Friday, 19 August 2016

A Rural Wander along the Kennet and Avon Canal

One of the last rural wanders I managed before I started my new job was out to the west of where we live, along the Kennet and Avon canal. I'd cycled this route many times but generally veered off from the canal beyond Great Bedwyn, so this was all new territory for me. The weather was perfect, we had no time constraints, so all we had to do was enjoy ourselves.

Kennet and Avon Canal, near Crofton
Kennet and Avon Canal, near Crofton

As with many of my rural wanders, I'm constantly on the lookout for disused railways. I knew there were a couple in this area but was surprised in how much was still evident after all the years. This is the former Midland and South Western Junction Railway, built as a north-south link between the Midland Railway and the London and South West Railway. There's not much of the track bed remaining south of Marlborough (north of Marlborough it's a cycle path extending to Swindon), but plenty of parts of former bridges to see.

Remains of a bridge carrying the Midland and South Western Junction Railway over the Kennet and Avon Canal
Remains of a bridge carrying the Midland and South Western Junction Railway over the Kennet and Avon Canal

Remains of a bridge carrying the Midland and South Western Junction Railway over the Kennet and Avon Canal
Remains of a bridge carrying the Midland and South Western Junction Railway over the Kennet and Avon Canal

Remains of a bridge carrying the Midland and South Western Junction Railway over the Kennet and Avon Canal
Remains of a bridge carrying the Midland and South Western Junction Railway over the Kennet and Avon Canal

Track bed of the Midland and South Western Junction Railway
Track bed of the Midland and South Western Junction Railway

Shame about the focus in this next picture, but this happy little chaffinch was singing his heart out in the trees alongside the canal towpath.

Chaffinch
Chaffinch

Remains of a bridge carrying the Midland and South Western Junction Railway over the Kennet and Avon Canal
Remains of a bridge carrying the Midland and South Western Junction Railway over the Kennet and Avon Canal

Remains of a bridge carrying the Midland and South Western Junction Railway over the Kennet and Avon Canal
Remains of a bridge carrying the Midland and South Western Junction Railway over the Kennet and Avon Canal

Remains of a bridge carrying the Midland and South Western Junction Railway over the Kennet and Avon Canal
Remains of a bridge carrying the Midland and South Western Junction Railway over the Kennet and Avon Canal

Remains of a bridge carrying the Midland and South Western Junction Railway over the Kennet and Avon Canal
Remains of a bridge carrying the Midland and South Western Junction Railway over the Kennet and Avon Canal

Not a railway bridge this time, but a small bridge carrying a farm track across the canal. There are plenty of these along the Kennet and Avon Canal, but I never tire of seeing them.

Bridge over the Kennet and Avon Canal, near Burbage
Bridge over the Kennet and Avon Canal, near Burbage

I'm not sure what building these ornate tiles were on. They have definitely seen better days but it just amazed me at how much intricate detail went into what is essentially the outside corner of a garden wall.

Ornate tiles on a wall near Burbage
Ornate tiles on a wall near Burbage

East Grafton village green
East Grafton village green

Old street lamp, somewhere between East Grafton and Wilton
Old street lamp, somewhere between East Grafton and Wilton

We finished the walk in Wilton where we stopped for a wonderful pub lunch and a well deserved pint.

    

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Doorway mosaics from Guernsey and the Isle of Wight

Once again it's been far too long since I've updated this blog. I thought it had perhaps been a couple of months but was somewhat surprised to discover that it was in fact way back in April, so pretty much four months. Rest assured I have been urban, rural and coastal wandering during this time, but I have been very busy outside of that, moving from being a long-term, permanent employee to a freelance consultant, setting up my own company, landing my first contract, etc., and have just not found the time to blog.

I've amassed a fair number of photos from my wanderings over the past four months and have been considering how best to lay them back here. I think that rather than producing what might come across as a travel diary, I'll focus on common themes covering several locations. So without any further delay, here's my first post for a while and it features doorway mosaics from Guernsey, Isle of Wight and Somerset.

