Friday, July 20, 2018

Thames River Routes: RB1

RB1 is the longest of the Thames Clipper routes, with some sailings going all the way from Battersea Power Station to Woolwich. But not all sailings stop at all the piers and there is a clear choice that you can either take #thelongestroute or do #allthepiers.

I decided to do the latter as the longest route overlapped two other RBs, namely RB2 from Battersea Power Station to London Bridge and RB5 from North Greenwich to Woolwich (which did on different days). However there were some piers that only RB1 went to.... hence #allthepiers.

Are you following all this? If you want, check out the timetable here but there doesn't really appear to be a single RB1, rather a set of combination of piers connecting multiple start and multiple end points.

Anyhow, in this case I got the #allthepiers route from Embankment to North Greenwich as follows::

  • Embankment
  • Westminster
  • London Eye (Waterloo)
  • Blackfriars
  • Bankside
  • London Bridge City
  • Tower
  • Canary Wharf
  • Greenland (Surrey Quays)
  • Masthouse Terrace
  • Greenwich
  • North Greenwich (The O2)

Jolly nice it was too, initially heading upriver to Westminster (above) and the London Eye before turning down river.

At the back of the boat is a seating area where you can admire the views (above and below), though you also get a certain amount of diesel engine fumes.

The boat was a lot less busy after Tower Bridge as quite a lot of passengers were just doing the central sights. After that there's a long stretch without any piers until Canary Wharf, but the view backwards is pretty good:

In this stretch the river opens up and you have to know what to look for (Thames Police MuseumThames Tunnel etc.) rather than there being obvious sights.

However just beyond Canary Wharf is Greenwich, home to the Cutty Sark:

Pretty much everyone got out at this point but I kept on to North Greenwich, the last stop on this particular RB1 and the O2 Dome:

Here there was a wait for the return journey when saw the "secret ferry" connecting the North Greenwich with Trinity Wharf:

Note: the hashtag #allthepiers is a subtle reference to one of my favourite YouTube channels, namely "All The Stations" in which Geoff and Vicki went to all the railway stations in Britain during the summer of 2017. If you haven't seen them, head over to YouTube as its a real treat.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Thames River Routes: exploring the scheduled river services

After last year's project to travel on all the Ferries of London it was obvious to try to go on all the routes up and down the river.

But which boats to include? I found a long list of different types of Thames boat trips on the Transport for London (TfL) web site - far to many to consider.

It needed something to focus on, so I used this map of timetabled routes up and down the river:

This was a perilous decision.... it included routes no Londoner could dare admit to travelling on, namely the (whisper it) tourist cruises.

But in the name of honest reporting and a weird psychological need to complete obscure challenges I set off.

Starting with the Thames Clipper (as in the photo at top) services which have the following river bus (RB) routes:
  • RB1: between central London and eastern piers such as North Greenwich and Woolwich / Royal Arsenal
  • RB2: covers the central zone from Battersea Power Station and London Bridge City
  • RB3: there is no RB3 (it used to connect from London Bridge pier and Canary Wharf  according to this old map)
  • RB4: this is the Doubletree Docklands Ferry, which I did last year as part of the Ferries of London (so didn't feel a need to do again)
  • RB5: between North Greenwich and Woolwich / Royal Arsenal
  • RB6: my favourite, taking me home to Putney from central London (or to meetings in town)

The timetable is a bit confusing but over the last few weeks have ridden on each route and stopped at every pier on their schedules. The route map also includes another ferry have already been on, namely:

There are also additional routes upstream from other companies, such as:

  • Between Westminster and Hampton Court
  • Between Richmond and Hampton Court

Finally there were the central tourist routes, in particular:

  • Westminster to Greenwich
  • Westminster to St. Katharine Docks
  • Westminster to Greenwich via the Thames Barrier

The Thames Clipper route pricing is based upon zones as in the pic at the below with {West, Central, East} zones and prices per number of zones. For some reason {Central + West} is more expensive than {Central + East} - no idea why.

The best way to pay is by tapping in and out with your contact-less credit card otherwise use an Oyster. Buying a physical ticket at the machines is more expensive so don't do that.

And so: the river buses !

Monday, July 16, 2018

The London Canal Museum

A final canal related post, this time about the London Canal Museum.

This is just round the corner from Kings Cross / St. Pancras and no prizes for guessing what this museum covers. It's a good source of information about the history of London's canals, showing the network both built and unbuilt, still functioning and those waters that have been lost:

The building itself is interesting as it used to be an ice store and there's a large cellar where the ice used to be kept. Outside by the wharf is an old canal tug, Bantam IV:

Upstairs is a large space where archive films were being shown and which is also a place where there are exhibitions, talks and concerts.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Canal Walks: The Shortest Canal

If all those canal walks sounded too much like hard work then why not try the walking the shortest canal in London?

