Saturday, June 03, 2023
A Nice Walk: Wimbledon Common (1 mile)
Sometimes you just want to go for a nice walk, nothing too taxing, a bit of a stroll, lots to see, pretty views, surrounded by wildlife, entirely off-road, pockets of history, litter-free, won't take long. So here's a pleasant mile across Wimbledon Common, nowhere near enough to make a day of it but a nice walk all the same.
Caveat: This walk from the windmill to Caesar's Camp is one mile as the crow flies but best treat it as an exploratory wander and follow the footpaths of your choice. I zigzagged it in two miles and here's what I saw.
Wimbledon Windmill first turned in 1817, not that it was a smock mill back then, that evolution came later. Today it's a non-twirly museum at the heart of the common, open summer weekends. Even if it's closed you'll still see the sign saying Baden Powell wrote Scouting For Boys here, but you won't see a man up a hoist cleaning the woodwork because that's what I saw yesterday. The neighbouring car park is technically free but the Conservators invite a charge of £1 per hour - your choice.
The cafe does a roaring trade, I suspect a lot of people get no further. Tomato and Basil won't be Soup of the day because that was yesterday's, but you can always order yourself a Wombles Omelette (which for the avoidance of doubt is ham, cheese and mushroom, not sliced fictional creature). They also sell handmade doggy treats, like the dogs actually care, and a variety of cakes from Lemon Drizzle via Sticky Chocolate Orange to Trillionaire Tart.
Alongside is the clubhouse of London Scottish, England's third oldest golf club and the first course to have 18 holes. The building resembles a cricket pavilion and is bedecked with rampant lions, and it's possible you'll also see a box of Worcester sauce crisps in the window because I did yesterday. Golf and the common are totally integrated, the course threading sinuously through the woodland so Caution - Pedestrians Should Take Care When Crossing The Fairway.
Paths thread everywhere across the common, it's proper open land. One has Capital Ring arrows but I eschewed that and instead followed a less frenetic track bearing off near the eighth tee, which descended rapidly from the nettled edge into woodland thick with laurel and holly. They call this The Ravine, hence the trickly stream at the bottom and a similar ascent on the far side, though it's nothing so steep as to impair breathing, merely a broad notch cut into the plateau.
Queensmere, created to commemorate Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, is the common's deepest lake. One end is graced by a broad layer of yellow water-lilies, still burgeoning at present but give it a couple of weeks. Instead you may meet a feathery gaggle of ducklings, yesterday deemed cute by a gangly youth clutching a rugger ball, and also expect to be warned that allowing your dog to enter a sett is in contravention of The Protection of Badgers Act 1992.
Cross the fairway with care, looking out for the pillar-box red jackets all the golfers are obliged to wear. The next path, if selected adventurously, leads deep into thick birch woodland blessed with brambles and ferns. Nobody else was around for the next five minutes so I was at one with the great tits and a single squirrel scrambling up a gnarled oak. It's ever so easy to get lost, indeed earlier I'd had to direct a mum with a weepy toddler back to the car park because she was totally adrift.
Beyond the last of the fairways is Gravelly Hill, not the iconic M6 junction but a relative highpoint, barely discernible. Here the Upper and Lower Gravelly Rides fork, and here I had to step out of the way of a park ranger riding a chuggy John Deere. I also came across a group of oddly-dressed adults in the clearing below, one asking "Any more whips to go back?", this because I'd stumbled upon a horse exercise ring where a group of hardhatted riders had just finished a dressage lesson, nothing kinky.
Within a lofty pine grove, backdropped by a single stunning pinkish rhododendron, is Caesar's Well. Julius never came but it is proper ancient, a natural spring emerging five metres down, though muddily undrinkable these days. The local landowner had it surrounded with twelve blocks of granite, and you can tell who and when thanks to an inscription round the inner rim. Apparently it says PEEK MP 1872 (I couldn't read the first and last characters but I got the rest).
Across Robin Hood Ride, a three lane bridleway, the common drops to another micro-brook. Crossing requires stepping on strategically-located branches to keep out of the mud, blimey, even after all this lengthy dry weather. Upstream is an even damper patch, Farm Bog, one of London's six remaining lowland bogs, where the springwater puddles on the clay. Hard to find and hard to see, it's been carefully segregated behind a low willow fence because it's a fragile habitat so best keep out.
And so we come to Caesar's Camp, an Iron Age Fort 300m in diameter on the common's edge. It would be one of London's finest prehistoric treasures had not local landowner John Erle-Drax had its ditches filled and its ramparts levelled out of spite after being refused permission to build houses on the site. Even in 1875 some Tory MPs were bastards. Today the Royal Wimbledon Golf Club covers the interior, or at least half of holes 6, 7, 10 and 11 do, and peasant pedestrians are restricted to an armswidth footpath across the centre.
The only earthworks easily discerned are now the lips of artificial bunkers, such is the vandalism wreaked, although I did see one golfer smile as he let go of his trolley and watched it speed down what might have been a fundamentally ancient slope. The course looks beautiful at present, tinged with rusty red grasses, such are the delights of acid heathland. But it's entirely off limits so best end the walk here, or indeed anywhere else your Wimbledon Common perambulations take you because it's all nice.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, June 02, 2023n.b. This is not a genuine TfL press release.
But the underlying facts are true.
New Central line timetable will mean fewer trains and longer gaps from Monday
On Monday 5th June the introduction of a temporary Central line timetable will see the withdrawal of six trains from weekday service. With fewer trains available, gaps between services will become longer at certain times of day and overall capacity will be reduced.
"Yes, we did a very similar thing on the Jubilee line a fortnight ago," said Gavin Henderson, TfL's Head of Awkward News. "But nobody noticed then and we hope nobody notices now, because the media only ever report on the press releases we send them."
The amended timetable has been made necessary by long term train cancellations resulting from the need to repair ageing rolling stock. The withdrawn assets comprise three trains which operate throughout the traffic day and three trains which operate in peak service only. With six sets of rolling stock sitting in the depot all day, general resilience of service will be improved.
"Normally we operate 77 Central line trains during peak periods," said Deborah Denn, TfL's Head of Central Operations. "But from Monday the peak total will be just 71 trains, a 9% reduction, not quite enough for customers to realise something's up but just enough to provide a worse customer experience for thousands of passengers daily."
Between the peaks the reduction will be from 66 trains in service to 61, again a 9% reduction, so that's not good. But services on Saturdays and Sundays are not affected so at least that's something positive.
These temporary changes will apply until further notice, which could be weeks or months or even longer, nobody knows.
"Ideally we would have recast the entire timetable to optimise the service provided by a reduced number of trains," said Barry Nzuma, TfL's Head of Temporal Manipulation. "But recasting an entire timetable is a complex, lengthy and time-consuming process and quite frankly we didn't have the time. So instead what we've done is take the existing Working Timetable and crossed out half a dozen trains wherever they appear. We know this is not ideal."