Doorway mosaic, St. Peter's Port, Guernsey
Doorway mosaic, St. Peter Port, Guernsey

Doorway mosaic, St. Peter's Port, Guernsey
Doorway mosaic, St. Peter Port, Guernsey

This was probably the most impressive doorway mosaic I saw in Guernsey but unfortunately there were a couple of black bags of rubbish in the doorway. It was quite a bust street and I would have felt a little conspicuous taking the bags out to get a better picture.

Doorway mosaic, St. Peter's Port, Guernsey
Doorway mosaic, St. Peter Port, Guernsey

On to the Isle of Wight now. This was the first time I had been to the Isle of Wight since I was at junior school, far too many years ago to reveal. The whole place really felt like stepping back in time, to a 1970's England, in the days before out of town retail parks, and where high streets still had shops other than charity shops. And in terms of doorway mosaics I suspect I only scratched the surface, I felt the island had many more to offer.

I'm not sure that this first one from Cowes is strictly a mosaic, but it's close.

Doorway mosaic, Cowes, Isle of Wight
Doorway mosaic, Cowes, Isle of Wight

Doorway mosaic, Cowes, Isle of Wight
Doorway mosaic, Cowes, Isle of Wight

Doorway mosaic, Cowes, Isle of Wight
Doorway mosaic, Cowes, Isle of Wight

Doorway mosaic, Newport, Isle of Wight
Doorway mosaic, Newport, Isle of Wight

In other news, I have been managing to find some time, although again not as much as I'd like, for reading. Two of my recent reads include A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, and the wonderful Common Ground by Rob Cowen. I really cannot recommend the latter enough.

    

Sunday, 10 April 2016

An Urban Wander from Primrose Hill to Kings Cross via Camden

Interrupting my suburban wandering along the London Loop Recreational Walk I had an opportunity to visit the area around Primrose for a couple of hours before an appointment. The Primrose Hill area has always been a bit of a favourite of mine, although I don't think I've ever really posted any pictures of it, apart from one possibly from the top of Primrose Hill overlooking London. So, with an opportunity to put this right I set about with my hand-me-down phone whose camera is unfortunately nowhere near as good as my old phone.

Painted houses, Chalcot Crescent, Primrose Hill, London NW1
Painted houses, Chalcot Crescent, Primrose Hill, London NW1

I hadn't ventured very far but was already in need of sustenance when I stumbled across this wonderful café, Chloe's Espresso, on the bridge crossing the railway line out of Euston. The road is actually a continuation of Regent's Park Road but cars are prevented from accessing this part of it, making it an interesting pedestrian thoroughfare linking the distinctly upper class Primrose Hill with the more edgier Chalk Farm and Camden.

Chloe's Espresso, Regents Park Road, London NW1
Chloe's Espresso, Regent's Park Road, London NW1

Chloe's Espresso, Regents Park Road, London NW1
Chloe's Espresso, Regent's Park Road, London NW1

I've walked along this stretch of the Regent's Canal plenty of times before but had never looked at it from above.

Regent's Canal, Primrose Hill, London NW1
Regent's Canal, Primrose Hill, London NW1

Quite a contrast looking from the bridge in the opposite direction, across the railway lines, towards Camden.

Camden from bridge over the Regent's Canal, Primrose Hill, London NW1
Camden from bridge over the Regent's Canal, Primrose Hill, London NW1

This wheel is not going anywhere, unlike it would seem the rest of the bike. Unless of course this is an installation.

Art installation or unfortunate cyclist?
Art installation or unfortunate cyclist?

Having wandered around Primrose Hill, poking my way through as many different streets as I could find, I dropped down on to the canal tow path and made my way towards Camden.

Former wharves lining the Regent's Canal, Camden, London NW1
Former wharves lining the Regent's Canal, Camden, London NW1

Former wharves lining the Regent's Canal, Camden, London NW1
Former wharves lining the Regent's Canal, Camden, London NW1

The old and the new, Regent's Canal, near Camden, London NW1
The old and the new, Regent's Canal, near Camden, London NW1

Always a bit of a sucker for a gas holder, mainly through reading London's Lost Power Stations and Gas Works I was pleasantly surprised that the former Kings Cross gas holders have been kept and have been incorporated into the design of these new apartments.

