The City of London isn't blessed with a great deal of public open space, because commercial buildings have always taken precedence over parks and gardens. So it's reassuring that its planning department has been encouraging the developers of new buildings to provide open space at roof level and, crucially, to allow free public access. The latest such elevated playground opened last week fifteen storeys above Fenchurch Street, and is surprisingly large, and you can just walk in. They call it The Garden at 120.
Head to the new highrise quarter south of Leadenhall Street, a modern maze of office receptions, lunch options and minimal sunlight. Hunt for the alley through the big splayed building, a passageway with a giant video screen on its roof. Importantly don't just walk over to the lift, because staff will give you such a look, but aim for the door into visitor reception where security are waiting. I was expecting a belts-off keys-out check, the detector arch being poised and ready, but refreshingly I was simply waved through and sent back to the now-smiling lift sentries. You press the buttons yourself. It's a swift ascent.
I didn't go wow on stepping out but someone else did, more for the scale of the space than its altitude. You emerge into the centre of an approximate quadrilateral, with steps leading down into the building and walkways to the perimeter. Much of the space consists of raised beds and pergolas, not yet entwined with the abundant wisteria shown in the architects' drawings. Several wooden benches are provided, along with further seating alongside a zigzag water feature. Screens seal off a couple of compounds which contain all the machinery a modern building needs on its roof, including a cage for the window cleaners. The promised coffee cart has not yet appeared.
The place to be is the walkway around the edge, safely protected from the drop by a slanting glass screen. This is great because it allows an uninterrupted 360° view, but less great because it disrupts any photograph you might attempt to take. Mucky glass isn't yet a problem here, but reflections definitely are on a sunny day, echoing the frustration of anyone who's taken a big lens up the Shard. Of course this visual interference doesn't stop everybody trying, or stepping back a bit for that all-important landscape selfie, or wandering around giving a running commentary into a camera for the benefit of audiences elsewhere. Far better to put your phone down and simply look out, and/or look down, and to feel a proper part of the surrounding cityscape.
The view from any high building in the City is dependent on its location, specifically how many taller buildings exist close by. In this case the view to the north is almost entirely blocked by adjacent towers, one the HQ of Willis Towers Watson on Lime Street, the other the so-called Scalpel. The latter has sensibly opaque windows, but the interior of the Willis Building is clearly on view, including crisps and apples piled up in the canteen and the office of a suited executive with the misfortune to be located on the 15th floor. The Cheesegrater slips through a gap between the two, and a refreshingly-clear view of the Gherkin completes the northern wall.
The other quite-close tall building is the Walkie Talkie, the Fenchurch Street neighbour that once fried pavements, and the first City building to bring the skygarden concept to life. Its location leaves a fair swathe of west central London on view, stretching from a turret of the Palace of Westminster and half the London Eye, panning past the Thames at Waterloo Bridge, across the dome of St Paul's (if you stand in the right place) to the lowlier skyline around the Post Office Tower. It's good, but it's not outstanding. What you do get however is a proper close up of the Lloyds Building and its exterior pipes and metalwork, so that's a bonus (plus all the dishes and ventilation units on the roofs of mundane office blocks nobody's yet got round to redeveloping).
The view to the south would be brilliant were it not for the dodgy neo-gothic 1990s postmodernism of Minster Court slap bang in the middle. It is possible to spot City Hall and Tower Bridge to one side, and nothing hides the Shard, but being a couple of storeys higher would have made all the difference. On a clear day the best thing is the uninterrupted panorama across south London from Shooters Hill to the TV mast at Crystal Palace, then the row of hills beyond, and faintly the row of hills beyond that. East London, by contrast, is already disappearing behind various mundane towers, but Docklands stands proud in the background, and the Olympic Stadium can be seen poking out behind a dull block near Aldgate.
These days any lofty vantage point is an excuse for a bar or restaurant, and in this case D&D have taken over the floor immediately below. Their tables won't be opening until later in the Spring, at which point the garden will gain a more commercial feel, but you can already nip down and use the loos. In the meantime a lot of office workers are already using the upper floor as somewhere to bring their lunch, shovelling noodles with colleagues, just as if this were a proper park in the sky. In an age of increasingly private cityscape it's wonderfully reassuring to gain a new public space as yet devoid of miserably excessive regulation.
The one thing to watch out for is capacity, because the The Garden at 120 has a oddly-specific maximum permitted limit of 207 persons. Midweek in week one all was fine, but weekend opening could mean queues negating much of the joy of a turn-up-and-go attraction. The building's website has a Live Footfall Counter to help warn if your journey might be wasted, but be aware it doesn't always work (it was showing 0% while I was up there with a few dozen others). Access is daily from 10am, with weekend opening currently subject to a six week trial. Best come soon before it becomes too fixed a part of the tourist trail (queues for the nearby four year-old Skygarden are atrocious). But hurrah for a City project that's much better than it ought to be, and hopefully heralds a future chain of miniature public parks in the sky.
Are there too many announcements at tube stations?
It helps to know where the next train is going, and when, but how much additional noise is there?
Answering that question is best done with concrete data, so I've been to my local station - Bow Road - to listen carefully to what the disembodied voices on the westbound platform have to say.
Normally I spend a few minutes here so only hear a random snapshot of the overall set of messages. But it turns out there's a definite underlying pattern to what's announced when, and I think I've worked out what's going on.
Firstly, service status. These are the messages that tell you where the severe delays are, what's suspended due to engineering works or whether there's a good service on all lines. At Bow Road this key information is delivered every five minutes. If you're on the platform at three minutes past the hour you'll hear it, then at eight minutes, then thirteen minutes - a total of twelve times every hour. This high frequency means a passenger is quite likely to hear the information while waiting on the platform, but might not, and almost certainly won't hear it twice.
Secondly, safety. These are the messages that urge you to behave appropriately as you move around the station. They vary according to who's decided to record precisely what, but on a particular day you'd expect to always hear the same one. The current message at Bow Road urges passengers to "prevent injuries" by taking "extra care", and "please use the handrail if you need to". It plays out at four minutes past the hour, then every ten minutes after that. You probably won't hear it on a single visit, but over the course of a commuting week you almost certainly will.
