Friday, April 17, 2015
(if you're over 50, probably best not read this one)
It's now just over five weeks since my 50th birthday. And just over five weeks is approximately one tenth of a year. That makes my age at present approximately 50.1. Or, to view it another way, I'm now 1% of the way through my fifties. Blimey that was quick.
My fifties haven't been that different to my forties, to be honest. My body hasn't fallen apart, my hair hasn't turned grey overnight and my social life hasn't taken a nosedive. I never expected it would. I can still do everything I could before, indeed I've walked over 200 miles in the last five weeks, because completing fifty orbits of the Sun doesn't change you overnight. Indeed if I don't think about my age, my state of mind is exactly as it was previously, with me still believing I'm a bright young thing bounding through life. There's no reason to let a number hold me back, barring potentially the opinions of others, who might see a five at the start of my age and somehow jump to different conclusions.
But something has changed slightly, and that's my attitude towards the future. I blame being someone who counts things, because most people would overlook this particular numerical peculiarity. But being 50, well, it's not quite what it's cut out to be.
When you get to 50, because 50 is half of 100, it's nice to imagine that you're only about halfway through.
birth 5 0 death
We all like to think we're going to get to 100, because people do, and more people are doing, so why shouldn't we? The reality however is two decades different, with the average UK 50 year-old male expected to live to 81. Get to 81 and that average increases to 88, because actuarial probabilities are incremental like that. But in reality, your 50th birthday is more like this.
birth 5 0 81
But I'm not actually thinking 81. I'm thinking my likely life expectancy is 75, not because I'm a pessimist or anything, but because getting to 75 runs in the family. If I took after my Dad's side it'd be higher, but chats with doctors over the last few years have hinted more towards my Mum's. Nothing overly disturbing, nothing to particularly worry about, and obviously I'd be dead pleased to get further. But my subconscious has picked 75 as the age I hope to get to, and it's hard to shift that.
Two things. Firstly this means that anything due to happen after 2040 I don't expect to see. The Northern line will never get to Clapham Junction in my lifetime, and little Prince George will likely never become king. Indeed by the time you young'uns face the reality of global warming, I'll be long gone. Being 50 and childless isn't exactly conducive to long-term thinking.
And secondly, the passage of my life now stacks up like this.
birth N OW 75
Compared to the average, proportionally a little more at the beginning, and proportionally a little less at the end.
And the mathematical quirk I've spotted is this, which is that my life expectancy suddenly divides into three equal parts. One third up to 25, another third up to 50, which is now, and a final third up to 75.
birth 2 5 5 0 75
That's two-thirds down, and one-third yet to come. More to the point, the amount of life I've still got to go is only half the length of the life I've already had. And blimey, when you view things this way it bucks your ideas up somewhat.
I've done tons of stuff in those first two thirds of my life, but also not done tons of stuff as well. If there are places I want to go, states of being I want to reach and aspirations I want to attain, I need to get a move on. The next twenty-five years is ages, of course, with more than enough time to do anything I put my mind to. But if I let opportunities drift, or if my health throws a curveball and reins things in, I will be missing out.
Now obviously all this proportional thinking is merely a generalisation rather than a certainty. I could get to 90, or I might not see 60, who knows. But my subconscious has settled on 75, which makes 50 the point at which the time I've had is double the time I've got left. And, bugger, seeing as I'm actually fifty point one, the time I've got left is now less than half of what I've already enjoyed.
Seize the day, that's the unspoken message heralded by my 50th birthday. Because, whatever your age, although your life experience only ever increases, that dark blue section only ever gets smaller.
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, April 16, 2015What the tube needs is wider escalators.
Existing escalators are wide enough for two streams of passenger traffic - one walking and one standing. Or at least that's the plan. Not everybody understands 'The Escalator Rule', especially visitors to our capital, which is why announcements are often made to "stand on the right and walk on the left". Elsewhere in the world escalators are only for standing on, and if you try to walk up the left you often get stuck. Indeed even escalators elsewhere in London, say in shopping malls, also tend to be for standing only. People step on at the bottom, on either side of the escalator, and get off at the top. Only on London's railways is there an expectation that one side of the escalator is for walking, because we're all in one hell of a rush, hence a rule has grown up that most people follow.
But not everybody. How annoying is it when you're trying to walk up the left hand side of an escalator only to find someone standing there because they didn't understand the rules? Sometimes it's OK because there's a gap on the right instead so you can still get by, possibly with a sharp intake of breath as you pass. Other times it's because they're in a family, or a group, or half a couple, and they thought they'd have a nice chat with the person next to them on the way up without considering the inconvenience this might cause. Children frequently end up on the left beside their parents, for hand-holding reasons, which'd be perfectly sensible if only there weren't a rule against it. Whatever, it should always be possible for people to stand only on the right, and it's irritating for the rest of us when they haven't done so.
And then there's luggage. Negotiating the Underground with a suitcase can be damned awkward at the best of times, given the narrowness of platforms and passages, and the number of people and steps. An escalator provides respite on your journey but also a challenge, namely how to step on and manoeuvre your baggage aboard at the same time. Often a suitcase begins its upward journey alongside its owner, before being repositioned onto the step in front or behind out of courtesy to passengers trying to walk past, but some people leave their suitcase beside them because they don't know any better. Or there's the extra wide suitcase, or indeed the pushchair, which takes up more than half the width of the escalator and which thus necessitates passers-by squeezing through the gap even if optimally placed.
So what the tube needs is wider escalators. The steps on escalators on the underground are always one metre wide. That's precisely 1000mm wide, a standard measurement introduced many decades ago to ensure consistency of experience and the interchangeability of parts. The average human is about 50cm wide at the shoulders, and generally narrower lower down, so a metre-wide escalator is about right for allowing two of us side-by-side. But many people now bulge somewhat at the waist, our nation being broader than it used to be, so sticking to half an escalator can sometimes be a tight squeeze. Often you have to twist your body slightly to the side to get past, or indeed rather more than slightly if the person (plus bags or rucksack) is particularly large.
What the tube needs is 50% wider escalators. A width of 150cm rather than 100cm would allow passage on the left no matter who or what was standing on the right. Lady with umpteen shopping bags - not a problem. Family with pushchair and small child - not a problem. Cluster of foreign students engrossed in chat - not a problem. Airport-bound gentleman with wheelie suitcase the size of a mountain - not a problem. If escalators were half as wide again, those of us who choose to walk up the left hand side would almost always be able to ascend unobstructed, so long as passengers knew to "stand on the right and walk on the left", that is.
And a 150%-width escalator would also allow the introduction of three lanes of traffic if required. One lane on the right for standing, as now, then a central lane for walking up, and then a fast lane on the left hand side for those really in a rush. How annoying is it when you're trying to walk up an escalator only to get stuck behind someone less fit or more dawdly, reduced to climbing at their pace when you could be going much faster. A third lane designed for overtaking would solve the "slow climber" issue outright. Indeed a wider escalator would essentially become a pedestrian motorway, with stationary traffic in the inside lane, steady climbers in the middle lane and speeding travellers in the outside lane. If it works so well on Britain's motorways, why shouldn't it work on the tube?
