Monday, October 25, 2021

The Wandle from the Thames to Morden Hall

The start of my Wandle river walk was where it meets the Thames, as in the photo above. There used to be a half-tide weir here, but it was removed a few years ago (see this post). Just before the Wandle reaches the Thames there is an island in the Wandle called The Spit with this blue sculpture called Sail by Sophie Horton.

Nearby there's a sign pointing up river, and this is where I was headed:

In general the Wandle Trail was quite well sign-posted. Not every bit can be cycled, which is a shame, but mostly its bike friendly. Some bits (such as in King George Park) even had dedicated cycle paths, which is great.

The initial section was quite urban, heading up the Causeway passing one of the Thames Tideway Tunnel sites, then the South Circular road must be crossed twice to get to the Southside shopping centre. When I kayaked down the Wandle a few years ago, the dark tunnel underneath was memorable - particularly when we turned our lights out!

On the other side of that there are the first of the many parks, namely King George Park, with goal posts for football games, children's playgrounds and swarms of dog owners doing their walkies.

The path is forced away from the river at Earlsfield, and then becomes a corridor of green squeezed between industrial parks and terraced houses, connecting parks, in particular Garratt Park and Wandle Park (the first of two of that name I'd encounter).

This section also goes through a tunnel that was part of the world's oldest railway lines, the Surrey Iron Railway, which was a horse-drawn plateway along the Wandle valley, from Croydon to Wandsworth, which was opened in 1802. Parts of the route are still in use for the tram network, which is pretty amazing.

Some of the industrialisation is still visible, such as the Merton Abbey Mills:

As well as the many, many water mills along the Wandle, there were factories, including those of William Morris, the famous Pre-Raphaelite textile designer, poet, artist, novelist, translator and socialist activist.

It was hard to visualise those times, as its so different now, with housing estates, roads, business parks and a huge Sainsbury's supermarket. However away from this bustle in places it felt a lot quieter, maybe even pre-industrialised:

Finally, for this segment of the walk, I arrived at the very pretty Morden Hall Park, manged by the National Trust. There was a wooden walkway through the wetlands and on the far side reached this fetching bridge:

And then Morden Hall itself:

Then it was time to get the tram home.

What tram? you might be asking, if you weren't aware of London's (limited) tram network. Well, for more information, check out this Kraftwerk inspired video:

Saturday, October 23, 2021

London Rivers Week: The Wandle Trail

This week, from October the 23rd to 31st, is London Rivers Week, and to celebrate that I'll be posting a description of a walk I did along the Wandle River during the summer.

The basic route can be seen from this Google Earth plot which I did in three sections, as in the different colours:

There are a number of good resources that describe the walk which is clearly signposted and generally feels like a proper walk. The one I used the most can be found on the Merton Council web site, downloadable as a PDF here. There was also one on the Wandle Valley Park web site and in practice I typically just followed the signs or Google maps.

I did the route in three segments, starting at the Thames and heading upriver, as if trying to discover it's source:

  • Walk 1: the Thames to Morden Hall (9 km)
  • Walk 2: Morden Hall to Calshalton (8.6 km)
  • Walk 3: Calshalton to Croydon (7.5 km)

Of course you can do it the other way round. There are train / tube / tram stops all along the way so this route could be described as:

  • Walk 1: Wandsworth Town train station to Phipps Bridge tram stop
  • Walk 2: Phipps Bridge tram stop to Carshalton train station
  • Walk 3: Carshalton train station to East Croydon train station

The Wandle was part of the industrialisation of London, and all along its length there were signs of this, most notably the number of mills, both working and ruined, and also in place names. Apparently at its peak there were 90 mills along its length. Inevitably it ended up as an open sewer.

Fortunately, that time has long gone, and the river has recovered and now seems in good health, with fish in its waters and birds in the air above. Having said that, the water quality was apparently not great in 2019 according to Wikipedia.

What was surprising was how many parks I encountered that I'd never heard of before.

Saturday, October 02, 2021

C.S. Forester vs. Patrick O'Brian?

So where do you stand? Are you a fan of Horatio Hornblower or Jack Aubrey?

I've seen quite a difference in views on these two fictional characters, each with their own set of novels from the great wars at sea between Britain and France at the end of the 18th century and start of the 19th. 

Of the two I first read C.S. Forester, in particular the Puffin Hornblower Goes to Sea which includes the best stories from Mr Midshipman Hornblower and Lieutenant Hornblower. But I then read the whole set, and loved them.

