Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Carnival comes but once a year
A day for the kids, a day for all
A million mass in Notting Hill
To dance and eat and drink and revel
A hundred ordinary streets transformed
By music, cheer and takeaway cartons
Police in twos and threes on every corner
Ignore the scare stories and enjoy
At each gateway a welcoming leaflet
Here's a map, and Stay Aware
Please follow the one-way system inside
Then W-Eleven is your oyster
The maze of streets goes on forever
Which way to wander blindly next?
Some roads blocked off, a "Safety Zone"
Residents watch over guarded barriers
They alternate, the trucks and dancers
Huge thumping rigs of soundsystem stacks
Ads for tropical juice hanging down
DJ in command, conjuring the crowd
A flock of feathers follows behind
Blazing bright, took weeks to sew
Headdresses, beads and tassels
Gyrating in joyful communion
Stay behind the string please
The crowd keeps pace to either side
With each pause they pause, then on
Round the circuit in inching bursts
Communal spirit is in full effect
Sway if you like, or stand and smoke
The decibels drill, the steel bands pass
Share a photograph and tell your friends
Countless stalls cook flaming meat
Chicken, more chicken, patties and goat
Serve up with sauce and rice and peas
Guzzle with dripping fingers until full
Two beers for five, five beers for ten
A scooped coconut thrown in the gutter
Vuvuzelas for sale in yellow and green
Come inside and use our toilet for a quid
"You look like you like glitter"
The bejewelled ladies are insistent
A willing torso wanders over for decoration
His drinking partner hovers as yet uncertain
Teeming crowds, younger than older
A host of West Indians in their element
But all races covered, London is Open
And where else would you rather be?
The local shopkeepers have gone away
Glass frontages temporarily boarded over
There's nothing for you to see here
Back Tuesday, or maybe next week
A coach filled with coppers pulls up
Dressed in black, they're going to bake
Each removes a huge holdall from below
Prepared for whatever, whenever
Fourteen year-old stabs fifteen year-old
Troublemakers streaming in, arrests made
Authorities assaulted, abused and spat at
"I'm very disappointed," says MP
Most saw nothing amiss, only universal delight
Others saw unwanted crime and unnecessary costs
A 'full review' is ordered, as every year
But if they ever shifted it, they'd kill it
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, August 30, 2016If you ever fancy a bit of publicity, chuck out a new tube map.
TfL uploaded this one on Friday. A new tube map showing the distance in steps between Underground stations.
An embargoed press release was duly sent to trusted media, and yesterday these media trumpeted the new map to the world.
"Transport for London has released a new Tube map showing the distance in steps between Underground stations," said the Evening Standard. "A new map of the London Underground has been created to show travellers exactly how close stations are in the centre of the capital and get them walking across the city instead," said City AM. "The new version of the iconic map shows how many steps there are between all stations in zones one and two," said The Sun. "We already have a map which shows us the walking times, but this new version gives us an indication of how much closer we can get to that elusive 10,000 steps a day if we hop off a stop or two early," said Time Out. "Sadiq Khan hopes the map will be a fun and practical way to help busy Londoners who want to make walking part of their everyday lives," said the Huffington Post. "We hope that the new steps version of the Tube map will inspire people to try new routes and discover that places in central London are closer than they might think," said Ben Plowden, Director of Surface Strategy and Planning at TfL, in the Daily Telegraph. "Click here to see full map," said the Metro.
If you rejig all the published versions and spot the common phrases you can almost recreate the story TfL sent out in the first place.
A few outlets noted that TfL had previously published something similar, last November in fact - a map of walking times between stations.
But what nobody pointed out is that the new map is exactly the same as the old map, except with all the numbers increased by a factor of 100. If the time in minutes was 5 then the number of steps is 500. If the time in minutes was 12 then the number of steps is 1200. If the time in minutes was 144 then the number of steps is 14400. Virtually no effort whatsoever has been expended in creating the new map, other than multiplying all the original numbers by 100. But in this fitness-app-oriented world, it turns out that steps can be more relevant than minutes, hence everyone's excited, and the Media team have another super-shareable success on their hands.
At the same time, TfL also uploaded another document to their Walking page, a list of Journeys that could be quicker to walk. If you've been a London blogger for a while you'll know this list is gold-dust, indeed a post I once wrote on the subject earned me more visitors than almost anything else I've ever written. Now TfL have finally released an official list, confirming at last that it's only 5 minutes to walk from Bayswater to Queensway, and 49 other journeys. It has equal billing to the other two maps on TfL's Walking page, and is a true social media Holy Grail. But none of the media outlets noticed.
OK, Ian Visits noticed, and he naturally wrote something non-generic, and he questioned the data. But all the other media stories I've seen have parroted the line that the steps map is new and exciting, and that it'll help Londoners be fitter and make better choices, and have completely overlooked the alternative list of stations. Perhaps journalists are no longer paid to notice things, or perhaps they no longer have the time.
Whatever, TfL's list of Central London journeys that could be quicker to walk is very interesting, and highly colourful, but perhaps not presented in the most practical form. All 50 journeys are presented in alphabetical order and in one direction only, so for example the three journeys that start or finish at Regent's Park aren't easy to spot. I doubt that many people are going to slog through the pdf and exclaim "oh, it seems my journey could be quicker to walk". A map might be nice, except these are journeys between stations not on the same line so a map could get messy.
What follows isn't the best way to present the data either. But I am excited to finally be able to present the official list of Central London tube journeys where it would be quicker to walk.