At busy times a wider escalator could be reclassified to allow two lanes of standing traffic and one of walking. Most people like to stand, hence the queues that sometimes grow at the bottom of an escalator because they refuse to take the plunge and walk up instead. And whilst some passengers are indeed physically incapable of climbing, it often being a long way to the top, others are simply unwilling to commit to so much physical exertion. It's a sad reflection of our increasingly lazy nation that the right of an escalator is generally preferred to the left. We should therefore capitulate to their needs and make more space for standing at the busiest times, so that those waiting at the foot of escalators would be able to board more quickly and the queues would hopefully fade away.
Obviously you can't simply replace today's 100cm escalators with a 150cm model, there isn't room. Nor could you replace two 100cm escalators with two 150cm models, there isn't room for that either. But three 100cm escalators could be replaced by two 150cm escalators, with all the associated benefits that would bring. Three existing 100cm escalators include three lanes for standing and three for walking, whereas two 150cm escalators could include four lanes for standing and two for walking, which would increase upward capacity at the busiest times. And if replacing more extensive banks of escalators, say the existing four at Holborn or Canary Wharf, the benefits would be even greater.
We'd need a public information campaign of course. Passengers would need to be educated as to what the three lanes on a wider escalator were for, perhaps "stand on the right, walk in the middle and overtake on the left". There'd also need to be agreed protocols for rush hour use as the centre lane switched from walking to standing, or perhaps this would simply happen organically as numbers increased. And we'd need more money. It'd cost a heck of a lot to rip out an existing escalator and replace it by a wider one, not to mention the disruption this would cause during the changeover period. But these are not insurmountable issues. Indeed if TfL can potentially fund a pipedream like the Garden Bridge, then all we have to do is scrap that and pump the money into an escalator widening programme instead.
The most practical approach, of course, would be to build wider escalators in the future instead of attempting to act retrospectively. Rather than attempting to match the mistakes of the past, the escalators at yet-to-be-built stations could be created with 21st century dimensions, to better suit our increasingly busy lifestyles and greater girth. We could make a start on the Northern line extension, for example, with a broader-than-normal escalators at Nine Elms and Battersea. The latter would be ideal for escalators with a width of 150cm, I think, given that the Power Station's clientele are bound to be encumbered with flapping shopping bags, pushchairs and extremely large suitcases.
What the tube needs is wider escalators. If only the Edwardians had realised.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, April 15, 2015Last Friday the Royal Horticultural Society, Nick Knowles and a shedload of volunteers did something wonderful at Cody Dock, transforming a rundown dockside near the mouth of the River Lea into a planted garden with the addition of raised beds and instant landscaping. This was the first salvo in the RHS's Greener Streets: Better Lives campaign aims which aims to create 6000 greener spaces around the country in the next three years. Between sunup and sundown dozens of volunteers helped create a flower-filled riverside walk for the benefit of the local community, and in anticipation of the area opening up to a wider public. It all sounded lovely. So last night I popped down for a look.
Cody Dock's neither easy to reach nor usefully close to anywhere. Option 1 is to walk half a mile down the riverside path from Twelvetrees Bridge in Bromley-by-Bow, and Option 2 is to walk through the Cody Road industrial estate from Star Lane DLR. I took the riverside route, as I've done several times before, because I love the peace, decay and urban beauty. In the distance are the towers of Canary Wharf, increasingly blotted out by lacklustre 21st century apartment blocks, while in the foreground is an expanse of piled-up cars and containers. But Bow Creek itself is a magnet for wildlife, with cormorants and kingfishers amongst the regular visitors to the tidal mud, and golden reed beds line the Newham banks. I maintain it's impossible to come here on a sunny day with a camera and fail to get a striking shot. [4 photos]
But when I got to Cody Dock the gates were locked. They usually are, there isn't often public passage through the site, which remains a community asset waiting to be fully fledged. But that meant I had to squint through the railings and across the inlet to see what green revolution, if any, had been wrought. On the upstream side of the dock a pop-up rockery has been created, complete with turfed slope, wheelchair-accessible ramp and hooped willow fencing. A most peculiar central feature involves two half tree trunks each with a stainless steel tube attached (which might've made a lovely water feature, except the tubes appear solid). The whole thing looked more Ground Force than Chelsea Flower Show, but what do I know?
Alas the RHS's main transformation was far harder to see. Although all Friday's press reports showed a lush verdant oasis of blooms, none of this was immediately apparent from the other side of the inlet. All the hard work appears to have taken place on the eastern quayside and up the approach road, where dozens of raised beds are in place and overflowing with flowers and foliage. I also spotted someone busy watering them, which is no mean task, and just as well in this warmer weather if the RHS's green gift is to survive long term. But because Cody Dock's new garden isn't on public land, essentially I saw nothing, and so wandered back up the cul-de-sac path unfulfilled.
But things are due to change. I know I've been saying this in reports since 2009, but there are still plans to open up this stretch of the river, completing a 30 mile path along the Lea from Hertford to the Thames. All the upstream stuff exists, but the last mile has long been blocked by wharves and industry, so walkers have to divert down the Limehouse Cut instead. Originally the new link was to be called the Fatwalk, potentially one of the worst brand names ever, but the current project refers to the Leaway, which can only be an improvement. 'All' that's needed is a short riverside connection from Cody Dock to Canning Town, and from there either to Trinity Buoy Wharf or the Dangleway, whichever is the Mayoral preference. Yeah, obviously.
Meanwhile another transformational project is almost complete, this time bringing world class sculpture to the Lower Lea Valley. It's called The Line, and plans to create an outdoor art trail connecting Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to the Millennium Dome. As far as possible the route follows the Greenwich Meridian, but with an awkward diversion via DLR and cablecar to get round the blocked riverside south of Cody Dock. Crowdfunding took place last spring, and the whole thing was planned to be open by early summer 2014, but it turned out that juggling acquisition, security and access was far more complex than the organisers anticipated and the project will be now delivered approximately twelve months late.
Barring last minute hitches The Line will open on Saturday 23rd May. Sculptures will include works by Eduardo Paolozzi and Martin Creed, with Cody Dock getting 'Sensation' by Damien Hirst which should bring punters flooding in. Even better The Line promises 24 hour access, which should mean that Cody Dock's gates are unlocked permanently, creating a genuine public right of way where currently there's only a Lea-side dead end. I'll believe it when it happens, but by golly after all these years it's about time.
But don't expect completion of the long-promised Leaway riverside walk. No public access has yet been driven through the rear of the Electra Business Park, and the improvements at Canning Town aren't due to be complete until this time next year. A new lifting bridge across Cody Dock is also required, apparently, and this isn't even funded. Instead for the foreseeable future those following The Line will have to head out into the adjacent industrial estate, which is visually very unappealing, bypassing the RHS's trumpeted avenue of wooden planters and timber pergolas.
