diamond geezer

 Thursday, October 31, 2019

Last week the Mayors of Tower Hamlets and Newham came together to open a new ramp beside Bow Creek at Canning Town. The administrative geography of the location is complex, thanks to interlocking peninsulas, the ramp being in one borough but the onward connection being to the other. The ramp took nine months to build and cost £593,000 as part of a long term plan to increase accessibility along the last miles of the Lea. I was surprised, therefore, to discover than it unlocks nothing new.



I've been reporting on plans to connect up the lower Lea for more than ten years. The problem is that south of Bow Locks what footpaths there are tend to be dead ends, so even the official Lea Valley Walk gives up and follows the canal to Limehouse instead. Originally the new riverside path was to be called the Fatwalk, but thankfully someone recognised that was a dreadful name and now it's the Leaway instead. And it's that Leaway name which has now appeared on a big sign beside the A13 flyover, and which is written in the pavement at the top of the ramp too.



The ramp's barely 50m long and runs immediately alongside the DLR (whose trains rush past behind a high fence). A metal sign at the top of the slope points towards Bow Creek Ecology Park and something optimistically called Canning Town Riverside, which it turns out is a cluster of vandalproof benches and a litter bin overlooking what's either a brimming river or a muddy trench, tides permitting. I bet it looks more enticing in the summer. This is one of only two locations in London where I've ever thought "Uh oh, I'm about to be mugged", and although that never happened this additional connectivity can only be a good thing.

Except it's not a fresh connection because a set of steps already leads down to this point from the pavement above. What's new is that bicycles, pushchairs and wheelchairs can now get down here too... although what's odd is they could already thanks to the Blue Bridge a few metres on. But what's even odder is that any cyclist who comes down the new ramp has to continue their journey by crossing this Blue Bridge... which leads back to the pavement they were previously on. According to the Mayors the new ramp exists to "allow people to walk or cycle from Silvocea Way to Canning Town station avoiding the busy A13", but all it's really doing is bypassing 100 metres of perfectly good cycle superhighway.



If there is a point to the ramp, it's to improve connectivity for links yet to be created. The riverside path continues round a thin peninsula to the back entrance to Canning Town station and will eventually continue further, but doesn't yet. A much more direct route could follow the metal footbridge over the DLR, except for some reason that's always locked in the middle despite both halves being individually accessible. And the Leaway itself will one day continue through the tunnel beneath the flyover, just don't try following the route yet because it's horrible.



Wharfside Road already has all its Leaway collateral, including a paved area with benches, a Legible London minilith and 'Leaway north' written in the concrete on the ground. The map on the minilith confirms that the Lea Valley Walk continues along Stephenson Road, but not what a godforsaken hellhole Stephenson Road is pedestrianwise. The industrial area which follows boasts decrepit warehouses, skip hire facilities, car repair units and recycling yards, and is frequented by numerous trucks and lorries. I passed through while a forklift was unloading scrap into a shed, so had to cross to the opposite narrow 'pavement' alongside the Jubilee line, except someone was coming the other way so I had to wait for a minute to avoid being crushed by passing vehicles. Stephenson Road may be an important employment cluster, but no way does it deserve to be on any official accessible walking trail.



The Leaway should pass along the riverfront instead, but landowners on the Electra Business Park have never played ball. One short strip of promenade is sealed off and waiting, while the remaining chunk lies beyond a razed brownfield site that awaits redevelopment. One decent fence along the waterside should fix it, wharfage rights permitting, allowing existing commercial interests to continue unabated while cyclists and pedestrians power through. In the meantime that grim inland diversion via Star Lane DLR remains necessary, and the official onward connection through the Prologis Business Park isn't much better.



If the new path is ever opened up it'll connect to Cody Dock, an unqualified success as a community facility since it opened in 2012. I passed through while the gravestones for the Hallowe'en event were being tweaked and local families were decorating a tent for the evening's extravaganza. But the riverside beyond is as wild and empty as ever, an amazing resource underconnected and underused because it still doesn't quite go anywhere. The Leaway cannot come soon enough... although when it finally does, I suspect ten thousand homes won't be too far behind.

 Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Public bodies often use graphics to show an inclusive set of characters representative of the community. For example...



But if you were trying to be precisely representative, what should those characters look like? For example, if you were trying to create six characters representative of the UK, what genders, ages and ethnicities should they have?

Let's start with an easier problem - one character.

That one character should be female, because there are fractionally more females (50.6%) than males (49.4%). She should be 39, because that's the median age of a Briton. And she should be white because most Britons are.

female
39
white

Next, what about two characters?

Gender is easy, there should be one male and one female - an almost perfect match. Admittedly some people identify as genders other than male and female but, at this macro scale where each character represents 50% of the UK population, small percentages don't matter.

As for age, we need one character representative of the youngest half of the population and one representative of the oldest half. In statistical language we need the lower and upper quartiles of the UK's age distribution. Checking the latest data, one should be 20 and one should be 58.

And as for ethnicity they should both be white. Over three-quarters of the UK's population is white, so if we only have two fictional characters to play with, the most representative case is that both are white.

male
20
white
female
58
white

n.b. Yes, the female could be 20 and the male 58, but let's not worry about that.
n.b. If you wanted the characters to be representative of the adult population, i.e. no under 18s included, then the relevant ages would be 32 and 63. But let's not go there.


Now let's jump up to six characters.

Three male and three female, that's easy.

As for ages, we need to split the population into sixths and then find the middle of those sixths. That gives ages of 6, 20, 33, 46, 58 and 74.

As for ethnicity, this may not be what you're expecting. At the last census the proportion of white people in the UK was 87%, which is almost exactly five-sixths, which means five of the six characters should be white. As for the remaining 13% of the population, 7% are Asian, 3% black, 2% Mixed and 1% Other. And 7% is just over half of 13%, which means our sixth and final character should be Asian. There'd need to be over a dozen characters in our graphic before the first one was black.

male
6
white
female
20
white
male
33
Asian
female
46
white
male
58
white
female
74
white

What's intriguing is whether London's set of six characters would be different.

Three male and three female again, obviously.

But the ages would be lower, at 5, 19, 30, 39, 51 and 70. The average Londoner is five years younger than the average Briton.

As for ethnicity, the percentages for London are white 60%, Asian 18%, black 13%, mixed 5% and Other 3%. That means four of our six characters would be white, one Asian and one black. I suspect that's still whiter than you were expecting. Digging deeper one of those four white people is probably Eastern European, but you'd not be able to tell that from a simple graphic.

male
5
white
female
19
Asian
male
30
white
female
39
white
male
51
black
female
70
white

So why don't sets of characters in graphics look like this? Why are the ethnicities depicted more diverse than they would be in real life?

It's because they're not trying to be representative, they're trying to be inclusive. If you're white you don't need to see several white characters, you need to see at least one, and the same for Asian and black citizens. We don't expect groups of characters to reflect the population, we look to see ourselves.

For example, this covers most bases in just three characters.

female
13
black
male
39
white
female
66
Asian

Even if there's nowhere in Britain which actually looks like that.

