diamond geezer

 Friday, March 31, 2023

31 unblogged things I did in March

Wed 1: Less than a mile into a 100 mile journey I spotted a massive wodge of birdshit on the lapel of my jacket, freshly delivered. An inch to the left and it would have wrecked my shirt, an inch further back and it would have smothered my hair. Thankfully my jacket was waterproof and therefore wipeable but annoyingly I had nothing to wipe it with. My thanks therefore to the kind member of TfL staff who went off to the station office and fetched some tissues, freshly dampened, allowing me to remove the offending deposit. They also let me out through the barriers to chuck the muck away, the station being bin-deficient, and cheers sir that was world-class service.
Thu 2: I was deeply saddened to hear of the death today of Christopher Fowler, the quintessential author of London noir. He was diagnosed with a tenacious form of cancer at the very start of lockdown and had been updating readers of his blog with honest candour right up to his final post in January. He leaves a legacy of extraordinary literature, most notably his 20-volume series of Bryant & May crime novels, and I'd been buying everything he wrote since Roofworld came out in 1988. A last work or two may be in the pipeline for future publication, but what a sad premature end to the sparkiest of creative minds.
Fri 3: Supermarket update: Sorry to go on about Tesco own-brand choc ices but the price of a box has gone up another 20p since January's rise. They're now 6 for £1.50 whereas 18 months ago they were 8 for £1, a perfect doubling in price (12½p → 25p), and that isn't galloping inflation that's extortion.

Sat 4: I bought some new jeans via click and collect but when I went to Westfield to pick them up the assistant took 5 minutes to find them. She only had four boxes behind the counter to rifle through and my order was right on the top, but sadly she ignored my hint that the package would be jeans-shaped, not trainers-shaped.
Sun 5: The tube replacement bus from Hammersmith to Heathrow was 10 minutes faster than the Piccadilly line normally takes, and maybe they should run it more often.
Mon 6: Glenn got in touch by email because he's trying to compile a master spreadsheet of all the Radio Times Christmas issues in time for the magazine's centenary later this year. He needed price, volume and issue numbers, number of pages and front cover captions, amongst other data, and was doing well with 1923 to 1960. With my collection I was able to fill in most of his gaps from 1980 to 2022. It's nice to be helpful, and sometimes it just pays to ask.
Tue 7: I didn't get any Eurovision tickets but that's because I didn't apply, nor indeed queue frustratingly on an extortionist's website only to have my hopes dashed. It'll be joyous enough on TV.

Wed 8: Snow in Trafalgar Square doesn't happen in most Marches.
Thu 9: I went upstairs on the 186 bus only to discover that the top deck was empty apart from a scruffy couple and a Rottweiler sprawled across the front seat. Eek! I walked tentatively past and sat further back, relieved that the beast had merely stared. It carried on staring as the woman alongside kept tight hold via a suspiciously thick chain attached to her wrist. I had to walk back past when I alighted, jowls in close proximity, at which point the angry barking started and the woman yanked her lead and I dashed a little faster to escape. I'm pleased to say my birthday day out got better after that.
Fri 10: The departure of Ken Bruce from Radio 2, taking Popmaster with him, has forced the launch of a new daily music quiz called Ten To The Top. The questions are similarly tough but the new scoring mechanism (increasing in value with each correct answer) somehow doesn't cut it. The tension isn't there, keeping track of your own score is impractical and people keep ending up with paltry totals. And then yesterday an unassuming lady sailed through the quiz winning maximum points, something I suspect the producers thought might take months, thereby taking an unassailable position on the long-term leaderboard so the whole quiz now feels somewhat flat. Good try, but genius is hard to follow.

Sat 11: I rang the TfL helpline to ask why, two weeks after I paid for an Annual Travelcard, my Gold Card still hadn't arrived in the post. It was also slow last year but previously had always arrived within a week. The lady told me that TfL had "changed their procedures" and Gold Cards now take up to 10 working days to arrive, and could I ring back on Monday if it still hadn't come. I said I'd already lost money and she just apologised and emphasised the "changed procedures".
Sun 12: OK probably not, but what if?
Mon 13: I could tell the Commonwealth Day wreath-laying ceremony had finished because I spotted black limos with numberplates 1 BAN, 1 PAK, 1 TON and KEN 1 rounding Hyde Park Corner.
Tue 14: My Gold Card arrived yesterday after 10 working days, cheers, so today I took it to a central London station to get it added to my Oyster account. They told me I needed to go to a National Rail station and I told them they were wrong and then they looked it up on their magic tablet and said sure, give it here. But they insisted on entering the expiry date one day before it actually expires so that's now 15 days I've been cheated out of.

Wed 15: I see a new community garden has opened on the strip of land between Westfield and the former Olympic Village as a 'meanwhile' use while they decide what to build here. It ought to be uplifting but it describes itself as a co-creation empowerment space, and it recently hosted an equinoctial men's retreat with ice baths and meditation, so I fear it's reflecting a community that's a bit up itself.
Thu 16: My gas bill is two-thirds standing charge.
Fri 17: I watched Comic Relief and it was good but blimey, only three hours long and the second half of the evening was repeats. The BBC's budget squeeze is really showing.
Sat 18: Hurrah, Challenge Anneka is back but on Channel 5 this time. They kept saying the dog centre was in Kent but it's comfortably inside the Greater London boundary in Biggin Hill. It was an uplifting and totally nostalgic watch (but alas C5 are going to be so unimpressed by the viewing figures they'll take the series off mid-run).
Sun 19: My family came down from Norfolk to celebrate Mothers Day in a Wetherspoons. More excitingly my Dad got to see my nephew's flat for the first time and take a ride on Crossrail for the first time, which he didn't think he'd ever do. There's now only 30p left on his Oyster card.

Mon 20: WeRoad are advertising their global group safaris all over buses and stations, and every time I see these grinning selfies of random travel companions I think "eek, I'd hate that, imagine being trapped in foreign climes with raving extroverts you didn't know", and then I remember it's not aimed at me, not even me 30 years ago, indeed I'm now way over their upper age limit.
Tue 21: I'm pleased to report that GCHQ haven't got back and asked me to take down my photo of their Doughnut HQ in Cheltenham so I think I got away with that, unless instead they put me on a secret hitlist and will be delivering vengeance later.
Wed 22: I love Race Across The World and I've missed it post-pandemic. I wasn't convinced a race across just Canada would work but the routing is genius and the couples they've picked are perfect and it totally deserves its promotion to BBC1.
Thu 23: How can interest rates now be over 4%, shafting borrowers, but banks have totally failed to reward savers apart from a paltry few products with awkward caveats? I fear the link between savings and interest rates may be permanently severed.

