Monday, January 21, 2019

The Thames Clipper Challenge - the Route

So what route to take? It seemed obvious from the map above that the most efficient way would be to start at one of the two ends (Putney or Woolwich) and then head either east or west respectively.

To get a more detailed view, I downloaded the timetable the Thames Clipper web site. It was immediately clear that a limiting factor was that the RB6 Putney route currently only runs during the week which ruled out a weekend attempt.

So, looking at the weekday timetable, lets first consider starting at Woolwich in the morning:


The problem here is that the first boat arriving at the London Eye (Waterloo) pier isn't until 09:26 while the last boat to Putney has already passed it and is at St George Wharf (Vauxhall) at 09:10, so that's no good.

Next let's consider starting at Woolwich in the evening:


Here the problem is Millbank: the last RB6 that stops there is at 17:37 while the first evening boat from Woolwich (Royal Arsenal) is at 18:01.

How about the other direction? Let's look at starting at Putney in the morning:


There's a similar problem here: Millbank (which is clearly a pinch point on the route) has its first arrival at 10:05 but Woolwich (Royal Arsenal) has its last boat arriving at 09:27.

Things were looking pretty difficult and I was wondering if this was one of those mind-bendingly complex scenarios when I turned to the Putney in the evening page:


What's that? A route that goes through all the piers? Yes!

It starts at 17:15 at Putney and yes is scheduled to stop at Millbank (the last one!). Then its necessary to pick up Westminster and London Eye (Waterloo) so have to get off and change. Alas the next boat at 18:08 doesn't stop at Westminster (why?) so have to way until 18:32 (Embankment) or 18:40 (Westminster) to continue the journey.

This picks up all the stations to Canary Wharf at which point must alight to pick up the RB4 over to Doubletree Docklands:


Then back to Canary Wharf for the 19:37 to pick up all the remaining piers to Woolwich, arriving at 20:03, making a schedule journey time from Putney of 2 hours 48 minutes.

This RB4 over to Doubletree Docklands is the most critical connection: if the RB1 18:32 arrival is late then might not be able to take one of the two possible RB4 connections over to Doubletree Docklands. For example, if have to get the 19:34 over to Doubletree Docklands, I wouldn't manage to pick up the 19:37 and so end up on the 20:01, arriving 24 minutes later.

And there can indeed be delays or cancellations on Thames Clipper. Around that time I spotted these tweets:


If the RB4 was suspended (or indeed, any of the routes used) then you could call the whole thing off.

On the shortest day of the year, Friday 21st of December 2018 I headed off to the Putney Pier to take the Thames Clipper Challenge.

What do you think happened? Did I make it to Woolwich? 

If so, how close to the target time was I?


Friday, January 18, 2019

The Thames Clipper Challenge


During the summer of 2018 I went on all the scheduled river services on the Thames in London, which was a lot of fun and a good way to explore the city. But it took quite a long time and during those hours watching the riverbank glide by I wondered if there was an optimum route that covered all the piers in the minimum time.

It was a bit like the Tube Challenge in which urban explorers try to visit all the tube stations on the London Underground network in the shortest time possible, as described by that article on Wikipedia. There are similar versions in other cities, such as the Subway Challenge in New York.

You can see videos of it - such as this and this - and it looks fun though hard work. So I thought about whether they'd be an equivalent for the river. Googling "Thames Clipper Challenge" didn't seem to come up with anything so I decided to invent one.

I decided to limit it to the Thames Clipper routes as they run all year round unlike the scheduled services to Hampton Court and other upper river piers. I also excluded the tourist boats as I've never been on one and have no idea what they are like.

This gives the following list of piers:
  1. Putney
  2. Wandsworth Riverside
  3. Plantation Wharf
  4. Chelsea Harbour
  5. Cadogan
  6. Battersea Power Station
  7. St George Wharf (Vauxhall)
  8. Millbank
  9. Embankment
  10. Westminster
  11. London Eye (Waterloo)
  12. Blackfriars
  13. Bankside
  14. London Bridge City
  15. Tower
  16. Canary Wharf
  17. Doubletree Docklands
  18. Greenland (Surrey Quay)
  19. Masthouse Terrace
  20. Greenwich
  21. North Greenwich (The O2)
  22. Woolwich (Royal Arsenal)

The Thames Clipper Challenge is then to:
  • Visit at least once all piers served by a Thames Clipper vessel
  • A visit involves arriving or departing from the pier by a Thames Clipper vessel
  • The time starts when the gangway is raised at the first pier
  • The time ends when the gangway is lowered on the last pier
  • It is allowed to go between piers on foot but not use any other forms of transport
  • A visit is a scheduled stop but it's not necessary for the vessel to actually moor up for those piers where there aren't actually any passengers (like a request stop on the trains as per the All The Stations rules)
  • It is not necessary to get out at each pier

The day I chose to do this was the shortest day of last year. i.e. 21st of December 2018.

