Let's visit the locations that lie six miles north, east, south and west from the statue of Charles I in Trafalgar Square (in a post which confirms that random locations are sometimes unexpectedly interesting). [1 mile], [2 miles], [3 miles], [4 miles], [5 miles], [map]
SIX MILES NORTH: Alexandra Palace (on the grassy slope out front)
Having been to some pretty dull residential corners on this mileage quest, this is a proper treat. Six miles due north from Charing Cross lies Alexandra Palace, the heritage entertainment bastion (plus TV mast) on its high hill overlooking the capital. I'd not been recently, and was mighty impressed by the upgraded theatre entrance in the East Court. This vast space has been spruced up with a multi-coloured geometric floor, a rather good historical exhibition (from Wild Bill Cody to the BBC) and the deadest cafe you ever did see. But the precise spot is outside, across the road and down a bit - so not quite at 'perfect vantage point' level. Head down the steps and turn left, towards the tallest tree, stopping where the path bends back on itself. Bingo.
The grass is freshly mown, scattering dandelion heads, lolly sticks and fag ends amid the cuttings. Leaves rustle. Birds sing. Frisbees are thrown. A Green Flag flutters. Up on the South Terrace a double decker bus rolls by. A flurry of foliage blocks sight of Docklands and the City, but the consolation prize is the Spurs saucer, a couple of towers in Ilford and possibly riverside Woolwich. A few steps away behind a picket fence is the entrance to the Ally Pally Pitch and Putt course, unusual in having ten holes. Jack has this month's best score, with 36, while Helen leads the women with a 57. One round plus equipment hire clocks in at just under a tenner, but come before 2pm on a schoolday and they'll let you go round twice. Only two players are taking advantage, and the lad in the hut looks a bit bored. Perhaps they'll ask him for a Solero when they hand their clubs back.
SIX MILES EAST: Thames Wharf DLR station (Scarab Close, E16)
With almost pinpoint accuracy, welcome to a DLR station that doesn't yet exist. We're on the site of the former Thames Iron Works shipbuilding yard, close to the mouth of the River Lea, where a sheaf of railway sidings once ran down to the dockside. After the Royal Docks closed the area was given over to scrappy industrial uses, notably metal recycling and waste management, because the land was polluted and cheap and nobody else wanted it. The DLR extension to Woolwich sped through it on a viaduct without stopping, and Dangleway passengers get to inspect it in unnecessary detail as they rumble all-too-slowly above. The road into the heart of the site is called Scarab Close, perhaps deliberately named after dung-rolling beetles, and is not somewhere any urban explorer should be venturing. Access is off Dock Road, home to five tall readymix concrete silos, a lockup for the storage of JCB diggers and a Brutalist office block abandoned long ago by Carlsberg-Tetley.
This is the very last corner of the Royal Docks to be redeveloped, but plans for 7000 homes are now on the table and even the Chancellor has thrown in some money. The project's called Thameside West, because that sounds nicer than Brownfield Dump, and its residential towers are expected to be particularly densely packed. But they'll only sell if the DLR stops, hence the intention to build Thames Wharf station between Canning Town and West Silvertown. The name's been programmed into the onboard display system for years, you may remember. A major catch is that the SilvertownTunnel is due to emerge alongside, indeed Dock Road is due to be transformed into its northern portal, gushing forth traffic towards a reconfigured Tidal Basin roundabout. Two major building projects side by side is a recipe for pollution, disruption and delay, so don't rush to buy a flat, and don't expect to be disembarking from a train here anytime soon.
SIX MILES SOUTH: Streatham Common (southwest corner)
And back to green again. Six Miles South serendipitously lands in the bottom left-hand corner of Streatham Common, alongside the High Road, just opposite Sainsbury's. Lush slopes, intermittently fenced off with orange netting, spread uphill towards the tearoom and the distant Rookery. Down here there's simply an avenue of horse chestnuts, in full blossom, and a plane tree which may or may not be dead. Criss-crossing paths lead off across the common, carefully following desire lines so nobody feels the need to divert onto the grass. Shoppers trudge by, variously laden, followed by a glum youth in a NASA hoodie smoking a rollup. A gardener from Lambeth Landscapes edges his white van down the footpath taking care not to run anybody over.
At the bus stop a posse of homebound schoolkids in maroon blazers hurl swear words, and in one case a heavy log, at one another. A procession of hearses crawls by, kicking off with Grandad, then a floral tribute in the shape of a football, then various members of his family. The Friends of Streatham Common invite you to a Bat Walk on Friday, a Bird Box Survey on Saturday and a Kite Day on Sunday. Silvana Ices have parked up opposite the entrance to the playground hoping that someone will take their advice and 'try a twin cone today'. The clock on the tower of Immanuel and St Andrew's Church is 70 minutes slow. Dad kicks a football through the dandelions, and Small Son passes it back. 'Celebrate Streatham', says the banner hung from the streetlamp, and here you would.
SIX MILES WEST: Cromwell Close, W3 (Acton, off the High Street)
Acton's smart and dapper, at least in the slice between Churchfield Road and the High Street. Desirable Victorian terraces cut through, conveniently located for shops that sell craft beer, vintage clothes and farmhouse cheese. Turn off Grove Road halfway down to find Grove Place, and turn left off that to enter Cromwell Close. Its residents would rather you didn't because they've slapped Private Property signs everywhere in an attempt to deter unwanted parking, and in the vain hope that pedestrians won't discover it's a cut-through. These flats are rather newer, the central block resembling a converted mill whereas it's absolutely nothing of the sort. Before 1971 this was the site of Acton Technical College, in its later life a campus of the fledgling Brunel University, whose demolition left a hole ripe for redevelopment. No Cycling. No Ball Games. No Dumping. CCTV In Operation. And lots of space for parking.
Through a gate on the far side is Locarno Road, a brief cul-de-sac connecting to the High Street. As well as being packed with Pizza Hut delivery bikes it has two tiny shops, one a barbers and the other an entirely unbranded cafe with space for four chairs outside on a scrap of astroturf. The streetsign high on the wall behind a drooping cable is headed 'Borough of Acton'. Looming across the main road is the clocktower of redbrick Acton Town Hall, as was, deemed surplus to requirements by Ealing council and sold off as a valuable asset. The building's now emblazoned with signs advertising 58 luxury apartments, and its marketing suite and showhome are open seven days a week. Ealing's housing register contains over 12000 applicants, but priorities post-austerity are somewhat skewed.