Fri 24: Here's an evocative photo of the colonnade at Golders Green Crematorium, taken during one of those rare hours this month when the sun was actually out.
Sat 25: I'm regularly amazed how much stuff my neighbours get delivered. Most days there's a package for them left in the hall and I bring it upstairs and leave it by their front door like a good neighbour, whilst simultaneously wondering what on earth the small thing in the big packet might be this time.
Sun 26: I had to go and buy the new Depeche Mode album to go with all my others, reassured by the lead single being excellent. I was however shocked by the price of the CD, and it wasn't even the collector's edition that costs £7 more. At least one other track is excellent but after a few plays I fear a lot of the others may prove to be unmemorable filler.
Mon 27: Myddelton House in Enfield is as delightful as ever, its gardens now blessed with roaming pensioners and full-on spring flower vibes, although the meadow that looks totally bluebelled is actually a cloud of scillas.

Tue 28: My new background music obsession is Retro Charts Radio, a streaming service playing "every single UK Top 40 hit from 1952-1999 on elimination random until they’ve all been played." Think Manic Street Preachers followed by the 1982 England World Cup Squad, or the Partridge Family followed by Stool Pigeon, or Helen Shapiro followed by Ace of Base, even Cumberland Gap followed by That's The Way I Like It. You need eclectic tastes to stomach the five decade range, but the genius moments come when a classic number 3 segues into an obscure hit that only reached number 38. Guaranteed no repeats for eight weeks.
Wed 29: Back in 2018 I succeeded in riding aboard every London bus route over the space of 20 weeks. That's at least one stop on every single route, including the dead annoying 385, 467 and X68. In 2022 I thought I'd do it again (it took 23 weeks) and this year I started again on 1st January and I'm going to have it all done in 13 weeks. It's a good winter task plus a fabulous way to reacquaint yourself with the whole of London. So far I've done 537 of the 546 routes and I only have the single-digit routes to go.
Thu 30: Trying to ride on all the single-digit bus routes as quickly as possible is an interesting challenge. The 5 is a pain because it doesn't run in central London but the others overlap quite well. My 7 was late, my 3 was empty, my 4 got stuck in traffic and I completed my All The Buses challenge by taking the 8 home.
Fri 31: Let's see how this year's annual counts are going...
• Number of London boroughs visited: all of them (at least eight times each)
• Number of London postcode areas visited: 230 (which is 95% of the total)
• Number of London bus routes ridden: all (100%)
• Number of Z1-3 stations used: 292 (74%)
• Number of Z4-6 stations used: 3 (1%)

 Thursday, March 30, 2023

With the ULEZ due to expand in August, TfL have a fresh focus on Outer London.

You can see this in their press releases where the phrase 'in outer London' is now increasingly commonplace. Last month only two press releases referenced outer London but this month's total is ten, which is quite a ramping up. They've also set up a webpage entitled 'Outer London transport', now six months old, although there's no corresponding page for Inner London.

But they haven't defined what they mean by outer London, just occasionally referenced boroughs they say are within it, and using examples which aren't entirely consistent with any of the general definitions.

For example a press release in 2021 stated that Greenwich was an outer London borough and a press release on Monday stated that Newham was an inner London borough. This fits with the statistical definition of Outer London used by the Office for National Statistics and the census. But tfl.gov.uk/outer-London also states that Haringey is an outer London borough, and under none of the general definitions are both Greenwich and Haringey in outer London. The whole thing is a bit of a movable mystery.

And this matters as TfL continue to bang the drum over outer London transport improvements in the run-up to ULEZ expansion and the next Mayoral election. Where exactly are these improvements taking place?

The Outer London transport webpage cites eight different categories of transport improvements so let's see how 'Outer London' they are...

Outer London bus improvements: Here's a claim...
Since 2016 we've introduced 12 new routes (218, 278, 301, 304, 306, 378, 335, 483, 456, 497, 533 and X140) and extended another 41 routes (30 in outer London) as well increasing frequencies on 65 outer London bus routes to ensure the service better matches demand.
Of those new routes the 378 and 533 were only introduced because Hammersmith Bridge closed, the 304 is only in Outer London if Newham is and the 335 is only in Outer London if Greenwich is. The other eight are unequivocally Outer London routes. The extension of 30 outer London routes and increased frequencies of 65 outer London bus routes might well be true but these claims are unverifiable using existing public data (and the reduction in frequency of well over 100 bus routes is not mentioned).

The text goes on to mention four fresh consultations, two of which are piddly and one of which refers to a route that never leaves Inner London. Previous consultations in Ealing, Haringey, Sutton and Croydon are mentioned (Haringey may or may not be in outer London) as are two proposed routes through the Silvertown Tunnel (which are only in Outer London if either Newham or Greenwich are).

Superloop: This express bus chain is undeniably an Outer London project, as you can see if you draw the proposed loop on a map. The only dubious borough it enters is Newham, and under the definition of 'statutory Outer London' the entire loop would be inside.

Bus Action Plan: These four paragraphs are all generic text which could apply equally to Inner or Outer London (other than a reference to the super-electrfication of route 358 which is properly Outer).

Elizabeth line: Generic text which could apply equally to Inner or Outer London.

New DLR trains: Under the strategic definition of Outer London, as used by City Hall, none of the DLR enters Outer London. But if either Newham or Greenwich counts as Outer London then it does.

New Piccadilly line trains: Generic text which could apply equally to Inner or Outer London.

Barking Riverside: 100% Outer.

Walking and cycling: Only cycling gets a mention, specifically five new Cycleway projects. Of these one is in Islington/Haringey (maybe Outer), one is in Brent (Outer), one is in Hackney (Inner), one is in Greenwich (maybe Outer) and one is in Hounslow (Outer).

I've made that sound much more dubious than it really is because several of these projects genuinely are in Outer London, if only we knew which. But as ULEZ extension and the Mayoral Election draw closer, and TfL's 'Outer London' drumbeat gets louder, remember to take what they say with a dash of scepticism because they've never told us precisely where Outer London actually is.

Map of Outer London

Definitely Outer London: 18 boroughs
Outer London for statistical* purposes: Greenwich
Outer London for statutory purposes: Haringey & Newham
Outer London for strategic purposes: Haringey

* e.g. for the census
i.e. in law since 1963
e.g. for Mayoral planning

(but I'm not sure which of these, if any, is TfL's definition of Outer London)

 Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Well here's a thing.

It's Superloop, supposedly "a network of limited-stop express bus routes that circle the entire capital - connecting outer London town centres, railway stations, hospitals and transport hubs, faster." It's going to be like the Overground but for buses, an orbital network with occasional spokes radiating out.