 Tuesday, October 29, 2019

WALK LONDON
The Westfield Wander
[1½ miles]
Estimated time (30 mins - 6 hours)

London's population would be healthier if they took more exercise, but couch potatoes aren't easily persuaded to go hiking through the countryside or follow a waymarked riverside trail. So this new walking initiative aims to entice Londoners onto their feet within a familiar landscape - Stratford's Westfield shopping centre - by following a simple one and a half mile route that never retraces its steps. Download the app, follow the simple directions and enjoy a healthy workout while you shop.




1. Your Westfield Wander begins outside the rear exit from Stratford station, a convenient spot easily accessed from across the capital. Taxi and Uber dropoffs are also available. Now would be the ideal time for a final cigarette, but please stand out of the way in the designated area. A great deal of wildlife can be seen from this point, including preening parents, courting couples and tribes of younglings.
Enter the lower level of the shopping centre through the doors ahead of you. At Starbucks, bear right.

2. Continue around the gentle curve of the Lower Ground Floor. Try not to be overly tempted by the sight of Greggs on the right hand side, as even a vegan sausage roll could cancel out all the benefits of your upcoming walk. Toilets are available by following the footpath immediately before Boots, but ladies should expect to queue. There will be another opportunity to subscribe to Sky television later in the walk so try not to linger now.
Immediately before the Food Court ride the escalator up to Ground Floor. Alternatively you may change levels within Primark.



3. Welcome to The Gallery, Westfield's central hub. Recharging points for smartphones are available here, should you already have run down your battery uploading the amazing local sights to social media. Turn away from the main atrium and follow the trackway between the jewellers and the hip clothing stores. You may pass either side of the frozen yoghurt concession. Continue to the screen of doors, perhaps pressing the button for automatic opening to prevent unnecessary exertion, and return to the outside world.
Continue straight ahead into Chestnut Plaza, keeping to the left of Santa's Grotto.

4. Several of your favourite restaurants can be found here on Chestnut Plaza, as well as empty units which used to be your favourite restaurants until they closed down. Do not venture inside The Cow because it is only pretending to be a pub, it is not really one. Across the road you will be able to see the Aquatics Centre and the Olympic Stadium, but nobody would want to walk around Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park because it has no shops, so turn round urgently and go back.
Retrace your steps to The Street and turn left.



5. Whatever the weather, The Street's hastily added glass roof will protect you from the elements. Pause to admire the single tree growing outside Sofa Workshop and its accompanying tubs of shrubbery. Rest assured that there is no need to venture inside IKEA because it's not a proper one, just a collection point with a few items of furniture in the window. Ahead is a clock-free junction of paths called Four Dials. Try not to be dazzled by the Hewlett Packard advert playing on the enormous screen above Caffè Concerto.
Keep straight ahead, following the line of drain across the piazza, and re-enter the building.

6. You are about to step inside John Lewis, one of Westfield's anchor buildings. Take your time to explore its crystal glassware, its cosy bedlinen, its festive gift selection and its never knowingly undersold electrical goods. Perhaps peruse the designer womenswear, try out some home cinema options, compare prices on cookware or take advantage of the in-store brow bar. Whatever you choose to do, just make sure you end up at the front of the fragrance department once you've finished.
Alternatively take the escalator direct to the first floor with none of this browsing faff.



7. It's now time to follow the upper mall for its entire length. Enjoy your elevated walk and the opportunities provided to look down over the entire retail landscape. Sights to watch out for include the entirely empty champagne bar, the queue of people waiting patiently outside the Apple Store for their device to be rebooted and the immaculately made-up agent hoping to spray you with a dash of scent. Should you become lost at any point, simply tell security officers that you're following the Westfield Wander and they will put you back on track.
At the end of the mall descend one floor through Marks and Spencer (but not two floors to the Food Hall).

8. The second half of The Street awaits your pleasure. Enjoy yourself by trying to identify which businesses were here when Westfield opened in 2011 and which are the third or fourth attempts at trading economically within these peripheral units. It may be possible to engage in some table tennis or extra-big chess, but only if the necessary equipment has been made available.
On reaching the Armani crossroads, turn right and re-re-enter the building.



9. Ascend two sets of escalators and make a complete circuit of the upper food court. Imagine you have the complete family with you and are trying to find somewhere to stop for a meal that suits all tastes. Do not let the big yellow taxi outside TGI Fridays tempt you inside. Remember that the nearest Giraffe is now in Spitalfields. The doorman outside the casino looks angry for a reason. After a full circuit ride back down to the first floor. Do not search for HMV, it has closed. Instead walk amongst the lowlier dining tables until you reach The Arena.
Change levels again by taking two sets of escalators down into the lowest depths.

10. Double back towards Argos. You may or may not be able to walk past the Lego store without deviating for bricks. A small playground is available should any smaller members of your walking group be unable to proceed further without distraction. If you have enjoyed today's Westfield Wander, Foyles bookshop has a Maps section where you will be able discover real walks in the outside world. Great Eastern Market is not a proper market, but do not try telling any of the traders this because they already know.
On reaching Waitrose double back up the first set of escalators. It is only a short climb.



11. For the final leg of your Westfield Wander, follow the mid-level mall for its entire length. Observe how the landscape evolves from high end fashion to designer footwear as you proceed. If you are beginning to flag, accept the free pretzel sample when it is offered. Your destination will come into view as you pass the Disney Store. Continue until you have passed through the final set of doors and reached the front of M&S, where the Westfield Wander terminates. Congratulations, you have walked at least a mile and a half, which only goes to confirm the hypnotic power of being distracted by shopping.
To return to your starting point, descend via the escalators to the station entrance. Alternatively you may prefer to continue across the footbridge to the old shopping centre where you can connect to our separate walk, The Stratford Drag.

 Monday, October 28, 2019

Yesterday I walked through Epping Forest from Epping to Chingford.



It was very enjoyable.

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Even though I've walked through the forest on numerous occasions, invariably a different route each time, I still can't get my head round how the whole place fits together. The full network of paths is extensive and hugely complex, but even if I narrow things down to just the main trails my mental picture remains inadequate. The forestkeepers don't make things easy, there being no signposts anywhere, merely a few painted arrows on posts which are otherwise unexplained. It's as if they just want you to wander round and explore on your own, hopefully without getting horribly lost, so heaven knows how mapless visitors got by before smartphones.

What I have got expert at is the start of the trail south from Epping. I know where to bear right to avoid Theydon Bois, and I know when to stop following the yellow arrows or risk ending up in Debden, but I still can't get to High Beach without checking on a map and beyond that I'm an utter novice. So what I decided to yesterday was to follow the Green Ride bridlepath from north to south to try to imprint one key spine route on my memory. I think I was mostly successful, so next time I'll attempt some twiddles off it, but I'm still a long way from feeling confident enough to wander around Epping Forest unaided. Practice makes perfect, but some places take a heck of a lot of practice.