But where to start and what route to take?

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Ghosts of London Boat Show's Past


This year there isn't going to be any London Boat Show, neither in December (in Earl's Court) or January (in Excel). Apparently visitor numbers dropped too low, something I feared a few years ago when Thursday night (above) was quieter than normal.

Its a shame as I have enjoyed wandering the halls, listening to talks, visiting a wide range of boats. In particular have met all sorts of interesting sailors, including:
Ah well, there's always Southampton Boat Show later in the year.


Updated: or, alternatively, something called the London Yacht Show has been announced for May in St. Katharine Dock. Its focus: "elite individuals visit London Yacht Show in order to seek out the extraordinary in luxury yachting and living". Hmm..... sounds like a different focus than the list above.



Saturday, January 12, 2019

Visiting Neverwhere: Walking the Mail Rail


The Berlin bunkers weren't my only exploration in 2018 of the world's underground, as I also visited Neverwhere.

What is Neverwhere, you might be asking? Well Neverwhere was originally (back in the 90s) a TV series on BBC written by Neil Gaiman that was turned into a book and then lots of other things (comic book, stage play, radio play etc. etc.).

The idea of Neverwhere is that underneath London there is a second city, inhabited by those lost from the real city above, full of mythical peoples that echo the places above. So there is a real Earl's Court, a real Angel of Islington and don't ask about the Seven Sisters....

It was filmed in all sorts of brilliant locations, from Abbey Mills Pumping Station (as visited earlier), to the (at the time) derelict St. Pancras Hotel, to the (then abandoned) Battersea Power Station. There was also a scene on a small underground railway that I didn't recognise (@ 6 seconds):


Where or what was this railway?

This turned out to be the Mail Rail, a special railway for the Royal Mail that connected some of their main sorting offices as in this map from Wikipedia:


It was closed on the 31st of May 2003 and for many years the tunnels were dark and empty. But last year it was opened up to tourist rides of a special train, less dangerous than the one in the trailer above.

Just before Christmas there was an opportunity to walk through the tunnels, to get the real Neverwhere experience. 



It was fab!

There were even stalactites:



Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Above and Below Berlin


I didn't get to see any boats in Berlin so no chance of a Boats! Boats! Boats. Instead, here's two views of Berlin.

Firstly from above, the best views are from the TV tower (above) as can be seen here:


Can you spot the tethered balloon near the sunset?

Another view of Berlin can be found by going on one of the tours of Berlin Underworlds. The one I went on visited a Second World War bunker and then a Cold War fall-out shelter, complete with airlock, shower and claustrophobic bunk beds:


Sunday, January 06, 2019

Exhibition Review: Europe and the Sea


The museums of Berlin are pretty good, so good that some you have to buy tickets in advance while others are a bit dark (Stasi Museum anyone?).

But I saw an exhibition on Europe and the Sea that turned out to be very interesting and tickets were available on the door. It told the relationship between Europe and the sea via some of its major ports over the last few millennium, including:
  • Athens
  • Venice
  • Seville
  • Cadiz
  • Amsterdam
  • London
It felt refreshingly straight-up show and explain. There were lots of good maps of the various places and the main shipping routes of each of the ports:



This one was clearly the wrong colour:


As well as examples of cultural elements, maps, navigational tools (top) there were also some good quotes, from Homer to Sir Walter Raleigh:



Very interesting, worth a visit if you're in Berlin.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Berlin by night


Back to Berlin, with some night-time shots.

Rather than going to the endless Christmas Markets (yawn) I went out with my camera and tripod. Brandenburg Gate above, Reichstag below:



The Holocaust Memorial was pretty thought provoking, particularly at night:


Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Looking back at 2018


It's time to look back at 2018 and those blog posts that got the most views, of which the top ten were:

  1. The Tudor Pull: Gloriana, Stela and a photo-bombing heron
  2. London Boat Show: Random Photos
  3. Boats! Boats! Boats! .... in Geneva, at night
  4. Cambridge wins everything!
  5. London Boat Show: Golden Globe Race Anniversary & Susie Goodall Racing
  6. Frozen Boats! Frozen Boats! Frozen Boats! .... in Geneva
  7. This blog is a TEENAGER
  8. Reflections on the Thames
  9. Thames River Routes: RB1
  10. The last days of the old Woolwich Ferries

Not sure how random photos from the London Boat Show got in the top ten, must have been one was picked up by Google photo search.  However I can see where the hits on Susie Goodall racing come from given the recent drama she's been through.