Ten such bus routes are planned, four of which already exist. They'll form a loop around outer London, in part to mitigate the introduction of the expanded ULEZ. They'll help bus users in the suburbs to get around faster, orbitally at least. They'll be clearly branded on the bus, in timetables and on maps with a multi-coloured roundel. They'll be additional services rather than replacements so should only be an improvement. They'll open up new faster connections, both into the loop and out. I'd happily have used one for a journey I was making yesterday if only it had been running. It's easy to be upbeat.

But they won't "circle the entire capital", they'll skip boroughs and there'll be a gap in the east. They'll mainly benefit those living within a specific ring so those with transport issues elsewhere won't be helped. They might skip past the stop you actually need so won't speed your journey. They'll only link three major hospitals, which on a loop around London isn't great going. One isn't a limited stop service, it's an express, and only runs in one direction for a few hours each day. One won't link up with the rest so doesn't help create part of a useful network. All are being bundled under the Superloop brand when two existing routes are plainly radial and are being included simply to get the name on the sides of buses a bit quicker. It's easy to be cynical.

Most crucially they won't be ready soon, certainly not by August when the ULEZ expands or even this year. Of the seven routes around the loop only two currently exist and the others haven't even reached the consultation stage. Of the missing five just one will have its consultation up and ready by May, best case scenario, and only then will "views be sought on future sections of the orbital network". TfL hope to have the full loop in place by autumn 2024 but that's an aspiration, not a deadline, and so far they can't even confirm where the Superloop will go.

Here's the illustrative map.

Focusing on the main loop thus far it's only possible to ride limited stop buses from Croydon to Harrow, i.e. the X26 followed by the X140. The Mayor intends to double the frequency of the X26, indeed that's the only practical action he intends to take any time soon, which'll mean a bus every 15 minutes rather than every 30. This is a long-awaited improvement. As for the precise routing of the sections from Bexleyheath to Croydon and from Harrow to the Royal Docks, i.e two-thirds of the circuit, you'll have to wait and see.

Meanwhile the spoke sticking out to the west is the 607, a zippy trek to Uxbridge introduced in 1990 long before any Mayor took charge of the network. It does nothing loopy, it doesn't even start with an X, but has been added solely to give Superloop some stature when it launches. The dashed line downwards from central London to Croydon is the X68, a peak hours commuter service that really shouldn't have been included except it starts with an X so it has. And the isolated boomerang in the middle is the X239, a proposed service through the Silvertown Tunnel with a lunatic three mile express section in the middle, as previously discussed. It's a bit of a dog's dinner.

The Mayor is going to make a lot of fuss about the Superloop as the extended ULEZ approaches, ditto the next Mayoral election. He needs the support of Outer Londoners and also desperately needs something positive to point at as he starts to charge their polluting vehicles. An orbital bus chain isn't going to solve many voters' problems but Sadiq can always mention the Superloop when asked what he's doing, and the project's large enough to look potentially impressive. When the new brand appears on the streets he's counting on the average Londoner not realising that four of the routes already existed and that he only introduced one of them. Look, he'll say, I'm committed to improving transport links in outer London, indeed he's already said just that.

OK, let's dig deeper. Here's the diamond geezer guide to the Superloop loop.

Bexleyheath to Bromley: All we know about this one is that it'll go via Sidcup and Queen Mary's Hospital (which is in Sidcup). This sounds very much like existing route 269 only with fewer stops, suggesting that TfL's intention is to introduce the X269. It also mirrors the former 726, a monster orbital route from Dartford to Heathrow which last saw these roads in 1999 and has its origins in Green Line route 725. That took a slightly more direct route than the current 269 suggesting the X269 might take a few shortcuts, but that's what the upcoming consultation is for. The journey's currently 10 miles long and takes about 50 minutes, so is easily improvable.

Bromley to Croydon: All we know about this one are its start and finish points, nothing about any intended stops inbetween. Several intermediate routes are possible. The former 726 went via Beckenham and Elmers End, a journey which now requires three different buses. But a separate direct route exists via Hayes and West Wickham, the 119, so TfL might instead have the X119 in mind. In the upcoming consultation some intermediate communities will win an express bus service and others will lose out. It would be perfectly feasible for TfL to introduce a combined Bexleyheath to Croydon service rather than two separate routes, but I guess they're aiming for service reliability rather than long distance convenience.

Croydon to Heathrow: This already exists, it is the X26. It's run since 2005, initially hourly and currently half-hourly, and takes up to two hours to complete the 24 mile route. It's a bit of a monster and often disrupted at the whim of congested traffic, so not the most reliable way to get from A to B. But it's also popular and often full, compounded by the need for a significant portion of the lower deck to be taken up by space for airport luggage. Come completion of the Superloop it might be the least efficient section of the orbital ring. But it's also the easiest to brand, given it already operates, plus the Mayor's going for a quick win with an increase in frequency to four buses an hour.

Heathrow to Harrow: This also already exists, it's the X140, which was introduced in December 2019 as part of bus improvements for Crossrail. Its arrival also saw original route 140 curtailed to Hayes & Harlington, so it is possible that the introduction of some new Superloop routes will see existing services tweaked. It's data from the introduction of the X140 that's encouraged TfL to move forward with additional limited stop routes, having seen a 10-15% increase in passenger demand and an increase in customer satisfaction. I've used it several times and what's great is the flexibility to take the 140 for a shorter hop or the X140 for a longer whizz. Here at least the express bus does tend to overtake its slower counterpart, making an X-rated journey properly worthwhile.

Harrow to North Finchley: This is destined to be the first new Superloop route to be introduced, and we know from discussions with the Mayor that it'll be numbered X183. The 183 is already one of Outer London's most frequent buses, a conveyor belt from Pinner to Golders Green via Harrow and Hendon and wholly worthy of expressification. Intriguingly the 183 is a few miles longer than the proposed Superloop route, which would also deviate from its parent at its eastern end. We're promised a consultation for route X183 in May when we'll discover what the proposed route actually is, but it is astonishing that TfL have launched their Superloop brand without even the first detailed plans in place.

North Finchley to Walthamstow: This looks very much like the 34, except starting in Finchley rather than Barnet. We can therefore anticipate the creation of the X34, except shadowing route 221 until it gets to Arnos Grove. This'll be as orbital as orbital gets, being a journey along or quite close to the North Circular Road, which intriguingly is the boundary between the existing and the extended ULEZ. The X34 could also be the fastest of the Superloop routes, traffic permitting, with an emphasis on speedy convenience rather than creating new links.

Walthamstow to Royal Docks: And this is the biggest Superloop mystery, at least in its later parts. From Walthamstow to Ilford it looks very much like being the X123, bringing an express service to several communities but no town centres. Beyond that 'Royal Docks' is a particularly vague destination which could mean Beckton or could mean North Woolwich, but probably means Custom House/Silvertown because the indicative map shows symbols for Crossrail and river services. Numerous possible routes across Newham exist with one of Upton Park or East Ham getting lucky, or maybe even Barking, we'll find out later. But if not the latter then Barking & Dagenham is going to miss out, and Havering definitely will because Superloop won't reach every Outer London borough - at least one gets nothing at all.