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Folk I pass while out walking are often quite friendly and often say hello, especially if they're over a certain age. But what they usually say is "Morning", so long as it's not too late in the day, because this appears to be the universally agreed greeting. And what repeatedly irks me, as a clockwatching pedant, is quite how many people are happy to greet me with "Morning" even when it's after twelve noon and patently afternoon. The temptation when this happens to chip back with "Afternoon!" is overwhelming, and I usually try to stop myself for fear of looking unutterably smug. Of course when people set out on a long walk it is usually morning, and most ramblers have better things to be looking at than the time so it is an entirely understandable error. I've taken to saying "Hi" to everyone instead, because it's safer.

Anyway, yesterday the complete opposite happened. I was walking past a family of four around half past eleven, somewhere near Furze Ground, and the dad turned to me with a smile and said "Afternoon." Ha, I thought, you've completely forgotten to put your clocks back, or at least your watch is wrong, so you genuinely believe it's already afternoon when in fact it's still before midday. I realised that I was in the only hour of the year when it was possible to snap back with "Morning!" in a bout of chronological oneupmanship, and how this would be an impeccably smart rejoinder. I had a gift of an opportunity, not to be missed. Unfortunately my subconscious had already kicked in and I'd said "Hi" instead, so the clever reply was now redundant and I spent the rest of the morning feeling slightly disappointed with myself. I'll probably never get the chance again.

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Not only are the leaves on the turn in October but the ground is too. What has been solid earth all summer is on the verge of becoming quagmire, but even with all the rain we've been having it's not quite there yet. I noted yesterday that although numerous footpaths across Epping Forest had muddy bits, none of these were yet impossible to step around. The emergence of winter mud usually occurs in dips where drainage is poor, and/or at points where the footpath narrows and everyone's footsteps have churned the same soil. On some date in early autumn a wet patch appears and most people step around it, then this previously dry earth churns up forcing people to step even further to one side, and inexorably the muddy patch widens.

I'm not ashamed to walk right along the very edge of the undergrowth to avoid muddy boots, clinging onto branches for balance where necessary, even though I know it looks wimpish (and is probably only going to make the muddy patch wider). That said, there was one path on Bell Common which looked so boggy I did retreat and divert via the road instead, much to the scorn of two ladies following on behind, but I had the last laugh when I reached the cricket pitch over the M25 before them and they emerged brow-beaten and brown-booted.

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The northern end of Epping Forest, near Epping, was a lot quieter than the environs of Chingford. This may be because the car parks are tinier, or because London's much further away (or it may just be because I got to the Chingford end two hours later and lots more people were out of bed by then). At the Epping end I met the occasional outdoorsy couple, a few cyclists, some keen dogwalkers and the odd jogger. At the Chingford end I passed streams of people flooding out into the forest, most not looking like they were going overly far but making the most of a sparkling autumn day all the same.

Three particular family groups proved memorable...
• A dad with a manbun sending his five shaggy-jumpered children off into the trees, each armed only with a carefully selected stick.
• A mother trying to cajole her two sons to do star jumps in what ought to have been the middle of nowhere, except I was walking past so the eldest was too shamefaced to join in.
• A family conference being held in the middle of the footpath, abruptly ended after the one of the daughters pointed into the woods and shouted "Do your poo in there".

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On my way home I dropped in on the new Bauhaus Pioneers exhibition at the William Morris Gallery, which is small but very good, although you absolutely must not take photographs of William's green wooden table, so I haven't.

 Sunday, October 27, 2019

[NEW] Route 335: Kidbrooke to North Greenwich
Location: London southeast
Length of journey: 5 miles, 30 minutes


There used to be a 335 from Watford to Windsor fifty years ago, indeed this is a painting of it going past my house.



But London's never had a 335 before, so my apologies for this irrelevant nostalgic digression.


The freshly-baked 335 is a response to the gentrification of Kidbrooke, specifically the replacement of the Ferrier Estate by Kidbrooke Village. Until this weekend residents had buses to Woolwich, Bexleyheath and Lewisham but none to North Greenwich, so TfL decided to add a new link of particular benefit to Jubilee line passengers. You may not think sitting on a bus for half an hour to catch the tube is ideal, but you may not live in southeast London.

The new route is atypically short, at a mere five miles. TfL's initial consultation considered making it even shorter by sending buses direct via the A2, but decided against to better serve the communities inbetween. Half the new route precisely shadows the 108, which isn't exactly innovative, but the 335 is also intended to help solve capacity issues on several existing local routes. Do join me for a ride.




The 335 starts its journey at the as-yet-undeveloped end of Kidbrooke Village. There is a new primary school out here, but the adjacent plots are conspicuously vacant and Moorhead Way remains a dead end with a turning loop. Those living closest to the first stop are actually those on the neighbouring Brooklands Park estate in Blackheath, a 1950s outpost whose demographic (grey hair, podgy dogs, St George's flags) contrasts sharply with Kidbrooke's younger incomers. The 335's arrival is also particularly good news for drivers on route B16 who now have company on the stand (and someone new to chat and vape with).

Before heading off towards the Thames the 335 gets to follow a lengthy twiddle around both halves of the Kidbrooke estate. Or at least it will do. The new route has had the misfortune to launch during roadworks on Kidbrooke Park Road, so the intended loop is out of bounds until the cones have been removed. A sign attached to the traffic lights on Weigall Road announces that the 335 has been on diversion since five days before it started running, which I think may be some kind of record.



I did pause to go for a walk around the Kidbrooke Village loop that the 335 won't be following for a day or two. It's not particularly well blessed with bus stops, but those that exist already have tiles and timetables, plus small yellow posters confirming they're currently closed. Nevertheless a young couple with two very large suitcases were waiting patiently beside one of them for a bus that would never come. The village is blessed with a lot of parkland but also quite densely packed with flats, which grow taller the closer you get to the station. The main square so far boasts only a Sainsbury's and a pub, and doesn't spark joy, but hopefully the promised "wealth of amenities" will appear later.



Passengers are already beginning to board our 335, despite a lack of publicity, probably encouraged by the words 'North Greenwich' on the front of the bus in large friendly letters. It also helps that the railway line through Kidbrooke is closed today, indeed two distinct hi-vis crews can be seen beavering away on the tracks as we cross. I see the next bus stop is still called Homebase Superstore, despite the fact the retail unit closed last December and is currently a building site waiting to metamorphose into an Aldi. In the meantime nobody's thought to rephase the traffic lights, so we wait unnecessarily for departing shoppers who don't exist.

What happens next is the Rochester Way one-way shuffle. Northbound buses switch to the road closest to the A2 while southbound buses stick to Kidbrooke Park Road, which isn't instinctive but TfL's reasoning is that it'll be easier to change from the 335 onto other buses. If a 132 was coming it ought to be much quicker to switch onto that and speed down to North Greenwich, but it might also be rammed with passengers whereas the 335 pretty much guarantees you a double seat. Our bus takes a slower zigzag path through Blackheath towards the Royal Standard instead, picking up a fair few middle class passengers along the way.