And there's one more fly in the ointment at Cody Dock - the neighbours. Trying to create a communal oasis by the Lea is all very well, but when the company nextdoor are allegedly polluting the area, that makes life tricky. Orion Services' waste transfer station has caused Cody Dock's tenants and visitors to suffer from "unacceptable levels of dust, projectiles, odour, fly infestations, noise and heavy vibrations", resulting in "cancellations and closures of family and volunteer days and tenant abandonments". Orion are currently seeking retrospective planning permission for a shed they built on site last year, causing Cody Dock to put together a petition with over 500 signatures.
Reading the public comments on Newham's planning portal (application no 14/03084/FUL) reveals no love lost between the two sides.
"This year for the Big Draw we had animals and birds come to Cody Dock for people to draw. We had the event inside, but the event was seriously impaired by the smell, dust and most of all the constant stream of flies."Photos of the RHS's transformational event on Friday make Cody Dock look amazing. Viewed in the opposite direction, however, Orion's stack of waste looms over the site like a mountain of misery. It'd be a damned shame if this burgeoning community hub was forced to close because the surrounding environment had become too inhospitable. Let's hope the two sides can live together, so that sculpture and horticulture can help to bring the crowds to this unique and unsung corner of the capital.
"Me and both my sons work for Orion. I work on site and my sons drive. A new larger shed will not only improve my working conditions and the area but it also gives my family more job security. It must be approved."
"They do not seem to care what time they start or finish driving and smashing things. This makes it impossible to have private hires and community events in the evening."
"Everyone says how we need to recycle more then they try to stop a modern facility being built that employs 150 people. Go figure."
"It's clear that Orion and Cody Dock cannot exist as neighbours - their activities are not compatible. Of course each organisation has it's own validity and is important in it's own right. However it is not possible to move Cody Dock anywhere else."
"We are deeply concerned that approval of this application will result in Cody Dock no longer being viable."
posted 07:00 :
Tuesday, April 14, 2015It was my arrival in Ickenham on Sunday, when I'd already been there on Saturday, which made me question what I was doing with my weekend. It's my own fault. I said I'd walk London's unlost rivers this year, and the Pinn turned out to be rather longer than anticipated. Around teatime on Saturday I realised I wasn't going to get all the way to the end in one go, and I had Sunday free, so I decided I had to come back. My own fault for being a completist.
And then I wrote the whole thing up too fast. Dashing through a 12 mile walk in a single post meant writing an over-concise summary and missing out too much detail in the process, when I could have dragged things out for longer. I decided to save you from excess outer suburban reportage, you'll be glad to hear, but in the process shot my weekend bolt early. It's only Tuesday but I've already run out of adventures to tell you about, which can't be good.
So I thought I'd dredge through the unreported parts of my weekend hike in case there was anything else worth discussing, something even those of you who live outside Harrow and Hillingdon might find interesting.
Talking Point 1: In Wealdstone I spotted my first political billboard of the campaign. We don't get them in Bow, we're not marginal enough, but Harrow East is a bellwether so the parties are splashing their cash where it might actually matter. Seeing the poster rather rubbed it in that my vote is essentially wasted, whereas voters in Harrow have the future of the country in their hands. I looked carefully for Boris in Uxbridge town centre, but of his flaxen locks there was no sign.
Talking Point 2: (Hot Topic!) Throughout my walk I spotted far more personalised numberplates than I'd expected in Outer London, often pairs from the same series parked up in the front garden displaying a matching display of intials. Someone in Hatch End even had OWL 8OT on the back of a blue Citroën, for reasons I didn't like to ask. Personalised numberplates are fun, obviously, and an intriguing status symbol, but it's amazing what ultimately pointless fripperies some people will spend/waste large amounts of money on.
Talking Point 3: Ooh isn't it nice out at the moment? Not just the warm weather, which is lovely after the cool spring we've had, but the leaves and particularly the blossom bursting out. I love this time of year as trees suddenly burst into a cloud of green, pink and white. It's beautiful isn't it, but alas wholly temporary, as wind and gravity conspire to end the colourful display. How many weekends of blossom perfection do we normally get, is it one, two or three? Still, at least it's bluebells next.
Talking Point 4: The streets of Pinner, Ruislip and Hillingdon are lined by what were once thought perfectly ordinary semi-detached houses, but I couldn't afford to live in any of them. That's despite me growing up in something similar, and having a decent wage that's higher in real terms than my Dad's was at my age. London is increasingly a housing accumulator it's impossible to join, and when even Ickenham in Zone 6 is impossible to access then something's very wrong indeed.
Talking Point 5: I popped into the corner shop in Eastcote in search of a snack, and was shocked to see that packets of crisps were on sale at 95p each. Surely this can't be the going rate for a bag of Walkers, or even close? I can get a six pack from an ordinary supermarket for no more than double that. Admittedly these bags might have been fractionally larger than normal, but not by much, and nowhere near enough to justify a near-£1 price point. I ended up with a fresh pain au chocolat for 25p less.
Talking Point 6: Walking past an amateur football match somewhere in Ruislip, I was struck by the level of commitment needed to play in a sports team on a regular basis. Whilst other Londoners are sleeping in, or looking after the children, or pootling off down to the supermarket, or vanishing off to the seaside on a whim, this lot devote umpteen Saturdays a year to being there for the match, and not always anywhere near home. Their dedication is impressive, or is their lack of imagination somewhat constraining?
Talking Point 7: The owner of a newsagent in Hillingdon was reading the Sunday papers when I dropped in to buy a chocolate bar. She failed to notice me for ten seconds, so engrossed was she in the behavioural horrors her tabloid was reporting, then looked up with an anxious eye. "Isn't this awful?" she said, attempting to draw me into her pessimistic view of the world, conjured up by the scaremongering journalists whose fiction she sells. What's awful here, I thought but didn't say, is that you believe this crap and take it to heart. I bought a Snickers and left her to fear, unnecessarily strongly, for the future of society.
Talking Point 8: (Hot Topic!) There was a man in Yiewsley taking his kitten for a walk. Is this a thing? It wasn't on a leash, but he'd deliberately taken the tiny black creature to the foot of the meadows near Philpot's Bridge, and was letting it explore the undergrowth unaided. As I approached he scooped the kitten up for protection, its green eyes fixed on me over the man's shoulder as I passed. And then he put it back down, and it crept off hesitantly into the long grass while the man stood and watched. Seriously, is this a thing?
Talking Point 9: The Grand Union towpath in Yiewsley was packed with walkers, and dawdling families, and folk on bikes. I'll bet it was the pleasant weather brought them out. But I was struck by the sharp contrast between the busy towpath and the all the previous miles of waterside path I'd trodden, and the paucity of people thereon. Why is it that London's rivers (Thames and Lea excepted) are generally overlooked, while artificial waterways draw the crowds? Is this because canals have a good press so everyone knows where they are, is it the fact that you can't get lost walking along one, or is the main draw the near-certainty that the towpath won't be a muddy quagmire?
