Category Archives: circumnavigation

The Rules of Moving around London

Regular readers (all both of them) will notice that this is a repost of something I first posted over two years ago at: The 09:59 to Waterloo

This is partly because that was tagged-on to the end of a rantlet about something else and I feel like separating it out, but also is prompted by some fun blog posts by Brendan Nelson at The Geneva Convention of Public Transport and a couple of earlier posts linked to it. Read them as well as this!

How to Move Around in London

Let me tell you the truth about commuting. You have a DUTY to your fellow human beings when you are walking in a big commuter crowd in a place where acts of public transport are committed. It is to get out of the way of the people behind you as quickly as possible . And that usually involves getting to wherever you are going as quickly as possible. So the right thing to do is to move as fast as is compatible with health and safety. To move opportunistically, to fill gaps, to pass slower people, and to keep on going… this is not selfishness, that is being public spirited. It gets you out of the way. It gets you out of MY way for a start.

There are RULES about this. Let me share a few with you. And we don’t wan to hear any more of this “nobody told me the rules before I came to London…” Big Boy’s games – Big Boy’s Rules. (*) These are the rules. You HAVE been warned!

Universal rules

  • Buy your ticket or pass before you get on the bus or train. Don’t offer the driver money. That’s so twentieth century.
  • Don’t try to talk. Everyone will think you are mad.
  • It is always open season for hunters of luggage on a stick
  • Let passengers off the bus or train before you try to get on. If you don’t we probably won’t kill you – but I have seen a busdriver refuse to move until someone who pushed on got off the bus.
  • There are nice maps on every bus stop and at station that show you exactly how to get where you are going. Use them.
  • Yes, you do get up off your seat for someone who is pregnant, aged, carrying small children, or visibly more crippled than you are. Even in London. Even on a delayed Northern Line train creakingly approaching Bank from London Bridge at 0850 on a wet Monday in a recession. Yes, this means YOU!

The Rules of the Train

(and the Platform)
  • Drop not your paper cup on the seat when you get off the train. That IS littering.
  • Drop your newspaper on the seat when you get off the train. This is NOT littering.
  • If you ask people which train to get from Embankment to Charing Cross you deserve to get laughed at.
  • Mind the Gap!
  • Move to the back of the train
  • No eye-contact
  • Read your own book
  • Stand clear of the doors please!
  • When the machine at the barrier rejects your ticket or pass you do NOT stand there like a drunken Dover sole in a warm puddle wondering what to do. You do NOT try it again and again. You get out of the way as quickly as possible and sort it out with the nice person at the big gate where they let the luggage through.

The Rules of the Bus

(and the Bus Stop)
  • Be nice to bus drivers. It gets you where you are going quicker. And the driver DOES have a direct radio link to the police. And these days the police come armed. You have been warned.
  • Do not argue with the driver. Even if you are in the right. You really do not want the karmic burden that is being laid upon you by the eighty-seven angry commuters stuck behind you who want to get a move on.
  • Do not bang on the door of a bus trying to get in. The driver will think you are a looney.
  • Do not stand in the folding doorway of a bus pathetically groping around inside your clothing in the hope that you have mysteriously grown a season ticket. Get off, let the bus go. There will be another one. You might even find your ticket once you don’t have the stress of fending off delay-maddened passengers
  • Hold very tight please! And I mean the handrail, not the woman in front of you.
  • The back seats on the ground floor of a double-decker bus are too hot for human beings.
  • When you get off the bus look both ways as if you were stepping off a kerb into a road. Because that is what you are doing.
  • And yes, much as I love cyclists, and much as I know that most cyclists are far safer road-users than most car-drivers, I have seen one or two suicidal idiots try to ride between a bus and the kerb. Just. Don’t. Do. That.