Some say Westcombe Hill already has too many buses, particularly its residents. The road is steep and narrow, which can entail plenty of waiting and headlight-flashing, and the 335's arrival has increased the average frequency in each direction to one bus every three minutes. Meanwhile someone unrelated to TfL has been out sticking up information posters about the new 335 service on all the bus shelters from Blackheath northwards. If TfL can't be bothered to update their spider maps then @LDNBusUpdates seem happy to oblige. They've used quite a lot of sellotape.



In better news all the bus stops I inspected had new 335 timetables and all but one had a fresh 335 tile (the exception being northbound at Millennium Leisure Park West). Yes, we are yet another bus which meanders past the new IKEA and the old Odeon and thence the Millennium Village - that makes seven now. And as we finally approach North Greenwich I'm unnerved to see we've taken one minute longer than timetabled, despite having skipped an entire loop in Kidbrooke earlier and benevolent traffic conditions throughout. It was the traffic lights that did it, there being so bloody many of them.

At North Greenwich a healthy number of passengers alight, which is a bit of a triumph for Day One and bodes well. The bus station feels more clogged than usual, which may be a consequence of squeezing in a seventh route, but residents of southeast London will certainly appreciate having an alternative means of escape. It's Bus Stand B for the return journey, should you ever want to take advantage.

» Roger was also out and about yesterday morning, and his report is longer than mine with a lot more photos (which is what you really wanted).

Route 335: route map
Route 335: live route map
Route 335: timetable
Route 335: route consultation

 Saturday, October 26, 2019

Gadabout: IRONBRIDGE GORGE

The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust run ten museums along and around the Ironbridge Gorge. Each is individually priced, but you can also buy a £26.50 Annual Passport covering the lot. That's great value if you live nearby, but for a one-off visit it's important to tick off multiple locations to make optimum use. Alternatively if you have an Art Pass you can walk into all of them for free, and that's what I did.

Although the museums are quite spread out no museum is more than half an hour's walk from its neighbour, so I managed to chain together a decent walking route and visit six. All the Ironbridge collateral assumes you'll be driving, indeed the official leaflet doesn't bother with a map and simply lists ten postcodes for your satnav. On summer weekends and bank holidays a shuttle bus links all the sites together, but it's not hard to make do without.

The best map showing all the museums is here, but even this assumes you'll be driving. So I've put together a Google map of my own showing all the sites, how to walk between them and some idea of walking times. I realise now I held off visiting Ironbridge for years because I thought it'd be a pain to get around, so I'd like to reassure you today that it's definitely doable.


Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron

A first cluster of museums can be found at the top of Coalbrookdale, which is a short feeder valley running down to the top of the gorge. It was here in 1709 that Abraham Darby first successfully smelted iron ore using coke rather than charcoal, and what's amazing is that his furnace is still on view. Admittedly Abraham's grandson Abraham enlarged it considerably, so all that's left of the original is a small area of foundation walls, but the 1777 version helped forge the Iron Bridge so is iconic enough. These days it's housed inside a triangular structure for protection, but anyone can go inside and walk around and even climb up to the top and peer down the enormous mouth of the blast furnace. I found it wonderfully historically overwhelming.



Outside are numerous hangovers from when this was the Coalbrookdale Iron Works, including an old railway viaduct swinging round the rear of the furnace, and behind that a dammed pool once used for power. The last iron foundry in the valley closed as recently as 2017 and is where Agas were made. Its sprawling cluster of sheds are now slowly decaying behind a locked gate.



The actual Museum of Iron is housed in a former administrative building and is spread across three floors. It's the most educational of the ten museums, dipping into geology, industrial history and a fair bit of human geography. A few years ago it was given a major spruce-up and is all the better for it, with clear informative panels and engaging content (although the talking cauldron could give it a rest occasionally, thanks). Much is made of the economic wonders that rippled out from this very spot, and how the local iron industry adapted to changing tastes and needs over the years. I wondered whether climate change would get a mention and finally spotted three paragraphs right at the very end before the gift shop, the closest to an admission of guilt being that atmospheric impacts were "not anticipated in the nineteenth century". Blame Darby, but by golly also praise him.

Also up here in Coalbrookdale:
Enginuity This is the hands-on one where children run around, push and turn things and (if they're lucky) learn about physics. I skipped it because I'm too old for an Archimedes Screw.
Darby Houses This is the historic dwelling one and reflects entrepreneurial homelife. I skipped it because it didn't open until noon.

→ 15 minute walk down the valley to the banks of the Severn →

Museum of the Gorge



This is the smallest of the ten museums, housed in a riverside Victorian warehouse built in Gothic Revival style. Its purpose is to tell the story of the gorge itself, from how the landscape feature came to be created to how various industries chose to exploit it. The highlight is a 12m-long diorama portraying the gorge as it would have been in the late 18th century, with smoky chimneys amid the wooded slopes and boats transporting goods beneath the new-fangled Iron Bridge. The central cinema shows a looping overview video, and on its wall is an unnervingly high line marking the height of the 1795 flood. But you won't be spending long here.

→ 5 minute walk along the gorge beside the river →

The Iron Bridge & Tollhouse

See yesterday's post.

→ 20 minute walk along a disused railway parallel to the river →

Jackfield Tile Museum

The gorge didn't just support ironworks, it branched out during the 19th century into decorative tiling. Victorians did love an unnecessarily ornate ceramic, and Craven Dunnill & Co met their needs here in this very long brick building. They specialised in encaustic tiles, that's tiles whose patterns were formed from two or more colours of clay. Initially the museum looks like it might be quite dry, but then you head upstairs into galleries of assorted tiles in diverse styles and it's all quite wonderful. Some tiles look gorgeous in themselves, while others only spring to life when patterned together.



An ingenious central section depicts all sorts of uses to which Jackfield's tiles were put, so you get to walk past a terracotta pub bar, an intricate chapel, a set of splashbacks and a washroom. Most exciting for stereotypical readers of this blog they've recreated Covent Garden station's platform because its tiles were originally made here in Jackfield. A mirror halfway down completes the illusion. The company still operates from workshops downstairs - they did the tiles for the most recent upgrade of Regent's Park station - and has a little outlet shop where you can buy delightful (and delightfully cheap) keepsakes to take home.



At the far end of the building is the John Scott Gallery, the lifetime's collection of a man from Birkenhead with an eye for the aesthetic. He wanted to share his 1700+ tiles with the public so in 2014 Jackfield built an extension, and blimey there are treasures on every wall. Here are Pugins, Morrises and de Morgans, but also four examples retrieved from postwar WHSmiths promoting Guide Books, Sea Tales, Engineering Books and Ladies' Papers. Of John Piper's stylistic Four Seasons the information panel merely states "there is some debate as to which tile represents which season". It proved an excellent finale to my favourite of the ten museums.

→ 15 minute walk downstream and across a footbridge (between two pubs) →

Coalport China Museum



Every Ironbridge museum tries to find another angle to present the history of the gorge, and Coalport gets to concentrate on china. That's because Coalport China was made here, initially in 1795, and numerous examples of the company's finest work can be found within. This means cabinets full of cups and saucers, and displays showcasing those difficult pink and blue dyes, and rather more porcelain than most people would normally want to scrutinise. If your children don't enjoy the first part they'll hopefully enjoy the workshop where they can sit down and decorate their own plate. Elsewhere professional craftspeople are at work in their own studios, plus you get to walk inside a couple of bottle kilns which are where everything would have been fired. Coalport lingers on as a brand name under the Wedgwood umbrella, but here is where it all began.