50 journeys between stations in zone 1 and 2 (not on the same line) where it would be quicker to walk
2 minutes (200 steps): Great Portland Street → Regent's Park
3 minutes (300 steps):
4 minutes (400 steps): Bank → Cannon Street
5 minutes (500 steps): Bank → Mansion House, Bayswater → Queensway; Great Portland Street → Warren Street
6 minutes (600 steps):
7 minutes (700 steps): Regent's Park → Warren Street
8 minutes (800 steps): All Saints → Blackwall; Barbican → St Paul's; Bethnal Green → Whitechapel; Bethnal Green → Stepney Green; Cannon Street → St Paul's; Chancery Lane → Farringdon; Clapham High Street → Clapham Common; Covent Garden → Tottenham Court Road; Goldhawk Road → Shepherd's Bush; Hampstead Heath → Belsize Park; Kentish Town West → Chalk Farm; New Cross → Deptford Bridge; South Hampstead → Finchley Road
9 minutes (900 steps): Blackfriars → St Paul's; Charing Cross → Westminster
10 minutes (1000 steps): Hackney Central → London Fields; Lambeth North → Southwark; Royal Oak → Warwick Avenue; Shepherd's Bush → Wood Lane
11 minutes (1100 steps): Blackfriars → Southwark; Camden Road → Mornington Crescent; Covent Garden → Temple; Farringdon → St Paul's; Finchley Road & Frognal → Hampstead; Goodge Street → Great Portland Street; Holborn → Temple; Rectory Road → Clapton
12 minutes (1200 steps): Barbican → Chancery Lane; Blackfriars → Chancery Lane; Borough → Southwark; Edgware Road → Marble Arch, Euston Square → Goodge Street; Goodge Street → Russell Square; Great Portland Street → Oxford Circus; Kentish Town West → Camden Town; Queensway → Royal Oak; Shoreditch High Street → Old Street; Shoreditch High Street → Liverpool Street; South Hampstead → St John's Wood
13 minutes (1300 steps): Edgware Road → Marble Arch; Goodge Street → Regent's Park
14 minutes (1400 steps): Chancery Lane → Temple; Edgware Road → Lancaster Gate; Latimer Road → Shepherd's Bush
This may be TfL's official list, but it's not complete. Where's Lancaster Gate to Paddington, which is one of the most useful shortcuts of all, cutting off a huge diversion the distorted tube map doesn't show? Where's Warren Street to Euston Square, which is an even briefer walk? Where's Euston to Euston Square, and Aldgate to Aldgate East, or has somebody at TfL assumed we're bright enough to spot that these pairs of stations must be close? More sensibly I'm assuming anything marked as an interchange on the tube map is missing, which is why White City to Wood Lane and Bow Church to Bow Road (and others) don't appear.
Omissions aside, this is indeed a potentially useful list, and one which might well inspire some Londoners to keep fitter by walking rather than taking the tube. It's also information which could easily be displayed prominently at relevant tube stations, for example at Warren Street announcing that Great Portland Street was 5 minutes walk away and Regent's Park 7. Imagine a big sign by the station entrance directing would-be passengers elsewhere via a quicker walking route. You might think TfL mad for encouraging folk not to use their services, but anything that reduces congestion underground is generally a good thing.
Just don't go thinking that the Walking steps map is new and exciting, because London's seen it before, and London forgets so easily.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, August 29, 2016When you've been to Portsmouth and Southsea several times before, where else is left to visit?
From outside it's not immediately obvious what this building on Portsmouth's harbourfront is. A fossil shop, it says, although the reference to Genesis turns out to be rather more pertinent. For this is a Creation Museum, the UK's largest, whose agenda is to promote the Bible's six-day origin story by debunking evolution. It's a ridiculous theory, apparently, and there are firm scientific reasons why everything Charles Darwin proposed must be wrong. As well as a shop full of fossils and minerals, the model of a 20ft dinosaur called Boris lurks just inside the door to help lure the open-minded within. But proceed a little further, or scan the bookshelves more carefully, and the true nature of the premises becomes more clear.
A dozen-or so cases of evidence twist round in the dark space beneath the upper landing, each dismissing some 'fact' evolutionists hold dear, or providing some alternative explanation. Fossils look just like today's creatures, we're told, which is firm evidence that species remain unchanged. Marine sediments can be laid down really quickly, like when there's a landslip or something, and rapid sedimentation 'explains' why the burial of fossils didn't take millions of years. Mutations 'always' result in a loss of genetic information, so there's no way any complex modern plant or animal could be the result of one. Indeed there can't have been any new species since the creation, only species lost to extinction, despite what 'Neo-Darwinism' claims. By the time a gravestone pops up claiming 'Here Lies The Theory of Evolution RIP', you can almost hear the exhibition's creators shouting 'QED'.
Upstairs is a looping video, with the volume down too low to hear, and a somewhat optimistic number of chairs. There are also a couple of spinny racks brimming over with photocopied leaflets on diverse topics the Creation Science Movement think deserve explanation. 'How Old Is The Earth?' 'Evidence for Noah's Ark and The Flood' 'Geological Fallacies' 'The Stooping Rhodesian Man Fraud' 'Plant Geneticist Says No To Evolution' Each leaflet costs 15p, presumably to dissuade unbelievers from taking one of each for a laugh, although the CSM's journal and a leaflet aimed at children are available free.
To my eye all of this is ill-founded rubbish, but I was struck by the museum's delivery of seemingly cogent argument which the less critical could easily take as cast iron truth, and I imagine a Climate Change Denial Expo would feel quite similar. I deliberately resisted kicking off a discussion/debate/argument with the two volunteers on duty - they seemed perfectly happy chatting with each other. The only other visitors were a mother and her young son, he excited by the scientific treasures in the gift shop, she steering him away from the children's books and DVDs with steely resolve. No attempt at conversion was made, indeed the approach was politeness itself, but one wonders how many people wander in after a trip to the neighbouring Royal Dockyard without quite realising what they're being 'sold'.
Southsea Model Village
Located on the Esplanade between the Canoe Lake and the Rose Garden, this unlikely 1950s survivor is a charming reminder of a gentler past. A third of an acre in extent, Southsea Model Village is concealed inside a coastal defence called Lumps Fort, its name spelt out in white pebbles on the mound below a scaled-down castle. The main entrance doubles up as a snack bar, seemingly more popular amongst the families playing outside, but look carefully for the sidegate and just £3 will let you through.
The village is built to 1/12th scale and contains a fairly motley collection of buildings from a church and watermill to shops and cottages. A few have bits missing or aren't in the very best nick, but there's a reason for this which is that a new set of owners took over this year, just in time to celebrate the village's 60th anniversary. They had to tackle long-term neglect, and a sad case of vandalism over Christmas, but are giving the place some 'love and attention' as proven by a fresh lick of paint all over. The compact site also boasts five model railways of various lengths, weaving around the site, under the path and across the water. In Bekonscot-style many of the businesses depicted have punning names, for example the blacksmiths are I Cloutim and E Bellows, while the brewers are Stagger & Tripp. Meanwhile various period figurines add a further human touch, not least the cluster of traffic wardens gossiping in the centre of the high street.
The fort's upper mound makes a useful picnic area overlooking the Solent, while the space underneath has been put to an unusual use. A few years ago volunteers dug out the 125ft Rifleman's Tunnel leading to the heart of the caponier, at the end of which is a small chamber containing a giant model of Portsmouth Guildhall. Local pensioner Ron Breadner built it out of matchsticks over a 14 month period and donated it to the city council, who in turn offered it to the model village where it now sits behind glass buzzed by the occasional trapped fly. Alongside is George Betteridge's 33 inch-high matchstick model of the Spinnaker Tower, now half-buried here after a mere week on show at its full size namesake. And if you've ever wanted to see a matchstick windmill built by a one-armed Croydon fishmonger, a shed outside provides your golden chance.