Thirdly, security. This is the dreaded See it Say It Sorted message, along with a reminder that CCTV is in operation and an exhortation not to leave belongings unattended. At Bow Road it plays out on the hour and every fifteen minutes after that. That's just four times an hour, which may be less often than you thought it was... at this station at least.
As far as I can tell Bow Road has just three different announcements at present, and a clockface system of delivery.
One announcement plays at times ending in 3 or 8, another at times ending in 4, and another at multiples of 15. That way they never overlap. It also means there are sometimes four minute gaps with no messages at all, and at other times three messages in three minutes. Whatever, I don't think you could describe this as unduly excessive.
One drawback with rigid clockface delivery is that messages sometimes play while a train is entering or leaving the station, so cannot be heard. During the period I was stood waiting only half of the messages were clearly audible, a quarter were partly obscured by noise and a quarter were pretty much drowned out in their entirety. The acoustics at Bow Road's below-ground platforms don't help, but those aren't great odds if staff want a key message to be heard and acted upon.
But are announcements at other stations similarly organised? To help find out I've been to three other stations and stood around on one platform listening for half an hour. Because these aren't my local stations I have no idea if these half hours were adequately representative. Also I visited on a day when it was raining and there were engineering works elsewhere, and this will have affected what I heard. So although what follows isn't necessarily what always happens, I can confirm that none of these stations exhibited the regular simplicity of Bow Road.
The platform at a busy Zone 1 station on the Circle line
Service status: approximately every 5 minutes Safety: every 10 minutes Security: only heard it once Contactless: every 15 minutes
This was messier. The service status message was quieter than all the others, so more easily drowned out, and didn't play at precisely rigid five minute intervals. It also said there was a good service on all lines (which wasn't what other stations had been saying about the same situation). The safety message played every ten minutes, exactly as at Bow Road (except here the content was escalator-focused). The See It Say It Sorted message only cropped up once in half an hour (which was odd at a station that's far more of a security risk than Bow Road). And here there was an extra message every fifteen minutes about the joys of contactless payment, which I didn't hear anywhere else.
The platform at a busy Zone 1 station on the Northern line
Service status: highly irregular, including a 20 minute gap Safety: approximately every 5 minutes Security: nil Wet weather: 12 plays in 30 minutes
This was messier still. If you'd been waiting to hear which lines were disrupted you might have been waiting 20 minutes or you might have been waiting five (I wondered whether this information would normally play at regular intervals but the "train now approaching" message took precedence). The message about taking care and holding the handrail was played roughly every five minutes, which is twice as often as at the previous two stations and verging on the nannying. The See It Say It Sorted message never cropped up at all, which some of you might be pleased to hear, but why is there no consistency here?
The platform announcements at this station were also the only ones to mention the wet weather outside, and boy did they go on about it. The wet weather message was played an astonishing 12 times in 30 minutes, often only one minute after it was last broadcast. There was also one spell where it wasn't played for seven minutes and another where it wasn't played for six, which might give you some idea how relentless the intervening periods were. What's more, the actual announcement was "Information for passengers entering <name of station>. Owing to adverse weather conditions you are advised to take extra care whilst walking through the station as all surfaces may be slippery. Thank you." Those of us standing on the platforms had already entered the station so did not need to hear this message, or else it should have been phrased differently, and basically if you want evidence that there are far too many stupid unnecessary announcements on the tube, here it is.
The platform at a DLR station in zone 2
Service status: approximately every 11 minutes Security message 1: approximately every 11 minutes Security message 2: approximately every 11 minutes Wet weather: approximately every 11 minutes Please look up: approximately every 11 minutes
Finally, the DLR does things very differently. Every service on the DLR runs at least every ten minutes, which means nobody should ever be standing on a platform longer than that. I wonder if this is the rationale behind playing all these announcements roughly every eleven minutes, so that nobody can ever hear them twice? Also there were two different security messages - one See It Say It Sorted and the other CCTV/belongings-related. Also there were no messages here about holding the handrail or service status on other lines, which there were everywhere else, but there was a message about the #LookUp campaign instead.
Most intriguingly, all the announcements at this particular DLR station were clumped. There were none whatsoever for seven minutes, near enough, then a bunch of five messages played out over the course of the next four. You might wait around and hear no messages at all, or you might only be on the platform briefly and hear several.
Which means, in conclusion, I have no conclusion. For every station like Bow Road that organises announcements rigidly there's another that does it completely differently. Certain stations or station groupings appear to have the autonomy to do things the way they want to, or to choose content to better match their local circumstances. In some cases announcements are measured and carefully spaced, but in others it seems they play almost on a whim and can indeed be annoying. Whoever launched that volley of wet weather messages on the Northern line, for example, needs audible restraint. And you might never spot the difference unless you hang around and listen.
Before 4G, before radio, before the electric telegraph, sending an important message could take days. In 1794 the French inventor Claude Chappe found a solution, namely a series of relay towers built within line of sight with a set of semaphore signals on the roof. The Royal Navy established their own system the following year, initially using hexagonal shutters and later two long movable arms whose sequential orientation spelt out the letters of the message. Chains of towers were erected linking London to Deal, Portsmouth and Great Yarmouth, the Portsmouth branch embracing the new semaphore system in 1822. [more][more][more, with map]
Only thirteen intermediate stations were needed to link the Admiralty in London to the Dockyard at Portsmouth, with sharp-eyed operators ensuring that naval messages could be sent in a matter of minutes. The system ruled supreme until the electric telegraph was invented in 1845, allowing instantaneous transmission, and the semaphore towers sent their final message on 31st December 1847. Their arms have long been dismantled but many of the buildings on which they were supported survive... so I thought I try tracing the London end of the chain, starting in Whitehall. [map]
The Royal Navy has always needed a central point of control, close to government, and for almost three centuries this was in Whitehall (between Horseguards and Trafalgar Square). The Admiralty started out as a single building in 1726, and has been described as London's first office block. Over the years it's gained several extensions, and is now occupied by the Department for International Development, but the original wood-panelled boardroom is use and can usually be visited on Open House weekends. It's here that information from distant ships would have been collated, pressing strategic matters debated and decisions despatched to the coast. The first semaphore signal in the Portsmouth chain was on the roof, just to the left of the central portico, and can be seen in this illustration from 1830.