Also down here in Coalport:
Tar Tunnel This is a tunnel workers stopped digging when they came across oozing deposits of tar. I skipped this one because it's only open on Wednesday afternoons in the summer.
Hay Inclined Plane This one amazed me. The owners of the Shropshire Canal needed a way of getting goods from Coalport Wharf to a waterway 60m higher up, so laid two parallel tracks down the hillside and used the weight of a full barge going down to help raise an empty barge going up. This extraordinary operation ran for a hundred years, starting in 1793, although today all that remains are the two tracks linking two disjoint disused canals. You can see the bottom of the incline from the main road, you can cross the centre along a public footpath and you can stand at the top within the grounds of our next museum.



→ 25 minute walk uphill via Silkin Way (do not attempt to follow the main road) →

Blists Hill Victorian Town

This is Ironbridge's big-hitter, a full-on historical recreation depicting West Midlands life in the year 1900. It's a bit like Beamish or the Black Country Living Museum in that staff dress up and act the part, so you might stop for a chat with the undertaker or swap pleasantries with the postmistress, indeed you won't get much out of the place if you don't. The site is enormous, encompassing a former brickworks and foundry, although a lot of the area at the far end is just woodland. All sorts of oddities have been shoehorned in, including an inclined lift (closed on my visit), a mine railway (closed on my visit) and a dripping-fried fish and chip shop. Many of the shops have vintage goods on the upper shelves but stuff you can actually buy on the lower ones, which seemed a bit cheeky.



The town definitely looks the part, indeed the big reveal as you step out of the opening cinema presentation is undeniably impressive. It was convincingly 19th century enough that Doctor Who filmed a not-especially-loved serial here at Blists Hill in the 1980s, and I recognised a few of the locations where Kate O'Mara placed Colin Baker in mortal danger. But I still wandered round quicker than I'd been expecting, perhaps because the Victorian era isn't as much of a revelation to me as it is to a ten year-old, or perhaps because a few of the characters looked like they were already winding down for the day. I would not have got my £18.50's worth, if only I'd paid that for it.

And the one I didn't go anywhere near:
Broseley Pipeworks
This is a former clay tobacco pipe factory, abandoned in the 1950s. I skipped this one because it's off the beaten track, and I probably wouldn't have arrived at the right time for the obligatory guided tour anyway.

My Ironbridge Gorge gallery
There are 30 photos altogether (and here's a link to today's half)

 Friday, October 25, 2019

Gadabout: IRONBRIDGE

Ironbridge spans the river Severn downstream of Shrewsbury and upstream of Bridgnorth. More precisely it's five miles south of Telford, within whose boundaries this premier industrial area now stands. Buses from Telford to the nearest town of Madeley are frequent but, unless you're willing to walk the last stretch, those to Ironbridge proper are rarer.

A short stretch of the Severn Valley in Shropshire lays claim as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Geology bequeathed it all the right raw materials for successful manufacturing - coal, iron ore, limestone and clay. The Ice Age gifted the river a deep gorge carved by glacial meltwater. And when Abraham Darby discovered a process for making pig iron from coke rather than charcoal, the whole place ignited. In reality the Industrial Revolution was a broader church of numerous innovations over a far broader area across a much longer timespan, but Ironbridge is the World Heritage Site and rightly lauded. [15 photos]



The valley had been choking with activity for decades before the iron bridge was built, with steam rising from belching furnaces along its length. But getting goods and raw materials across the river was difficult, the Severn being an unpredictable beast, so in the 1770s a new bridge was proposed at the heart of the gorge. Unsurprisingly local industrialists wanted to show off the building material of which they were most proud, despite nobody ever having constructed a cast iron bridge before. Abraham Darby III therefore ended up using a design more suitable to carpentry, bending several individual ribs of metal across the water, then topped it all off with a sloping roadway. Opening day was 1st January 1781, although the Roman numerals on the side of the bridge cite MDCCLXXIX, the year construction began.



That the Iron Bridge still stands is tribute to its construction, although numerous urgent repairs have been required over the years and road traffic had to be banned in 1934. It remains a magnificent structure, aided and abetted by its mid-gorge setting. Until fairly recently it was grey, but research confirmed it was originally red so English Heritage had the entire structure repainted.



So impressed was Georgian society by this engineering marvel that the bridge became a tourist attraction in its own right. A hotel was constructed directly opposite the northern end, despite this being the one place from which the arches are invisible, and a small town grew up along the slopes of the gorge. That town too is still there, long after industrial activity transferred to larger mechanised facilities elsewhere, and remains the hub of the local area's tourist trade. Savvy businesses have worked out there's only so much staring at a bridge visitors can undertake, so have arrayed a chain of cafes, emporia, cupcakeries, bookshops and teddy bear outlets on the river-facing road. Rest assured it's quite tastefully done.



Steps lead down from the promenade to a footpath along the side of the Severn (or there's a gentler ramp from the western side if you prefer). The path actually passes through the struts at the bottom of the bridge at the point where they abut the abutment, which is a great opportunity to get right up close to the structure. Optimum spots for the taking of photographs are available but in short supply, so you may need to wait your turn. Try not to get in anyone else's shots while doing so. The river was fast-flowing on my visit, but occasionally rises considerably higher after particularly heavy rain. Several signs around Ironbridge show the height of the floods in 1795, on which occasion Darby's new span was the only bridge anywhere down the Severn not to be washed away.



The bridge is free to access, sealed off only by a row of bollards. The footway rises to a central point, then drops back down, a bit like if Tower Bridge jammed a few degrees from fully closing. Other than one floral flourish in the centre the railings aren't overly decorative. It's easy to forget just how high up you are, even as you stare out along the gorge in both directions, its wooded sides currently bedecked in autumn colours. From the Ironbridge end of the Iron Bridge you might also catch sight of the cooling towers of the local power station, or at least you might this month because they're scheduled to be demolished in November.



And on the southern side is the Toll House, from the days when horse-drawn coaches were charged up to two shillings per crossing and every individual pig a ha'penny. Today it's open as a Tourist Information Office and a museum, which is somewhat optimistic for a small two-storey building so there isn't much substance to either. It's also the only one of the ten museums under the Ironbridge Gorge Trust umbrella without an admission charge, so acts as a gateway drug to encourage tourists to visit the others. Only one other museum is within short walking distance, which might not be £26.50 well spent, but I managed to visit the majority of them (and I'll tell you about those tomorrow).