I spent more than twice as long at the Model Village as at the Creation Expo, and smiled rather more too. The target audience is obviously families with small children, as those circulating alongside me attested. But connoisseurs of miniature nostalgia will find much to delight, if they don't set their sights too high.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, August 28, 2016When Crossrail's finally up and running, where will the trains be going? Yes, to Reading and Heathrow, and to Shenfield and Abbey Wood. But not all the trains are going all the way, some of the stations are being skipped, and some of the branches won't link up, which may not be quite what you're expecting.
Last week TfL launched a minor consultation, a legal technicality to ensure that freight services won't be diverted through Crossrail tunnels. It's not especially important, nor indeed interesting, except that on page 8 of the documentation there's a map showing "the proposed service specification", or in other words how many trains are planned to go where. [click to enlarge]
The darker lines show the off-peak pattern, while the lighter lines show how this will be topped up by extra services in the peak. Thick lines indicate four trains an hour, and thin lines mean two. Which means, assuming everything goes as planned, this is the list of trains that Crossrail will be running...
Off-peak services Additional peak services 4tph Shenfield - Paddington
2tph Shenfield - Maidenhead*
2tph Shenfield - Reading*
4tph Shenfield - Paddington
4tph Gidea Park - Liverpool St
4tph Abbey Wood - Heathrow T4
4tph Abbey Wood - Paddington
2tph Abbey Wood - Paddington
2tph Abbey Wood - West Drayton*
I'll explain the asterisks later. But one thing you might already have noticed is that half the trains are terminating at Paddington and not going going all the way. Another thing you might have noticed is that very few trains are going to Reading. And another thing you might have noticed is that trains from Shenfield won't be going to Heathrow, and trains from Abbey Wood won't be going to Slough and Reading. I wonder which of these will surprise future passengers the most.
Here's another way of looking at the service pattern, which might help make things clearer. Suppose you're at one of the central stations, somewhere between Paddington and Whitechapel. Here are the destinations you'll be able to reach from the eastbound platform.
Off-peak Peak Shenfield (every 7½ mins)
Abbey Wood (every 7½ mins)
Shenfield (every 5 mins)
Abbey Wood (every 5 mins)
This is straightforward and relatively simple... half the trains will run along each branch. And because the trains alternate, this means one train on the central section every 4 minutes off-peak and every 2½ minutes at peak times. It might not be as frequent a service as you're expecting, certainly compared to the tube, but then most tube trains aren't two football pitches long.
Switching to the westbound platform, again anywhere between Paddington and Whitechapel, this is what you'll get.
Off-peak Peak Paddington (every 7½ mins)
Heathrow T4 (every 15 mins)
Maidenhead (every 30 mins)
Reading (every 30 mins)
Paddington (every 4 mins)
Heathrow T4 (every 15 mins)
West Drayton (every 30 mins)
Maidenhead (every 30 mins)
Reading (every 30 mins)
This is more complicated. Half the trains will terminate at Paddington, indeed more than half at peak times. If you're going no further than Paddington, that's a train every 4 minutes off-peak and every 2½ minutes at peak times. But if you're going further, Heathrow only gets a train every 15 minutes, much like the Heathrow Express today. Trains as far as Slough and Maidenhead will also run every 15 minutes, whereas for Reading it could be a half hour wait. Obviously other trains will continue to run these destinations from upstairs at Paddington, but from down below not many services are passing through.
Coming back into town from out west, the destination board will look like this.
eastbound Off-peak Peak READING Shenfield (every 30 mins) Shenfield (every 30 mins) SLOUGH Shenfield (every 15 mins) Shenfield (every 15 mins) WEST DRAYTON Shenfield (every 15 mins) Shenfield (every 10 mins) HEATHROW Abbey Wood (every 15 mins) Abbey Wood (every 15 mins)
Notice how the peak service and off-peak service are identical, apart from a few extra trains from West Drayton. And see the very clear division in what goes where - the Reading branch runs only to Shenfield, and the Heathrow branch runs only to Abbey Wood.
Coming back into town from the east it'll look like this.
westbound Off-peak Peak ABBEY WOOD
Paddington (every 15 mins)
Heathrow T4 (every 15 mins)
Paddington (every 7½ mins)
Heathrow T4 (every 15 mins)
West Drayton (every 30 mins)
SHENFIELD Paddington (every 15 mins)
Maidenhead (every 30 mins)
Reading (every 30 mins)
Paddington (every 7½ mins)
Maidenhead (every 30 mins)
Reading (every 30 mins)
Paddington (every 15 mins)
Maidenhead (every 30 mins)
Reading (every 30 mins)
Paddington (every 7½ mins)
Maidenhead (every 30 mins)
Reading (every 30 mins)
Liverpool Street (every 15 mins)
Again travelling west looks a lot more complicated. In good news there'll be trains at least as far as Paddington every 7½ minutes off-peak and every 4 minutes at peak times. But if you're on the Abbey Wood branch and want to get to Berkshire you'll have to change, and (more annoyingly) if you're on the Shenfield branch and want to get to Heathrow you'll have to change. I can imagine the angry Evening Standard headline in 2019 even now.
Did you spot that mysterious mention of Liverpool Street at the bottom of the final column? In peak times Crossrail will be running extra trains between Gidea Park and Liverpool Street, in one direction only, to help keep northeast London moving. And that's the existing Liverpool Street station, along the existing TfL Rail tracks, rather than entering the new tunnel at Pudding Mill Lane. This means Crossrail trains will be serving two different Liverpool Streets, one new and one old, with the latter described as Liverpool Street (High Level) on the latest map. Could that get confusing? Yes it might.
Now let's return to those asterisks, because there's one more peculiarity of the service pattern which may particularly annoy west London residents - semi-fast trains. Every Crossrail train which heads past Paddington will skip at least one of the stations that follows. There's only so much space on these busy Great Western tracks, so missing out a station will help to keep other services running on time. Every Crossrail train will stop at Ealing Broadway, Southall and Hayes and Harlington. But Acton Main Line, West Ealing and Hanwell aren't going to be so lucky.