The Rules of the Moving Staircase

(and the Corridor)
  • Stand on the Right, Walk on the Left
  • The sign that says “walk on the left” does NOT mean that you don’t walk on your right if it is quicker or safer to go on the right. Its a corridor, not the bloody motorway. You have a duty to get where you are going for the sake of the other two million people using the system, you have a duty to do so safely, and if walking on the right makes it quicker or safer, do it
  • The sign that says “walk on the left” does NOT mean that you religiously stick to the left if someone is running the other way on their right, playing a sort of commuter chicken. Get out of their way. Get out of their way on the double if they are riding a bike, whether legally or illegally.
  • On the other hand the sign telling you to stand on the right walk and on the left of the escalator DOES mean stand on the right. Like everyone else does. Not on the left. It only takes one bad apple to spoil the pie and if you stand on the left – or even sort of lean a little over to the left – or let your bag or your baby or your baby-buggy encroach on the left – then YOU ARE THAT BAD APPLE. There is a special place in the FOURTH CIRCLE OF HELL being prepared for those who stand on the left on the escalator and I can tell you that those escalators go a LONG WAY DOWN!!!!
  • The sign that says babies must be carried and not seated in their pushchair does NOT mean that you stop the buggy right at the top of the escalator and spend a minute and a half trying to persuade the little one to get out and walk (**)
  • When you get to the bottom of the escalator you carry on walking. You do not stop to look around. Especially you do not stop to look around if you have luggage on a stick ready to smash the ankles or knees of the fifteen people behind you. Age is no excuse.

(*) That works better in a Gene Hunt accent.

(**) And frankly, I think having a kid strapped in to a pushchair on the escalator is a damn sight safer than trying to go on it with child in one arm, folded buggy in another hand, and all your luggage in your third hand while holding on the rail with a fourth hand. That needs two more hands than most passengers have. I have yet to see Kali dragging her sprogs through the tube system. Of course there are some parts of the lower levels of Victoria that she would do best to avoid.

Distant suburbs with names starting in H

To Bedfont Lakes for a work meeting, or sales pitch. Second time I’ve been in the Heathrow area in a few weeks – I popped over to have a drink in the bar at the end of Eastercon (as usual I couldn’t go to the con myself as its one of the busy times of year at church) That was train to Feltham, then local bus to the north side of the airport, today train to Feltham and little local bus to Bedfont.

Architecturally its still the 1960s out there in the outer western reaches of London where where placenames start with “H”. If not the 1930s. As always in buildings 30 or 40 years out of date looks more dated than 300 or 400, and the Heathrow area looks very dated. OK, know a lot of the hotels and offices are newer than that but they don;t look it. Compared with the buildings you see in Inner London these look dull and unimaginitive. Air travel was once a thrill and airports were once stage-sets for the party of the future, but now they look boring. Inner London. even the parts of it full of Gearogoan or Victorian retrofits, looks much more futuristic

The most interesting buildings you can see from the Heathrow Perimeter Road are in fact the older ones that look left over from the 1940s or 50s or even before. Rows of sheds with unlikely looking corporate logos advertising some small company you have never heard of that is in to import/export, or oil exploration, or even “aviation” whatever exactly that means nowadays. Its as if the old between-the-wars civil aviation culture of small engineering firms, dodgy dealers, and mechanics tinkering with This and That that I vaguely remember in the backdrop of old films and TV programmes has somehow managed to survive in the gutters and beneath the onramps of the corporate monocultures that replaced them.

In a similar way the little 1920s bungalows in the suburbs round about, squeezed between rows of 1970s officed or 1990s blocks flats, some retrofitted into newer larger “properties”, others still looking like small sheds with fake beams and tarmac sheeting rooves (but all I suspect double glazed) are more interesting than the EMEA HQs and cheap business hotels.

The whole place is caught in a sort of fast-moving limbo. Its not the network of semi-rural suburbs it once was, before the War and the motorways and above all Heathrow Airport turned it over, although it is full of survivals of that era. But its not quite the American-style low-rise decentralised suburban landscape it could have been – there is just too much naff 1950s and 1960s municipal Englishness about, a whiff of the the Council Estate, the H-Block, the Nissen Hut and the Scout Hut. The overlaid palimpsest of the 1950s, a hint of Durrington. Yes, if Woodingdean was thirty times the size, flat instead of hilly, and had a major international airport inside it, and was nowhere near the sea, it might look like this. Maybe that’s why it feels like the early 1960s to me because the buildings (nothing else, just the buildings) remind me of where I spent my own early 1960s. And it hasn’t gone forward to the kind of post-modern high-tech complexity that it might one day become.

From a literary-architectural point of view the Heathrow area left John Betjemen behind, bypassed JG Ballard (though he chased after it and nearly caught it) and hasn’t yet arrived at Ken MacLeod.

Not too many photos from the Con I’m afraid. It was dark most of the time I was there.near_heathrow_8178

I do have a few of the hotel bar though. Like most cheap/mid-price hotels, whether in suburban sheds with legoland trimmings (as this one was) or in old buildings in town it seemed to have that tedious interior design that’s a sort of mixture of fake vaguely 18th century English wood-panelled massiveness and late 19th century French frippery. Flock wallpaper and cut glass, the direct descendent of the Gin Palace without the over-the-topness. Both unimaginitive and deracinated.