The Grosvenor Canal must be just under 200 m in length and is very handy, being close to Victoria Station. It used to go all the way but has been progressively filled in so that only the section nearest the Thames remains, surrounded by the inevitable blocks of luxury apartments (above).

The entrance to the Thames and final locks can be seen below:

From the Thames little is to be seen, just shadow underneath Grosvenor Road built along London Embankment:

It was actually the last canal to be used for commercial traffic and wasn't the shortest ever built in London, which was in Wandwsorth.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Tall ship at night, by Greenwich Old Naval College

This round of visit of tall ships to London seems a lot lower key than previous years. I really struggled to find web sites that gave the firework times and nothing about a parade of sail.

Visit Greenwich didn't seem to know (or were unwilling to say) when the fireworks were but I found the necessary information on the PLA's Notices To Mariners.

The fireworks too were a bit of a let-down, as early in the evening (so the sky not dark), not by Greenwich's Old Naval College but by Deptford Creek and with a whopping great cruise ship as foreground rather than any pretty tall ship:

Couple of factors seemed to be behind this, in particular the cruise ship company sponsoring the Greenwich Music Time being held actually in the Old Naval College meant the fireworks had to be moved elsewhere.

Given I really enjoyed the Noel Gallagher gig I can't really complain about this and did manage to snap one ship slip by (top picture) while listening to whoever was playing that night.

Monday, July 09, 2018

One Summer's Evening: Tall Ships on the Thames, Noel Gallagher at the Old Naval College Greenwich and England Victorious...

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds at the Old Naval College, Greenwich

A summer's evening with tall ships sailing by on the Thames and birds flying high overhead

A proper summer, ice cream days for weeks on end

And England 2, Sweden 0

Oh, yes!


Oh, no!

Normal service has been resumed.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Canal Walks: Hayes to Brentford

Key facts:

  • Start = Hayes & Harlington train station
  • End = Kew Bridge train station
  • Distance = 12.5 km

This walk was as pretty, if not more so, than the Aplerton to Hayes walk, and it had the added bonus of seeing Isambard Kingdom Brunel's last great piece of engineering, the famous Three Bridges.

On a spring day (yup, bit behind with blogging at the moment) with blue skies and hot sun (well that is topically at least) it had a very pleasant rural feel, not at all as if within the largest city in Europe:

As the canal gently heads down to the Thames there are a picturesque series of locks:

On one side of the canal is a old brick building with a bricked up entrance: this used to be an asylum but not is a hospital for those with mental health issues:

A high spot of this leg is the famous "Three Bridges" which a pedant might point out is really two. Here a road goes over the canal which itself goes over a railway:

Bravo Brunel!!

Towards the end there is a bit of a mess of industry with surprisingly (to me) large working boatyards:

The path winds itself around these until it reaches the Thames, last seen something like 50 km previously at Limehouse. But here it is the civilised upper river with Kew Gardens on the opposite bank:

With that it was time to head onwards to Kew Bridge and the station to take me home.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Canal Walks: Alperton to Hayes

Key facts:

  • Start = Aplerton tube station
  • End = Hayes and Harlington train station
  • Distance = 14.3 km

After the rather uninspiring Little Venice to Alperton leg there was a bit of a pause before went off walking the canal again and this leg, onwards to Hayes, was a pleasant surprise.

It was a long leg but luckily a lovely spring day so really enjoyable walk which at times didn't feel like it was in London at all:

This part of the canal goes through several parks and so often had green spaces on either side, plenty of wildlife and less post-industrial decay. There was the green slow pace of a rural canal, not an urban industrial space:

It was also much less busy than other parts of the canal network in London:

The Paddington arm meets the main Grand Union Canal at the famous Bull's Bridge which looks unchanged since it was built, though traffic is now a lot less than it used to be:

Monday, July 02, 2018

Canal Walks: Little Venice to Aplerton

Key facts:

  • Start: Warwick Avenue
  • End: Aplerton tube station
  • Distance: 9.8 km

This leg has character, and yes that is implying both a good and a bad thing.

When I mentioned this walk to the chap selling books at the London Canal Museum it was this leg that he considered a bit iffy, and he was a narrow-boat owner himself.

Certainly there's nothing wrong about the start, which is the lovely Little Venice:

Both Lord Byron and Robert Browning are possible sources of the name Little Venice, which is the basin where the Regents Canal meets the Paddington Arm of that canal. It is surrounded by rather nice Regency properties, all very expensive indeed.

However as it heads west its seems to fall down the social ladder, becoming industrial and at times post-industrial, below roads and beside abandoned factories and gas works:

In the EU Referendum London as a whole was firmly Remain but this corner seems to have a Brexiter angle:

Of course its not all industrial and there are some interesting structures such as this aqueduct which is over both the North Circular Road and also the River Brent:

This was probably my least favourite leg, but it was interesting to see the canal integrated into the industry and housing of a part of west London I'd never visited before:

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Canal Walks: Islington or Kings Cross to Little Venice

Key facts:

  • Start = either Angel tube or Kings Cross / St Pancras tube / train stations
  • End = Warwick Avenue tube station
  • Distance = 8.5 or 5..9 km 

There was a certain amount of back-tracking and overlap in my walks along London's canals.