For example 'Train 112' normally rumbles out of Hainault Depot at 0616 each weekday morning and rumbles back into the depot at 1904. Between these hours it runs from Hainault to White City, back to Hainault, back to Ealing Broadway, back to Loughton, back to Northolt, back to Loughton, back to Northolt, back to Epping, back to North Acton and back to Hainault. None of these journeys will now run.
Passengers who would normally have caught Train 112 will now have to wait until the next timetabled service arrives. For example, between 9am and 10am at Ealing Broadway a Central line train currently departs at least every 8 minutes. But from Monday when Train 112 disappears a 15 minute gap will open up around quarter to ten, so bad luck if that's the time window you turn up during.
The three trains to be withdrawn are as follows.
• Train 50: operates 0654 to 1848Meanwhile six trains are having their operating hours reduced.
• Train 101: operates 0728 to 1928
• Train 112: operates 0616 to 1904
• Train 115: no longer operates 0601 to 1455To get a feel for the new timetable you could simply download existing Working Timetable 70 and cross these services out. But because that's a right faff, the main way you'll experience the change is by turning up at an inopportune time and waiting longer for your train.
• Train 123: no longer operates 0631 to 0958
• Train 144: no longer operates 0800 to 1040
• Train 54: no longer operates 1304 to 1933
• Train 122: no longer operates 1639 to 2300
• Train 142: no longer operates 1515 to 0008
The effects are all a bit random. For example, at the start of the evening peak passengers waiting at Stratford for an Epping train currently enjoy departures every 10 minutes. From Monday the 1550 departure will disappear, introducing a 20 minute gap when no train goes any further than Loughton. But passengers turning up at any time between 1600 and 1900 will experience no difference because none of the Epping trains during this period are being withdrawn.
A bad time to catch a Central line train from West Ruislip will be around half past seven on a weekday morning. The 0738 departure is being withdrawn creating a new extended hiatus of 15 trainless minutes. It looks even worse at White City where two consecutive trains are both being withdrawn. This could have meant a seven minute gap at the height of the morning peak, whereas in fact the trains on either side are being squeezed to make sure it's only four.
"We have the best interests of the customer at heart," said Rizwana Adelio, TfL's Head of Internal Mitigation. "Existing trains have been rescheduled to minimise the impact of wide intervals that have opened up from the cancelled train paths. However some wider than usual intervals will remain in certain parts of the timetable, due to pathing constraints. Intervals are to be regulated and services adjusted where necessary."
Only minor attempts at mitigation have taken place. For example there could have been a really bad spell out east at lunchtime when both the 1336 from Loughton and the 1336 from Hainault were being withdrawn. A 7 minute trainless gap throughout the central core could easily have overcrowded subsequent trains. Instead surviving Train 11 will now depart a couple of minutes earlier and will reach Leytonstone a bit quicker, thereby equalising out the gaps.
Ultimately either the issue with long term train cancellations will be solved or a brand new Central line Working Timetable will be drawn up, whichever happens quicker. In the meantime the outright removal of six scheduled trains has been deemed the simplest solution to a pressing problem, because perfection can't be conjured up overnight.
"We like to keep our press releases positive and mention nothing negative whatsoever," said Polly Hopkins, TfL's Head of Brand Froth. "So thank goodness the public will never notice that two Underground lines now have timetabled train cancellations, because we'll be pretending everything's sailing ahead as normal 👀😍."
A worse weekday service with longer gaps starts on the Central line on Monday and continues until further notice. You may never notice, but should you turn up at the wrong moment and find yourself waiting a few minutes longer for a busier train, this is likely why.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, June 01, 2023Pinner is famous for its village fair
where once a year, St John the Baptist's Day,
shows all the climbing high street filled with stalls.
It is the feast day of the parish saint.
A mediaeval fair in Metroland.
[John Betjeman, Metroland, 1973]
They don't hold Pinner Fair on June 24th any more, they hold it on the Wednesday after the late May bank holiday when all Harrow's kids are off school.
But it really is just one day, and it really does fill the streets, and it really is medieval, King Edward III having granted the fair a royal charter in 1336. And it's not just one road it's three, a full half mile of one-off revelry, a funfair on a surprisingly epic scale. It sets up Tuesday afternoon, wows the local population for a day and by Thursday it's a memory and the buses are running normally again.
Pick your ride and spend your money,
bouncy castle, mini planes,
Climb the stairs and pay your fiver,
Belt up, spin and jolt and scream,
Join your posse on the dodgems,
hurlers, swirlers, queues for all.
The nexus of the fair is the mini-roundabout by Red Lion Parade. On any normal day it's busy with traffic and turning buses but on Whit Wednesday the tarmac is invaded by multiple fairground rides and food stalls. The largest contraption is overseen by a fibreglass Jiminy Cricket and rotates forwards and backwards with bursts of air, while other machines rock from side to side or twirl in 3D. Teenagers queue with glee for the chance to be hurled around like the last aerial contingent they watched, or turn up on spec because you can't let your mates down can you. The biggest bottleneck is the stretch past WH Smith where even trying to duck behind the rides doesn't get you through any faster, and how great is it that a dead ordinary high street gets this massive transformation once a year.
Saint John oversees all from the head of the high street
A squat-towered guardian in robes of flint, but locked today,
Best watch the fete from the bench by the war memorial,
A gift from the Townswomen's Guild when hats were commonplace,
A historic tumble of stalls between half-timbered shopfronts,
Bequeathed from the past to the youth of today.
The High Street is the quieter option, the safest place to bring small children with all the rides they like. Here are the small cars that rotate on a minimal track, the teacups that pretend to be waltzers and the extra-safe trampolines hanging from springy straps. Best not risk any damage to Pinner's Tudor shopfronts. The Queen's Head is doing a decent trade in alfresco plastic pints, the Turquoise Kitchen is doling out Turkish snacks from trays and tupperware, and Starbucks is catering for the dullards who'd rather not get involved. The uppermost ride is playing all the tracks on Michael Jackson's Thriller album on repeat, attracting nobody, while the mirror labyrinth has successfully enticed the less adventurous with nothing more than angled glass.
Summer sweethearts clutching prizes,
cuddly leopard, giant squid,
Kids with booty broadly beaming,
plastic dagger, tub of slime,
Throw a ball to win a minion,
Hook a tigger, hook a duck.
Bridge Street is heaving and it's only mid-afternoon, so imagine what it'll be like by the middle of the evening. Queue here to rise into the sky and spin above Boots the Chemist, queue here to cling to the rail of a rotating sofa with all your classmates outside Wenzels and queue here to whoosh in a loop past the Oddfellows Arms. The actual genuine Gypsy Maria Lee has arrived in her caravan and will tell your fortune like she did Princess Diana's. Round the back of the rides a multitude of cables snakes off towards anywhere they could plug them in, the Nationwide cashpoint is doing a roaring trade and bus stop D lies flat behind the Love Lane shelter waiting to be screwed back in tomorrow morning. Oxfam haven't bothered opening up today, there being far too many distractions, whereas at Ellement & Son the consultations go on because the business of funeral directing doesn't stop just because everyone else is having fun.