↙ 2 miles on a bearing of 226° (or take the number 11 bus)
The second point in the sempahore chain has had two different locations. It started out on the roof of the Royal Military Asylum, a school for servicemen's orphans on the King's Road, Chelsea. You'll know it better today as the Saatchi Gallery, part of the Duke of York's Headquarters complex. Then in 1844 the mast was moved a couple of hundred yards south to the roof of the Royal Hospital, the splendid Wren building where the Chelsea Pensioners reside. My photograph shows the latter. This low-lying land is barely higher than Whitehall, so no direct line of sight exists today, but in the early 18th century the rooftop elevation was sufficient to read incoming messages and transmit them onwards across the Thames.
↙ 4 miles on a bearing of 229° (or take the number 170 bus)
PutneyHeath is a large undeveloped open space immediately to the north of, and connected to, Wimbledon Common. It's no obvious hill, more a hump on a plateau, but at 50m above sea level proved the ideal spot for a semaphore tower. The main road to Portsmouth has long passed this way, with highwaymen the chief danger when it was only a track across heathland. That track is now the A3 trunk road, rudely slicing Putney Heath in two, with the telegraph originally positioned near the summit a short distance to the north. It's not there now.
This is a mighty strange part of inner London, a sprawl of woodland and recreational space surrounding a tiny, and somewhat exclusive, community. The few grand homes built up here in the 19th century have been sequentially replaced by gated flats and detached boltholes, the iniquity of their presence tempered by the fact that nobody passing by can see them. Accidentally dropping by on the 424 bus feels like slipping into the deepest Home Counties, especially when there are cricketers on the outfield.
The hill's former communications outpost is namechecked by Telegraph Road and by The Telegraph pub, whose inn sign shows two arms configured to show the letter Q (or maybe an X from the other side). All looks welcoming until you cross the beer terrace and read the signs hastily stuck to all the windows on New Year's Day - "For reasons well beyond our control our journey here has come to a close." The former tenants go on to apologise profusely for the late notice, diplomatically not mentioning rent rise that forced them out, and invite everyone to their new projects in Barnes and Epsom. Hopefully the new licensees, if there are any, will keep the name.
↙ 2½ miles on a bearing of 222° (or take the number 85 bus)
The other side of Putney Vale, at a similar elevation to Putney Heath, is an even more exclusive spot. Welcome to the suburb of Coombe, originally the hunting grounds of Coombe Warren on the flanks of Coombe Hill. For much of the 19th century Telegraph Cottage was the only building up here, linked by a track to Kingston Hill and Coombe Lane, but over the years a string of gated mansions has sprung up covering most of the land that hasn't been golf-coursed. The private estate's owners would love to keep everyone else out, but unfortunately for them Warren Road was deemed a public footpath in a legal wrangle over access in 1853 so it remains possible to take a peek.
These are houses which hide behind thick hedges, with lanterns and lions on the gateposts plus intercoms for guests or deliveries. They have names like The Brass Bell or Conjury Nook, and multi-million pound price tags to boot. Telegraph Cottage no longer stands, alas, having been destroyed by fire in 1987. That's even more of a pity because its most famous resident was General Eisenhower, who holed up here in secret during the months leading up to D-Day (as a plaque at the northern end of the road attests). The building currently on site has kept the name, but is of classical modern construction divided up into flats, with a little porter's hut out front. Nothing to see here... and that's the way they'd like it to stay.
↙ 4½ miles on a bearing of 219° (or take the K3 bus)
This leap has taken us beyond the bounds of current London into proper Surrey, not so far from Esher. Before the telegraph arrived this was Coopers Hill, its name evolved over the years into Telegraph Hill, another 50 metre spot height on the optimal alignment. I walked in from the commuter village of Claygate, following the gentle mudbath climb of Telegraph Road to a patch of open public land at the summit. Most of the surrounding land is grazed by horses, making this the first semaphore tower site with a properly rural feel. The beech slopes on the northern flank form Hinchley Wood, which gave its name to the more modern suburb at the foot of the slope.
The Claygate station was a house whose central section included two additional rooms, one above the other. One of the these was the operating room, reinforced with a large diagonal beam to support the semaphore mast which extended a further eight feet above the roof. After decommissioning the property switched to residential use and today it's a smart family home called Semaphore House. The front gate looks fearsome, but at this time of year the leafless branches down one side permit a much clearer view of the original structure. Tree cover still makes viewing Coombe or Kingston impossible, at least from ground level, but that's no doubt why a stacked-up tower was needed in the first place.
This is a lot further out, between Cobham and Wisley, so I didn't get this far on my latest trek (the photo is from a walk I did two years ago). We're now marginally beyond the M25, the motorway running in cutting less than 100 metres away. Poor old Ockham Common ended up with Junction 10 slapped in the middle of it, that being the interchange with the A3... the modern way of linking London to Portsmouth. The Admiralty's semaphore station was positioned at the highest point, amid forest and heather heathland, and this is the sole location on the route where engineers chose to construct a lofty tower. Five storeys high, octagonal and topped by a redbrick parapet, it adds a crucial extra eighteen metres.
This is also the best preserved of all the semaphore stations in the Portsmouth chain, thanks to restoration work carried out by the Surrey Historic Buildings Trust. They even created a small museum inside, including hands-on working semaphore models, which was open to the public on a handful of summer Sundays. Unfortunately further maintenance work is now required so the tower is closed, and may reopen as a Landmark Trust property (sleeps four). It still looks impressive from outside, however, and is a magnificent reminder of a 200 year-old communications plan of strategic brilliance.
Let's visit the locations that lie five miles north, east, south and west from the statue of Charles I in Trafalgar Square (in a post which confirms that random locations aren't necessarily intrinsically interesting). [1 mile], [2 miles], [3 miles], [4 miles], [map]
FIVE MILES NORTH: Bedford Road, N8 (close to the heart of Crouch End)
Crouch End's clocktower is precisely five miles north of Charing Cross station, but I'm not measuring from there so have ended up marginally further west. Take Crouch Hall Road to climb gently into the suburban backstreets, flat roads very much not being a thing round here. Whoever named these streets in the 1880s had a thing about the letters B and C, hence we find Birchington, Berkeley and Bryanstone, as well as Clifton, Coolhurst and Coleridge. The shortest of these is Bedford Road, the only street T-junctioned at both ends, and cramming in no more than two dozen fine Victorian villas. The houses are constructed primarily of red brick with white painted banding, prominent square bay windows and shaped gables. One leaflike decorative motif appears several times on the odd-numbered side. Four of the cast iron lamp standards are original. One of the streetsigns predates alphanumeric postcodes, stating simply Bedford Road, N.