Talking Point 10: (Hot Topic!) I got home at the end of the day with my phone battery on 1%, despite having been afraid to over-use it earlier for fear it might conk out. One day I'm sure we'll look back on the "phone battery anxiety" era in the same way we now laugh at dial-up broadband. For goodness sake can't someone invent a smartphone you don't have to switch on sparingly, and which lasts from leaving the house to getting home?
posted 00:10 :
Monday, April 13, 2015THE UNLOST RIVERS OF LONDON
Harrow Weald → Cowley (12 miles)
[Pinn → Colne → Thames]
For most of its length the River Pinn is shadowed by a waymarked trail - the Celandine Route. I like it when this happens because I don't have to faff around with maps wondering which backstreets to divert down next, somebody's already done that for me. Indeed for most of the route there are signs or markers to follow, but not all, and you will get lost if you attempt the route without pre-downloaded material. You'll also not see a great deal lot of the river. The path is often separated from the water by a strip of vegetation, or by streets or gardens, or in one case by a former RAF base. But it is a pleasant walk through London's northwestern suburbs, and at this time of year there are indeed celandines aplenty along the way. [14 photos]
The Pinn departs Pinner town centre to the south, but the Celandine Route heads west. It has its reasons - there's barely anything to see down Marsh Lane, plus the river has to rebound before it bumps into its neighbour, the Yeading Brook. Instead the trail tracks through Pinner Memorial Park to West End Lane, the heart of a pre-Metro-land hamlet, before rejoining the Pinn by some allotments. You can take the council-approved route along a newly-made-up track, but it's much more fun to veer off into the woods (just past the dangling blue rope) to follow a teetering riverbank path. Please don't sue me if the edge crumbles and you fall in, and don't bother clambering over the fallen tree because the path ends shortly afterwards, but there is something 'proper' about taking the brinkmanship route.
At the start of the next clearing the Pinn enters the borough of Hillingdon, where it'll remain for the rest of its course. The council have put up a very strange notice ahead, advising residents that the scattering of human ashes is not permitted because the minerals therein affect wildlife. Perhaps they've been stirred to action by the impromptu shrine to an E-taking schoolboy pinned to a tree ahead, or perhaps they're just a bunch of miserable jobsworths. Long Meadow is a relic from the hayfields that preceded residential development hereabouts, and there's another pub called The Case Is Altered through the trees. More significantly the grounds of former Eastcote House are accessible across the boardwalk, or would be if only they weren't fenced off for major renovation works at present. My visit to the dovecote and walled garden will have to wait for another day.
The riverbank leads eventually to Eastcote High Road, its shopping parade the last opportunity to stock up on provisions for half a dozen miles, before skipping off back between the houses. Large gabled semis make way for one of the largest green expanses along the walk, Kings College Playing Fields, with physical exertion opportunities ranging from badminton to skateboarding (or sitting around and smoking weed, if Saturday's teenagers are anything to go by). The area is overseen by the Friends of Pinn Meadows, an extremely keen local action group, whose conservation day with the Mayor of Hillingdon is commemorated in a newspaper front page pinned to a gate. A muddier stretch leads to a proper meadow, gloriously verdant in high summer, currently fresh-mown and heron-friendly.
By now the walk's reached Ruislip, with historic Manor Farm House a short distance to the south and the Lido half a mile to the north. A thread of watery green passes between rows of back gardens, before the trail makes a rare visit to a residential street. Return requires ducking beneath a vehicle gate, confirming that the Celandine Route isn't pushchair friendly (and is positively wheelchair-unfriendly in places). The Pinn at this point marks the inner edge of the Green Belt - there are no suburbs further out, other than those planned and snuffed out in the 1930s. Through the trees is West Ruislip Golf Course, which leads round to the viaduct over which Chiltern Trains occasionally thunder (and through which HS2 would plough as it exited the capital). For now, most of the time, all is very quiet.
Bending back south into civilisation, the meandering Pinn holds a secret. Pynchester Moat is a defensive Tudor structure located in a bend on the river, square in shape, now little more than a low earthwork overtaken by trees (and an explanatory display board). Ahead lies Swakeleys Park, a Green Flag recreational space, with the Pinn at its heart. The park was carved out of the estate of Swakeleys House, a grand Jacobean mansion built in 1623 for a former Lord Mayor of London. The multi-chimneyed house still stands behind a screening hedge, but requires major renovation, making it an ideal purchase for the overseas billionaire in need of a 23-bedroom London bolthole. Elsewhere in the park I spotted my first bluebells of the year, as well as a small weir over which the river tumbles - which I recorded. If you'd like to hear the Pinn drop, listen here.
Now up to five metres wide, the Pinn disappears into thick woodland before dipping beneath the A40 Western Avenue. Following on foot requires a lengthy detour over a horseshoe footbridge, and then a descent of Uxbridge Common. This would be a lovely open space were it not for the traffic rushing by, although the Pinn attempts to add a dash of beauty, aided at present by a flourish of marsh marigolds on the first bend. Make the most of it too, because if you're following the official trail, this is the last you'll see of the Pinn for over an hour. From this point onwards the floodplain is generally inaccessible, or at least devoid of housing for fear of inundation.
A hike across the common leads to a footbridge over the Metropolitan railway leads to an avenue of bungalows. What I'd recommend doing is venturing into the meadow behind Sweetcroft Lane for a secluded glimpse of the river, but the Celandine Route sticks to the road and invites you to turn off before you reach the bridge at the foot of the hill. The next half mile diversion is thanks to RAF Uxbridge, through whose grounds the Pinn ran before the base was decommissioned, its future now as landscaping for 1340 houses and community facilities. The subsequent half mile has been captured by Hillingdon Golf Club, a miserable bunch whose every gate and boundary fence warns of prosecution should you attempt to enter. Instead you'll be following Vine Lane, a narrow winding street that's one of Hillingdon's more aspirational addresses, to the heart of the medieval village, now unceremoniously dual-carriagewayed.
The trail ignores the Pinn's progress beneath Stratford Bridge at the foot of Hillingdon Hill (no great loss), instead taking a shortcut down the edge of a cemetery. Ahead is the campus of Brunel University, a very shiny thing, and the third organisation hereabouts to capture the Pinn as its own. Shunned, the Celandine Route follows an arrow-straight lane along the southern perimeter, an unmetalled track providing access to the local allotments. At last the river reappears, emerging from between Brutalist towers, and promptly disappearing again into a barred meadow labelled "No Unauthorised Entry". What hazards Brunel students might have created in there I don't know, but by this point you'll likely be wishing you'd abandoned the walk two paragraphs ago.
It's a relief to reach St Laurence's Church, Cowley's 12th century place of worship, and then Robbie Bell Bridge where the Pinn finally escapes captivity. This is Pield Heath, where a broad stream runs between some of the university's sports pitches, with one last dangling blue rope above the ripples for teenage summer entertainment. On my visit bees and butterflies added to the woodland pre-summer vibe, while a discarded trolley subtracted in equal measure. Only infrequently does the path across the common actually border the Pinn, so make the most, because there's no reason to get your camera out after this.