Hayes Southall Hanwell W Ealing Ealing B Acton ML HEATHROW branch stop stop stop stop stop READING branch stop stop stop stop W DRAYTON (peak) stop stop stop
Crossrail trains to Heathrow won't be stopping at West Ealing. Meanwhile Crossrail trains to Maidenhead and Reading will be stopping at West Ealing, but won't be stopping at Acton Mainline and Hanwell. As for those rare peak-only West Drayton trains, they're not going to be stopping at any of the three. This means lots of announcements to ensure that passengers for these stations board the right train. And it also means it won't be possible to ride between Hanwell and West Ealing on a Crossrail train, even though these two stations are adjacent on the line.
If you're still following me, it's now time for the caveats. This is a proposed service pattern, so may not turn out to be precisely what happens in 2019. It doesn't cover trains during what's described as the “quiet” period (pre-0700 and post-2100). And the consultation map clearly states there'll also be "occasional peak only services" between Shenfield and Heathrow, and Abbey Wood and Reading/Maidenhead, so it's not true to say that these particular journeys will never happen.
I should also point out that I didn't spot the consultation in the first place, that was the eagle-eyed folk on the excellent District Dave's Forum. You should very much be following them if you're interested in how the Underground really works, and what's going on where behind the scenes. And so we're indebted to snoggle for noticing the consultation and for realising the importance of the map, and to other members of the community for discussing the implications. Thank them, not me.
But if you'd like some headline scare stories, which are only 99% true...
» Crossrail services will run less frequently than the tube
» Over half of Crossrail trains won't get as far as West London
» Every Crossrail train will miss out one or more West London stations
» Going to Heathrow? From Stratford (and points east) you'll have to change!
Despite which, obviously, Crossrail'll still be excellent.
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, August 27, 2016It's now four years since the Paralympics began at London 2012.
Weren't they fun?
And if you went, weren't they special?
» This blog's Paralympic reports from four years ago
» 112 Paralympic photos
posted 07:00 :
Friday, August 26, 2016What time does the Night Tube start? I ask because somebody thinks this is important.
You might think midnight, but it's not as simple as that. The issue's not about time so much as trains, all the trains up to a certain point being 'normal' and all those after that being 'Night Tube'. Actually it's not as simple as that either.
This is a photo of the poster at Liverpool Street which purports to show the first and last eastbound trains on the Central line. It's been up for a week.
Let's zoom in and look at just one part of it. I'll give you a moment to try to fathom it out.
This says the 'last train' runs at 0040 six days a week, and at 2346 on Sunday. And then the first Night Tube service runs at 0040 on Fridays and Saturdays. This is a bit peculiar for two reasons. Firstly the 0040 is both the last train and the first Night Tube service, which doesn't seem right. And secondly, at weekends there isn't a last train, they run all through the night, so why say there is?
Here's another example from the westbound poster.
This time the last train on a Friday and Saturday night is at 0030, which is apparently also the time of the first Night Tube train. But again the peculiarity is that a last train is shown at all, because there isn't one, because that's the point of a 24 hour service.
This confusion also stretches to the first train of the day. This runs at 0546 on weekdays, and apparently at 0538 on Saturdays and 0630 on Sundays. Meanwhile 0538 is also the time of the last Night Tube service on Saturdays, and 0630 is the time of the last Night Tube train on Sundays, whereas in reality the service just keeps on running and at weekends there isn't a first train at all.
Last/first trains are also being doubled up in posters on the Victoria line, as here at Walthamstow Central.
This table is necessarily more complicated, because on weekdays some late services only go as far as Seven Sisters, not the end of the line. But at weekends there isn't really a last train, except apparently it's at 0010, which is also the time of the first Night Tube service.
I assume there must be a reason why TfL have insisted on splitting their first/last train tables into Night Tube and non-Night Tube sections. It might be for branding reasons, to make it really obvious to passengers that a Night Tube service runs. Or it might be because they deem it important to know precisely when the service switches from "every 2-5 minutes" to "every 10 minutes", and when it changes back. In this case, the 0010 train is indeed the the dividing line between a 5 minute evening service and the 10 minute Night Tube service. And yet all these posters have an asterisked note at the bottom which says "Early morning and late evening trains may run less frequently", which seems to have the whole thing covered.
To finally answer the question I posed at the start - when is the first Night Tube train? - I've been to the ends of the Central and Victoria lines to look at the posters, and I've read off the changeover times. In every case these are the times of the last normal train which was running before the Night Tube started, so the first Night Tube train must be the next service after that, and by checking TfL's most recent set of working timetables I can deduce all the specific times.
So the first
Walthamstow Central 0010 0020 Brixton 0028 0034 Ealing Broadway 2355 0015 Loughton 0002 0023 Hainault 2348 0010
Which is kind of interesting. But if you stop and think for a minute, who cares?
Your average tube punter doesn't care when the Night Tube starts, only that the tube runs through the night. Viewed objectively, trains start running early on a Friday morning and continue until Sunday evening, with no gaps inbetween. There are no last trains on a Friday or Saturday, and there are no first trains on a Saturday or Sunday. And yet TfL's posters insist there are. Indeed, they insist on making the whole palaver far more complicated than it really is.
The same information could surely be displayed more clearly. Maybe a bit more like this?
Or even cut down to this?
TfL decided several years ago that proper timetables were far too complicated for the average member of the public to understand, and now retain them only where services are particularly infrequent, for example on the Hainault Loop or on the outer reaches of the Metropolitan line. But what they serve up instead is deliberately more vague, and far less helpful, or indeed downright confusing. They'd prefer us to be looking at real time information, where this exists, which most of the time works fine. But for first and last trains the introduction of the Night Tube has made their presentation completely baffling, and all because somebody's decided on certain guidelines which must be followed.
Bad information management with strict rules, like this, can be unnecessarily impenetrable to the public.
And could, surely, be clearer.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, August 25, 2016Dear Londoner,
It is with great regret we must inform you that your membership of London Above is under threat.
As you'll be aware, London Above is the lifestyle brand for the discerning Londoner, an acknowledgement that the capital is your oyster. You can dine in it, play in it, shop in it, even own part of it, because you're one of the privileged residents with the capability to consume. Your wealth allows you to play a full part in the economic prosperity of the capital, which as we know is a far more expensive place to live than the hinterland beyond, and your ability to spend helps keep everything ticking over.
But we'll be honest, we're worried.
We've been keeping an eye on your spending over the last few months and we've noticed you're not throwing as much of your money around as you were before. It's been well over a month since you last sat down in a dining establishment and ordered brunch, and well over two since you last bought a round of cocktails for your friends. Your gym membership has expired, no West End theatre seat has seen your backside in ages, and it's even longer since you hailed a taxi rather than walk half a mile down the street.
