diamond geezer

 Saturday, March 31, 2018

If you ever wake up and wonder where to go in London today, try this. It's my Random Tourist Inspiration Generator.

Roll two dice. If you don't have any to hand, the top left hand box is a link to an online dice roller.

Read down for the first dice (blue), and across for the second dice (yellow).

And whichever square you end up in, that's where you go. Easy.

[roll]123456
1Hampstead
Heath
Primrose Hill
Regent's Park
Camden
Town
Regent's
Canal
Dalston
Hackney
Olympic
Park
2Paddington
Little Venice
Baker Street
Marylebone
Bloomsbury
Fitzrovia
King's
Cross
Islington
Upper Street
Spitalfields
Brick Lane
3Notting Hill
Holland Park
Hyde ParkOxford Street
Soho
Covent
Garden
ClerkenwellShoreditch
4Chiswick
Hammersmith
South Ken
(museums)
Trafalgar Sq
Strand
South BankCity (W)
St Paul's
City (E)
Tower
5KewVictoria
Pimlico
WestminsterLambeth
Vauxhall
Bankside
Bermondsey
Docklands
6Richmond
Park
Chelsea
Battersea
BrixtonCrystal
Palace
GreenwichNorth
Greenwich

Hopefully most of these places are well known enough that you've got a good idea where they are, and perhaps what to do there. But you don't have to be totally rigid in your destination. Think of this simply as a way to break the deadlock of indecision. Use the names in the box as inspiration, maybe researching whereabouts there is to go beforehand, or perhaps simply turning up and wandering around.

Alternatively, as a reader of this blog you might be after something a bit more challenging. Why restrict yourself to the usual tourist spots when the whole of London is available for exploration?

In which case you need this instead, my Random Psychogeography Expedition Generator.

[roll]123456
1Harefield
Ruislip
Harrow
Stanmore
Finchley
Brent Cross
Barnet
Enfield
Epping Forest
Chingford
Romford
2UxbridgeWembleyMuswell Hill
Highgate
Lea ValleyWalthamstowUpminster
Rainham
3Hayes
Southall
Acton
Ealing
Shepherd's
Bush
HampsteadRoyal DocksIlford
Barking
4Hounslow
Heathrow
Barnes
Mortlake
Fulham
Putney
Camberwell
Peckham
Deptford
Lewisham
Woolwich
Thamesmead
5Twickenham
Teddington
RichmondWimbledonClapham
Streatham
Dulwich
Forest Hill
Erith
Bexley
6Hampton Ct
Kingston
Sutton
Carshalton
Merton
Mitcham
CroydonBiggin Hill
New Addington
Bromley
Orpington

It works the same way - first dice blue, second dice yellow - but the destinations are further flung.

Think of it as having your own random jamjar, but in grid form.

Again, don't feel constrained by the names in the boxes. If it says Croydon, it's OK to deviate to Purley. If it says Muswell Hill and Highgate, it's OK to go to Crouch End. And if you're thinking, OMG I've no idea what there is to do in Harefield or Carshalton or Erith, well, that's the point. I've learned a heck of a lot about London by simply turning up and wandering around, and you could too.

If you'd like a little more choice, use both grids. Roll the dice, and then decide whether you'd like to go to the location in the green table or the location in the pink table.

If you'd like a little less choice, toss a coin first. If you get heads, use the green table, and if you get tails, use the pink table. That could make for a properly random day out.

If today is not the day to go, maybe bookmark this page for later (or remember to click back to March 2018 at a later date).

And if you do ever go, please come back afterwards and tell us what random stuff you found. We'd love to know how you got on.

 Friday, March 30, 2018

The pergola on Hampstead Heath
Lord Leverhulme's hidden folly,
Walkway above, gardens beneath,
It's really rather jolly.



Vines twist round its wooden form,
Wisteria blossoms later.
Hordes of snappers are the norm,
And when it's sunny, greater.

They come to take pre-wedding pics,
In tux and bridal splendour.
Couples coo and purse their lips,
Attempting to look tender.



Step past the professional lens,
Please don't distract the film crew,
Avoid the snapping Insta-friends.
And for your turn, join the queue.

Decapitated tube station quiz
(I came up with the idea for this quiz while waiting at station number 6)

Here are clues to the names of tube stations with the first letter missing.

For example, if the clue was "The last thing you do before leaving home", then the station would be CLOCK HOUSE (but that's not on the tube map, so that's not in the quiz).

How many can you name?

Tube stations
1) Central
2) Lyme Regis
3) Hire crucifix
4) What nunneries do
5) Good clocks do this
6) Former Royal Navy flagship
7) Old village beyond Croydon
8) How and where King Harold died
9) Result of increased time in the sun
10) Village beside the M20 near Ashford
11) Deputy Mayor of London for Transport
12) Where Dagenham's car workers worked
13) How Shem and Japeth described their brother

DLR/Overground/Crossrail stations
14) Henry II Henry IV Henry VI Henry VIII
15) Using software on your smartphone
16) Brainstorm or thought shower?
17) Home ground of Buckie Rovers
18) Who's the Health Secretary?
19) Internal partition missing
20) Where coops are kept

All answers now in the comments box.

 Thursday, March 29, 2018

A 48 hour strike on the DLR has been impacting on public transport across East London. I went out yesterday morning at the end of the rush hour to give the disrupted system a test drive. I wonder if things'll be any better today.

TfL have put together a special DLR strike webpage to tell customers what's going on. It's not especially helpful, except as a portal to other information. Yesterday morning it stated "DLR services will be severely impacted", but failed to say what the impact actually was. This paragraph was later updated to explain what was and wasn't running, but too late to assist rush hour travellers.

The DLR strike webpage also promised that "extra buses will run on key routes along the DLR network", but failed to say what those routes are, assuming we don't need to know. A single tweet at 7:12am by @TfLBusAlerts confirmed they were routes 108 115 135 147 277 474 D3 D7 and D8, but that was easily missed, and hasn't been repeated since. No rail replacement buses have been provided, because TfL prefers not to waste money like that these days, given that passengers can usually use proper paid-for services instead.

In lieu of this minimal information, the strike webpage directs passengers to Twitter, Facebook and email for up-to-date news, and to the Journey Planner for replanning their route. TfL put great faith in their Journey Planner as a solution to passenger disruption, assuming you can easily access it even if you can't. We'll have a laugh at the Journey Planner's expense later.



