Let's continue along National Cycle Network Route 1, East London section. This is the Sustrans route from Dover to Shetland and nothing to do with TfL, preceding Superhighways, Quietways and Cycleways by several years. Yesterday we rode from the Greenwich Foot Tunnel to the corner of Victoria Park and today we'll continue to Walthamstow Marshes, looking out for any particularly poor bits of infrastructure along the way. [OS map][OpenCycleMap]
Victoria Park is an ideal choice for an off-road cycle route, its outer carriage drive being broad enough to cope with walkers, joggers, cyclists and errant hounds. NCN1 hugs the southern edge, which is nice because it passes the ornamental lake and a heck of a lot of plane trees. The biggest hassle is crossing from one half of the park to the other, which is achieved by exiting one set of gates, negotiating the green stripe across Grove Road and entering another. Tiny numbers on fingerposts direct you very pleasantly eastwards, right up to the point where you exit via the car park.
This is not good. NCN1 bears off past the gardeners' compound where a low gate spans the tarmac, accompanied by a sign imploring Cyclists Dismount (which everyone ignores). It then enters the St Mark's Gate car park, which on my visit was both packed and active, where bikes are expected to negotiate from one side to the other. Admittedly this is the last scrap of "on-road" cycling before the North Circular, so perhaps worth the inconvenience, but highly unimpressive all the same.
A chunk of canal towpath is next, ramping down to the Hertford Union just in time to have missed its most awkward locks, narrow bridges and cycle-unfriendly dips. Cyclists may have to dodge a graffiti-sprayer, or more likely lots of people coming the other way, because the path gets narrower as the Olympic Stadium comes into view. It's a measure of how old the Sustrans network is that the blue sign at the entrance to this section says Lea Valley Park 1½, completely ignoring Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park which is just round the corner.
Here's another rubbish bit. After crossing the Lea at White Post Lane NCN1 has to descend from the bridge back to riverside level. It does this down a steepish slope of cobbly bumps, definitely bike-unfriendly, before doubling back and continuing northwards. QEOP's management recognised this was bad a couple of years ago and added a proper ramp down past Barge East's outdoor seating, a few metres further on, but the blue signage continues to point the bad way. It seems updating 20-year-old cycle routes to take advantage of later improvements doesn't generally happen.
An even better example of this phenomenon is that NCN1 ignores the Olympic Park completely. This wasn't here at the turn of the century when the route was designed, so the Lea's towpath was a much better bet than a grubby road through an industrial estate. But careering off through an iconic landscape blessed with broad paths built with bikes in mind would now be a much better option. Nothing's stopping you cycling that way, indeed all signage for NCN1 pretty much dries up for the next mile, but officially the path ploughs on beside the river.
Beyond the A12 an additional broader track starts to shadow the narrower towpath. That's the way you're supposed to go, leaving the riverside clear for pedestrians, but the only blue sign telling you this has sadly peeled off. At present the broad track's closed while workmen improve the state of its surface, which is just the sort of investment any decent cycleway needs and should be very welcome. But any cyclist not on this parallel path very much risks not noticing the moment NCN1 veers off into the woods to cross the top of Hackney Marshes.
Bugger. Friends Bridge (across the other braid of the River Lea) is closed for six weeks for the undertaking of necessary repairs. It closed on Monday, just after I took this photo, and is currently blocked off by blue metal sheeting. A significant diversion is required, this being the sole crossing for a mile hereabouts, which just goes to show how a cycle route which prioritises remoteness can be scuppered by events. Still, never mind, the next bit's blocked too...
This is the subway under Lea Bridge Road, normally a marvellous bit of infrastructure but alas currently flooded and impassable. It's been this way for at least the last six months, wasting innumerable people's time as they were forced to turn back, and only very recently have Thames Water turned up with barriers suggesting some remediation might be going on. The only alternative is to ride up to street level, deviate via a signalled crossing and then try to find your way back down... but this has been the third consecutive paragraph with closures and repairs, which merely confirms how vulnerable national cycle routes can be.
Wahey, the next mile's across good old Walthamstow Marshes. Not along the riverside but via the surfaced track on the far side past the riding school and pylons, at one point ducking beneath the viaducts where two railway lines cross. It all feels a bit remote and cut-off, but if it's low traffic and a smooth ride you're seeking then this is perfect. What's interesting is that when TfL came to add a Quietway here they did indeed choose the riverside path and that's now much better used, plus it would allow NCN1 to skip the utterly ridiculous bit of infrastructure that's coming up next.
Coppermill Bridge is infamous as London's lowest bridge, its headroom a miserly 1.5m. That NCN1 and Quietway 2 both feel the need to duck under this nightmarish railway bridge just goes to show the paucity of alternative routes in these parts. Some bend their backs and cycle underneath, others do the safer thing and walk stoopingly underneath, but it's a disruptive intrusion all the same. Looks great on social media, but not much fun in real life.
To get back to the Lea there's a further annoying bridge, privately owned and never designed with cyclists in mind. A metal furrow's been added to help push your steed up its steep flanks, the central span is impractically narrow, and quite frankly it would have been better if NCN1 had never deviated away from the river five paragraphs ago. At least from this point onwards it simply hugs the River Lea all the way north to Gunpowder Park on the Greater London boundary. Put your map away, stop looking at the signs and cycle safely.
London has its Cycleways but Britain has the National Cycle Network - twenty thousand kilometres of specially designated routes criss-crossing the country, most of it existing roads and paths with a smidgeon of additional infrastructure to improve the two-wheeled experience.
Every NCN route is numbered and signed (using a white bicycle on a blue background) and the longest of them all is Route 1. This stretches from Dover to the northern tip of the Shetland Islands, such is its ambition, taking in such delights as Hull, Middlesbrough and Aberdeen along the way. It's an astonishing 1721 miles long. It's also the only NCN route to cross London, entering through Bexley, exiting through Enfield and passing through my local neighbourhood along the way.
So let's go for a walk along NCN1 to see where it goes and how easy it is to follow.
» Sorry it's not a ride along NCN1 because me and bikes don't mix, but I'll try and point out where the cycling experience might not be ideal.
» Sustrans, who devised and monitor the network, don't provide a map of NCN1 but they do link to an Ordnance Survey map where it's all shown.
» You may find www.opencyclemap.org easier to use - I certainly did.
Let's pretend we've already ridden from Dover to Canterbury to Rochester to Dartford (via the occasional remote estuarine path), then hugged the Thames through Erith, Woolwich and Greenwich before popping up north of the river. We'll be heading up the Isle of Dogs, then shadowing the Regent's Canal and the River Lea, only occasionally diverting through a car park.
We start at the Greenwich Foot Tunnel where cycling is tolerated but not permitted. Hopefully the lifts are working, otherwise it's 90-odd steps to the surface. Bikes emerge into Island Gardens - the riverside park, not the DLR station - where refreshment used to be available from a kiosk and cafe but currently isn't. The nicest way to go would be straight ahead past the station and across Millwall Park, but NCN1 often chooses not to go the nice way in favour of a more cycle-friendly route.