Feed the brood with fat and sugar,
cups of cheesy chips with sauce,
Burger bap with token salad,
candyfloss and bright blue slush,
Queue here for Miss Millie's churros,
candy strings and pic'n'mix.
The fair continues along Marsh Road above the hidden ripples of the river Pinn, then beneath and beyond the Metropolitan railway bridge. Here are the helium balloons and the games of alleged skill, like scoring a goal to win a football scarf or knocking down cans to win a giant loveheart bear. Here the air smells of dusted treats, fried potatoes and spitting pork because the streetfood revolution has yet reach zone 5. Here the uniform is Hoodrich, Hollister and Underarmour, or ribbed jackets and hair in ribbons, the crowd a complete cross-section of Harrow's modern demographic. And here are the final rides, the ghost train, the whirly water balls and the dodgems, and ultimately the barriers keeping the traffic and the problems of the world at bay.
Sir John never came to Pinner Fair when making his documentary, he left that to his film crew and only did the voiceover. Even today it's more a young person's event than a muse for pensioner poets, but I'm sure he'd love to have witnessed this great Middlesex tradition still filling the streets on a grand scale. By the time you read this the fair will have vanished for another year, its brief annual flowering extinguished overnight. But if you fancy a flutter of fun and can get time off midweek then stick Wednesday 29th May 2024 in your diary, because every London suburb deserves a charter fair but only Pinner is lucky enough to have one.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, May 31, 202331 unblogged things I did in May
Mon 1: One of the five most gorgeous human beings on the planet has followed me on social media and I feel strangely vindicated.
Tue 2: I finally got round to watching Glass Onion, the Daniel Craig whodunnit, courtesy of someone else's Netflix account. It was very cleverly written and immensely enjoyable, but plotwise Knives Out was a tad more satisfying.
Wed 3: I went looking for a newsagent in Shepherds Bush and you wouldn't believe how hard they are to find these days, all the likely contenders just sell food and vapes, but eventually I found a sparsely stocked throwback on The Green, thank you Yogi Smurti, and now I have a Coronation edition Radio Times to go with my 1953 copy.
Thu 4: That unnerving feeling when a rising tower of scaffolding passes your window and you have no idea why.
Fri 5: We're having pipe problems on Bow Road. The cycle lane outside the Nisa supermarket has been dug up for a second time and has subsequently filled with water, while the usual corner outside the old town hall has been dug up for something considerably more serious, again, and the ironwork must be fundamentally flawed down there.
Sat 6: You wait 70 years for a coronation and it rains again, so the royal family's ability to predict the weather remains appalling, and I see this as excellent evidence that time travel doesn't exist.
Sun 7: I have rarely been as underwhelmed by a concert as I was by tonight's Coronation extravaganza at Windsor Castle. The music was unexciting, the humorous bits weren't funny and King William's had better be better.
Mon 8: I got to the end of Magpie Murders which was very good, and I guessed the importance of wordplay as early as episode two but I was only looking for clean words so somewhat missed the point.
Tue 9: As well as visiting all the stations in zones 1-3 this year, I've now also visited all the tram stops. I'm excited to discover that tram mascot Roger the Crocodile is now fronting his own promotional campaign, although I doubt it'll generate much successful feedback.
Wed 10: The Woolwich Ferry is back operating a two-boat service on weekdays, hurrah, but it was still quicker to walk through the foot tunnel instead, even with both lifts out.
Thu 11: I enjoyed Gideon Coe's last 3-hour show on Radio 6Music, but didn't enjoy that it's going to be replaced by a shorter less eclectic double act which probably won't work, but we'll see.
Fri 12: A spider has taken up residence in the corner of my bathroom, high above the tap end, and I am fine with this even to the stage of being able to lie back in the bath for half an hour with the lights off.
Sat 13: Well didn't Liverpool triumph at Eurovision? The city showcased itself perfectly for a full week, the BBC pulled out all the stops to deliver a nigh-flawless set of shows, Hannah Waddingham was a star, Finland were diddled, and we may never see any of that here in the UK again during our lifetime.
Sun 14: A woman sat down next to me on the Central line, and shortly afterwards burst into tears and dashed away to sit at the other end of the carriage where she was quietly comforted by another passenger, and I have no idea what happened there but I'm assuming I didn't cause it.
Mon 15: I gave Vernon Kay's first mid-morning Radio 2 show a try. He was chipper but possibly over-trying, and listenable but lumbered with duff features (Vernon's Vaults, what were they thinking?), and not exactly appointment-radio but also playing better music than Ken Bruce is allowed to these days
Tue 16: TfL have just updated their online portal for Oyster and contactless accounts so that access now requires a One Time Passcode to be sent to your phone. This Multi-Factor Authentication is for our own security, they tell us. But "If you do not wish to have MFA set up on your account and provide us with a phone number then unfortunately this means you will not be able to access your online account", i.e. if you don't have a mobile phone you are now permanently locked out. This is not progress, it's exclusion.
Wed 17: My tram was delayed by inspectors catching a freeloader who refused to alight, and after a few minutes the mother opposite took out her frustration on the inspectors for holding up her journey. She announced to the carriage that they should let the bloke stay aboard and allow us to continue because "it's what we're all thinking", and I really wanted to tell her that not everyone was thinking that but I kept quiet. What I was actually thinking was how some people always claim to be speaking on behalf of everyone to further their own point of view, populist politicians especially, and the faredodger eventually relented and threw his lager over the tram windows as we drove off.
Thu 18: Leytonstone is right up there in my Top 10 London suburbs I associate with tedious traffic congestion (along with Richmond, Southall, Northolt, Colindale, Ponders End and Plumstead), and these junction improvements had better be worth it because it's hellish at the moment.
Fri 19: They're dismantling the old departures board at Euston station, the new smaller perpendicular ones presumably having been deemed a success, and I suspect somebody somewhere is mighty pleased about how large an advertising screen they'll be able to replace it with.
Sat 20: I suffered two serious breakages today, one bang on the stroke of midnight (that's never happened before) and the other mid-afternoon (that happens all too often). I sorted the anxious expensive one within a week but the one that's not my responsibility alas remains unsolved.
Sun 21: I rode the first timetabled purple train from Shenfield through Paddington and then, thanks to delays due to overrunning engineering works, I was able to ride the first purple train back the other way. The trainspotter count was unexpectedly low.
Mon 22: Workmen have turned up to drill out the two disused telephone kiosks outside Bow Road station. Tomorrow the boxes will be on the back of a truck and by Wednesday there'll just an empty paved space.
Tue 23: It's amazing how much emergency planning you can do aboard a bus zipping through the backstreets of Sutton.