The other place passengers have been prompted to look for information is the TfL Status Updates webpage. Even this failed yesterday, because the underlying software can't cope with an unusual strike. "There are currently no major line disruptions reported on the network", screamed the grey box slapped on top of an empty map. You had to look to the side to see the DLR was in fact operating a Reduced Service, and click on that to see how badly.
Due to strike action the service is only operating between LONDON CITY AIRPORT and CANNING TOWN and between BECKTON and POPLAR until approximately 16:00. There is no service on the rest of the line. Your tickets will be accepted on the local buses and the Underground and Overground.
It would have been really useful to see this on a map, particularly to get some idea of what wasn't running, but no. Once again the Status Updates page has failed to be as responsive as it should be, and even though TfL must have realised this yesterday, nobody had the coding skills, permission or opportunity to put it right.

And all of this was before I ventured out of the house to give five different journeys a try. Wish me luck.



Bow ChurchAll Saints
Normal DLR journey: 4 minutes
My journey: 40 minutes (28 minute wait + 12 minute bus ride)
In the absence of a train, the 108 bus is very much the best way to travel three stops down the line. Or at least it is if one turns up. Even though the route was running with extra buses, meaning the frequency should have been better than usual, no 108 turned up for nigh on half an hour. When one did finally arrive it was of course very busy, but thankfully capacious enough for us all to squeeze on, so off we set. The scrolling message on the electronic display read "No DLR service today due to strike action", an over-simplified summary which wasn't actually true. By the time we reached All Saints two other 108s had overtaken us, these the promised extra buses ferried in from other operators, too late to be of any use. It would have been considerably quicker to walk, but also considerably wetter.

All SaintsCanary Wharf
Normal DLR journey: 4 minutes
My journey: 32 minutes (26 minute wait + 6 minute bus ride)
The platforms at All Saints were chained off, with signs saying 'Station closed. Refer to information displayed". The information displayed said 'No DLR service from this station due to RMT strike action', and advised referring to local tube, rail and bus maps. The local bus map said two bus routes went to Canary Wharf, the D7 all round the houses and the D8 straight there. I found the appropriate stop down the road and waited for the D8. Five D7s came instead. Some were extras slipped in from elsewhere, essentially offering a free ride, and several Docklands-goers hopped aboard despite the considerably longer ride. I should have joined them, I'd have got there faster, as once again the augmented bus service failed to deliver.

Canary WharfPoplar
Normal DLR journey: 3 minutes
My journey: 8 minutes on foot
Even though Canary Wharf DLR station was closed, two helpful ladies in pink jackets were available to proffer advice on the downstairs concourse. They looked up Poplar on the sheets of paper they were holding, and suggested taking the D8 bus. Or you could walk, they added, which was by far the most sensible option. Poplar's only a short distance away, on the other side of the Crossrail station, and no buses stop anywhere close. I ignored the advice of the Journey Planner, which was a 19 minute Jubilee/DLR round trip via Canning Town, starting with an 8 minute walk to Canary Wharf tube station. And I definitely ignored the 'bus only' suggestion, which was a lunatic half-hour two-bus journey to Blackwall, from where I was expected to walk another 12 minutes back to Poplar. But it was only 8 minutes to walk to Poplar direct, as the very last option on the page stated, and which proved fastest of all.

PoplarRoyal Albert
Normal DLR journey: 11 minutes
My journey: 11 minutes (by DLR)
'No DLR service from this station due to RMT strike action' said the notice plonked outside Poplar station, which was inaccurate, because there was. Management had been operating a limited service between Poplar and Beckton since 07:30, but there was no clue to this at the entrance, so who knows how many potential passengers missed out. On the overbridge above the station three staff in orange hi-vis stood chatting, and carried on chatting while I stood there looking lost for a minute, there being no electronic displays up there to help me out. Down on the platform another member of staff was yelling instructions into a megaphone, but they were hopelessly inaudible upstairs, because throwing personnel at a problem doesn't necessarily solve it.

It turned out trains were only departing from platform 1, but every 8 minutes, which is a better through service than the line normally gets. I noticed that the scrolling message on the platform displays still said ***No DLR service from this station***, contradicting everything Megaphone Boy was shouting, and reality. Only a handful of passengers boarded when the train arrived, but numbers climbed as we headed east, with Canning Town the key draw. The member of staff patrolling the train looked like management, and still felt the need to go round checking our tickets, just like the real operators do. I reached my destination on the Beckton branch in the normal amount of time, barely inconvenienced at all.

London City AirportCanning Town
Normal DLR journey: 6 minutes
My journey: 6 minutes (by DLR)
London City Airport was the only operational DLR station I visited whose posters acknowledged that a limited service was running. 'DLR service until 1600 only', it said, which made me wonder why proper printed posters couldn't have been rolled out in place of misinformation elsewhere. At least a dozen cleaners were socialising on the platform, because they weren't on strike, except there was hardly any litter to pick up along the line because there were hardly any passengers.

A member of staff demanded I tell him where I was heading, and directed me somewhat stridently towards platform 1, whereas I was intrigued by the supposed arrival of a train to Pontoon Dock on platform 2. Sure enough the platform 2 train arrived first, its digital destination blank, and its operator frantically beckoning waiting passengers to come across. An impressively regular service was running, but unusual enough that electronic displays weren't coping particularly well, wrongfooting staff. Still, full marks to the one-off train operator, who delivered a comprehensive and word perfect list of onward travel options as we approached Canning Town.

Alas Canning Town also had out-of-date posters. 'Potential DLR strike action' they said, as they had for days previously, which wasn't helpful when DLR service were actually operating in three directions. The general story seemed to be of a temporary service doing its best, but backed up by insufficient explanation unless you were plugged into all available channels. For those on unserved sections of the DLR (and for everybody after 4pm), finding alternative routes was considerably more awkward, and digital solutions didn't always deliver. With strikes destined to continue until the latest dispute is sorted, it'd be helpful if the dissemination of information was sorted first.

 Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Pedway aficionados rejoice. The City of London has a new set of elevated walkways, now open to explore.



The latest pedways can be found around London Wall, leading off from the southern edge of the Barbican. They're part of a new business complex called London Wall Place, whose developers were obliged to add pedways as part of the planning process, replacing connections severed when the previous concrete podium was demolished. [map]

The new pedways aren't concrete, they're brushed metal, with timber-panelled sides and smart wooden handrails to add a touch of class. If it's Brutalism you seek, look elsewhere. But the overall effect is highly appealing, especially the sexy wiggle one of the highwalks makes to nudge round the remains of a gutted church.



All this means it's once again possible to walk from the Barbican towards the back of the Guildhall at first floor level. The pedway exits an original concrete portal on the Barbican's Andrewes Highwalk, closed since 2013, and ducks underneath the cantilevered deck of one of the new office blocks. It then heads across London Wall, on a jaunty diagonal, to link up with the original Bassishaw Highwalk, which once again has a reason to exist rather than festering as a dead end terrace.