Instead it turns left up a very quiet street, then right into a very quiet street which happens to be cobbled. Cobbles are by no means ideal but we'll be seeing quite a few more of them ahead, and what is a bike ride if not a mildly exhilarating adventure? The pub on the corner, the Ferry House, opened in 1722 and claims to be the oldest pub on the island. Pretty much everything north of here would have been extremely marshy at the time.
Ahead is East Ferry Road, the Isle of Dogs' central spine. It's not normally excessively busy but it's still surprising to see it doesn't have a cycle lane as so many key routes in Tower Hamlets now do. The delights of Mudchute Park & Farm are not for us. Instead NCN1 breaks off to duck underneath the DLR (it's ok, there is a ramp) and out onto Millwall Dock. We're aiming for the single bridge across the centre and a very 80s shopping parade where green barriers span the road and an unwelcoming sign says Pedestrian Access Only. Yes it is this way.
When NCN1 was devised the next street, Millharbour, would have been less of a skyscraper boulevard. It's possibly the most highrise street anywhere between Dover and Shetland. Next comes a backstreet zigzag where watching out for blue signs on lampposts is crucial (we'd have been scuppered if travelling in the opposite direction because one of them is missing). Only the teensiest bit of busy Westferry Road needs to be negotiated and then we're back by the Thames, where we're greeted by this...
This is the western edge of the Docklands estate where the land closest to the Thames is earmarked for a skyscrapercombo that's never been built. JP Morgan bought it for a new European HQ in 2008 but only ever got round to building the foundations before deciding to pull out. A narrow 'temporary' walkway hugs the riverside, blocked at regular intervals by a yellow chicane designed to slow down pesky cyclists. It's a right pain for those on foot too, and during lockdown has made social distancing miserably more difficult. NCN1 is not at its best here.
Beyond Canary Wharf the Thames Path continues through a private housing development where riding a bike is officially not permitted. Most cyclists ignore this edict but NCN1 has to comply so instead bears off early up Three Colt Street. This leads to another lengthy cobbled street, very close to Limehouse's Hawksmoor church which cyclists can admire as their saddle judders up and down.
At Commercial Road we find a proper toucan crossing, evidence that NCN1 has bespoke infrastructure rather than simply being a line on a map. Salmon Lane has the last shopping parade before leaving London, a lowly cluster of neighbourhood essentials plus an evangelical church that brands itself The Museum of the Book. And at the far end we head down to the Regent's Canal towpath via another bespoke intervention, a ramp that absolutely wouldn't be here were it not for NCN1.
Ahead lies a decent curve of towpath, which might mean dodging joggers but cunningly avoids some much narrower sections to north and south. NCN1 then takes advantage of Mile End Park, a linear greenspace which just happens to go in exactly the right direction and just happens to have been finished around the time the route was being planned. A mile-long sinuous path weaves north, with cyclists and pedestrians directed to separate channels, and just before the Green Bridge we find this...
This is one of the 1000 cast iron Millennium Mileposts installed around the network 20 years ago courtesy of Sustrans and the Royal Bank of Scotland. There are four designs - this one's The Cockerel by Scottish sculptor Iain McColl - and each contains a coded hieroglyphic disc. These combine to form the Millennium Time Trail, "a puzzling treasure hunt with a secret code to crack", which I suspect proved much too hard for most recreational cyclists to bother with (and is no longer promoted).
Crossing the Green Bridge cunningly avoids contact with the A11, after which Mile End Park's wiggles continue. NCN1 could just have hugged the canal but instead takes this slightly longer more interesting deviation, and is all the better for it. But eventually it returns to the towpath and sticks with it under the railway, past the pub and under Roman Road. Cyclists get a separate subway to pedestrians here (not that most cyclists and pedestrians appear to have noticed).
A few more cobbles intrude at the end of the Hertford Union Canal, mostly avoidably. NCN1 might then have followed this new waterway - it would have been the most direct route - but instead overshoots to take a friendlier route through Victoria Park with no lockside gradients to negotiate. The only problem is knowing when to turn off because the only blue sign is concealed behind a tree until you're almost on top of it and, worse, is now pointing in entirely the wrong direction. Like I said, you really need a map (or else to have ridden this way several times).
Let's pause there and come back tomorrow to ride NCN1 from Victoria Park to Walthamstow Marshes (and beyond).
That's to an actual shop which wasn't a supermarket, newsagent or chemist. I last did this seven months ago when I bought a paperback from Waterstones. It was quite the adventure.
If you're not interested in the minutiae of my shopping trip and the perverse inner workings of my mind, best skip the intermediate paragraphs.
I needed a new set of headphones.
I've needed a new set of headphones for months. My old pair did that inevitable thing where one of the earbuds went quiet so I was basically listening through one ear only, and even that was a bit ropey.
The malfunctioning connection also meant I needed the volume turned up higher than normal to compensate, which might have been OK except my phone started to get passive aggressive about it. First it started flashing up warning messages telling me I risked damaging my hearing, convinced I was hitting 100db daily even though I wasn't. Then it started turning the volume down automatically after about 90 minutes with no way of turning it back up, so listening to two-hour radio shows became somewhat problematic. My so-called smartphone thought it was protecting me because it assumed all my equipment was working properly, but this was a very bad assumption and this is why we should be careful about letting machines rule our lives.
Normally I'd have gone out and bought a new pair immediately but non-essential shops have been shut since the New Year.
You might well have had new headphones delivered to your home instead. Why diminish your listening pleasure for months when you could have a new set in 24 hours flat and get on with enjoying life. But I wasn't keen on increasing the price of the headphones by 50%, and I'm not really a home delivery person, and perhaps you need to come to terms with the fact that I am not like you and often do things you wouldn't for not entirely rational reasons.
Alternatively I could have used click and collect at any time during the last few months, obviously, but I decided not to do that either. I just wanted to buy some headphones, I didn't want to set up an account and add a password and jump through additional online faff. I'm aware this Luddite approach merely caused me to endure sub-optimal listening for months, but again remember it's not your job to judge my life and I for one am very grateful for that.
I also needed a new phone case.
I've needed a new phone case ever since I bought a new phone in January. My new phone was the same size as my old phone so my old case should have fitted, but annoyingly the hole for the camera was in the wrong place. I could either protect my phone and not take photos or risk using a naked phone and try very very hard not to drop it. I chose risk, and all because the usual places that sell phone cases were officially closed.
I wasn't prepared for quite how slippery unprotected smartphones can be. Mine often found itself slipping out of a pocket, although thankfully only onto carpet. On one occasion someone messaged me and my phone vibrated and promptly fell off the table, though again without major incident. I thought I was doing really well. Then while I was cautiously watering the plants on my balcony I thoughtlessly picked up a twig from a rosebush and pricked myself, yeeouch, and the subsequent jolt sent my phone sliding onto the metalwork in a very ominous manner. I was extremely fortunate only to get a tiny scar, not a smashed screen, but hell yes I should have bought a protective case long ago.
