital bed three months ago. I also recognise him from the nightclub where I unexpectedly bumped into him two days later, knocking back several beers with a friend of a friend. If this man dares to lecture me on my health, I promise, I'll remind him that he's not exactly pure as the driven snow himself. But I'm not to get the chance. A junior consultant calls my name instead and ushers me into a tiny room of his own. I explain my symptoms for the umpteenth time to the umpteenth person, and submit to another battery of tests. Nothing's changed, everything's still normally abnormal, which is exactly the news that everyone was hoping to hear.

Off I head, back into daylight, clutching yet another prescription to add to to my morning cocktail. Oh joy. And I'll be back here again in two months' time, to this long-forgotten outpost of austere Edwardian gloom, for my second outpatients appointment. I wonder how much thicker my notes will be by then.

 Monday, August 20, 2007

compass pointsCompass points
(an occasional feature where I visit London's geographical extremities)
SOUTH London - Chaldon


South LondonWhen you think of South London you probably don't think of rolling cornfields and verdant hedgerows. But that's exactly what the southernmost tip of London is like, 15 miles due south of Charing Cross, down on the border between Croydon and Surrey. See the tree marked in my photograph with a green circle? That's as far south as Ken Livingstone's influence extends. It's the spot in London closest to the equator, where the sun rises highest in the sky during the summer, and where daylight is longest in midwinter. Of all the locations south of the river, it's the ultimate place that black cab drivers will never take you. [map]

The border between London and not-London sweeps in across this cornfield via woodland on the outskirts of Caterham. Then it turns right, at the aforementioned tree, and follows a leafy country lane north towards Farthing Downs. Ditches Lane is a picturesque rat-run, much loved by motorists "out for a drive", but it's only a single track road with passing places and therefore a potential accident blackspot. Locate the passing place closest to the border, and the tarmac alongside reveals clear evidence of the precise spot where south London terminates. Council operatives from the London borough of Croydon have painted a white line down each side of the lane, whereas their Surrey counterparts have not. Where the fading line disappears, that's outer London. photos

I arrived on foot, down the hillside from the country park at Happy Valley. The footpath descended across an idyllic hayfield, between newly-mown stalks of harvested corn. The field was flanked on either side by thick green woodland, within which the occasional gunshot could be heard as some local landowner revelled in murderous sport. The sky was abuzz, not just with disturbed birdlife but also with helicopters, gliders and the occasional biplane. To the west, beyond the shrouded lane, another golden field rose up to a low tree-topped ridge photos. And a few steps ahead, invisible except to cartographers, the dashed line marking the fringe of Surrey.

Chaldon village signFurther ahead, at the foot of the freshcut slope, lay the northern edge of the village of Chaldon. A few nondescript cottages could be seen, but the village's pride and joy - the historic parish church of St Peter and St Paul photos - was shielded behind a screen of trees. I'd been hoping to look inside to view the church's 12th century mural, reputedly the earliest known English wall painting , but alas I was thwarted by a badly-timed wedding. Damn you, oh happy couple and your be-hatted congregation. Instead I was forced to turn round and head back up the lane, and back into the cornfield, and back across the border into the capital. Maybe I'll get inside the church next time... assuming there is a next time. I can't ever imagine returning to this remote corner of South London by accident.

See also
NORTH London: On the clockwise hard shoulder of the M25 between junctions 24 and 25, just north of Crews Hill station [map] (I visited in 2004)
WEST London: At the exit for Poyle on the roundabout above junction 14 of the M25, close to Heathrow Terminal 5 [map]
EAST London: Just off Fen Lane between North Ockendon and Bulphan, east of Mar Dyke but west of the Dunnings Lane crossroads [map]
» see all four geographical extremities on a Google map

 Sunday, August 19, 2007

So, after all that forecasting, what was yesterday's weather actually like?

According to the Met Office, and their jolly informative graphical representation of the last 24 hours weather, it was like this:
light rain

That's grey and threatening during the early morning, the odd shower with sunny intervals during the day, a heavy downpour at teatime, light drizzle in the early evening, and an overcast end to the day with the odd shower.
Which looks about right.

light rainYesterday's weather was hugely complicated, and yet the online forecast still attempted to summarise it in just one symbol - "light rain". This single symbol might have been a decent summary of the day as a whole, but it was rarely representative of the weather at any one given moment. Which is a bit rubbish.

Anyone who'd seen this single symbol and then planned their day around it would have been sorely disappointed, even deceived. They might have cancelled an outdoor activity in the late morning or early afternoon because it would be "raining", whereas in fact the weather was mostly dry. Or they might have fired up the barbecue in the early evening, because the forecast was only for "light rain", and then been utterly drenched by a torrential downpour.

Why do we pretend that Britain's weather can be summarised in a single graphic? It can sometimes, during an anticyclonic heatwave for example, but most of the time our weather is much more complicated than that. One single symbol can never hope to hint at all the nuances of a day's weather.