Along this central spine are two elevated three-way junctions, one less orthogonal than the other. The arm branching off here heads towards the other London Wall Place building, then on to a fresh connection above Wood Street. One stretch of railings has been embedded with blocks of soil, from which sprouts a living wall with occasional floral infill, a bit artificial but worth a try.



This western arm is the one with the sexy wiggle, a streamlined meander to avoid the stonework of St Alphege's Church. Down below are the remnants of its tower, the remainder demolished after being damaged by air raids in two World Wars. Recently the ruins have been transformed into an attractive low-level seating area, all blocks and paving, which also offers the opportunity to peer through an arch into an original tiny spiral staircase.

Things to spot up on the pedway include a plaque for the Jubilee Walkway, embedded in the previous highwalk in 1977, and also several skateboard-shaped benches. These medial seats look perfect for bedding down on for the night, so I'm assuming can't yet have all their attachments in place. And yes, this 21st century pedway does indeed include a lift for those unable to tackle steps, although at present it looks a few weeks off being operational.



It's well worth following the central staircase down to explore the environs of Salters Hall, the very modern headquarters of a medieval Livery Company. Two glittering gates stand before the entrance, in front of which is an extra-deep sunken garden whose plants haven't yet properly sprung forth. Workmen are also putting the finishing touches to a water feature at the rear, some kind of trickling trough, as confirmation that the City still has money to burn.

More impressive is Salters' Garden, a revamp of the previous garden in the former churchyard, laid out with square plots, shrubbery and benches, plus triangular trellises as yet unsmothered by green spring shoots. And to one side is a substantial portion of London's city wall, its bricks not the original Roman construction but a rebuild from the time of the Wars of the Roses. As sandwich-munching spots go, it's a winner.



Which leaves the other arm of the upper pedway to explore, branching off to the east along, and above, the length of Fore Street. It's not as scenic, but it does stretch a fair way, and will stretch even further once building is complete. For now descent is via steps, or would-be-lift, along what feels like the most traditionally pedway-style section. The gateline-free Fore Street entrance to Moorgate station lies below the eventual exit.

It's good to see the renaissance of the City's highwalks, once again separating pedestrians from traffic via an evocative elevated maze. Should you have a spare lunchbreak you could pop down for a look around, although St Alphege's Highwalk isn't really a visitor destination in its own right. Its real success is as infrastructure not architecture, remaking connections previously lost, via walkways in the sky.

 Tuesday, March 27, 2018



The Ideal Home Show, formerly the Ideal Home Exhibition, has been running most years since 1908. This year it's packing them in at Olympia, on account of Earl's Court being demolished, between the Saturday before last and next Monday. I assume most of those piling inside paid for the privilege, perhaps using one of the many cut price admission deals, but I grabbed a weekday ticket for nothing using a special backdoor offer for nextdoor.

The Eat and Drink Festival, allegedly "the capital's biggest and best culinary celebration", has been running at Olympia since 2017. It's accessed via the less accessible end of the complex, as befits its junior status, and mixes street food, sales pitches and demonstrations. If you've ever wanted to watch a salesman slice a frilly carrot with their magic knife, or buy airtight tops for every type of food jar, or sample a four course meal blended in a food mixer, perhaps you'll agree with the publicity that this is "foodie heaven".



All your favourite celebrity chefs turn up, not to mention the odd mixologist, but they don't turn up very often and more than likely you'll be left watching some minor chef knocking something up on a hob in ten minutes. I caught the last few minutes of an unsung bloke stuffing a ham hock, but mainly talking about himself, then hung around while a high street pasta chain cooked a carbonara. Their spiel was excellent, from a marketing point of view, and they won us over by handing out free wine while we watched, but I realised afterwards I'd learnt far more about their restaurant menu than the dish itself.

I also squeezed in for a session at The Drinks Station, essentially a cluster of barrel seating with a stage in front, where a chancer from Manchester had come to flog his gin. Again, nobody in the audience genuinely cared about his mid-palate botanicals, nor the lengthy plug for his bespoke distillery experience, but they did willingly knock back the free samples, delivered in plastic thimblefuls delivered to our tables repeatedly throughout. By ingratiating myself at several of the stalls nearby I also managed to consume a fair dose of low-calorie lager, several chunks of unusual cheese and a swig of Kendal Mint Cake Liqueur.



Exhibits from a Royal Wedding Cake competition were laid out across two tables, the least successful of which had attempted to model the royal couple in marzipan or icing. Elsewhere a wide choice of street food was available, although nothing especially over and above what some of London's regular weekly markets have to offer. Given the size of a human stomach nobody could sample even a quarter of what was on offer, and to do so would have cost far more than a full-price ticket, but many visitors availed themselves of the opportunity to chomp grilled meat and/or vegan wraps while a busker played inoffensive tunes on a central podium.

But quite frankly the best thing about the Eat and Drink Festival is that it's connected to the Ideal Home Show proper, and there was ten times as much of that to explore. Two of Olympia's great halls have been stuffed with stalls, displays and showcases, with additional companies slotted in around the upper balconies. This bourgeois bazaar includes everything from bubbling hot tubs and burglar alarms to a showman using a ceramic cutaway to demonstrate his revolutionary toilet cleaning brush. I fully expected some candidates from The Apprentice to wander over at any moment, but seemingly all of those selling mini-massagers and magnetic canine collars were 100% genuine.



All the big stuff is downstairs, divided into Gardens, Interiors and Home Renovation. Not having a garden, that was one whole section I didn't really have to bother with, plus I doubt most visitors have space in theirs for a safari-sized outdoor dining lodge or a full-sized hydropool. In fact a lot of Interiors and Home Renovation proved irrelevant too, given that my landlord decides what kitchen worktop I have and whether the double glazing needs redoing. It struck me that the average London renter isn't going to find much to splash out on here, and that this is really the Ideal Home Counties Show, as the circulating audience of grey-haired couples and chummy ladies confirmed.

I did queue for a peek inside the central showhome, just as I remember doing forty years ago, although the internal raison d'être has changed somewhat in that time. This year's two-storey detached isn't exemplifying good interior design, it's plugging British Gas's smart thermostat system, so every room has labels telling you about some electronic gizmo which could make your life warmer, or more efficient, so long as you shell out £20 a month for a subscription. Nevertheless the bottle-blonde lady following me round took every opportunity to slag off the decor, telling her friend how she didn't like the furniture and why the blinds were awful and how everything was much too dark. Not for nothing did the Daily Mail sponsor the Ideal Home Exhibition for many years.



