Three years ago I set myself the slightly ridiculous challenge of visiting all the local government boroughs that touch the edge of Greater London. I'd done it before with London boroughs - the so-called Jamjar Years - but now I was heading outside the capital to see what delights existed out there.
A total of 17 Home Counties boroughs rub up against London, and I've spent a Saturday in each, attempting to visit at least four disparate locations, then coming home and writing about it. The writing about it shouldn't be disregarded, because that invariably took longer than the visit, making this a mighty task that's soaked up seventeen weekends and then some.
I started by the River Thames and worked my way round clockwise, ticking off another borough every two or three months. Unlike my jamjar journeys this wasn't random, mainly because "getting around" isn't as easy as it is in London, so a little more forward planning was involved.
Following yesterday's write-up of Thurrock my circuit is now complete. I've been to Kent, a lot of Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex, plus a couple of unitary authorities that aren't necessarily in any of those. For posterity's sake here's a full list, with a link to the relevant posts.
I've been to suburbs half a mile over the London border and towns ten miles distant, plus villages it's barely possible to commute from. I've been to stately homes and shopping centres, fortresses and vineyards, landscaped gardens and film studios, museums and markets, various muddy footpaths, a model village and a Roman bath. All of this fascinating stuff is out there, not far from London, if only we ever think to pop outside occasionally and take a look.
As with my eight year random safari around the London boroughs, the best part has been travelling around each borough to put a face to the name. It's not until you force yourself to walk from Shepperton to Staines, or you take the bus from Hatfield to Welwyn Garden City, or you alight from the train at somewhere called Lingfield, that you properly understand how an area truly fits together.
The variety has been amazing too, from densely-populated urban boroughs like Slough and Thurrock to rural idylls like Sevenoaks and Tandridge. It's not hard to contemplate a future extension of the capital's boundaries that would swallow up some of these districts, although a number of beyond-London boroughs peter out quite quickly once the commuter belt gives way to the Green Belt, suggesting a new dividing line wouldn't be easy to draw.
A number of people have asked if I intend to extend this Beyond London feature further, to which my answer is currently no. It would be tempting to add Watford, which doesn't quite touch London, ditto Windsor and Maidenhead, then Chiltern, and maybe Basildon, but where do you stop? One of you even suggested visiting all the remaining boroughs that touch a borough that touches London, a kind of second ring, so I've done some sketchy calculations and there are 24 of them.
But that would mean covering an area from the countryside round Saffron Walden to the coast near Eastbourne, so I think not. Don't sigh, you're not the one who'd have to write it all up.
Another reason for stopping here is that I've now explored 33 London boroughs and another 17 around the edge, which is 50 altogether, and 50's a nice round total. Don't worry, I have other irons in the fire, so I'm not at a loose end and can easily think up other stuff to do at weekends. But I do feel enriched to have visited 50 districts, and over 300 individual locations, across a wider area than most people choose to travel.
Sometimes you think you know somewhere quite well, but then you visit it and find out you didn't, but now you do.