 Thursday, October 24, 2019

05:12  I have woken up three minutes before my alarm, because bodies are strange like that.
05:50  I am wearing my winter coat for the first time this autumn. The stars are out.
05:59  Bow Road station is very quiet. The timetabled tube train does not arrive.
06:35  Someone is sitting in my reserved seat stuffing a croissant into their mouth. They pick up their bag of crumbs and move into the aisle seat, then spend 15 minutes brushing their face.
07:26  One of the best things about an early morning window seat is watching a smear of dawn burning pink and gold through a gap in the clouds.
07:30  I wish I hadn't forgotten my headphones.
08:03  The three civil servants at the table opposite have been talking about work for over an hour, including what the new SpAds are like, how positive the Secretary of State was at her last meeting and why it's important today's key speaker has more than one slide in their presentation. One has spent the trip sticking together little red cardboard boxes for use at today's two sessions. The trio have been impressively diplomatic in revealing nothing of national importance, but I am now party to a considerable amount of departmental gossip.
08:49  Train two is late and standing room only, so I'm stuck in the vestibule where I can barely see out of the window, but that's OK because it's quite foggy.
09:11  This town seems to be mostly shopping centre. A screen in Thomas Cook's window is still playing adverts for holidays nobody will ever take.
09:28  "No, you get on first, our free bus passes aren't valid until half past."
09:43  My bus is being diverted because of roadworks ahead, so I have to get off to catch a free shuttlebus, but that left two minutes ago because we were delayed by earlier roadworks.
10:11  I have spent the last half hour at a bus stop outside a row of public conveniences, opposite a fancy goods shop that can't spell "stationery".

10:20  I've wanted to come here for ages. I have technically been here before, but I didn't get off the bus.
10:27  Sitting alone in the theatre, waiting for the film loop to restart.
11:00  A clock strikes and the museum opens. Before I go inside I want to go and stand on the iconic structure at the end of the lawn. The cafe smells of bacon.
11:23  It may be half term in London but it isn't around here, because I timed my trip carefully.
11:54  The fog's finally lifted.
12:02  I am underneath the thing I have mainly come to see. Several retired people with big zoom lenses are here too. We all patiently wait to take our turns in the optimal snapping locations.
12:06  I am on top of the thing I have mainly come to see. It's mostly empty, so my lone silhouette must be really annoying the photographers down below.
12:20  Well that was lovely. Now, onwards along the disused railway.
12:42  The local brass band rehearses for two hours every Tuesday and Friday evening in the former Wesleyan Chapel.
13:19  John's collection is absolutely fabulous. I particularly like the Pipers and the WHSmith quartet.
13:48  I hoped I'd arrived too early for the workshop tour, because I simply don't have the time, but the bow-tied volunteer is just back from lunch (where he had a jacket potato with tuna) and proceeds to run me through the finer points of manufacture anyway.
14:13  Wow. I don't know if I'm more impressed that they built that or that it's still here.
14:21  Should have followed the sign. Should not have tried to walk up the hill along the road. For the first time today I am regretting the winter coat.
14:39  That is quite the big reveal (and all the better for not being full of schoolkids).
14:54  The Wow is even more impressive from the top of the incline than from the bottom. A retired couple on the way up are muttering about the steps being 'quite uneven'.
15:22  I recognise that mineshaft from Doctor Who.
15:28  The undertaker is mending a violin. The postmistress is explaining Morse Code. The pharmacist seems glad of some company. I'm already thinking about leaving, whereas I had been expecting to stay another hour.
15:55  I doubt that anybody else is leaving on foot.

16:08  Oh great, I'm back at the bus stop by the misspelled 'stationary' sign, which has no timetable. While I wait, a local resident spots a cigarette butt on the pavement, picks it up and lights it.
16:33  My meandering bus is affording me a lengthy tour of provincial suburban estates, which I'm choosing to see as a fascinating insight into Middle English society rather than a prolonged waste of time.
16:51  The two teenage passengers with the matching dyed blue hair are off to Subway to kickstart their evening on the town.
17:11  The screen in Thomas Cook's window has been turned off, and a handwritten welcome message from Hays Travel stuck up instead.
17:35  My first homeward train has plenty of seats. Time to finish off my thermos of tea.
17:54  I have almost an hour before my next train departs, which is the downside of a sub-£10 Advance ticket. This does at least leave time to walk the city streets at dusk, which is briefly pretty, but then it gets dark and all the shops are closed and I've already walked ten miles today and in truth I just want to go home.
18:16  The police have removed their knife arch from the station entrance.
18:34  It's started raining, so I'm glad the train is early.
19:07  I cannot for the life of me get 1 across in today's quick crossword.
19:45  The heating's turned up so high in this carriage that my fledgling cold suddenly evolves into full-on nose-dribbling mode. The lady in the seat opposite is similarly triggered and ends up blowing noisily into her handkerchief for an entire minute. She cannot see the Daily Mail reader sat behind her repeatedly raising her eyeballs to the ceiling, but I can.
20:39  Oh the joy of walking out onto an unheated platform.
20:40  Nobody has checked my ticket at any point on the rail journey south.
21:25  Home. Phew. Fabulous.

 Wednesday, October 23, 2019

I've ventured outside six stations at the eastern end of the Jubilee line to see what's developing.

Canada Water



Tall towers with Canadian names - tick. Snazzy library circa 2011 - tick. Drab piazza attracting skateboarders and foodcarts - tick. But step further back and even more new places to live are still on their way. Decathlon successfully moved into new premises last year underneath a new apartment block because that's a more efficient use of land. Their former store has been embraced by an events company for a variety of temporary uses, currently an Oktoberfest, later a Christmas dinner & do. But all this is merely a precursor for the onslaught of the Canada Water Masterplan, a megadevelopment covering 53 acres currently occupied by the the former Daily Mail printing site, Surrey Quays shopping centre and its car park. These days an extensive car park near a key tube station stands no chance. The shopping centre becomes a "mixed-use town centre", Tesco gets replaced via "continuous trading", the cinema gets "reprovisioned", the number of car parking spaces gets halved, eight buildings of 18+ storeys arise, 3000 homes get built, Surrey Quays station gets a new entrance, a new leisure centre arrives in 2024 and the whole thing is currently scheduled to take until 2033. It's going to be immense, and it has barely started.

Canary Wharf



The towers around the Jubilee line station are long-established, but these days longevity stops nobody. The Canary Wharf behemoth is busy expanding into a whole new district to be called Wood Wharf, located across the water from the end of the tube station you don't normally walk out of. Five years ago the site was empty enough to hold food markets and the occasional ice-sculpting festival, whereas now it's all high-shooting towers and then some. The tallest is One Park Drive, a cigar-shaped luxury haven, beside which are more anodyne blocks each named [Nice Round Number] [Street Name]. Expect to become acquainted with Timber Quay, The Lanes, Harbord Square and South Dock Gardens, where you can greet a work colleague, clutch a coffee and eventually forget this was ever new. Tower Hamlets are getting a new school and a doctors' surgery out of it. On the opposite side of the station, overlooking the City, the latest almost-built tower is called Newfoundland. Residents of 636 private apartments can enjoy stunning panoramic views, at least until Riverside South is erected in front of them, although that's been on hold for the best part of a decade so they might get lucky. As yet there's no sign of Spire London at West India Dock, potentially Western Europe's tallest residential building but halted last year over a safety row. I could go on and on. Canary Wharf likely will.

