diamond geezer

 Saturday, December 31, 2011

Pass through all 270 stations on the London Underground network in less than 16½ hours and you might end up in the Guinness Book of Records. I say might, because Guinness are fairly draconian in demanding incontrovertible proof, and that's hard to provide. Plus you need to have a nerdlike devotion to timetables, the athleticism to run between various stations in the outer suburbs, and the good fortune to pick a day without delays and line suspensions. Too tough for me. I've been trying something easier.

I've been attempting to pass through all the stations on the London Underground network in one year. I started at Croxley, soon after midnight on January 1st, and by the time I reached home I'd already visited 22 stations. Good start. Things got a bit slower after that, because my daily commute didn't add much more and kept repeating. But, maybe unlike you, I'm the sort of person who travels all over town visiting places so that helped force the numbers up. A trip to the windmill ticked off Upminster, a walk in the forest dealt with Epping and a Heritage Day sorted Amersham. With two dozen termini to visit, the Annual Tube Challenge is not an achievement you'll earn by accident.

I won't bore you with the full details of where I've been, but some stations proved particularly resistant to my presence. I only got out to Watford last month, despite starting my 2011 trek at the station nextdoor. I never got to Aldgate until few weeks ago, because it's not a station you ever need to visit when you live out east. I somehow missed Lambeth North until I took a deliberate diversion recently to make sure I'd been. I haven't officially passed through Blackfriars because it's been closed all year, so I'm discounting that. And I still haven't made it to New Cross, but that's OK because the Overground isn't part of the Underground so doesn't form part on my annual to-do list.

Taking stock at Christmas I'd visited 258 of the possible 269 London Underground stations, with eleven still to go. Nine of these were far out west so, in the absence of anything else meaningful to do in this post-festive hiatus, that's where I went yesterday. To Chiswick Park on the District line, which I'd bypassed several times but never previously passed through. And then to the Heathrow end of the Piccadilly line. Walking the Capital Ring had taken me to Boston Manor but no further, so I needed to make an entirely gratuitous trip to the airport to make up the numbers. I headed out to Terminal 5, wandered around a bit, then came home via Terminal 4 on its awkward one-way loop. And, to avoid the entire trip being entirely pointless, I think I've got a post out of it...
London's free trains: The most expensive train journey in London is surely the Heathrow Express. It's £18 to travel from Paddington to Heathrow Airport, or £32 return - that's more than a pound a minute. The Milk-A-Tourist line has even more extortionate first class fares for businessmen with money to burn, should saving time be more important than losing fifty quid. But (and I suspect this is not well known) the far end of their non-Oyster network has infinitely more reasonable fares. Travel one stop beyond Heathrow Central, to either Terminal 4 or Terminal 5, and your journey is totally free. And what a peculiar journey it is.

I started at Terminal 5, amongst the international tourists and the Brits returning from Christmas hols. HEX tickets are sold on the Arrivals floor, then you make your way down into the catacombs by escalator or (more probably) lift. There are no ticket barriers, nor any obvious staff, just a London-bound train waiting in a deep glass chasm. No really, you can climb aboard, so long as you only travel one stop. Big comfy seats, lots of luggage space... this is better than first class on most normal railway lines. But there is a downside, you get to watch Heathrow Express TV while you travel. A stewardess-like lady welcomes you aboard, invites you to check the safety instructions and that's half the journey gone. One mile, beneath the runways, for nothing.

At Heathrow Central it's important to get off. Stay on to Paddington and it'd cost £18, but here again there are no ticket barriers, just open access to Terminals 1 and 3. The Express/Connect station is a gloomy place, essentially two long train tunnels with a pedestrian tunnel inbetween. Imagine a dystopian future where we all live underground in tedious grey tubes, it's like that, this bleak subterranean bunker. It's only when you've experienced a station built by a private company that you realise how architecturally excellent most TfL architecture is.

For transfer to Terminal 4, there's a single-stop shuttle. This runs every fifteen minutes like the trains on the mainline, except these carriages aren't quite so luxurious. Expect a few suitcases here and there, but you should have absolutely no problem getting a seat, and at least there's no TV to be forced to watch. Four minutes later, the destination is a platform in a tunnel just as gloomy as before, plus a disappointingly bland walk to the lifts that'll raise you to departures. What with Terminal 4 itself being more functional than gorgeous, visitors to Britain aren't seeing the loveliest side of our nation when they arrive. But should you ever have the need to travel from Terminal 5 to Terminal 4, or partway inbetween, rest assured there's a comfy seat waiting for you and nobody'll ever ask to see a ticket.
So, I have two stations left. One is Mill Hill East, because there's almost never a good reason to visit Mill Hill East. And the other is Bayswater, which has been closed all week but is at last open today, so I do have a hope of finally getting there. 364 days, six hours and twenty-five minutes, and counting.

Bayswater: 11:40am
Mill Hill East: 2:19pm
entire network: 364 days, 13 hours, 44 minutes

 Friday, December 30, 2011

dg 2011 index

Ten memorable London jaunts in 2011
Old Isleworth1) The Capital Ring: 78 miles round the edge of Inner London, the ideal way to learn more about how the capital fits together and to see some fascinating sights along the way [photos] [starts here]
2) The Royal Wedding: I wasn't expecting to be wowed, but I was in the right place at the right time when the surge down the Mall began, so ended up almost in front of the railings for the kiss on the balcony. Once in a lifetime.
3) Ceremony of the Keys: It's so easy to get tickets to this slice of history, if you don't mind waiting, and the fact that the ceremonial barely lasts ten minutes.
4) London Open House: There's always somewhere special to investigate at this annual architectural shindig, and this year that meant the Commonwealth Institute and Abbey Mills Pumping Station.
5) Olympic Park: I had a great day out at the BMX test event alongside the Velodrome, despite (or maybe because of) a torrential downpour mid-afternoon [photos]
6) Rail Replacement Safari: One weekend back in January I rode every single rail replacement bus in London. Memorable, if somewhat misguided.
7) Boring 2011: The annual offbeat leftfield conference in Bethnal Green, alas really rather interesting.
8) Aldwych: OK, so that's the ghost station on the Strand ticked off, been there, done that.
9) Olympic Marathon test event: Almost nobody else got up on May bank holiday morning to watch a few dozen amateur athletes run around the City (and Tower Hamlets!)
10) M&Ms World: If you value your sanity, never ever visit this inane chocolate bazaar in Leicester Square.
Runners up: The Siege of Sidney Street, Church Farmhouse Museum, Royal Observatory Greenwich, Dome 2011, The News Quiz, Kapoor in Kensington, March For The Alternative, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture, Tube Challenge 13, London Maze, Lansbury Estate, New Bus for London, route 488, Love Is What You Want, National Maritime Museum, Bus-Tops, CS2 (and associated deaths), Bow floating towpath, Countdown, Wandsworth Museum, Wandle Trail, Thames Chase Visitor Centre, Occupy London, Cartoon Museum, Brockley Hill, Film, tube week, King's Boulevard, London Stone, Two Temple Place, Bow Church 700, Aspers Casino, Boxpark, Canada Water Library, Ratcliffe Highway Murders, the last bendy, E Pellicci, Woolwich Foot Tunnel, Noel Park.
Olympics: Stratford Hotspur, toxic legacy, Westfield Ham, sponsor quiz, wrap, commercial restrictions, Olympic Route Network, four years on, Water Chariots, 1 year to go, opening day, naming neighbourhoods, new streets, Games over, travel plans, stadium for hire, London Live.
Westfield Stratford City: six months to go, how to get to Westfield, DLR extension to Stratford International, opening day, two weeks on, at Christmas.
Cablecar: prelude, your name here, naked commercialism, critical path analysis, under construction, on the map.
Random boroughs: Camden, Bexley, Havering, Hammersmith & Fulham.