Close by is the Super Theatre, an open-air space with limited benches, where "all your favourite celebrities" appear hourly. I got Calum Best, who slipped almost effortlessly from telling his lifestory to an attempt to shift his £23 mindfulness-optimised fitness journal. Upstairs his assistant sat silently on her oversized stall, surrounded by umpteen unsold embossed copies. I came back to see Martin Roberts laugh a lot about what it was like to be the man from Homes Under The Hammer, and how amazing he was on I'm A Celebrity, for as long as I could stand. But I couldn't be bothered to hang around to hear Martin Lewis offer his money-saving tips, and thankfully I came on the wrong day for Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen.

For a true peek into the British psyche, however, nothing beats The Distribution Of The Goody Bags. A few times a day free carrier bags of swag are dished out from designated points, and a mammoth queue builds up well in advance because everyone loves something for nothing. Those who get to the front of the queue before the supply runs out walk no more than five steps before pausing to check what amazing stuff they've been given, then continue round the exhibition proudly dangling their haul by their side. I waited less than ten minutes for mine, by picking the much-quieter of the two locations, and can confirm that those in the gargantuan line probably shouldn't have wasted their time.
The Ideal Home Show Goody Bag 2018
» 1 litre of barista-blend dairy-free almond drink
» 3 sugar-heavy cranberry and almond cereal bars
» 1 tub child-friendly mild korma cooking sauce
» 1 packet Colombian-seasoned corn coating mix
» 1 coconut-dipped Raffaello chocolate (wrapped)
» 1 tea bag (and a voucher for £1 off sixteen more)
» Free sample of Sanex 24 hour hydration lotion
» Flyer for German self-watering planters
» Application form to join the National Trust
All in all I enjoyed a fascinating few hours at Olympia, observing how the other half live and learning how to fend off the forceful overtures of salespeople. I chose not to walk away with a magic mop, a bottle of Shetland vodka or a lint removal device, instead focusing on the freebies, and musing on how uncommercial my home life has become. I'm unconvinced I'll be going back next year, but if you ever do, know that midweek rather than the weekend crush is the ideal way to go.

 Monday, March 26, 2018

Londoners love a drink, be that be that from a cosy local, a cool cocktail bar or a secret speakeasy. So it comes as no surprise that Sadiq Khan has just launched his very own liquid brand - Mayorswater - which is now available from a pop-up dispensary in the heart of the West End.

Mayorswater is an attempt to tackle the greatest scourge facing our capital today, the menace of bottled water. The average Londoner buys more than three bottles of water a week, many of which are thoughtlessly discarded, contributing to environmental disaster on a planetary scale. Mayorswater is an attempt to break the shackles of screwtop addiction by providing free bottle-less water where it's most needed, and not a moment too soon!



Mayorswater can be sampled from this exciting new drinking fountain in depths of Soho. Elegantly installed, and minimally signed, passers-by are sure to deduce the true purpose of the stylish green device and nip in for a squirt. Simply place the refillable bottle you always carry with you under the nozzle, press the big silver button and await liquid nirvana. One thing's for certain, this is a sure-fire solution to the issue of plastic waste.

A smart touch is that the water issues forth relatively slowly, in a torrent barely a centimetre in diameter, so expect to be stood here for some time. Use this enforced hiatus in your daily schedule to bring some much-needed mindfulness to your life. Perhaps muse on the damage microplastic is doing to the marine environment, and how you're now helping to prevent this, or smile at the realisation you've just saved £1.29 by not buying your usual glacier-filtered isotonic brand.

Mayorswater is a movement whose time has come, a truly eco-friendly crusade to champion sustainability in this throwaway age. It was particularly exciting yesterday to see the media turn up in force at the new fountain, filming the electric spout in action and engaging in interviews with key spokespeople. Passers-by watched open-mouthed as one cameraman was given a free metal water bottle emblazoned with the #oneless brand logo, handed over inside an entirely unnecessary cardboard box, thereby perfectly embodying the campaign's core values.



To fully appreciate the Mayor's liquid revolution it's important to sample the gushing stream for yourself. Mayorswater has a crystal clear taste, zinging the palate with clean neutral flavours. It bears the hallmark of the very finest London tapwater, but without the inconvenience of requiring a tap, or having to be at home to drink it. Sip deeply and savour the refreshing brew, expertly compiled by the capital's finest mixologists, and enjoy the complete absence of aftertaste as the water glides smoothly down your throat.

Thus far Mayorswater is only available in one unique location, namely Kingly Court off Carnaby Street. This iconic three-storey alfresco destination is packed with cafes and dining establishments, indeed there are numerous places to buy expensive drinks within a few steps of the fountain. How astute of the Mayor to provide a free alternative to the rum, bubble tea and berry smoothies the surrounding businesses sell, kickstarting a sea change in planet-friendly behaviour overnight.
Dr Heather Koldewey, #OneLess campaign Director and Head of Marine and Freshwater Conservation at ZSL said: “London is a coastal city, connected to the ocean by the River Thames. Every day the ocean sends oxygen, weather, fresh water and wildlife into the heart of our city through the Thames and every day we send plastic debris back. The #OneLess ‘refill revolution’ will make a huge impact in reducing this plastic blight and London is leading the way in finding the means to enable it.”
Kingly Court is a busy location that almost all Londoners pass in the course of their daily perambulations. Every thirsty soul walking along Carnaby Street will instantly be drawn through the tiny alleyway and into the food court, telepathically beguiled by the presence of the unlabelled fountain. Convenience will be the watchword as news of Mayorswater's West End debut breaks, and consumption of pre-bottled water collapses overnight. Expect long queues.



A massive three additional locations are scheduled to receive Mayorswater fountains by the summer, only two of which will be in the same place. Punters at Liverpool Street station and Flat Iron Square in Southwark can expect the same pioneering dispensers to appear in their environs, tackling the existing hydration crisis head on. Just imagine how four water fountains will change their lives, and yours, and that of innumerable marine creatures oceanwide.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “To get a grip on needless plastic waste we need to provide simple ways of refilling and accessing free water, and water fountains are the much-needed solution. For years public water fountains have been disappearing from London’s streets; I want to hear from land owners in some of London’s most-visited locations so we can continue returning them to the capital.”
And there's more to come! The Mayor wants 16 other fountains up and running by the end of the year, so is seeking help from London's business community to enable installation going forward. Fully accessible high footfall sites are required, and interested parties are already being encouraged to go online and express an interest. Successful bidders will get their own drinking fountain to keep, and ultimately fund, and become part of the refill revolution sweeping the capital.

