diamond geezer

 Sunday, December 27, 2020

This was Piccadilly Circus on Christmas morning.

It wasn't proverbially busy but at least a dozen people had turned up, mostly on bikes. I think I was the only one not wearing a woolly hat. One couple were pushing a toddler in a pushchair, presumably from a hotel room not terribly far away. A well-wrapped bloke was orbiting Eros on his skateboard while recording the panorama on his phone. And all the time the big digital screen blazed down, advertising phones, fashion, cars and fizzy drinks to hardly any people who weren't looking anyway.

And I mention this because Piccadilly Circus is the furthest west I've been on foot since lockdown started. It's also the furthest I've been from home in the last 100 days, because 5¼ miles isn't a distance to be undertaken lightly given the need to walk all the way back again. It's even more awkward on a day when almost everything in Central London is closed. My bladder only survived the experience thanks to a particularly fetid urinal which will haunt my Christmas memories forever.

But Piccadilly Circus isn't the furthest west I've been all year. It's time for a 2020 compass point retrospective.

The furthest west I've been in 2020: Saltash, Cornwall [4°12'W, 12th March]

It's hard to remember how almost-normal things were in the second week of March. The Prime Minister had yet to be spooked by an Imperial College report, herd immunity was still a thing and making non-essential journeys was deemed acceptable. I had an advance rail ticket to Plymouth and thought hell yes, I'm still going (but was mighty relieved when the carriage was nigh empty). I made the most of my day trip by going to Cornwall three times, twice by ferry and once by train across the iconic Royal Albert Bridge. I wanted to see what the bridge looked like close-up (answer - a very ornamental trench) and to walk along the picturesque quayside past the pub painted like a Union Jack. It was a particularly showery day so I first enjoyed blue skies, then got absolutely drenched and was swiftly rewarded by a stunning rainbow as the clouds cleared. Fore Street was the furthest west I've been this year, and also where I grabbed my luckiest photo.
2nd furthest west: Avebury [1°51'W, 6th February] (specifically the National Trust car park)
3rd furthest west: Chesham [0°37'W, 11th January] (marginally more occidental than Lincoln)

The furthest south I've been in 2020: Mount Edgcumbe, Cornwall [50°21'N, 12th March]

Cornwall again, this time on a peninsula four miles south (or 15 miles away by car). Mount Edgcumbe is a country park surrounding a mansion on a wooded headland overlooking Plymouth Sound, and a glorious place to explore. I only had an hour between ferries so didn't explore as far as I'd have liked, but did encounter the National Camellia Collection, a precipitous ravine and an upcycling boutique. The Duke's Garden was the furthest south I've been this year, and again a heavy shower delivered a stunning rainbow... from above. In the depths of winter, memories of distant spring travel sustain.
2nd furthest south: Crowborough [51°3'N, 29th February] (outside Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's house)
3rd furthest south: Banstead [51°19'N, 11th January] (M&S Simply Food is 1km further south than Ramsgate harbour)

The furthest east I've been in 2020: Broadstairs, Kent [1°27'E, 12th September]

You can't go any further east in Kent than North Foreland Point, where the lighthouse is, atop chalk cliffs above Joss Bay. Follow the coastal path from Broadstairs round to Margate and you'll pass the spot, close to the locked gate which leads down to the 39 Steps. Back in September when rail travel was again acceptable, I stood beneath a field of salad leaves and stared out across the neck of the North Sea towards a whirling wind farm, and that was the furthest east I got. My brother's house in Norfolk is very nearly that far east but a couple of villages short, and alas I never got there this year anyway.
2nd furthest east: Eye [1°9'E, 9th March] (between the church and the castle ruins)
3rd furthest east: Southend [0°43'E, 7th September] (the Kursaal is 100m further east than the tip of the pier)

The furthest north I've been in 2020: Grimsby Docks, Lincs [53°35'N, 25th August]

Grimsby's docks are far from the most glamorous of locations, unless you like refrigerated sheds, trawlers and the smell of fish fingers, but I'm so glad I made a dash for undiscovered north Lincolnshire in the summer. I'd hate to have thought the second half of the year was a complete travel wipeout, plus I managed to tick off Cleethorpes and Lincoln along the way. Also I'm chuffed to say that Grimsby is (slightly) further north than Manchester and Liverpool, which makes me feel slightly better about not managing to reach either of those this year.
2nd furthest north: My dad's house [52½°N, 9th March] (I'm so pleased I made a birthday visit)
3rd furthest north: Bedford [52°8'N, 6th March] (another fortunate slice of pre-lockdown normality)

And to finish, the final extent of my 2020 lockdown box...

The furthest I've been on foot in 2020

West: Piccadilly Circus [25th December, 5.1 miles] (see aforementioned)
North: Walthamstow High Street [30th November, 3.8 miles] I walked the full length of the non-existent market, dispiritedly.
East: Gallions Reach [10th October, 4.2 miles] A delightful riverside vantage point alongside Beckton Sewage Works looking out towards Thamesmead.
South: Island Gardens [6th September, 3.0 miles] The southernmost tip of the Isle of Dogs isn't where the foot tunnel pops up, it's on the riverfront outside the Kinkao Thai restaurant.

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