I waited until the second week of non-essential shopping before venturing out. Argos would have what I needed.
I knew Argos had what I needed because I checked first online. The problem was finding a store that had both items rather than just one. I could turn up at branch X to get my headphones but they wouldn't have the phone case in stock before Friday. Or I could go to branch Y to get my phone case but they wouldn't have the headphones I wanted, only something less good on either function or price.
I now understand why people get things delivered. But getting things delivered costs extra and, more importantly, takes time. I wanted my items now rather than waiting for later, because I am used to the instant gratification that physical shops provide. I'm aware that after three months I ought to have been able to wait an extra day or two, but again I draw your attention to the fact my purchasing behaviour is often irrational. If this is not what you'd have done, I genuinely don't care.
First I went to the Argos in East Ham for my headphones. That was a nice walk.
East Ham High Street is one of the busiest places I've been for some time. Shops are very much the big daytime attraction of late, it seems. Thankfully it was a bit quieter inside Argos, or at least better spaced. A helpful member of staff directed me to a terminal and I got on with ordering my headphones. It was odd being expected to touch something lots of other people had been touching, but I remembered we all used to touch things repeatedly as a matter of course and got stuck in. Yes, I'm aware I could have avoided the touching thing if only I'd pre-bought my item, but remember it's my prerogative to be illogical.
Payment was quick, and properly shielded, and within a minute I was walking out of Argos clutching my brand new headphones. Unfortunately these were securely encased in plastic which normally I'd attack with scissors except I hadn't brought any with me. I had to pick away at the top of the packet in an attempt to rip the plastic as I walked up the high street, dodging umpteen shoppers along the way. It took a good ten minutes before I finally managed to extract the headphones through a small hole and successfully unwrapped them. At one point the spare earphone protectors fell out of the bottom of the packet onto the pavement but thankfully I noticed just in time.
Then I went to the Argos in Leytonstone for my phone case. That was an even nicer walk.
In normal times I wouldn't have walked from Manor Park to Leytonstone, I'd have caught the W19 bus to speed things up and then got on with my day. But walking three miles proved a perfectly decent option given the proper spring weather, plus I got to cross the long diagonal of Wanstead Flats with the sun on my back and it was glorious. I passed the sand hills by the lake, threaded through the central copse, diverted round the skylark breeding area, weaved between flowering gorse bushes and crossed the bone-dry recreation ground to the far corner I never normally need to visit.
The Argos in Leytonstone was much bigger but also busier and not so well marshalled. It took a while to find a terminal that worked, then it took three goes to convince the software that the item I wanted genuinely existed. The internal wi-fi connection was giving off wheezy 2005 vibes. I still don't think I followed the right route through the store even though there were arrows and tape all over the floor, and even when I reached the collection point I had to wait ages for a member of staff not to be busy and to hand over my package. Given the choice I'd go back to East Ham over Leytonstone every time. But at least I now had my new phone case.
And then I walked home.
Having fully functioning headphones on the walk home was bliss. At long last I could properly hear what I was listening to, and with the volume turned back down to where it ought to be. Filling my ears with 70db rather than 100db is going to make my phone's operating system a lot happier.
Bohemian Rhapsody sounded a lot better too. On my earlier walk I'd been listening to the episode of Sounds of the 70s cancelled because of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, in which Bohemian Rhapsody was the 400th record placed into Johnnie's Jukebox, and it had sounded really weedy. Now on my walk home I was listening to the current episode, in which Johnnie had to put Bohemian Rhapsody into his jukebox again for continuity reasons, and it sounded properly dynamic. I really shouldn't have left it this long.
My shopping trip had been an unqualified success.
I gave my phone a good clean and slipped it into its new case. At last I had a non-slidy phone, properly protected, and everything felt a lot safer. Annoyingly the case opens on the opposite side to the case I used to have previously, so every time I open it up the phone is the wrong way up, but I'm sure I'll get used to this eventually.
And yes, an eleven mile walk to go on a shopping trip to buy two small items is a bit ridiculous, especially when I have Westfield just up the road, but given I like to go on an eleven mile walk daily at least this time it proved productive.
I could also do with some new walking socks and a bread bin.
"Music's not what it was" is a phrase most people eventually utter.
Whenever you grew up there's probably an era of hit music you enjoyed and then your tastes diverged from the mainstream, or rather the mainstream diverged from you. A period when you knew what the top-selling songs were, maybe even bought several of them, which has inexorably declined into not knowing what any of the current hits are.
I thought it'd never happen to me but it did. I used to be able to tell you everything about the hit singles of the day, as my family will attest, listening religiously to the new chart and having Radio 1 on in the background pretty much all the time. Today the new Top 40 passes me by and I sit through the annual Christmas Top of the Pops sighing "what on earth is this?" Where did it all go wrong?
Radio 1's usually a good barometer of popular taste because its ethos is to play new music and the hits, whatever they may currently be, so there comes a time when its playlist moves on and you don't follow. I listened relentlessly in the 80s and 90s, a fair amount in the 2000s and hardly at all in the 2010s. But that's not a particularly scientific way of judging things so I've tried something more systematic - an annual familiarity count.
I looked up the Top 10 selling singles for every year from 1990 to 2020, then noted whether I remembered each of them or not.
Green for "I know this song, I know how it goes"
Yellow for "I knew this song when I heard it"
Red for "Even when I heard it, it wasn't familiar"
Then I shuffled each year by colour, and then I made a graph.
The 1990s are fully green because I know every one of the top ten singles well enough to sing them to you, everything from Sinead O'Connor to Britney Spears. I could sing you the entire 1980s too, indeed I have cassette tapes of all the end of year rundowns so am super-familiar way beyond the top 10. Take it as read that the 1970s are green too because everyone knew all the top records back then.
My first (yellow) blip comes in 2001, because it turns out "Because I Got High" by Afroman wasn't played much on the radio. But it's 2002 where things start going properly wrong. That year has five songs I know, three I only knew when I found them on YouTube and played them (oh yeah, obviously) but also two musical brick walls (by Nelly and Eminem) which appear as red crosses. Music was starting to go edgy, urban and American in 2002, a strand I'd increasingly ignore.
The rest of the 2000s stay mostly green, confirming I was still mostly in touch with the zeitgeist, aided and abetted by a lot of X Factor songs in the annual top 10s. My real downhill moment begins in 2010, an era of Rihanna, Usher and Katy Perry, where the name of the song is no longer enough to trigger a memory of what it sounds like.
The only song from 2013 I could sing without prompting was Get Lucky by Daft Punk, so there's only one green tick. 2016 is such a disaster that I didn't even recognise the top-selling song when I'd heard it (One Dance by Drake ft Wizkid & Kyla), indeed I'm not hot on many of these one-off artist collaborations. 2017 and 2018 would be even more disastrous were it not for the ubiquitous Ed Sheeran, and the only green ticks in 2019 and 2020 are the same Lewis Capaldi song.