Ten favourite Out-of-London destinations
Blue Lagoon1) Iceland: Wow, such contrasts. A nation of volcanoes, ice and geysers, plus my first ever experience of the midnight sun. Highly recommended, so long as the price of everything doesn't put you off [photos]
2) Hadleigh Farm: The Olympic mountain bike test event was an amazing day out - far better than the real thing next summer [photos]
3) Shoreham-on-Sea: First I walked from Brighton to Shoreham on a bright blue midwinter's day... [photos]
4) Newhaven: ...then I went back later and walked from Newhaven to Brighton [photos]
5) Lee Valley White Water Centre: The Olympic canoeing venue in Cheshunt opened early to the public [photos]
6) Margate: Tracey Emin was right, the opening of the Turner Contemporary has made Margate even more worthy of a visit [photos]
7) Wakefield: I don't get up north often enough, so when the opportunity came to visit the new Hepworth gallery, I grabbed it.
8) Amersham Heritage Day: Every form of transport imaginable, old and new, on the trip out to Metroland and back.
9) Folkestone: The Triennial was marvellous - be there in 2014.
10) Letchworth: I never realised quite how lovely Ebenezer's garden city was until I visited Britain's first roundabout.
Runners up: Northampton, Sheppey, Ivinghoe & Ashridge, Emmetts Garden, Burnham-on-Crouch, Croxley Green branch line, Slough bus station, Cambridge Guided Busway, Eastbourne, Mid Norfolk Railway, Sutton Hoo, Horsey, South Mimms, Watford station, Bure Valley Railway.

Ten other favourite posts from 2011:
The home of the future, Olympic travel tips, dumbdown geezer, writing a book, Yes and No, born too late, step-free access, 200 things I love about London, No Effing Fortnight, Bow roundabout.

Half of my ten favourite photos of the year:
(or all ten here)

 Thursday, December 29, 2011

There is, I hope, a corner of hell reserved for mixologists. People who can write drivel like this...
Winter Snuggler £12
This pear flavoured, warm-hearted snuggler will wrap its passionate flavours around you, as the comforting chocolate Mozart romances your taste buds.
Mixologists make their living by devising, making and pimping cocktails. Any old idiot can bung fruit juice and spirits in a glass, surely, but only a select few have the chutzpah to flog the resulting mixture at sixteen pounds a glass.
Cherry Royal £16
Rich cherry wine is followed by the sweetness of Orgeat syrup and amaretto. Topped with the refreshing champagne Pommery Brut, you will find a harmonious balance between the three. Garnished with a hand-picked cherry.
I mean, a good cocktail is well nice, don't get me wrong. But the cost of the ingredients is always minimal compared to the price charged. And they never ever taste like the flowery verbose garbage written in the description on the menu.
Black Apple Crunch £14
For a new spin on warm cocktails try this mix of Black Moth Truffle Vodka sharp Granny Smith apples and Vanilla syrup. The warm, crisp flavours feel like a warm coat on a fresh winter’s day.
I had a Black Apple Crunch last night, on a rooftop overlooking a famous London landmark, courtesy of Best Mate's birthday do. It looked like scoopings from an algae-filled pond, topped off with five thin slices of frog twisted to look posh. Thankfully it tasted rather better than an amphibian in a puddle, but no way did the flavours resemble any form of thermal outerwear.
Cider Spritz £12
Allow us to transport you to a warm night in Italy with the unique aromas of Campari and Cointreau, topped up with soothing warm apple cider.
Italian cider isn't a well known beverage, it has to be said. Mulled Italian cider with blended apéritifs, especially so. But that didn't stop one of the party giving this particular combination a try. When their goblet of steaming orange liquid arrived it disappeared in a few sips. No intercontinental transportation ensued.
Banoffee Rum £12
This cocktail is made with Banoffee Rum and dark chocolate, paying homage to the classic household favourite `Banoffee pie`. Enjoy a hint of Grand Marnier at the end of every swig.
This one disappointed somewhat, so I'm told, with a lingering aftertaste of sliced banana rather than orange liqueur. You could liquidise a banana and bar of chocolate for considerably cheaper. No wonder the barman stood by our table twiddling his tray for ten minutes hoping we'd buy another round.
Golden Winter £16
Tall, dark and handsome, made with Goslings black rum, a dash of angostura bitters and cranberry juice. Finished with fresh blackberries, Crème de Mure and a garnish of gold leaf sprinkled through for added festive magic.
Yes, honest, that's a sprinkling of gold leaf as a finishing touch. You can't taste the gold leaf, it's inherently pointless, but it adds that layer of decadent luxury to which London's wealthier cocktail drinkers aspire. We left them to it after one round.
Passion Peter £12
The majestic flavours of Gin Mare stand tall when passion fruit entangles with the martini and the lasting taste of rosemary.
That reads more like a cryptic crossword clue than a list of ingredients. Pure unadulterated bollocks in a glass, available in an over-priced lounge near you for the price of a day's state pension or an NHS dental check-up.
Prices are inclusive of current VAT.
A discretionary service charge of 12.5% will be added to your bill.
There is, I hope, a corner of hell reserved for mixologists. But as career choices go, I fear it pays well.

 Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It's sale time at Roys of Wroxham. That's the top store in Hoveton, except nobody outside the Norfolk Broads has heard of Hoveton, so Wroxham it is. All of the car parks in town are full, or getting that way, as the good folk of Broadland and beyond arrive in search of bargains. Christmas decorations are half price in the department store, if you like shiny silver things, which it seems many do. Stuff a basketful, take them home and bedeck your house in them next year, that's the plan. A lot of kitchenware doesn't seem to have sold for Christmas. Most of the the mugs and frying pans emblazoned with Jamie Oliver's name, those in particular, and still not flying off the shelves even today. Colour-changing kettles are £10 off, slightly more interest there, and ornaments for non-metropolitan sideboards too. Someone at Roys has bought a job lot of 2012 diaries, black cover, slightly scratchy paper, reduced to 99p in pre-New Year desperation. More staff are called to the tills, where the trio of silver-haired ladies are joined by a cross-section of local youth who could easily be their grandsons. Across the road the independent Food Hall is sort-of busy. You'll not find a Tesco or Sainsburys here, because Roys is Wroxham's monopoly. Roys Children's World, Roys DIY Centre, Roys Toys - the latter still with a mothballed Santa's Grotto at the rear. And out front, one lonely bloke in a red hat tries to sell copies of The Big Issue to shoppers with bulging white plastic bags. He'll still be here in the summer, I fear, when the streets are filled with tourists and boat owners. But the half price Christmas decorations will have gone by then, so act now while stocks last.

It's Mince Pie Special week on the Bure Valley Railway. Buy a return ticket between Wroxham and Aylsham and get a free pie from the Whistlestop Cafe, so long as you remember to ask. At nine miles long this is Norfolk's longest Narrow Gauge Steam Railway, which quite frankly isn't a difficult-to-attain accolade. The car park is rather less busy than Roys up the road, but that just means more space in the carriages for every traveller. They're only small, room for a family of four in each mini-compartment, or maybe a big bloke and two dogs. Dogs travel for £3.50 return - that's for a Rover ticket, of course. Today's locomotive is called Blickling Hall, a crimson beauty of 1994 vintage, undergoing a pre-trip oiling from a crouching gentleman in a cap. It belches steam in a miniature narrow gauge way, then toots and heads off at a few miles an hour in the general direction of upstream. There are no broads to view along the way, just a succession of rolling fields, a disused RAF base and the occasional minor settlement. In summer it'd be a riot of green, but in winter you can see through the trees and gain a better sense of place. A footpath/cycleway runs the length of the single track railway, taking the place of the track that's no longer there, so walkers and bikers get to cross all the bridges alongside the trains. Everybody waves as the train goes by. The lady and her kids living in the old station at Buxton, they wave. The anglers on the Bure in their Barbours and green wellies, they wave. The shooting party unloading their guns from the back of a lorry by a clearing, they wave too (but thankfully very carefully, and not with their shooting arm). Along the way are three intermediate halts, all of them minor, all of them request stops, but usually nobody requests. Just before Aylsham is the only operational rail tunnel in Norfolk, which is unexpected, although it's only a 20 second dip beneath a bypass so it's nothing special. All the unused rolling stock is stored in sheds at Aylsham, where various enthusiasts have given up their bank holiday to rub grease into axles and shunt engines up and down. Best collect your mince pie while you remember.

The town of Aylsham is mostly closed. That's what happens when you visit a Norfolk market town on a bank holiday, which is something I appear to have done far too often this year. Everywhere is shut, with the exception of a couple of supermarkets and the Mrs Potts tearooms in Red Lion Street. There are some lovely medieval streets, and a big old Norfolk church, but a quick ten minute circuit and the town is "done". A few local youths are hanging around in the cobbled square, which I soon discover is because they're waiting for the hourly bus to whisk them away somewhere livelier. The only decent place to take refuge, somewhat unexpectedly, is the corner of Budgens. A new Cocoa Cafe opened here last month courtesy of Caley's of Norwich, the esteemed chocolateers, no doubt spotting a gap in Starbucks and Costa's nationwide caffeine coverage. Business is sluggish, not because of the quality of the bacon rolls (yum) but because today is a midwinter bank holiday in a Norfolk market town. The second and final train of the day leaves imminently. An entire coachload of Midlands pensioners are aboard, enjoying Day 4 of their Christmas in Norfolk package holiday. They've already enjoyed several hotel lunches and the local pantomime, and now they're seeing the sights of the countryside from the rear three carriages of a miniature train. At the far end of the journey they all file out of the station without a single person stepping up to inspect the locomotive, keen only to get back to the hotel and one last meal together. That's what £679 gets you for Christmas these days, that and a coach bedecked in tinsel. Wish you were here?

 Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Christmas Cycle

Adult Christmas: Everyone in the house is an adult. People get up late, open not many presents, listen to some festive music, drink alcohol, cook a big lunch, fall asleep in the afternoon after the Queen's Speech, drink some more alcohol, perhaps get a board game out, slump down in front of the TV for the evening, watch all their favourite programmes, collapse semi-comatose into bed.

Year -1: As above, but the eldest sibling brings their new girl/boyfriend round for their first Christmas "with the family", so everyone's on their very best behaviour. More presents to buy, extra mouth to feed.

Year 0: As above, but the eldest sibling has now married the aforementioned girl/boyfriend. Final year of vague normality.

Year 1: Baby's first Christmas. Aww, everything's cute and special and lovely. Baby gets lots of small gifts that adults excitedly unwrap on its behalf. Some of these are clothes, so Mummy dresses baby up and Daddy takes lots of photos. Baby gurgles in blissful ignorance of everything that's going on, then falls asleep. Adults then revert to enjoying a proper Adult Christmas with booze, telly and nibbles.

Year 2: Location of Christmas festivities has irrevocably shifted, from Old Parents' House (now Grandparents House) to New Parents' House. Child still too young to understand what Christmas is, but this doesn't stop adults from buying all sorts of age-inappropriate presents, which they then play with themselves for the entire day. Booze, telly and nibbles continue.

Years 3-8: Small child (and subsequent younger siblings) incredibly excited about Christmas. Wakes up at stupid o'clock in the morning, demanding to see what Santa has brought. Presents ripped open with greedy glee. By dawn an entire toyshop has appeared on the carpet. Adults reduced to role of spectator, ooh-ing and ahh-ing at radiant smile on child's face. Thankfully child is so tired by early evening that they collapse into bed, leaving adults free to spend the evening with booze, telly and nibbles.

Years 9-14: Children slightly older, but still keen to wake up really early. No longer check to see if Rudolph has eaten the carrots left on the front doorstep overnight. Presents ripped open, then tallied against wishlist to see which of them parents failed to buy this year. Several expensive presents thrown into corner of room by mid-morning, never to be played with again. Booze replaced by soft drinks and sparkling grape juice. Parental TV choice takes second place to non-festive cartoons on digital channel.