Over the years I've tried to find an equal, starting with a couple of Alexander Kent's books and then the Patrick O'Brian books.

Recently I thought it would be interesting to try a re-read. I had a look at various sites online that compared C.S. Forester vs. Patrick O'Brian, and there seemed to be a balance in support of O'Brian's books because of the quality of the writing. Would I agree with that?

I started with the C. S. Forester books, beginning with Mr Midshipman Hornblower and quickly making my way through the series all the way to the end. It was an enjoyable romp. Forester has an easy writing style and well structured plots that combine to create stories that kept me engaged. 

There were a couple of less good ones. I'm not that keen on Atropos, Lord H and W'Indies H, but they were still readable.

So then with much anticipation I turned to O'Brian. My initial reaction on Master and Commander was "isn't the writing so much better!" - richer, more detailed, complicated characters.

But then... I got stuck. The story meandered, slowed, reversed. In the end I never finished the project, never getting to book 2.

I also remembered why I've never got beyond The Far Side of the World. There is this scene in that book (spoiler alert) when Maturin falls overboard and Aubrey jumps in after him. 


I remember the golden rule of person-overboard drill is don't jump in as it makes a bad situation worse. Also, wouldn't that be abandoning Aubrey's position as captain, a court-martiable offence? Then there's an episode involving Amazonian Polynesian women or something....

Anyhow, it sort of broke the spell for me. Also, I checked on Wikipedia (the source of the image above) and read how there were doubts about O'Brian's sailing experience - or rather lack of - in real life.

Initially I'd thought this would be a close run thing, but in the end it was an easy decide. If I was to take one book from either of these series to a desert island I'd chose one of the Hornblower series, in particular my favourite, Hornblower and the Hotspur.

What do you think? 

Which book from which series is your favourite and why?

Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Illuminated River Tour

Over the last few years some of the bridges of London have been lit up as part of the Illuminated River installation.

Designed by New York based artist Leo Villareal, LED lights have been installed in 9 bridges of central London from London Bridge to Lambeth, together with controlling software. It is said to be the longest public artwork in the world.

On Friday, as part of the Totally Thames Festival, there was a special Thames Clipper tour of the river with commentary from project director Chris Waite and I went along.

It was a lovely evening, warm with clear skies, and we left from Tower Pier heading up river to Lambeth Bridge and the back down again. We learnt a lot about the project, and there was a lot more details to it than you might expect, from the engineering and abseiling required to install the equipment to the environmental angles, whereby lights could not point into the water to avoid confusing the fish.

The best bit was we could take photos from the front of the Thames Clipper boat and we're not usually allowed there, plus the moon was rising over the City:

Must admit I did spend rather a long time admiring the view and not listening too closely, though I did catch a few phrases that sounded interesting such as "secret chamber within the Boudica statue" and "no one knew where the light controllers were, not even those in MI6".

The colours and pace of movement of the lights were carefully chosen. For example, the photo at the top shows Westminster and Lambeth bridges which are green and purple to reflect the colours of the benches in Westminster itself. Pedestrian bridges typically have faster moving changes than other bridges.

We went back down to Tower Bridge and then returned to Tower Pier.

I stopped to have a chat with the project director while others disembarked. We were then all a bit surprised when the Thames Clipper boat without warning let loose its lines and headed out into the river.

But all was well as we ended up getting a short ferry ride over to City Pier, which was great for me as meant I could get an earlier train home.

The good thing about this art work is its available to all, for free. Just walk along the Thames path on either side in the evening after dark and admire the bridges.

But I do recommend seeing them from one of the Thames Clipper which has by far the best view.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Classic Boats on the Thames

After the Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine Dock, as in the last post, the little ships dispersed, and a lot of them headed up river, so I managed to grab a few shots as they went.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine Dock

I was really busy the weekend of the Classic Boat Festival at St Katharine Dock (including the trip to the Greenwich Pumping Station) but managed to drop in late Sunday evening. It's actually one of my favourite times as it's a lot quieter, the light is amazing and the water still enough for reflections.

I had a quick burger then wandered around camera in hand:

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Visiting the Greenwich Pumping Station

Last weekend was Open House London 2021 when all sorts of interesting places that are usually private and hidden away were accessible. 

Some treat it as a race, like bagging a Monro, ticking off building after building, but I tend to select one or two of interest and then leave it at that. But which was it to be this year?

For me it was another of that essential but to be honest rather smelly part of London's infrastructure, namely the sewage system. Previously I'd visited various the glorious Crossness and Abbey Mills pumping stations - and actually gone down the sewers to see Bazalgette's brickwork.