Ahead is the suburb of Yiewsley, where this river terminates, annoyingly unseen. A wall of out-of-town stores almost completely blocks access to the Colne Valley, the trick being to duck through Tesco's backlot and find the towpath exit beneath the multi-storey car park. Meanwhile the Pinn arrives via the back of Currys/Argos, down a miserable concrete channel to a stagnant double pool. Georgian engineering carries the river underneath the Grand Union Canal - if you look across to the other bank you can see it emerge at a lower level. But its final metres play out on private land, behind a major modern canalside housing development, before merging with a thread of the River Colne. Pinn down.
posted 01:00 :
Sunday, April 12, 2015THE UNLOST RIVERS OF LONDON
Harrow Weald → Cowley (12 miles)
[Pinn → Colne → Thames]
Twelve miles long, and confined solely to the boroughs of Harrow and Hillingdon, the Pinn is one of London's longer unlost rivers. It cuts diagonally across the northwestern corner of the capital, from almost Hertfordshire to nearly Bucks. Along the way it passes through Ruislip, Ickenham and most of the other suburbs along the Uxbridge branch of the Metropolitan, along with one other town centre which, given the name of the river, ought to be obvious. Along its route it barely dips below ground at all, growing from a narrow stream to a broad brook, mostly on the shallow side but with the occasional propensity to flood. And rather wonderfully there's a waymarked trail following almost the entire length, the Celandine Route. Of which more tomorrow, because before the official walk starts, there's a three mile preamble.
The Pinn rises on a hillside to the north of Harrow Weald, just below an ancient ridgetop road called Old Redding. Its source lies below a pub with a particularly unusual name, The Case Is Altered, and through the woods is Grim's Dyke, former home of WS Gilbert (of & Sullivan fame). But for many the biggest attraction is the car park, by day blessed with a marvellous view across west London, by night a notorious spot for dogging. I arrived in daylight hours, the only protruding feature being Harrow-on-the-Hill rising across the valley. The hillside drops fairly steeply, only the first field having public access, with the Pinn carving a deep notch down the eastern edge. At present it's marked by a line of trees with bright young leaves, plus the occasional burst of blossom interspersed along the way. No river can be seen, in part because the notch is deep, in part because the local farmer's put up a sign saying Keep Out Private Land, but mostly because it hasn't rained enough of late.
Over its first half mile the Pinn descends a full fifty metres, which is more than it'll fall over the remainder of its course. To follow on foot requires a diversion via a bridleway to a cluster of cottages, before bearing off into scrubby fields along a parallel footpath. The river is always out of sight, still marked by a ribbon of trees, as the broad vista ahead slowly flattens out. The best bit over, the path narrows between a sports ground and its main playing field, eventually coming to rest on Oxhey Lane. First sight of the actual river can be had a short distance up the road, flowing down from the hillside in a slender channel, then passing behind yet another sports field.
Tucked in between the Pinn and the Euston mainline is the borough's main cultural hub. The Harrow Arts Centre is based in what used to be the Royal Commercial Travellers School, more specifically its bricktastic assembly hall, and some considerably more underwhelming outbuildings. Out the front of the Elliot Hall is a sturdy raised sundial with metal-pole gnomon, and the Morrisons nextdoor marks where the actual school once stood, the river passing unseen round the back. To re-reach the Pinn requires crossing the railway beside Hatch End station, then veering off into a warren of suburban avenues. Along these aspirational streets I spotted what I think was a personalised numberplate attempting to look Hebrew, before breaking out into a meadow behind the lower bungalows.
The Pinn by this point is a metre wide, assuming you break off the official footpath to peer through the hedge and see. There's a better view on the other side of St Thomas' Drive, entering and leaving a tongue of woodland (where I spotted my first celandines of the walk), before arriving on the residential edge of Pinner. Some of the homes in Moss Close boast the Pinn as a front garden water feature, most notably the bungalow at number nine, the daffodil-half of its lawn accessed via an ornamental wooden bridge. Just up Moss Lane is the former home of madcap illustrator Heath Robinson, immediately opposite where the river bends west, which I'd like to think was a deliberate choice on his part but he probably just enjoyed the peace and quiet.
The centre of Pinner is close by, the river meandering round the back of the shops. The town's M&S Simply Food is only accessible from the riverside path, leading to the unusual sight of a row of supermarket trolleys immediately above the water rather than in it. The channel here is deep rather than picturesque, because flooding would be both inconvenient and expensive, crossing the main road at the foot of the part-Tudor High Street. On the second Saturday of the month the Duck Pond Market may be in full swing, selling artisan foods and crafts, its bunting distracting from the fact that the Pinn in Pinner isn't a scenic asset.
And finally we've reached the start of the Celandine Route. This trail is an invention of the London borough of Hillingdon, whose boundary is half a mile distant, hence they had little interest in featuring the Harrow part of the river above Pinner. And I'll cover the rest of the river tomorrow, because walking twelve miles and writing about it isn't the best way to spend a Saturday.
posted 07:00 :
Saturday, April 11, 2015Olympic Park update: QEOP South
It's a year now since the whole of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park opened. More precisely it's a year and a week - the anniversary was Easter Sunday. Which seems as good a time as any to take a hike along the one bit of the park that hasn't yet connected properly... the southern edge. So yes, this may be a bit dull, sorry.
• Capital Towers: The transformation of a carpet warehouse into prime residential highrise continues. Riverside apartments overlooking the Bow Roundabout went on sale in SE Asia at the end of 2013, but only now are its twin liftshafts rising above the flyover. The taller tower will eventually be 34 storeys high but is currently 14, the eventual height of tower two. We have only a few months before the Stratford/Bow border is dominated by unaffordable shoeboxes laughing down at our rental discomfort. Can't wait.
• Barbers Road: The first road east of the Bow Roundabout has been closed for a very long time. A sign went up at the end of 2009 announcing "Crossrail Works, Barbers Road closed from 1st November to Spring 2015". That date seemed ridiculously far into the future at the time, but here we are in Spring 2015 and there's zero indication of the road reopening any time soon. Crossrail snaffled all the land by the railway for the purposes of tunnel portal construction, slapping up an exclusion zone and reducing Cooks Road to a cul-de-sac. Half the businesses hereabouts were demolished, and the remainder linger on, perhaps now only as broken husks from which employees have long fled. One unlikely survivor is City Oils Ltd at Vulcan Wharf, experts in treating and refine used cooking oils, fats and greases. Once a staple industry in these parts, City are the now only company left, and even have three current job vacancies. They also whiff a bit, as I can vouch by the wafting stench last night when one of the operatives hopped up onto a large peeling tank and opened the inspection hatch. This may mean that the future residents of neighbouring Capital Towers sometimes prefer to keep their windows closed, but that's fair payback, I'd say.
• Pudding Mill Lane: It's also (almost) a year since the new mega-sized DLR station at Pudding Mill Lane opened. It's still of a ridiculous size for the small number of passengers using it, but that's forward planning for you, for when the surrounding area is housing estate and Premiership football club, not a railway building site. And the timing was important, because the old DLR station and adjacent track has since been entirely eradicated to make way for a Crossrail crossover. A new bridge is about to go in across Marshgate Lane, which has finally been restored as the main access route into the Park. Meanwhile access to the station remains a right pain, with the direct road sealed off (for construction traffic only) and a barriered diversion to Marshgate Lane in place instead. Not that anyone's updated the sign outside the station, which still says Stratford is straight on. But then there are still signs up inside saying "Welcome back to your brand new Pudding Mill Lane station", suggesting TfL went to a lot of effort to get the place ready a year ago but have since turned all their attention elsewhere.
