diamond geezer

 Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Tourism and travel already feel like they belong to a different age, and are unlikely to return to normal any time soon. But I've found a new way to get my fix, which is to visit far-flung places echoed in my own immediate neighbourhood.

Even if I can't go to Iceland, I can always go to Iceland Road.

There are at least 100 streets within half a mile of my home. Most are named after people, and several more after objects or things, but I've focused my attention on streets named after places. There aren't many, and once I disregard those named after places I've already visited only seven remain. This brief itinerary means I was able to complete my global E3 safari in fifty minutes flat. It's the future of staycation tourism, I tell you.

Rainhill Way E3

Rainhill Way, alongside Bow Church station, has been subjected to a considerable Tower Hamlets transformation. Much of the Crossways estate where Dizzee Rascal grew up has been rebuilt, and its three 70s tower blocks have been refurbished in an attempt to appeal to non-council residents. Rainhill Way's broad boulevard looks nothing like the kickabout backwater I remember at the turn of the century, which in turn looks nothing like the locomotive repair works and sidings that preceded them. It's that railway connection which explains the name.

I have never been to Rainhill. It's located near St Helens on Merseyside, and is the site of the famous Rainhill Trials at which George Stephenson's Rocket wiped the floor with its locomotive opposition. If I were to visit I could look round the museum in a railway coach at the back of Rainhill Library, or follow the Millennium Trail to discover Smithy Cottage, the weeping cross and the skew bridge, or try to track down the house in which Sporty Spice grew up. Rocket's bicentenary in 2029 will likely be the best time to visit. In the meantime Rainhill Way offers no railway ambience whatsoever, as even the DLR now burrows underneath.

Malmesbury Road E3

Malmesbury Road runs alongside the Great Eastern mainline, so you've likely seen it while looking out of a train between Liverpool Street and Stratford. On the opposite side it's fronted by flats of the kind Tower Hamlets once built in great numbers, and has been realigned somewhat since the days when all of this was dense Victorian terrace. Tucked into one of the modern indentations is a PDSA veterinary centre which used to feature in the TV series Animal Hospital, back when Rolf Harris was a family-friendly presenter, while further along is an insignificant shopping parade of the most miserable genre.

I have never been to Malmesbury, nor driven through. It's located in Wiltshire on the road between Chippenham and Cirencester, not far from J17 of the M4. With its strategic location on a high ground between two river Avons, it was one of the most important towns in Saxon England. Top of the sightseeing list is undoubtedly the medieval abbey which is also the burial place of King Æthelstan (927-939). The town's museum is named after the local monarch and normally opens daily to show off its "wide ranging collection". Malmesbury is also home, for now, to the HQ of the Dyson engineering company. In the meantime Malmesbury Way offers no Cotswold ambience whatsoever.

Wrexham Road E3

Wrexham Road runs along the flank of Bow Bus Garage before being submerged at its eastern end beneath the A12 dual carriageway. One side's a bit modern but the other is full-on estate-agent-friendly terraced houses. These were built just before WW1 by Poplar Borough Council, whereas neighbouring Baldock Road was built just after (as a '1920' plaque on the wall confirms). I've been to Baldock, or at least stopped off at a petrol station before they put the bypass in, so Baldock Road's not on my list.

But I have never been to Wrexham. When we're talking about the largest town in north Wales, this is clearly a serious omission. It'd be hard to miss the belltower of St Giles, the country's largest church, but my chief tourist target ought to be Wrexham County Borough Museum. The building dates back to 1857 when it was a barracks for the local Royal Denbighshire Militia, and today is the proud home of Early Bronze Age 'Brymbo Man'. Once I've also ticked off Erddig House, an NT property on the outskirts, I fear this may have exhausted most of what Wrexham has to offer. In the meantime Wrexham Road offers no Welsh ambience whatsoever.

Cardigan Road E3

Cardigan Road is another residential hybrid, one side pitch-perfect terrace and the other modern flats. Some very modern apartments were added recently on the site of Bow's old Safeway, and the entrance to Tesco's new car park attracts many a lazy shopper. Cardigan Road forms one rung of a ladder connecting Roman Road and Tredegar Road, but I've been to Rome so I'm disregarding that, and my imaginary bus passed through Tredegar when I made a virtual trip to Cardiff in March so I don't fancy going again.

I have never been to Cardigan. Again it's in Wales, this time on the west coast fronting the bay of the same name at the mouth of the river Teifi. For many centuries it was an important port, so there are several historic buildings to see around the Town Trail including John Ruskin's Gothic Guildhall. This being Wales there is of course a castle, admission £6, although these days it's more of a Georgian mansion having been used as a private home for many years. Its proud boast is that Wales' first Eisteddfod was held here, although other towns also make this claim. In the meantime Cardigan Road offers no poetic ambience whatsoever.

Shetland Road E3

Shetland Road is another of the rungs off Tredegar Road, and offers nothing to excite an architect. It used to be called Sutherland Road before postwar development severed the northern end with blocks of flats, destroying the original street pattern and leaving this stumpy remnant. I haven't been to Sutherland either.

I have never been to the Shetland Isles. I ought to because they're brilliant, but they're also further away than Berlin so not exactly easy to get to. The wildlife is spectacular, and the walking, not to mention the pre-history and the fish. I'd love to see the lighthouse at Sumburgh Head, and those two museums the Norwegians dignitaries opened, plus if I went during Up Helly Aa I might also get the opportunity to see the aurora borealis. But getting there direct isn't simple, or cheap, so I fear Lerwick will be off my wishlist for some considerable time. In the meantime Shetland Road is piss poor consolation.

Douro Street E3

Douro Street is a sidestreet off Fairfield Road, just to the north of Bow Quarter. It's still got its cobbles, and estate agents would once again enthuse over the characterful Victorian terrace down one side. But this is Bow (East) so the opposite flank is all flats, these being of early 21st century vintage with red-lined balconies. Today Douro Street is a dead end, bollarded off from the rump of Old Ford Road that wasn't swallowed by the A12. Aspirational residents in adjacent streets can only look jealously on.

I have never been to the Douro valley. This major watercourse crosses northern Spain and ends up flowing between Portuguese vineyards on its way to the Atlantic. The big city on the coast is Porto, a major port since Roman times replete with historic enclaves, baroque cathedrals and rather good footballers. It also offers heritage tramways and a totally modern concert hall, if that's your thing. BestMate has long been encouraging me to visit Portugal, although not specifically the Douro Valley. His response to a preview of today's post was "I really like Porto, but we really need to get you to Lisbon", so in the meantime Douro Road will have to suffice.

Washington Close E3

Washington Close is squeezed into a curve in the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road, a forgotten cul-de-sac approximately opposite the big Tesco. It was built in the 1970s when the arterial was added, and bluntly barricaded behind a brick wall in an attempt to keep down the noise. Before that the road here was Washington Street, one of a triumvirate of presidential backroads (of which Jefferson is now completely consumed). Of all the roads in today's post, I find Washington Close the least alluring.

I have never been to Washington. The Tyne and Wear version isn't the most interesting of new towns and the 'F' Pit colliery museum is rarely open. As for Washington DC I've never made the effort to experience Capitol Hill and the White House, indeed the States lost much of its tourist allure when the current incumbent took office. Given that transatlantic travel is going to be way down the bucket list as the aviation industry struggles to come to terms with social distancing, I'm not expecting to be flying to America any time soon. In the meantime Washington Close may have no ambience whatsoever, but at least I can walk to it.

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