This leg was technically the Kings Cross to Little Venice leg as previously I'd done the Kings Cross to Mile End leg to complete the Limehouse to Kings Cross leg (I said it wasn't simple) but this weekend I was in Islington anyhow, going to an art exhibition to see some pumpkins:

The gallery was off the Wenlock Basin and there was only a short walk along the Regent Canal tow path until reached the Islington Tunnel:

Alas this time there was no one offering a ride through so had to navigate through the estates of Islington until found the other end. In total it was about 2.6 km until reached Kings Cross and the new bit of the walk.

The Kings Cross / St Pancras area is a good place for rest as there are plenty of eat places in the stations and Granary Square is a great place to people watch. There is also a floating bookshop:

Just after Kings Cross there is the St Pancras Lock, which visited on another occasion before the canal goes under the Eurostar (and other) train lines on its way to Camden.

This stretch somethings feeling a bit "urban" and not rural and gentle like other parts. Camden Lock itself is a misnomer as there is no lock of that name, but there is plenty of snack bars for pretty much every cuisine on the planet. However sometimes it feels like the whole planet is there so on my hike I kept going on a bit further to the southern edge of Primrose Hill. Primrose Hill is rather nice indeed and I had a really super lunch at Michael Madra's restaurant - seriously yummy.

Then on passing Regents Park and the London Zoo - you can actually see quite a few animals from the tow path itself. I was rather surprised also to see this punt:

One bridge worth looking out for is known as the "Blow Up Bridge" because it was destroyed in a gunpowder explosion in 1874. The iron pillars were rapidly put back into place but at least one was put back the wrong way round so you can see tow-rope marks on both sides.

It feels so civilised on this stretch its hard to think of that violence and death:

There's another tunnel at the end of this walk and again must be navigated through the streets above, though in this case its relatively easy.

You end up this leg of the walk at Little Venice, which at some times of the year is packed with narrow boats for the annual IWA Canalway Cavalcade, as in this post (with pictures).

From here its a short diversion to Warwick Road tube station and home.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Walking the Canals of London

London could be thought of as an island.

I'm not talking about the disconnect between the capital and the rest of the country, but physically an island as in surrounded by water.

The city is well known to be bisected by the Thames but there is also a loop of canals that join the river at Brentford in the west and Limehouse in east, making the land within an island. This loop around London is a good way for those with small craft to explore the capital, as written up in the book "Circle Line: Around London in a Small Boat" reviewed here.

It is also an excellent walking trail which over a number of weekends I've been following. The map above shows the following segments:

There is also the optional:

If you are feeling very ambitious you could close the loop by following the Thames path back to the start, as in:

  • Kew to Limehouse: 26.9 km

The route in the Google map above shows a route through Brunel's Thames Tunnel which might have to be taken by train unless you get lucky. The alternative is to cross to the north bank using Tower Bridge.

I've walked or ridden on a bike the whole way round (something like 90 km in total) though not in such neat segments. For example, the Limehouse to Kings Cross was done in reverse from Kings Cross ending up at Mile End (after joining the Limehouse loop walk) and the Kings Cross to Little Venice walk started at Islington (where I happened to be for an art exhibition that day).

If you want something a little easier, why not try the shortest canal walk in London, just by Victoria station?

If you want to know more about the route there's a great series of videos from the Londonist about this canal walk.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Book Review: Wild Signs and Star Paths by Tristan Gooley

The latest book by my Arctic sailing friend, the Natural Navigator Tristan Gooley is called Wild Signs and Star Paths with sub-title The Keys to our Lost Sixth Sense.

What does that mean, you might be wondering? It does sound rather "mystical"....but is that in a good way?

I must admit I didn't get it at first... it seemed more guidance on how to read nature by looking at the shape of trees, but then a light-bulb went off and I suddenly it clicked in a just brilliant way.

This book about synergy and thought, how we think about nature and how our ancestors thought about nature, about how the brain works and how nature works. A tree can't be considered in isolation, it is part of a system, it influences the system, it is a sign as to the environment, which is then an indicator of what else to look for.

It's full of good science, about how neurons work and the difference between our brain's neural net when working in unconscious (or fast) mode and how that compares and compliments the conscious or algorithmic (slow) mode. There's more, considering how micro-climates and soil types drive species that can be found and the symbiotic relationship between plants and animals. It also connects to anthropology and how cultures connected strongly to nature retain and transfer their knowledge, including stories and myths.

It is at times lyrical, with beautiful writing about the relationships within environments and connections to our deep past.

Strongly recommended!

Full disclosure: as noted Tristan is a friend but the copy I read was a present from a family member, not provided by the publisher