North Greenwich



What's most obviously new outside the tube station is the Design District, currently a squished corral of concrete shells blocking the direct route to the cablecar. It's due to open next year and lockdown the peninsula's cultural mojo, or to use the official description "an eclectic ecosystem of creatives, ambitious start-ups and entrepreneurs". But that's peanuts compared to the next big circus which is the development of the central spine between West Parkside and Millennium Way, a full kilometresworth, most of which is currently car park. Planning application 19/2733/O provides for (deep breath) up to 5813 residential dwellings, accommodation for up to 500 students, a 350 room hotel, a sports centre, a theatre, mixed-use retail and "a minimum of 2000 AEG parking spaces (for the O2)". Kent won't turn out en masse to see Céline Dion unless they have somewhere to park. Included in this zone of mass erasure is the existing tube station, which gets replaced not by the four-prong claw previously suggested but by something less ostentatiously profitable, while the new bus station will take up a lot less room once it's tucked beneath a multi-storey. If Knight Dragon eventually get their way, the Dome will be the only millennial structure left standing.

Canning Town



The end of Bow Creek continues to evolve from "nobody'd want to live here" to "how many flats can we cram in?". Vermillion came first around ten years ago, the red tower by the A13 flyover which snuffed out Rathbone Market. More recent is Hallsville Quarter, an identikit brick neighbourhood across the road from the bus station, whose lucky residents already have artisanal coffee and are just about to get their own underflat Morrisons. All the local cranes are now slotted into the gap between Silvertown Way and the DLR, constructing a long strip of apartment blocks that look exactly like you think they will. The highest liftshaft is currently at 25 floors with one more to go. This is the just-launched Brunel Street Works, which as former railway land was GLA-owned but will still only end up 35% affordable. Across the river the City Island development is almost complete, six years on, with the English National Ballet cocooned in the centre as cultural anchor. Although the original access path traced the river's edge, I was saddened to see that the final perimeter is a landscaped delivery road with limited creek access.

West Ham



Unlike the other stations on the Jubilee extension, West Ham has not yet become a vortex of redevelopment. But it's on its way. The station was built on the expectation that housing would eventually be built on the brownfield side facing the northbound Jubilee, so has passive protection for a link to the central footbridge. These 26 acres used to house a Parcelforce depot, and before that a Glass Works, and London's housing situation is now so desperate that 3800 homes are finally worth building. That said, the timeline on Stephenson Street's website cites March 2018 as the start of construction work but the site remains stubbornly untouched... an overgrown wasteland dotted with nothing more than strategically-located coloured cones. I'd take "June 2022 Phase 1 complete" with a ton of salt.

Stratford



Stratford, of course, is the very epitome of redevelopment. But because it's now 14 years since the Olympics were announced, pretty much everything close to the station is already up... shiny towers, student cells and a massive triple-decker shopping centre half of East London frequents. But one large site remains, in the gap where platform 10a splits away from platform 11, chopped off at the northern end by the High Speed 1 trench. What's planned to erupt here is the MSG Sphere, a huge globular music'n'entertainment venue which'll exceed the Manchester Arena in capacity. The thought of Taylor Swift performing so close to a perfect transport hub has investors in orgasms, so much so that they've even agreed to throw in three pedestrian footbridges for free. But this 92m tall golfball will also have "a fully-programmable exterior that serves as a digital showcase for the venue, artists and partners", which basically gifts central Stratford an unavoidable advertising screen, because the 21st century is a horribly mercenary beast. Not quite everywhere, it seems, is getting flats.

 Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Let me explain what this map is about.



The Index of Multiple Deprivation is a government statistic calculated by the Office of National Statistics every few years.

The whole of England is divided up into 32844 areas, each containing about 1500 residents. Each area is given a deprivation score based on factors including income, employment, health, education and crime. All 32844 areas are then ranked. Jaywick in Essex comes out top because it's the most deprived area in the country, and part of Great Missenden in Bucks comes bottom. That ordered list is then divided into 10 equal groups (or deciles), each containing about 3280 areas. 1 is the most deprived decile and 10 is the least. Not everyone who lives in decile 1 is poor, and not everyone who lives in decile 10 is rich, but that's how their area averages out.

Here's a map of North Westminster with areas coloured according to decile. The dark red areas like Westbourne Green are the most deprived, and the dark green areas like Maida Vale are the least deprived. Few corners of London are quite so mixed as this.



The full map is hosted by the Consumer Data Research Centre (using underlying data from DataShine and OpenStreetMap), and allows you to zoom in and check the decile for any area of England. It's probably worth checking which decile you live in before we proceed. I live in a 4, but grew up in a 9.

Across England there are an equal number of 1s, 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, 6s, 7s, 8s, 9s and 10s, because that's how deciles work.

12345678910
10%10%10%10%10%10%10%10%10%10%

But across London the spread is somewhat different.

12345678910
2%14%17%14%11%11%9%9%9%5%

Deciles 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 occur in proportions very close to the national average. But London has more 2s, 3s and 4s than expected (that's the not-particularly well off). It also has fewer 10s and a lot fewer 1s (because the extremes aren't over-abundant).

Overall London averages out as a 5. But the mode (the decile that comes up the most) is only 3. London, on average, is more deprived than the rest of the country.

Where this gets especially interesting is if you break the numbers down borough by borough.

This is Barking & Dagenham.

12345678910
4%50%29%9%7%1%0%0%0%0%

Half of B&D's residents live in a 2, the next-to-poorest category. No other London borough is so dominated by a particular decile. Almost 80% of B&D is in decile 2 or 3. Nowhere in B&D is a 7, 8, 9 or 10. The only bit of B&D to reach 6 (and be in the least deprived half of the country) is a few streets off Upney Lane. For balance, only a few areas are in the most deprived decile (notably on the Thames View estate or opposite Dagenham Heathway station).

This is Richmond.

12345678910
0%1%2%3%6%3%12%8%37%29%

Richmond's most common decile is a well-to-do 9. Two thirds of Richmond residents live in a 9 or a 10. No other London borough has quite so many 9s, or quite so many 10s. Very few Richmond residents live in a deprived area. The most deprived part of Richmond is an estate at the Hanworth end of Hampton.

Barking & Dagenham and Richmond are the bookends of London's deprivation index.

Barking & Dagenham's mode is 2 and Richmond's is 9. Here are the modes for all the other London boroughs. This is also what the map at the start of the post was showing.
1:
2: Barking & Dagenham, Camden, Enfield, Greenwich, Hammersmith & Fulham, Haringey, Tower Hamlets
3: Croydon, Hackney, Hillingdon, Islington, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Southwark
4: Brent, Ealing, Hounslow, Waltham Forest
5:
6: Redbridge, Wandsworth
7: Harrow
8: Barnet, Kensington & Chelsea, Westminster
9: Bexley, Bromley, Havering, Kingston, Richmond
10: Merton, Sutton
Seven mostly inner London boroughs have more 2s than any other decile. Roughly half of London's boroughs have a mode of 2 or 3. No borough peaks at 5, but Redbridge and Wandsworth peak at 6, so they're pretty average for England. All the 9s and 10s are outer London boroughs. Merton and Sutton are probably the surprises here, each with 18% of residents living in a 10.