Wed 24: As of this week we've had a Conservative government for longer than we had the last Labour government, and maybe 13 years is genuinely unlucky.
Thu 25: Bromley Public Hall on Bow Road, which until 2021 was the Tower Hamlets Register Office, finally has a new use - it's become Bow Coroners Court. This is one of three courts in HMC Inner North London, the building where juries meet if required, and I can't work out if it's new or a replacement for somewhere else. Also the rebrand is really cheap, just a couple of bits of paper stuck by the door, so it looks like the budget also died.
Fri 26: I unexpectedly bumped into BestMate's Mum at a bus stop in Bexley. I almost didn't recognise her with her sunglasses on.
Sat 27: I went through the palaver to upgrade two of my savings accounts to new versions offering better rates of interest, and you could hear the boredom in the voice of the lady reading out the terms and conditions, and she could hear the frustration in my voice that they don't do this automatically.
Sun 28: It's the day between the 10 mile walk I do every five years and the 10 mile walk I do every two years, so I'm afraid I can't come on a long hike today sorry.
Mon 29: ...and while we're talking very old tube maps, the two on the Jubilee line platforms at Canary Wharf are both dated December 2018, and how utterly shortsighted do you need to be as a station supervisor or organisation not to have realised this?
Tue 30: I've very much enjoyed reading Mike Parker's new book All The Wide Border, a personal travelogue exploring "Wales, England and the places between". He brings the multi-layered history of the Welsh borders alive with a smart focus on places along and around the rivers Dee, Severn and Wye, much of it based on personal experience. The pandemic intrudes somewhat, although given the regulatory divide either side of the border it's always pertinent, and I'd have muted the non-geographical politics stuff. But he paints such a picture you'll likely be tempted to make a pilgrimage yourself.
Wed 31: I've been meaning to visit this event ever since it was first widely publicised in 1973, or at least since I first noticed it in 1983, and this is the first year I've ever remembered on the day but circumstances may conspire to keep me away again.
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, May 30, 2023East Sussex quiz
Here are 24 alternative names for towns and villages in East Sussex.
How many can you identify?
All answers now in the comments box, thanks.
posted 16:00 :
Every two years I walk the best walk in southeast England, which is across the top of Beachy Head and over the Seven Sisters.
Traditionally when I get home I'm so knackered all I do is show you a few photos. The danger is they're always the same photos except with the tiny people in different places.
This year is no exception.
(if those flashed past too fast for you, here are the same ten photos but slower)
Also, because this is the ninth time I've done this walk, there isn't much more to say.
Here are a handful of things that were different this time.
• The nice lady at the London Bridge ticket office suggested splitting the train ticket at Wivelsfield, and that meant a return to Eastbourne which would normally have cost £39.90 ended up costing £13.80 + £15.60, a saving of £10.50. (Also, because I have a Gold Card the total I actually paid was just under £20, and that is a bargain)
• Yesterday's weather was sunny but breezy, so never quite warm, but that proved to be ideal walking conditions.
• It's the first time I've done the walk with two other people. I've taken BestMate before but this time we also took BestMate'sOtherHalf, without letting on fully what lay ahead. By the end they were totally impressed, but there was a ropey moment when they suddenly realised the Seven Sisters had eight summits which meant there was still one extra climb to go.
• Bank Holiday Mondays are particularly busy at Birling Gap. I think that's the busiest I've ever seen the car park. I thought it (unintentionally) tasteless that the National Trust car park now contains a 'Drop off point'.
• On the train down we were subjected to much loud anecdotage from James and his braying harem, so we were very glad when they got off at Lewes to catch the train to Seaford. Three hours later we passed them going the other way at Birling Gap, still cackling. Four hours later we passed them again on Eastbourne High Street, rather more tired by now. I hope never to pass them again.
• My phone tells me I climbed the equivalent of 190 floors, which is odd because four years ago when I walked in the opposite direction it told me I climbed about 100. Now I don't believe either number.
• The whole thing was magic, but the long grass on the chalk upland at Beachy Head rippling in the wind like a wave-tossed sea was particularly magic.
• A bit more of Beachy Head is now roped off to prevent you walking by the edge, a bit more of Belle Tout has crumbled off and you can see where small bits of the Seven Sisters are soon going to crack and fall.
• A 99 from the ice cream van at Beachy Head is now £3, and a Magnum from Belle Tout is £2.60.
• Everything else I thought I might tell you, I realise I've told you before.
Also I kept up my record of never walking the same stretch in the same direction as I did last time.
Seaford Exceat Eastbourne 2007 << << << 2009 >> >> >> >> >> 2011 << << << << << 2013 << << << 2015 >> >> >> 2017 << << << << << 2019 >> >> >> 2021 << << << << << 2023 << << <<
It looks like it's time for a west-to-east when I come back in 2025. But first, a nice long rest.
posted 07:00 :
Monday, May 29, 2023One of London's oddest open spaces can be found on the western edge of London, almost as far west as London goes, tucked inbetween Heathrow and the M25. A stripe of species-rich grassland fills the gap between the motorway and the airport perimeter road, about a mile in length and half a mile wide. Most of the week it's quiet like any other nature reserve, but if the wind's in the right direction and the runways are appropriately flipped then every couple of minutes the sky briefly roars.
This is the Heathrow Biodiversity Site, one of several peripheral spaces watched over by the airport to boost its green credentials. There are no hangars or hotels here, nor even any buildings, just hummocks of grass and thickets of trees alive with wildflowers, birds and other wildlife. But Heathrow Airport Holdings Limited aren't acting as eco-guardians purely out of the goodness of their hearts. They need wetlands to soak up the risk of flooding around their very large expanse of tarmac, and they also prefer nobody to live in the liminal areas where planes are loudest and at greatest risk of a crash. But mainly they're looking ahead because owning most of the surrounding land helps to make any potential expansion of the airport a heck of a lot easier. Whoosh!
The easiest way to get here is probably via the number 81 bus. You need to alight at the first stop after the village of Longford which is the last stop before the Greater London boundary, that's Moor Bridge. Expect the entrance gate to be obvious but not especially encouraging - no there's no public right of way but yes you can come in, just don't allow your dog to foul. A mud track then bears off south on an undulating path between grazed meadow and locked woodland, and all you need to know is that the Heathrow flight path crosses at the foot of the first brief dip where the wooden fence begins. Pick your vantage point - I prefer the grassy summit on the left - and if planes are landing from the west on the northern runway you won't have long to wait.
A steady convoy of planes can be seen approaching above the treetops, lights ablaze. As each approaches it grows larger and louder until it's above you, perhaps directly above, a tube of brightly-painted fuselage with all of its tray tables in the upright position. You can almost sense the pilots staring straight ahead thinking what's that idiot doing down there gawping in the middle of a field. As the noise peaks the aircraft descends further towards the edge of the field, then heads across the river and the boundary road to the end of the runway barely half a mile distant. If you get lucky with the angle of the sun the plane will be closely followed by its shadow sweeping across the clover, and I am inordinately pleased with my video depicting this.