• The View Tube: It's still going, the cafe in the lime green containers on the now-quiet side of the stadium. Trade can't be too bad because the owners appear to have sold up their original outlet on Stratford High Street to concentrate on this, but passing trade on the Greenway isn't enormous, and most visitors to QEOP never get close. They'd be delighted to see you.
• The Stadium: The spiky triangular floodlights are long gone, and a new semi-domed roof is going in so that West Ham fans don't get wet when it rains. They should have been playing there by now, on initial estimates, but match 1 remains two seasons away. In the meantime the Rugby World Cup is sneaking in later this year, and it sounds like a riot of entertainment is planned. According to the Premises Licence notice attached to nearby railings, the stadium's new owners are seeking permission to run various activities between 18 July and 22 November, including Plays, Films, Indoor Sporting Activities, Live and Recorded Music, Performance of Dance and "Anything of Similar Description". Hours of operation would be 0800-2300, with up to seven late night extensions until 2am. You have two weeks to object (or not bother).
• The Greenway: Summer 2012 excepted, it's been years since it's been possible to walk down the short section of the Greenway to the north of Stratford High Street. And despite the fact this was also supposed to have reopened again by now, it still hasn't, again because Crossrail are still doing stuff. This means one of the last remaining exits from the park has yet to open, currently barriered off beneath the Loop Road. Another parallel exit beside the Waterworks River is also sealed off at present, exiting the park via pristine new allotments, and shows no sign of opening any time soon. Meanwhile the Greenway to the south of Stratford High Street is also barriered off at present, and will be throughout the spring and summer, this for the completion of watermain-related works on the Lee Tunnel at Abbey Mills. Cyclists are not at all chuffed by the signposted detour.
• QEOP SE: Round the back of the Aquatics Centre still feels like the forgotten corner of the park. The link to Carpenters Road has helped a lot, but there's still hardly any traffic, and what exists is forced to queue for ages at lights programmed for a much busier time. A desolate sandy expanse awaits use as flats, while the new 9/11 memorial remains generally overlooked above the car park. And going up fast across the Overground tracks, two more rising liftshafts herald the arrival of foreign-landlord-friendly Glasshouse Gardens, which is somewhere else you won't be living soon. Like everything down the very bottom end of the park it's not finished yet, and don't hold your breath.
posted 07:00 :
Friday, April 10, 2015Vote2015: Bethnal Green and Bow
My constituency has no part to play in the General Election campaign because the elected MP is a dead cert. It wasn't always thus. In 2005 George Galloway caused a sensation by swiping the seat for his Respect Party, then in 2010 he walked away, making Bethnal Green and Bow one of only three Labour gains at the last election. Our current incumbent is Rushanara Ali, Britain's first Bangladeshi MP, and she will be again in a month's time. And we know this because the only potential flies in the ointment were Respect and Tower Hamlets First, the latter the council's ruling party, and they're not standing. Eleven candidates were announced yesterday, and neither of Labour's most feared opponents are on the list. So you can totally ignore the following if you like, your vote won't affect the outcome here. But there will be some fascinating candidates on the ballot paper, if you're thinking of marking your cross elsewhere.
✗ Rushanara Ali (Labour): The incumbent, and former Shadow Minister for International Development, Rushanara moved to Tower Hamlets at the age of seven and is Oxford-educated. She resigned from the Labour front bench last year over military action in Iraq, and is one of Westminster's more prolific despatchers of Written Questions. Last time round she earned 43% of the vote, and with Respect gone will likely increase the percentage this time. So far, the only candidate to have sent me a leaflet. Lives in West Ham. [website] [twitter] [facebook]
✗ Teena Lashmore (Liberal Democrat): On past standing the Lib Dems should be coming second in this constituency, indeed 25 years ago the borough had a distinctly orange slant. But past standing counts for little in the aftermath of a Coalition, so Teena will struggle to improve on her predecessor's 20%. Her background is in supporting those leaving custodial care, and she was recently elected Vice Chair of EMLD (Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats). Based in Hackney, her bio struggles somewhat for specific local resonance, highlighting that she has "extensive experience in community issues in and around Victoria Park". [website] [twitter]
✗ Matt Smith (Conservative): No, not the actor - this Matt's a young Oxford-educated solicitor. He's lived in Bethnal Green "for the best part of a decade", during which time he's fought (and lost) several local elections. He's also embraced social media, being the only local candidate to be regularly reporting back on his campaigning activities, and is a dab hand at standing in front of things he deems important for a photo opportunity. Unfortunately for Matt most of Tower Hamlets' Conservatives live in its other constituency nearer the Thames (Poplar and Limehouse), and last time round the party polled only 13% in Bethnal Green and Bow. [website] [twitter] [Flickr] [youtube]
✗ Alistair Polson (Green): The Greens are the fourth and final party who were also on the ballot paper last time, and will be hoping not to lose their deposit again in 2015. Alistair is another refugee from the legal profession, a barrister, this for 20 years longer than Matt. He also blogs, with a particular nod towards local health services, though has been writing rather less frequently since the campaign began. [blog] [twitter] [local party]
✗ Paula McQueen (UKIP): You have to admire the guts of anyone willing to stand on an anti-immigrant platform in one of the most ethnically diverse constituencies in the country. Or the stupidity. Paula's husband is standing for UKIP across the road in Poplar and Limehouse (and is the cousin of the designer Alexander McQueen). [facebook]
And then the 'other' candidates...
✗ Rowshan Ali (Communities United Party): Rowshan has an incredibly similar name to the sitting MP, and will be appearing just above her on the ballot paper, creating the potential for a few mixed-up votes. Interestingly 'Rowshan' is his middle name, so presumably the resemblance was deliberate? Whatever, a bit of online digging reveals that Mr Ali is a social entrepreneur who wants to "work tirelessly to bring back politics into our local communities."