It may be more appropriate to think of this in terms of ages. Up to 35, everything. Between 35 and 45, most of it. Over 45, very little.
1 "In the Summertime" – Mungo Jerry
2 "The Wonder of You" – Elvis Presley
3 "Band of Gold" – Freda Payne
1 "Can We Fix It?" Bob the Builder
2 "Pure Shores" All Saints
3 "It Feels So Good" Sonique
1 "Don't Stand So Close to Me" The Police
2 "Woman in Love" Barbra Streisand
3 "Feels Like I'm in Love" Kelly Marie
1 "Love the Way You Lie" Eminem ft Rihanna
2 "When We Collide" Matt Cardle
3 "Just the Way You Are" Bruno Mars
1 "Unchained Melody" The Righteous Brothers
2 "Nothing Compares 2 U" Sinéad O'Connor
3 "Sacrifice"/"Healing Hands" Elton John
1 "Blinding Lights" The Weeknd
2 "Dance Monkey" Tones and I
3 "Roses" Saint Jhn
Three things have changed to bring about this relentless decline in my musical engagement. Firstly pop music has edged out of the national spotlight because it now has so much competition. Back in the 1970s even your granny would know YMCA and the hits from Grease, whereas today only a tiny number of songs (e.g. The Greatest Showman) have cross-generational appeal. Secondly music has splintered into multiple genres it's possible to love without ever venturing into anything 'popular'. I listen to lots of great new stuff on Radio 6Music these days but it'll never trouble the charts. And thirdly the charts themselves have changed, reflecting streaming rather than sales in a world where the entire back catalogue is effectively free. Buying a single would once have contributed one sale, now every play of a salacious video racks up another point.
I look at the charts these days and it's an alien world, not because my musical tastes have changed but because the mainstream is now somewhere else. These days it's all about singers and producers, not instruments and groups. Tunes have become melodically unadventurous, if indeed there's a tune at all. Everything now sounds depressingly formulaic and thereby dull. I have to turn Radio 1 off these days because I don't know how they can call that music. Listen to me, I've turned into my parents. It happens to us all.
If you've explored all your local area can offer and are in need of exciting new horizons, I'm pleased to say a thrillingly unfamiliar neighbourhood has opened up south of the Thames. It's called Bermondsey (Ber-Mun-Sea... the 'd' is silent) and visitors from North London are not only welcome, they'll find much to inspire and surprise.
Bermondsey has been lurking unseen to the southeast of Tower Bridge for at least the last year, possibly longer. Legend has it that the area has medieval roots and considerable industrial heritage, but today it's the modern aesthetic that really hits home. With so much to explore and engage, Bermondsey makes an ideal day trip for North Londoners nudging out of social hibernation.
The area defined as Bermondsey is somewhat nebulous but easily reached from familiar haunts north of the river. Simply cross Tower Bridge, head down the steps towards Shad Thames and keep going past all those slightly posh restaurants, you'll be there sooner than you think. Some say the dividing line is St Saviour's Dock, the mouth of the former Neckinger river, whose footbridge has an emergency panic button should you ever find yourself trapped after hours.
One of the most exciting things about Bermondsey is that you can see North London from the foreshore, silently suggesting it's been there all this time tantalisingly out of reach. Better still the waterfront at Wapping is perfectly illuminated by direct sunlight whereas looking the other way for the last twelve months has always meant squinting into the glare.
King Edward III liked Bermondsey so much that he built a manor house here, unquestionably one of the top attractions for history buffs hereabouts. There's much to enjoy on site including a large green lawn beside a row of council houses, the vague footprint of three ashlar walls and an information panel outlining everything you can't see here any more. Then when your two minutes exploring the ruins are finished it's simplicity itself to pop into The Angel pub opposite for evocative liquid refreshment (regulations permitting).
If your own local park has become overfamiliar over the last year don't worry, Bermondsey has another. That's Southwark Park, a proper recreational space with ornamental lake, tennis courts and a lot of grass. Take a stroll along promenades overhung by plane trees, bag up after your dog by the flowerbeds or rock up with a set of weights and grunt through a workout in the bandstand.
Bermondsey was once important enough to have its own town hall, an imposing classical building since turned into lovely flats. It was also once trendsetting enough to have its own spa and pleasure gardens based around a spring bursting forth from the aforementioned lost river. Various streets and greenspaces retain the name, including the bright and blossomy Bermondsey Spa Gardens, but healing waters are no longer available.
Food and drink is at the heart of what Bermondsey has to offer, especially the artisan producers who flog their wares from arches underneath the railway viaduct. There's no better climax to a visit than downing a bottle of fruity spirits, grabbing a £4 sweet potato and goats cheese Scotch Egg or swallowing a tiny traybake kneaded by local thumbs. Just be warned that South Londoners already know all about Bermondsey's bijou refreshment cluster, not to mention who does the best noodles, so expect to queue.
Bermondsey High Street is generally acknowledged to be the place to hang out, not least for its art gallery and other cultural capital, but mainly because a lot of places sell a decent coffee. Do not be tempted to divert off to Bermondsey Square, an early 21st century attempt to create a vibrant outdoor destination alongside a boutique cinema, because it's mainly dead and even the icosahedra are peeling.
Bermondsey's iconic industrial heritage has long been celebrated by turning several former factories into premier places to live. The Biscuit Factory where Peek Freans held court is obviously the greatest of these, if nothing else for being the birthplace of the Bourbon and the Garibaldi. Living in the Alaska Factory must be more problematic for residents with a conscience because this is where Victorians used to turn seals into coats.
Making your way to Bermondsey needn't cost an arm and a leg, despite the presence of the River Thames blocking all direct access. The Jubilee line extension introduced a station on buzzing Jamaica Road, ideally connected for daytrippers from Stratford and the Isle of Dogs. Alternatively if you're lucky enough to have a car a tunnel was specially opened in 1908 connecting Limehouse to the eastern fringe. Walking through the tunnel is permitted but ill-advised for choking reasons, which is one reason Bermondsey remains unknown to so many north of the river.
Bermondsey really does have it all, so push your boundaries and make your way to pastures new to enjoy a completely different park, a completely different selection of hot beverages and a whole maze of alternative backstreets to walk around. You may develop a faint sense of déjà vu which makes you think you've been before, back when you went to other places regularly, but right now expect the sense of novelty to prove overwhelming.
Also coming soon, an exciting guide for South Londoners to the exciting neighbourhood they call Stepney.
The first 100 words of eight posts that weren't worth finishing...