A well-known cider brand organised a pop-up launch in Hackney Wick last month and you failed to attend. Your most recent trip to the cinema was somewhere cheap on the outskirts, mid-afternoon, rather than taking full advantage of the plush seating at a boutique screen. When Secret Cinema last came to town, and played for weeks, your credit card somehow didn't register. Heavens, it's National Burger Day today and you haven't even made plans to visit Patty & Bun, let along downloaded the voucher.
Taken separately these individual failures might not be an issue, but a pattern of economic inactivity has been building up, and we don't approve of what we see.
We suspect you might have been buying alcohol in the supermarket, like poor people do, rather than visiting a regulated establishment to enjoy craft beer in convivial company. We think you might have stayed in to watch a boxset, worse still the telly, instead of watching a one-off screening of an 80s movie on a makeshift beach on top of a carpark. There are even rumours you might have been for "a nice walk" somewhere in Zone 6 rather than spending the afternoon at Westfield and grazing between purchases.
You could quite frankly be living in the North, for all the use you're making of London's commercial gems. Your mantra needs to be "Eat. Drink. Shop. Repeat." otherwise this city is going to the dogs.
It's no good simply walking around the capital and admiring it, you have to chip in sometimes. Sure, Kensington Church Street and Broadway Market are great for window shopping, but if you don't stop off to buy some trinkets or grab a burrito, the local economy is losing out. And yes, Clerkenwell is fabulous, but how much more fabulous to cough up for an all-you-can-eat crawfish party, book yourself into a handicraft workshop or pay someone to point out where the street art is.
We recommend you pick up a copy of Time Out, the weekly style bible of London Above, and work your way through several of the activities listed within. Book a ticket to a festival, not necessarily music-based but maybe one of those where they serve one particular kind of food in a warehouse for fifty quid. Browse some vintage clothing, curate a martini, spend the Bank Holiday at an expensive nightclub, source a pop-up blueberry pancake - these are all the things that make London truly great.
Embrace your smartphone and the opportunities it can bring. Use Deliveroo to bring great takeaway food to your door rather than walking down to the shops and buying it for less. Keep an eye out for retail apps which offer quick and easy ways to spend even when you're trapped somewhere dull like a park or a library. And seriously, we've noticed you haven't even downloaded Uber to your phone yet, so no wonder your London Above membership is hanging by a thread.
We hope you haven't lost your job. That would be perfectly ghastly, and would terminate your membership of London Above overnight.
Have you considered downsizing your home, or moving in with friends, simply to increase the amount of disposable income you can spend? And even if you don't have money you should be spending it anyway, what with interest rates at record lows. Embrace a hedonistic lifestyle for today rather than worrying unnecessarily about tomorrow, as all the smart Londoners are doing.
We hope you'll make amends.
As such we shall be closely monitoring your spending for the next week, and all you have to do to prove your worth is to buy at least one gin-infused cocktail before the end of the month. It shouldn't be hard, pretty much every important social event is gin-based these days, and that single purchase will prove to London you're serious about living here again.
Teetotal Londoners should be aware we'll also accept purchase of any avocado-based organic smoothie, or any slice of gluten-free stonebaked pizza. But should you choose to ignore our request we'll have no choice on September 1st but to downgrade you to London Below.
Imagine how membership of our sister organisation would ruin your life. So many Londoners live in relative poverty, with nothing left after the bills have been paid to enjoy a regular cordon bleu feast or even a flash night out. It's true, they do the menial jobs that keep the capital moving, indeed some are even successful graduates who simply can't afford the rent. But don't let their badge of economic worthlessness be your destiny, sign up for a baking masterclass today.
Modern life is less about possessions and more about experiences, and a great experience is going to cost. So get out and about, spend and live. London's counting on you.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, August 24, 2016The National Grid divides the country up into hundreds of thousands of 1km grid squares. Greater London contains around 2000, being (very roughly) 50 squares from west to east and 40 squares from south to north. So what I thought I'd do is select one of these squares at random and then visit it and tell you all about it. It's what I do, OK, humour me.
I picked a random number for the easting and another for the northing, which gave me grid square TQ4683. Then I looked this up on a map, and sighed, because I'd hit Barking and Dagenham. Specifically I'd hit a one kilometre square between Barking and Dagenham, near Upney, on the busy A13. Well that's one Sunday afternoon I shall never get back, I thought. But I went anyway, and here are seven interesting things I found.
7 Secrets of Grid Square TQ4683
1) Lodge Avenue Flyover
The A13 dual carriageway cuts a gash through grid square TQ4683, just as the road to Southend always has. That's Ripple Road, a former turnpike which bends down from the northwest before being swallowed up by the six lane monster. At the junction between the two is the Lodge Avenue Roundabout, an elongated whirligig with a makeshift-looking iron flyover leaping across the top. A useful shortcut for the cars and lorries passing through, it's had to be closed for several weekends this year to allow maintenance to take place, in what long-term can only be a temporary measure. The council commissioned a most unusual sculpture to enhance the centre of the roundabout, one of many along the B&D stretch of the A13. It's called Holding Pattern, and consists of 76 stainless steel needles rising to echo the flyover passing alongside. During the day the resulting grid is almost missable, but at night each tip glows with a blue airport taxiway light, creating "a dramatic parallax effect" from the front seat of any passing vehicle. [website]
2) The Thatched House
It's not thatched any more, this is arterial East London for heaven's sake, but there's been a pub on the site since 1848. Back then it was known as Stonehill Cottage, serving ale to the tiny hamlet of Eastbrooks and to travellers passing through. The latest incarnation is squeezed between a Shell and Esso garage, and of a size to satisfy a post-war thirst. The most eye-catching sight is the advert for Double Diamond on the roof - alas not served within - while the unfortunate disappearance of three letters on the nameplate facing the main road suggests the pub is called THE HA CHED HO SE. This is a pub that comes to life after dark, sometimes overly so - incidents last year included facial stabbing and poison-throwing, and resulted in licensing hours being cut back. But if it's Kenyan cuisine you seek, washed down with a nice Jacob's Creek or Lucozade, this could be the gastropub you seek. [website]
3) Rippleside Cemetery
Opened in 1886, when the surrounding area was ill-drained fields, we have the Burial Board of the Parish of St Margaret Barking to thank for this extensive facility. The main gates and mortuary chapel survive, the latter in the far corner and Grade II listed. Designed as a scaled-down parish church in perpendicular style, one of the most unusual features is the hammerbeam roof, not that the casual visitor is able to get inside to take a look. Several mature trees grace the surrounding acres, including cedars, holly, yew and laurel, although rather fewer in number across the eastern extension (circa 1950). Walking round the myriad of paths you'll likely bump into family members here to pay their respects, and be struck by how relatively recent many of the graves are. Here are Hilda and Albert, and Enid and William, and Peggy and Sidney, their names lovingly inscribed into black granite, and a permanent memorial to the last generation before the make-up of Barking and Dagenham started to change forever.