Imagine the transformation when rollout is complete and London boasts an initial network of up to 20 sites. With almost one drinking fountain per borough, eight million Londoners need never again feel obliged to buy bottled water. The capital is reverting back to its refill heritage, transitioning to a city where using a replenishable water bottle is the new norm.

And all of this is thanks to Mayorswater, the £50,000 campaign that's already making a genuine difference to how Londoners think about hydration. Carnaby Street's fresh new fountain is certain to be a transparent success, and the future is no longer so hard to swallow.

 Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sorry, I didn't intend to write 6000+ words about my trip to the tip of Cornwall across five consecutive days. That's longer than I was actually down there for. Perhaps this is another reason I don't go on holiday very often.

Anyway, mainly for my purposes, here's a list of where I went and when, with a link to the relevant post and photos.

Fri 16 Mar (pm): St Ives [25 photos]
Sat 17 Mar (am): Land's End [30 photos]
Sat 17 Mar (pm): Porthcurno [10 photos]
Sun 18 Mar (am): St Michael's Mount [20 photos]
Sun 18 Mar (pm): Mousehole [4 photos]
Mon 19 Mar (am): Newlyn [6 photos]
16th - 19th Mar: Penzance [20 photos]
I didn't manage to get to St Just and its associated tin mines, nor Cape Cornwall, so that's an excuse to go back some day. But more likely I should pick somewhere completely different next time, now I've got the hang of this 'going away' lark.

My trip to Cornwall means I've now blogged about visits to 45 of England's 48 counties. That leaves three to tick off, all of which I've been to before, but never written about. One's a bit peripheral, but the other two are within 100 miles of London and I'm surprised not to have made the effort. I'm now looking up the price of train tickets. Ouch, but we'll see.

And finally to PORTHCURNO, a seemingly insignificant Cornish village, but absolutely not so. It lies on the coast between Land's End and Penzance, rather closer to the former, and is accessed via a single dead-end road. At the height of the summer traffic often struggles to get in and out. But digital traffic is another matter entirely, and the data you're now reading may well have passed through Porthcurno on its way to your screen.

Electric telegraphy transformed cross-country communications in the Victorian era, but global communication had to wait for the advent of the undersea cable. Porthcurno was selected as the British end thanks to its location at the tip of Cornwall, a gentle sheltered beach to draw the cables up, and a complete lack of fishing boats whose anchors could do damage. The first cable (from Portugal) landed in 1870, with subsequent connections made to Gibraltar, Madeira and the Azores, then extended to the Americas, India and Australia. A team of signallers was established onshore, their job to despatch important messages to the Empire and to transcribe those coming the other way.



The Porthcurno Telegraph Museum tells their story, and that of the associated technology, in some of the surviving buildings. Chief amongst these is Eastern House, once a key international hub, then a training centre for Cable & Wireless, now a two-storey exhibition space. Head upstairs for a pleasingly-modern take on international communications, and a selection of equipment and memorabilia from the time. Some is technical, even accessibly educational, while other exhibits investigate the social aspects of being billeted to a barely populated cove. Tennis was the favoured outdoor sport, for example, because there weren't enough staff for football or cricket.

All this was very good, but not alas as good as it should have been. A key part of the museum is the Wartime Tunnels, burrowed into the hillside at the start of World War Two to protect strategically crucial equipment behind huge bomb-proof doors. These days they contain additional exhibition space, housing an authentic telegrapher's workshop, a fully working automated relay station and a replica wireless room, as well as showcasing more recent fibre optic technology which enables the World Wide Web. Unfortunately I turned up while the tunnels were being internally revamped, so were closed to all visitors (supposedly until this weekend). On the plus side that meant mid-March admission to the museum was free, but on the minus side I never saw the half of it.



Instead I headed down to the beach, where cables can apparently sometimes be seen after a particularly violent storm, uncovered from beneath the sand. Not on this occasion. Nor was it especially busy, which might be deemed odd for a beach once described as one of the world's most beautiful. I shared the sands with only a young couple sheltering from the rain behind a rock and a hardy-looking old lady wielding an energetic dog. Twitter now tells me the waves had been stunningly turquoise the day before, and the sands glistened two days later, but for me it was not be. Ah well, I had my luck with the weather elsewhere.

To end my visit I trekked up to the top of the headland to view Porthcurno's other gem, which I've been longing to visit ever since Anneka Rice dropped in for Treasure Hunt in 1987. The Minack Theatre is an astonishing auditorium built on the side of a headland, clinging to the Cornish granite above an exposed gully. It was started by an extraordinary woman, Rowena Cade, who in 1932 decided to stage a small play on a grass terrace at the bottom of her garden. Over the next 50 years she, and a handful of stalwart volunteers, gradually built up the facilities until the Minack became a fully-fledged maze of turf-topped seats and winding paths dropping down to the most-open-air of open air stages.



Outdoor performances start up again this week, warm waterproof clothing recommended, but the Minack is open daily for those who want to explore. For £5 you get to walk through an exhibition devoted to the redoubtable Rowena, who was still hauling sand and scenery around into her eighties. And then you get to walk out onto the uppermost 'balcony', and gasp at quite how far down it is to 'stalls' and stage. Pick your route and weave down between precariously-ramped terraces and subtropical infill, past carefully hidden dressing rooms and lighting boxes, and perhaps imagine you're hunting your ticketed seat for Hamlet.

As the freezing rain drove down I was glad I hadn't booked for a performance, but there was one bonus which was that all the other visitors were cowering upstairs in the cafe so I had the Minack to myself. I made my way down to the stage, emerging via the hidden backstage steps, then delivered a short soliloquy to test out the acoustics. It's quite an experience, delivering Shakespeare while craning your head up towards more rows of seats than seems feasible, with the sea thwacking against the rocks somewhere behind. It was at this point that a craftswoman wandered out of the tent alongside, where she'd been knocking up something for the new season, thankfully without saying a word. I took a curtainless call and exited stage left.



The bus to Porthcurno, and to Land's End, is the A1 from Penzance. At this time of year it runs every two hours (less frequently on Sundays), increasing to hourly from the end of May. It's quite a ride. I was lucky enough to get an unnecessary double decker, and enjoyed the view from the top deck as the driver took us on a tour of frequently inadvisable roads. We can't be going up here, I thought, as we turned off up a single track lane with passing places on the way to St Buryan, but we were, and we did. And then we took another one out of the village, past fields of daffodils yet to be cut and delivered to a supermarket near you.