Overlooking the A12 is a recent residential development called Lime Quarter. Its 20 storeys additionally overlook the Limehouse Cut which may explain the name, or else it's the lime-coloured glass they added to the exterior. A single thin orange panel also rises the full height of the building and when the sun's in the right place, around breakfast-time, a bright reflective stripe extends across the dual carriageway and all the cars passing through it briefly flash red like they're being scanned by a laser beam. I've only ever seen the phenomenon twice but alas I couldn't capture the moment of
One flank of Robin Hood Gardens, the Brutalist housing icon, remains semi-occupied alongside the entrance to the Blackwall Tunnel. The other flank is long gone and re-arising as a greater number of non-concrete flats. But Robin Hood Millennium Green survives inbetween, a large lawn blessed with a mosaic fish and a substantial central mound. I wandered in freely and climbed the unkempt wooden staircase to the summit, revelling in the last vestiges of how Alison and Peter Smithson intended it to look, but the wall of doomed apartments was shielded behind a burst of leaves so I could only imagine
It seemed a good day to hit the beach, if that's what the pebbles at London Wharf on the east side of the Isle of Dogs count as. The tide was far enough out for me scrunch down the humpy slipway through a line of washed-up driftwood and plastic, joining one other soul on the stony expanse. A young family, well-wrapped and probably local, had taken up position at the far end of the bank of steps facing the North Greenwich aggregates terminal. There was space for dozens more but I suspect the off-piste location and the industrial panorama deters
Thames Clippers (I refuse to use their rebranded name) are running boat services again, which is good news because it’s finally possible to walk down their unlocked piers. I walked down the pier at Masthouse Terrace, ignoring the arrows taped to the floor because nobody else was around, and bobbed briefly beside the embarkation point. I couldn't tell if a boat was due because no paper timetable had been provided and the electronic display had no data. Two different fare posters were on display so I assumed it was the more expensive one and no way am I paying £7.70
At Canary Wharf the astroturf piazza where the free crazy golf course was located last summer has been taken over by something much more profitable, namely an outdoor gym. Two large black tents have been erected, the neighbouring skyscraper conveniently shielding everyone from the bitter wind. One contains sweaty cyclists pedalling furiously, optimally spaced, while in the other a man shouts loudly to encourage the wielding of weights. The organisers call it WOD (or workout of the day), please arrive 15 minutes early to be temperature scanned, sorry no toilets, you MUST complete the Health & Safety waiver prior to
You can tell unlockdown has begun because The Breakfast Club has queues again. For the last four months patrons have been content with takeaway but eight outdoor tables make all the difference and suddenly everyone wants a Bacon Butty in close proximity to a friend. A member of staff with a mask and a man-bun deals with walk-up customers, while two slight moped-riders encased in black helmets await receipt of the next pre-booked orders. Getting past is a pain because their chalkboard has been positioned opposite the entrance where everyone's gathering, attention focused on eggs and empty stomachs rather than
There was a right palaver back in June when the statue of slave trader Robert Milligan was removed from its plinth outside the Museum of Docklands. There's been less fuss about its replacement by a Pyramid of Love, a four-faced structure depicting a quartet of imaginary women, each a goddess representing a particular compass point. One's Celtic, one's Yoruban, one's Indigenous and one's dressed as a rabbit. It’s on a year-long loan to the Tower Hamlets chapter of the Canal & River Trust, highlighting post-colonialism and shining a light on those silenced and erased through patriarchal oppression, which is obviously
A measure of collective social deprivation is that friends are willing to clamber into a circular boat and set sail on the West India Dock in temperatures below ten degrees for the sake of a bring-it-yourself picnic. yesterday morning's group were excitable, loud and double-wrapped in hoodies, and had paid £150 for the opportunity. I counted at least nine in the boat, which according to the FAQ is only permitted if the occupants are from two households which this group of giggly teens definitely weren't. Whoever described this as "the most unique outdoor experience in London" is clearly an utter
• "enjoy your new freedoms but be wary" (PM)
• Step 2: non-essential shops reopen
• Step 2: outdoor hospitality reopens
• millions flock to hairdressers, high streets & pubs
• surge testing for SA variant in south London
• "lockdown more effective than vaccines" (PM)
• jabs opened up to 45-49 year-olds
• hospital waiting lists at record length
• Scotland allows travel and outdoor meets
• cases in Canada overtaking US
• OK to give vaccine to pregnant women
• only 30 mourners at Prince Philip's funeral
Worldwide deaths: 2,920,000 → 3,000,000 Worldwide cases: 135,000,000 → 140,000,000 UK deaths: 127,080 → 127,260 UK cases: 4,368,045 → 4,385,938 Vaccinations: 32,010,244 → 32,693,527 FTSE: up 2% (6915 → 7019)
London's six fare zones don't physically exist, they only have meaning at stations. It's not possible to draw a line round the edge of zone 4 in real life, only on a tube map, because no definitive dividing line exists.
But someone had to allocate all the stations in the first place so there is a rationale, evolved over the years, to help define how much your journey ought to cost. And although no official zonal map exists TfL do have a datafile which allocates every neighbourhood in London to one of the six zones. Here's what it looks like if you plot the dots and colour them in.
Note: consider these 'nominal' fare zones based on census output areas. In reality the fare zones used by TfL are defined by certain stations or points along each lines. Therefore official fare zone areas do not exist. However, this is what you get when you use the data.london.gov.uk output areas to fare zones file.
Note that only areas where people live and work are coloured. Parks and woodland remain blank, so for example the enormous white space to the southwest is Richmond Park.
The end result is a squished collection of concentric rings, fairly regular in the centre but increasingly anomalous as they extend towards the boundary because Greater London isn't an ellipse.
Zone 1 covers central London and was formed during the aftermath of the GLC's Fares Fair campaign in the 1980s. It stretches from Notting Hill to Aldgate (west to east) and King's Cross to Vauxhall (north to south). It's about five miles wide and three miles deep. Very little of zone 1 is south of the Thames. The fact it's bean-shaped rather than circular influences all the zones that follow.
Zone 2 was meant to extend three miles from the edge of zone 1. It pretty much does but constricts to two miles around Putney and extends to four towards Lewisham. Mostly by coincidence the northern edge of zone 2 roughly follows the official dividing line between Inner and Outer London. Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, Westminster, Camden, Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets are all (almost exclusively) zone 1/2 boroughs.
Zone 3 notionally extends another three miles beyond zone 2. Its narrowest point is probably around Willesden in Brent and its widest point at Beckton in Newham. Haringey and Newham are almost exclusively zone 3 boroughs. The map does not reflect the eastward nudge introduced in 2016 when Stratford and other stations in the Lower Lea Valley were blurred into an overlapping zone 2/3.
Zone 4 is supposed to extend another three miles beyond zone 3, but the edge is now somewhat irregular. Zone 4 is thinnest to the west of Thornton Heath where zone 3 simply dissolves into zone 5. Zone 4 is thickest along the eastern Central line because the entire Hainault Loop was placed in the same zone in 2007 (for political not geographical reasons), making Redbridge the only proper zone 4 borough. Zone 4 also touches the edge of London at Worcester Park between Kingston and Sutton (this being the closest point on the Greater London boundary to Charing Cross).