Only from the very top end of the street do you get a sense of hillside living. Further downslope is more intimate, with well-kept hedges shielding small shrubberied gardens. Everyone has two green bins, each displaying a different evolution of Haringey council's logo. Two red-ringed roadsigns warn drivers not to exceed 20mph, not that it'd be possible to go much faster without crashing at the end of the street. Residents Parking restrictions apply only between two and four in the afternoon. A car drives off with a sulking son in the back seat. Another returns with planks on the roofrack. One family's storing a tricycle in their recessed porch, another a toboggan, and one has a plastic rack for milk bottles on their front step. Two houses are out of action behind bright orange hoardings, courtesy of Mulroy Architects and Ingenious Construction Ltd. If London still has middle class enclaves, here's one.
FIVE MILES EAST: Aspen Way, E14 (marginally north of Docklands)
This could have been really interesting - the towers at Canary Wharf are ever so close and Billingsgate Fish Market closer still. But no, the vagaries of compass direction have sent us instead to the middle of the dual carriageway that sweeps across the neck of the Isle of Dogs, a strip of bleak infrastructure which exists so that the nearby financial district can thrive. Traffic thundering out of the Limehouse Link follows Aspen Way towards the Lower Lea Crossing, or veers off here for the Blackwall roundabout. The DLR rises onto a split concrete viaduct immediately behind. Adverts for Easyjet and Santander blaze in both directions on the overpass. A speed camera waits to trap drivers over-enjoying their downhill run. What looks like a pavement on the northern side of the road leads only to a road junction you'd need a deathwish to cross, then peters out at crash barriers below Poplar station. Basically you breathe in at your peril.
Immediately to the north is the Poplar Trading Estate, or at least as much of it as hasn't been demolished for the building of luxury flats. Manhattan Plaza has been slotted in beside one of the DLR's squealiest curves, overlooking the depot, and is currently advertised as 95% sold. Book now for your exclusive appointment and the nice lady will show you the gymnasium, 21st floor showhome and roof garden. To the south we find Billingsgate's car park, also fated to be residentialised one day, and Tower Hamlets' magnificent trafficlight sculpture. This used to be located more prominently but was demoted mid-roundabout a few years ago, and sadly isn't flashing red amber and/or green at present. As for the McDonalds alongside, that's been flattened and surrounded by black hoardings, and may eventually become a pair of Infinity Towers (with a replacement drive-thru on the ground floor). There are more pleasant, better-connected places to be.
FIVE MILES SOUTH: Streatham High Road, SW16 (at the end of Leigham Avenue)
Streatham's high street lays claim to being the longest in Europe (which means we'll still be on it if I come back at a future date and report on Six Miles South). On this occasion we're at the top end, nearer Streatham Hill, slap bang in the immediate vicinity of Nando's. Diners at windowside tables can be clearly seen tucking into peri-peri, forking salad into their mouths or fiddling with their phones while they wait for chicken to arrive. Across the street is Tariq Halal Meats, its windows larger, its counter display brighter, its website more prominent and its meat offering more varied... mutton, lamb, goat, quails. For coffee and e-cigarettes, try Caffe Vape. For disco equipment, obviously Fizz DJ. On a Saturday afternoon businesses are ticking over nicely.
What's unusual is that the shopping parades meeting here both sit beneath enormous mansion blocks. Leigham Hall forms one end of Streatham Court, designed in classic late-30s style by Reginald Toms, hence the lovely coppery-green tiles arrayed along porches and roofs. Across the street is The High, built one year later with similarly Art-Deco-ish entrance doors tucked inbetween the shops at ground level. Look up, however, and the windows of The High are original and miserably peeling, whereas Leigham Hall's have been renewed and look like they might keep the heat in a bit better. I'm not sure if either stillboasts a Billiards Room or Uniformed Porters, and rents must now be well above the original £80 per annum, but how great to live at the heart of things in a building of character.
FIVE MILES WEST: Ollgar Close, W12 (where Shepherds Bush meets Acton)
Here's dull. We're on the Uxbridge Road one mile west of Westfield, at the point just before Hammersmith & Fulham morphs into Ealing. Ollgar House is a 1980s-looking development of three redbrick blocks of flats, the shorter two poking out at right angles from the longest to create square landscaped gardens. It was designed to make better use of the open space behind the shops on the main road, now demolished, and is a resolutely private affair. Gates into the estate are padlocked, signs warn interlopers away, and the only access for non-residents is the access road round the back. Fortunately for this post, and unfortunately for the reader, that's where the exact five-mile marker falls.
Ollgar Close starts between a very modern school for autistic children and a tiny cottage offering French polishing expertise, then progresses past a row of lock-ups and a fence covered with obviously fake-foliage. Before long it reaches the ugly backside of the longest block of flats, where a handful of parking bays are labelled with signs telling visitors not to park here unless they want a £100 fine. I was trying to work out how on earth residents get up to their flats, there being no stairs, when a lift door opened and the caretaker emerged with a mop and bucket. He wandered off to the plant room, a rumbling chamber of grubby machinery, and I carried on walking towards the shrubbery at the far end like I had some reason to be here. The capital's fourth fatal stabbing of 2018 occurred here when an argument on Instagram escalated and a male model was fatally wounded, his killers subsequently jailed for life. Private places always look more appealing from the front.
Thank you for submitting your article "The Edible Bus Route".
Unfortunately we will not be able to use it on our platform as it is insufficiently on brand.
When we commissioned this article we assumed the title referred to bars and restaurants, and that its key content would include all the best eateries along the way. Instead, if we've got this right, you tell us that The Edible Bus Route references a handful of flower beds installed by community activists. Sorry, but this is interesting how?
The 322 bus route links many fantastic foodie destinations, including Clapham, Brixton and Crystal Palace. Many of our readers will have favourite pasta boltholes or tequila speakeasies in these locations. You appear to have ignored all of these in your write-up, instead focusing on locations that do not serve any food whatsoever.