I also got to look down on the Merry Maidens stone circle (it has its own bus stop, but I wasn't willing to wait two hours in the middle of nowhere for the next service), and various unlabelled communications stations bristling with masts and dishes. To reach Sennen Cove the bus descends a long steep hill, probably to pick up nobody, then reverses and crawls back up again with its engine struggling. I suspect the dip into Treen is much worse, but the A1 alternates round its coastal loop at the Land's End end so I never got to ride that section. And the cost? Penzance to Land's End is barely nine miles as the seagull flies but a single fare currently costs £6.80, so best get the £12 all day ticket, and do your best to stop off at Porthcurno as well on the way round.
[10 photos]

 Saturday, March 24, 2018

A lot of bad things are written about LAND'S END, the westernmost tip of the Cornish peninsula. I loved it... but only when I stepped away from the commercialised blemish at its heart.

To get here requires driving as far as you can go - the A30 starts in Hounslow and ends at the gate to the car park. Cars and coaches rumble down the final twisty lane, past a kiosk which later in the season will collect their parking fee. Those who've walked from John O'Groats are afforded a painted finishing line, simultaneously marked up as 'Start' for those heading in the opposite direction, its chequerboard pattern barely visible after last winter's storms. And straight ahead is what looks like a late-1980s carpet warehouse, with white-pillared portico and Land's End written boldly above the colonnade. You're welcome.



In good news, stepping inside this mini theme park is free, as is access to the coast beyond. The owners hope you'll wander into the West Country Shopping Village for something to take away, and the coach parties duly do, picking over the branded leisurewear, scented candles and boxes of fudge. They hope you'll get hungry and stop for a snack-on-the-go or pause for a cream tea, then extend your stay with a meal in the hotel restaurant. But most of all they hope you'll buy tickets for their interactive attractions, especially targeted at children they know will get bored of looking at the sea after a few minutes.



Throughout my visit the Wallace and Gromit theme tune blared out on endless loop, with a member of staff stood outside A Grand Experience attempting to shame passing parents into allowing their offspring inside. I saw no takers for Arthur's World, an interactive mythical challenge in a big shed, nor for the Lost World cinema show, described as 4D because it includes a bit of shaking and squirting. The gloomiest employee sat waiting inside a kiosk entitled Land's End Doughnut Company, mute and inactive until a mother with a pushchair finally put his fryer to use by purchasing a single greasy ring. I spent 25p on a postcard, and left it at that.



Walk round the back of this obstructive cluster and there, finally, is the sea. It's immediately obviously that geography got lucky here. England's easternmost point is a drab coastal defence in Lowestoft, but the landscape at Land's End is blessed with an igneous intrusion of microgranite, and clifftops careering down to frothing Atlantic breakers. A mile offshore is a rocky reef named the Longships, complete with working Victorian lighthouse to keep shipping firmly at bay. Rather further out lie the Scillies, although they weren't visible last weekend, even if you fired up the Talking Telescope, and beyond that three thousand miles of ocean.

This is where Land's End's famous signpost is located, and jealously guarded by the custodians of the alphabet tiles. It stands on a chained-off terrace slap bang in front of the best view, and belongs not to the company that owns the theme park but to an independent family business. Nobody prevented me from snapping my own photo of the post, from a distance, but if you want to be stood grinning beside it, expect to pay. I guess everyone who's walked from John O'Groats coughs up.



To get your hometown added to one arm, plus its approximate mileage, costs a minimum of £9.95. The photographer will zoom in for a professional photo, then go away and develop it, and eventually post a mounted copy to your home address. In this selfie age it's all very old-school, a bit like the service provided by a school photographer. Gary Barlow's had his taken, and Professor Brian Cox, and a Dalek, according to the samples pinned up alongside, as did a family from Nepal and DaveSamantha on the day I was there.

Intriguingly the Land's End resort isn't built at the mainland's absolute westernmost point, which is about 200 metres to the north. That's the delightfully named Dr Syntax's Head, a stubby finger of land descending sharply out to sea and ending in a stump of granite columns. However most of this extremity is fenced off, behind copious signs saying Dangerous Cliffs and a slew of information boards (whose information appears to have been removed for winter). The accessible part includes the First and Last House, which has been dishing out souvenirs and refreshment since the 19th century, although this year's ice cream season isn't yet underway.



I suspect this is as far as the majority of visitors get. But from here the South West Coast Path heads off uphill as a rough track, and within a few strides you can leave the commercial heart of the Land's End resort far behind. I was fortunate and timed my assault during Saturday's single hour of sunshine, and had the subsequent mile of undulating trail pretty much to myself. These scenic rocky uplands are protected by the National Trust, swinging high over sheer cliffs I could only see properly once I'd walked further round.

The path remained just-about trainer-friendly throughout, even where it crossed tiny streamlets channelling recent rain towards a coastal waterfall. I picked up a couple of tiny chunks of sparkly granite I thought would be nice to take home. I paused partway round to enter the remains of Maen Castle, an Iron Age fort on a promontory, whose ramparts now appear as an oblique scattering of rocks. And I peered cautiously down into the cove at Castle Zawn where the cargo ship RMS Mülheim ran aground after the chief officer fell unconscious after a trouser-related incident. The wreck occurred 15 years ago this week, and even now the remains of the bulkhead remain smashed and rusting, jammed into the shore.



My destination was Sennen Cove, England's westernmost village, squeezed in above the sweep of Whitesand Bay. Half its residents live along a single road along the clifftop, and the other half along the promenade (where'll you'll find the lifeboat station, gift shop and chippie). What brings the place to life is its surf school, taking advantage of the phenomenal waves which, on my visit, were crashing in at the lower end of the beach. I stood alongside a bloke with a zoom lens wrapped up in a Co-Op carrier bag, and numerous yappy dog walkers, watching chilled rubber-clad bodies braving the swell. And then I walked back to Land's End.

And then I carried on along the cliffs to the south, for good measure. Daytrippers are encouraged this way to visit Greeb Farm, another paid-for attraction nestled up a tiny valley, whose off-duty llamas and Shetland ponies can be seen for free in stonewalled enclosures out front. But climb the footpath round the back, following the track by the footbridge, and you'll emerge onto what the resort's map describes as Wild Land's End, i.e. nobody's yet wrecked it.



Wahey, this is "I can't believe they're letting us get this close to the edge" territory. The path opens out onto an exposed rocky headland, Carn Greeb, offshore from which is a heavily-jointed granite stack in whose clefts numerous seabirds reside. The next big rock along the shore has even more birdlife, plus two seaward holes, one of which passes straight through to create an arch while the other is 'merely' a cave. Standing here brought my old school geography textbook properly to life, amid coastal geomorphology at its most fetishistic.