✗ Elliot Ball (The 30-50 Coalition): So named because it links "the Idealism of the Young (Under 30) with the Life-Experience of the Mature (Over 50)", the 30-50 Coalition is a campaign with a love of unnecessary capital letters. It's also a true one-off, an idealistic fight for the introduction of independent non-Party-aligned MPs, and aims to bring about nationwide constitutional reform via a single electoral success in Bow. Their candidate is Elliot Ball, a student at LSE and a charity volunteer. I'd be willing to bet that by the day of the election, at least 30-50% of the electorate will have no idea what he represents. [website] [twitter] [facebook]
✗ Jonathan Dewey (Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol): CISTA's candidate is campaigning on a single-issue platform - the introduction of a Royal Commission to review Britain's drug laws. You may laugh, but they've managed to mobilise candidates in constituencies across the UK from Belfast to Woking, so there may be a splifftastic opportunity on your own ballot paper. Bethnal Green and Bow's candidate is "successful entrepreneur and family man" Jonathan Dewey, who wants to be "a part of the push for evidence-based policy-making". [website] [twitter] [facebook]
✗ Alisdair Henderson (Whig Party Candidate): No, this is not an episode of Blackadder III, it really is possible to vote Whig in Bethnal Green and Bow (and in Camberwell and Peckham, Vauxhall, and Stretford and Urmston too). Alisdair is another Oxford-educated barrister, smart-suited and married with a one year-old daughter. He says "I would have been a Whig if I’d been alive in the 19th Century", and now wants to push for "vintage political principles that have stood the test of time, reworked for the 21st Century". His is a solid left-of-centre position, but I doubt his claim that "Everyone's a little bit Whiggish". [website] [twitter] [facebook]
✗ Jason Pavlou (Red Flag - Anti-Corruption): Jason is Managing Director of a wide-format printing company, specialising in vinyl outdoor banners, and lives in Croydon. His party has been a driving force behind the fraud investigation into Lutfur Rahman's 2014 Mayoral Election, and the red flag in question stands for "democratic, sensitive change", not for socialism. [website]
✗ Glyn Robbins (Left Unity - Trade Unionists and Socialists): There's a party name that leaves nothing to the imagination. Glyn is a worker and activist in housing, urban regeneration and the voluntary sector, and recently completed a PhD on the impact of mixed use property development. He blogs infrequently, and has been known to write for the Guardian and the Morning Star. [website] [twitter] [facebook]
✓ If you're local and interested in these things, I've put together a Twitter list for the seven candidates whose accounts I've managed to uncover (or see here).
posted 07:00 :
Thursday, April 09, 2015Ten years ago today I posted my first photo to Flickr.
I'd been to Lewisham for the day, as part of my Random Borough project, and thought you deserved to see 13 of the better pictures in greater-than-microscopic size. For my inaugural upload I picked the ever-photogenic Laban Centre on Deptford Creek, in cobalt sunshine, and invited you to take a peek.
(more tomorrow - in the meantime you might enjoy my new Flickr photostream with more shots of gorgeous Lewisham)This was long enough ago that less than ten million photos had been uploaded to Flickr - my Laban shot has a seven-digit ID number. By contrast my latest photos are eleven-digiters, confirming an explosion of digital imagery over the last decade. Sticking photos online was relatively new back in 2005, hindered by retro-mobile technology and substandard transfer speeds. Today we think nothing of snapping a selfie and zipping it into the cloud for immediate consumption, so much so that the visual may have overtaken the written in our digital communication.
April 9th 2005 wasn't the day I joined Flickr - for some reason I'd signed up over a year previously. They were a cute fortnight-old start-up at the time, complete with an occasional inability to spell.
Welcome to Flickr, diamond geezer!What's most amazing about Flickr is that it's still going. Ten years is forever online, plenty long enough for your premise to collapse, or for the big company who bought you up to leave you to wither and then pull the plug. In this case Yahoo haven't been the best online masters, intermittently upgrading the site's design to the detriment of usability. But the site is still here, and so are ten million or so images representing a phenomenal social record.
You can use Flickr to:
• Chat and exchange photos live with your friends
• Meet people who have the same interests as you
• Stay in touch with your friends and family
• Have fun
When you invite people to join Flickr you are instantly connected to them. Invite people to join! When you click through people's profile pages to learn more about them, or search for them using their email address. Join a group by browsing through the public groups people have already started. Or if you want to have a special group for just you and your friends, create a private group. To benefit the most from Flickr, add more details to your profile about your interests, add a buddy icon and add photos to your gallery.
We look forward to seeing you in Flickr!
The Flickr Team
Please note: ln the initial weeks of the beta period reliability may be sporadic while we optimize the system and new servers. Outage start times and anticipated lengths wiltbe posted to the news page with as much notice as possible. We apologize in advance for any inconvenience thls may cause.
Since posting my first photo, it's been viewed by over 1000 people (1167 to be precise, a number I suspect will have increased somewhat by the end of today). Over four thousand have looked at the next one, a Tellytubbyesque landscape from the front of the same building, a total high enough to place it in my Top Thirty Most Viewed Flickr photos of all time. Indeed it's quite illuminating to look at my Top Five, to see what it is makes the greatest hits.
1) Marlborough Road (24,294 views): 90% of the hits on this disused Metroland station came on a single afternoon, from an unknown but very powerful source, helping to prove the irrelevance of online statistics.
2) Met No 1 (20,508 views): In 2013 a 'Learning English' website used my photo of a steam train at Farringdon to illustrate a podcast, and attributed it properly, which has brought a steady stream of visitors ever since.
3) Entrance to nudist beach, Telscombe Cliffs (17,763 views): It's the phrases 'nudist beach' that keeps punters coming back, alas missing the key word 'entrance' (nothing to see here)
4) 178 Vallance Road, Bethnal Green (14,681 views): That's the Krays Brothers' address, their childhood home alas now replaced by something blander and brickier.
5) The Lawn, Harlow (11,763 views): Very occasionally one of my photos is embraced by Explore, Flickr's global daily Top 500 feature, which unaccountably loved this photo of Britain's first high rise block of flats.
At the other end of the scale, my least viewed photos are a sequence of inconsequential shots from Outer London, rightly of minimal interest. Even so, only three photos in my online portfolio have had less than 100 views over the years, which if you're on Flickr yourself you'll know is a phenomenal strike rate. Even the photo I added yesterday evening, which I've given zero publicity, has now been viewed 110 times. Admittedly it's of a levitating Yoda in Trafalgar Square, but my status as a high profile blogger continues to afford my Flickr uploads more attention than they'd otherwise deserve.
Flickr's alternative means of ranking photos is by Interestingness, a nebulous algorithm combining views, comments and favourites. This gives a completely different ordering, with the all-time Top Twenty illustrated below, and the Top Thirty always available here.
Top of the stack this time are the Maunsell Forts off Herne Bay, in a photo taken in 2008 when they weren't seen online much, and in which I somehow managed to snap a level horizon despite being in a small boat. That's followed by the platforms at Blackfriars, my accidentally fabulous shot of the 2006 New Year Fireworks, and a close-up of a gastank in Canvey Island. Around a third of my Top 20 are photos from the seaside, only a quarter are transport-related, and around half are happy accidents.
Early Flickr had some mighty cunning coding under the bonnet, including a naming convention so forward-looking it still works today. My first photo is still www.flickr.com/photos/dgeezer/8919372, the way to watch a slideshow of my first set of photos (of Lewisham, naturally) is still www.flickr.com/photos/dgeezer/sets/221245/show, and (I don't know if this works for you) a list of all the photos I uploaded in 2008 in order of Interestingness is still www.flickr.com/search/?w=36101699310%40N01&s=int&d=taken-20080101-20081231.
Flickr's longevity has also helped preserve hundreds of photos I'd otherwise have lost when my hard drive died in 2006. But the potential danger works both ways. I've invested hours of my time curating an online portfolio, currently 9405 photos in total, complete with captions, tags and geographical locations. But there's no guarantee whatsoever that Flickr will maintain functionality in the future, or indeed continue to function at all. Indeed they buggered up their maps interface several years ago, making several collections I'd painstakingly tagged essentially worthless.