The planes in the procession range from fairly small to occasionally very large, the latter being most likely to make you go wow as they swoop by. The larger planes also instigate turbulence, not immediately but maybe ten seconds after they've flown over, which manifests as strange whistling eddies in the branches of the trees. I only noticed it down by the fenced-off meadow called Orchard Farm, directly beneath the flight path, but it was certainly eerie like the sudden manifestation of a spirit or an invisible giant stepping through the leaves.
On previous visits I've found the biodiversity zone empty but on this occasion a pair of planespotters - father and son - were perched on the central hillock watching everything fly by. They'd brought chairs and various refreshments and were keeping tabs on mobile devices to confirm what was approaching next. Then as each plane arrived in the airspace in front of them, perfectly lit, they trained their enormous lenses and followed the aircraft for a few close-up seconds of pitch-perfect landing, or perhaps turbulent wobble. It's just the kind of thing spotters do at Myrtle Avenue on the opposite side of the airport when runways are switched, but generally in far greater numbers, so these two image-grabbers were enjoying a considerable amount of exclusivity.
This grassland used to be gravel pits and before that a patch of orchards just off the Great West Road. The M25 changed all that, careering down the Colne Valley via the path of least resistance (which was the flood plain of the river where sensible humans tended not to live). Following construction the area was relandscaped and nature allowed to take its course, with separate chunks of grassland connected via a single track weaving north to south. The southern end is even more remote, emerging by the roundabout that really is the westernmost point in London and there's no good reason for going there. But the animals that live here prefer visitor numbers to be tiny, hence the cheerful birdsong from the hedgerows, the bumble bees amid the dandelions and the fox prints in the earth.
When Terminal 5 was built a new spur of motorway was needed and this was built straight across the centre of the Heathrow Biodiversity Site. It stalks across the valley on concrete stilts leaving space for the Colne and the spine path to pass gloomily underneath, emerging into blinking artificial landscapes on either side. It's a reminder that even one of London's great rivers isn't immune to tampering when engineering demands, in this case because it had the misfortune to flow past an even greater airport.
Heathrow's most recent plans for a third runway would see the permanent diversion of the Colne via a new artificial channel further to the west, and the total eradication of this slice of grassland to make way for a pair of taxiways linking the old runways to the new. The Bath Road would be swallowed, the M25 sunk into a tunnel and the wildlife I saw would have to find somewhere else to be biodiverse, having all been sacrificed to the gods of international travel. But these expansion plans are so destructive across such a wide area that they'll only ever go ahead if political intent outweighs environmental pressures, which currently looks unlikely, so I expect the Heathrow Biodiversity Site will continue to be buzzed by low-flying aircraft for many years to come.
Maybe come one day and be wowed, but make sure that flights are landing in the right direction otherwise all you'll find is a quiet swathe of bees in clover.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, May 28, 2023The Chess Valley Walk is a fabulous 10 mile hike following a chalk stream through the lower ripples of the Chilterns.
It links Rickmansworth and Chesham so is easily accessible from London. It's well signposted throughout. It toys with the backside of Metroland but spends most of its time amid fields and meadows with one stunning panoramic ascent. It can get muddy but that's not a problem right now, plus the wildflowers are at their best as spring turns to summer. I first walked it in 2013 so that's where you'll find my proper bloggage, and then again in 2018 and 2023 so I guess it's become a periodic treat. I also had a particularly good reason to go back this year - thanks for asking Amanda - but we'll get to that when my reportage reaches the Herts/Bucks border.
Potential ramblers taking a photo of the CVW map on the wall outside Rickmansworth tube station, Coventry supporter with sky blue beard exiting the multi-storey and heading for Wembley, thank you for shopping at Waitrose, cyclist doing leg stretches in the park, cricket practice in the nets beyond the outfield, sparrow dangling a worm from its beak, Visitors 142 for 8, dogwalker dangling a green bag of terrier poo, chalk stream meandering lazily beside a grassy path, bright yellow water irises, occasional damselflies, notionally clear water, possibly as good as the Chess's chalk stream experience gets.
The rippling shallows where I used to come tiddler-fishing as a child, spotty dalmatian splashing in the stream by the wooden footbridge, little egret taking off, beardy father with pushchair discussing football with his neckbraced dad, wire fence because most of the upcoming stream is private, heron flapping low across a nettly meadow and landing in a tree by the bee hives, Glen Chess, Loudwater Lane, the upmarketest estate in Metroland, Timberdene Private Property, long narrow path between enormous detached back gardens, young couple with stray blossom in their hair.
Troutstream Way, houses with names instead of numbers, sculpted giraffe peering over the back fence beside some child's mega-treehouse, buttercuppy paddocks, masked horse wearing zebra print with only its legs and tail showing, tennis balls on the posts of an electric fence, small blue butterfly, fingerpost, long tedious passageway along the side of a motorway embankment, 'get in lane' sign for M25 J18, the Tropical Marine Centre (formerly Solesbridge Mill Water Gardens), bridge across eight-lane orbital, traction engine on a trailer, we haven't seen the river for a very long time.
Chorleywood House Estate Local Nature Reserve, you are now entering the Chilterns AONB, lively meadow, reappearance of the dogwalkers, stately pines, the whiff of freshly-applied suncream, reappearance of the Chess - broad and languid and pebble-bottomed, large dog launching repeatedly into the shallows to retrieve a thick stick, wooden footbridge (the sole crossing of the Chess before mile nine), low boardwalk, sudden gasp of contoured countryside, rising field with yellow flowers at the bottom and white flowers at the top, break here for Sarratt's Cock Inn.
The meadow with the cattle in, 9th century lynchets, baby in sling on its first Chess Valley Walk, dead end lane populated by a handful of intermittent cottages, first dalliance with the Buckinghamshire border, narrow slab bridge across the stream, Campbell's Meadow (private, locked), a spider scuttling across the lane from one hedgerow to the other, display of wisteria, roadsign for Sarratt Bottom, finally we turn west, Valley Farm, sometimes-marshy field, first sighting of a red kite, lone alpaca, horses hiding in the shade, watercress delivery van, ford, oh hang on...
Last September Amanda got in touch because she was compiling new information boards for the Chess Valley Walk and needed historical images and wildlife photos. And I had a photo on Flickr she wanted to use because when I walked past ten years ago the last surviving watercress beds on the Chess were still operational, indeed I could have bought a bag of leaves for £1.50. Alas "an issue with the river" has since halted production and Crestyl is now a gated private home where the only nod to the past is the information board outside. And yay, just as Amanda promised there's my image bottom left alongside the Did you know? box, along with a credit to @diamondgeezer/Flickr, keeping the flame of Hertfordshire heritage alive.
