diamond geezer

 Monday, September 22, 2014

Open House: Tower 42

You may know it as the Nat West Tower, but it hasn't been that for years. It's now Tower 42, named after the number of floors within (and not as some posthumous tribute to Douglas Adams). The top level is open to the public all year, you don't have to wait until the third week in September. But to get in at any other time requires booking into the champagne bar and agreeing to a £10 minimum spend... which, when you've seen the price of the drinks, looks impossible to undershoot. And to get in for Open House requires timing and dexterity, because only a handful of tours are organised with only a handful of spaces available on each. I've failed annually for years, but this summer I managed to reload the appropriate booking page during the requisite 90 second window before all 140 places vanished to sight. Excellent, I thought, and about time too. Now all I need is for the weather to be good.

The weather was rubbish. It could have been worse - Saturday dawned with torrential downpours, which thankfully cleared away before tour number one. But low cloud cover and poor visibility plagued the capital all day, with only very occasional flashes of sunlight firing through the mist to illuminate a small portion of distant rooftops. Ah well, I thought, I'll make the most whatever, and the view was still stunningly lofty all the same. [15 murky photos]

When it was built in 1981 the Nat West Tower was the tallest building in London, nudging down the Post Office Tower by half a dozen metres. Its cantilever design was cutting edge, with three chevrons of offices suspended from a central core, and famously resembling the bank's logo when viewed from above. Unfortunately being a pioneering structure proved problematic, as the interior proved entirely unsuitable for cabling and the narrow office space precluded large trading floors. Nat West moved out in 1998, and the building's since been filled by a variety of tenant organisations, currently including almost no well known companies whatsoever.

Tower 42 lies between Old Broad Street and Broadgate, in a golden segment of the City where high rise development is permitted, untouched by sightlines from protected views. Its modern entrance is via a glazed atrium added onto the front of the building, rising to a mezzanine level with funky seating, almost like you're entering a hotel. Those who work here have separate lifts, but those destined for the champagne bar are guided down a narrow passage (decked out with furniture better suited to a tart's boudoir) to a small express lift. This has only two buttons - presumably so that even the tipsiest patron can operate it - and the journey to level 42 takes only 45 seconds. Your ears may pop, twice.

I was expecting something swankier. Vertigo 42 is a pricey venture, a bankers' destination of choice, but the bar is basically a narrow passage with chairs. That's because the 42nd floor consists mostly of core functionality shielded by floor to ceiling mirrors, leaving only a triangular-shaped walkway around the edge of the building. A concierge's desk sits by the entrance, at the far end is a hatch through which tapas can be served, and everything inbetween is for the punters. Perch on one of the swish coloured chairs, all of which of course face outwards, and rest your flute on the glass shelf. Some of the shelves are labelled with the name of the main thing to see in that direction, but the letters have peeled, adding to a sense that the bar would be nothing special were it not for the stunning view.

On a clear day, or twinkling after dark, I bet it is a stunning view. On Saturday, however, only the Square Mile and its immediate surrounds could be picked out in magnificent detail. Buses trundled diminutively across London Bridge, taxis queued to pass traffic lights outside the Bank of England, and a tiny tube train appeared briefly in a cutting outside Liverpool Street station. The Thames beyond Tower Bridge faded into a monochrome ribbon, with One Canada Square a vague off-white smudge on the horizon. "Canary Wharf was really clear earlier," said the staff member on supervision duty, somewhat unhelpfully, "and the roof of the Velodrome was nicely lit up." Even looking beyond St Paul's proved problematic, made worse when something moister and blacker rolled in.

Despite the blanket of grey it was still simple to judge the tower's ranking in the local skyscraper league table simply by looking straight out of the window. Smaller than the Shard but taller than the Walkie Talkie, the latter with its upper garden deck clearly seen a few levels below. Smaller than the Heron Tower but taller than the Gherkin, the latter poking up its bulbous head above the machinery for cleaning Tower 42's windows. Quite convincingly smaller than the Cheesegrater, otherwise known as the Leadenhall Building, another very popular Open House venue this year. And taller than absolutely everything to the west across central London and Westminster, with even the Barbican's residential towers looking stumpy and stunted in comparison.
The tallest buildings in the City of London
1) Heron Tower (inc spire) (230m)
2) Cheesegrater (225m)
3) Tower 42 (183m)
4) Gherkin (180m)
5) Broadgate Tower (164m)
6) Walkie Talkie (160m)
Stuck to the serving hatch I found a leftover order for 15 bottles of champagne at £59.50 each, topped off with three bottles of wine for a total drinks bill three pounds short of a grand. Somebody had a good week, on the trading floor, I thought, or else that's small change from an annual bonus being blown to impress a group of friends. But I was more than pleased to have had the opportunity to come up here for nothing, plus the Open House bonus of being able to walk around for half an hour rather than being seated facing the same segment of London all evening. So I'll wish you good luck when the 90-second booking window for Tower 42 comes around next summer, and hope that the weather plays ball on the day of your ascent.

 Sunday, September 21, 2014

Open House: Canary Wharf Crossrail station

How time flies. A couple of years ago, when Canary Wharf's Crossrail station opened up for Open House, it was very much work in progress. A deep hole had been dug in the north dock and various layered cavities created, with temporary metal staircases descending into the earth to track level. There were no platforms, indeed there was as yet no tunnel because the giant drilling machines had yet to break through. Only a few fortunate souls gained admittance on that day, and hard hats and hi-vis were a requirement for any civilian entering. How things change.

For Open House 2014, anyone and everyone was invited. I almost didn't notice, because I'd assumed any Crossrail visit four years early was surely pre-book. But no, all you had to do was turn up on the right day, and even the queue wasn't that dreadful. This time no hard hats, just a waymarked trail around the station, and hundreds of people allowed inside at any one time. If I mention at this point that the whole thing's open again today, perhaps that'll encourage you to take a look inside. [10 photos]

This is a unique opportunity to view the Canary Wharf Crossrail site ahead of station completion in 2018. The structure is built in a reclaimed dock and is 6 storeys high, making it large enough to accommodate One Canada Square on its side.
Event Days/Times: Saturday, Sunday | 9:30am-to-5pm (last entry 4pm)
Entry Details: First come basis. Self-guided walk through the site using designated segregated walkways.
Entry Areas: Tour will include viewing of platform level, ticket hall, retail areas and roof gardens.

The way in's unusual, via a long squat hexagonal bridge. This elevated tube looks like something out of Space 1999, and walking through it is somehow equally futuristic. It links across the dock from the North Colonnade, which is the side of Canary Wharf most people never go. The entrance isn't opposite anything useful like a road or a passage, and the DLR disgorges passengers a little further up the street. It all makes more sense if you thread through at shopping mall level, one rung down, because there's a direct connection past the shops which comes out immediately underneath the aforementioned bridge. Here the supports land in a rippling black water feature, an echo of the dock inlet that used to be here before Crossrail filled it in.

What you need to know about Canary Wharf railway station is that most of it has nothing to with trains. At ground level and above, beneath the long latticed wooden roof, the whole thing's about encouraging you not to travel anywhere. Somebody looked at central Docklands and decided what it really needed was more retail, this in addition to the two enormous shopping malls immediately adjacent, because bankers and financial services personnel have an inexhaustible amount of plastic to spend. Hence there'll be sandwich shops and luxury units around the edge of Station Island, where we got to walk yesterday, not that this was necessarily easy to imagine. Indeed heading upstairs into what looked like a large concrete void we were told this will one day be a restaurant. It'll be amazing what a good fit-out can do.

The first moment we Open Housers all stopped and waved our cameras was when we stepped out beneath the wooden canopy. It looks like a geodesic jigsaw, occasionally open to the sky but mostly not, which was helpful in the rain. The western end faces West India Quay station, so this is a premium location, hence I'd expect the restaurant to spill out onto a rear terrace with views across to the City. Much more impressive, from a public access point of view, is the Roof Garden approximately half way along the upper level. They're landscaping this at present, with broad pathways wiggling through what are currently earthen beds. A few palms are in, plus two lonely trees, but eventually there'll be 170, plus 1100 shrubs and 14000 plants, in a space that might even rival Joanna Lumley's bridge.

And down, and down, and down, and down. When you come in 2018 there'll be escalators, but for now they're boarded over and extra special care is required to descend. The first underground chamber running the entire length of the station is the ticket hall - a quaint term given that TfL will quite possibly have extinguished small cardboard permits to travel in four years' time. It's vast, and needs to be given the numbers of passengers expected to flow through. Surprisingly few supports are required to keep the roof up, but try not to think about this, nor the fact you're now below the waterline within the scooped out dock.

The final descent, down a none too capacious bank of escalators, leads to Level Minus Six. This is platform level, not that you can see the tracks at the moment because they're completely sealed off behind temporary walls. It's a high-ceilinged space, currently with lots of exposed masonry and metalwork, although how much of that will be hidden away later I'm not sure. Plenty of tools and machinery are also lying around, for now, because the fit-out down below is not yet complete. But it's still impressive progress given that two years ago this chamber was entirely platform-free, and now you can almost imagine where the roundels will go.

You don't normally have to queue to exit an Open House building, but when you're half a dozen floors down with no escalators the one functioning lift takes a bashing. Staff eventually worked out that most of us were fit enough to take the stairs, so led us up a considerable number of backsteps - not a route I expect you'll be taking if you arrive by train. And while that may be four years off, the upper levels of this station are due to be pressed into service as early as next year so that management can make as much profit as possible from their retail offering. So don't expect Canary Wharf Crossrail to be open for Open House again, expect to get inside as an everyday part of London life rather sooner than you might imagine.

 Saturday, September 20, 2014

Some Sundays you have lots planned - a trip out, a day with the family, a long walk in the country. But other Sundays are much more fluid - you crawl out of bed, sit around, check Facebook, head to the fridge to find it empty, think about going to the supermarket except it doesn't open til twelve, wonder what your friends are up to, maybe get a boxset out, open a bag of nibbles, waste the day away. Or at least I imagine you do.

On a slobbier Sunday, there's Wapping Market. There's also a shedload of other streetfood vendors popped up across the capital, obviously, but for those of you within dressing-gown distance of E1 or E14, Wapping's probably your nearest.

It's fairly new, about three months young, and a sister to the longer established Brockley Market south of the river. You'll find it tucked in by the dockside near the Prospect of Whitby pub, alongside Shadwell Basin, on a tongue of land that's empty the rest of the week before being taken over by stalls and vans on a Sunday morning. From about ten til about two, to better capture the "I'm not sure what to do for brunch" audience.

The website's not a lot of help in knowing what to expect, as if the organisers asked a mate to make a homepage but never got round to asking for more. There's a Facebook presence, obviously, and a Twitter feed that fires out a torrent of close-up photos all week in a desperate attempt to lure you in. But essentially it's two dozen food-related presences cooking and selling, that's all you need to know.

If you can't be bothered to cook a meal, someone here'll do it for you. It might even be a bloke with a greased handlebar moustache - I saw two of them. Dining options include salt beef, braised ox cheek, Vietnamese duck and chickpea flatbread, plus something pancakey to wrap things off. Enough choice that a group of friends could turn up and each find something, most probably, then sit on one of the concrete ramps round the basin's edge and enjoy their haul.

My Sunday was fairly unplanned so I was in the mood for a burger, lining up at Mother Flipper so the guys could do me something with cheese. As they grilled my meat they joshed with the bacon merchants nextdoor in a kind of culinary bromance, then squirted special sauce (which might have been ketchup) in artistic swirls across my brioche. Once ready I wandered off to devour my prize, but I should also have taken a napkin to wipe my gloopy fingers after the plate was cleared.

Others come here to take away stuff to consume later. Very homemade cheese, iced-high cupcakes, charcuterie, veggie balls, that kind of thing. For those planning to cook themselves a proper meal later there was butchered meat and locally-ish-sourced vegetables, plus a variety of special sauces (seriously though, World of Zing?). Or for those with snackish tastes one stall boasted some rather expensive doughnuts - I watched one particularly happy couple swagger back to their warehouse apartment with a dozen dangling in a bag.

Some customers were clearly making this a regular event, they arrived with empty bottles for a burgundy top-up from the stall with barrels to empty. For others, this was probably their first trip to Shadwell as a hungry family or a group of mates, and much happy munching and quaffing was in evidence. It's a bit on-trend, and not for you if Lidl or the food bank's as far as your wallet stretches. But if you're a Sunday bimbler on the lookout for something that beats the sofa, Wapping Market might fill a hole.

 Friday, September 19, 2014

I don't know what happens when you go to the TfL website and check whether the tubes are working normally or not. This is what happens to me.

I get a list of tube lines on the left, as I should, and the usual map of the underground on the right. But disruptions to the network don't appear on the map, only a scattering of stations and some greyed out lines. And yet, as I write, there are currently severe delays on the Metropolitan line, and these should be appearing on the map but don't.

The Status Updates webpage used to work fine after TfL upgraded their website in March, and a purpled-out line would have appeared to show these delays between Wembley Park and Aldgate, But as of about a month ago I see no specific information on the map, only greyed out lines and an error message. And this happens all the time, no matter how disrupted (or not) the underground network might be.

It's the same for weekend engineering works. This weekend there are upgrade works on four lines, but again nothing appears on my map, just the same error message as before.

I wanted to check whether the problem was with TfL or with me, so I tried accessing the same page in another browser. At home I use Firefox but at work I use Internet Explorer and Chrome, so I hoped that viewing the map in a different browser might reveal the nature of the problem. But it just made things more confusing.
At home: (Firefox 32) No disruptions appear on map. Error message.
At work: (Internet Explorer 8) No map whatsoever. No error message.
At work: (Chrome 38) Map appears perfectly. No error message.
So in Chrome everything's fine, as I suspected, which means the map works perfectly for some. But in IE8 no status update map appears at all, instead everything underneath is shunted up to fill the white space. Now IE8 is a particularly ancient version of Internet Explorer, which I have to use at work because the IT department doesn't let us upgrade to anything better. So I'm not entirely surprised that TfL's coded map doesn't work in IE8, but what does surprise me is that they don't tell you this. I'd hope for a message that says something like "Hey, loser, your browser is rubbish so we don't support it. If you want to see the tube status map please update to something better." Instead TfL's digital team keep silent, and users have to cope with no graphic whatsoever, nor even a hint that something might have been deliberately hidden.

And what of me with Firefox 32? I'm using the latest version of the browser, with the latest Flash and Java updates, and I've not got any awkward add-ons lurking underneath. But for whatever reason the map still doesn't work, and what's more TfL's error message suggests the problem's only temporary.

I've been seeing this error message for over a month now, and as far as I can tell nobody at TfL is trying to fix anything. They're very proud of their tricksy adaptive coded tube map, but the truth is it's far too clever for a lot of users and simply doesn't work.

So I'd love to know what it is I'm doing wrong, or what functionality I might be lacking in Firefox, because I greatly miss being able to look at a simple tube map to see current and future travel disruption. Indeed trying to work out this weekend's Overground service pattern from 602 words of closely-packed text is nigh impossible in comparison.

And it'd be nice if TfL could operate a website that works for all, or at least almost all, rather than concealing important information when we don't meet their exacting standards.

Solution (thanks everybody!): My mistake had been to use https://www.tfl.gov.uk/tube-dlr-overground/status, whereas I should instead have been using http://www.tfl.gov.uk/tube-dlr-overground/status (with http: instead of https: in front). TfL's Status Updates webpage includes insecure content, which the secure version of Firefox blocks, and then an inappropriate TfL-generated error message appears. I'd never have thought of deleting the 's', but now I can see the map again. Still doesn't work in Internet Explorer, though.

 Thursday, September 18, 2014

A rough administrative history of the country with England in it
before 843    
843-927  Scotland 
927-1171England Scotland 
1171-1283England ScotlandIreland

Official name United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandUnited Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland minus Scotland (tbc)
Number of constituent countries fourthree
Population 64,100,000
(22nd most populous worldwide)
(23rd most populous worldwide)
Population by constituent country England 84%, Scotland 8%, Wales 4%, N Ireland 3%England 92%, Wales 5%, N Ireland 3%
Area 243,610 sq km
(80th largest country worldwide)
164,838 sq km
(92nd largest country worldwide)
Area by constituent country England 53%, Scotland 32%, Wales 9%, N Ireland 6%England 79%, Wales 13%, N Ireland 9%
Population density 262 people per sq km
(51st densest country worldwide)
357 people per sq km
(36th densest country worldwide)
Recognised languages English (official)
Scots, Ulster-Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Irish, Scottish Gaelic
English (official)
Ulster-Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Irish
Ethnicity 87.1% White, 7.0% Asian, 3.0% Black, 2.0% Mixed, 0.9% Other86.3% White, 7.4% Asian, 3.2% Black, 2.2% Mixed, 1.0% Other
Religion Christianity 59%, No religion 33%, Islam 4%, Hinduism 1%, Other religions 2%Christianity 60%, No religion 32%, Islam 5%, Hinduism 1%, Other religions 2%
Largest cities London, Birmingham, GlasgowLondon, Birmingham, Manchester
Lies between latitudes 49° to 61° N
longitudes 9° W to 2° E
latitudes 49° to 56° N
longitudes 9° W to 2° E
Geographical centre Morecambe BayHigh Ercall, Shropshire
Highest mountain Ben Nevis (1343m)Snowdon (1085m)
Longest river River Severn (350km)River Severn (350km)
Temperature range −27.2 °C to 38.5 °C−26.1 °C to 38.5 °C
Number of inhabited islands 12528
Length of coastline 32,000 km13,500 km
Land border 360 km456 km
% covered by forest 12%9%
Currency pound sterlingpound sterling
Members of Parliament Con 304, Lab 256, Lib 56, Other 34
[650 MPs] (Coalition government)
Con 303, Lab 215, Lib 45, Other 28
[591 MPs] (Conservative majority)

 Wednesday, September 17, 2014

You probably didn't notice, but a brand new long distance path opened to the east of London earlier this year. The Thames Estuary Path runs for 29 miles through the South Essex Marshes, from Tilbury Town all the way to Leigh-on-Sea, and is a proper waymarked trail. Don't expect hills, expect flat walking through an eerie riverside landscape scattered with power stations, winding creeks, container ports and remote marshland. It could be misery itself in the wrong weather, or else a glorious opportunity to get away from it all and watch shipping sail down the Thames. Download the free app before you go and you get not only a map but an audio-visual presentation which pops up automatically at various points along the way to tell you what you could be looking at. One day all walking trails will be made this way.

For convenience the path has been split into five sections, each starting and finishing at stations on the Fenchurch Street to Southend line, which makes it really easy to get to from London. If you can manage 10 miles in one go you can split the walk in three - sections 1&2, 3 and 4&5. I thought I'd have a go at 1&2, with varying degrees of success, but blimey what a bleakly interesting way to spend a day. And if you'd care to follow along, I've uploaded 50 photos to Flickr to let you see what you're missing.

The Thames Estuary Path
[section 1]
Tilbury Town to East Tilbury (7 miles)

Oxford, Windsor and Westminster are prettier, it has to be said, but maritime Tilbury has a certain downcast character of its own. From the station take the road along the dockside, away from the semi-boarded-up town centre, taking care not to get run down by the procession of container lorries thundering past. The app comes into its own here, feeding stories of past glories (a hairpin bridge, a hospital, a hotel) on the long trudge to the water's edge. Here you'll find the London International Cruise Terminal, once the embarkation point for many an ocean-going voyage, and the building where the Empire Windrush's advance guard first stepped onto British soil. There's more information here, if you're interested. The ferry to Gravesend departs regularly from the end of the pier, but taking that would be copping out when there's proper loneliness ahead.

At the end of the road is the appropriately named World's End pub. It looks welcoming enough, but beyond the car park the marshes begin, and beyond that the twin towers of Tilbury Power Station loom down. You'll be seeing a lot of this over the next half hour, possibly even too much. A very muddy beach makes way for a high sea wall, leading before long to the entrance to Tilbury Fort. This is the famous spot where Elizabeth I addressed her fleet before the Spanish Armada, although the pentagonal defences behind the arched gate date back to the time of Charles II. English Heritage run the place now, and it's well worth a look if you could ever be tempted to visit. There's more information here, if you're interested. Anyone walking further than this is either out with their dog and intending to turn round soon, or in it for the long haul... the next link to civilisation is miles away.

A metal staircase leads up and over the sea wall, and the path now hugs the edge of the power station's concrete defences. Best avoid high tide if you're coming this way, else the Thames may be lapping at plimsoll height. Below the jetty the path is still regularly flooded, so you may be forced to take one of the weirdest diversions I've ever followed, through undergrowth and up and over a caged set of metal steps, always on the outside of the power station's security perimeter. And then the wall continues, now more exposed, and at one point with a run of 1970s graffiti still clearly visible. The Merton Parkas and "Julie the Modette" get a namecheck, along with the miners strike and a particularly badly punctuated Torie's Out!

Last time I walked this way, in the spring of 2008, the next mile of riverbank path threaded freely through golden rape dotted with tiny newts and butterflies. That beauty was deceptive, covering a vast expanse of landfill, and overshadowed by several lines of pylons. Alas diggers have long since scraped the earth clean of vegetation, indeed are still doing so, and I passed a cluster of hi-vis chaps sat high in their cabs behind the fence waiting to scrape some more. It'd been a very long time since my app had stirred, but suddenly it awoke to tell me about The Clinking Beach, a shoreline composed entirely of Victorian waste. Stepping to the riverside I discovered chunks of glass and quarters of willow pattern plate, not quite as attractive as the commentary had made out, but an unexpected survivor all the same.

So very remote, even the view across the river had passed from urban Gravesend to low empty Kentish marshland. Eventually the path widened and the occasional family appeared, which meant the car park at Coalhouse Fort couldn't be far ahead. On the bend in the river at Coalhouse Point an experimental radar tower from the early 1940s still stands, on the site of a fifteen cannon Tudor blockhouse. I watched as various very large ships passed down the Thames to and from Tilbury, their stately progress visible for miles thanks to the low-lying landscape. And then I missed the path which was supposed to take me past the front of Coalhouse Fort, instead walking around its vast horseshoe moat for what was probably a better view. This Victorian defence was meant to deter invasion of the capital up the Thames, and is open on the last Sunday of the month should you fancy a look inside. There's more information here, if you're interested.

There follows a mile and a half along the sea wall, unless you choose to wimp out and take the direct route to East Tilbury station. With ex-landfill on one side and mudflats on the other, the most striking sights are the disused Bata shoe factory inland and the huge cranes of London Gateway Port on the far shore. This is the southeast's newest and largest container terminal, built on the site of the former Shell Haven oil refinery, and far enough out that most Londoners have absolutely no clue of its existence. Meanwhile the sea wall wiggles on, with concrete slopes at regular intervals each labelled 'Duck Ramp', though all I saw using it were snails. And on past agricultural marshland, and on past strengthened foreshore, to the point where the Thames Estuary Path suddenly goes very wrong.

It looks like the path continues along the river, edging past the end of the sea wall towards a distant set of jetties. But that's a lengthy dead end, a proper timewaster, and there should instead be a sign directing you inland along the edge of fenced-off landfill. Not so, and the path's well-enough concealed you'd probably not spot it without help, so do check your phone/app/map carefully at this point. The true path follows not a stream but a drain in the marshes, past an embarrassingly rich crop of blackberries that very few have reached to harvest. And on past reeds and rushes, and on past echoing silence, to the point where the Thames Estuary Path used to go very wrong indeed.

The Thames Estuary Path
[section 2]
East Tilbury to Stanford-le-Hope (3½ miles)

It's here that Section 2 of the path breaks off, or rather should have done, because the next lengthy stretch across Mucking Marshes was firmly sealed when I arrived. A small sign apologised that the opening of this section of the Path had been delayed, and recommended instead that I take the train from East Tilbury to Stanford-le-Hope to avoid a mile on pavement-less roads. Stuff that, I thought, and grudgingly took the long diversion from one level crossing to the next, avoiding the oncoming traffic as appropriate. I was planning to advise you to give Section 2 a miss, but the official Thames Estuary Path Twitter feed finally chirruped over the weekend that the crucial footpath link is now open. They've not updated their website yet, where the previous closure is badly concealed within a pdf, but I think you might now risk visiting and taking the shortcut.

The village of Mucking is tiny but historic, one of the earliest Anglo-Saxon sites in the country. A vast excavation took place here, revealing a settlement of over 100 souls and the burial site of 800 more. On this walk there's no sign, nor will you see the parish church, now a private residence hidden behind a shield of trees. Section 2 then heads across the fields towards the outskirts of Stanford-le-Hope, a none too inspirational route unless you're keen to catch the train home. But if you've time you should deviate in Mucking to visit a landmark project based on reclaimed landfill - the Thurrock Thameside Nature Park - which opened to the public only last year. This route's also the first part of Section 3, should you be continuing that way.

The northern end of Mucking Marshes is now landscaped and grassed over and is becoming an Attenborough-approved haven for wildlife. Bees and birds and reptiles live across its umpteen acres, and twitchers with binoculars are a common sight during migration-friendly months. Back by the riverside, overlooking another bend in the Thames, is a squat cylindrical visitor centre designed to resemble a Martello Tower. Behind the ribbed wooden exterior are a gift shop and a cafe - the latter served me a fine cream tea which I ate staring out towards the industrialised estuary. Best of all you can climb a spiral ramp to the roof and train your binoculars across the whole site, down the Thames and across to the Hoo peninsula where Boris Airport isn't going to be. Most visitors drive out here, then let their offspring run amok across the adjacent adventure playground. But why not walk, indeed why not give the Thames Estuary Path a try, someday, maybe, when you fancy an utterly atypical experience.

» Thames Estuary Path: website, Twitter, app, app, full map, map of section 1, map of section 2, 50 photos, 50 photo slideshow

 Tuesday, September 16, 2014

I shan't be using a contactless card on the tube today.

Reason 1: I have an annual travelcard

One thing TfL haven't gone out of their way to remind us recently is that contactless travel isn't for everybody. It's not for you if you're over 60 and have a concessionary Oyster - you should carry on using that. It's not for you if you get discounted travel, for example if you're a London Apprentice or on Income Support. And it's not for you if you have a monthly or an annual travelcard. Weekly travelcards are different, as Monday to Sunday capping comes into force, which could mean savings via contactless if you can synchronise your week with TfL's Monday start. But contactless can't yet cope with monthly travelcards, so anyone using one of these should definitely stick with Oyster for the time being. And contactless definitely can't cope with annual travelcards, ditto, and there's no indication as yet regarding when they might ever come on board.

I have an annual travelcard, which I always thought was by far the most sensible fare option, economically speaking. I only have to travel into work and back daily for 45 weeks out of 52 to recoup my expense, and every week beyond that is money saved. And obviously I travel around London rather more frequently than that, within my allocated zones and without, so my travelcard saving is even greater. Yes, I realise that I'm in a ridiculously small minority in having a regular office-based job and the ability to stump up over a thousand pounds in one go once a year. Instead most Londoners sail through ticket barriers on Pay As You Go, as you'll see if you watch the displays on the gates as people pass through. Only a few of us have the financial footing to be able to save money on fares, either monthly or annually, and contactless travel isn't enabled for the likes of us.

Reason 2: I always keep my Oyster card and bank cards separate.

I'll not be succumbing to the perils of card clash because I keep my bits of plastic apart. I always have. Not for me a single receptacle with every card I own stuffed inside. Instead I've always kept my Oyster card in a little plastic wallet well away from all my other cards. I think that's because TfL provided me with one when they first came out, back in the days when the wallets had useful extra pockets and didn't have a sponsor's name slapped all over the outside. My original wallet fell apart eventually and I had to source a new one - one of those freebies people give away rather than the IKEA-wrapped advert TfL later provided. But it lives entirely separately in my pocket, and when I reach a ticket barrier only the little plastic wallet comes out, not an entire portmanteau of digital currency.

I have an advantage, being male, in that I actually have pockets. Even in the height of summer there's somewhere I can stash my Oyster that isn't tucked inside a purse or at the bottom of a bag. I'm not hunting manically when the ticket gates approach, increasingly desperate to find my small rectangle of plastic, I can put my hand in the right pocket straight away. And that means I'm never tempted to whack my bag down on the card reader and wiggle it around to operate the barrier, even in a hurry. Because it's the bag-swipers and wallet-wavers who are going to be caught out today, when suddenly the contactless card that lies within wakes up and fires a charge into the system. They've not taken heed of six months of nagging, and they're the ones who'll be penalised when card clash makes the barrier stall or nabs an unexpected payment.

Reason 3: I don't have a contactless card.

Every time TfL go on and on about how fantastic contactless payment will be I sigh, because I do not own one of the magic bits of plastic of which they speak. This surprises me somewhat because I'm a solvent member of the public with a long-standing bank account, but no, my debit card remains a bog standard version. I thought when my latest card arrived last year that I'd be upgraded but no, and the expiry date is in 2016 so I'm not expecting contactlessness any time soon. TfL's endless promotion of their new way to pay therefore washes over me, despite their seeming assumption that we must all by now be appropriately enabled. I'm relieved that there are no up-front plans to discontinue Oyster, because it works for me, and I don't want to join this new suboptimal contactless system just yet.

Every time I mention that I don't have a contactless card I get comments from readers telling me how I should go about getting one. All I need to do is call my bank, apparently, and explain that my current card is "very worn and sometimes doesn't work", and ask for a replacement. That line's always successful, apparently, and yet I'm still not interested. You might think contactless the bee's knees, but I'm in no hurry to be upgraded to a payment system I don't need. I'm not forever spending little bits of money here and there on food and drink, plus I still like paying for things with cash. You might well shake your head and cry "get with the program, Grandad", but no thanks, I'm perfectly happy with coins, a debit card and Oyster. It still works, and it can cope with an annual travelcard, and I can't be accidentally stung by swiping the wrong card by mistake.

So no, however much hype is swirling around, I shan't be using a contactless card on the tube today.

But the rest of you, you have fun out there.

 Monday, September 15, 2014

Harrow Heritage Open Days

Having seen how much it costs to sign up for Open House this year, the London Borough of Harrow decided to go it alone. They allied instead with the Heritage Open Days project and opened up several intriguing buildings this weekend. Here are three.

Zoroastrian Centre
The Grosvenor Cinema opened on Rayners Lane in 1936. It was designed by Ernest Bromidge - the Rio in Dalston is another one of his - and couldn't look more Thirties if it tried. A grand scrolling elephant's trunk runs up the front of the façade, with a wall of curved glass to either side, apparently meant to represent reels of film. Over the years the cinema became an Odeon, then a Gaumont, then an Odeon again and finally an Ace. It closed four days after its 50th anniversary and was reopened as a bar, but that didn't thrive for long and the building slowly began to decay. It was bought up in 2000 by the Zoroastrian religion as a centre for their UK operations, and they threw money into restoring the building and its decorative interior. And it all looks rather splendid again, if a peculiar mix of Middle Eastern religion and celluloid temple. You'd have enjoyed Saturday's knowledgeable tour and a look around. [7 photos]

The foyer has a bit of a wow factor, not like the entrance to your local multiplex today. A great moulded swoosh floats along the ceiling, while at the centre is a sunken area once used as the cinema's restaurant. The current decor relates more to the building's existence as a pub, rather than a cinema, plus a sprinkling of religious portraits on top. As for the main auditorium, the rake's long gone but the ribbed swirl across the roof is quite something. The Zoroastrians now use it for functions such as weddings, and an urn rests beneath the proscenium arch upon the main stage. But to reach their sacred space you have to climb the grand staircase to balcony level, and then take your shoes off and cover your head. They worship now in the old projection box, with a congregation of chairs facing a bowl of occasional fire within a gilded cage. It's not what you'd expect to find in Harrow, but this religious takeover has helped a great old building to survive.

Harrow School
It's not Eton, but Harrow is one of the top fee-paying schools in the country, especially if you measure success in terms of Number Of Prime Ministers Educated. Its origins are humble, a small school on the hill founded by local farmer John Lyons, offering a free education to boys from Harrow village but charging those from elsewhere. That fee-paying aspect snowballed when a new school building was opened in 1615, and before long most pupils were the offspring of wealthy merchants and landowners. Amazingly the 399 year-old classroom survives, no longer used for lessons but still part of the everyday fabric of the school and occasionally opened up to visitors. It's an amazing room with rough-hewn benches and wood panelled walls, into which generations of pupils have carved their names. There's Byron, there's Peel, there's Fox-Talbot, there's Sheridan, and the rest are mostly schoolboys who never made the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question.

From the symmetrical exterior the building nextdoor appears to be of a similar age but is in fact 200 years younger. This is the Old Speech Room, created for the practice of public speaking, more recently converted into a gallery for the advancement of cultural education. It's very nicely done, as you'd expect, with an emphasis on art and historical displays. When you did the Egyptians at school you probably read about them in books, whereas Harrovians have their own artefacts laid out in glass cases, quite possibly 'liberated' by old boys. You'll not get in here normally, but a small Museum of Harrow Life is open most Sunday afternoons in term time at the top of the hill down to the playing fields. With teenagers walking past in tails and rugger kit, there's something more than surreal about the road along the ridgetop, and a school both embedded into the local community and entirely distinct from it. It was good to peer inside.

West House
West House sits at the far end of Pinner Memorial Park, overlooking the culverted River Pinn. Admiral Nelson's grandson once lived here, which is the building's vague claim to fame, before the surrounding estate was handed over to Metroland developers and the house passed onto the council. It's not, to be fair, an architectural masterpiece, in part because the council decided to knock down the Tudor bit in the 1950s. The rest of the house got used for meetings and evening classes, that sort of thing, before falling into disrepair and being boarded up. The Pinner Association leapt into action and launched an appeal which sought to reopen West House as a community concern. It was all boarded up last time I was here, but reopened in 2010 and now contains a thriving cafe, that's Daisy's In The Park, and a brand new chiropractor on the top floor.

Rather more exciting are the plans to open a museum in honour of cartoonist William Heath Robinson. He lived locally in Moss Lane for several years, and the Trust have 500 original artworks of his amazing gadgets and wonderful contraptions, just nowhere to properly display them. A few are up on the walls in the small gallery beside the cafe, not that most of the tea-drinking mums have noticed, and it's here that I met the Chairman of the Trust for a chat. He told me that plans are well advanced, following two decades of fundraising and a million-plus Heritage Lottery grant. If the last hundred thousand can be found then building work can begin on the car park next spring, and a brand new Heath Robinson Museum opened in 2016. It's inspiring stuff (you can donate here), and will hopefully bring these wildly inventive works to a new generation.

The girls at St Helen's School had been duly inspired and created a Heath-Robinson-esque tea-making machine which they were demonstrating in an upstairs room. A marvellous rotating contraption with an urn on top dished up my cuppa, with just a little help from one of the girls to nudge a sugar lump down a ramp at the crucial moment. One of William's descendants was on hand nextdoor alongside a few more genuine cartoons, many of them just as witty and apposite today as they had been almost a century earlier. If you want to pop in and see the ground floor gallery and tiny shop, come along on a Wednesday or a Saturday afternoon. Or hang on a couple of years and a proper fascinating attraction should have opened in, heavens yes, Pinner.

After my visit to West House I wandered around the annual Pinner Village Show which was taking place in the park outside. I don't think I've ever seen quite so many tombolas in one place before. There were farm animals to pet, bagpipers to listen to and scouts to throw wet sponges at. And then I went to the Duckpond Market in Bridge Street Gardens, near the station, where I perused the craft stalls and treated myself to an Angus beef burger for lunch. Whatever London's listing magazines and events websites might suggest, there's a wealth of cultural life outside Zones 1 and 2 that's woefully overlooked and deserves a wider audience.

 Sunday, September 14, 2014

From Tuesday 16th September, contactless payment goes live across London's transport network. Warnings about card clash started more than six months ago, so keen were TfL to adapt customer behaviours and make the system work. But what happens if you DON'T touch in properly with your contactless card at the start of your journey? This could be because of card clash, it could be passenger oversight, or it could be deliberate fare evasion. What happens if the card reader didn't beep on the way in and an inspector calls?

We know what happens with Oyster. Inspectors have a hand-held device which checks your card and lights up green if all's well and red if not. A red light prompts them to enquire further what might have gone wrong, which might lead to a telling off or might lead to a penalty fare. Whatever the outcome, there is a fairly foolproof way for TfL staff to to tell if your card has been properly touched in or not, and they'll tell you so.

But contactless cards are different. They're not issued by TfL, they're issued by banks, so TfL don't know who's using a card unless the owner chooses to register. Also contactless cards don't deduct money for travel straight away, the fare is only totted up at the end of the day (specifically the early hours of the following morning). The card's chip provides no direct link to journey history, at least not one that can be easily checked on a bus or train, so there's no easy way for an official to know whether you touched in your contactless card or not.

What happens on buses, where contactless has been active for some time, is well established. If an inspector boards your bus they'll ask the driver for a printout of every card number that's been used to touch in since the journey began. Then when you present your contactless card to the inspector they'll be able to check their list to see whether or not you're on it. If you are, all well and good. And if not, then you either sneaked on or mis-swiped, and you're bang to rights.

But this only works because buses are sealed environments with card readers at the entrance. You have to touch in as you board, and if you don't the system knows. But trains are different because the gateline is elsewhere, so precisely where and when you boarded is unknown. There is no way to print out a list of every card holder on a train, neither can a hand-held device flash up the validity of your travel.

So how will TfL detect contactless fare evaders on trains? On the tube this isn't much of a problem because virtually every entrance and exit is gated - the system essentially polices itself. But on the Docklands Light Railway, for example, almost all stations are ungated and the scope for deliberate evasion is much greater. The current system relies on regular spot checks by staff on board as a deterrent to Oyster card misuse. And from Tuesday that regime will continue, but with a brand new gadget in the train guard's hand.

All DLR staff are being issued with a special Revenue Inspection Device as part of the move to contactless. What makes this one different is that it'll only read your card, it won't feed back information to the user. Instead the status of your contactless card, used or unused, will be known only by the computer back at TfL HQ. If you touched in, great, but you won't be told. And if you didn't touch in then there'll also be silence, but a marker will be set on TfL's database and they'll punish you later.

Somewhat awkwardly, fines for fare evasion with contactless cards will be applied overnight while you're not looking. What'll happen is that at approximately 4.30am, which is when the daily contactless fare total is totted up, TfL will attempt to take a Maximum Fare from your card. That's £8.60 these days, which is quite a hit, though obviously deserved if you're cheating the system. If there isn't £8.60 on your card then they'll attempt to take the payment later, probably the next time you go into the black. But again, I bet you won't notice at the time.

This invisibility is something you're going to have to get used to with contactless cards. Currently when you swan round town with pay-as-you-go Oyster, the gates flash up the cost of your journey and your remaining balance. Neither will be the case with contactless. No amounts of money will appear on the barrier as you pass, you'll be completely in the dark, at least until you check your bank balance or payment history later.

Now there are several reasons why a ticket inspection might reveal that your contactless card hasn't been touched in. One is that you're an evil fare evader, in which case your delayed punishment is well deserved. Another is that you thought you'd touched in but hadn't, which does happen, especially on the DLR where there are no gates to act as clues. Your innocent error will be fined the full amount, just as it would be now, except the ticket inspector won't be able to tell you at the time. And then there's card clash...

Card clash, as you'll be sick of hearing by now, is when you have two cards on your person and the wrong one gets read by the reader. You're then riding the system with the card you swiped plus a card you didn't, but you don't know which is which. Present the right one to the ticket inspector and all's well. But present the wrong one and you'll be slapped with an £8.60 fine, a fine you'll only find out about the following day, and then only if you look specially.

From Tuesday onwards, a lot of Londoners who haven't got to grips with card clash are going to be charged a Maximum Fare for not using the system properly. In some cases they'll be charged two, that's £8.60 for touching in with a card they didn't touch out with, and £8.60 for touching out with a card they didn't touch in with. This'll happen on normal journeys - it doesn't take a ticket inspector for the system to know you've mucked up. But a ticket inspection will trigger the fine for sure, and I don't think people are going to enjoy finding these whopping extras already taken from their account.

Furthermore, contactless users beware, because if your card is read a second time without having been touched in, it will be blocked from use. You'll then have to get in contact with your bank, not with TfL, and they'll have to resolve the block on contactless travel before you can ride again. Conquer the card clash issue and it shouldn't happen to you. But those attempting to travel for free, and caught twice, won't be allowed to get away with it again.

A twelve page Contactless travel leaflet is arriving in stations this weekend - it's blue, look out for it. If you own a contactless card you should read a copy, even if you have no intention of using the card for travel. Pay attention to the bit where they suggest you register your card in order to view your journey history and apply for refunds. And watch your TfL online account like a hawk in case a ticket inspection, or an everyday mis-swipe, lands you an £8.60 fine you weren't expecting.

Contactless payment cards - conditions of use (pdf)

 Saturday, September 13, 2014

Next weekend is London Open House, when all London-based readers of this blog should, unless they have a damned good excuse, be out exploring the architectural secrets of the capital. But the rest of the country plays the same game this weekend, under the Heritage Open Days umbrella. And some bits of London choose to join in, either because they don't believe they are part of London or because they're too mean to pay the subscription. So here's a list of Heritage Open Days events you can take part in inside the capital either today or tomorrow. And if you're too late to make plans, there's no excuse for not planning ahead to next weekend already.

Red House (Sat 11-4): The National Trust are opening up William Morris's Arts & Crafts home for free today. And their new cafe's open.

St George’s RAF Chapel of Remembrance (Sat 10-1) (Sun 12-4): A simple chapel, with 17 stained glass windows, on the edge of Biggin Hill airfield.
High Street Heritage Trail (Sat 11 & 3) (Sun 11 & 3): Two walking tours daily along Chislehurst High Street.

[Harrow's one of the boroughs that's defected en bloc with its own Heritage Open Days programme]

Pinner House (Sat 10-4): It's now an old people's home, but this early Georgian house was once the home of the vicar of Harrow.
West House, Pinner (Sat 11-4): This old house in Pinner Memorial Park is being transformed, at last, into a museum to cartoonist extraordinare Heath Robinson. Tours will be given. Meanwhile, coincidentally but brilliantly, the annual Pinner Village Show is taking place in the park outside.
St George's Church, Headstone (Sat 10-5): Late Gothic revival/Arts & Crafts interior. Organ recital at noon, piano recital at 3.30.
Zoroastrian Centre for Europe (Sat 11-5): Grade II* listed Art Deco interior, formerly the Grosvenor Cinema, near Rayners Lane station. Architectural tours on the hour.
Headstone Manor (Sat 11-4) (Sun 11-4): Moated manor house, parts of which date back to 1310. Four tours daily, two of them aimed at families. I thought the tour was really interesting.
St Lawrence’s Church, Little Stanmore (Sat 2-5) (Sun 2-5): Grade 1 listed continental baroque church, 300 years old next year.
Harrow School (Sun 1-5, 2-5): Take a tour of the best preserved 17th century schoolroom in the country, or look round the famous Old Speech Room Gallery. While you're waiting, look round the Museum of Harrow Life.
St Mary's Church, Harrow (Sun 2-6): Medieval church on Harrow Hill, alongside Harrow School if you want to pop in as an add-on.

Battle of Britain Bunker (Sat 10-5) (Sun 10-5): Deep under RAF Uxbridge the Battle of Britain was plotted. Who'd not want to take a look into the command room, and associated museum, 76 steps down. I really enjoyed my trip.

Kensington & Chelsea
Museum of Brands (Sun 11-5): How much do we love the Museum of Brands? Indeed it feels wrong to suggest you might visit and not pay. But if cornflake packets, tins of soup and chocolate bars are your thing, make haste to Notting Hill.

[Kingston loves to believe it's still in Surrey, hence there's a full programme of 40 Heritage Open Days events this weekend and nothing next. Here are a few highlights]

County Hall - Heritage Day (Sat 10-4.30): That's the official seat of administration for Surrey, which is in London. Take a guided tours and see the Grand Hall, Council Chamber and former courts and cells.
The Guildhall (Sat 10-12): See inside various rooms, including the Council Chamber, and meet the Deputy Mayor in the Mayor's Parlour.
John Lewis Kingston Riverside (Sat 10-4) (Sun 10-4): Probably the only department store with the foundations of a medieval bridge perfectly preserved in its basement.
Kingston Crematorium (Sat 10-1): Hourly tours behind the scenes of the crematorium. "Your questions answered".
New Malden Library Tour (Sat 11 & 3.30): Let the librarian lead you on a tour of this hybrid Art Deco/WW2 styled building.
Coombe Conduit (Sat 12-4) (Sun 12-4): A Tudor conduit house built to supply water to Hampton Court Palace. Small, subterranean, suburban and fascinating.

Memorial Community Church (Sat 1-5): For those who've always wanted to explore a Plaistow belfry, and play the bells themselves.

Carshalton Water Tower (Sun 1-5): It's not on the official list, but the gem I told you about yesterday is open tomorrow.

Cabbies Shelters (Sat 7-6): Normally the interior of these roadside huts is solely for black cab license holders. But today, and next Saturday (and on some other as yet unconfirmed dates before mid-October), three of them are opening up in conjunction with a special art project. On Northumberland Avenue (7-6) Kathy Prendergast is presenting a map of The Knowledge, at Temple (10-4) take away a cup of tea in a limited edition paper cup, and in St John's Wood (7-4) just have a look inside. There's also a learning guide for kids, and a website with more information.

Meanwhile, just outside London: Kent, Surrey, Berks, Bucks, Herts, Essex

 Friday, September 12, 2014

Having once decreed Sutton London's least interesting borough, I'm always on the lookout for something that makes me change my mind. And so I trotted down to Carshalton at the weekend to tick another heritage attraction off my list. It had to be the right weekend, in this case the first Sunday of the month, because a lot of Sutton's sightseeing spots open only infrequently. But you can still do half of what I'm about to describe on the next three Sunday afternoons (and on two of those for free).

Carshalton Water Tower
Location: West Street, Carshalton, SM5 3PN [map]
Open: Sunday afternoons from 2.30pm to 5pm (from the end of April to the end of September)
Also open: for Open House on Saturday 20th September
Admission: Adults £1, Children 25p

You may have learned about the South Sea Bubble at school, an unprecedented stock market crash caused when shares in a speculative trading company collapsed. One of the chief protagonists lived in Carshalton, then a small Surrey village (and still with an attractive cluster of weatherboarded cottages at its heart). Sir John Fellowes was made bankrupt by the Bubble busting in 1721 but continued to live at Carshalton House, and the mansion was passed on to a succession of other wealthy types. Enlarged and landscaped, the house was later used as a prep school for military cadets, and finally bought out in the 1880s to create a Roman Catholic girls' boarding School. They're St Philomena's College, no longer with boarders but still going strong, and whose gates are occasionally unlocked to allow visitors to explore some mighty fine buildings within.

The most notable of these is the Water Tower, Grade II listed, the top of which is easily visible from outside sticking up behind the brick wall. But what's less obvious until you walk through the sidegate is that the tower is merely the ornate top of a high-ceilinged one-storey building, and that there's genuine treasure within. The long airy room across the front is the Orangery, within which some of the Friends of Carshalton Water Tower will be waiting to meet and greet and inform. It becomes more obvious why they volunteer once you pass through the door at the end. A sequence of further rooms includes a decorated Saloon, decked out with historical info and memorabilia. The Pump Chamber has recently been restored and includes a Victorian water wheel which used to lift spring water into a cistern at the top of the tower. And then...

And then there's the plunge bath, or Bagnio. An 18th century creation, this deep tiled pool was used for private bathing - a luxury in its day - and is an exceptionally rare survivor. It's really very deep, more like one end of a swimming pool, not that you'd ever want to dive in. It's not immediately obvious how bathers did enter the water, but rest assured there are steps down, in marble, obscured from the prescribed viewing position. A trio of recessed arches provide places for those out of the water to perch, and the walls are emblazoned with an impressive selection of blue and white Delft tiles. It's no surprise to discover that Lucinda Lambton loves the place, and a recording of her Sublime Surburbia visit is screened on a portable TV outside. You'll not get in as close as her, nor will you officially be allowed to take photos, but you will I think be impressed.

It's also possible to go up top. "Only 37 steps to the roof" says a sign at the foot of the staircase, presumably to encourage those less fleet of foot who might not otherwise bother. This gets you much closer to the tower itself, and perhaps to some pigeons perching in the central void. Ignore the adjacent primary school and look further across the grounds to the main house, as symmetrical as was the fashion at the time. You should also be able to see down West Street into Carshalton Village, except that the tower's only open while trees are in full leaf, so probably not. You'll be doing well if you spend half an hour looking around, that's upstairs and down. But for a one pound visit, it's worth every penny.

Additional Attraction: The Hermitage
Open: the first Sunday of each month from May to September
Admission: Adults £1, Children free

So no, you can't follow in my footsteps here until the weekend before next year's General Election. But for an extra quid on the right date the Friends will throw in a guided tour of the school grounds, and that's an even better deal. Sunday's tour guide was just the right mix of personable and informative, leading us off round what was once an ornamental lake. This drained away many years ago and is now a swampy expanse of brambles, but apparently it filled up again briefly during this year's unseasonably wet spring, and even the pump chamber beneath the water tower saw a light trickle. The path leads past the Sham Bridge, which is really a dam, but pimped up on one side to look impressive from the house. And the house is impressive too, with its Corinthian porch and symmetrical façade, even if somewhere behind the windows are staffroom coffee cups and piles of textbooks.

The highpoint of the 45 minute tour is a visit to the Hermitage, tucked away behind the main lawn on the banks of the former lake. It's a single-storey folly, built 250 years ago from flaky chalk and brick, half-buried beneath a turf-topped mound of earth. Restoration has been expensive but means we can now go inside, to a space designed for getting away from it all. One niched opening leads directly to a circular chamber with echoing recesses, and a rather more modern cross tiled into the floor. And another leads to a dark curved passage, leading eventually to the same point, with 18th century graffiti carved into the rock. It's not what you expect to find on a school field, but then Sutton is full of surprises.

Interesting places to visit in Sutton
Honeywood Museum: Lovely and local, and recently restored, a short distance from the Water Tower [I've been] (closed Mondays and Tuesdays)
Whitehall: Tudor timber-framed house in the heart of Cheam village [I've been] (closed Mondays and Tuesdays)
Little Holland House: DIY Arts and Crafts home in Carshalton Beeches [I've been] (open on the first Sunday of the month)
Mayfield Lavender: Picturesque purple farm on the Surrey border [I've been] (open June to mid-September) (closes this weekend)
Carshalton Water Tower: as above [I've been] (open Sundays from the end of April to the end of September)
Carew Manor: Tours of the Tudor Great Hall and dovecote run four times a year (still to go this year, 14th September, 12th October) [I've not gone yet]

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high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
cube routes
capital ring
river fleet

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

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

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