Year 15-19: Children all teenagers, so no longer wake up quite so early (parents secretly delighted). Few surprises in amongst the children's presents, most of which were negotiated over the previous months. Eldest sibling surprises parents by eating brussels sprout for the first time. Grandparents sidelined to washing up duties and sleeping on the sofa. TV screen taken over by interactive video game, so adults have to record their chosen programmes to watch later (or not at all).

Years 20-28: Everyone in the house is an adult. People get up late, open not many presents, listen to some festive music, drink alcohol, cook a big lunch, fall asleep in the afternoon after the Queen's Speech, drink some more alcohol, perhaps get a board game out, slump down in front of the TV for the evening, watch all their favourite programmes, collapse semi-comatose into bed.

Year 29: As above, but the eldest sibling brings their new girl/boyfriend round for their first Christmas "with the family", so everyone's on their very best behaviour. More presents to buy, extra mouth to feed.

Year 30: As above, but the eldest sibling has now married the aforementioned girl/boyfriend. Final year of vague normality.

Year 1: Baby's first Christmas... etc etc

 Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas in Covent Garden

 Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas at St Pancras

 Saturday, December 24, 2011

There aren't many places in London with a festive name. But there is an estate to the east of Wood Green which fits the bill, even if Christmas wasn't the reason for its birth. Noel Park is named after Ernest Noel, a Scottish MP and the Victorian chairman of the Artizans, Labourers & General Dwellings Company. This was a philanthropic enterprise whose aims were to create new houses for the working classes, ostensibly to help replace huge areas of slums destroyed by London's growing railway network. They built small estates in Battersea and Queen's Park, then looked north for somewhere bigger for their third venture. The chosen target was a triangle of farmland in the Moselle valley (this being Tottenham's minor stream, not the famous French wine-growing river). And they chose the area because it had good railway links... not that you'd notice today.

The Palace Gates Line was a railway linking "three quarters of a mile from Alexandra Palace" to Seven Sisters station. This wasn't the most useful place for a railway, especially when the hoped-for tourist traffic never materialised, but trains ran regularly either to Liverpool Street or to North Woolwich. Ideal for a "Suburban Workman's Colony", thought the ALGDC, because the City and East London's docks were just the sorts of places that workers liked to go. A hundred acres of intensive building work got underway, and the local station was renamed from Green Lanes to Green Lanes & Noel Park. A winning combination, the company hoped.

The Noel Park estate was one of the very first garden suburbs, and was carefully designed along social and aesthetic principles. Five basic designs of house were built, each in the Gothic Revival style, with greater ornamentation (and turrets!) on the corner plots. All were built from red and/or yellow brick, in terraced blocks along the various parallel avenues. All the first class houses had four bedrooms and an imposing frontage, while the fifth class houses were single storey "cottage" maisonettes. All had front and back gardens (which was an innovation at the time), although no bathrooms were included (Haringey Council had to add these later). To maintain social cohesion all of the houses were built in pairs. Many had characteristic sticky-out brick porches, facing at right angles to the road, while even the cheapest maisonettes had neighbouring front doors so that they still felt a little special. Still do.

Walking down the streets of Noel Park 125 years on, you can tell the area's still a little special. For a start, there's the non-uniform uniformity. Entire avenues stretch off into the distance like a sheer wall of brick, broken only by Transylvanian turrets where roads occasionally cross. First come gables and porches of one style, then gables and porches of another, clustered by class. Most houses have since been personalised, as befits a century plus of use, but the attention to detail in the brickwork and tiling remains very much evident. A few houses have been pebbledashed, one even stoneclad, but thankfully these are very much in the minority. Some front gardens are beautifully tended, others concreted over for wheelchair access, but all too small, thankfully, for parking.

My favourite street was Moselle Avenue, built along the line of the culverted river. No pristine development this, not any more, but a linear community blessed by cohesive architecture. The low winter sun attempted to illuminate the northern terraces - chimneypots and upper storeys blazing, but shrubberies and bin stores in shadow. The half-mile-long avenue formed one of the fourth- and fifth-class zones - the structural giveaway being the succession of side-facing porches. In a couple of places there are very local shops, like Sparkles launderette (The Superior Wash) and Joseph's Fish & Veg Shop (I had to doubletake the name of that one). But there are no pubs, not anywhere on the Noel Park estate. The temperance movement was strong in the 1880s, and Lord Shaftesbury would never have turned up to lay the memorial stone in a neighbourhood of ill repute.

You can't catch a train to Noel Park today. The railway line faded through lack of use, and the arrival of the Piccadilly line at Wood Green sealed its doom. Since the 1960s much of the old line has been built over, although the bridge at Westbury Avenue survives pretty much intact. Particularly jarring, architecturally speaking, is a long thin development of council blocks called the Sandlings which covers a former goods yard. As for Green Lanes & Noel Park station, that was eventually replaced by Wood Green Shopping City which is very much the dominant retail centre round these parts. But step a few streets back, past the brick church and the brick school, and the brick avenues of Noel Park survive as an island of true character in the residential sea of North London.

» For much more on the history of Noel Park, Wikipedia is surprisingly good.
» The Palace Gates railway line is described in more detail here.
» Felix has a fine photographic tour of the Noel Park Estate N22.

» If you enjoy randomly wandering around London, and you have 45 minutes spare this Christmas, you'll enjoy watching The London Perambulator

 Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas carol quiz
Here are the opening lines of 20 Christmas carols, listed alphabetically, but with every letter replaced by the letter "x". How many can you identify?
  1) Xxxxxx xxxx xxx xxxxxx xx xxxxx
  2) Xx xxxx xxxxxxxx, xxx xx xxx
  3) Xxxx xx x xxxxxx, xx xxxx xxx Xxx xxx
  4) Xxxx xxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxxx xx xxxxx
  5) Xxxx xxxx xxxxxxx xx xxxx
  6) Xxx xxxx xx xxxxx, xxxxxxxxx
  7) Xxxx Xxxx Xxxxxxxxx xxxxxx xxx
  8) Xxxx xxx xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxx
  9) X xxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxxxx xx
10) Xx xxxx xxxx xxx xxxxxxxx xxxxx
11) X xxxx xxx xx xxxxxxxx
12) X xxxx, X xxxx Xxxxxxxx
13) X xxxxxx xxxx xx Xxxxxxxxx
14) Xxxx xx xxxxx Xxxxx'x xxxx
15) Xxx xxxx xxx xxxxxx'x xxxx
16) Xxxxxx xxxxx, xxxx xxxxx
17) Xxx xxxxx Xxxxxx xxx xxxxxx xxx xxx
18) Xxx xxxxx xxx xxx xxx
19) Xx xxxxx xxxxx xx Xxxxxx xxx
20) Xxxxx xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxx xx xxxxx
[Answers in the comments box]