The official South West Coast Path traverses a little further inland, but this little footpath hugs the coastline improperly close, ducking down into sodden grass then rising sharply upwards round the rim of a crumbling ravine. Ten minutes of careful tread - walking boots recommended - will set you up on top of the next headland looking back across thunderous waves towards scoured cliffs and a distant four star hotel. Wallace and Gromit are not required, the landscape of Land's End is perfectly spectacular enough as it is.

My Land's End gallery
There are 30 photos [slideshow]

 Friday, March 23, 2018

Meanwhile, ST IVES sits on the Atlantic coast of far-west Cornwall. It's no Penzance, it's quite the tourist trap.

St Ives has a population of eleven and a half thousand (which for those of us with a SW Herts mindset makes it approximately a Croxley Green). It's very much not Croxley Green, though, it's a) absurdly gorgeous b) intrinsically arty c) a bit of a surfer's paradise. There is a catch, however, which only struck me after I'd been wandering around for a while. And it's not just the seagulls.



The town's setting is dramatic, behind a headland at one end of the sandy sweep of St Ives Bay. It's not somewhere to drive to though, if that can be avoided, so the local railway doubles up as a Park and Ride. Trains shuttle every half hour up the edge of the Hayle estuary, far busier than any peripheral branch line has a right to be. Car-based passengers board at Lelant Saltings, where the river may be little more than snaking channels in the mud, beyond which the single track climbs slowly into the dunes and onto the clifftops. It all gets wonderfully picturesque, and I even got to enjoy a rainbow for good measure beaming down onto distant sands.

St Ives is blessed with four main beaches, each with a conveniently different orientation, one of which (Porthminster) spreads out immediately below the station. It's where I imagine families build sandcastles and break off intermittently for kiosk ice cream, but at this time of year imagining is all I could do. The main town is to the north, either up onto the clifftop for those who live locally, or hanging in at bay level for those only visiting. The lower route is lined with what are now holiday cottages, many of whose names are web addresses, in case passers-by fancy typing them in online for next time they come to stay.



The harbour sweeps round to a long stone pier, stacked with lobster pots, with a dinky lighthouse at the far end. Around its rim are a string of souvenir shops, fish restaurants and pasty outlets, plus a (busy) 13th century pub called The Sloop Inn which is one of the county's oldest surviving buildings. I thought the combination complemented the setting in a charming rather than a tacky way. There are also numerous 'Beware The Gulls' signs warning visitors to shield their food, which I smiled at, then five seconds later recoiled somewhat when I felt two webbed feet landing in my hair. It's OK, I (and my bagged-up Cornish Hevva cake) survived unscathed.

For a town of this size, the shops are really good. Fore Street runs one back from the harbourside, barely wide enough for deliveries, boasting bijou bistros, boutiques and bakehouses. Well this is nice, I thought, as a well-to-do London emmet, although I'm not sure Cath Kidston is what the locals actually need. The other ubiquitous presence is the smattering of tiny art galleries and studios, many tucked into impossibly cute backstreets. St Ives has a long-standing renown for painting and pottery, allegedly because of its fine light, and continues to attract the creative to this day. Again there's many an objet d'art for middle class visitors to take home, and livings to scratch for the artists who remain.



I visited when the tide was in, so there was only just enough space on Harbour Sands for a decent game of beach cricket. Porthgwidden beach wasn't much larger, but with no cafe to sustain it only four people had turned up. I'd expect that state of affairs to change considerably once the Easter break begins. That's also when the town's museum opens, so I didn't see inside that either, and probably never will. But I did hike up to the coastguard station at the tip of the headland, and got blown around by the wind at Saint Nicholas Chapel, which perches above the old town on an undeveloped rocky mount.

And this was when I caught sight of the waves on Porthmeor beach. Wow. The swell was rolling in from the north, every so often firing a massive ridge of water parallel to the shore, which eventually curled and smashed towards the sand. It's hard to know if this is normal behaviour or whether I just got 'lucky' with the weather, but I understand proper hollow waves are fairly rare. A shoal of bobbing wetsuits hung out in the breakers at the western end of the bay, occasionally deeming one of the humps appropriate enough to tackle, then attempting not to fall off on the way in. I could have watched for hours, which I believe is the raison d'etre of the alfresco cafe on the foreshore, although its patrons are probably eyeing up the surfers whereas I was obsessed by the rhythm of the waves.



But Porthmeor is also where the Tate Gallery stands, so I tore myself away from the view, paid up and went inside. This bright white building was opened in 1993 on the site of a former gasworks, whose former tanks were incorporated to create a striking circular frontage. Inside are ten main galleries, the majority strung out in a long thin chain upstairs, and the others curved around a central void. They tell the story of mid 20th century art in St Ives, a period when the town was a haven for behemoths like Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, plus lesser known talent like Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. I found it a much more satisfying collection than Bankside in London - relevant and coherent and without too much abstract splash.



Last autumn an additional set of galleries were opened at the far end, hewn out from the hillside, and capacious enough to merit a price hike on the admission fee. The latest exhibition is inspired by the writings of Virginia Woolf, who spent much of her childhood in the town, and has assembled nigh on 100 works with a feminist perspective. Only after I'd walked round did I twig I hadn't seen a single male face in any of the paintings (unless you count the small boy picnicking on a clifftop with his mother and sister), which made a thoroughly refreshing change. But where windows permitted I was still captivated by the view across the bay, both from the inner gallery and from the top floor cafe. Even one of the guides was staring out wistfully at the undulations of the surfers, rather than keeping an eye on the rest of us maybe touching a sculpture.

All in all St Ives was a delight, from its twisty lanes to its sandy bays with crashing waves. Even on a weekday in mid-March visitors had flocked to savour its food, ride its seas and admire its art. And yet therein also lies its downside - a town overtaken by outsiders, its economy externally-oriented and its empty cottages awaiting the Easter rush. Those with the wherewithal to visit no doubt adore the gentrification, but those who overwinter hereabouts may not be quite so enamoured.

My St Ives gallery
There are 25 photos [slideshow]

 Thursday, March 22, 2018

ST MICHAEL'S MOUNT, a rocky tidal island in Mounts Bay, is one of Cornwall's most famous landmarks.



It lies just under three miles down the coast from Penzance, opposite the former fishing village of Marazion. Walking along the sea wall, sandwiched between the railway and the beach, makes for an easy and increasingly scenic stroll. But to walk the last few minutes out to the island relies on the tide being right, and the causeway being exposed, otherwise the local boatmen's services need to be sought.

The causeway is made from chunks of flattened granite, laid together like a mosaic, and snakes its way across the bay. Turn up at random and it'll probably be submerged beneath the waves, because it's only uncovered for about two hours either side of low tide, and even that interval varies, occasionally (at neap tides) being barely exposed at all. I picked my dates for visiting Cornwall very much with St Michael's Mount in mind, partly to hit the spring tides when the range is greatest, but also because the National Trust don't open up the castle until mid-March.