Field scattered with round black-plastic-covered bales, Frogmore Meadows (a rare lowland meadow), projecting wooden viewpoint, little box with a ready supply of CVW leaflets, brief spell of woodland, shrivelled bluebells, emerging into Buckinghamshire, opened-out valley bottom, pause to slap on more Factor 50, parallel-channelled 19th century water meadows, Range Rover emerging from prime residential barn, break here for Chenies, waterside path alongside Dodd's Mill relief channel, little egret and red kite, The Couple I Appear To Be Walking At The Same Speed As, Liberty's tomb, vibrant colourful meadows, well this is just lovely.
Dogs Seen Worrying Livestock Are Likely To Be Shot, Flaunden Bottom, break here for Chalfont, break here for Latimer, cluster of footpath discs, slow steady climb, skirting the Latimer Estate, luxury hotel in former mansion with thin brick chimneys and dormitory outbuildings, students photographing hawthorn blossom and themselves, fabulous view across the valley, a rich Georgian lady dammed and landscaped the Chess to create a long water here, that lake looks unnaturally blue, orange tip butterfly, a single poppy growing amid the long grass and dandelions, did I mention how excellent the view is?
Cyclist taking a rest on a bench with a book, path skirting between the top of a field and the edge of thick woods, group of Ricky-bound ramblers unsure whether to fork left or right, final panoramic wow, empty bench for a glug of water, steepest bit of the walk (thankfully down), brief glimpse of river, sighting of tube train climbing the far side of the valley, I remember this bit being seriously muddy but it's bone dry today, rectangular black-plastic-covered bales, waiting for tractor boy and tractor girl to drive past, lane, cluster of cottages, intrusive path through back garden.
Horse chestnut with candles, electrified paddocks, the last field before the far edge of Chesham, a final grassy slope, jolted awake by traffic, Chesham Sewage Works (sometimes leaky), awkwardly pavementless lane, strand of chalkstream beside road, Watercress Cottage, shady backways, gushing outlet, forklift crossing point, borders of nettles and dock, another Ford (but this one sells cars), vandalproof green metal benches, rope swing above the weir at Cannon Mill being used by excitable group of young adventurers, thick trailing roots, child in yellow wellies with actual tiddler-dipping net.
Path between watery braids, the Mayor's memorial bench, toddler on a trail looking for laminated birds, the beer garden at the back of The Pheasant, River Chess Discovery Day at Chesham Moor, a crowd of kids river-dipping, stalls for Chiltern Rangers and Chiltern Streams, blown-up photos from Matt Writtle's photo project, flinty church, railway bridge, two ducks on a wall, shallow crystal waters, dash across the busy Amersham Road, last glorious burst of marshy irises, Bow Cottage at Town Bridge, clocktower, Chesham High Street (Mad Squirrel, Pearce's, Darvell's, Cox The Saddler, Gerry Martins), direct train to Aldgate.
I'll be back in 2028, and here's that leaflet if you want to walk it sooner.
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, May 27, 2023Visit It: Fulham Palace
Location: Bishop's Avenue, Fulham SW6 6EA [map]
Socials: [Facebook] [Twitter] [Instagram] [YouTube]
Five word summary: historic bishop's base
Time to allow: maybe an hour
Tucked away by the Thames near Putney Bridge, shrouded by trees, is the longstanding home of the Bishop of London. It was once used as his country retreat, somewhere to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, which just goes to show how longstanding it is. But 50 years ago the new Bishop decided to live elsewhere and now it's owned by a trust who oversee management of the estate and allow the public in for a general lookaround. There's quite a lot to see.
It's an impressive-looking building, as befits a Tudor shell. Step through the arch into the main courtyard to enjoy one of the best views of what it might have looked like to Reformation bishops, complete with wiggly brickwork and an off-centre fountain. What you're supposed to do is enter on the left past the information desk into the museum, but I was beguiled by the door under the clocktower and found myself in a less coherent set of corridors instead.
The Great Hall promises much, indeed royalty once feasted here, but most of its historic ambience has been lost in subsequent upgrades by domestic owners. Bishop's Howley's Room was blank bar some unannounced audio-visual presentation. Bishop Sherlock's Room was hosting a slightly forced presentation on diversity. Bishop Terrick's Rooms were empty and looked like spaces for hiring out, which I suspect they often are. At least the chapel impressed.
It's the fourth on the site and originally Victorian, although the current aesthetic owes more to postwar rejuvenation following bomb damage. The murals are especially Fifties, including blond-haired stone-hurlers and a kneeling couple who might be Liz and Philip. I also liked Bishop Porteus's Library, well stocked with diverse if not always ecclesiastical books, where the guide broke off her historical chat to reveal a secret panel and a hidden trapdoor.
The museum is more a collection of corridors than a sequence of galleries. It focuses primarily on archaeology carried out on site, so I was inordinately excited that one of the displays contained three iconic crisp packets - sausage & tomato Golden Wonder, pickled onion Outer Spacers and cheese & onion Smiths. For real food you want the cafe out back in Bishop Howley's dining room, a popular local choice, although a bacon roll will set you back six quid.
For many the finest part of the palace is its extensive garden, including a 500 year-old oak tree, multiple labelled beds and a recently restored walled garden. Alas this is temporarily sealed off for the setting-up of stages, indeed the whole palace is closed this weekend so that Groove Armada and Ministry of Sound can host a demure dance festival. So best ignore today's recommendation to visit until they've taken it all down, but don't forget Fulham Palace is here.
posted 08:00 :
Way back in 2017 when everyone thought Crossrail was imminent, TfL launched a massive consultation on bus changes to support the new service. Many of those changes occurred long before any purple through-trains ran, but two are only happening today.
Here's what the TfL bus changes webpage has to say.
Changes will be made to the route taken by buses on routes 95 and E5 in the Dormer's Wells area from Saturday 27 May. This is to improve reliability and provide more direct journeys into Southall Town Centre and station.But there's no map to explain the changes because of course there isn't. A map would make this splurge of words much easier to understand but maps remain outside TfL's level of competence, or at least beyond the limit of business cases and management priorities.
Route 95 will be rerouted from Somerset Road direct to Lady Margaret Road in both directions. It will no longer serve Cornwall Avenue, Allenby Road, Dormer's Wells Lane, Burns Avenue and Carlyle Avenue. Route 105 will continue to provide a 24-hour service over this section of route no longer served by the 95.
Route E5 will be rerouted from Telford Road via Burns Avenue and Carlyle Avenue to Lady Margaret Road in both directions. It will no longer serve stops on Dormer's Wells Lane or the hail and ride section on North Road, Thurston Road, Allendale Avenue, Dormer's Avenue or Denbigh Road. Passengers should use routes 95 or 120 from Lady Margaret Road, route 105 from Dormer's Wells Lane or routes 105 or E5 from Burns Avenue or Carlyle Avenue which are a short walk away.
n.b. maps were produced for the consultation in 2017, but everything pre-2019 was deleted when TfL upgraded their consultation platform in 2021, which has proved particularly short-sighted given how long it's taken this particular change to come to fruition.