Gas holder, Kings Cross, London
Gas holder, Kings Cross, London

Gas holder, Kings Cross, London
Gas holder, Kings Cross, London

And so another urban wander reaches its end. Despite this one being through some fairly familiar territory, I once again saw it with new eyes inspired by Psychogeography.

    

Thursday, 7 April 2016

A Suburban Wander from Moor Park to Stanmore, following the London Loop

As hinted at in my previous post, a Suburban Wander from Harefield to Moor Park following the London Loop, I was unsure where my next wander would take me. Having just finished Gareth Rees' wonderful Marshland I really wanted to explore the Walthamstow, Hackney and Leyton marshes, but that will have to wait until another day. Instead we embarked on our second part of the London Loop recreational path, from Moor Park to Stanmore, some of which is featured in Nick Papadimitriou's Scarp, another excellent, recent read.

We drove to the Northwood/Moor Park border, looking for somewhere to park that was not too much of a trek from the start of the walk, and eventually ended up reasonably close to Moor Park station. The weather was stunning, but as you'll see from the later pictures, this was not to be sustained for the whole day's walk.

Bridge carrying the Metropolitan railway line at Moor Park
Bridge carrying the Metropolitan railway line at Moor Park

The first section of the walk took us across open fields, strewn with electricity pylons disappearing off into the distance, as we headed to the Sandy Lodge Golf course.

Electricity pylons disappearing off into the distance, Moor Park
Electricity pylons disappearing off into the distance, Moor Park

Electricity pylons disappearing off into the distance, Moor Park
Electricity pylons disappearing off into the distance, Moor Park

Electricity pylons disappearing off into the distance, Moor Park
Electricity pylons disappearing off into the distance, Moor Park

 Keeping an eye out for stray golf balls whizzing through the air, we navigated the greens and golfers and came out on to Sandy Lodge Lane.

Sandy Lodge Lane, Moor Park
Sandy Lodge Lane, Moor Park

After Sandy Lodge Lane, the route took us through parkland and woodland. I seem not to have taken any pictures through Oxhey Woods for some reason, most likely because the going was difficult and we had to carefully place each foot to avoid slipping over in the ever present mud. However, the mud in the woods was nothing in comparison to the mud which greeted us as we came out of the woods and into open fields somewhere near Hatch End. The fields had been churned up by horses and several times we found ourselves over ankle deep in wet mud. There was certainly no scope for taking pictures during this part of the wander. However, once we had successfully negotiated the mud, but alas with wet feet, we emerged on to a more solid path, where this beautiful farmhouse stood, hiding the quagmire in the distance.

Farmhouse, near Hatch End, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Farmhouse, near Hatch End, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

From here the path followed a few more wet, field edges and then skirted between fields and housing estates on narrow tracks. If I'm honest, we were getting quite fed up with walking on wet and muddy tracks so we quite pleased when we eventually found some more solid ground.

Bridge crossing the main line from Euston, near Carpenders Park
Bridge crossing the main line from Euston, near Carpenders Park

Bridge crossing the main line from Euston, near Carpenders Park
Bridge crossing the main line from Euston, near Carpenders Park

Unlike our previous section of the loop, we did not come across much in the way of villages, towns or country pubs, so had to make do with having a late lunch in a garden centre, which I desperately try and avoid at all costs as it makes me feel I'm turning into my parents, but needs must, and we were getting quite hungry. Sustained with home-made soup, followed by tea and quite a wonderful cream egg brownie, we set off again towards our destination. My feet had almost dried out too, so the walk was a bit more comfortable, although my boots, socks and trousers were covered in mud.

Again we trekked through woods and commons, passing through Grim's Dyke, Harrow Weald Common, and Bentley Priory. The weather has closed in a bit by this stage, so once again there was a lack of photo opportunities. The few I did take however were around Grim's Dyke, a 2,000 year old ditch, which surrounding area also boasts the house and gardens formerly owned by Sir William Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, who drowned in one of his lakes trying to assist a female house guest who had got into trouble.

Lake in the gardens of William Gilbert's former house
Lake in the gardens of William Gilbert's former house

Gilbert's house is now a hotel.