I've also invested a heck of a lot time in embedding Flickr into this blog. When I've visited somewhere interesting a lot of the links in the next day's post are often to Flickr photos to illustrate what I've seen. Then there are galleries, like the Bournemouth one at the bottom of yesterday's post, whose coding currently works perfectly but which might one day be rendered obsolete by some as-yet unforeseen upgrade. If Flickr over-improves itself, or fails completely, my blog will be rendered incomplete.
It seems unlikely that Flickr can survive another decade without something going wrong, be that degeneration of functionality or withdrawal of service. But then I might have thought that back in 2005, and yet here it is still going strong. I hope you enjoy looking at the photos I stick on there, be that for artistic, geographical or purely inquisitive reasons. And I hope they'll still be there to look at in 2025, even if the things I've taken photographs of are, by then, long gone.
posted 07:00 :
Wednesday, April 08, 2015Seaside postcard: Bournemouth
One of England's quintessential seaside resorts, the strangest thing about Bournemouth is the paucity of its history. At the start of the 19th century this was barren heathland, perched on clay cliffs between the ancient harbours of Poole and Christchurch. In 1812 a sea-loving couple moved in by the mouth of a small river (you can guess its name), and over the ensuing years thousands more have followed suit. The town's mild climate earned it a reputation for elegant holidays, and more recently as a middle class retirement bolthole. In 1974 Bournemouth was transferred from Hampshire to Dorset, somewhat unwillingly, to avoid the anachronism of a county boundary slicing through the inner suburbs. Today, along with its neighbours in 'The Three Towns', it forms the largest conurbation in England that isn't a city. And on a warm bank holiday Monday, it's a top place for a day out. [Visit Bournemouth]
The beach is golden sand and stretches for seven miles, broken only by a rhythm of well-tended groynes. There's very little difference between high and low tides, so you can guarantee space to dig or lounge or play. Even better for the seaside connoisseur, an intermittent line of beach huts follows the promenade, the numbers above the doors topping two thousand at the nearly-in-Poole end. Around 10-20% were occupied on Monday, their doors flung wide to reveal flip-up chairs, miniature sinks, rows of bottles and a selection of Sudoku magazines. Other seafront facilities are somewhat limited, focused on the few points where roads dip down to beach level, while a hop-on land train exists to ferry tired tourists (and weary residents) from one end to the other.
Bournemouth has two piers a mile apart, one longer and livelier, the other shorter and inherently hipper.
Bournemouth Pier: This is the long one in the centre of town, with access to the thousand-foot boardwalk for a £1 fee (the ticket acts as an annual pass, so as not to annoy residents too much). Being Bournemouth it's not overrun by amusement arcades and fortune tellers, but there is a children's funfair and restaurant down the far end, and the former Pier Theatre now houses an 'Adventure Activity Attraction'. For the especially brave, £15 buys you a ride on the high zipwire that leads from a tall tower at the tip of the pier across the shallows to a landing point on the beach.
Boscombe Pier: Once a separate resort to the east of Bournemouth, Boscombe's pier was a more modest affair built from wood and iron. Its claim to fame is its pierhead, rebuilt in a wing-shape in the 1920s from high alumina concrete. A concrete neck followed in the 1950s, creating a minimalist Modernist structure that Wayne Hemingway recently described as “one of the coolest piers in the country”. Facilities are limited, the only building on the pier (a former theatre) having been demolished for safety reasons and replaced by a viewing/angling platform, while the pierhead offers a retro choice between Stores, Ices and Take Away. Other than that, there's just deckchairs and a chance to read the paper, plus a rather splendid percussive music trail (ostensibly for kids, but I loved bashing out Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside on a sequence of tubular bells).
Traversing between the top and bottom of Bournemouth's cliffs is a key part of the seaside experience. Three cliff lifts exist, each terribly reasonably priced at £1.30 a time. I got the East Lift to myself, locked into my glass carriage for the brief near-vertical journey, with an uplifting view across the bay towards Swanage and the Needles. Elsewhere, though still in relatively few locations, a traditional zig-zag path allows change of altitude without requiring substantial exertion. "I've not brought my purse," said one old lady I passed on the paved chicane, unable to take the lift, but she seemed to be coping admirably.
Bournemouth would be just another featureless coastal town were it not for the 'chines'. Several short river valleys dig down into the clifftop creating deep wooded valleys, creating both a scenic landscape feature and an annoying barrier to traffic. But for those on foot, and those in mobility scooters, they're ideal. I walked up/down five.
Boscombe Chine: Has the feel of a linear park, with minigolf at the top leading down to a long sweeping walk beneath pine trees.
Durley Chine: The least ornamental chine, secured for motor transport, heading down steeply to a secluded Harvester restaurant at the foot of the cliffs which must thrive only in good weather.
Middle Chine: A steadily deepening ravine, green and pleasant, dipping below a high road bridge halfway down.
Alum Chine: This is the chine I remember from my childhood, a half-mile descent through a wooded gash, with occasional locked gates sealing off private steps to hotels high above, and a tropical garden overlooking the sea at its foot.
Branksome Chine: The longest (and quietest) of the chines, although technically over the border in Poole. Here the path follows an actual river, carefully cajoled into an artificial channel that could only have been designed by a seaside council's architect, with an understated 'fairy glen' vibe.
The River Bourne was turned into an ornamental feature through the centre of town over a century ago. From the shopping centre to the coast it forms part of Lower Gardens, passing manicured lawns and municipal rockeries before disappearing into a pipe and (presumably) into the sea. The most unexpected sight hereabouts is a huge tethered balloon, Bournemouth's premier helium-filled tourist attraction. For £12.50 you can step into the large octagonal basket and rise 150 metres above the town, which on a sunny day must be quite impressive, and on a grey day rather less so. The balloon is visible from across the centre of town, and especially from the gardens themselves, lifting silently above the trees and rooftops like some kind of temporary surveillance platform. But I decided against, not for any fear of heights but because one complete up/down cycle appeared to last only ten minutes.
Russell-Cotes Museum and Art Gallery: In the absence of a proper civic history, one of Bournemouth's Victorian mayors decided to create a museum for the town himself. Merton Russell-Cotes (the hyphen between his middle name and surname added for show) was a self-made man who moved to Bournemouth in 1876. With his wife Annie he loved nothing more than touring the world and collecting 'stuff', once returning from a trip to Japan with 100 crates. As his collection grew he needed somewhere to store it, so built East Cliff Hall in 1897, a striking turreted confection in a combination of Italian Renaissance and Scottish baronial styles. Ten years later the couple donated the house and its contents to the town, living upstairs until their death, after which the place opened more regularly to the public. It's well worth a gander. Downstairs is the art gallery, its walls covered by pastoral landscapes and twee portaits of utterly Victorian taste (plus, at present, a splendid retrospective of Alphonse Mucha's fin de siècle Parisian posters). Russell-Cotes' private rooms have a brooding Art Nouveau flavour, decorated with eclectic items such as a Norwegian sledge and Napoleon's very own table from St Helena. Closed on Mondays, with the exception of Bank Holiday Mondays, for which I am enormously grateful.
My Bournemouth gallery
There are 30 photos (4 extra since yesterday) [gallery] [slideshow]
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