So I thought I'd knock up my own before and after map (based on the quadrant maps TfL used to produce). I hope this makes things clearer.
• The 95 is being sent on a much more direct route.
• The 105 is continuing to follow the wigglier route through Dormer's Wells.
• The E5 is being diverted to follow some of the 95's previous meander, leaving the existing Hail and Ride section unserved.
The streamlined 95 will speed passengers to and from Southall much quicker, but will still terminate two stops short of the Crossrail station. This seems somewhat perverse amid a set of changes designed to improve purple interchange, but that's because another change to the 95 has yet to be introduced. Eventually it'll be extended to serve the massive regenerated Southall Gasworks site but the roads aren't ready yet, nor indeed the flats, so only the Dormer's Wells tweak has been introduced so far.
Crossrail may now be complete, but implementing its bus changes has taken even longer.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, May 26, 202340 years ago today...
Thursday, May 26, 1983
6.45 Bedside radio switches on.
7.00 It's Mike Read with the Radio 1 breakfast show.
7.10 Crawl out of bed and stumble into the bathroom. It still smelt of cigarette smoke even though our French lutist had left on Monday.
7.30 Breakfast in the kitchen. Mmm, Coco Pops. I'd opened a new packet of Coco Pops earlier in the week and moaned in my diary that the new offer on the back of the packet was really dull. You had to cut out four tokens and send them off to get a card-based memory game by return, and I wrote "Why aren't there any nice plastic figures in there any more, eh?". Those were the days, I still have my chunky blue Dougal from the Magic Roundabout, my Munch Bunch pencil toppers and my Weetabix Dr Who cards, but even 40 years ago those days were sadly gone.
7.55 Grab briefcase and set off on the walk to school.
8.20 Arrive at school, just like normal. But it's not normal. It's the day before A Level study leave. The last day of timetabled learning. The very last day of lessons at school.
8.25 Hello classmates. Well this is strange isn't it? Shall we pick our pieces for the board game at lunchtime? What we should have been talking about this morning was the premiere of Return of the Jedi which had taken place last night. We'd all seen the first two films. But entertainment news didn't flash across the world in those days, plus the film wasn't out in the UK until next week, so conversation was usually rather insular instead. That said, Phil had come in on Monday and told us all about the plot of Friday 13th 3 in full gory detail; "This machete, right...".
8.35 No assembly this morning because our last one was yesterday. Instead our form teacher settles us down and hands out our very last school report. All it says in my diary is that mine was "a goody", and I fear that was an understatement.
9.00 Double free period. Our very last opportunity to learn something from a teacher but instead the timetable delivers us a free. Phil uses the opportunity to hassle the librarian by talking and whistling, because it's the last day so what can they do? Then he walks out early. I probably read the paper and the school's copy of Punch, or at least flicked through the cartoons.
10.10 A general election is imminent and almost all of us in the class can vote. I've made a Tory manifesto, a satirical one, and this is my chance to hand it round and try and get some laughs. I had tried making three manifestos, one for each party, but only the Conservative one was funny. With no computers in those days I drew it all out on a sheet of folded A4 paper and traced an image of Maggie onto the front. I even get a smile from the classmate whose councillor dad is about to become Tory Mayor of Watford this afternoon. Sadly I don't still have it because Bill took it home with him and I never saw it again.
10.30 My very last lesson in <Subject 1>. We go through a short answer paper and Mr K gives us some helpful exam tips. That was it for me and <Subject 1>, and probably good riddance.
11.45 My last lesson in <Subject 2>. Mr F is also leaving and he unexpectedly spends the first period telling us about his life. I think he's trying to be inspirational. Then the headteacher pops in to say good luck (which was a relief, because on Tuesday he was supposed to be teaching us in the chemistry lab but instead we all hid in the cloakroom and he assumed he'd come to the wrong room and walked off and we got a free period instead)
1.00 A quick last trip to the sixth form common room while I still can. If it had been Tuesday I'd have hung on every word of the new Top 40, but it was Thursday.
1.10 Back to our form room to spend the very last lunchtime playing board games. Our favourite board game at the time was called Cosmic Encounter. It was a bit strategy, a bit sci-fi, a bit geeky. But hell, we were geeky sixth formers so we never noticed that we should have been talking about football and breasts instead. We play two games. Dave wins the first with a particularly good combination of powers, and I'm doing well in the second when the bell goes. And that was pretty much it for me and communal board games, there never was a spare hour and a ready audience again.
2.15 Final registration. Yes we're all here.
2.25 My very last lesson is my very last lesson in <Subject 3>. We do some actual revision of an important topic and then Mr G tosses us a potential essay question ("Discuss") and gets us to debate it. My pair debates it best. I could have done <Subject 3> at university but I was better at <Subject 2> so there was never any question I'd be doing that instead. But you get a lot more of <Subject 3> than <Subject 2> in this blog, so I'm glad it turned out to be useful in the end.
3.40 The bell rings and school's out. The class victim whoops. Sometimes I feel ashamed that we still had a class victim. This was the sixth form for heaven's sake, and you'd think we'd have matured past that. Other times I'm mighty glad that somebody else was there to be class victim instead of me. That's it, I thought, nobody at school's ever going to try and teach me anything again.
3.41 Collect all my textbooks from my locker so I can lug them home and use them for revision. But not tonight, I'm having tonight off, my first exam isn't until after the General Election for heaven's sake.
3.45 Walk round to Station Approach so Mum can drive me home. Normally on a Thursday there was an orchestra rehearsal after school but we'd had a big concert the previous evening and that was it for the rest of the year. I don't think I ever played that instrument again.
4.15 Uniform in the wash already.
4.45 Cup of squash and Countdown on Channel 4. Still new, still fresh.
5.40 News. There's been a big earthquake off the coast of Japan.
6.00 Roast pork for tea.
6.55 Tonight's Top of the Pops is hosted by Peter Powell and Pat Sharp and features Big Country, The Style Council, Hot Chocolate and The Police, plus New Edition as the new Number One. But it's only 20 minutes long because of...
7.15 The FA Cup Replay between Manchester United v Brighton and Hove Albion. A bit of a thrashing for the Seagulls, it turned out. I probably slunk off to my bedroom to listen to David Jensen on Radio 1 instead.
9.00 The Young Ones S1 E3 - Boring (repeat) "Although there are all sorts of interesting things going on around them, the gang are feeling incredibly bored so they decide to go to the pub."