4) Bassett House/Ingrave House/Dunmow House
To a generation of travellers they were the triad of Lego-land tower blocks beside the A13 past Upney, a true landmark on any eastbound journey. How quickly times change. Still standing at the time of the last Olympics, the council decanted all their Goresbrook Village tenants elsewhere and in 2013 the three blocks were dismantled one by one. Today you'd never know they were ever here, so completely has the triple footprint been wiped away by a fresh estate of two and three storey homes. What's more they're almost attractive, mainly flat-gabled terraces in stock brick, and conspicuously different from the pebbledash semis of the Becontree Estate in the surrounding streets. Each new home boasts a small garden and space for parking out front - a world away from life in the sky, though surely not as dense. The one duff note is the lack of easy access to the adjacent open space at Castle Green, where a burnt-out car lurks tyreless beneath the treeline, so maybe the disconnect is for the best. [website]
5) Renwick Industrial Estate
A broad strip of land between the A13 and the railway has been occupied by an industrial estate of tyre-fitters, grocery wholesalers and truck depots. The railway in question is the c2c line to Dagenham Dock, with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link running immediately underneath. On the bridge at Renwick Road is the entrance to a Freightliner terminal, while the wasteland of braided sidings to the west may one day see a brand new station built, but don't get your hopes up. The proposed Overground extension to Barking Riverside is due to bear off from the mainline here, with passive provision made for an intermediate station at Renwick Road, but absolutely no money to see it through. Councillors and residents bemoan the lack of foresight in the latest consultation documents, but only fresh housing developments merit new infrastructure these days, so the long-suffering residents of the isolated Thames View Estate can only watch as their community is bypassed for the new blocks and towers nearer the foreshore. [consultation]
6) Thames View Estate
A post-war housing shortage saw Barking Council construct an unlikely new estate - Thames View - on former marshland to the south of the railway. Huge concrete tubes had to be buried and filled to provide a stable foundation, not bad for 1954, although the resulting outpost of two thousand homes soon faded from initial optimism to distant dilapidation. The main spine road is Bastable Avenue, with downbeat crescents of flats and terraces to either side, and a fast bus to Barking the only lifeline. Recreational space is limited to Newlands Park, a patch of green with a considerable cluster of adventurous play equipment for tots to teens, but which on my visit had been entirely abandoned in favour of vegetating indoors. But I did enjoy one interaction with local youth, driving past with windows down and raising a finger each in unison, which I responded to with a different hand gesture of my own.
7) Farr Avenue Parade
The estate's central parade was built with high hopes, and a pleasing symmetry, and is well used by the populace on the basis there's nowhere else. Takeaways predominate, with betting shop and pound shop infill, the busiest corner being the queue for the cashpoint at the post office. An attempt to brighten up the canopy with a timeline of local history only reinforces how little of this there is, the most recent 'highlight' the construction of a nicer estate nextdoor. Out front by the pedestrian crossing the Creekmouth Heritage Project has also had a go at inspiring communal feeling with a series of pavement graphics, one word per slab, to spell out a sequence of upbeat quotations. Billy Bragg and Captain Cook have their say, although it's questionable how many would agree with John Tisseman's assertation that "Barking is a melting pot, stir for years and keep it hot". [website]
↑ square to the North TQ4684 - Mayesbrook Park
→ square to the East TQ4783 - Castle Green, Sporting Legends
↓ square to the South TQ4682 - Barking Riverside, Dagenham Sunday Market
← square to the West TQ4583 - Eastbury Manor House, Bobby Moore's blue plaque
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, August 23, 2016As we roll onwards towards, sssh, September, several Open-House-style festival-event-type things are happening and you might want to plan ahead.
There's Open House itself, of course, London's annual frenzy of door-flinging and architectural reverence. This takes place over the weekend of Saturday 17th and Sunday 18th September, and features the usual list of old favourites, suburban oddities and brand new locations. Where precisely to go can wait a few weeks, but several properties require you to pre-book, which requires action now. The most popular of these required action last week, with booking going live at times you had to be psychic to realise, so you've already missed the chance to go up Tower 42 or see behind the scenes at St Pancras. But for the rest of the pre-bookers, allow me to pass you over to Ian Visits who has a complete list, or you could try checking Eventbrite and see what's left, or (thanks Alasdair!) there's this ridiculously useful unofficial summary where you can scan through all 725 locations and see booking details.
Open House whinges 2016
They've changed the size of the guide, so it's now smaller but heavier. Generally it's easier to read, except they've removed all the useful coloured blobs so it's much harder to tell at a glance which venues open on Saturday, which Sunday and which both. I also pray that one day they'll write the word "pre-book" in a different colour, or in bold, to make the bookable items easier to spot. Not only would this really help in August, but it'd also really help on the day itself so you could swiftly ignore all the listings you hadn't booked for. Peculiarly, if you want to know the date of Open House weekend it's only written on the spine and absolutely nowhere else on any of the 144 pages inside. The first forty-or-so pages are now full of magazine-type articles, which might give you something interesting to read on the tube as you head to your first location, or might just be filler. This year the guide costs £7, plus £2 postage and packing, although according to the back cover the price is £6.99 so I've been swindled out of a penny. The Open House app costs only £2.99, but you don't get it for free if you bought the guide, which always feels a bit mean. Meanwhile all the listings are visible for free on the website, which has had an update this year and is much more mobile-friendly, which alas means laptop-unfriendly, and requires more clicking and scrolling to drill down and excavate all the information.
The week before Open House always sees the Heritage Open Days event, which takes place across the entire country outside London (although a dribble of London venues do take part, plus Kingston-upon-Thames which spends the weekend pretending to be in Surrey). The event runs from Thursday to Sunday, that's 8th-11th September, with the majority of events at the weekend. Again some events need booking in advance and others don't, so it pays to check now. Dorking Caves are already full, for example, whereas the Former Atomic Weapons Bunker in Thetford might still have spaces. Some counties take HOD more seriously than others, so Surrey has 320 events, Norfolk 303, Kent 176 and Essex 125, while Bedfordshire can only muster 13. This page has a useful summary of openings by area. Ian Visits has a selection of favourites and recommendations, if you'd like some guidance on where to start.