This year I manage to add the Greenwich Pumping Station, another designed by Bazelgette and completed in 1864. The purpose was to raise sewage from the lower-level sewers and then raise up to the upper-level sewers (how do they come up with these names) so the waste could continue its way down to Crossness in the estuary solely using gravity.

We could look down through gratings to see the upper level sewers and the room had a definite flavour all of its own:

The site is still being used, though the old steam engines have been replaced by maritime diesel engines, allegedly from a battleship, though no one really seemed sure. Unfortunately the building that hosted them counts as critical infrastructure so no photos were allowed.

Here instead is the old water level indicator:

The site is also busy with Thames Tideway Tunnel work, in particular they are still drilling out one of the side tunnels. It is 45m down, significantly below the lower level at 15m.

At the site are four Grade II listed buildings including this which was once the coal shed:

It's a lovely space that you could imagine being used for a market at weekends, with amazing art and delicious street-food. At the other end of the coal-shed (just visible at the far end of this photo) is Deptford Creek:

This explains this pumping station's siting, for the creek allowed ready supply by water of the coal needed to keep the steam engines going.

A fascinating tour, another to tick off on the exploration of "London under" and Bazalgette's great sewage system. 

I wonder where I'll manage to go next?

Thanks to Thames Water for opening up the site for Open House London 2021.

Monday, September 06, 2021

An Above and Beyond tour of the Lea Valley

The band / DJs Above and Beyond made this warm-up set for their Drumshed (below) gig later that night ( which I didn't go to). 

You might recognise some of the locations from my Lea Valley walk over the summer as this video was shot on the Lee Navigation heading north from the Olympic park.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Jubilee Greenway: Waterloo to Little Venice

This walk is pretty much tourist heaven as it goes past site after site, including:

  • Nelson Mandela statue
  • London Eye (above)
  • Westminster Bridge
  • Boudica statue
  • Big Ben
  • Houses of Parliament
  • Churchill statue
  • St. James's Park (below)
  • Buckingham Palace
  • Green Park
  • Wellington Arch
  • Hyde Park
  • Serpentine
  • Pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery
  • Serpentine Gallery
  • Kensington Palace
  • Paddington Bear Station
  • Little Venice

So you won't be short of things to see and photograph.

There'll also be no shortage of places to stop for an ice cream, which was jolly useful given the day I walked it (a few weeks ago) was the hottest day of the year so far.

There was lots of opportunities to think about statues and the current debate about suitability. One that caught my eye in Hyde Park was celebrating the Cavalry of the Empire. This might have had meaning in Victorian London but now sounds deeply anachronistic.

High spot was the latest Pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery. This is a structure that is put up in the same place but each year with a different architect. In this case there was also a soothing soundscape called "In a Garden" from Brian Eno - plus shade and ice creams, which were a very tempting combination.

There was a bit of hacking the backstreets from Hyde Park to Paddington and a rapid drop in social status from smart and elegant Embassies to a mess of betting shops and kebab restaurants.

Here I picked up the spur of the Regent's Canal for the final push to Little Venice:

I then back-tracked to Paddington tube via a newly opened entrance by the canal.

Why no picture of Paddington Bear, you might ask? Well the statue has been moved from the station itself to canal side where it was well and truly covered by various children.

So instead here's another tourist favourite:

As I took this photo I overheard a boy ask his mum "Where's the Queen?"

"She's busy, inside" he was told.

He wasn't satisfied.

"Could you ring her up and ask her to come outside?" he asked.

Alas it wasn't to be his lucky day.

For me it was a two ice cream day, which is good enough for me:

Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Jubilee Greenway

On the recent Greenway walk (very boring) there was a sign that it was part of the wider Jubilee Greenway. When I got home I checked it out and worked out which bits I'd walked.

On the map above the bits I'd done are marked in red and the bit in orange was the only segment not completed. So you can guess what I did next.

In total there were the following sections:

It's mostly either through parks or along canals or rivers, so definitely worth adding the Jubilee Greenway to your list of London walks.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Sailing a Saffier day sail yacht in Chichester Harbour

Earlier this month I took a day off work to go day sailing with my writing friend Tristan. He's replaced the Contessa 32 we went to the Arctic Circle in with the stunning day sail yacht above.

This is the Midnight Sun (geddit?) from Saffier Yachts and was absolutely lovely to sail and look at, designed to provide the best day sail experience.