Amendments to bus services in East London during the Olympics
8/N8, 15, 69, 115, 135, 257, 425, 473, N73: more buses
25: lots more buses in the evenings and on Sundays
238: 24 hour service
D8, 308: going double decker
97, 241, 339, D8: will start/finish in Stratford rather than Stratford City
276: will not serve West Ham station
276, 488: may be diverted near Wick Lane
308, W15, N26: may be diverted near Ruckholt Road
309: diverted at Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road
100, D3: curtailments and diversions around The Highway
» Some bus stops will be suspended or relocated
» For south-east London, more details here
» Full list of London-wide changes here

 Thursday, December 22, 2011

  Walk London
[section 15x]
  North Woolwich to Woolwich (¼ mile)

Just in time before the end of the year, and somewhat unexpectedly, the Woolwich Foot Tunnel has reopened. Hurrah. So I've been back and walked the last bit of the Capital Ring in order to complete my circumnavigation on foot.

The Woolwich Foot Tunnel celebrates its centenary next October. But it nearly didn't. Greenwich Council closed it last year for repairs, initially to the tunnel and lifts, but then to the stairs when they turned out to have problems too. They weren't planning to keep the Foot Tunnel closed for quite so long, but it's taken well over a year to finally grant public access again. The press knew, because they merrily published articles about how the closure had finally ended. But if you'd turned up yesterday morning in person, I bet you wouldn't have noticed.

On the North Woolwich side, the circular tunnel portal is still shrouded in scaffolding. Around that is a blue wooden wall, encircling the entire perimeter of the traffic island on which the brick building stands. And on the side of that wall facing the North Woolwich bus stops, absolutely no indication whatsoever that there might be a way inside. Folk alighting the 474 headed for the ferry, as they've had to do since the middle of last year, without a clue that they might now be able to walk to Woolwich again. I had to look carefully for the entrance, on the Thamesward side, almost hidden behind a truck being unloaded by a contractor. No sign, no arrow, just a narrow curving passage lined with plywood leading towards the main entrance. Caution Workmen Working Overhead. No Smoking. And I was in.

If they've renovated the stairs, it's not immediately apparent how. The metal treads looked as eroded as ever, no cracked tiles had been replaced, and the walls could still do with a very very deep clean. There was even a smell of damp that could have been urine, except the tunnel had barely been open a few hours so surely no drunk had yet stumbled within and misused the facilities. The lift is still bang out of order, its shaft boarded up at the bottom so reconstruction can continue within. It'll be a while before the Foot Tunnel is once again bike-friendly and step-free, but in the meantime yomping down 100 or so stairs is definitely better than having no passage beneath the river at all.

And then the tunnel proper, all 502 gloomy metres of it. No bright scrubbed passageway here, this was still the same old dingy passageway I remember from before. There was even graffiti aerosol-ed or scrawled in green pen on the wall, which could have been added that very morning but had more likely been left unscrubbed during the refurbishment. The metal barriers went in a few years back - a series of six chicanes to stop cyclists disobeying orders and speeding beneath the Thames, endangering pedestrians [photo]. I think the only recent changes are overhead, with fresh metal tubing installed throughout, and maybe some new loudspeakers. That might be new lighting too but I'm not convinced, and I wouldn't say any visual transformation has been dramatic.

I've always found the Woolwich Foot Tunnel a lonely and isolated place, but I've never before had the entire tunnel to myself. Normally I expect to pass some kids midway, and three blokes with bikes, and probably some shuffling locals, but this time nothing [photo]. Normally that might be a bit frightening, as if some knife-wielding mugger might leap out at any moment, as much as you can leap out in a long straight tunnel where any approach comes with several minutes advance warning. But this time I felt perfectly safe and secure in my solitude because, if the general public hadn't yet noticed the tunnel was freshly open, then that went for ne'erdowells too. A series of unobtrusive (newly installed?) CCTV cameras kept watch from above, but the police will only ever use them to record crime, they've no hope of arriving in time to catch the perpetrators.

At the far end, up the gentle incline, round another boarded elevator shaft up the south bank stairs. It's the same story here - nothing special, nothing new - so one hopes the majority of the £11m renovation cash has gone on the lift. And eventually a return to daylight, through another narrow plywood passage round the back of the Waterfront Leisure Pool. Again, not a clue, not a hint, that the new entrance has opened. If you were walking by you'd see major scaffolding behind a solid blue wall, plus a tiny sign announcing that the tunnel is "closed to the public for major refurbishment until spring 2012". Wrong. Only if you thought to walk round the corner might you spot the way in, and this down a service road you'd probably never think to walk down anyway.

So yes, the Woolwich Foot Tunnel has sort-of reopened. It's not fully refurbished yet, because those lifts will take considerable further time to fix. And it's not a restoration triumph, nor will it be by the time everything's finally finished. But it is a joy to have this subterranean alternative to the ferry revived and renewed, and without any of its melancholy charm diminished. Darryl's been down under too, and his report is here. Centenary year ahoy.

 Wednesday, December 21, 2011

For reasons that aren't entirely clear, I've left it until this week to finally visit E Pellicci. I'd walked past this classic yellow-fronted cafe on the Bethnal Green Road umpteen times, but never previously ventured inside. "Well we should do that then," said BestMate, so off we went. I wasn't expecting the queue. Even though it wasn't what you might call peak lunch hour, there were two people waiting patiently outside the front door, and rather more queueing at the counter within. The three tables outside on the pavement might have been busier were this July. Warmly-wrapped coffee-sippers had taken two, but no queue-jumper seeking food seemed willing to risk the third. We escaped for an hour (to the Geffrye Museum and Christmas Past, lovely, as usual) before returning to Pellicci's and trying again.

Still a queue, but this time we were inside and at the front. The entire cafe was abuzz. Several family members dashed around behind the counter, juggling orders and pouring drinks in a pressure cooker atmosphere. Diners sat eating, or more likely waiting to start eating, at one of the many tables crammed into the not terribly large space. There's only a narrow aisle to the rear, to the hatch from the kitchen, which required some careful negotiation when an order came through. Through the gap I could see Maria Pellicci at the stove - apparently she cooks everything - and beyond her the chilled soft drinks cabinet branded "Vimto" across the top.