I crossed with a light herd of daytrippers, a pair of joggers, and some particularly excitable children. At one point we had to step aside to allow one of the island's white vans to pass, taking advantage of the ebbing tide to bring in provisions, or perhaps more ice creams for the shop. A narrow band of rockpools lay to either side, all of which would have dried out before my return a couple of hours later.

The island has long belonged to the St Aubyn family, whose castle and grounds take up the majority of the acreage. But the foreshore by the harbour has a couple of streets of houses, where the families of staff and gardeners live, and a boatyard, and a couple of former pubs. One of the old cottages is now a visitors centre, with informative displays and a video to watch - which is especially useful if you're not going to be able to walk up the hill. Alongside look out for twin rails poking beneath a gate and terminating on the quayside, this the lower end of a tramway which still hauls supplies (and definitely not people) through the rockface and up to the castle.



There is always the harbour to walk round, or almost round, following two curving stone arms. While most visitors busied themselves taking selfies at the far end, I spent my time watching a JCB dredging the drained mud and tried to picture how different it must all look at high tide when the sea's six metres higher. At such times the islanders have a unique amphibious vehicle they use to reach the mainland, which you might see parked up beside the ticket office. Elsewhere are two gift shops, a cafe and a proper sit-down restaurant, perhaps as an acknowledgement that there isn't all that much to see unless you pay extra for admission to the private bits.

The private bits are amazing, not least how you get to them. The Pilgrim's Steps are rough and uneven, increasingly so as they ascend the island's rocky core, until it feels like you're scrambling over natural granite rather than any manmade attempt at stairs. The castle perches right at the top, and must have a golf-buggy-friendly back entrance somewhere, otherwise there's no way the 87 year-old Queen could have made it up here on her last visit. What a view there is though, gazing down over the full sweep of the bay... ideal for a gun battery as well as more plaintive admiration.



Here Lord St Levan welcomes you into his home, or at least a National Trust volunteer does, directing you through a series of historic wood-panelled rooms. Portraits of the family are interspersed with keepsakes and vintage objects, it soon becoming clear that the family has a thing for maps of Cornwall, and for weapons of various types. The most impressive room is called Chevy Chase, the refectory when this was a medieval priory, with a splendid plaster frieze depicting hunting scenes. The chapel is even older, matching that at Mont St Michel across the Channel, and is still used for Sunday services during the summer months.

One of the best parts comes when you emerge onto the South Terrace, which is essentially the roof, offering another opportunity to peer excitedly over the edge. Down below are the castle gardens, an intricate sub-tropical delight, but which can only be explored at ground level from April onwards. Don't rush back inside the building too soon. The St Aubyn family live in the East Wing beneath your feet, which helps to explain why through one window I spotted a pair of skateboards hanging up over a banister. It's a privilege to be allowed in, indeed allowed across to this iconic location, tide permitting.

My St Michael's Mount gallery
There are 20 photos [slideshow]

NEWLYN is the next town round the coast from Penzance, originally separate, but more recently coalesced. It's the smaller of the pair, with a population of just over four thousand (which for those of us with a SW Herts mindset makes it approximately two Sarratts). It's where the fisherfolk hang out, and also the place from which sea level in the UK is measured. The Ordnance Survey established a Tidal Observatory at the end of the harbour arm in 1915, then spent the next six years taking measurements every 15 minutes to establish the sea's average height. That datum is marked by a brass bolt set in the granite pier, which you'll never see because it's locked inside a hut beside the lighthouse, which itself is publicly inaccessible.



Newlyn is a major fishing port with dozens of small boats in its well-sheltered harbour, and mackerel historically the chief catch. A drab but functional fishmarket is laid out at the northern end, from which bearded men in woolly hats and white wellies intermittently emerge to visit the neighbouring pub or pasty shop. Seafood aside, the most desirable food in town is the ice cream served from Jelberts, an unprepossessing shop near Newlyn Bridge which sells nothing but homemade vanilla. Queues can often be seen snaking down the street, waiting to sample the single daily batch churned out by the grandson of the original owner, perhaps with a flake but ideally dolloped with clotted cream. Alas Jelberts don't open for the season before Easter, so my tastebuds had to go without.



I also missed out on Newlyn Art Gallery, contemporary counterpart to The Exchange in Penzance, neither of which choose to open on a Monday. Newlyn is renowned for the art colony which settled here around the turn of the 20th century, and an art school still thrives in a building up the hillside which looks remarkably like my former infant school. A lot of Newlyn's residential streets lie sharply uphill, and even the main road descends precipitously between rows of houses with passing places and intermittent pavement. I hiked up some of the back lanes for the view and was left breathless, confirming that living here either provides excellent exercise, or requires expert driving skills.



A short distance round the coast is MOUSEHOLE (pronounced Mowsel (which is important to know if you're asking a bus driver for a ticket)). The M6 minibus runs regularly from Penzance, its dinky size suddenly crucial near the end of the route as it's forced to negotiate a double bend between cottages before terminating on the quayside. Mousehole is a proper Cornish fishing village, essentially a harbour overlooked by hillside houses, although I arrived around low tide when its supposedly scenic centrepiece was a bowl of exposed sand crossed by radially draped chains.



Mousehole is famous as the home of a fictional cat, and also for Stargazy pie, a fish and egg confection which has pilchards' heads poking out of the pastry. No thanks. My alternative culinary target was a Cornish cream tea at the Rock Pool Cafe, but unfortunately they'd decided not to open because the weather forecast was so bad. Instead I frequented Jessie's Dairy, whose sullen owner managed the "tea" part of my request but forgot the "cream" part until prompted, eventually delivered with all the magic of a dollop of jam scooped from a supermarket jar. Most daytrippers seemed to have holed up in the pub, or the posh restaurant, or the surprisingly expensive deli on the harbourfront.



The village wasn't named after the gift shop at one end of the quayside, but after a cave set into the cliffs on the southern outskirts. I hoped to follow Cave Lane to The Mouse Hole, but the public footpath became increasingly squelchy, then degenerated into a mudbath on the final descent, so I was forced to withdraw rather than soil my sole pair of trousers. Instead I got to hike four miles back to Penzance in a freezing blizzard, glad of the gloves I'd pessimistically packed, musing along the way that I really hadn't timed my visit to Mousehole at all well. If nothing else it gives me a good reason to go back.

My Penzance, Newlyn and Mousehole gallery
There are 30 photos [slideshow]


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