But the room the bar was in was much better! A sort of truncated atrium dominated by a vast garden water-feature with pastic glow-in-the-dark fish on sticks. And big Buddhist pots in piles of pebbles. OK jsut as ersatz and off-the-shelf but at least its different and most importantly it was a pleasant and easy space to be in – though I guess a lot of that was due to the lightly-arched glass roof that meant the whole room was adequateley and indireclty lit by natural light right up almost to sunset. Follow th link for more (though not better) pictures: easterc0n_8170

The visit to Bedfont Lakes produced even fewer photos. I’ll have to go back one day when I’m not working. Its a nightmare to navigate, no rationality to anything and no signage. Took us longer to find the building we were looking for once there than it did to get there from Feltham Station over a mile away. Everything assumes you are coming by car. What I should have done is follow the car road in and walk straight in ignoring the barrier that said “No Pedestrian Access”, which was how I got out. As it was I ended up getting to the Cisco building by going round the back of one of the IBM buildings and past the lake. Which was pleasant. I’m sure there is another way in on foot – I can even guess where it might be – but its not signed.

These places are too planned, too centrally controlled, and have too few children visiting them. A council estate laid out like that (and the word ones are) would soon be crossed by “paths of desire” taking you everywhere you need to go. That doesn’t seem to happen here.

So to Staines, just because I’ve never been there before. Much the same applies to Ashford and Staines as to the places begin with H. Except that the river is of course wonderful. Staines looks a bit sad, its not what it once was. Of course in an absolute sense it and its inhabitants are much more prosperous than ever before. But in a relative sense, over against London or the countryside round about, I get the impression that it was at its peak in the late 19th century. Its full of places that look as if the used to be small shops run by locals and are now rotting.

It would have been as small but prosperous market town, connected to the rest of the world by river, canal, and railway, with enough industry (Lino a speciality I think) to provide work for the locals and the nucleus of an industrial proletariat and skilled workforce. Near enough to London to commute to work, but too far to do your regular shopping there. There woud have been libraries and churches and social clubs and a full range of shops and services on the High Street. On Saturdays and Sundays Londoners might come up for a spot of boating or a walk by the river and a pint of local beer in the Swan. (All of which are still available to them and I can tell you walk and the beer are very pleasant) An HG Wells or Jerome K Jerome sort of place. staines_8201

Destroyed as a viable and distinct economic community by the Great War, the motorways, Heathrow Airport and shopping malls. Its still there, it still has some lovely houses, its probably very convenient (if expensive) if you have a car and you work bear Waterloo Station, but its not quite a Place of its own. It has become a node in the broken network of outer suburbia. At least its a lot prettier than Bromley, Dartford, or Romford.

And Ali G exists. There really are young Asian men in baggy trousers and hoods talking rap. Well there were some at the end of Platform One at the station. Or are they consciously living up to the stereotype? Maybe they are Londoners taking a day trip to Staines to act like Ali G? The trainers and hoodies as real or as fake as the blazers and Oxford bags and straw boaters that other young men wore on days out to the same station a century ago?

Why do the outer reaches of West London always smell bad?

Trainers in trees

After reading about the presumably American fashion for throwing trainers into trees (on the Ship of Fools here – though being a presumably American fashion it is there called “Sneakers on wires”) I’ve actually seen some. Not very far from me in fact, by an estate just off Rotherhithe New Road, near Southwark Park, between Surrey Docks and the Millwall ground.

Right by the street so easily visible from the bus. Must have passed the place dozens of times this year but mostly in the dark, which is my excuse for not noticing.

Didn’t have my camera on me though. Maybe next time.

South-East Suburban Circular

One of the crazy things about asthma is that its often better being upright and out of doors. So when I managed to get to church on Sunday morning after four days more or less confined to my smelly little bedroom in my smelly little flat I felt a lot better for it. So I thought I’d spend the afternoon outside. But I’m too knackered to walk far, and not into sitting on park benches, so time to try another bus trip.

Bought a one-day travelcard in one of the local shops and got on the first bus that came down Loampit Vale – a 321. Crazy route, Sainsbury’s to Tesco’s, part of the current fashion for breaking up the Great Old Busroutes into inner and outer suburban sections. It starts near New Cross then down to Lewisham and transects what I think of as the layer of classic suburbia, straight up Lee High Road and then Eltham Road, Eltham Hill, Eltham High Street, before turning right on Footscray Road and down to Sidcup, where I walked down towards the station and got on a 229 through Bexley and Bexleyheath towards Thamesmead.