You claim that Landor Road in Clapham is the site of London's first Edible Bus Stop. We checked and apparently it has been there since 2011, so although it was indeed pioneering it is alas old news. How clever of Mak and Catherine to have come up with the idea, and what a transformation, but there are far more Insta-friendly spots than this to see a bunch of crocuses.
Your photographs are poor. We understand you were unable to stand in the optimum location because the benches were occupied by local people swilling alcohol and energy drinks, but it is hard to enthuse over the surrounding raised beds at this scale. Also the whole point of The Edible Bus Route is that the 322 stops here, but you did not wait long enough to get a vehicle in shot.
Our online audience do not ride buses, so need a much better reason to grab an Uber to SW9 and take a look for themselves. The artisan croissants from the Old Post Office across the road look amazing, as one would expect from London’s Oldest Organic Bakery, but you have overlooked their wholesome rye sourdough in favour of a few herb boxes.
The second pertinent location on The Edible Bus Route appears to be almost three miles away, as the 322 travels. This is not the hit rate we expect from a genuine horticultural phenomenon. Sorry, where is this place you call Tulse Hill - have you made the name up? We are not aware of any other sightseeing locations in this distant suburb, and a few piles of soil have not changed our minds.
Again you are trying to pass off a 2012 project as cutting edge, and we fear that our competitor platforms would have featured it at the time (had they been interested). You claim that The Hoopla Garden is a must-see because of its bollards, but we understand that most of these were present previously so merely incorporated amid the planting. Your supposed arty photograph of one of the bollards has cropped off the final two letters and cannot be used.
Why on earth did you visit the site in February? No urban orchard will be abundant with fruit bushes and nut trees in winter, and the garden will not be a "haven for pollinators", as you put it, for a few more months. The edible aspect of your reportage is sorely lacking throughout, and you have focused too strongly on benches and the occasional daffodil.
Which brings us to the so-called Edible Bus Station. Of all the exciting things there are to do in Crystal Palace, why have you drawn this to our attention? The 322 passes the Dreamcatcher Imagination Hub and the Craft & Courage gin dispensary, not to mention Tamnag Thai, but you have chosen instead to write at length about four barely-visible overgrown triangular plots behind some railings. They do not compare.
If you are considering a rewrite, we suggest a post-Brexit angle. What would a truly Edible Bus Route look like? Might communities pull together to make a success of sudden food shortage? Is there scope to plough up roadside verges to grow vegetables and feed the nation? How much sustainable jam could urban blackberries provide?
As things stand, however, your description of three small cultivated spaces along a six mile bus route lacks any kind of engagement. The only Edible Bus Route we want to read about starts with brunch at Minnow, stops off for gentrified cuisine in Brixton's covered market and finishes off with a gelato from Four Hundred Rabbits.
Come back to us when you've learned to prioritise commercial opportunity over well-meaning sustainability.
The Count 2019 - half-time update (with approximate change since 2018)
Count 1) Number of visits to this blog:much the same Count 2) Number of comments on this blog:down Count 3) Number of words I wrote on this blog:up Count 4) Number of hours I sleep:slightly up Count 5) Number of nights I go out and am vaguely sociable:down Count 6) Number of bottles of Becks I drink:nil Count 7) Number of cups of tea I drink:same Count 8) Number of trains I travel on:up Count 9) Number of steps I walk:well up Count 10) The Mystery Count:nil
Which London river has the longest journey to the sea?
Now that's an excellent question. Every London river eventually reaches the Thames, it's just a case of how long it takes to get there. But which takes longest of all?
It's not in east London. That's the half closest to the Thames estuary, so those rivers get there fastest. It's not in south London. There are remarkably few rivers along the southern edge of London, because the underlying chalk drains the water away. It's not in central London, because everything other than the Thames was piped underground years ago. So it's somewhere to the northwest.
Northwest London's major rivers are the Brent, the Crane and the Colne, with the Colne marking the approximate western edge of the capital. From the map it looks likely that the River Pinn, a tributary of the Colne rising near Harrow (top left), would have the furthest to travel. But there is a thinstrip of Greater London, about two miles long and less than a mile wide, which can easily beat that. It lies between Borehamwood and High Barnet, and I've shaded it vaguely yellow on the map above.
Raindrops landing on this side of the watershed gather as tiny streams which flow straight out of London, away from the Middlesex scarp, forming the headwaters of the Mimmshall Brook. This peculiar river flows due north along the line of the A1(M), past Potters Bar, before joining up with the source of the RiverColne in North Mymms. That's five miles outside the capital. From here our raindrops follow the Colne southwest towards Watford and Rickmansworth, before finally returning to London below Harefield. The Colne then flows south through Uxbridge to Staines where it joins the Thames, before meandering on towards central London and eventually the North Sea. By my calculations that's well over 100 miles, on an extraordinary journey from the edge of Barnet to the mouth of the Thames estuary.
At one end of this peripheral strip is the village of Monken Hadley. This delightful ridgetop outpost runs north from Barnet High Street, and was the site of a major battle during the Wars of the Roses. At its heart is a long village green faced by period buildings, with quaint duckponds amid grass that's somewhat waterlogged at present. Raindrops landing on the eastern side of this watershed eventually end up in the tiny Monken Mead Brook, which becomes the Pymmes Brook and joins the Lea in Tottenham. Raindrops landing on the western side are in the catchment area of the Mimmshall Brook, so face a trip via Watford and Staines instead.
But the drainage trenches on the village green don't actually join up with any river, at least not on the surface, so I headed off in search of a proper stream on the neighbouring golf course. Old Fold Manor tolerates ramblers only because a public footpath crosses its 18 holes, please stick to the path which is marked by blue posts, no liability will be taken etc etc. I thought I'd found a genuine river round the back of the clubhouse, but this only fed the moat, which on any other quest I'd have been excited about but not on this one. No other water hazards were evident on my mid-fairway hike, which I do not especially recommend. The only downhill stripe of blue on my OS map is currently being hidden within a pipe by a swarm of dumper trucks, busy relandscaping alongside the eleventh hole. So, moving on...