Royal Docks to Bexleyheath: And here's the awkward bit, a gap in the Superloop, which it turns out won't be a loop at all. Instead the River Thames gets in the way and TfL have made no attempt to cross it, not even when the Silvertown Tunnel opens. Their previously-announced express route, the X239, leaps all the way from East India to Blackheath so is no use whatsoever in spanning this gap. Instead the fastest connection would be to take Crossrail to Abbey Wood and then the 301 bus, a non-express, so nothing particularly Super at all. Should you have a day spare in 2025 and want to ride the Superloop all the way round, this is where the route will break.

It's possible to introduce a new bus route far quicker than a new railway line, which is part of what makes the humble bus the workhorse of the capital. But a network of orbital routes has been on the drawing board since Boris Johnson's first Mayoral election, just never acted upon, so it is possible that this 'brand new' idea has merely been lifted from an old file and given a 2020s update. But the lack of confirmed detail suggests this is a recent withdrawal, or at least an idea concocted to keep ULEZ miseries at bay, else we'd already know a lot more about how it's intended to operate.

Thus far the Superloop consultation is more a chance to ask questions than offer opinions. You won't learn much by reading it. In the meantime if you'd like to discover what Superloop will be like then go and take a bus ride from Ealing to Southall, or Northolt to Yeading, or Carshalton to Feltham because it already exists, and quite frankly the more the merrier.

 Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Peripheral Postcodes: EN7

In my quest to visit every postcode district in Greater London this year, I recently visited the minor overlaps of EN6, EN8 and EN9. But I skipped EN7 having confidently stated that, although the district seeped marginally into Greater London, no postal address lay within it. Not so fast, you said.
Andrew said "Zoopla reckons there is one property south of the M25 in EN7 5HR (Capel Cottage, 279 Bullsmoor Lane) and one in EN7 5HT (Bulls Cross Lodge, 2 Gilmour Close). The latter is Grade II listed." Rich G then checked these addresses on the HMRC website and confirmed they pay their council tax to Enfield, not Hertfordshire.
It may only be two properties but if that meant EN7 existed in London then I had to go. So I went and checked.

To help you get your bearings we are here, near junction 25 on the M25.

Hertfordshire is on the left, and the London borough of Enfield on the right incorporating the motorway itself and the back of Capel Manor College. It's all notionally in EN7, at least from the bridge I'm standing on to the next, but Capel Manor is officially in EN1 because it's accessed from Bullsmoor Lane on the opposite side.

Capel Manor forms the campus of an environmental college, a complex site comprising themed gardens, student workshops and practical spaces. It even has its own little zoo for animal husbandry purposes, which explains the alpacas I saw through a gap in the hedge. A recent planning application confirms that Capel Cottage is a four bedroom house somewhere in the middle, roughly halfway between the ornamental lake and Italianate maze, and the home of the College Principal. And even though you can pay to go round the estate as a tourist attraction, prowling round the boss's house isn't on the agenda so I ruled that out as a way of accessing EN7.

Following the road west brings you to Bulls Cross, a tiny hamlet with a row of characterful cottages and a proper pub, The Pied Bull. King James I kept his hunting dogs here when he lived at Theobalds, if that's the vibe you want while tucking into your cask ale and Triple Challenge Char-grill Burger. It feels borderline rural here, except that just over the back fence is an expanse of 15 grass pitches, a massive gymnasium and a selection of Premiership footballers.

For this is the fabled Tottenham Hotspur Training Ground, the hideaway where the squad practices, learns tactics and keeps fit. The stadium down in N17 is mainly for show - this is where the hard work is put in. Out front is some fiercely manicured grass and a security checkpoint designed to keep over-keen fans at bay. Turn up on a hot news day, as I did, and you might also find a sports presenter talking to camera on the verge outside debating who might replace Antonio Conte as Spurs' manager. All of this alas is in EN2 because the sign for Hotspur Way says so, but the TV support team were parked across the road in Bulls Cross Ride and hurrah, that's definitely EN7.

This is not a lovely road, mainly because it kicks off beside some derelict boarding kennels, now littered with metal containers and stacks of masonry. It also very swiftly hits a line of pylons and an orbital motorway, passing quietly over the top as eight lanes of traffic roar underneath. But there's nowhere to deliver a letter to, not until Bulls Cross Ride lands across the divide in Hertfordshire, and even then not for a while because this is the backway into the Theobalds Park estate.

Two Jewish cemeteries lurk up this private dead end, which must be ideal for those who prefer to be laid to rest within sniffing distance of the M25. I decided against going in, having not brought anything suitable to cover my head. I also failed to be enchanted by the rotting litter discarded along the lane, or to be tempted down the messy embankment leading to the motorwayside public footpath, and then I remembered I don't have to visit the Hertfordshire bit of EN7 so sensibly retreated.

I found one more EN7 street sign on the Greater London side and that's for Gilmour Close. This is a sinister-looking backway squeezed between Capel Manor and the ex-kennels, comprehensively shadowed by trees and doubly inaccessible. First it has a lockable barrier and immediately beyond that temporary railings suggesting nobody's living up there at the moment. This narrow track used to be the chief northbound country lane before the M25 arrived, at which point Bulls Cross Ride got marginally diverted. And amazingly it used to be part of Ermine Street, one of the principal Roman routes north from London, so hordes of legionnaires had been down there even if I wasn't going to.

Bulls Cross Lodge is early Victorian, L-shaped and described in its listing as "picturesque". I couldn't tell because it's too well screened on all sides, and that's before all the leaves grow back, but I did spot a sliver of cottage with workmen up a ladder fixing the tiles so it definitely exists. As a lodge it's always been part of the Capel Manor estate so comes under their jurisdiction and is accessed across their land, hence the impossibility of getting anywhere close. But it does have a letterbox you can send post to, and the sign at the end of the road definitely says EN7 so that's another peripheral postcode ticked off.