Be careful not to read too much into all this, because the mode can hide a multitude of irregularities. Hillingdon peaks at 2, but 9 is in second place. Camden peaks at 2, but nearly peaks at 6, and also has a fair few 8s, 9s and 10s. Hammersmith & Fulham peaks at 2 because of Hammersmith, not because of Fulham. Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster may peak at 8 but also contain several 1s and 2s. Sutton could have ended up a 7, 8, 9 or 10 - the totals are all very close. And I've missed out the City of London because it only has four areas and they're all different, a 3, a 5, a 9 and a 10.

If you'd like to see the individual percentages for each borough, here's a graphic snapped from my spreadsheet.

Finally, here are a few other facts to be gleaned from London's deciles of deprivation.

Boroughs with no 1s (i.e. no really deprived areas): Bexley, Camden, Harrow, Hillingdon, Kingston, Lambeth, Merton, Redbridge, Richmond, Wandsworth
Boroughs with no 10s (i.e. no really well-to-do areas): Barking & Dagenham, Brent, Greenwich, Hackney, Hammersmith & Fulham, Haringey, Islington, Kensington & Chelsea (honest), Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Southwark, Waltham Forest

Boroughs with the most 1s: Hackney, Haringey, Enfield, Brent, Kensington & Chelsea
Boroughs with the most 10s: Bromley, Richmond, Sutton, Merton, Kingston, Bexley

Boroughs with nothing above a 5: Newham
Boroughs with nothing above a 6: Barking & Dagenham, Hackney
Boroughs with nothing above a 7: Islington
Boroughs with nothing above an 8: Brent, Lewisham

Boroughs with every decile from 1 to 10: Barnet, Bromley, Croydon, Ealing, Enfield, Havering, Hounslow, Sutton, Tower Hamlets, Westminster

 Monday, October 21, 2019

If you didn't walk from Wimbledon to Richmond yesterday, I went on your behalf.

Wimbledon Common (Southside)


Most of Wimbledon Common is sprawling heathland, but the southeast corner is open, grassy and surrounded by roads, making it ever so convenient for residents of Wimbledon Village to drop by. This they have done in large numbers. From my vantage point on the bench by Rushmere Pond I manage to count over 100 folk enjoying a quick constitutional while the sun briefly makes its presence felt. Most visitors have brought with them either a small child or a dog, often both, sometimes several. The wise have also brought something to throw, be that a ball or a cheap plastic spinny thing, because this is one of the simplest ways to keep a child/dog occupied for the necessary number of minutes before it's time to go home. The birds on the lake are glad of the distraction.

Cannizaro Park


Only those in the know tend to visit Canizzaro Park because they know where the path up the side of the hotel leads. The hotel used to be Cannizaro House and the park was its walled grounds, which explains much of the luxuriant planting within. I pick up a copy of the Autumn Trail from the rack by the entrance, although trying to locate the twelve trees on the map proves a challenging orienteering course because none of them are labelled. Beneath one particularly large tree a group of children are playing outdoor games Enid Blyton would have approved of. Along the Maple Avenue I pass a family wearing entirely unnecessary wellies. The Rose Garden is still able to offer red, pink and yellow blooms, but can't hold a candle to the multi-coloured Gouldian finches in the Aviary. Well worth an exploration.

Wimbledon Common (Gravelly Ride)


The further you walk onto the Common, the quieter it becomes. Closer to the main road are folk in padded jackets with pushchairs, plus children wielding a new favourite stick. Further on are retired couples with terriers, family groups weaving through the bracken and pairs of colour-coordinated joggers. Eventually you get to dodge the golfers, each wearing the official pillarbox red collared tops the Conservators demand. And then the rutted bridleway bears off towards the bottom of the valley and only the occasional dogwalker intrudes. I descend past mottled oaks and browning ferns, past brief patches of pink autumn groundcover, past drainage ditches clogged with beechmast, past holly rich with red berries, to a secret showjumping arena hidden in a clearing. Always walk that little bit further, it pays dividends.

Wimbledon Common (Beverley Brook)


The Common's western boundary is marked by the Beverley Brook, halfway through its journey to the Thames and running in deep semi-artificial channel. The riverbed looks like a tornado has whipped through, with thick branches toppled everywhere, but it turns out this is deliberate - the Environment Agency are trying to de-canalise the river with the aid of 'woody material'. As for the riverside footpath, with its squelchy narrowings and muddy puddles, this is the first time on my walk that I've been relieved to be wearing boots instead of trainers. I've also accidentally matched my pace with a woolly-hatted dogwalker whose two charges are thoroughly enjoying themselves running amok through the undergrowth. I enjoy it less when one stops directly in front of me and shakes themself dry.

Robin Hood Roundabout (A3)


I'd hate you to think that my hike was all natural idyll, so I'm inserting this photo of the point where I had to spend almost two minutes crossing a busy trunk road.

Richmond Park


Thousands have had the same idea as me and flooded to Richmond Park to see the autumn colours. We're all a bit early, the primary colour of foliage still being green, but various branches look like they'll be triggering soon. One lone oak to the north of the Isabella Plantation has gone full-on yellowy-orange and is the focus of much camera action. I end up following a long sandy trail, occasionally crisscrossed by walkers on their own personal tangents. One family has brought a picnic but decided against sitting down on the tartan cloth they've laid out. A cyclist in Goretex is preoccupied mending a puncture on his upturned bicycle. Three gentlemen with buttonholes head towards a private event on the terrace at Pembroke Lodge. If the weather holds, the skyline should look increasingly impressive by next weekend.

Richmond Park (deer)


October is one of the months the Royal Parks warn you about on their notices, being the end of the mating season, so stay well back and do not approach. Many pay scant heed. They gather on the paths around tracts of bracken where the animals graze, indeed the easiest way to track down a group of deer is to seek out a cluster of photographers. Branching off the beaten track can unintentionally bring you into closer contact, and on one occasion I decide a five minute detour is preferable to walking past a potential rut. Not all are so careful. Below Spankers Hill a tiny dog suddenly bolts towards a group of does, followed ineffectually by its owner, who then spends the next minute and a half chasing round in circles as the deer retreat and scatter. Nobody's hurt, but I sure as hell hope someone's embarrassed.

Richmond Hill


For those without the time or inclination to explore the park, a quick constitutional up Richmond Hill suffices. It has glorious views across Thameside meadows that poets praised, and beyond, in fact I think those towers on the horizon might be Woking. I take a seat on Averil's bench, one of dozens and dozens facing riverward, and enjoy the scene. Each gust of wind sends a random shower of leaves groundwards. Planes can be seen almost up to the point they land at Heathrow. The good people of Richmond parade by in pristine trainers, new season scarves and in one case a snood. It's almost as important to have a photo of yourself in front of the view as it is to grab the view itself. And here at last the treetops on the Twickenham bank are the motley assorted shades that only autumn delivers, so don't come too soon but don't leave it too long.


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jack of diamonds
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