Pellicci's is Grade II listed, no less, blessed by Italianate Deco-style detail. The entire cafe is irrevocably endearingly retro. Originally opened in 1900, the current decor dates back to a refit in 1946. The walls were covered with gorgeous marquetry, each panel with a motif that reminded me of an ocean liner approaching bow first. Where there was glass, for example in the door or the front window, it was decoratively stained. The tables were formica - you'd expect no less - with a row of four colour-coded condiments lined up against the wall. The Krays probably saw exactly the same when they frequented the place. I suspect the strings of gold tinsel and red baubles at ceiling level were temporary, but everything else about the place had a reassuringly non-modern feel. These things all help when you're standing waiting.

At last the quartet of diners at the far table rose to pay, and we wondered whether to nip forward or wait to be ushered. "Go on, take it," urged the bloke standing behind us in the queue. When Pellicci's is busy everyone gets to share tables, and he wanted the spare seat beside us so he could grab lunch. This place was a second home to him, he was on first name terms with management, and had some banter about wedding arrangements to pass on. While we perused the menu he'd already yelled his order through the hatch, then settled back to check a pending bet on his phone. Pie and chips and gravy for him, with divine smelling gravy, and every chip individually cut by Mam in the kitchen behind.

I had been planning "something and chips" myself, but this being mid-December there was a special festive deal on. Go on then, Christmas lunch for a tenner, why not? A bit steep perhaps, but when the plate arrived it was piled high with goodies. The roast potatoes were crisp on the outside but butter-fluffy inside, matched with a semi-soft Yorkshire pud alongside. The dominant vegetables were carrots and broccoli - they love their broccoli here, often doused with liquid cheese - plus a pool of peas recently liberated from the tin. The stuffing came in three sage-packed strips, each seemingly sliced from an industrial sized slab. And beneath every item on the plate, turkey and more turkey. Much as I'd have loved a jam roly-poly or apple crumble and custard to round the meal off, by the time the choice came I was stuffed.

I was struck by the friendly nature of Pellicci's. Dad Nevio passed on a couple of years back, but it's still ever-so much a family-run concern, and the family extends to all the diners in the cafe. Everyone was welcome, and everyone earned a smile, whether this was their hundredth visit or their first. Indeed I've rarely had quite such an attentive cheery chat when settling the bill - totted up the old fashioned way with pen and paper by Nevio Jr. And I'm so having liver, bacon and beans (and jam roly-poly) next time.

 Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Today is 20/12, which means it's the last opportunity the Olympic PR team and their sponsors have to pump out a press release starting "Today is 20/12...". But there's a lot more than the Olympics happening next year. Boris set even set up a Culture Diary 18 months ago, as a means to collate and coordinate all of next year's events so that none get unduly overlooked. From the largest Olympic festival to the smallest suburban jumble sale, they were all included. Alas the Culture Diary is locked away, available only to those registered, i.e those in the cultural, tourism or promotional sector. So I thought I'd try knocking up a slimline version, below, with some of the one-off highlights. If 2012 does indeed promise "A Summer Like No Other", we should at least be prepared.

January 2012

February 2012
» The Queen's Diamond Jubilee (Monday 6th Feb 2012): The actual date, 60 years on, since Princess Elizabeth became Queen while touring Africa
» Charles Dickens bicentenary (Tuesday 7th Feb 2012): celebratory commemoration on screen, online and in real life, including at Charles' birthplace in Portsmouth

March 2012

April 2012
» Centenary of the sinking of the Titanic (Saturday 14th April 1912): Major iceberg-shaped visitor centre opens in Belfast on 31st March
» World Shakespeare Festival (Monday 23rd April 2012): three months of the Bard's finest, from Stratford-upon Avon to Stratford

May 2012
» London Mayoral Election (Thursday 3rd May 2012): in which either Boris or Ken gets in for four more years, and gets to wave the flag at the opening ceremony of the Olympics
» Olympic Torch Relay (starts Saturday 19th May 2012): kicking off at Land's End, the Greek-lit flame jogs to London via almost everywhere, followed by a trailer carrying various scantily clad pom-pom girls promoting the sponsors widescreen televisions and sugar based beverages

June 2012
» The Queen's Diamond Jubilee (Saturday 2nd - Tuesday 5th June 2012): The designated celebratory weekend, complete with bonus bank holiday, including River Pageant, concert at the palace, commemorative service, beacon-lighting and a day at the races.
» Transit of Venus (Wednesday 6th June 2012): one of nature's rarest astronomical events, as Venus's tiny black disc crosses the face of the Sun, to be seen from the UK just after dawn, and not to be seen again until December 2117
» Euro 2012 (Friday 8th June - Sunday 1st July 2012): high hopes as Our Lads fly to Poland and the Ukraine, flags flying high, then national desolation when we get knocked out after the usual penalty shoot-out disaster
» London 2012 Festival (Thursday 21st June - Sunday 9th September 2012): the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad, the UK's biggest ever arts festival

July 2012
» The XXXth Olympics (Friday 27th July - Sunday 12th August 2012): eyes of the world, light that flame, clogged-up traffic, queues at stations, world-class athletes, risk of terrorist outrage, wall-to-wall sport, flags and fireworks, meanwhile in Weymouth, plucky Brit wins gold, major drugs scandal, world record smashed, blimey is it over already?

August 2012
» The 14th Paralympic Games (Wednesday 29th Aug - Sunday 9th Sep 2012): International celebration of triumph over adversity, promising yet more medals, yet more travel disruption, and Sainsbury's and Channel 4 trying ever so hard to persuade Britons that this is important

September 2012
» The sudden realisation that bugger all of any international importance is happening in London for ages (Monday 10th September)

October 2012
November 2012

December 2012
» Armageddon (Friday 21st Dec 2012): the end of the world, as potentially prophesied by the Ancient Mayan Civilisation (could be a supernova, could be cataclysmic tectonic activity, could be an invasion by vampire space unicorns, who knows, but we're all doomed, sure as anything) (so we've got one year left, folks, make the most of it)

 Monday, December 19, 2011

During the last weekend before Christmas, how well were London's shops doing? To find out, I've been to four retail centres linked by trains on the new Stratford International DLR extension...