 Monday, March 27, 2023

20 years ago, when this blog was in its infancy, my posts were mostly about news, popular culture and the minutiae of life. The blogosphere in those days was all about personal commentary and links to other sites, hence you might have read screeds about last night's TV, troublesome parcel deliveries, a trip to the cinema, electroclash, the Iraq War or the joys of digital watches. What I hadn't yet started doing was going to places solely so I could come back and write about them, mainly because I didn't have time. But then BestMate emigrated to America and I suddenly had a lot more empty weekends on my hands, so two weeks before Easter I used a dice to pick somewhere random to visit.
1) a walk along the Greenwich Meridian
2) a walk along the Thames west from Docklands
3) a randomly chosen museum from this list
4) a randomly chosen art gallery from this list
5) a random dice-controlled journey on the Underground
6) a trip to the Boat Race

I threw a 6 so headed off to experience the Boat Race in person for the first time. And then I came home and wrote about it.
I reached Putney Bridge with five minutes to spare before the reserve race began. The whole area was full of tourists looking lost, families looking bored and yuppies looking drunk. I made my way down to the river, pushing past the acres of pushchairs, and tried to see if anything was happening. I was glad I'd remembered to wear the right colour blue. The crowds were one-deep, looking out across the river towards the boathouses in case anything was actually happening. The sensible amongst them had brought radios to find out what was going on, thermos flasks to keep them warm and a football to keep the kids occupied. The less sensible had brought cold meat picnics and grandma. There were a lot of twenty-somethings in the crowd, a lot of courting couples, and a high proportion of students using the race as a social opportunity to meet up with their jolly good mates during the Easter break. The BBC were blocking the towpath, making sure that six million TV viewers could watch the event even if we couldn't. The reserve race kicked off at 4pm to muted cheers, at which point a number of people left and went home thinking they'd just seen the main event.
By complete coincidence I found myself down by the river in Putney yesterday afternoon, a few hours before the Boat Race was about to kick off.

The weather was wetter than 20 years ago but people were still milling around, many of them looking for somewhere to drink with their jolly good mates before the main event. The BBC had already bagsied their spots along the riverbank, not that six million viewers would be watching. A lot of green jackets, smart shoes and boatcrew badges were in evidence, suggesting the Boat Race remains a draw for those who enjoyed a paid-for education. A hospitality company dressed in black tie were unloading supplies from a van on the quayside and hurrying it aboard Oxford's HQ cruiser. I noticed rather more police officers than there'd been in 2003 but times change, plus there is a heck of a lot of potentially mischievous riverbank to keep an eye on.
I wandered upstream, trying to get to Hammersmith Bridge before the proper race arrived half an hour later. I was forced to make a detour inland around Mr Al Fayed's football ground at Craven Cottage, after which the riverside was noticeably less crowded. The spectators here tended to be families, and very middle class in the same way that nobody in East London is. Some people looked like they'd not been anywhere near London since the Countryside Alliance march last year, and weren't planning on coming back until they needed their Barbour jacket re-tailored. The Boat Race also appeared to signal the beginning of the UK barbecue season, even when the temperature was only ten degrees Celsius, and the smell of burnt sausages drifted across from gardens backing onto the river. The residents of an old people's home were having a Boat Race party, beaming broadly beneath blue-ribboned bonnets. The crowds were thickest within fifty feet of the few riverside pubs. The event's sponsors should consider replacing their logo with a plastic lager glass, as this seems to best represent why most spectators turn up.
This year's holding pen for earlybirds was the Fulham Fun Park in Bishop's Park. I don't think they had such fripperies twenty years ago, let alone screens large enough to be visible to a large crowd. Visitors could enjoy drinks provided by two of the race's chief sponsors, be that an £8 goblet of English sparkling wine or a variety of Kentish lagers, suggesting the organisers had taken my advice regarding plastic glasses. Other sponsors had their own stalls for attendees to browse, suggesting a fairly limited definition of 'Fun'. Greater joy was evident beside Putney's war memorial where the local independent radio station had set up a stage upon which six girls were performing a dance that might well have been rehearsed in their bedrooms. Proud parents beamed. Meanwhile a lorry turned up to cone off one of the lanes on Putney Bridge, thereby making the lengthy jams attempting to cross the river even jammier.
I stopped in sight of Hammersmith Bridge, which the police had helpfully closed just in case anyone might get a decent view. Trees on the opposite bank were bursting into leaf, although the sun was defiantly not shining. Somewhere in the distance came the welcome sight of two tiny boats edging closer upstream, a helicopter buzzing overhead marking their position. We waited for the action to draw nearer. Eventually the two boats swept past, neck and neck, or maybe the yellow boat was just ahead of the yellow boat, it was hard to tell. The two teams were followed by a flotilla of champagne-fuelled launches, spread out across the river, making the most of their eighteen minute chase. I made the mistake of whipping out my digital camera to record the spectacle so ended up concentrating more on the camera than the boats at the crucial moment. And then, as fast as they came, the boats disappeared off under the bridge, round the bend and out of sight. The small crowd turned to look at one other, shrugged and headed back to the nearest pub.
That's the only photograph I have of the 2003 Boat Race because time has not been kind. I only uploaded one photo to the blog because image storage was awkward and potentially costly. It's tiny because bandwidth and screen sizes dictated miniature images back then, and it's blurry because my processing capability was poor. Then a few years later my hard drive corrupted and I lost almost every digital image I'd previously taken, so I can't even go back and make my original better. But from what I saw on TV this year the object of the image hasn't changed much - still two yellowish boats and eight oarsmen apiece powering their way upstream. Because I didn't hang around to watch the 2023 race go by, I'd learnt my lesson on that first visit.
It struck me that, by attending the Boat Race in real life, I had completely failed to experience it. From the riverside it was impossible to tell who was winning and, ultimately, which team was the winner. By the time the race ended I was already descending into Hammersmith station to start my journey home, totally oblivious of the result. I eventually got back to watch the whole thing 'properly' on video from earlier in the afternoon. Only then did I discover how exciting the race apparently was, how close it had been all the way through, and how the whole thing came down to a breathtaking photo finish. The two teams differed by just one foot after four and a quarter miles. Outstanding, record-breaking, even epic, apparently. And I missed it because I was there. Next year I shall stay at home and watch the race on television. Or maybe just check the result in the paper on Monday morning.
So much in that final paragraph has changed over the last two decades in ways we now take for granted. In 2003 my phone was not smart so was incapable of acquiring real-time updates on how the race was going, let alone the identity of the winner. I only got to watch the full race because I'd set my VHS recorder before I left the house, there being no streaming service or catch-up TV back then. And the idea that anyone would discover the result in a morning newspaper now seems ridiculous - not that sport was secret back then, the BBC News website was in full flow, more that a significant proportion of the population still bought a daily newspaper and devoured it. These days if I wanted I could stand beside the river and watch the whole of the race on my phone, pausing only to look up when the real thing rowed by.

A week after writing about the Boat Race I was out blogging the London Marathon, that being the year Paula Radcliffe smashed the record. I was soon out blogging Big Brother locations, then some pioneering flashmobs, and in August I kicked off my first Local History Month. These days you think nothing of reading my in-depth reports from central museums, suburban parks, peripheral postcodes, waterside walks or far-flung county towns. But arguably it all started 20 years ago when I rolled a dice and threw a six, and what a fortunate outcome that was.

 Sunday, March 26, 2023

Having visited Gloucester and written up my trip, I smiled and thought "that's another county town blogged."