Zone 5 is the first zone to look distinctly irregular. It's at its narrowest around Bexleyheath, Norbiton and Cockfosters and at its widest in northwest and southeast London. Harrow, Barking & Dagenham and Sutton are predominantly zone 5 boroughs.
Zone 6 was split off from zone 5 in 1991 so doesn't follow the "three miles further out" rationale. It covers a lot of rural London (as you can see from the lack of dots on the map) as well as large towns like Uxbridge, Orpington and Romford. Hillingdon and Havering are predominantly zone 6 boroughs, being the farthest western and eastern slices of the capital. Zone 6 is a lot thinner across north London than it is across south London.
The irregularity of fare zones matters because some parts of London are getting a much better deal than others. The luckiest souls are those in Redbridge on the Central line - ten miles from zone 1 but only paying zone 4 prices. Towns beyond the Greater London boundary in Essex fare even better. Meanwhile the most unfortunate residents are those in Kingston to the southwest of London where zone 6 bends deliberately inwards forcing everyone to pay more. Note how one side of Richmond Park is in zone 3 and the other is in zone 6, skipping zones 4 and 5 altogether.
It can't be fair that Epping and Kingston are both in zone 6 but one's twice as far away as the other. It can't be fair that zone 6 kicks in quicker if you go south than if you go east or west. It can't be fair that Richmond's closer to central London than Beckton but one's in zone 4 and the other's in zone 3. But it's no good sitting there with your angry hat on because none of this is likely to change.
Zones 4, 5 and 6 can't be nudged outwards in Richmond and Kingston because that'd significantly reduce fare revenue. Likewise zones 4, 5 and 6 can't be tugged inwards in Redbridge because that'd suddenly make commuting a lot more expensive. If the zones weren't right in the first place it's nigh impossible to change them now, however much an armchair expert might disagree. The anomalies on the fare zone map play out every day, but my word don't the rings look pretty.
Boroughs by zone 1: City of London 1/2: Camden, Hackney, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Tower Hamlets, Westminster 1/2/3: Lambeth, Southwark 2: Hammersmith and Fulham 2/3: Wandsworth 2/3/4: Brent, Lewisham 3: Haringey, Newham 3/4: Greenwich, Merton 3/4/5: Barnet, Ealing, Waltham Forest 3/4/5/6: Croydon, Hounslow, Richmond upon Thames 4: Redbridge 4/5: Barking and Dagenham 4/5/6: Bexley, Bromley, Enfield, Harrow, Kingston upon Thames, Sutton 5/6: Hillingdon 6: Havering
I have been playing yetanother numberplate spotting game, and this one's taken months.
Back in September I introduced you to Reverse Chronological Number Plate Spotting, a game using the two-digit age identifiers on current UK registrationplates. The idea was to spot a 70, then a 20, then 19, 68, 18, 67, 17, 66 etc all the way back to 03, 52, 02, 51.
AB 70 ABC
WY 51 WYG
I have played the game several times since. It normally takes a couple of days, but I once completed it in two and half hours round the backstreets of Newham.
I also mentioned an alternative version using the single letter age identifiers issued to vehicles between 1983 and 2001. The idea was to spot a Y, then an X, W, V etc all the way back to C, B, A.
Y 123 ABC
A 789 KLF
I have played the game regularly since. It normally takes just under a week, but I once completed it in three days and another time it took a fortnight.
In November I decided to combine the two games, first spotting all the numbers from 70 back to 51, then all the letters from Y back to A. It took about a week. This meant I had seen all the number plate age identifiers from 2020 back to 1983 in reverse chronological order.
I then made the mistake of carrying on. I've seen all the letters from Y back to A at the start of numberplates, I thought, now I'll try to spot them at the end.
ABC 123 Y
DVL 666 A
And this has taken me five months.
The first problem was that the game involves seriously old vehicles, those first registered between 1963 and 1983, and there aren't many of those left on the road. If I saw four of them on a daily walk I was doing well.
The second problem is that personalised numberplates do not extend back this far. Anyone can buy a single letter prefix so there are a lot more of these on the road than there ought to be, but you cannot buy a single letter suffix so they remain very rare.
This is a game where very little happens. Even if you do spot a rare suffix registration it probably isn't the one you want (probability = 20 to 1 against), so I was only averaging about one success a week.
Sometimes I got lucky, like when I saw W, V and T all parked very close together in Milton Avenue, East Ham. At other times I didn't see the letter I wanted for over a month. K proved particularly frustrating - I saw 9 different Ls while I was waiting to see a K.
But playing the long game also allowed me to speed things up. I knew quite early on there was an M parked in a street near Columbia Road so after spotting N all I had to do was head back. But I had no idea where an H, G or F were, so for those I was reliant on stumbling upon a lucky parking space or a random vintage vehicle driving by.
The letter that lingered longest was B, which took 40 days from when I saw C on a Mini in Mile End in early March. I'd almost given up hope but on Wednesday hey, the redundant Routemasters outside West Ham Garage included seven of them! I then knew there was an A parked outside a vicarage in East Ham (these vehicles tend not to get driven very often) and hey presto, I'd finally completed my list.
But I've still only got back as far as 1963, the year registration letters were first introduced. How much further could I go?
Registration numbers were initially a bit of a free for all, issued locally according to demand. Before 1963 they tended to involve three letters and up to three digits, first in that order and then the reverse.
The very earliest plates had one or two letters followed by up to four digits, then when those ran out they reversed the order so it was numbers followed by digits.
So to continue playing my game I've decided I need to look for the following character patterns.
123 ABC → 12 ABC → 1 ABC → ABC 123 → ABC 12 → ABC 1 → 1234 AB → 123 AB → 12 AB → 1 AB → AB 1234 → AB 123 → AB 12 → AB 1 → 1234 A → 123 A → 12 A → 1 A → A 1234 → A 123 → A 12 → A 1
This isn't perfect Reverse Chronological Number Plate Spotting but it'll have to do. So far I have seen 217 CLT on a bus and I am now looking for two digits followed by three letters. I do not recommend you try this. I may not even bother myself.
More to the point my original game of Reverse Chronological Number Plate Spotting is technically incomplete. I started back in November with a 70, but by the time I finished in April they'd introduced 21 and I never included one of those. The only response is to start again and hope I can finish the sequence before 71 is introduced in September.
21 70 20 69 19 68 18 67 17 66 16 65 15 64 14 63 13 62 12 61 11 60 10 59 09 58 08 57 07 56 06 55 05 54 04 53 03 52 02 51 Y X W V T S R P N M L K J H G F E D C B A Y X W V T S R P N M L K J H G F E D C B A
I started playing again on Wednesday, immediately after spotting my final suffix A, and I'm already looking for prefix V. That means after two days I'm already over halfway through the list... but it'll likely be several more months before I reach the end.