Westfield Stratford City (Stratford International)
The mall's owners haven't tried terribly hard with the decorations this Christmas. A handful of dangling frames coated with white sparkle are as good as it gets, with all the other festive trimmings courtesy of individual shop window displays. Westfield's not as busy as you might expect either, not before noon, but maybe shopper and pushchair gridlock will strike later. Sales representatives lurk in shop entrances hoping to entice potential purchasers inside with an intriguing gift idea, be that a tub of smellies or a toy helicopter in a box. Some bite, most stroll on. For those in need of minor refreshment there are free pretzel samples to be had, and the tiniest squirts of frozen yoghurt, doled out in the hope that the recipients will buy more. At the anti-ageing concession on the top floor the reps single me out from the crowd as I walk by, so I walk by, which engenders negative feeling all round. Nearby a family stands chatting, ten fat Primark bags around their feet, all their gift-buying problems solved. Santa has been banished to the rear of the mall, to the concrete plaza between Waitrose and the High Speed Station. His workshop is a prefab chalet, industrial sized, with a sign out front reading "Saturday 17th - Sold Out". A handful of queueing children await their turn to appear in a 5D film with Elbow The Elf, although their illusions must be shattered by the sight of two Santas having a sneaky fag by the marketplace doors. Westfield's is a very modern Christmas - jingle tills, jingle tills, jingle all the way. [photo 2]

Stratford Shopping Centre (Stratford High Street)
I had wondered whether Stratford's old mall could survive the onslaught of its behemoth neighbour, but so far it's still alive and kicking. There are crowds enough, although more likely to be laden down with groceries and cheap stuff than high-end goods. The main passageways are draped with illuminated icicles, or rather a few curtains of white fairy lights as an approximation of Christmas. A few market traders have made an effort with tinsel, but most are selling staples (fruit, veg, binbags) rather than potential presents. At the florists, a passing pushchair snags the leaves of a plastic sprig of holly and drags it several metres before falling to the floor. Sainsbury's is buzzing - still the centre's main draw - while WH Smiths has the look of a branch whose time has maybe come. HMV has long since scarpered across the railway tracks, its old premises shuttered and vacant. A sign out front promises "Exciting new retailer coming soon", with no further clues, although one suspects it'll be a pound shop. Santa's not come visiting central Stratford this year. Instead parents queue beside an inflatable snow globe, inside which photos of their youngsters can be taken, for a price. Nothing looks particularly Christmassy in the warren of shops behind Peacocks. This a place where local people come to buy rock-bottom essentials, the very antithesis of Westfield, and it smells of chips. Meanwhile, out on the Broadway, disembodied carols fill the air. Melodious notes drift across from somewhere at St John's, although no genuine singers are in sight, and no Musician's Union fees were paid. The veneer is thin, but Stratford's holding up better than expected. [photo]

Rathbone Market (Canning Town)
Step back far enough, and this retail hub on the Barking Road was once the place to shop. A three-sided parade of up-to-the-minute sixties shops surrounding a bustling market, plus a major supermarket up one end. The downward spiral began early, as Caters downgraded to Presto then Kwik Save, and the shop/market combination slowly withered. And now they're knocking the whole lot down. A mixed-use development is planned, complete with 650 new homes in the sky, and construction is already well underway. The council's trying to keep the market open in the interim, with a relocated temporary site alongside the handful of shops that survive. A fine aspiration, but all signs are that the old Rathbone Market's nearly dead. On Saturday only one of the dozens of stalls is filled, and that by a lonely couple attempting to sell a mishmash of hairdriers, action toys and any other boxed goods they could cobble together. Someone else has brought three racks of clothes and wheeled them into the gap by the bins - not exactly an ideal Christmas gift, more the sort of outfits a state pension might buy. A vanful of cleaning products has been stacked neatly along the pavement outside The Barrow Boy (formerly a high class greengrocer, now shuttered). Only two other trailers have turned up, one a proper butchers, the other for "cooked and raw" pet food direct from the suppliers in Romford. Their owners look at me in expectation of a sale, then turn back to chat, hopes dashed. All the orange plastic chairs inside Percy Ingle are empty, bar a lady in a woolly hat sipping a paper cup of tea. She closes her book, picks up her basket on wheels and drags it slowly home. This is an old people's market for those who remember past glories, not the younger local residents who invariably walk straight by. By the time the new Rathbone Market apartments go on sale, all shoebox shiny behind their red/pink tiled facade, I'll be amazed if there's any proper market left. Maybe florists and organic fruit and artisan coffee will arrive for the incomers, as this corner of Newham drags itself inexorably uphill. But this may be the last Christmas for the old Rathbone Market, the one selling needs rather than wants, and the existing populace can jolly well learn to shop elsewhere. [photo 2]

Gallions Reach Shopping Centre (Gallions Reach)
They've done the car park proud this year. There's an artificial Christmas tree tied to the top of every lamppost, and if you stay until after dark they all sparkle. This is East London's premier out-of-town retail park, or at least one of them, sprawled across 60 acres of former gasworks semi-close to the Thames. The architects sadly overlooked shoppers arriving on foot, forgetting to lay a footpath beside the flooded swampy bit where Phase 2 will one day be built, if there's ever the demand. A couple of units lie empty - the Thompson Holidays agency, the former shoe shop - while WH Smith no longer stretches back quite as far as it did. I'm sure the entire park used to be a little more upmarket, but now it's a bit more discount, more phone shop, more 99p store. TK Maxx may not be heaving but it's busy, with Greg Lake seguing into Chris Rea on the in-store radio. Sports Direct has already kicked off its January Sale, and several families from what used to be Essex are heading inside for replacement towelling. Nextdoor in what used to be Borders (bookshops, remember them?) is an independent toy retailer, grabbing everything it can from the mid-December sales peak. And in the gap between Superdrug and Next, beside the aerial kiddie ride, five musicians have turned up for a festive busk. They play traditional (and not-so traditional) tunes with vigour, awaiting any loose change that shoppers might throw into their green bucket. Tubas and synthesised glockenspiels aren't usually heard around here - a cacophony of ringtones is usually as musical at Beckton gets. But as the sun sets behind the gasometer, and the tinsel trees start to glisten, a tiny splash of Christmas fills the air. [photo 2]

 Sunday, December 18, 2011

2500000: Yesterday afternoon, just before half past four, diamond geezer received its two and a half millionth visitor. Actually that's not quite true, it was just the two and a half millionth time that a slightly ropey stats package had registered a unique visit, which isn't the same thing at all. But if you're a regular reader via Talk Talk from the Leicester area, I reckon that visitor was probably you. Two and a half million visits is not to be sniffed at! It's the equivalent of all the females in Scotland reading my blog once (or, on average, ten double deckers of readers every day). And they're coming faster. The first half million took four years, the last half million's taken fifty weeks.

What I like to do, every time one of these milestones rolls by, is to to look back and see where these visitors came from. In particular I like to draw up a league table of top linking blogs, ordered by volume of visitors clicking here from there. And that used to be quite interesting, back in the era when blogs thrived solely because other blogs linked to them. How times change. Nowadays the blogroll is dead, and any through traffic comes from elsewhere. When people like what you've written they no longer announce it via their own space, because writing blogs is too much hassle. Instead they tap a few characters into some micro-blogging portal, as if to say "Have you seen this, I like this, good grief what do you think of this?" The ability to drive traffic to blogs has shifted, it seems, away from those who generate their own content towards those who merely digest the content of others.