And then I wondered how many county towns I'd blogged.
And then I wondered how many county towns I'd visited.
And then I wondered what a county town actually is.
And then I realised I'd opened a can of worms.

Wikipedia has a list, as you'd expect, and also an attempted definition.
A county town is the most important town or city in a county. It is usually the location of administrative or judicial functions within a county. Following the establishment of the English county councils in 1889, the headquarters of the new councils were usually located in the county town of each county. However, the concept of a county town pre-dates the establishment of these councils.
County towns are historic but also administrative, probably of longstanding cultural significance and based on counties that may or may not still exist. In particular...
The concept of a county town is ill-defined and unofficial.
You can sense this if you switch to the 'Talk' tab where Wikipedia's nitpickers have been debating the subject at length.
» Is it fair to say that pre-1832, at least, the main test was location where Knights of the Shire were elected?
» This raises the prospect that there may be "traditional" County Towns and current administrative HQs that do not correspond.
» Done some checking and in addition to Leicestershire's being Glenfield, Derbyshire's is in Matlock. (Nottinghamshire's is (extraterritorially now) in Nottingham). So it's either erroneous or a list of historical county towns, which needs stating.
» It would be neat if we could find some historical gazetteers actually defining county town as a general term rather than just giving examples of them, which we have no shortage of!
» Well this article is a bit of a shambles, as county town seems to mean different things at different times (and to different people).
Other lists of county towns are available, the only constant being the inconsistency.

So let's attempt to list England's county towns in descreasing order of controversy. These are the "obviouslys".

Obviously the county town
Bedfordshire: Bedford
Cambridgeshire: Cambridge
Cheshire: Chester
County Durham: Durham
Derbyshire: Derby
Dorset: Dorchester
Gloucestershire: Gloucester
Herefordshire: Hereford
Hertfordshire: Hertford
Lancashire: Lancaster
Leicestershire: Leicester
Lincolnshire : Lincoln
Northamptonshire: Northampton
Nottinghamshire: Nottingham
Oxfordshire: Oxford
Staffordshire: Stafford
Warwickshire: Warwick
Worcestershire: Worcester
Yorkshire: York

Good, that's half of them dealt with.

...although York is debatable, depending on whether you treat Yorkshire as one county or three ridings. If the latter then the county towns are Northallerton for the North Riding, Wakefield for the West Riding and Beverley for the East Riding, but these days we also have South Yorkshire and its county town is apparently Barnsley, so you can see why this is a mess. Of those I've only blogged Wakefield and Beverley, for what it's worth.

Acknowledged as the county town
Cornwall: Truro
Devon: Exeter
Essex: Chelmsford
Hampshire: Winchester
Kent: Maidstone
Norfolk: Norwich
Rutland: Oakham
Shropshire: Shrewsbury
Somerset: Taunton
Suffolk: Ipswich
Surrey: Guildford
Sussex: Lewes

If you're sitting there thinking "Ah but the county town of Surrey is Kingston and that's not even in Surrey any more" please note they moved their administrative centre to Reigate in January 2021 (and the historic county town has always been Guildford). Also these days Sussex is split into West and East, so you might expect Chichester to be West Sussex's county town but apparently Lewes trumps it.

Historically the county town
Huntingdonshire: Huntingdon
Cumberland: Carlisle
Westmorland: Appleby

These counties arguably no longer exist, with Huntingdonshire part of Cambridgeshire and Cumberland and Westmorland part of Cumbria. However Cumbria has less than a week left because next Saturday it's being replaced by two unitary councils called Cumberland and Westmorland and Furness. They're almost the same as the historic counties, bar the Furness bit. Cumberland's administrative seat will be in Carlisle, as before, but County Hall for Westmorland and Furness will be in Kendal which muddies the waters further.

Apparently the county town
Berkshire: Reading
Buckinghamshire: Aylesbury
Northumberland: Alnwick
Wiltshire: Trowbridge

Historically Abingdon was the county town of Berkshire but that's now in Oxfordshire so Reading is a slamdunk for the modern county town, not that the county exists any more. Buckinghamshire's odd because you'd expect the county town to be Buckingham but no, Aylesbury's been the county town since 1549. Northumberland properly exercised Wikipedia's pedants because the county gaol was in Morpeth and its assizes were mainly held in Newcastle, but the general view is that the historic county town is Alnwick. As for Wiltshire you'd expect it to be Salisbury but the historic county town was Wilton, just outside, until 1889 when the county council shifted its allegiance to Trowbridge.

What even is a county town anyway?
Middlesex: ???

I hand you over to Wikipedia.
Middlesex arguably never, and certainly not since 1789, had a single, established county town. The City of London could be regarded as its county town for most purposes and provided different locations for the various, mostly judicial, county purposes. The county assizes for Middlesex were held at the Old Bailey in the City of London. The sessions house for the Middlesex Quarter Sessions was in Clerkenwell from 1612 to 1921. The quarter sessions performed most of the limited administration on a county level prior to the creation of Middlesex County Council in 1889. This was based at the Guildhall in Westminster which became the Middlesex Guildhall. New Brentford was first promulgated as the county town in 1789 on the basis that it was where elections of knights of the shire (or Members of Parliament) were held.
So Middlesex's county town could be the City, could be Clerkenwell, could be Westminster and/or could be Brentford. More likely it's none of these. And thankfully it doesn't matter because my original question was "how many county towns have I blogged?" and I've blogged the whole of London, so wherever Middlesex's county town is I've covered it.

To conclude...

Properly blogged
Briefly blogged
Not blogged
Never been

However you define it, I have a lot more county towns to go.

 Saturday, March 25, 2023

Thank you for your map Mr Beck.
We don't much like it but we'll give it a try.
Lines, stations, interchanges and the river, is that all?
It seems to be lacking somewhat in information.

You know what this map needs? An escalator connection.
Bank and Monument are essentially one station with two different names so it's important to tell people they can interchange here. We'll add it as a dashed line, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.

You know what this map needs? Unbuilt railways.
People should know what's coming even if they can't travel on it yet. We'll call then Authorised Extensions. We'll add them as a dashed line, they won't be intrusive, they'll be useful.
And the Waterloo & City Railway.
We'll add it as a separate uncoloured line, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.

You know what this map needs? Interchange connectors.
It wasn't previously explicit what was interchanging with what. Now we've linked the circles there'll be no confusion, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.

You know what this map needs? A grid of squares.
We'll go from A to Q in one direction and 1 to 11 in the other. It'll help people locate stations via an index, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.

You know what this map needs? Daggers.
We'll use them to indicate stations that are open during weekday rush hours only. There are only two such stations, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And asterisks.
We'll use them to indicate stations that are closed on Sundays. There are only eight, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And dashed lines for occasional services.
We can't have people thinking trains go to Kensington Olympia all the time. We'll label it Exhibition Service, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And BR interchanges.
We already have circles for Underground interchanges. Let's introduces squares for interchanges with British Railways, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.