There aren’t many people on the street in these outer reaches of South-East London. You see some of them through their windows – some teenage girls chatting round a table, some men on stepladders Doing It Themselves.

Its suburbia, but its quite dense suburbia, and its not neat suburbia. There is something makeshift and ramshackle about it. Lots of little gaps. Pebbledash in some of the more downmarket parts. Odd bits of 1970s brutalism embeded among the older buildings. Small shops with cliched names – at least three “Buds of May”, a restaurant with the unfortunate name “Sophie’s Choice”, a shop called “Doors of Distinction” which sounds like the location of a spoof sitcom.

Glimpses of small, empty, muddy, sports grounds at the ends of side streets, Hills to the north and south, and over the hills and far away to the east, the lights of Dartford Bridge and the industrial North Kent Marshes

Why does Old Bexley call itself a “village” on the signs, when it was clearly a small town before London ate it, and not a village at all?

Things begin to change on the dual carriageway from Bexley towards Bexleyheath. Things are more open, more 1970s, more concreted. Bexleyheath announces itself with a big new Legoland-style Marriot hotel on top of a hill. There’s a lot of the feel of Legoland about the architecture of Bexleyheath shoppng centre. It looks as if they knocked it down and rebuilt it sometime in the 70s or 80s, and there are streets of huge shops. But there is no back to it – its like a sort of concentric Blackpool – the town-centre buildings back straight on to rows of 1920s and 1930s terraced houses, there is no urban depth to it – not even the sort of urban depth you get in Eltham or Sidcup with their pubs (some of which even have customers), their disused crumbling pre-war cinemas, Edwardian public buildings, and interjections of civic brutalism.

But there are more people around. Its getting dark, and all of a sudden the bus is full. I suppose it must be people who have been shopping and are going back to Erith or Thamesmead. The bus runs through Barnehurst to Erith and then back west again to Belvedere (more or less along a route
I walked a couple of years ago) Even Erith is getting posh private flats these days.

The view is occasionally spectacular – the towers of red lights down the Thames by Dartford, the lights of the City in the other direction, the multistory blocks of Plumstead and Thamesmead and most of all the industry by the Thames and in Belvedere. In the day it might not look so good, but at night it is a landscape of lights.

Thamesmead itself is magnificent in a way. But it looks utterly uninhabitable. Dark, threatening, inorganic, with no obvious plan or logic to the layout. Places that just grow have reasons for being the way they are. Thamesmead is laid out by obsolete whim. The bus goes round and round through probably similar sections – probably because I can’t quite see them. Other planned suburbs (& Thamesmead is nothing if not a planned suburb), other planned suburbs are being gradually humanised as they grow older. They become natural, they accquire an artificial backstory. Trees grow, streets are altered, new walkways broken through, buildings are infilled, retrofitted, reused. But Thamesmead is so structured, so constrained, so racked by its curvy grid of near-motorway roads that it has no way of linking itself across them. Most of the little neighbourhoods turn their backs on the streets, and hence each other, often set back twenty or more metres from the road, on a different level, screened by fences and lines of scrubby trees and municipal planting. This is a place built for cars, not people.

But weirdly, even though its dark and getting cold, and there is nothing to so, nothing open in the gloom., there are more people around on the streets and in the buses than there were in the posher suburbs further south. Mostly black and Asian. A lot of them look as if they are on their way to or from church. Its built for cars but a lot of the people who live there can’t afford them.

And a 177 back to New Cross, through Abbey Wood and Plumstead and Woolwich and Charlton and Greenwich and Deptford, and finally back to church for the evening service on another 321. Or maybe it was even the same one.

The Tower of the Lidless Eye rises anew!

Well over twenty years ago, I walked back from town towards Nunhead through the North-Peckham Walworth triangle with my old mate Dave Turtle. I mean that piece of land surrounded on the west by Walworth Road and Camberwell Green, on the South by Peckham High Street and Queen’s Road, and on the north-east by New Cross Road, Old Kent Road, and New Kent Road.

We walked across the bit of post-industrial desolation that was then just becoming Burgess Park – its quite pretty now but then it was basically a disused canal towpath connecting the abandoned church to the traveller’s site by way of an old school building full of squatters and a car-breaking yard, and looked out at the ramparts of North Peckham to the south and the flats round Albany Street and the Heygate and Amersham Estates to the North.