William Gilbert's former house
William Gilbert's former house

William Gilbert's former house
William Gilbert's former house

Derelict building, near Bentley Priory
Derelict building, near Bentley Priory

Once again we seemed to have either over exerted ourselves, or under estimated our strength and stamina, and were feeling quite weary by this stage. The walk through Stanmore Common and down to Stanmore tube station was quite a slog, and we were glad to find some shops for our second cake of the day, which we bought from Lidl and ate on the tube as our clothes were so muddy we felt in no fit state to go into a cafe.

Whilst the section of the loop we had followed was enjoyable, we both agreed that it was less enjoyable that the first section we'd walked from Harefield to Moor Park. I suspect this was mainly to do with the mud, and later in the day the weather. However, we are not put off, and will return at some stage to start the next section. But before that, I have a more recent urban wander to post.

    

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

A Suburban Wander from Harefield to Moor Park, following the London Loop

As mentioned in my previous blog post, a Suburban Wander from High Barnet to Cockfosters, having seen it sign posted I hinted that I would one day undertake a more structured walk, as opposed to a drift, along the London Loop route. Well, this event has happened far sooner than I ever anticipated it would. I won't go into the reasons here but needless to say I was delighted to find myself with an opportunity to at least make a start on this circumnavigation of the London suburbs.

Living about an hour west of London, on the Berkshire/Hampshire border, we decided to start our first leg as close to home as possible, and travel there and back by car, as opposed to travelling in and out of London by public transport. The route, it would seem from the London Loop guide book we read, is aimed at people living in London who may not necessarily be aware that there is countryside just on the city's doorstep, so travelling to and from the walk makes sense with a zone 6 rail card. After having read this, and given that we live in the countryside, I was not sure whether the route would have the same effect on us, as we really are spoiled for access to the great outdoors here. However, we were not disappointed and the edgelands mix of urban, suburban and rural landscapes worked perfectly.

The location closest to us was Harefield, which has a secondary interest to me as I grew up in Ruislip and this was somewhere I used to go canoeing with the Sea Scouts when I was about 11 or 12, although I moved to the Cotswolds shortly after that so did not canoe there for very long and was hard pressed to pinpoint exactly where I used to go. So, off we set, down the M4, across on the A404 to join the M40 and on towards London, turning off to Harefield not long after the M40 turned into the A40. Our starting point was the Grand Union Canal on a rather grey and dreary day, which was a little disappointing after the previous days of sunshine.

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

The section of the route we walked was well sign posted on the whole, but there were a few parts later on when we navigated our way between electricity pylons before we reached Moor Park where some new markers had just been put up by a warden which seemed to point in the wrong direction. Fortunately our gut instinct and guide book helped us find the right path, plus the fact that one sign in particular was pointing at something quite impassable.

Waymarker for the London Loop Recreational Walk, near Harefield
Waymarker for the London Loop Recreational Walk, near Harefield

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

I'd never heard of Braunston, and even an internet map search took a while for me to determine exactly where it was. It seems to be almost in the middle of nowhere, sat diagonally between Coventry and Northampton. There's a marina there which would explain the mile post and in fact it's at the junction of the Grand Union and Oxford canals, so at one time quite an important junction for commercial, canal traffic. From the little internet reading I did, it still seems to be a bustling marina but now serving more of a recreational purpose.

Mile post for Braunston, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Mile post for Braunston, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Not long before the route crossed the canal and headed up into the fields and woods that eventually took us to Moor Park, the River Colne weaves its way close to the canal.

River Colne, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
River Colne, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

River Colne, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
River Colne, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

River Colne, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
River Colne, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

Spotted this little curiosity in a tree by the side of the canal.

Discarded child's toy, hanging from a tree, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Discarded child's toy, hanging from a treeon the London Loop Recreational Walk

Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Grand Union Canal, near Harefield, on the London Loop Recreational Walk

It was a little early for lunch, so we just stopped for a quick drink at the Coy Carp before crossing the Grand Union canal and heading north east across fields in the direction of Batchworth.

Coy Carp, Grand Union Canal, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Coy Carp, Grand Union Canalon the London Loop Recreational Walk

Oddly located in the middle of a bluebell wood were these two gate posts, presumably from a former time when a fence ran through the land.