In particular, it's not enough to know that it'll rain at some point during the next 24 hours, we need to know when. Sure, most TV weather forecasts give further detail, as do online forecasts if you know where to look. But one weather symbol per day isn't informative, it's just dumbed-down meteorology for stupid people. Weather forecasting websites are treating us like ignorant fools, and what's worse we believe them.

What we need is additional information. We need better-pinpointed rainfall forecasts which detail "when", as well as "how heavy". They'd only be best guesses, obviously, because rainfall is notoriously difficult to predict with any accuracy. But they'd be better than nothing. We need the Met Office to provide us with something like this...

London rainfall forecast: 18th August
Light showers: around 3am, and between 10am and 4pm
Heavy rain: around 5pm
Light showers: just before midnight


...or they could even do it graphically...
light rain

Surely it wouldn't be too hard to provide simple short-term weather forecasts that hint more accurately at roughly when a band of rain is due, not just that it'll be wet. It can't be beyond the computing power of the Met Office computers in Exeter. Even if the forecast is just for the next 8 hours and not the next 24, a simple graphic with approximate times would still be bloody useful. How about it?

Although I fear that today's forecast might still look like this...

London rainfall forecast: 19th August
Chucking it down: all day
Weather warning: stay in

 Saturday, August 18, 2007

What is the point of the 5-day weather forecast? You know the sort of thing. Forecasts like this on the BBC website, or like this on the Met Office website. Forecasts that predict what the weather's going to be like for the next five days. Forecasts that people use to help plan their outdoor life, up to five days into the future. Forecasts that people read avidly. Forecasts that people trust and believe. Forecasts that are always wrong.

I've been checking London's 5-day forecast online every day this week, on both the BBC and Met Office websites, to try to answer the following question.
"What's the weather going to be like on Saturday?"
Here's what I discovered.

Monday: Sorry, no weather yet. Saturday may be five days away but there's no news on Saturday's weather forecast. The 5-day weather forecast only includes today and the next four days. It's a four-day weather forecast. Sorry.

sunny intervalsTuesday: According to the 5-day forecast, Saturday's weather will be sunny intervals. Looks nice. Not perfect, but nice enough. Looks good for going out and doing stuff. Looks perfect for barbecues and going to the park and hiking and sightseeing and all sorts of outdoor things. Saturday will be fine.

partly cloudyWednesday: According to the 5-day forecast, Saturday's weather will be partly cloudy. That's a shame, the forecast's deteriorated since yesterday. Where's the sun gone? Ah well, at least Saturday won't be wet. It'll still be OK for going out and doing stuff. Saturday will be OK.

light showersThursday: According to the 5-day forecast, Saturday's weather will be light showers. That's annoying, the forecast's deteriorated again since yesterday. Looks like it's going to rain now. That's not so good for going out and doing stuff. Ah well, at least there'll still be sunshine between the showers. Saturday will be mixed.

light rainFriday: According to the 5-day forecast, Saturday's weather will be light rain. That's not fair, the forecast's deteriorated again since yesterday. Looks like tomorrow will be dull and wet. Not good for barbecues and going to the park and hiking and sightseeing and all sorts of outdoor things. Might as well make plans to stay in. Saturday will be grim.

light rainSaturday: And now it is Saturday, and the weather forecast is still for light rain. And, looking out of the window, that forecast appears to be correct. It's dull and grey out there, with the threat of imminent drizzle. It looks like the BBC got the weather forecast right, but they only got it right yesterday. Why did they bother predicting today's weather earlier in the week? All they did was raise our hopes on Tuesday, and then slowly dash those hopes bit by bit throughout the week. Saturday is looking disappointing.

The 5-day forecast is a sham. The 5-day forecast is a lie. And yet we still check it, religiously, to try to find out what the future holds. Why do we bother? Why do they bother publishing it? If all the supercomputers at Met Office HQ can't predict when a band of rain will pass overhead more than 48 hours in advance, why tell us? Even in the 21st century, the mysteries of Britain's weather are still completely beyond prediction. It's about time these 5-day forecasts came with a health warning, and that we stopped believing them. Because the weekend isn't always as good as they promise it's going to be. Still, at least next Wednesday looks nice...


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diamond geezer 2004 index
diamond geezer 2003 index
diamond geezer 2002 index

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

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

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

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
thunderbirds
routemaster
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
amsterdam
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
typewriters
doctor who
coronation
comments
blue peter
matchgirls
hurricanes
buzzwords
brookside
monopoly
peter pan
starbucks
feng shui
leap year
manbags
penelope
bbc three
vision on
piccadilly
meridian
concorde
wembley
islington
ID cards
bedtime
freeview
beckton
blogads
eclipses
letraset
arsenal
sitcoms
gherkin
calories
everest
muffins
sudoku
camilla
london
ceefax
robbie
becks
dome
BBC2
paris
lotto
118
itv