The first time he saw it, Dave named the place “Barad Dur”.

Here are those ramparts close-to:


Just a silly joke. OR SO WE THOUGHT!!!!!!

Then, I first saw IT a few months ago, rising over the collapsing brutalist mass that surrounds the Elephant and Castle. What was it? It is in this picture taken from North Peckham – follow the link to the larger picture and look at the tower you can see in the distance on the left:


Is that what it looks like?

I had to find out.

For many hot and dreary weeks I quested through the railway cuttings, arches and twittens of South East London to get a better view of this monstrosity.

Finally, from behind a parapet in a dingy and little-used part of Waterloo station, I got a good view:


Follow the link and open the larger the picture, IF YOU DARE. Look at the top of the new building. Is this not clearly the Tower of the Eye, Sauron’s fastness in Barad-Dur, being rebuilt in South London?

Take a closer look:



At the Elephant, after dark, I was able to approach unseen (I hope) almost to the base of the Evil Tower:


The picture is, I know, vague and distorted. I hardly dare approach the orc-works so close in daylight. (As if the evil within cared for the sun or the moon! Aaaaaah! I am already weary!)

Look at the horrible gaping windows with a ghastly pale gangrenous death-light of putrescense oozing from them:


This morning, in the rain, through distorted old plastic windows of the tunnel in the sky over Waterloo Road, I finally got a good picture. It looks almost beautiful, in its dull, damp, stony way:


BUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT???!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!

Uberhauses (pardon my lack of umlaut)

Three or four of my microprojects coalesce in one photo!

Click on this photo to see a bigger version and read the words on the sign:


Not only a grotesque or silly signboard (the list is rapidly growing), not only an insight into the rebuilding of the bits of London tourist guides don’t go to, but also an absurd new word. Result!

What on earth is an “Uberhaus”? And why? Well, I know what it is, its a largish flat with an upstairs garden, (which might be on the roof, or on a big balcony, or on the roof of a next-door building such as a car-park). But why? But why do the estate agents think that peopel willing to part with half a million or more squids in order to live on a reclaimed gasworks with a view of the A13 flyover will be attracted by fake German?

At least I got in first. Google has 8 hits for the word – six of them are estate agents, one is an article in the Daily Telegraph and first on the list is my photo linked above, which was only posted on Flicker last night.

Wandering around East Greenwich and Beyond

Been walking round East Greenwich as a side effect of attending church there for a few weeks as part of the Reader’s course. Taking lots of photos. This week they are mainly of the peninsula and up and down the Thames.

There are, I suspect, few Anglican churches in Inner London that have a grain elevator in the parish.

Can’t really think of anything relevant to say. Well, I did, but it had the word “palimpsest” in it as a metaphor, so its probably a bit pretentious! As before the pictures link back to bigger ones on Flickr. Not as pretty is the ones with smoke in from Tuesday though.

Pink Sofa Marsh-wiggles in Greenwich

Greenwich Peninsula Odeon Greenwich_Peninsula_4510
Greenwich_Peninsula_4512 East Greenwich abandoned machinery by warehouse
Greenwich_Peninsula_4535 Greenwich_Peninsula_4505
Greenwich_Peninsula_4515 Dome and ruins

Greenwich_Peninsula_4518 Greenwich_Peninsula_4562
A Slice of Life, Greenwich Peninsula Grain silo, Greenwich

East Greenwich Fire Station across wasteland Paper pulping machine in Greenwich
Greenwich_Peninsula_4553 Ecological Park, Greenwich Peninsula

Amylum Works, Greenwich

Sunset on the Greenwich Peninsula Sunset on the Greenwich Peninsula
Greenwich Peninsula 4573 Greenwich Peninsula
Greenwich_Peninsula_4602 Greenwich_Peninsula_4613
Amylum Works, Greenwich Greenwich_Peninsula_4615

I knew South-East London was tough, but I never knew it was this bad.

When I was a little Evangelical they told us we should walk along the King’s Highway every day. Well, I found it, its in Plumstead. So I walked along it. And they have some very strange things up there!

This must be the ultimate Charlton supporters weapon against Millwall.

Cars in Plumstead Water Dale, Plumstead, exit from Bostall Woods
plumstead_4335 The less sylvan end of Waterdale Road

The second picture is repeated from the previous post because I like it a lot and its just at the end of the street. In fact its more or less my favourite picture so far this year. And no-one looked at it on Flickr yet! The relevant words are in the yesterday’s blog entry.