You know what this map needs? Little red British Rail symbols.
We'll add them beside stations that are interchanges with British Rail. It'll be better than using a different shaped station blob, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And unfilled tramlines for lines that are part of other lines.
Specifically purple tramlines for the East London section of the Metropolitan line and black tramlines for the Highbury branch of the Northern line. It won't be distracting, it'll be useful.

You know what this map needs? Asterisks in boxes.
We need them to distinguish between stations that are closed on Saturdays and Sundays and stations that are only closed on Sundays, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.

You know what this map needs? Crossed-out station names.
Strand is closed for rebuilding in readiness for the Fleet line so we need to show that. We'll use a big red cross, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.

You know what this map needs? Aeroplanes.
We're extending the Piccadilly line to Heathrow Airport and we really ought to celebrate that, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And red triangles.
We need it to show that Turnham Green only gets Piccadilly line services at certain times. It's only one station, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And red circles.
They'll show the nearest stations to the Round London Sightseeing Tour. If we're running a special service for tourists we really ought to show it on the map, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And Travel Information Centres, ditto.
And the North London Line.
We'll show it as black tramlines between Richmond and Broad Street. It's not part of the tube but it is a potentially useful connection, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And interchanges within walking distance.
It's just Fenchurch Street really. It doesn't have a tube station but you can easily walk there. We'll draw a box around the name, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.

You know what this map needs? A key to explain the daggers.
We have 14 stations with irregular opening times but they vary a lot and it's not practical to use a dozen different symbols. Just a dagger will do, but we'll need a big list beside the map to explain everything, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.

You know what this map needs? The Docklands Light Railway.
It's not the Underground but it's new, it's brilliant and it's ours. We'll use blue tramlines, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And the Greenwich Foot Tunnel.
Island Gardens is a pretty useless station otherwise, but if we mention you can walk through to Greenwich people'll flock there. We'll use a dashed line, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And Thameslink.
We'll just show the section from Kentish Town to Elephant and Castle because that's dead useful. We'll use a light yellow colour, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.

You know what this map needs? Fare zones.
People need to know how much their journeys cost so adding these ten fare zones is essential. We'll use very light shading, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.

You know what this map needs? Little trams.
Now Croydon has Tramlink we should point out where it interchanges with the tube. It's only at Wimbledon, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.

You know what this map needs? Little boats.
The Thames has all these riverboat services on it. We should add a special symbol to show where you can interchange to a river pier, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.

You know what this map needs? Replacement bus services.
It's only while Heathrow Terminal 4's closed... and OK maybe later when we close the East London line, it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.

You know what this map needs? Wheelchair blobs.
With more and more stations going step-free and in the interests of inclusivity, let's add a whopping blue blob at every station with step-free access. To be really literal we'll draw a wheelchair inside every one. These blobs aren't yet wildly intrusive, except on the DLR, but ultimately we intend to smother the map with them because it's the right thing to do.

You know what this map needs? The Overground.
Let's smash a huge tangerine octopus onto the map to show off our wonderful new Overground services. We'll use unfilled tramlines, it won't be intrusive, but we have big ambitions so it might intrusive be later.

You know what this map needs? Different-coloured wheelchair blobs.
It's important to know whether a station has access from street to train or just street to platform. If it's the less good option we'll use white blobs to show we're getting there, it won't be confusing or intrusive, it'll be useful.

You know what this map needs? A cablecar.
It isn't genuinely useful, it's essentially a tourist attraction, but the Mayor loves it and the sponsors have paid millions so obviously it's going on the map, silly name and all.

You know what this map needs? Crossrail.
It's still three years off opening so we can't call it that yet, we'll brand it TfL Rail instead. We'll use the same blue as the Piccadilly line but not a solid filled line. It'll all end up purple eventually but it won't be intrusive, it'll be fantastically useful.

You know what this map needs? A zone 2/3 overlap.
We've had zone overlaps before but only at individual stations whereas this is a full-on ten-station mess. We've had to find a slightly different shade of grey but if you don't look at it too carefully it won't be intrusive, it'll be useful.
And the Trams.
They've been running for sixteen years but we suddenly thought it'd be a good idea to acknowledge that south London exists. It won't be intrusive, it'll just fill that empty space at the bottom of the map.
And Victoria Coach station.
Because what the hell, we haven't added coach travel yet.
And different coloured daggers.
We can't be bothered to tell you what all the blue daggers mean any more so when we use a red one we want you to go and look it up on the internet instead. It's much less useful but it undeniably less intrusive.

You know what this map needs? Walking connections.
We've decided to add dotted lines to show that stations are within walking distance, specifically "under a 10 minute walk". We haven't added all the possible walks, that would be super-intrusive, but hopefully the 23 dotted lines we've added will be useful.

You know what this map needs? Riverboat circles.
Once we'd added walking connections between stations the next obvious thing was walking connections to riverboat piers. It won't be intrusive, there are now so many extra bits on the map that a few more can't do much damage.

You know what this map needs? Thameslink.
We tried adding a bit of it before but now let's bung the whole lot on. We'll use as many twists and bends as possible however much of an utter mess it makes. There's a pandemic on, it'll help social distancing, plus you just know it'll never be coming off the map once it's on.

You know what this map needs? IKEA.
We no longer mind sacrificing all our principles for cash so let's add a blue and yellow rectangle somewhere vaguely near to London's IKEA stores. It will be intrusive, that's the whole point of advertising, and who cares if it's useful?

You know what this map needs? Differently-branded Overground lines.
This was explicit in the Mayor's manifesto but it's taken two years to get round to thinking about doing it. We might need five additional colours to split the Overground beast into its constituent parts, or perhaps some other devious way of distinguishing between the routes, but whatever happens it's bound to make the map look even busier than it already is. Cumulatively useful ultimately means cumulatively intrusive.

 Friday, March 24, 2023

Gadabout: ... and GLOUCESTER

Gloucester is a bit larger than Cheltenham, a tad further west and a lot older. It was founded by the Romans at a key strategic location, the lowest crossing point on the Severn, and for centuries much of what happened here was river-related. It has a broad spread of attractions, a large number of historical buildings and an increasing amount of modern infill. If you were intending to be touristy you'd come here rather than Cheltenham, but I crammed both into my day out courtesy of a zippy express bus across the M5. [Visit Gloucester] [15 photos]

Very little remains of Glevum, the Roman citadel, but the crossroads at the heart of their walled town is still the indisputable city centre. The four roads meeting here (between two phone shops and a bank) are called Northgate Street, Eastgate Street, Southgate Street and Westgate Street because that's what they used to lead to. The remnants of the foundations of the East Gate, in several incarnations, can be found outside Boots under a protective layer of thickened glass. Many of the shops lining these four streets inhabit old buildings, which is ideal if you've ever fancied a Tudor coffee or a Georgian vape, but the majority have the indelible stamp of the 20th century. You'd never find a fast food van called the Potato Palace in Cheltenham, but equally neither a half-timbered jewellers, the two towns being chalk and cheese.