Bless you if you have read this far. Rest assured I am not playing any other unblogged numberplate games, so hopefully that's your lot.
The last Routemasters have run in passenger service 1
London's beloved Routemaster bus will never again operate in passenger service. The rear-platformed workhorse had a good run but alas TfL have confirmed the heritage service will not be returning. The last surviving route was put on hold last year at the start of the pandemic and now it turns out this suspension is to be made permanent. It's just another victim of the financial cuts that have afflicted London's transport network during lockdown, only in this case we know it's definitely not coming back. Farewell sturdy workhorse of the streets.
The last Routemasters have run in passenger service 2
The Routemaster's nemesis Ken Livingstone removed them from everyday service in 2005, citing progress and the accessibility agenda, but TfL retained two special heritage routes to help silence the critics. One was route 9 between Strand and the Royal Albert Hall and the other was route 15 between Trafalgar Square and Tower Hill. Fully accessible normal buses continued to operate alongside, maintaining full step-free access, so these were very much tourist-facing extras. But the service on route 9H was withdrawn in 2014 and although route 15H lingered until 2019 it won't be coming back.
The last Routemasters have run in passenger service 3
A TfL spokesperson has confirmed that services on route 15H have been discontinued. Reasons include "falling ridership on the Central London network", they said, and "because it is the only part of the fleet that does not provide step-free access." They also added that "the heritage service on route 15H is not required for capacity purposes and does not provide any unique links", so it wasn't just one single reason which scuppered the service. Running an infrequent shuttle for tourists who aren't here and may not be coming back simply wasn't an option.
The last Routemasters have run in passenger service 4
The first Routemaster in passenger service, codenamed RM1, made its inaugural journey between Golders Green and Crystal Palace on Wednesday 8th February 1956. The last Routemaster in passenger service, codenamed RM1933, made its final journey between Trafalgar Square and Tower Hill on Sunday 29th September 2019. That's 63 years of service on the streets of the capital which is a phenomenal record and unlikely ever to be beaten.
The last Routemasters have run in passenger service 5
Heritage Routemaster services on route 15 were gradually reduced over time to save money. Initially they operated daily from 9.30am to 6.30pm at 15 minute intervals, but in 2015 this was reduced to every 20 minutes between 10am and 6pm. This enabled the service to be operated with fewer vehicles given that fewer of the fleet were now roadworthy. In 2019 TfL reduced the days of operation to weekends and bank holidays only, and only between March and September. But after one summer season the buses went into hibernation on 29th September 2019 and the pandemic ensured they didn't emerge as planned on 28th March 2020... and never will again.
The last Routemasters have run in passenger service 6
The last full year of heritage Routemaster services cost TfL £1,293,270. In 2019 the cost was reduced to £808,258 when the contract was cut to six months, weekends only. Had route 15H operated last year it would have cost £808,258 but TfL saved that money, plus they've also now saved 2021's £825,243 and a lot more six-figure sums going forward. It's all a drop in the ocean compared to the shortfall created by fewer passengers, but it has "made the best use of resources" and helped TfL "make our core network services financially sustainable for the future".
The last Routemasters have run in passenger service 7
Hey, TfL may have removed the last red Routemasters from our streets but that doesn't mean you'll never ride one again. Numerous afternoon tea merchants employ Routemasters to ship cupcakes and prosecco around the capital so you can always pay to ride one of those, or maybe next time you're off to a wedding the best man will have hired Routemasters all round. Several private tour companies also exist, even if they want you to spend £24 rather than the £1.50 it used to cost because that's lack of subsidies for you. So don't lose heart, the private sector has saved the day, ding ding.
The last Routemasters have run in passenger service 8
The fleet of Routemasters which used to operate heritage route 15 have been based at Stagecoach's West Ham Garage since 2009. If you stand on the bend in Stephenson Street you can see all ten buses lined upagainst the fence. Many show 15 Out Of Service on their blinds, one still thinks it's on route 8 and one displays the message Happy Retirement. The oldest of the ten is parked separately and looks like it's been cannibalised for spares to keep the rest on the road. It's not clear what the bus company will do with these vehicles, but they may now be available for special events and private hire.
The last Routemasters have run in passenger service 9
I looked through the fence and the ten redundant Routemasters are (from left to right) RM324 (WLT 324) [born 1960], RM2050 (ALM 50B) [born 1964], RM871 (WLT 871) [born 1962], RM652 (WLT 652) [born 1962], RM2060 (ALM 60B) [born 1964], RM2071 (ALM 71B) [born 1964], RM1933 (ALD 933B) [born 1964], RM2089 (ALM 89B) [born 1964], RM1941 (ALD 941B) [born 1964], RM1968 (ALD 968B) [born 1964]. Anyone with a spotters notebook could tick the whole lot off, but the fence is not good for photography so don't rush down with your camera.
The last Routemasters have run in passenger service 10
I announced that Routemasters had been discontinued last Thursday, but only because Twitter user @goldenarrw
alerted me to it. Tim Dunn announced that Routemasters had been discontinued on Monday, but only because Cliff emailed him about it. The Guardian announced that Routemasters had been discontinued on Tuesday, but only because they'd seen Tim's tweet. The Evening Standard and Time Out announced the news yesterday and the BBC ran a two-part report on the local news last night, but like the rest of us only because they were nudged. The lapdog media haven't announced the news because they only regurgitate TfL's press releases and TfL have no intention of officially announcing this. The original confirmation in fact emerged on Wednesday last week as the result of an FoI request, otherwise we'd all be none the wiser, so many thanks to Larry for asking the question in the first place.
The last Routemasters have run in passenger service 11
To the list of things the pandemic has killed off we can now add the humble Routemaster. Like Debenhams they were nice to have but fundamentally unnecessary, so have been unceremoniously withdrawn earlier than they might have been. In normal times we'd have kicked up a fuss, maybe even sent a rude reply to a public consultation, but there was no consultation just a bald economic decision in the early days of lockdown that's turned out to be permanent. We've grown to accept the death of public services because we recognise finances are tight and hard decisions need to be made, but we need to be careful not to throw out everything that makes society special.
The last Routemasters have run in passenger service 12
London's classic red Routemaster bowed out eighteen months ago without anybody noticing because nobody knew a virus was going to kill it off. The enthusiasts taking videos on the day the buses went into winter hibernation unwittingly scored footage of a veteran leaving the stage for the very last time, not with a bang but with a whimper. It's sad if not entirely unexpected, as an icon of the road turns out to have vanished with inappropriately minimal fuss. So don't head to Tower Hill in the hope of hopping on a rear platform this weekend because all you'll find are normal buses that don't look quite so impressive on a postcard.
London has seven strategic walking routes, namely the Capital Ring, London Loop, Thames Path, Lea Valley Walk, Green Chain, Jubilee Walkway and Jubilee Greenway, ideal for exploring the capital and encouraging healthy exercise. But why stop at seven?