The largest category was about the Thames in London (5 of the top 10) so maybe that's something to post about in 2019. None were about the Svalbard trip, the highest of which was "Longyearbyen, Svalbard" in 13th place.

The simplest to write was the "Cambridge wins everything!" which had no text and the image was a light blue rectangle (go figure that one).

As noted in the "This blog is a TEENAGER" post, a lot of the top scoring posts seem to be photo related, but that's ok, I like taking photos.

What would my favourites be?

I suppose I'd highlight not individual posts but the series, as they've been the fun ones to do and write about - in particular:
Often these projects have opportunities for good photos and also tell a bigger story than can be fit in a single post.

I wonder what 2019 will bring.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!


Friday, December 28, 2018

A Berlin Christmas


Earlier this month I was in Berlin (above) and it looked pretty Christmassy:


You couldn't go more than 100m without having to fight your way through yet another Christmas market: I really don't get the attraction of these.

But it was rather Insta-friendly...


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Happy Christmas 2018!


Happy Christmas to all!

This is the seasonally decorated Cutty Sark in Greenwich. How great does that look?


Sunday, December 23, 2018

Greenland Glaciers: Melting in London


Earlier this year I saw the damage that global warming is already causing to our planet. The glaciers in Svalbard are retreating so fast that charts can not be updated quick enough and indicated our yacht was stuck in the ice when the reality was we were floating freely.

But not many get a chance to head up to 80N to see that for themselves. So ice blocks were brought from Nuuk, Greenland to the City so that Londoners could see this melting for themselves.

It was an art installation by Scandinavian artist Olafur Eliasson and there were multiple sites, including one in the City (above & below, which I saw a week ago) and also another outside the Tate Modern.


If you put your ear to the ice, you could hear quiet pops as it melted, and see the blue layer going through it (top).

I'd rather see them in the amazing wildernesses of Greenland but global warming is all too real, too serious and it is time to do something about it.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Boats! Boats! Boats! .... spotted on the Wesminster to Hampton Court route


Its the shortest day, time to remember those long summer days when did the all the scheduled river services challenge.

On the way from Westminster to Hampton Court spotted a wide variety of boat types out on the Thames:






Alas this bike-boat seemed a little neglected:


It seems to be a different one that that used by the bike-boat bloke posted about a few years ago.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Vikings: Their Life


If you want to learn about Viking life, not just the myth, then what's the best way to do it?

I'd argue not to see exhibitions like the one at the British Museum (as described earlier) but rather read this book.

Vinland by George Mackay Brown is a classic and sums up for me what life must have been like in Orkney around the time of the first millennium, of sailing with the Vikings to Iceland, Greenland, Vinland and Norway. Of the transition from fighters to farmers, from Norse gods to Christianity.

And the life story from boyhood to old age of Ranald Sigmundson.

I also got a glimpse of the Viking's beliefs when in Greenland. Surrounded by emptiness we were watched by a raven, and seeing that familiar bird so far from civilisation was rather spooky.

I really could understand how the Vikings could have believed they were sent by the gods, for what other reason could there be for seeing it in such a remote place?


Monday, December 10, 2018

The Vikings: their ships


In the previous post I mentioned a disappointing Viking exhibition at the British Museum. Ok, it might be that Viking navigation is a specialised subject, but their boats really are core to their identity. What did this exhibition do?

Alas, rather than having a real boat - or even a reconstruction - it had the framework of one made out of metal.

I remember seeing the Sea Stallion in Dublin a few years ago. It's a replica Viking boat that really sails, and in fact crossed the North Sea on a voyage around Scotland and down to Dublin.

Seeing a real boat was so much more than the shell in the British Museum, the smell and feel of its wooden planks, and hearing about the valuable experience of actually being out at sea. The sailors learnt it was faster to windward rowing than sailing, and that the steering mechanism could (and did) fail.

It was a story that would be familiar to W. Hodding Carter who wrote about a similar breakage of their steering oar in their reconstruction of the Vikings discovery of America in his book "Viking Voyage".

The physical presence of the boat together with these lessons are much more informative than a metal frame, however large.

But the biggest impression I have ever had from a Viking boat is when I was on-board the smaller Helge Ask which visited London in 2012. The experts showed me round and then shook the boat from side to side to show its flexibility.

It was really remarkable how the timbers flexed, waves travelling down the boat, alive completely unlike a rigid metal frame.

It would be even better actually to go out to sea on one: not sure how to arrange that but I spotted that the Viking Ship Museum in Copenhagen has that option.

One to add to the travel list...