So I've decided to tweak my regular linking league table to include services wider than mere blogs. I've not gone as far as including Google, because that would be top of the list by a factor of 20. But I have added three services that didn't even exist when I started out, and they now dominate beyond expectation. My apologies if they've shoved your website down the top 20. And thank you all for linking (assuming you still exist).
  1) girl with a one track mind
  2) random acts of reality  
  3) arseblog
  4) Twitter (new)
  5) londonist (↑3)
  6) scaryduck
  7) Facebook (new)
  8) blue witch
  9) london daily photo
10) casino avenue
11) Reddit (new)
12) route 79
13) linkmachinego
14) my boyfriend is a twat
15) dave hill
16) 853 (new)
17) planarchy
18) london underground
19) twentymajor
20) onionbagblog
Hasn't Twitter done well? To be honest I thought it was going to be even higher up the list, but another half million should see it hit the top. It's so easy to tweet a link - it takes almost no effort at all - then people are so willing to click through on blind faith. As for Facebook, I'm not a member so I have no idea what you lot are up to behind the password wall. But Zuckerberg's social network has become a significant generator of traffic, presumably because there's nothing meaty worth reading within. And I'm surprised to see Reddit on the list, but only because I'm not a member there either and never did quite get the hang of what Redditors talk about.

Other than that, very little has changed here since my chart at two million. Londonist continues to climb, because they still churn out stuff people want to read and they sometimes kindly mention me. Charlton-based 853 is the only proper new entry, just below its predecessor blog at number 10 (Darryl would be top 5 if only he didn't keep rebranding under a new name every few years). And the rest of the top 20 stagnates, including seven blogs that are now dormant, one that's disappeared completely, and three who deblogrolled me years back. Blogs are now so passé, it seems, it's amazing anybody still bothers to write one.

And then of course there's RSS and smartphones, which means thousands of you now read this blog without ever visiting it. As far as all you're concerned I'm no longer writing a continuous story, I'm generating atomised blogposts. My output is digested as stripped text somewhere else, wherever you think fit, which makes a complete mockery of attempting to count visitor numbers accurately anyway. I guess I must have passed the magic two and a half million many months ago, but didn't realise it. Never mind the inexactitude. I don't mind where you come from, I'm just well chuffed that you bother. Hello and thanks to all of you. And here's to many more...

 Saturday, December 17, 2011

  Walk London
[sections 1-15]
  Woolwich to North Woolwich (78 miles)

London has seven Strategic Walking Routes (or 'long distance footpaths' to you and me). I've just completed my second. The Lea Valley Walk was dead easy, a mere 18 miles along a nigh flat river. But the Capital Ring, which I've spent all year walking, was more of a challenge. It winds its way through most of the boroughs in London. It's 78 miles long, via an elongated off-centre loop. It has flat bits, but also several steepish climby bits. It tours the capital's diverse hinterland between the inner and outer suburbs. It follows high streets, crosses railways, diverts through woodland and tracks canals. It links Wimbledon Common to the Olympics, and Crystal Palace to Harrow-on-the-Hill. It's almost entirely accessible to ramblers with limited mobility, but not so strictly that it becomes an anodyne stroll along concrete paths. If the Ring has a fault it's how slavishly it attempts to link every greenspace along the route, be that a hilltop or a recreation ground, making some of the intermediate walks very tedious. Indeed some entire numbered sections are mostly desperately dull (section 3, I'm looking at you, and section 5 for the most part too). But other sections are glorious (yes OK, section 6, you win). The Ring links some truly fascinating locations, many of which I'd never have visited were it not for the orbital path with the Big Ben logo. King John's Walk in Eltham, the heights of Norwood Grove, the heart of Richmond Park, the Thames at Isleworth Ait, the culverted Mutton Brook, even humble Beckton Park - these are all places I'd never been before, but have now. I also have a much better feeling for how London fits together, because I've now walked all the way around the middle where the real London is. Plus along my journey I met a three-legged dog, the Queen's birthday flypast, the pianist from I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue and, unexpectedly, my auntie. What other London walk can offer that?

Even though the Woolwich Foot Tunnel was closed, I think I can claim to have finished the entire circuit. Completing the Ring makes me eligible for a certificate, courtesy of the disembodied entity that is Walk London. Their presence may have contracted over the year (to a thinned-down website and an intermittent Twitter presence), but if I email them and claim to have walked the Capital Ring then they'll send me a full-colour certificate. How very trusting. And you could walk the Ring too. Most sections are only 4-6 miles long, which is (probably) well within your capabilities. Each section starts and finishes near a station, for ease of access. Full details are available for free on the Walk London website, including directions and print-it-yourself maps. Just remember to walk clockwise, unless you fancy the mental challenge of walking a route backwards and trying to decipher the instructions in reverse.

And now I'm left wondering which Strategic Walk I should tackle next. The Jubilee Greenway would be an obvious choice for 2012, although this "new" route is mainly a mishmash of Thames Path, Regent's Canal and all the grim bits of the Ring through Newham. The Thames Path itself would be interesting, even though I've walked almost all of it before for other reasons. Or maybe I should step up to The Big One, the London Outer Orbital Path. The LOOP is almost twice as long as the Ring, traversing proper countryside between the edge of London and the Home Counties in lengthier chunks, and much more the sort of thing that proper ramblers do. Except I've already walked a number of those sections, and written about them, so the idea of a complete circuit is somehow less appealing. Perhaps expect several more individual Loop reports scattered over the next few years, so as not to spoil the treat all in one go. And maybe see you out there?

The Capital Ring
Section 1: Woolwich to Falconwood (6 miles)
Section 2: Falconwood to Grove Park (3½ miles)
Section 3: Grove Park to Crystal Palace (7½ miles)
Section 4: Crystal Palace to Streatham (4 miles)
Section 5: Streatham to Wimbledon Park (5½ miles)
Section 6: Wimbledon Park to Richmond (7 miles)
Section 7: Richmond to Osterley Lock (4 miles)
Section 8: Osterley Lock to Greenford (5 miles)
Section 9: Greenford to South Kenton (5½ miles)
Section 10: South Kenton to Hendon (6 miles)
Section 11: Hendon to Highgate (5½ miles)
Section 12: Highgate to Stoke Newington (5½ miles)
Section 13: Stoke Newington to Hackney Wick (3½ miles)
Section 14: Hackney Wick to Beckton District Park (5 miles)
Section 15: Beckton District Park to Woolwich (3½ miles)

www.flickr.com: my Capital Ring gallery
The gallery contains 117 photographs altogether [slideshow]

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the diamond geezer index
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my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards