Saturday, May 30, 2015
The new tube map has finally hit the fan. The electronic version dribbled out last week, but yesterday saw the first appearance of the folded paper version in a handful of select stations. They may not appear in your local station immediately, indeed many stations are likely to be stuffed full of the old version for several weeks. But this is your first chance to pick up a copy of the new map with the clock on the front cover, open it up and go "oh good grief what did they do there?"
It's now seven years since the London Overground first arrived on the tube map, embracing the centre of town with its tangerine tentacles, and later extending south to additional destinations. But this weekend the Overground explodes further across northeast London, creating a tangled wedge of orange in what used to be an empty gap. It's not especially legible. TfL's insistence at cramming every line they operate into a small rectangle measuring twenty-one centimetres by fourteen means that hundreds of stations are now jostling for space, and northeast London has lost out. Attempting to plan a route is suddenly a complex topological task, and I'd say a tipping point has been reached whereby the tiny text and contorted lines are now beyond the immediate comprehension of the casual observer.
Still, it's good news for commuters up the Lea Valley who'll now see their most-used routes on the ubiquitous tube map, and who'll be getting cheaper fares into the bargain. The newly-squeezed-in orange includes the former West Anglia lines out of Liverpool Street to Chingford, Cheshunt and Enfield Town, and the runty Emerson Park shuttle between Upminster and Romford. This is also the weekend that Crossrail arrives on the tube map, temporarily branded TfL Rail, along the existing slow stopping service from Shenfield. If you can correctly follow this blue-edged line along its final stretch as it threads from Stratford to Liverpool Street, then congratulations, your eyesight is in pretty good shape.
Much has already been written about the new tube map. I wrote a prescient post almost two years ago where I guessed what the new map might look like, and how much of a mess it might be (the reality is worse). I then revisited the situation last December when it was clear Crossrail was coming too. Ian Visits and Geoff and Londonist and the good folk at District Dave's tube forum have also mused on the changes seen in the online version. So forgive me if I repeat/copy/steal what they said, as I take a look at some of the changes on the freshly-released paper map.
• The new tube map says May 2015 on the front cover, because it refers to changes being made on 31st May. But TfL aren't going to announce to the general public that the new map exists until June, specifically Monday morning, when they'll point at the pretty new cover design and Boris will cut an orange ribbon.
• The front cover features a grand clock, After Eight style, in gilt bronze with a pendulum dangling in front of a tunnel. It's rather lovely, and you can see and read more about it here.
• The Night Tube now gets a mention to the right of the map, including a Night Owl logo you can expect to see a lot more of before September.
• The map index is now really really squashed. A year ago the list filled three panels two columns at a time, but now it covers two panels three columns at a time. Part of the squeeze is fitting in two dozen new stations, but the real issue is the credit card advert on the back, because someone's got to help pay for 12 million free copies. I don't think the font is any smaller, but I do think the letters in the station names are closer together.
• So yes, there's this extra Overground line meandering out of Liverpool Street, which then splits apart like a three-headed hydra as it heads north. Along the way it shares precisely zero stations with any existing part of the London Overground, even though it crosses three, intersecting only with the Victoria line.
• Two new Overground-Overground interchanges have been depicted. One of these is the by-pavement route (opened last year) between Walthamstow Central and Walthamstow Queen's Road, and the other is a brand new overhead walkway between Hackney Downs and Hackney Central. This isn't open yet, but it might be by tomorrow when the Overground handover takes place. Neither of these interchanges could be described as short, and Hackney Downs northbound to Hackney Central westbound is going to be a heck of a long trek.
• There are two Bethnal Greens. They're shown as completely separate stations, with no hint of interchange. Geographically, the wrong station is to the north of the other.
• Only Overground trains via Seven Sisters stop at Cambridge Heath and London Fields, while trains to Chingford sail straight through. There is no mention of this on the tube map, even though West India Quay on the DLR gets a dagger for a similar issue. Indeed there are no daggers anywhere on the Overground. Perhaps there should be.
• The Emerson Park shuttle service doesn't run on Sundays, but there's no mention of this on the tube map. Practically, the line is so lightly used that almost no travellers will be inconvenienced by this oversight. In terms of information consistency, however, it's the new tube map's most unforgiveable omission.
• Not only does the Emerson Park branch not run on Sundays, it also shuts down at 8pm every other night of the week, but that's a secret. Meanwhile on Sundays no trains stop at any of the three stations between Liverpool Street and Hackney Downs before 9.15am, but nobody's planning on telling you. A few years ago these service curtailments would have merited a dagger and an explanation down the side of the map, today none of them do.
• You thought Crossrail was going to be glamorous? You thought wrong. The northeastern arm will be a slow stopping train inching through Ilford and Romford and various stations inbetween. The new tube map thus has to cram in twelve fresh stations to the east of Stratford, just as it already fits in twelve District line stations to the east of West Ham.
• None of TfL Rail's fourteen stations are fully step-free. But come 2018 when Crossrail opens they're all going to be, thanks to an injection of cash associated with London's premier rail line. That's magnificent news for the mobility challenged, and another eyesore string of blue blobs for the rest of us.
• To squeeze in the new Overground, a lot of other lines and stations have shifted slightly and subtly out of the way. Edgware is now a couple of millimetres left of where it used to be, High Barnet almost four, and Cockfosters at least five. Seven Sisters used to be to the right of the second fold, but now it's to the left. Beckton and Upminster used to be almost up against the right hand edge of the map - now that honour falls to Shenfield. If you ever wanted convincing proof that London's centre of gravity is shifting east, here it is.
• One casualty of the emerging Overground is the poor old Central line loop at the eastern end of the line. On the previous map it was 15mm tall but now it's only 13mm tall, making station names from Redbridge round to Grange Hill much more tightly packed.
• When the online tube map appeared last week, one shock was that the Central line was no longer straight on its run through the West End. Good news, it's still straight on the printed map. Bad news, it won't be when Crossrail proper arrives.
• The previous tube map only stretched beyond Zone 6 in the top left corner, specifically to the tips of the Metropolitan line and at stations to Watford Junction. The new tube map nudges zones 7 and 8 approaching Cheshunt, jumps straight from 6 to 9 to get to Brentwood, and resorts to "special fares apply" at far flung Shenfield.
• Because it's on a single track line, the Emerson Park shuttle runs only every 30 minutes. I wonder how many people are going to be tempted out this way by the new tube map, only to end up waiting unexpectedly long for an infrequent train.
• West Ham remains the ugliest interchange on the tube map, rendered unnecessarily complex by the imperative to show the distinction between two different kinds of step-free access. But the two Walthamstows are catching up fast, with a diagonal linkage you'll need to do a doubletake to understand. Meanwhile Stratford has been prized apart by the appearance of TfL Rail, forcing various lines to twist and bend in response. Once again physical accessibility trumps visual accessibility.
• Whatever this new map is, it's no longer solely a tube map.
• Whatever this new map was, it's no longer a design classic.
• Whatever this new map has become, it can't carry on this way.
posted 01:00 :
Friday, May 29, 2015Have PR people and marketing folk been sending me emails over the last few months? Why yes they have, the misguided fools.
Here are the three worst, starting with this from Manon.
Hello,Because Manon is French I can forgive her slightly peculiar turn of phrase. But I cannot forgive anyone for using the word 'afterwork', to mean a schmoozy booze-lubed shindig where people who can't write attempt to onboard people who can.
After surfing your blog and browse through the relevant articles you have published about the London life, we would like to meet you to know more about you. We are a French start-up in London and we help French people to settle in the British Capital. We offer accommodations, administrative services, events and also good deals. It is about this last point that we would like to meet you.
In fact we would like to develop partnerships with the most influential bloggers in London to advise and assist our clients to thrive in the Londoner lives. We aim to increase and retain our growing community. We would simply post your articles and your blog on our website and our pages on social networks, you will benefit from our community to gain notoriety and visibility.
We invite you to meet us and talk about this partnership over a drink at the afterwork that we organize on <date> from <time> to the <hip venue>. We look forward to seeing you there to share a friendly time with our team.
Next, here's something far worse from Lily.
Good Morning!If you've not come across the word maven before, you're clearly not one. A maven is a knowledge propagator who commands a trusted network of social influencers (or at least that's what is in marketing speak). The word originally comes from the Hebrew for 'one who understands', and was first appropriated in Malcolm Gladwell's seminal text The Tipping Point. In short, mavens find out stuff first and tell others about it.
I am contacting you from <PR company>, a brand strategy agency in London, Regent Street. <PR company> works with global clients to help them better understand consumers around the world and define future-facing strategies for their brands. I wanted to get in touch to see if you might be available to help with a project we are currently running, as I believe your expertise could be invaluable.
We are currently working on a project with a major UK Charity to better understand the “Maven Group”. In order to do so we are looking for a small group of extremely special “Influential Mavens” to work online with over a period of 5 days. The final Mavens will also get the opportunity to come together at the end for an evening of drinks and collaboration with the <PR company> and UK Charity team at an exciting London Venue.
We believe you could fit the criteria as one of our influential Mavens as they are people who:
- Impact the behaviour of others
- Have a key area of passion (which can range from music to fashion & Beauty)
- Are approached for advice about these key areas of interest from others
- Carry these traits beyond their own claims – spreading the word online through social media and/or blogging or vlogging
It is a really exciting project and a great opportunity to contribute to something huge. We have the privilege of working with some really influential people and would love for you to be part of this. If you are interested I have attached a screener for you fill out which should take you roughly about 5 minutes to complete. Once we have received all the screeners we can chose the final 12 Mavens and send out the Maven packs! If you could fill in the screener by Friday latest that would be great and please do let me know if you have any questions!
Lily and her PR agency were hoping I might be a maven for their charity brand. But rather than having done lots of useful research, like reading my blog, she merely threw me into her pool of potential disciples and demanded that I tell her lots about myself. Her 'screener' was a lengthy Survey Monkey questionnaire to check I shared the right brand values, and if I passed I might win the chance to jump through several social media hoops in the hope of getting an evening of free drinks with some charity workers later.
Alas one of Lily's first questions asked me to select an age group, the highest band of which topped out at 35. It was at this point I deduced I wasn't the young on-trend clotheshorse she was looking for, and wrote back and told her so. "I am terribly sorry to have troubled you to fill this out," she said in response to my somewhat blunt email, "as your blog does not give a full description of your profile." Never mind, I'm sure she sourced some shallow compliant sheep elsewhere.
And finally, Ben wasted no time in grabbing my attention.
Diamond Geezer I LOVE YOU!!I like to think that I can write marketing drivel for a laugh, but Ben does this for a living. I'm sure it pays well. His nightclub's unabashed policy is to pander to the super rich, inviting young R&B-friendly foreign visitors to splash their cash within an artificially extravagant bubble (hashtag unashamedlyshallow).
I promise I am not a stalker I just love Diamond Geezer, it’s a great source to keep my finger on the pulse of what's going on in our wonderful city. With that in mind I wanted to tell you first about <Nightclub>, a new nightclub opening in the heart of Kensington, and invite you personally to our opening weekend running 3 nights from <date>.
Amidst the saturated news dialogue that London is being overrun by the super rich, <Nightclub> offers a new playground for this aristocracy and offers its other members the chance to feel what it’s like to live as they do for an evening. We respectfully disagree with the notion that the privileged don’t know how to have fun, infact <Nightclub> is here to prove the contrary. Although we’re keeping the really juicy bits under wraps until you lucky chosen few see it for yourselves, we can reveal a few fun facts about our new club.
<Nightclub> will be the new hub for London’s vibrant celebrity community, and the club of choice for international VIPs. Every night we’re open we will have a champagne show, brought to guests by the most beautiful waitresses the world has to offer. Unlike other clubs we will have a focus on Hip Hop and will tailor our service especially to suit Chinese and Russian guests looking for the best night out in London, it can be lonely away from home.
We aim to do more than provide a venue to have fun in, rest assured glasses will never be empty, guests will never be lacking in spectacular imagery (both in decor and clientele), they might even meet our friend <Mascot>! Discretion is of course both our prerogative and priority.
Please RSVP with your name and the name of 1 friend you’d like to bring along for the ride as well as which of the three nights you’d like to attend, this is important to ensure a smooth queue free entry. <Nightclub> looks forward to welcoming you into our world.
It was tempting to accept his invitation and turn up in order to lower the tone somewhat. But having read the dress code ("High heels for girls is a requirement and guys are requested to wear smart shoes and dress their best") I very much doubt they'd have let me and my Plus One through the door. Indeed some of us might rather burn such venues down than step inside.
But I publish Ben's email, along with those from Manon and Lily above, to highlight the woeful mistargeting of professional PR missives. I'm a 50-year-old bloke who writes about lost rivers, tube trains and obscure suburbs, not a pliable maven who'll write nice things about your latest commercial project in return for an ego-massage. Kindly send your sycophantic marketing outreach some place else.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, May 28, 2015The Time Out Guide to the new London Overground (Exclusive)
The extension of the Overground this weekend will open up fresh areas of London that previously didn't exist. Entire new social playgrounds will be unlocked, brimming with retail, cocktail and clubbing possibilities, and all because there are now orange trains from somewhere central every quarter of an hour or so. Here then are ten places we'd never heard of before, but which are now our favourite special recommendations on the fast train to Party Central. London Overground, we salute you!
For Varsity-themed entertainment, this vibrant London suburb has much to commend itself. College types love to mingle with the smart set in the hub zone by the crossroads, perhaps getting their bicycle fixed at Figarude or picking up vintage bargains at Frockney Rebel. As a bonus Hackney Road is widely known for its handbag wholesalers, which we think you're going to love, offering a multiplicity of top deals on unique, hand-crafted, capacious accessories. Or simply stop off in the shadow of the famous Mare Street gasholders, arabica bean latte in hand, and soak in the edgy vibe.
Just three stops out of Liverpool Street, this newly-created neighbourhood boasts a truly pastoral attitude to life. Hackney's London Fields are a tree-lined Elysian expanse spread out beneath the railway viaduct, featuring a wild flower meadow and a conveniently located set of public lavatories. Create a splash by stripping off at the Lido, or drop into the railway arches for nutritious sourdough, seeded rye or rugbrøt from the E5 Bakehouse. If you're feeling adventurous, a short stroll takes you to Broadway Market, a canalside shopping parade whose bohemian schtick and streetwares are, we think, about to become very popular.
Rectory Road's semi-rural platforms deliver you deep into unspoilt suburbia. There's space in the elongated ticket hall for a organic kiosk, or dry-cleaning pop-up, whose imminent appearance surely can't be too far away. Residents buy their exotic fruit and comestibles from the excellently-named Local Express, a veritable bazaar of global goods, while weekend entertainment is provided by the United Reformed Church on the corner of Evering Road, whose Vision4Life sessions are ever-popular with young and old alike. Coffee shops are in short supply hereabouts, however, so best buy your flat white at Liverpool Street and bring it with you.
In its commanding location on the High Road, this must-visit location truly delivers. If it's gold you're after, family-owned Erbiller Jewellers will buy your stash in any condition, while nextdoor at Shoe Zone the '£3 off' summer deal on sandals is going down a storm. Those in the know, however, are to be found picking over the exclusive vegetables outside the Bruce Grove Supermarket & Meat Market, or getting makeover tips from the adjacent Cosmetics outlet while soft reggae gently plays. Turn up on the right day and you can look round Bruce Castle Museum in the park at the end of the road, although it's not actually a castle, and they don't appear to have a cafe, so maybe don't bother.
Even the name reeks of wealth and luxury. Lovers of bling should make tracks to the banks of the North Circular, if not to rifle through the trinkets round the back of Lidl, then at least to take a selfie of themselves in front of the station sign. But we recommend a trip across the railings to Pymmes Park, for what else, but a jug of the finest fruit-topped alcoholic beverage. The bar at the boarded-up Pymmes Park Inn will we're sure be reopening soon, for what must be a well-deserved makeover, and if not then at least it'll make some lovely two-bed apartments you can move into later.
Bush Hill Park
One stop before somewhere called Enfield, this overlooked suburban enclave is preparing for a rush of visitors. Staff at the Sainsbury's Local by the station await the discerning shopper, while the turreted Bush Hill Park Hotel has several pumps of branded lagers ready and waiting. One offer that's sure to be popular is at the B-Chic Hair & Beauty Boutique, where a cut and finish with Alberto is only £10 (terms and conditions apply). But to fully grasp the area's beating green heart head north to the open space of Bush Hill Park, whose lengthy horse chestnut avenue is the equal of any to be seen elsewhere in London.
Almost on the edge of the capital, if such a place exists, this former country lane leads west from the renowned Freezywater Shopping Centre. Here the Squirrel House Chinese takeaway features a menu full of surprises, the Blessed Launderette offers a devoted while-you-wait ironing service, and the Cyprus Corner Meze Bar rightly proclaims 'Welcome to Tasty'. If foodies can ever tear themselves away, the delights of the Turkey Brook linear park await. This minor streamlet tracks the roadside for almost quarter of a mile to the Gateway Open Space, where a sculpture of an amphibian-topped egg can be freely photographed. Weary visitors can then retreat to the First Choice Off Licence for some much needed refreshment.
If it's cosmopolitan chic you crave, then a sojourn in E17's Wood Street might be enough to recharge your retail batteries. Untroubled by high street chains, its independent stores offer a wider range of lifestyle options for the wardrobe, mantlepiece or shed. Agombar's quality shoes rarely disappoint, while few craft icing quite so stylishly as Wood Street Market's bespoke cake artist. Don't miss the amazing Mural of Fictional History at the top of the street, while for sheer architectural panache, the bleak windswept concrete blocks snaking between the Co-op and the Post Office are hard to beat.
Lurking unnoticed on the Chingford borders, Highams Park exists within a dapper bubble of gentility that few have ever pierced. The first evidence of culture is Not Quite The End of the Line, a pop-up shop on the southbound platform which sells penny sweets and handmade vintage greetings cards in aid of the Highams Park Society. Other bijou outlets clustered around the iconic level crossing include The Village Florist, everybody's favourite V&A Books and Gifts, and the TOWIE-friendly Fakin' It tanning salon. Only your own recreational inertia is preventing you from making tracks to this unique and on-trend urban village.
Apparently this station lurks somewhere between Romford and Upminster, but we at Time Out have never reported on anything east of Barking and we have no intention of starting now. A friend's gran told us there's a chippie called Oh My Cod! at the top of the ramp, and a neighbouring shop that sells Fireplaces and Stoves, but they sound ghastly and we certainly won't be visiting any time soon. If you have the misfortune to live out here in this godforsaken wasteland, our apologies, and we hope you get the disposable income together to move somewhere more achingly hip as soon as possible.
Next week, we retreat to Camden, Hoxton, Peckham and Clapham, as per usual.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, May 27, 2015Head out of Dorchester up the Bridport Road, through the western suburbs, and at first all looks normal. The old town centre makes way for interwar semi-detached houses that could be anywhere in the country, in symmetrical pairs with cosy front gardens. But at the foot of a low hill two fairytale turrets poke up above the rooftops, marking the boundary of one of the most unusual housing estates in Britain. Ahead lies Poundbury, the architectural brainchild of the Prince of Wales, an urban dormitory village with the touch of a future monarch. Step across the boundary and you enter a very different residential world, but whether that's good different or bad different is very much a matter of personal taste.
Poundbury began as a glint in Charles's eye in 1987, when councillors announced their intention to extend Dorchester's built-up area onto Duchy of Cornwall land. The Prince appointed an architect to sketch out a masterplan in line with principles he'd established in a publication called ‘A Vision of Britain’, and work began on site in 1993. The Bridport Road was diverted to the south of the 400 acre site, and development continued in waves across former grazing land, indeed continues to this day. The intention was always to create a high-density pedestrian-friendly urban extension, not a twee village, and to mix all kinds of homes so that the divide between affordable and unaffordable didn't stand out. At the start of this year Poundbury was home to 2500 people, with plans for numbers to almost double by the time the project wraps up in 2025. And by that time either the Queen will be 99 or Charles will be King, in which case presumably he'll have more pressing ceremonial to be getting on with.
The first development quarter was intended to set the tone for what followed, and had the greatest royal influence. A semicircular plot was laid out with cottagey lanes and alleyways, relatively closely packed, around the focal point of Pummery Square. In pride of place is the village hall, raised up on stone pillars to resemble some medieval marketplace, and with free parking (for up to four hours) on the piazza out front. You won't need that long to visit the Village Stores, these merely a Budgens, though probably the most over-the-top Budgens you'll ever see. The (only) local pub is The Poet Laureate, unexpectedly named after Ted Hughes rather than John Betjeman. And behind a run of boutiques is The Octagon Cafe which... ah, appears to have closed for good last Saturday, and Jane and the Team would like to thank you for all your support and friendship over the years. Not everything in Poundbury is picture perfect.
Phases Two and Three run alongside the old Bridport Road, relandscaped and reimagined as a quiet backwater where cars are tolerated rather than encouraged. The buildings here are more varied, more jarringly unusual, and generally taller. The best I could think of to describe the architectural style is a cross between Bavaria and Portmeirion, as if the Child Catcher or The Prisoner could come bounding out of a chocolate-box sideroad at any time, but that's too extreme a view. Indeed Poundbury's not unattractive, neither is any building over-fussy, and there's definitely an eye for detail. But there is a sense that the estate is teetering on folly, and probably falling on the right side of the dividing line.
You get a decent-sized home in Poundbury, with your own front door and a parking space or three out front. A lot of the homes are tucked off down sideroads, in courtyards or down snickets, with shops and services clustered here and there. I was struck by the over-representation of lifestyle boutiques, it being much easier to buy a floral dress or a designer gift than a Mars Bar. There are far more bridalwear shops than a place this size should be able to support, but also at least two bike shops, and a number of service outlets which cater for an ageing population. An artisanal bakery has set up home in the centrally-located Butter Cross, but as for finding a bag of chips anywhere forget it, so what the socially less advantaged members of the population do for sustenance and entertainment I have no idea.
To the north of Poundbury's hexagon is a wide-open piazza called Queen Mother Square. One day it'll boast a statue of Charles's nan, but for now it's just a large car park surrounded by imposing facades and a building site. Dorset's first Little Waitrose lurks in the huge town-hall-style edifice to the northwest, and there's a garden centre in pride of place to the south. But it's the construction site that currently draws the eye, this the beginning of Poundbury's North-East Quadrant which'll eventually run almost all the way down to the Roman Road. A giant arch awaits some Trumptonesque tower on top, while the steel skeleton of a new office block reveals the ugly truth that most of Poundbury's larger brick buildings aren't what they appear underneath. When the final quadrant is complete, Queen Mother Square will be the focal point of the entire development, a resolutely 18th/21st century version of a town square. But for now you can walk right up to the edge of Phase 2, stand by the fence and stare out across unbroken fields where sheep graze, toward distant hills.
Poundbury's an odd experiment, a Georgian throwback with a modern twist, the sort of place you can probably only propel through the planning process if you're heir to the throne. It's not a pure reflection of Prince Charles' true desires, indeed the only building over which he had full architectural control was the neoclassical Dorset Fire Service HQ at the far end of the town. And it appears to have attracted a more affluent, older demographic than the original blueprint might have hoped, setting it aloof from the neighbouring estates of Dorchester West. But Poundbury's fate is more success than failure, I'd say, particularly in proving that residential architecture needn't all look the same. Indeed we could do with something this visionary in London, creating high density neighbourhoods with character, rather than the bland default glass and steel carbuncles overrunning our city.
My Poundbury gallery
There are 20 photos altogether [slideshow]
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, May 26, 2015The county town of Dorset. A bit north of Weymouth. Quite a trek past Bournemouth. Not quite as far as Broadchurch. 120 miles from London. Dorchester.
Prehistoric settlement and fortress. Important Roman town, Durnovaria. Immortalised by Thomas Hardy as Casterbridge. Annexed by the Prince of Wales. Less than twenty thousand residents. Almost three hours from Waterloo. Twelve quid return. (Sorry, that last thing is only true until Friday)
Portland stone. A rising High Street. One surviving chunk of Roman wall. A giant annular neolithic henge near the skatepark. The courtroom in which the Tolpuddle Martyrs were tried. The River Frome. New posh converted Brewery quarter by the station. Victorian Borough Gardens. Waitrose, Lidl, Iceland.
So many museums. A Dinosaur Museum. A Teddy Bear Museum. A Tutankhamen Museum. Thankfully also a proper decent Dorset County Museum, best of the lot. The Keep Military Museum. Even a preserved Roman Town House round the back of County Hall. Plenty of heritage nectar.
Maiden Castle. A mile and a bit out of town. Largest hill fort in Britain. Over a mile round the perimeter. Dates back 5000 years. Natural twin-peaked plateau transformed by the addition of earthwork ramparts. Several deep concentric ditches for added defence. A short but challenging ascent from the car park. Sheep everywhere to keep the grass in check. Happy hoppity lambs gambolling on the slopes. Site of bloody Roman battle. Foundations of Roman temple remain. Excellent 360° views across rolling fields and narrow valleys.
Hardy's Cottage. National Trust. A couple of miles out of town (in the opposite direction). Village of Higher Bockhampton. Accessed up single track road. Car park fills fast on bank holidays. Ten minute woodland stroll to reach ticket kiosk. Bluebells. Cottage garden in full flower, plus immaculate vegetable patch. Black and white tabby keeping the mice down. Cob and thatch cottage. Thomas Hardy born within, 175 years ago next week. Lived with parents and several sisters. Wrote Far From The Madding Crowd in the small upstairs bedroom. On the edge of Puddletown Forest. Acidic heath with rhododendrons. Heard a strange hoot, saw a tawny owl in a tall tree, watched it flap off into deep woodland. Bank Holiday win.
Long tiring day. Home late. Twelve photos.
posted 08:00 :
Monday, May 25, 2015It's London Tree Week. I do hope you've been celebrating appropriately.
It's not National Tree Week, because that takes place at the end of November. But trees are one of the few things the Mayor has some control over, so London Tree Week is a chance to highlight arboreal successes and environmental hopes for the future. There are many and several exciting things to do. You can book yourself on a guided walk. You can go and look at a Top 20 tree map at City Hall. You can follow @LDN_environment on Twitter. You can launch a new orchard in the middle of the Olympic Park. Or you can go and look at some trees. I went to look at some trees.
LTW has made available several resources to help making going to look at trees a bit easier. One pdf invites you to follow the City of London Tree Trail to discover some of the more unusual (or enormous) specimens within the Square Mile. Another pdf helps you to search for some of London's remaining elm trees, or places that used to have famous ones. Another guides cyclists round a large portion of SW London on a lengthy Ancient Tree Trail, ending up with discounted entry to Kew Gardens. And then there's a free Tree-Routes app. I downloaded the app.
The idea behind the Tree-Routes app is to locate significant and important trees near tube and Overground lines. You tap in a line, or click on the tube map, and the app pinpoints a must-see tree nearby. Head to Royal Oak, for example, and the app suggests the Tulip Tree in Violet Hill Gardens, plus accompanying details, plus location map. The app even ventures beyond London, for example popping up with King George V's Oak on The Green in Croxley, thanks to its proximity to the Metropolitan line. But nobody's bothered to include the DLR, and if your bit of London has no TfL lines then sorry, you miss out. Bromley's only interesting tree is at Crystal Palace, apparently, while the boroughs of Kingston and Sutton have no must-see trees whatsoever, which is totally remiss.
The app option I chose was "Trees Nearby", which lists the nearest trees in the app's database in order of how far away they are from where you're standing. As an excuse to get out and explore, I decided to visit the nearest must-see tree, and then the nearest must-see tree to that, and so on, until I'd followed a chain of ten must-see trees altogether. I hoped I'd see my local neighbourhood in a new way, and learn a bit about trees along the way, and when I set out I had absolutely no idea where I'd end up. [map of eventual route]
Tree 1: Tower Hamlets Cemetery Sycamores (1.0km)
My local cemetery is a bit of a gem, one of the Victorian Magnificent Seven, now very carefully overgrown and managed as a nature reserve. But where were the sycamores? My tree identification skills are a bit suspect, so I had only the clue that they were "ivy-clad" and a tiny photo to help me. I'm not sure I actually found the sycamores, neither am I sure why they were deemed special, but never mind, I had a lovely stroll between the lolling headstones in the post-bluebell woods.
Tree 2: Tredegar Square Purple Leaved Plum (0.5km)
If you have the money to live in prime E3, Georgian Tredegar Square is top of the residential heap. The square in the middle of the square has full public access and a selection of fine trees, one of which I was hoping would have purple leaves. No such luck. Neither could I tell whether the pin on the app's map was a precise location or just centrally plonked. Ah well, very nice anyway.
Tree 3: Stepney Green Wild Black Poplar (0.8km)
It's not actually on Stepney Green this one, but in Meath Gardens near the canal in Mile End. But "the arrae black poplar is a must see tree" according to the app, so I tried very hard to narrow down which of about two dozen trees it might be. Eventually I matched the silhouette in the thumbnail photo to a tree round the back of the Community Centre, except all its branches had been lopped off to leave just trunky bits, and a few brave leaves attempting to burst from the bark. Not a must-see, alas.
Tree 4: Museum Gardens London Planes (0.8km)
I know what a London Plane looks like, thankfully, because the app didn't have any kind of photo this time. And there they were, around 40 majestic specimens, encircling the square garden beside the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green. A proper oasis.
Tree 5: Hoxton London Plane (1.1km)
This was quite a hike, out past Hackney City Farm (which was ridiculously busy for a Sunday) to the corner of a road junction near Haggerston Park. The Hoxton Plane is enormous, and totally dominates the area, but sits within the front garden of number 241 Hackney Road so can't be explored at ground level. At least I assume that's the right tree, because only after I'd left did I realise that the plane tree pictured in the app was on the pavement, and about quarter of the size.
Tree 6: Arnold Circus London Planes (0.7km)
This point-to-point walk led me past the hubbub of Columbia Road Flower Market, which was so heaving I was glad to give it a miss. OK, so I was tiring a little of London Planes by the time I arrived at my destination, but I never tire of Arnold Circus. A pioneering Shoreditch housing estate encircles this elevated garden, with concentric paths and a freshly-painted bandstand in the centre. A number of non-hipster-types had come to sit on the benches beneath a ring of trees, and I joined them for a while in this nucleus of calm.
Tree 7: Bunhill Fields Eucalyptus (1.0km)
And another trek, this time through the backstreets south of Silicon Roundabout, at one of the quietest times of the week. My target was the non-conformist burial ground just to the north of the City, a delightfully retro enclave bursting with famous graves and trees. A Eucalyptus surely can't be too difficult to spot, I thought, but again I totally failed to deduce which of the many specimens behind the low railings it might be. The final resting places of Bunyan, Blake and Defoe proved much easier to locate, however.
Tree 8: Finsbury Circus Garden Pagoda Tree (0.7km)
The problem with Finsbury Circus, which City Hall's app completely fails to mention, is that the heart of it has been ripped out to make way for a mega Crossrail building site. No trees have been destroyed, the cranes now rise from what used to be the bowling green, but it was damned hard to work out where the "very large, mature" Japanese Pagoda Tree might be lurking. A theme was developing, whereby the app was quite good at getting me to an interesting greenspace, then failing to deliver on pointing out why I'd come.
Tree 9: Liverpool Street False Acacia (0.3km)
For the first time the "Trees Nearby" feature led me back east, almost to Broadgate, to a Public Open Space in St Botolph's Churchyard. It was busy too, with young Londoners and obvious tourists sitting around nibbling, sipping and checking their photos in relative peace. For once the photo on the app allowed me to orientate my position and deduce that the False Acacia tree was the dainty central specimen with the unusually light green leaves. A big tick from me for spotting this one.
Tree 10: Swamp Cypress in Aldermanbury Square (0.7km)
And then back west, into the heart of the City for what the app suggested was a rare (and very tall) conifer. I couldn't find it. I scoured Aldermanbury Square, an ornamental rectangle where no giant evergreen could possibly be hidden, and checked out the garden on the other side of the police station, but all to no avail. I could only conclude that either the tree's been lopped down or the app was lying, and further research has ruled out the latter. So I couldn't count this as tree number 10, and continued down the street to locate one more.
Tree 10: St Paul's Cathedral London Plane (0.3km)
That's funny, I thought, the map pin on the app doesn't show St Paul's but a street corner further down Cheapside. This was the former churchyard of St Peter's, which burnt down in the Great Fire, but it was definitely the right location as the lofty plane attested. Planted in 1821 it's believed to be the oldest plane tree in the City of London, and was immortalised in a Wordsworth poem. I must have passed this tree dozens of times and never truly noticed it, for which I thank the app's designers. But they've clearly titled this entry wrong, amongst a litany of other errors and inadequacies which mean this version of the app doesn't quite deliver.
Humbled by my inadequate knowledge, I stopped off to buy a tree identification book before heading home.
posted 07:00 :
Sunday, May 24, 2015What do you mean you haven't walked The Line yet? Some of us have walked it twice.
The Line is a contemporary art trail through East London, approximately following the Greenwich Meridian, with a dozen sculptures (and one video installation) spread out along the way. Everything's free to visit, apart from the necessary trip on the DLR and the connecting flight on the cablecar. Except it turns out The Line's not linear, and not all the sculptures have been installed yet, and come on we covered all this yesterday, pay attention.
If you're thinking of following The Line, your first battle will be with the official website. The 'About' page features flowery prose of the most meaningless kind (which on a smartphone appears as black text on a dark blue background so is thankfully unreadable). The list of artists doesn't yet allow you to click to find out what each work of art actually is (I think because someone somewhere missed a programming deadline). And the map is semi-dysfunctional, essentially a Google map with most of the underlying navigation bleached-out, which on a laptop you can zoom into but there's no way to zoom out. For those of you unfamiliar with the Lower Lea Valley, best track down this belatedly-published map and keep it close, it's your best hope of getting around.
The Line is well signed throughout, so long as you know roughly where you're going (follow the red background if walking north and the blue background if walking south). Well signed everywhere, that is, except at the very beginning and at the very end. There's no mention whatsoever of The Line on Stratford High Street, with the first sign attached to a fingerpost a quarter of a mile down the river where you'd never accidentally find it. Similarly there's no mention of The Line at the O2 or at North Greenwich station, nor even which way to head out of the bus station to find the obscure backroad to the waterside. This means The Line has very little chance of attracting passing trade, you have to know about it in advance and go deliberately, else you'll miss it.
At the northern end, the first sculpture is on Three Mills Green. On Friday evening there was only a hole in the turf surrounded by plastic barriers, and a ladder up a lamppost where the essential CCTV was being installed. Early on Saturday afternoon two vans and a crane had turned up, cutting it fine on opening day, with a group of hi-vis blokes attempting to empty bags of soil around the base of a statue. But by teatime the staging had departed and what remained by the playground path was a solid-looking bronze bloke in a puffa jacket staring at his phone. He got some due attention from various passers-by, including one Afro-Caribbean gentleman who seemed to be smiling to see himself reflected in a work of public art.
The most unusual artwork on The Line is at the House Mill, which (if you've never walked through Bromley-by-Bow before) is the largest tidal water mill in the world, and well worth taking a tour round one day. Three mostly black and white videos have been installed on the first floor, accessed via a door at the far end of the mill, which will be open between 11am and 4pm every day between now and 28th August. You'll get to stand among the old timbers and watch Bill Viola's digital "Transfigurations" - three eight minute films in which various characters emerge from the darkness and get very wet. I'll not say too much more, except that I thought they were very powerful works, but everyone else I went in with left before all three loops had repeated.
To get to the next work requires a dull detour down the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road to Twelvetrees Bridge, rather than a more pleasant stroll down the river. This lack of connection has been the bugbear of every previous attempt to drive a proper footpath down the Lea, including the ill-fated Fatwalk whose plans imploded a few years back. The Line's organising team have promised that a temporary staircase will be provided to create a direct link, but I can't see how they'll manage that in anything resembling the near future, nor indeed the medium term. Nevertheless I was very impressed to see the footpath to the south, which I've always considered an overlooked secret, buzzing with people. It's home to The Line's most appealing sculpture, and the work attracting the most photographic attention - a double helix of supermarket trolleys rising into the sky.
Saturday was a golden day at Cody Dock, the day they finally flung open the gates and allowed access 24/7. This community asset has been built from desolate waterside over the last few years, and is now a lively spot complete with houseboats, colourful gardens and various spaces for the running of workshops. Scores of people had turned up to celebrate, lubricated by the presence of a vintage bus serving craft beer, with children running everywhere (including clambering all over the Damian Hirst). Cody Dock's head honcho Simon Myers stepped up to give a speech, thanking everyone who'd mucked in to help out, and a local councillor claimed this as a big win for Canning Town North. A snip of the scissors left a symbolic ribbon fluttering in the breeze, and hey presto this part of the riverside connection was complete. I never thought I'd see the day.
Having to take the DLR for the next bit of The Line dampens things somewhat, but there is no riverside path to the Royal Docks, and anyway they're well over a mile away. The subsequent cluster of sculptures is by far the farthest from the Greenwich Meridian, and also a nail in the coffin of any expectations that The Line might be linear. Instead four sculptures have been placed around three sides of a long dock, requiring visitors to walk up and back, twice, to view them. One's those three girders I mentioned yesterday, still surrounded by orange barriers, and which the youngsters attending ComiCon at Excel continued to studiously ignore. And one sculpture's still totally missing, with no explanation whatsoever, which is somewhat disappointing.
The Line finally gives the Dangleway a reason to exist, it being precisely the most direct route to the final four sculptures on the other side of the Thames. But at £3.40 a spin, and with the cabins brimming with cosplayed youth, I took the DLR and Jubilee line route instead (and still arrived in North Greenwich at the same time as a young woman in a black horned headdress). It didn't feel as if as many folk had made the effort to follow The Line right to the end, the Thames crossing perhaps being a step too far. And anyway, two of the four sculptures have been here more than 15 years, and one still hasn't been installed yet. But the last one's up, and is thought-provoking in its simplicity. A roadsign has been erected almost precisely on the Greenwich Meridian, announcing that "Here" is 24859 miles away, which indeed it is if you continue all the way around the world and back. Is it worth coming all this way for? Maybe. Does it make a good picture? Absolutely.
So I enjoyed The Line, but then it links two of my favourite urban-desolate walks so I would. If it brings more people to East London to enjoy them too, then great. But dipping back into civilisation again at the O2 I wondered quite how many people are going to be enticed into following a tortuous trail that involves four miles of walking, rather than the lightweight consumer culture most of those out and about seem to prefer. And when that walk delivers one sculpture only approximately every ten to fifteen minutes, perhaps the artistic rewards don't quite match the necessary effort. But that'd be their loss, I'd say, because what's always been an intriguing journey now has the added attraction of world-class art along the way. Come walk The Line sometime, because it's a darned sight more thought-provoking than yet another afternoon sitting in a cafe.
My gallery of 'The Line'
There are 30 photos altogether [slideshow]
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, May 23, 2015The Line is a brand new sculpture walk in East London, running approximately along the meridian from Stratford to North Greenwich. It's been a very long time coming.
The project was crowdfunded to the tune of £140,000 last year, with plans to install a series of outdoor sculptures by the summer. But sourcing the works, and making arrangements for their installation, delayed things somewhat, and the whole thing is opening approximately one summer late. To be more precise, it's opening this morning.
One important thing about The Line is that it's not a line. It might have been, if only a footpath existed all the way down the Lea to the Thames, but nobody's ever managed to make that happen. Instead the official route follows the Lea for two miles, then hops on the DLR to the Royal Docks, then rides the cablecar to follow the Thames round the O2. There are four sculptures in each of these three clusters, requiring a multi-modal trek to see the lot, the end result anything but linear.
Not all of the dozen sculptures on The Line are new. Two by the Dome have been there since the Millennium, but just happened to be in the right place to be adopted for this project. But the other contributors include some of the biggest names in modern art, including Damian Hirst, Martin Creed and Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, each providing one massive work for the enjoyment of anyone who cares to stroll through.
And not all of the sculptures have yet been installed, or at least hadn't been installed by yesterday evening, or else I somehow didn't see them as I passed by. Indeed I only spotted five out of the ten new pieces, three of these already in place by the Royal Docks, and another being lowered by a massive crane round the back of an Amazon warehouse. But by ten this morning they should all be in place, and if you've got the stamina you can come and see the lot.
I've already walked The Line, you see, I walked it last night, because I thought it might tempt you to follow suit. The organisers reckon the full Line takes three hours whereas I did it in two, so I assume they reckon you're either quite slow or that you'll be weak-willed and break off for a coffee somewhere. That two hours works out as approximately an hour down the Lea from Stratford to Star Lane (for the DLR), a quarter of an hour round the Royal Docks (for the cablecar) and then almost half an hour round the tip of the North Greenwich peninsula. All in all it's almost five miles on foot, if you're thinking of following. [map]
• Network by Thomas J Price: This wasn't in place last night, but there was a big hole on Three Mills Green awaiting a big bronze man checking his phone. [Friday photo] [Saturday photo]
• Bill Viola at the House Mill: This one's a black and white video installation inside the House Mill, open from 11am-4pm daily until the end of August (inside a fantastic historical building in itself). [photo]
• Untitled (The Thing) by Piotr Uklanski: Of this (supposedly by the District line) there was absolutely no sign, nor does it appear on The Line's summary map. Crucially the official route currently bypasses this location while we wait for someone to add temporary steps to the Twelvetrees bridge.
• DNA DL90 by Abigail Fallis: Halfway down the remote footpath alongside Bow Creek leading to Cody Dock, twenty-two supermarket trolleys rise in a whirlwind above the riverside. Fabulous. [photo] [photo] [photo] [photo]
• Sensation by Damien Hirst: A multi-coloured slice of skin, in fibreglass, has been plonked on the grass just outside Cody Dock. It's most arresting. [photo] [photo]
(and then the DLR from Star Lane to Royal Victoria)
• Vulcan by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi: A massive bronze man stands on the dockside outside a restaurant, staring out towards the cablecar. A favourite. [photo] [photo]
• Work No.700 by Martin Creed: It's a small girder on top of a medium girder on top of a large girder. I cannot overemphasise enough how utterly and completely this work was ignored by passers-by last night. [photo] [photo]
• Consolidator #654321 by Sterling Ruby: This aluminium piece looks like a red metal coffin on a plinth, and sits near the entrance to The Crystal. [photo] [photo]
• something by James Balmforth: Couldn't find it, couldn't find any information about it.
(and then the Dangleway)
• Quantum Cloud by Anthony Gormley: This humanoid swarm of metal bars has stood off North Greenwich Pier since 1999. [photo] [photo]
• Liberty Grip by Gary Hume: A part-severed pair of contorted kicking limbs, apparently, though it hadn't landed by the Thames last night.
• A Slice of Reality by Richard Wilson: A thin slice of sand dredger, no less, created for the Millennium and moored off the back of the Dome. I've been on board, you know. [photo]
• Here by Thomson & Craighead: And finally, a signpost leading back to where you're standing. There's no sign as yet, but if they don't hang it precisely on the meridian, I shall be very cross. [photo]
A grand opening party is planned this afternoon at Cody Dock, starting at 3pm and continuing into the evening, with food and music and workshops, and I think I heard somebody mention goodie bags. If you've nothing else on you should come, perhaps arriving by free rickshaw from Star Lane station, because why the hell not. And one day soon you should walk the rest of The Line as well (assuming you can make sense out of the pig's ear of a website), to enjoy fine modern art and the post-industrial backside of East London.
My gallery of 'The Line'
Can I tempt you along with 30 photos? [slideshow]
posted 01:00 :
Friday, May 22, 2015THE UNLOST RIVERS OF LONDON
Edgware → Barnet → Hendon (10 miles)
[Dollis Brook + Mutton Brook → Brent → Thames]
If the first half of the Dollis Brook was eastbound and rural, then the second is southbound and suburban. Don't worry, Part Two is still remarkably green and pleasant, though rather more tamed, and always with an underlying feeling that this is how Finchley council wanted the river to look rather than how it originally used to be. Stick to the footpath and you'll miss the heart of Barnet, bypass the streets of Whetstone and barely spot the outskirts of Hendon. And as before it's all terribly well signposted, thanks to a Mayoral grant from a few years ago, so there's no need to download a map before you visit. Unless you'd like proper background information, that is, in which case you'll be pleased to hear that a 9-page Dollis Valley Greenwalk guide can be found here.
As the Dollis Brook bends south, the surrounding banks become increasingly recreational. The first sign of this is the Barnet Table Tennis Centre, a drab brick shed with an unnecessarily extensive car park, and then a gently sloping playing field. Here a keen Dad had set out a course of at least two dozen miniature cones and was busy delivering an intensive solo spell of football training to his potentially not-as-keen offspring. The greenspace then metamorphosed into Wyatts Farm Open Space, essentially a long thin riverside park, where you'll be glad to hear kite-flying hasn't gone out of fashion. It has two parallel paths, the lower for cyclists and the upper for those on foot, although if you'd missed the tiny pictograms at the beginning you'd never know. I took the lower path because it went nearer the river, only to get dinged out of the way by a passing peloton in black and pink lycra. I also managed to get caught up with a Dad trying to tire out his two long-haired sons, one a skateboarder, the other on a scooter and occasionally smashing into his older brother 'for a laugh'.
Across the river lies South Herts Golf Club, 50 years ago appropriately named, as the ridiculously contorted border of Middlesex hereabouts somehow failed to enclose it. The former county boundary is still marked by a large ash tree at the top of the neighbouring slope, unoriginally called the Boundary Tree, where Hertfordshire unexpectedly melted into Middlesex. The river then became the dividing line, or dividing wiggle as it must have been, because the channel is really sinuous round here. There's one particularly distinct U-bend by the path which every passing chronicler stops to photograph, although the remainder of the meanders were more hidden within a wooded envelope. And this was a really busy stretch, people-wise, which might have been throngs of Londonistas out for a Weekend Walk, but alas nobody gave the secret signal, so was far more likely because the residents of N20 already knew how pleasant it all was.
There followed a direct hit on one of the Underground's least used stations, Totteridge and Whetstone. That's not surprising, given that the railway line to High Barnet took full advantage of the Dollis Brook's valley, but this is fractionally the closest the river comes to the modern Northern line. Totteridge Lane makes a very distinct dip to cross the brook, now approaching three metres wide, and here the official path switched to the opposite bank to pass through the delightfully-named Whetstone Stray. This was another tranquil linear greenspace, replete with daisies and deeper undergrowth, and is watched over by a voluntary group of local residents. Two well-groomed joggers sauntered past me, engrossed in discussing their favourite gins, closely followed by a pattering wolfhound and a woman patiently carrying its poo in a plastic bag.
The Dollis Brook divided Laurel Way into two postcodes, then continued along a narrow path between a recreation ground and explorable meanderside. Ahead, alas, was the one point where the council's bargaining power failed and the Greenwalk was forced to take to the streets. The offending landowners are the Old Finchleians, whose sports ground blocks the footpath at a locked gate, and also the long back gardens of the houses on Westbury Road. A choice of diversions has been provided, one via Woodside Park station, although I'd recommend the slightly longer western alternative because it eventually passed a more interesting location. Through the trees could be seen the point where the Folly Brook meets the Dollis Brook (hey Ben, there's a River of London called the Folly Brook, who knew?), a junction which once marked the very bottom corner of Hertfordshire.
Beyond Argyle Road the riverside gained a more playful air, with an abundance of child-friendly equipment installed relatively recently by the council. A dull but worthy sign announced "The use of these facilities involves risk", as was demonstrated further along by child swinging from a tyre above the water, and a Dad standing in the middle of the river while his two kids climbed an adjacent tree. I enjoyed the next half mile stretch, a woodland wander down a tightly defined corridor within which the brook was free to trickle between natural earthen banks. A series of footbridges added to the random appeal, as did the opportunity to bear off briefly via a narrow jungly riverside path. But best of all, for we fluvial geography connoisseurs, was a silted up bend that had become an oxbow lake. And OK, so it was more an oxbow puddle than a lake, but the banana shape was unmistakeable, and it was possible to step onto the former neck and stand on raised mud where the river had once flowed.
More obvious evidence of the brook's erosive power is the Dollis Brook Viaduct which carries the Northern line high above the valley on the Mill Hill East spur. Its 13 brick arches rise 60 feet above the stream, making this the highest point above ground level on the Underground network, and creating a photogenic sequence of openings through its lofty gaps. I didn't wait around long enough to see a train up there, instead negotiating the third and final roadside section of the walk with necessary care. When the brook re-emerged it had been constrained to an ugly concrete channel, thankfully not for too long, but a reminder that urban rivers remain overground only so long as the risk of flooding is mitigated.
The last of the linear parks along the Dollis Brook is the Windsor Open Space, initially slim then later opening out to fill a larger recreational space. The river was more languid here, flowing past thickly-rooted banks covered at present by innumerable six-petalled white flowers (whose proper name I'm sure you can tell me). An oppressively narrow subway led the Greenwalk beneath Hendon Lane, beyond which the brook emerged and promptly tumbled over a massive concrete weir, completely out of kilter with the entire previous ten miles. The next bridge carried the A1 Great North Way, and bore the copper shield of Middlesex on its flank, beyond which the river lost its brief sense of importance and retreated behind a screen of nettles. And there coming in from the left was the Mutton Brook, which you'll remember I walked back in January, and whose confluence marked the beginning of the River Brent proper. And that's eighteen miles further to the Thames, so definitely a safari for another time.
But, fine day for it.
posted 02:00 :
Thursday, May 21, 2015THE UNLOST RIVERS OF LONDON
Edgware → Barnet → Hendon (10 miles)
[Dollis Brook + Mutton Brook → Brent → Thames]
The Dollis Brook is essentially the first ten miles of the River Brent under a different name, running east from Edgware to Barnet, then bending south through Finchley to Hendon. If you're looking to walk one of outer London's unlost rivers it's also one of the best. At the top end it's proper pastoral, while further down it flourishes through suburbia within a thick strip of green, and very rarely are you forced away to traipse down parallel streets instead. For this we should thank Alfred Pike, Finchley's Mayor in 1937, who worked tirelessly to create a riverside walk down the western edge of his borough, and whose foresight has held back further development to this day. His Brookside Walk has since become the Dollis Valley Greenwalk, a comprehensively signposted ramble from source to mouth, which I walked for pleasure at the weekend. [official DV Greenwalk guide]
Coincidentally the Dollis Brook had featured on the Londonist website the previous day as a Weekend Walk, which opened up exciting prospects for a particularly social stroll. "Spot a secret Londonist reader: if you encounter someone else walking this trail, greet them with the words ‘fine day for it’, while subtly making an ‘L’ shape with your thumb and forefinger. If both parties do this, you’ll know that they’re Londonistas too. Have a chat." I couldn't wait to meet my new Barnet friends, so off I went.
Getting to the start of the Dollis Valley Greenwalk is only easy if you live in Borehamwood and arrive by public transport. In this case the 292 bus will drop you off right at the start, whereas if you arrive from the south you'll have to get off one stop early to cross the A1 dual carriageway via a subway. Drivers are stymied because Barnet Council have inexplicably closed the Moat Mount Open Space car park at the beginning of the route, but that suited me because I met nobody whatsoever for the first half mile, and otherwise the place would no doubt have been thronging with dogwalkers, doggers and the like. The first section of the walk was uphill, which was a clue that the damp notch beside the footpath wasn't the river proper. But the leafy climb swiftly topped out beside open pasture, the fenced-off path edged by spring flowers - a proper pleasant start.
It was at the summit that I met my first fellow walkers, a mixed group of ramblers studying a printed-out map and trying to work out which path to take. I considered making the Londonista secret sign, but chickened out through embarrassment, so decided that further along the walk I'd simply listen out for the key phrase ‘fine day for it’. A broad path continued downhill and into ancient woodland, a proper rural getaway and yet somehow still within the confines of Greater London. To one side a small pond marked the source of the Dollis Brook, fenced off behind a notice warning of deep water, with a prominent red canister attached containing an emergency line lest anyone should get carried away. The first of three road walks followed, along a half-residential lane lined with terribly desirable homes, as befits the north Totteridge environs. At one point the fledgling stream was seen, nothing special, before the lane headed south to meet up with the Dollis Brook's alternative headwaters.
A private track past a sports ground (they close it every year on 28th February) led back to the river, via what was the only unavoidable metre of mud on the whole walk. But the next mile was lovely, even gorgeous at the right time of year, which is now. The meadows of the upper Dollis Brook are lush and verdant in late spring, a riot in white, pink and green, and bursting with blossom and buttercups. They're also remarkably remote, the nearest mansions some distance up the valley slopes, and the only prominent sounds those of chirpy birdsong. Ahead lay Totteridge's ancient hay meadows, which are mown just once a year to maintain the butterfly-friendly wildflower mix. Every so often a small brook trickled down from the south, crossed via a plank, or rather would have trickled if only we'd had enough rain of late. And the main stream flowed crystal clear behind a screen of green undergrowth, occasionally visible through an overhanging indentation, as fluffy seeds drifted from the hedgerow in the breeze.
"Morning." Damn, I'd been enjoying the isolation, and suddenly a lady with two small dogs was bustling past. I received a "Hi there" from two joggers too, their jogging route almost certainly better than your jogging route, for what it's worth. I noted that neither of these parties had opened their conversation with Londonist's secret phrase, neither were they wielding their thumb and forefinger in the special 'L' formation, but that's local residents for you. Indeed unexpectedly local residents, as after six successive meadows the official footpath suddenly crossed to the opposite bank of the stream. Here behind a screen of trees were the backs of houses on the outer outskirts of Barnet, specifically Ducks Island, with a municipally mown lawn separating them from the river. The landscaping wasn't unpleasant, indeed the grass was impeccably maintained, yet all felt somewhat bland after the previous unspoilt mile.
The Dollis Brook was now a shallow stream a metre wide with pebbly bed, wiggling gently in a slightly deeper channel. Every now and then I heard laughs and activity on the other side of the stream, which I assumed must be bucolic youth enjoying screened-off meadows, but which later turned out to be a couple of sports grounds. On my side the land rose up to a broad river terrace used as parkland, with the first tarmac footpath of the walk snaking across the brow. From this point onwards you'll be fine in trainers, even during a muddy winter. The occasional footbridge broke off to carry a public path up the hill to Totteridge, which if I've not hinted already is one of the nicest (for which read 'most expensive') villages in London. But here on the Barnet side we got lads in hoodies, kids on pink scooters, and an invasion of crows flapping off with bounty from a freshly dumped loaf of bread.
Every so often the trappings of city life were visible on the skyline, in particular an Odeon cinema, the Northern line and Barnet FC's former Underhill Stadium. There was also a brief stretch where the river ran deep below what I could almost describe as a cliff, broached at one point by stairs down to three flat stepping stones, providing access to a field on the opposite bank. I considered crossing to enjoy less artificial surroundings but didn't risk it, foolishly as it turned out, as the dog walkers I later saw emerging onto Barnet Lane confirmed. This was only the second road I'd encountered in four miles of walking, so underdeveloped is this part of outer North London. And having followed London Loop section 16 for all that time, this was also the point where that more well-known walking trail broke off to head for Cockfosters, while we Dollis Brook devotees veered south along the riverside.
I'll write about the more urban half of the unlost river tomorrow, and whether perhaps the Londonist reader count was any higher here.
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