The main place Gloucester's tourists head is the cathedral which is about as early Norman as Norman gets. It rises from a quiet close behind the shops and ticks off more treats than your average provincial cathedral. It's also free to enter, although smiling ladies will remind you about the possibility of donation on the way in and on the way out. For your first "ooh" head to the chancel to face what in 1350 was the world's largest window, or gaze up in awe at the complexity of the vaulted ceiling above the quire. It's Gloucester's turn to host the Three Choirs Festival this year so if you attend you can gawp to your heart's content. One of the stained glass windows commemorates the coronation of Henry III, our longest serving medieval king, while the royal resident still in situ is Edward II who's enshrined beside the high altar after his reputed disembowelment at nearby Berkeley Castle. For an unusual view down across the nave try the 43 step ascent which brings you, via a spiralling one-way system, to the elevated Tribune Gallery. But the truly jawdropping bit is tacked on outside...

The Cloisters are huge and magnificent, specifically the fan-vaulted ceilings which Pevsner described as "the most memorable in England". They're also the oldest surviving example of fan-vaulting anywhere and span the entire roof around all four sides of the quadrangle in intricate detail. Unsurprisingly Harry Potter dropped in to film here, the cloisters doubling as Hogwarts corridors and the entrance to Gryffindor's common room and Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. After the second film the crew had enough dosh to build their own sets in Hertfordshire so left Gloucester alone, but that doesn't stop visiting fans from boosting the cloisters' throughflow. However on a grey day in March, hurrah, you can get the circuit pretty much to yourself. It's a shame about the intrusive signs to the Monk's Kitchen cafe at the far end of the western side, but otherwise I was able to take my time and snap every possible desirable angle to my heart's content.

The Museum of Gloucester grew out of a private Victorian collection and can be found behind the Eastgate mall beside the library. It kicks off with rocks and dinosaurs, especially the latter, before attempting to give an overview of the history of the city. The largest section focuses on Roman artefacts found locally including a chance to see a bit of the city's Roman wall in situ, behind and below those railings just down there. One prized possession is the Gloucester Tables Set, an 11th century predecessor of backgammon including board and 30 carved bone playing pieces dug up in 1983. Upstairs the Civil War gets a necessary mention and the rest of the city's history is skated through before the focus shifts to art, and that's the special £5 exhibition I skipped. The museum felt somewhat dated, despite a 2011 refresh, and I thought they could have packed a lot more in.

Unvisited museums
The Folk of Gloucester (formerly Gloucester Life, formerly Gloucester Folk Museum): This one's all about the city's people so doubles up as a place to meet, sing, share and celebrate. It's housed in a striking Tudor building on Westgate Street but only opens to the public three days a week (on days annoyingly unspecified on their website) so all I got to do was peer in through the window.
The Tailor of Gloucester: This one's Beatrix Potter related, not because she lived here but because her tale about a waistcoated mouse was set in this small shop facing the cathedral. Originally the attraction was owned and operated by Potter's publishers but since 2007 it's been volunteer run... memorabilia upstairs and gift shop down.
Soldiers of Gloucestershire: I dare say you already know whether you'd find a museum in which you can "discover the lives of Gloucestershire soldiers from the last 300 years" interesting. If they mention the £5 admission charge on their website I confess I missed it.

...but I absolutely did head to the National Waterways Museum by the dockside. I'd been to its counterpart in Ellesmere Port and that was excellent so I had high hopes for the Gloucester version, despite its unusual opening times. According to its website the museum closes its doors at 3pm and I wondered if that was just the last entry but no, the cleaner really does turn up at half past two pre-chucking out. I was also expecting to pay £8.50 as advertised but the lady at the desk sold me a special £5 day ticket, which I would later consider to be overcharging. I had two floors to look round, part-packed with well-spaced canal-based items, many very specific to the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. A lot of the captions were top-level descriptions and light on detail. Of the two boardable boats moored by the quayside one was closed and the other was mostly featureless inside. I just about stretched my visit to half an hour and left wondering what on earth was housed in the upper five floors of the warehouse. In short, of the Canal & River Trust's two sister museums I'd recommend Cheshire every time.

Gloucester Docks were built in the 1820s to connect the Severn to the inland waterway network, bypassing Bristol. Most of the 15 very-tall warehouses surround the older of the two docks and have since been repurposed as offices, flats, distilleries and underwhelming waterways museums. Dockside activities still have a maritime slant along certain sections but are somewhat sanitised in others, this being where Gloucester's chain restaurants and after-hours bars have ended up. The largest modern addition is Gloucester Quays, a shopping mall targeted at the upmarket and outlet crowd so the ideal day out for those who prefer consumption over culture. If you think to cross the narrow footbridge by the Lock House you might spot the Severn, or at least an eastern channel, but otherwise it's pretty well hidden.

Until the Severn Bridge was built Gloucester was the lowest bridging point on the river, and still boasts the lowest bridge that isn't a motorway. But it isn't in the city centre, which was sensibly built somewhere that didn't flood too often, it's a mile outside. You can walk there via Alney Island but that looked potentially damp underfoot so instead I followed the main road west out of town (which doesn't appear to be something many pedestrians try). My target was the village of Over, which it has to be said is exactly the right name for a village at a crossing point. Today a modern dual carriageway carries the A40 across the Severn's broad western channel but Thomas Telford's original single-arch span still runs parallel and that's the Over Bridge.

It's now entirely disconnected from the road network but a footpath allows those on foot to bear off and walk over it, and indeed under it on both sides. I found it a little eerie imagining all the Wales-bound traffic that's crossed Telford's stone bridge over the years, specifically 1830-1974, there being no easy alternative. Looking south there's a great view of the swirling waters of the Severn, which would be even better had a dead ordinary railway bridge not been added sixty metres downstream. And should you be here at 10.17am this morning you should see the Severn Bore surging up from the estuary, Over Bridge being approximately where this amazing spring tide phenomenon peters out. You'd have seen an even better 4* bore yesterday morning, but this year's sole 5* spectacle alas occurs well after dark at the very end of September. Visits to the Severn need to be timed very carefully, and for 2023 the good stuff's Over.

» 25 photos of Cheltenham and Gloucester (Cheltenham 10) (Gloucester 15)
» My previous visit to the Severn Bore (February 2014)

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jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

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my special London features
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ten of my favourite posts
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chemical attraction
quality & risk
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single life
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ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
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war of the worlds
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