The backstreets of High Barnet, to the northwest of the town centre, are attractively Victorian in parts. They stop where the Green Belt kicks in, but the boundary of Greater London runs precisely two fields further out, leaving space for tiny streamlets to be formed. One starts amid a grubby smallholding off the St Albans Road, grazed by ponies, then immediately exits into Hertfordshire through another golf course (where Seve Ballasteros has morphed it into various upmarket water features). I did not go that way. Neither did I enter the locked nature reserve behind the Barnet Countryside Centre, because the council sold that off a few years back and a children's hospice is arising instead.
But in the meadows beyond Old Fold View, success. A pipe emerges at the bottom of Queen Elizabeth Boys' School's playing field, weaves through a brief woodland corner and emerges into open fields. Here at last was a definitive source of the Mimmshall Brook, whose waters were about to undertake the 100+ mile journey described earlier. These pastoral fields are leased to Barnet Livery Stables, who are willing to "tolerate local dog owners" with one or two pets but absolutely not professionals with a pack (according to Joan's angry letter tied to a lamppost). I was glad I'd brought my walking boots, because heels and hooves had turned all approaches to the tiny footbridges into a mudbath.
An even longer river journey begins on the slopes below Arkley, one of London's most exclusive residential addresses. Arkley Hill is also the highestsummit in north London, the peak marked by an amazing hexagonal-chambered concrete water tower. All the rain that falls to the south of Barnet Road drops steeply into the valley of the Dollis Brook, which leads to the Brent and so to the Thames, whereas rain falling to the north travels fifty miles further.
Close to the water tower I found a ditch running downhill alongside Rowley Lane, and a planked footbridge into Rowley Green Common, but the bed was dry which at this time of year suggests it's nothing significant. The only important headwaters hereabouts rise amid Arkley Golf Course, adjacent to what's simultaneously the 9th and 18th hole, obscured by the covered reservoir. I had to retrace my steps and follow Arkley Lane, a former packhorse track that now peters out towards the Barnet By-pass. Past elite commuter hideaways and a string of retirement boltholes, I followed the wooded twists downhill until a silvery glint appeared behind a locked gate. This tiny tributary of the Mimmshall Brook is the London river with the longest journey to the sea, less than half a mile complete and over 100 to go.
As a postscript, it's not quite that simple. The Mimmshall Brook is incredibly unusual for southern Britain in that it disappears underground rather than flowing directly into another river. At a hamlet rightly named Water End, the river sinks into the chalk through a series of swallow holes, a landscape feature more normally associated with the Peak District or Yorkshire Dales. At times of high rainfall the holes back up and flood, overflowing along a dry channel into the headwaters of the River Colne one mile distant.
In such circumstances, yes, raindrops from Barnet do indeed take a huge detour to the sea. But tests with coloured dyes have shown that most of the time groundwater from the Mimmshall Brook instead percolates gradually to the east, emerging through springs into the River Lea near Hertford. This is the largest known enclosed karstic drainage system in England, covering approximately 32 km², and just reading about it is enough to make me want to start studying physical geography again. But it also provides a route to the Thames which, though roundabout, is 40 miles shorter, and this perhaps invalidates Arkley's claim.
If we choose to discount the Mimmshall Brook then the London river with the longest journey to the sea is probably the set of streams that rise on StanmoreCommon and cross immediately into Hertfordshire. These join up with the Tykes Water, which is Borehamwood's main river, and flow north to join the River Colne the other side of Radlett. This route's about five miles shorter than from Arkley, though still well over the 100 mile mark. Unfortunately it's complicated by the presence of Aldenham Reservoir just beyond the M1, and that's a whole other can of worms, so perhaps we shouldn't allow this either.
In which case the uncontroversial winner would be the River Pinn, a twelve-mile suburban backwater once known as the Ruislip Brook, which rises above Harrow Weald and finally reaches the Colne near Yiewsley. It's good for a stroll, and there's a nice pub at the summit called The Case Is Altered from which you can survey the ridiculously long journey ahead. Who'd be a raindrop?
Obviously it's about me going on about things that interest me, that's a given. But what is it that interests me? (or at least, what is it that interests me enough to tell you all about it?)
I like that the blog's not easily definable. I like that when you click through to read it each day you generally have no idea quite what's coming next. But you do roughly know what you're going to get, most of the time, even if you don't know precisely what the next offering's going to be.
So I've trawled back through the last 100 days on the blog, that's all the way back to 5th November 2018, to see what that tells me about what this is all about.
Firstly, the blog's very much about London. 71 out of the last 100 days have featured a post specifically about something in the capital. That perhaps isn't surprising because it's where I live, and London is big, but it does confirm that I write a lot that's location-specific. Only 5 days focused on a particular place outside London, mostly not very far out of London, but then it is winter and I've not been travelling very far afield of late. And that leaves roughly a quarter of my posts not specifically tied down to any particular location. You get more geography and less opinionated navel-gazing on this blog.
There is probably one thing you think this blog is often about, and that's transport. And yes, there is a lot of that. By my calculations 45 of the last 100 days have focused on something transportational, although my definition of transport is quite broad and would include yesterday's post about a footbridge, dissecting something TfL has implemented or writing about a walking app. Breaking down those 45 days by mode, ten of them focused on buses, nine on the tube and another eight on different types of rail transport (including Crossrail). Roads, canals, ferries and walking managed about three each, and maps came up a fair few times. So yes, it appears I blog about transport just under half the time, but without over-focusing on one particular type.
The other thing this blog is about is place. Of the 55 days I wasn't going on about transport, 35 featured a post about a particular location, or locations, explored in some detail. About a quarter of those were touristy places to visit, like stately homes, museums or art galleries, but the rest were mainly general neighbourhoods, administrative areas or landscape features. I do like picking a place and telling you about it, particularly if it's a bit off the beaten track, and am particularly keen on going somewhere simply because it's there.
If you're keeping tally, that means only about 20% of the posts on this blog aren't about transport or place. I enjoy recounting anecdotes from my daily experience. I have a penchant for trawling back through my diary. I like the challenge of trying to explain something scientific. I revel in setting you a quiz or puzzle. If I want to talk about jigsaws or the pop charts I will. I don't do politics very often (only 2 of the last 100 posts, in case you thought it was more). But generally the blog's not about me, it's about the world around me.