Just before lunch, to give us an appetite, we went for a swim in Chichester Harbour. This was very refreshing and it was probably just as well we hadn't read this article about sewage outflows in the press.

It was a great day sailing.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Paddle Boarding on the Regent's Canal

I've been wanting to try paddle boarding for some time but as cool as it appeared (with the likes of Obama doing it aged 60), it also looked all too easy to go tumbling into the water. Learning to keep one's balance seemed key, and that would be easier on calm flat water compared to waves from the sea or wash from passing boats.

So having my first lesson on a canal seemed like the ideal solution. Any not just any canal, this was the Regent's Canal here in London. 

I signed up with Paddle Boarding London at their base in the Pirate Castle (that's really what it's called, check it out here) in trendy Camden. Here were given life jackets and a paddle and shown how to move from sitting to standing and back down again. 

Soon we were out and after five minutes of paddling sitting down, were encouraged to stand up. And remarkably I did and managed to go for the rest of the 90 minute session without falling in (unlike one other, who returned soaked after a dunking).

A lot of the paddle strokes were familiar to anyone who's done some kayaking or canoeing. There was some passing traffic in narrow-boats and self-hire electric launches (from GoBoat Paddington), but they typically slowed down and gave a friendly hello.

Must admit I was very, very slow. I might try again to see if the balance improves and I can get a bit of speed up. Afterwards, on my home, I dropped in on my brother for a cup of tea, and it turned out that he and one of my nephews were also very slow.

A fun afternoon!

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Tower Bridge lift for Pelican of London

 If you go to the Tower Bridge web site, you can get a list of the times the bridge is raised to let a boat through. Often it is just the "usual suspects" i.e. tour boat regulars on the Thames. But sometimes there are the odd tall ship, like this one that arrived yesterday, the Pelican of London:

Almost as exciting as the bridge opening was it closing, as recently it got jammed in the open position.

Then it was time to go home - by Thames Clipper with its great views:

It was really busy, and at some piers waiting passengers were disappointed as the boat had reached capacity. Space opened up after Westminster:

Thursday, August 05, 2021

Lea Valley Walk: Impressions

If I had to sum up the Lea Valley in three words, they would be Industry, Olympics and Regeneration, representing the past, the turning point and the future of this region.

The past of the Lea Valley is one of industry, such as Three Mills above, using the power of the river to grind wheat. That led to conflicts over water and the development of the Lee Navigation with its guaranteed depths of water to allow barges to transport goods.

As the industrial revolution kicked in, the area became more and more developed, from iron works to rockets. But then there was deindustrialisation and heavy industry was left to decay:

What remains are mostly faceless buildings that could contain anything from a server farm to a cutting edge performance space:

At the heart of the story of the Lea Valley in the 21st Century is the Olympics and Paralympics during that glorious summer of 2012:

Such happy memories from what now feels long, long ago, before the Brexit battles and Covid.

One of the buzz words of London's Olympic bid was 'legacy': what hosting the games would do for this part of the city. How much the Olympics actually made a difference is one for future historians, but there can be no doubt as to the regeneration that is now on display.

All up and down the Lea, centred on the Olympics Park and Stratford, are countless building sites, with new stations, colourful new apartment blocks, museums and performing spaces:

London is expanding east. It needs all these new homes, for its population has just exceeded nine million. This regeneration is generally to be welcomed: land is too precious to be wasted and there is space and housing for thousands upon thousands, with opportunities for green spaces, colleges, museums and the arts.

But there are casualties of gentrification, with some arguing that too many of these new apartments are priced out of the budgets of locals.

There's also been questions out on the Lea itself, with protests from the narrowboat owners. I hope a compromise can be found where the Lee Navigation will have less of the feel of a trailer park or scrapyard, so that in the future the banks are not one long line of boats, sometimes doubled up, blocking views of the water:

The water quality too requires more work, for the Environment Agency must live up to its name and not allow the continued over-extraction and pollution of Britain's rivers and waterways:

Yes, the Thames Tideway Tunnel is a good thing, but it's not enough. It wouldn't stop the flow of sewage I saw into the brooks of Meridian Water or Southern Water's pollution at Whitstable.

We need a new Bazalgette, someone driven to improve the waters of England, as was done at the Abbey Mills pumping station and all its supporting tunnels:

I can certainly recommend the Lea Valley Walk, in particular around the Olympic park and Three Mills, though all parts (apart from the Greenway) have their attractions. 

It's a good way to learn about London's past and where this great city is heading.