Old gate posts, on the London Loop Recreational Walk
Old gate posts, on the London Loop Recreational Walk


After walking through woods and fields, we eventually came out on the Harefield Road, by which time we were in need of lunch. Fortunately the Rose and Crown pub was still serving and we had some wonderful sweet potato soup and a pint of local ale from the Paradigm brewery before continuing on our journey. Not only did we leave the pub with our bellies full, but the sun also decided to show itself.


Heading across fields towards Batchworth, London Loop Recreational Walk
Heading across fields towards Batchworth, London Loop Recreational Walk

Country Park, London Loop Recreational Walk
Country Park, London Loop Recreational Walk

Electricity pylon, London Loop Recreational Walk
Electricity pylon, London Loop Recreational Walk

Electricity pylon, London Loop Recreational Walk
Electricity pylon, London Loop Recreational Walk

Electricity pylon, London Loop Recreational Walk
Electricity pylon, London Loop Recreational Walk

And as has been a common theme of my last few wanders, a village pond in Batchworth Heath. I did spot a pond much earlier in the walk, but the sky was so grey that the pond just looked like a roadside puddle, so that one has been omitted from this account. This one is much nicer too.

Village pond at Batchworth Heath, London Loop Recreational Walk
Village pond at Batchworth Heath, London Loop Recreational Walk

An interesting sign, but alas we were beginning to worry about running out of time so missed out on the exotic dancers.

Prince of Wales pub, Batchworth Heath, London Loop Recreational Walk

This white post was an interesting feature, and not something I had ever seen before. It's a coal tax post. Dating from the 1860's, apparently there are still 210 of these remaining out of the original 280 coal posts on the outskirts of London, marking the points where taxes on coal were due to the Corporation of London. Sadly the picture is grainy as I had to zoom in as the road was far too busy to risk standing in the middle of the traffic to take a better picture.

Coal tax post, Batchworth Heath, London Loop Recreational Walk
Coal tax post, Batchworth Heath, London Loop Recreational Walk

From Batchworth Heath, the loop took us into the Moor Park Estate. I have blogged about this before in my Suburban Wander around Moor Park post so I won't include any pictures or commentary of the incredible mansions there. Instead I have included a couple of photos of an area that I had not previously seen, which was a very narrow road passing beneath the Metropolitan Railway line, just south of Moor Park station.

Railway bridge carrying the Metropolitan line, near Moor Park, London Loop Recreational Walk
Railway bridge carrying the Metropolitan line, near Moor Park, London Loop Recreational Walk


Railway bridge carrying the Metropolitan line, near Moor Park, London Loop Recreational Walk
Railway bridge carrying the Metropolitan line, near Moor Park, London Loop Recreational Walk

The section of the London Loop that we decided to do continued north eastwards from Moor Park but we had to get back to Harefield where we had left the car. Tempting though it was to take the tube back to Harrow-on-the-Hill and then back out to Uxbridge we, perhaps foolishly, decided to make a loop of our day's walking and walked a long, long walk back to Harefield. All-in-all it was just over 12 miles and almost dark by the time we returned to the car. I didn't take many pictures on the return journey as we were moving at quite a pace, but this building was worthy of a quick picture, and a bit of a breather. It's the Countess of Derby's alms houses. What wonderful chimneys.

Countess of Derby's alms houses, Harefield
Countess of Derby's alms houses, Harefield

So, our first experience of the London Loop was exhausting but fascinating. We're now trying to find a slot in the diary to return to start again from Moor Park, but perhaps next time we won't make a 12 mile loop of it and then have to drive home. The thought of staying somewhere on the loop, or perhaps in London and travelling to and from the start and finish by public transport appeals.
A much longer post than usual, but appropriate for the length of the walk I feel. So, I'll leave you here until next time ... but will next time be the London Loop or somewhere different? How come I am changing my mind already? Well, the answer to that question is Marshland, Dreams and Nightmares on the Edge of London, by Gareth Rees, which I have just started reading, and has already making me think I should get out to Walthamstow, Hackney and Leyton and explore what's left of the marshes.

    






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