Which is why the London Ramblers have come up with six new walking routes and would like to persuade the next Mayor to make them a reality. Not only do they connect disparate green spaces but they're also intended to link up with the previous routes to create a more joined-up network. All would need proper signage and some also would need additional infrastructure so they can't just be magicked into existence. But if only we knew where all six were we could go out now and shadow them prematurely. Thankfully there's a map.
In west London there's the Forgotten Rivers Walk and Counter's Creek (which is also a forgotten river), and in southeast London the Southern Rivers Link. Then in my neck of the woods there's the Five Boroughs Link, Great Eastern Parks and the Romford Greenway. They're a motley six but they do create new radial links and could well be enticing, if only we could tell precisely where they go. Thankfully there's a better map.
The better map is also available as a 5MB pdf and is something of a cartographical treasure trove. Not only does it include the original seven and proposed six, but also numerous other walking trails like the Celandine Route, Dollis Valley Green Walk, Vanguard Way and Epping Forest Centenary Walk. I had to look up a couple I'd never heard of before. The map confirms that the new routes generally start and finish at an existing route, although not necessarily anywhere near a station. And although you can zoom in a lot to see excellent detail, it's still not clear enough to be able to follow the routes on the ground. So I tried making my own map.
Mine's not a good map. It's nowhere near as accurate as the Ramblers map which is full of intricate wiggles, but that's because they know exactly where the new routes go and I've had to guess. I'm almost convinced I've got the three East London routes very roughly right, but the further in you zoom the less good it gets, and the other three routes include wildly approximate speculation. Trust none of it because I'm not in on the facts, but it might give you a rough idea of what's being proposed.
Forgotten Rivers "A route that reveals rivers obscured by years of development. The River Fleet route connects Hampstead Heath with the Thames Path, while the Silk Stream trail links the Heath to the London LOOP at High Barnet, exploring the greener outskirts of London, past St Pancras Old Church and alongside the Regents Canal and across the Capital Ring through modern redevelopment of Brent Cross."
A walking route that follows the Fleet valley from the Thames to Hampstead Heath is a great idea, even if it repeatedly deviates from the lost river in favour of more appropriate walking territory. It looks like it might then tick off the hidden pergola on the West Heath before, ah, crossing North Cricklewood and Brent Cross (which may be nicer in a few years but is utterly miserable now). This is all to reach the Silk Stream river through Burnt Oak before a perverse break for the remote valleys beyond Mill Hill. Getting public transport home from the end point on the London Loop may prove difficult.
Counter’s Creek "Follows the path of a hidden river along the boundary between Hammersmith & Fulham and Kensington & Chelsea to take in 2 of the ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries at Kensal Green and Brompton and linking up with the Thames Path, Putney and Wimbledon Commons, the Capital Ring and the London Loop."
I've walked Counter's Creek before and it's mostly railway so this may not be the most enticing of strolls. But the route depicted on the map goes a lot further than the river, bolting on a hike through Willesden and Neasden to the north and a much lengthier hike south of the Thames. I can see the merits of crossing Putney Heath and Wimbledon but I am far less convinced by a lengthy extension across Merton to Old Malden just to meet up with the London Loop. This may of course be because I have not yet managed to work out precisely where it goes. But it's still a poor choice of name.
Great Eastern Parks "A west-east trail following the line of the Great Eastern Railway from the eastern edge of City of London to the Lea Valley and beyond, linking up existing parks and incorporating new green space to be created as part of the redevelopment of the old Bishopsgate Goodsyard."
In my experience walking routes with multiple starting points are far less satisfying than those which are linear. One arm of 'Great Eastern Parks' heads from Shoreditch to Mile End and relies heavily on the Bishopsgate Goodsyard being developed, which is years off. The other western arm is essentially just Mile End Park, which at least is green. Victoria Park and the Olympic Park form the central link, which I'm blasé about because it's so local but they're a cracking choice. Where things get strange is out east. One arm follows the Leaway which, as I've repeatedly blogged, has the scuzziest of detours between Cody Dock and Canning Town. If I read the map correctly it's then forced to deviate wildly round Bow Creek because that DLR footbridge I moaned about last week isn't open. And I cannot make head nor tail of the eastern arm which appears to meander across a park-free slice of Newham before terminating nowhere green just short of the Thames. It'd be a pretty miserable end.
Five Boroughs Link "A wander through Westminster, Camden, Islington, Hackney and Waltham Forest, from the Thames to hills and marshes through Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, parks, squares, historic streets, past medieval churches, cathedrals and museums."
This one sounds like they ran out of names, or any underlying rationale for the entire route. The two words in the description which most baffle me are "hills" (really?) and "cathedrals" (plural?). The western end covers Farringdon and Clerkenwell, which would be the teensiest bit of Westminster and Camden. The route then makes a deliberate attempt to shadow the Regent's Canal without ever following it. A central wiggle is needed to tick off Hackney Downs after London Fields. Then it's east to the Lea and a majestic sweep round Walthamstow Marshes, past the reservoirs, and somehow across Walthamstow past the villagey bit. The end is baffling, stopping at a quiet bit of the Epping Forest Centenary Walk which isn't even a waymarked route. The 5BL lacks cohesion.
Romford Greenway "A route that links parks and nature reserves near areas of green deprivation, connecting to the Olympic Park, Capital Ring and London Loop, roughly shadowing the line of CrossRail development in some places and journeying along the London Greenway in others, with attendant opportunities for new infrastructure and greening."
It's not the most appealing of names, especially for a route that doesn't actually go to Romford. Heading east the first target is Wanstead Flats, although there's a lot of road-walking to get there. Next it's lovely Wanstead Park and a fair chunk of the Roding Valley, not all of which is yet open. I think the route then ticks off Barking Park, Goodmayes Rec, Valence Park and the bonanza of open space in the Beam valley beyond Becontree, before following the Ravensbourne through Hornchurch to Harold Wood. These are green treasures I suspect most Londoners have never even heard of, let alone experienced. Of the six routes it's the walk I'd be most satisfied to complete.
Southern Rivers "Crossing Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham, Greenwich, Bexley, this route links the Thames with the River Quaggy and the River Shuttle – crossing the Ravensbourne by way of the old Surrey Canal."
OK, here's what I reckon. Vauxhall Bridge, Kennington Park, Burgess Park... strong start. Surrey Canal Linear Park, excellent. Nunhead and Ladywell, maybe via the cemeteries. Prolonged pavement slog from Catford to Eltham. Several miles of the River Shuttle (whose Riverway path has long deserved a promotion). Nicely augments the Green Chain without repeating stuff. Eastern end possibly a bit remote. Useful addition to the strategic walk portfolio.
Again let me say that I don't really know what I'm talking about as the Ramblers' maps are vague and mine are worse, but it sounds like there's much here to look forward to. Just remember that you can already go out walking wherever you like, whenever you like, you don't need to wait for someone to tell you where to do it.