diamond geezer

 Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Taking a guided tour of London can be expensive. Wandering the streets with a Blue Badge Guide doesn't come cheap. Those sightseeing buses in the centre of town charge £25 a day. Sure you can ride a normal bus much more cheaply, but as a tourist you can't beat the informed commentary of an expert who knows their stuff.

So you might be interested in taking a special guided tour of the Docklands Light Railway. It costs no more than your normal ticket. It's available on every route, in both directions. It's available on every train, from pre-dawn to post-midnight. And OK, so you don't get your own personalised guide sat beside you all the way. But you do get a running commentary from start to finish, so long as you've plugged in your headphones and downloaded the right files.

These are the DLR Audio Guides (or podcasts, if you're hip).
The Docklands Light Railway spans an area full of rich heritage and state-of-the-art venues, which can all be viewed whilst travelling on the DLR. Now you can make the most of your journey with a guided tour of this fascinating area. Simply select the route you would like to travel and download the free podcast, telling you historical details and intriguing facts, and what to look out for. Even if you think you know London, we’re sure you’re in for a surprise or two.
There are special instructions regarding where to sit.
All viewing instructions assume that you’re facing forward in the direction of travel. The front seats are the best for viewing. You won’t always be able to get the very front seat, but make sure you’re in the front carriage of the train. If you’re further back, you won’t be able to see everything.
Everyone loves sitting at the very front of a DLR train, not just for the view but for the chance to pretend to steer. A top tip not presented here is always to sit on the right, because the train operator might kick you out if you sit on the left. Meanwhile I'm not convinced that everywhere in the front carriage allows you to see everything, so make sure you sit as far forward as possible.
Because the DLR is fully automated, journey times between different stations are remarkably consistent. These guides are designed to provide interesting information for every part of the journey, including when trains are at stations. If your train is delayed between stations, press ‘pause’ on your device and restart the guide when your train is under way again. Similarly, to ensure your guide remains fully synchronised, while at stations you’ll hear a beep on the commentary track that should coincide with the train doors closing and the train leaving the station. If departure is delayed, press ‘pause’ on your device and restart the guide when your train is again under way.
Now that's clever. Normally the problem with an audio guide is keeping it synchronised, but the DLR's a predictable automated railway, so the commentary's bang on time. Even the full length track, once you've downloaded it, is the same length as an end to end journey.

Because there are many different possible DLR routes, so there are many different podcasts to choose from. For example from Beckton you can choose to go to either Tower Gateway or Stratford International. From Bank you can choose to go to either Woolwich Arsenal or Lewisham. There's even an off-peak option on the latter, according to whether the train stops at West India Quay or not. Someone's thought about this.

And what of the commentary itself? It's mostly very good, very pertinent. Inner East London has a lot of heritage, even in the unlikeliest locations along the way. Canning Town has its lighthouse, Devons Road has Spratts dog biscuit factory and Deptford Bridge has Henry VIII's royal dockyard. I was particularly impressed by the detail along the run from Stratford to Canary Wharf, though I'm afraid rather less so by the dullsville Stratford International branch. Indeed the most glaring omission is at Abbey Road, where the narrator revels in Beatles puns rather than ever mentioning the 12th century Cistercian abbey once present on the station site, and marked by a plaque at the end of the platform.
“In amongst the small streets of Wapping is Wilton's Music Hall, which opened in 1828, after a previous life as an alehouse reputedly popular with local merchants."
“London City Airport on the right is the smallest London airport. It caters for nearly 3 million people a year and is a vital link for the London business community.”
“For football fans, the Arsenal football club takes its name from the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. It was founded here in 1886 by the ordnance workers – the ‘Gunners’.”
By listening to just four podcasts - I'll let you decide which - you can cover every stretch of the network. And if you do, you'll notice that certain landmarks get mentioned repeatedly. Foremost amongst these is the O2, which is strange because the DLR doesn't actually go there. But it is easily seen from several stretches of line, even way back near Westferry (where Lewisham-bound travellers get to hear all about it). And how does the audio guide suggest you get to the O2? Via the cablecar, of course, or "the exciting Emirates Airline cablecar" as the commentary has it. The guide's travel advice reaches the heights of perversity at Canning Town, where riders are advised to change for the DLR to Royal Victoria, then fly via "a five minute flight" over the Thames, when they could just have taken the Jubilee line one stop instead. Could it be that these podcasts are a deliberate, if obscure, plug for the ailing Dangleway?

If you're interested in taking a free DLR tour guide you'll find everything here. Download just the one podcast for your particular journey or, if you have quarter of a gigabyte to spare, why not all 13 in one go? Those of you reading this on your phone or tablet might prefer the mobile version, where each individual station has its own clickable mp3 file, although these don't all seem to be chopped up properly. You should listen on the train for full effect, obviously, but nothing's stopping you from enjoying a virtual ride at home. Indeed no matter where you are in the world, now anyone can imagine sitting up the front of a DLR train on a free London tour. Enjoy the ride.

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