As for tone of voice, the blog's not as nitpicky or downbeat as you might think it is. About a quarter of the last 100 posts had an element of "well this isn't very good is it?" within them, but only in about ten cases was it the main focus of the piece. Generally I try to be neutral, or positive, or simply to reflect what I see without laying the value judgements on thick. I could be less sanctimonious sometimes, especially when I'm no expert, but when something isn't right it's only fair to call it out.
Overall, if there's one thing I suspect truly defines this blog, it's that I actually visit the places that I write about. A lot of the media publish stories based on press releases they've been sent, using the attached images or nabbing them off Google, whereas I invariably get off my backside and go there myself. Partly that's because I want my own photos, but mainly it's because I can collect background detail and additional observations I'd never get unless I went in person. Also, I have the time. I'm not up against a deadline, or trapped in an office, so if it takes an hour and a half to get somewhere and another three hours to wander around, so be it.
Totting up my last 100 blogging days, as many as 66 of them involved me writing about somewhere I'd visited. That's two-thirds of posts based on first-hand evidence, two-thirds requiring a journey of some kind. In fact 21 of those 66 were specifically about a journey, be that a ride on a bus, a trip down a street or a walk following a dead canal. I do enjoy the narrative possibilities that a journey of some kind provides, hence you've been reading about journeys around 20% of the time.
One final thing you've probably noticed is that several of my posts are about multiple locations. Here are four places three miles from the centre of London, this is what's happening at ten different Crossrail stations, that kind of thing. I do like to compare place X with place Y, or tick off as many examples of type Z as I can, which generally makes for a meatier post. It also sets me a challenge I call blogger orienteering, which is how to visit all the places on my list as efficiently as possible. Once I've identified ten former Woolworths, or 18 art galleries, or five pre-Worboys road signs, what fun it is to plan the route. About 20% of my last 100 days' posts have followed this kind of pattern. It keeps me busy.
So I think I have an answer to what this blog's all about. It's about all sorts of things, but especially places and London and travelling around.
diamond geezer is my notes from an ongoing London-based geography field trip.
Although central London is well blessed with Thames crossings, a gap of over a mile exists between Vauxhall Bridge and Chelsea Bridge. To help fill the hole a new bridge for pedestrians and cyclists is planned to be built between Nine Elms and Pimlico, unexcitingly called the Nine Elms Pimlico Bridge. Wandsworth council and local developers on the south bank are keen, so are stumping up expertise and cash, whereas Westminster council and residents on the north bank prefer to tut occasionally and see what happens.
It's been a long time coming. An initial feasibility study was carried out in 2013 and a winning design announced in 2015. Precise location proved controversial, so in 2017 to break the impasse nine options were proposed (numbered 1-9 on the map above). Last year these were narrowed down to just three (that's 4, 7 and 8), and last week option 4 was declared the winner. It still has to be ratified at a Wandsworth council committee meeting tomorrow evening, and only then can a proper design be undertaken and planning permission sought, so we're still at least five years off it ever being opened. But the NEPB would be a nice-to-have, and might even beat other Thames crossings in East London to completion.
Here's where the northern end would land. This is the riverbank alongside Grosvenor Road, just to the west of Claverton Street. It's the last open section before a residential stretch, complete with benches, cycle hire docking station and a proper red telephone box. It's currently possible to park here, which may no longer be the case if the bridge is built. It boasts some splendid plane tress, which should be OK because the proposed design has a minimal onshore footprint, spiralling out around a mast in the river. And it's precisely halfway between Vauxhall and Chelsea Bridges, which geographically is as good as it gets.
The two unchosen options each landed further east. One would have launched off from Pimlico Gardens, a historic patch of greenspace opposite St George's Square, and the other would have taken out two private tennis courts used by residents of monolithic Dolphin Square. These are prime well-heeled neighbourhoods, whose collective population was less than thrilled at hoi polloi cyclists and pedestrians being funnelled through their riverside backwater. At the selected location the adjacent land is covered by the postwar Churchill Gardens estate, originally social housing, so relatively less likely to complain.
Unusually the bridge will cross the Thames obliquely rather than heading directly across. The shortest route would have landed amid the Riverlight development, three of the first towers of 21st century flats to erupt along the Nine Elms shore. It wouldn't do to interrupt the bars and restaurants already trading, with their sourdough pizza specials and eight quid octopus starters. Instead the bridge will curve upstream in a gentle arc to land somewhere that isn't housing yet, which is damned clever because nobody who's ultimately going to move in yet knows to object.
It's not presently possible to visit the point where the bridge will touch down on the southern bank. That's because this wedge of ex-industrial riverside is under occupation by the Thames Tideway project and their squadrons building a sewage tunnel beneath the river. From Kirtling Street little can be seen of the vast white shed by the foreshore, only a broad overhead conveyor belt transferring spoil from the 60m deep shaft onto waiting barges. Engineers expect to be on site until 2022, only after which can bridge construction potentially begin. This worksite is also due to become Phase 7 of the Battersea Power Station development, the final enclave of upscale flats, and at time of writing Phase 3 is only just getting off the ground.
Meanwhile Phase 6 nextdoor is currently Cringle Dock Waste Transfer Station, an unsightly terminal used to despatch municipal waste from four inner London boroughs downstream to the incinerator in Bexley. It stinks, which didn't used to be a problem when this was the derelict back of beyond, but isn't ideal amid a luxury development. So important is this facility that's it's scheduled to be rebuilt and modernised, then enclosed inside an eco-box before being surrounded by a horseshoe of lofty flats. Future residents will have to put up with living somewhere rubbish, and I'm not sure being perfectly positioned to use the new bridge will tip the balance.
It is however this proximity to Battersea Power Station that's getting the footbridge project funded. They want maximum accessibility, which is why they've paid millions to hijack the Northern line and have opened a Thames Clipper pier outside (as yet very quiet). Better cycling connections can only boost long-term apartment sales, and who knows, the independent-minded citizens of Pimlico might one day appreciate a link to some new local shops.
A couple of months ago, coincident with the introduction of the December 2018 tube map, these splendid heritage posters popped up all across the tube network.
They appeared, no more than once per platform, in place of the vinyl tube map stuck to the outside of the 'Station Closed' sign. Importantly they were only applied to the older kind of 'Station Closed' sign, not the new sort which has a glass cover. But this meant a significant number of tube map posters vanished from the Underground network overnight.