That same weekend, you might very well be very interested in the Essex Architecture Weekend, a programme of special events curated by Radical Essex. They're organising events and tours on 10th and 11th September to celebrate the county's pioneering role in twentieth century architecture, with a specific focus on three key modernist estates - Silver End, Bata East Tilbury and Frinton-on-Sea. The main hub is at Silver End, which I visited last month, a factory village with characterful housing, where there'll be walking tours, an exhibition and several talks including a Q&A with Jonathan Meades. The Bata Estate is also fascinating, as I'm sure the guided tours and exhibition will prove. Locations will also include Basildon, Benfleet, Braintree and Burnham-on-Crouch, plus other places that don't begin with B, with a bus service to link various disparate spots to Witham station. It all sounds excellent, although the website is a nightmare to navigate, indeed in my browser it's almost entirely dysfunctional, and without this enormous scrolling pdf timetable I'd be pretty much lost.
Again in Essex, and spreading across the Thames to Kent, I'm looking forward to Estuary 2016. This is a sixteen day festival of art, literature, music and film, from Saturday 17th September to Sunday 2nd October, mostly at weekends. Tilbury Docks is the focus on the first weekend, specifically in and around the Cruise Terminal where (wow) 70 authors and artists are lined up on the programme for the free Shorelines Literature Festival. The following weekend things shift downstream for the Southend Charabanc, described as "cultural pleasure seeking and sight-seeing" along the seafront with vintage Canvey buses to whisk visitors from event to event. On the final weekend Southend Pier hosts Sound of the Thames Delta, two days of talks and live gigs with contributions from Karl Hyde, Paul Morley, Martyn Ware and dozens more (if music's your thing, check the list). Other locations touched across the fortnight include Gravesend, Canvey Island and the Isle of Grain, plus there are special behind the scenes tours of (major) estuarine port facilities. Blimey, such a lot of stuff.
And let's finish off with Walk London's Autumn Ambles. This year these are pencilled in for Saturday 1st and Sunday 2nd October, with 42 free led walks across London, as usual with a few proper treks on the outskirts and several lighter strolls in town. In previous years you could simply turn up, but pre-registration is now required "to improve the experience of walkers and to keep everyone safe". Some walks are extremely popular, so this keeps the numbers manageable, but it also snuffs out all the spontaneity and cuts your options down. Five of the walks are already fully booked, six weeks ahead, while one still has 272 remaining places available. While this system persists, I'm giving it a miss.
So, in summary...
• 10/11 September: Heritage Open Days, Essex Architecture Weekend
• 17/18 September: Open House, Estuary 2016 (Shorelines Literature Festival)
• 24/25 September: Estuary 2016 (Southend Charabanc)
• 1/2 October: Estuary 2016 (Sound of the Thames Delta), Autumn Ambles
posted 07:00 :
Monday, August 22, 2016Here's a tube station entrance built in 1999, but which only opened to the public this month.
They plan ahead on the Underground.
This is the Rotunda Building at Canning Town station, originally part of the enlargement works for the Jubilee line extension. If you come down from the trains into the ticket hall and prepare to turn right towards the bus station, the base of the Rotunda Building is on your left. You won't see it, you'll only see a door. It's a posh door too, with a lattice design overlaid on the glass, and the name of a housing development alongside. Push the door open, assuming it's not locked, and you'll see a lift (and a 70-step staircase curling round it) leading up to a silvery concrete rotunda at ground level. This exit leads out to Bow Creek, and a riverside promenade with lamps and benches that's been sealed off for well over a decade. Hurrah, a secret section of the lower River Lea has finally been reopened to the public!
Except there are issues. A whiteboard has been shoved in front of the glass door in the ticket hall, with a message that reads "This exit is closed due to technical safety concerns". It's not entirely clear what these concerns are. If there was a problem with the lift, presumably the stairs would still be OK, and if there was a problem with the stairwell, vice versa. Perhaps we're not allowed one without the other, or maybe there's a more global issue affecting the internal environment or egress. A sign I spotted elsewhere says there's a "station compliance issue", which might just mean a bit of misplaced paperwork, or could be quite serious. Whatever, the Bow Creek exit is currently sealed off "for the foreseeable future", I think less than a fortnight after it officially opened.
The catalyst for opening up this entrance is the City Island development, a cluster of apartment blocks erected along the Leamouth Peninsula with foreign investors in mind. Ten years ago their luxury enclave was a hydrogenated fat refinery, but times change, and this thin tongue of land is being reborn as a mixed-use development instead. Bow Creek meanders in two wild contortions as it approaches its mouth, making this a particularly inaccessible location, indeed the most isolated spot in the whole of Tower Hamlets. But new housing demands good transport links, so two years ago a footbridge was installed to link the tip of the development to Canning Town, specifically to the new station entrance. And only recently have the first residents moved in, so only recently has the footbridge opened to the public, providing a direct link to trains and buses. Or rather that was the plan.
"Sorry for the inconvenience caused" is the apology proffered on the whiteboard at Canning Town. But it is a considerable inconvenience, a bleak fifteen minute walk along the dual carriageway, down the long meander and up the Leamouth dead end, rather than a quick dash over the footbridge. It makes a complete mockery of the marketing blurb in the City Island brochure, which claims Canary Wharf is four minutes away, and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park six - indeed it currently takes longer to walk to the nearest station that it does to travel onward to the City. But that's what happens when you buy an apartment off-plan based on over-exuberant promises, as the earliest residents of this "island neighbourhood" are now finding to their cost.
On the bright side, for the rest of us, the brief time the new station entrance was open inspired the Bow Creek Ecology Park to unlock a gate. I've been coming here for years, enjoying the pools and greenery and nesting grounds of this riverside nature reserve, but up until now it's always been a dead end. You could walk down the peninsula, duck beneath the DLR viaduct and head back up the other side, but there's never been any way out at the far end. And now there is. The connecting path to Canning Town station is now open, in daylight hours at least, allowing passage to a section of riverbank that's been sealed off for years. There ought to be a more direct link across the DLR, but the gate in the middle of that particular ramped footbridge remains inexplicably locked, denying City Island residents another form of alternative access to the real world.
"Yay, finally" I thought, as I rounded the ecology park and finally reached that creekside promenade. The lamps and benches suggest this area has always been intended as a 'destination', but building works and/or funding and/or security permanently sealed it off. The promenade curves on for a while too, past passengers waiting on the adjacent DLR platforms and downstream to the edge of a Crossrail construction site. Workers there had previously been the only people allowed to use the special station entrance, but now I too could stand in front of the rotunda and admire, if not enter. What most amused me was how there was no sign announcing this isolated entrance was closed, just a board showing all the planned line closures for the week ending 21st August, because some jobsworth rule decrees this must appear.