11.30 To bed to write my diary (you never know, it might be useful later)
I still had eight more days at school, seven of which were to sit exams and the eighth was to hand everything back in and say goodbye. I've already blogged about that final day back in 2008 (when the title was "25 years ago today" because time moves on relentlessly). But 26th May 1983 was the last day of normality - lessons and classmates and teachers and lunchtimes - all extinguished with a few turns of the clock. I see none of those classmates any more, indeed I couldn't tell you what more than a handful of them are doing, but they were once essential companions day after day. You don't know what you've lost until it's gone.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, May 25, 2023Peripheral Postcodes: SM7
SM is the postcode for Sutton, specifically Sutton and Morden. I don't know why they didn't go with the more obvious SU but I do know ST, SO and SN were already taken. Six of its seven postcode districts are entirely (or almost entirely) in London but the seventh is virtually all in Surrey. My task was to visit the non-Surrey bits as part of my quest to visit every postcode district in Greater London this year. There are two distinct chunks so I did both for good measure, aided and abetted this time by London Loop section 6. I've blogged about these outlying spots several times before, sorry, so my task today is to try and say something different. [map]
Woodmansterne is a commuter village sprawled across chalk downland on the northern edge of Surrey. It has some seriously hilly avenues, a church that would have been medieval if only the Victorians hadn't rebuilt it, a couple of shops and a village sign carved into a fallen tree trunk. But if you walk up Carshalton Road past the village hall, the scout hut and the primary school, then just a tad past the sports ground, Woodmansterne's last two cottages are accidentally in London. They have pointy gabled roofs, carriage lamps and trees bursting with pink blossom, plus the locally-unusual opportunity to vote in next year's Mayoral election. Just opposite is a stile into a hayfield alive with wildflowers where a couple of horses have an unexpectedly good view of the Shard above the treeline. And crossing two more stiles in quick succession brings you to somewhere that might just be familiar...
This is Mayfield Lavender Farm, the purple people pleaser, which is about to be lauded across excitable media as the best selfie-backdrop in the capital. Right now we're still slightly too early in the season for any colour to be apparent, peak season being July and August, indeed the farm doesn't open to the public until Saturday 10th June. But it's still possible to get up close and see row upon row of low spiky bushes thanks to a longstanding public footpath which cuts across the middle of the site. Mayfield Lavender must hate that it exists, given they charge for entry at the main gate, hence the sign by the stile which they urge ramblers to read. They could have been passive aggressive but in fact they've been more than polite - don't stray off the path, no picnics, no drones, no commercial photography and absolutely no picking the purple stuff.
My stroll was alas visually premature with only a few stalks poking up from the resolutely green rows of bushes. But I still got to savour the unmistakeable smell of lavender throughout, a low sweet note like opening up your nan's wardrobe and taking a sniff. A man on mini-tractor zigzagged up and down the field keeping the edges of the rows in check, slowing down briefly as he passed through the pergola. Over in the newer-planted sections two staff stooped over the smaller bushes doing proper horticulture by hand. In the lower field the lone red telephone box awaited its purple cloak and the hordes with their cameras that'll surely follow. Down by the gate the temporary tents that'll house the shop and cafe have yet to be erected. And if you want to explore further that'll be £5, up from £4.50 last summer and £2 five years ago because the cost of living crisis also affects blooming lovely fields. [SM7 3JA]
Across the road is one of Sutton's nicest parks, which is a shame because hardly anyone in Sutton lives anywhere near it. Oaks Park is on the site of The Oaks, a large 18th century country house once owned by the 12th Earl of Derby. It was while he was living here that the two most famous races at nearby Epsom got their name, 'The Oaks' in honour of his villa and 'The Derby' allegedly on the toss of a coin. Carshalton Council bought the estate in 1933 and fully intended to turn most of it into a golf course and housing but WW2 intervened, after which the Green Belt won out and the once grand house was in such a poor state it had to be demolished. Standing in Oaks Park today you can still see that its trees are a bit too good for a municipal project (and if you pick up a copy of the Oaks Park Tree Trail in the cafe you can discover what many of them are).
The formal garden is recognisably lordly too, focused on a grotto that was once the centrepiece of an ornamental glasshouse. At present the wisteria is wonderful, but even after that fades the palm trees still exude an air of exclusivity. Much of the lower end of the park is chalk grassland and is almost entirely frequented by dog walkers, as far as I could tell, delighted to have somewhere this large to exercise their rumbustious charges. The free car parks are extremely important in this respect because otherwise I suspect the place'd be nigh empty. The other key attraction is the aforementioned cafe, which must be doing well because a single storey extension and a veranda are currently being added. Amongst its customers this week were a lot of retired couples, several very patient hounds and a group of four police officers on a break enjoying an al fresco beverage. [SM7 3BA]
The other slice of SM7 within Sutton is a good 45 minute walk away... 'good' in that you can walk to it by following London Loop section 6. This perhaps-familiar route takes you into the Earl of Derby's woods, round the back of some livery stables, up an ancient rutted lane, along the side of a closed category women's prison, across the chalky delights of Banstead Common, over a single track railway line and through the middle of a golf course. Crossing the subsequent dual carriageway is the low point and is followed closely by Banstead station, a gloomy bunker unhelpfully located on the outskirts of town. But it's brilliantly located if you live in Cuddington, an isolated anomaly of 300 homes adrift within a golf course and connected to the rest of Greater London only via a private road.
I wrote about Cuddington in 2020 so I won't rake over the details again. But it's got the right postcode so here we are, plus I think one of its three roads meets the criterion we explored last November - it could be London's longest unbroken street. Let's check it out.
This is Higher Drive, a sweeping crescent of prime detached houses that's three quarters of a mile in length. It bears off by the clubhouse, curves along the Surrey border and joins back onto Banstead Road by the five-bar gates. Normally you'd expect a connecting road in the middle, or even a footpath, but here that's impossible because three of the holes at Cuddington Golf Course get in the way. This means that if you want to walk round the block - and I saw a resident dogwalker doing exactly that - you face a circuit that's a minimum of a mile and a half. Recognising this the Post Office have kindly installed a pillar box halfway down, but otherwise London suburbia doesn't get any more cut-off than SM7 1PW.
Every house is different because the estate's architects recognised the appeal of individuality. Every house is detached because next-door neighbours are for losers. Every plot is broad, indeed there are only just over 100 houses along the entire street. And yet it's not snobby, despite the million-pound price-tags, thanks to the cosy interwar design and the openness of the front gardens. Nobody down Higher Drive has installed security gates and an entryphone, for example, whereas plenty of cheaper streets elsewhere include a paranoid empire builder or two. But plenty of homeowners here have the builders in at present, judging by the amount of vans and scaffolding in evidence, collectively occupied in extending upwards and outwards as planning permission permits.
All that stops Higher Drive (1200m) definitely being the longest unbroken street in London is a short cul-de-sac at the western end. It doesn't have a separate name because the half dozen houses round the loop are still part of Higher Drive, but a perfectionist might deem this T-junction to be unacceptable. If that's the case then the unbroken crown perhaps still rests with Wickham Chase in West Wickham (1100m) or, if intermediate footpaths also disqualify, with Elgin Road in Seven Kings (710m). Whatever, if you lived in the middle of Higher Drive you'd certainly know it was a long way out, indeed anywhere in London feels a long way away from this disjoint patch of SM7.
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