Unfortunately TfL slapped up the new heritage posters before fully mitigating the disappearance of the tube maps underneath. When I surveyed part of the network in December, visiting 72 platforms altogether, I discovered that 22 no longer displayed a tube map and five no longer displayed any maps at all. That's no great success, and I said so.
It's exceptionally rare for TfL to respond officially to something I've posted - I could count the number of times it's happened on the toes of one sloth. But in this case their Senior Press Officer got in touch by email within a few hours and explained the following.
"We have noticed with interest your blogpost this morning about the new heritage boards at stations. Just so you are aware - we are working to put Tube maps up at any platforms that no longer have one due to the new heritage boards. Additional poster frames are also planned to be installed at stations in the coming weeks. And just for the avoidance of doubt - this was all planned prior to your blogpost this morning."
So I've waited a couple of months and gone back to see what's been done. If you want a spoiler, a costly process has been undertaken inconsistently without yet finishing the job.
Firstly I revisited the five platforms I'd spotted no longer had any maps at all.
1) Mornington Crescent, Northern line (southbound)
2) Embankment, Northern line (northbound)
3) Stepney Green, District line (eastbound)
4) Bromley-by-Bow, District line (eastbound)
5) Plaistow, District line (eastbound)
At Mornington Crescent southbound, kerching, a tube map was back. The platform only has one map-sized poster frame, which previously had been covered over by a heritage poster leaving passengers bereft. But that frame once again contained the necessary map... so, one success.
At Embankment northbound, same again, a fresh map had appeared. I was only for there a couple of minutes but observed four different people stop to use it, which goes to show how inconvenient its disappearance must have been.
Also notice that this is a brand new vinyl tube map, print date 'December 2018', using the same expensive fireproofing TfL had been so keen to avoid. If there is money to be saved, it is not being saved yet.
At Stepney Green and Bromley-by-Bow, eastbound, similar action has been taken. A bespoke tube map has been printed and stuck up in place of the heritage poster stuck up prematurely, so passengers once again have something to peruse.
But at Plaistow this has not happened.
Plaistow's eastbound platform displays no maps whatsoever, because the only space that used to hold one continues to celebrate the District line's 150th anniversary. It's baffling that Stepney Green and Bromley-by-Bow can have been updated, but Plaistow in identical circumstances two stops down the line has been overlooked. So far that's 20% failure, 80% success.
Next I went back to the three platforms which had previously only displayed a night tube map, and no longer any map showing daytime services.
6) Holborn, Central line, westbound 7) Holborn, Central line, eastbound 8) Liverpool Street, Central line, eastbound
At Holborn, success. Before December each platform had displayed a tube map and a night tube map, but then the tube map was covered over leaving only the far less useful overnight alternative. Now a proper vinyl map is back, on both platforms, restoring customers' ability to plan ahead.
n.b. The night tube maps on the Central line platforms at Holborn are still December 2017 versions, which show Whitechapel as closed and the Night Overground extending only as far as Dalston Junction. That's very poor asset management. The more carefully I look, the more I'm convinced that TfL don't have a overall grasp on what maps they have in which frames on which platforms.
n.b. Also, the new fireproof tube map on the westbound platform has been stuck on really badly, much too low in its frame, revealing that the blue heritage poster is still there underneath. At least that should mean TfL won't need to print a whole new set of heritage posters when this debacle is finally resolved.
But when I went back to Liverpool Street, nothing had changed. Passengers on the eastbound platform can view two night tube maps, one at each end, or a blue heritage poster in the middle, but no tube map. It may not be a mapless platform, but neither of the maps provided are what's required. So that's two failures and six successes out of eight.
Next I double-checked my local station, Bow Road, to see what had happened on its platforms.
Nothing new had happened. Before December Bow Road's platforms used to display a tube map and a tube/rail map, but then the tube map was covered over and now only the tube/rail map remains. TfL have obviously decided that a tube/rail map will do, so no money needs to be spent adding an expensive sticker tube map as well.
A pair of maps - one tube, one tube/rail - has been the default display on a very large number of tube platforms for many years. On such platforms the tube map was always on the Station Closed board, and the tube/rail map usually in an ordinary frame alongside. Covering over every fireproof tube map has left just the tube/rail map, which isn't optimal but avoids wasting any additional resources at this stage. Hopefully the glass frames will get tube maps the next time a reprint is posted, but for now no serious navigational damage is being done.
While I was travelling around the network I also spotted several other idiosyncrasies. Bethnal Green and Mile End (eastbound) have both been given new fireproof vinyl maps despite there being a tube/rail map passengers could consult instead, suggesting that the latest rollout has been inconsistent. West Ham's northbound Jubilee line platform has been given a new fireproof vinyl map but its southbound counterpart, in an identical state of maplessness, has not. And Paddington eastbound on the Bakerloo line turns out to be another entirely mapless platform, with only a blue heritage poster and a big frame where a paper tube map could be, but isn't. This is Paddington, for heaven's sake, not some minor backwater.
So when TfL's Senior Press Officer told me "we are working to put Tube maps up at any platforms that no longer have one due to the new heritage boards", I know of at least three platforms that have been overlooked (Plaistow, Liverpool Street, Paddington) and there are probably several more. And when he said "additional poster frames are also planned to be installed at stations in the coming weeks", that number of weeks is greater than seven, because I've seen no evidence anywhere yet of any new frames going up.
Here's the overconfident finale to the aforementioned Freedom of Information request.
I can confirm that TfL's "thorough investigation" was not as thorough as it should have been, and has therefore disadvantaged customers. I can also confirm that they have not "made the latest version of the map available as a temporary measure" at all of the stations where it's required. Instead, by sticking up heritage posters before they had considered the consequences of their actions, they've ended up spending more money on "expensive to produce" fireproof maps than originally intended.
One day all of this will be sorted, and it will be no problem at all. Every platform will have a tube map, and numerous platforms will have a heritage poster passengers will enjoy. In the meantime this has been a classic example of a new project implemented before sufficient thought had been given to the consequences, imperfectly mitigated after deficiencies had been spotted, and glossed over with reassuring words not fully backed up by actions.