And the footbridge, the footbridge was open too! I'd entered a competition to name it back in 2003, and now finally I was standing on it (admittedly a different, rather cheaper design). The red ironwork is supposed to resemble a cat's cradle, and I believe there's machinery to raise the whole thing if anything tall ever sails down the Lea. This being the 21st century there are lifts for step-free access at each end, plus there's bench seating along one side, which is a nice low-key touch. How nice to get a completely different perspective on the river, and to be able to cross to a post-industrial peninsula that's been out of bounds for decades.
City Island's Marketing Suite lies on the opposite side, at the tip of the peninsula, while a fenced off waterside path leads around the latest building works to the blocks already completed. Here I stood in the middle of what the brochure laughably describes as "a wooded clearing", but is more a mosaic of pristine lawn and lean-to saplings. Each block is of a different uniform colour, which is City Island's 'thing', and saves it from being yet another example of tedious architectural Biscuitism. At the bottom of the jet black block a concierge sat waiting to be necessary, while the ground floor snooker tables and comfy chairs lay unused, because these are only early days. But the early adopters must feel quite cut off, and will be ruing the closure of the entrance to Canning Town, for however long "for the foreseeable future" turns out to be.
And while they can't get in, sorry, you can't get out. But the Lea River Park is slowly opening up, and Bow Creek's waterside is suddenly more accessible than ever before. [12 photos]
3pm update: A reader writes "It's open today, well at least the staircase is."
Further update: The staircase remains open, hurrah. The lift is closed.
posted 02:00 :
Sunday, August 21, 2016As the Olympics in Rio come to a close, it's also four years since the end of London 2012. One of the sports that always takes place over the final weekend is Mountain Biking, the cycling event Team GB takes least interest in, with the women's race on the Saturday and the men's on the Sunday. You probably never saw the 2012 event on TV, the marathon was on at the same time, which is a shame given how much effort was put into creating the one-off venue. Hadleigh Country Park in Essex was selected as the location, after the IOC had complained that the hills round Brentwood weren't anywhere near mountainous enough. A sinuous course was designed and installed, with steep drops and sloggable ascents, across a patch of sloping farmland overlooking Canvey Island. The resulting facility was rather more scenic than it sounds, and the good news is that the course is still there, and freely open to the public - a nugget of Olympic legacy that's well worth a visit.
The Hadleigh Park mountain bike circuit lies in the far southeast corner of Essex, almost in Southend, about halfway between Benfleet and Leigh-on-Sea. A lumpy grassy landscape tumbles down to the railway line, and Hadleigh Marsh beyond, a strategically important location as confirmed by the ruined castle at one end of the ridge. The land belongs to the Salvation Army, who had to agree to its change of use, although their herd of Red Poll cattle still grazes across the site so all has not been lost. The Sally Army have in fact been here for 125 years, their long-term aim to use Hadleigh Farm to provide residential employment opportunities for destitute Londoners, and still have several facilities across the site.
I wasn't successful in getting an Olympic ticket, but I came to the test event the previous year and was blown away by the spectacle [report] [24 photos]. So I'm pleased to report that the 5km legacy course looks much the same, minus the magenta hoardings, the food stalls and the torrent of speeding bikes. The course wasn't devoid of bikes on my latest visit but only a few had taken the opportunity to come practise and enjoy, with the majority of younger riders flocking around the concrete bowl and drops of the Skills Area instead. You've got to learn somewhere, and much of the main course is more challenging than an unskilled, or unfit, cyclist would manage.
The difficulty of each harder section is clearly marked, both on the trail map and on the ground, with three categories ranging from blue through red to black. Blue means Moderate, for confident off-road cyclists only, while red is Difficult for the advanced or experienced. The surface of these sections is often rock rather than earth, with stone slabs strategically laid and some awkward gradients. But it's black you really have to watch out for, these being technically demanding obstacles kept over from the Games, and for quality mountain bikes and bikers only. Many still have the names given to them by local schoolchildren, for example Deanes Drop or the Leap of Faith, not that this'll be much comfort if you end up crumpled at the bottom. Rest assured there's always a parallel easier route, so these Severe sections shouldn't put you off turning up.
But the area around the course isn't just for cyclists, think of it as hillside to enjoy. Whilst walking along the track itself is frowned upon, indeed potentially dangerous, there's no problem rambling alongside or setting off up some slope or through some thicket by yourself. The site's also permeable from outside, indeed a public footpath runs straight through, so there's no question of the wheel-less being excluded. Many Essex families make it no further than the grassy brow of Sandpit Hill and settle down to stare out across the action and the Thames estuary below. When you've seen the view, you can't blame them. Beyond the immediate contours tiny trains rattle past harvested fields, Southend-bound flights swoop in over Canvey Island, lines of container cranes shuffle invisible imports upriver, and the low hills of Kent rise beyond a sparkling grey estuarine strip. Bring a picnic, stare.
Ideally you'll visit with your bike. If you're coming from London and don't fancy the 30 mile ride, you can bring your bike on the train, or stick it on the top of your car. Parking at Hadleigh costs £1.50 an hour, capped at £6, with an electronic barrier to catch you on the way out. It's also perfectly possible to hire a bike from the Visitor Centre when you get here, with the going rate £10 for the first hour and £5 for each extra, or £30 to ride all day. I didn't come to cycle so I walked, for around three quarters of an hour up from Benfleet, and fractionally longer back down to Leigh on Sea. It's a glorious walk, if you hit the weather right, with plenty to see along the way.
• Hadleigh Park: Originally Hadleigh Country Park, 2012 has been used as an excuse to revamp and rebrand. The park extends well beyond the mountain bike course, with woodland tracks and all-weather trails, with the opportunity to enjoy a lofty panorama or walk at marshside estuary level.
• Rare Breeds Centre: A short walk from the cycling, and with its own separate car park, this farm-style attraction will greatly cheer the younger members of the family. Meet Dylan the donkey and a pig called Captain Jack, plus dozens of goats and sheep, then wash your hands before heading to the Sally Army Tea Room chalet.
• Hadleigh Castle: Now 800 years old, the ruins of two drum towers and a barbican are all that remain of this defensive fortification, now under the ownership of English Heritage. Freely accessible, and free to enter, this is prime day-out territory for many an Essex family with children merrily clambering over and into all that remains.
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