All four of these photos were taken within about a hundred yards of each other.

And a few more I didn’t post before:

The Slade, Plumstead bostall_4318
Woolwich seen from Welling Woodlands farm
plumstead_4190 plumstead_4176

Erith, land of sheds

The centre of Erith is marked by a giant brightly-coloured ceramic sculpture of three-in-a-bed oral fish sex right by the great big roundabout in front of the Town Hall. The photos is work-friendly, unless your boss is a moralising, monagamist herring.


Why Erith? I’m still trying to redirect Stuff and Thingy towards south-east London (if only because of the looming East
Greenwich) so I dreamed up the idea of trying out the bus routes but an 89 came before the 108 so I got on it instead to see where it went and it went to almost to Slade Green. Almost because the passengers – myself, one small drunk old lady, and about two dozen 14 or 15 year-old white boys from Bexleyheath with short hair and crutches whose idea of fun was talking very loudly about how well they had handled themselves at some mythical fight outside a nightclub, saying not-at-all work-friendly things about young women and the size of their genitals, planning to defraud the railway company, and running up and down the stairs screaming – all got kicked off outside a pub about two stops short of Slade Green station at a council estate with and a view of the Dartford Bridge, and some real ships. Big ones.


So I walked back towards London and found myself walking up a long gently curving dual carriageway with giant sheds on either side. Not garden sheds but the sort of huge aluminium clad box that could contain a shop or a factory or a warehouse, and mostly did, this being the nearest London has to a genuine industrial area.

belvedere_4283 erith_4272
erith_4267 erith_4261

That, as far as Lesnes Abbey (which there is more of left than I thought – you can clearly see the ground-plan where the church used to be) and I got bored of dual carriageways and sheds and so into the woods. Lesnes Abbey Wood to start with (hence “Abbey Wood” station) and over to Plumstead to meet up with the place the walk of a fortnight ago ended.

Lesnes abbey looking north-east Mulberry by Lesnes Abbey
lesnesabbeywood_4317 lesnesabbeywood_cacorns

Once upon a time British botanists indulged themselves in a futile Quest for a Genuine Wild Wood (our version of the almost as futile Quest for the Historical Jesus) with various naturalists putting forward the argument for this that or the other stand of trees never having been felled for agriculture or for some reason resembling a real natural woodland. Whatever that is, as in these islands humans are older than the woods, we’ve been here longer. We have lots of so-called “ancient woods” that have been around since before about 1600, but there are probably no woods that were never managed by humans, at least for a few centuries (and some of them for many centuries continually).

And it is not clear whether or not a “natural” Natural British Woodland would be one that resembles the woods that existed before the introduction of agriculture, or one that resembles the woods that might have existed had agriculture never been introduced,or one that had never been subjected to agriculture, or one that contains only native British species (that is plants that got here between the ice going away and the North Sea coming back), or one that resembles the woodlands that might have been here at this stage in previous ice ages, or one that was simply left alone to look after itself for a few centuries – and all of those are different.

bostall_4331 bostall_4330

Whatever, there are a dozen or so bits of woodland in England that someone or other claims to be the last, or the only, or the best, or the biggest piece of wildwood in the country. And apart from a two or three really weird stunted oakwoods in the north or west (and ignoring the claims of the some of the obviously artificial old deer parks such as Hatfield or Hainault or Petworth or Epping or the New Forest which preserve an artificially high density of large grazing animals which makes them in some ways more “natural” than any other woods since our ancestors killed off the mammoths and bison and wild cattle) just about all tof them are in historical Kent and Sussex, and some of the best ones now in the more industrialised suburbs of South East London, including Abbey Wood and Oxleas wood only a short busride away, which preserve more of the look and feel of the ancient countryside of England than just about anywhere else in the country, in bits of dogwalking rough land on the hills between some of London’s grottier council estates. Someone noticed a few years ago and invented the Green Chain Walk which (if unlike me, you don’t like walking through the council estates and industrial areas and concretey bits) will take your from Crystal Palace to the Thames at Erith through as many (more?) diverse little woodlands as any other walk in England.

But the most notable wood today wasn’t one of the ancient ones at all. I’ve never been to Bostall Wood before. Its lovely. Or at least the part of it I wandered through is. A very strange wood, hard to read. The trees on the flat past of the wood that I walked through are are mostly beech and birch. No ash or oak, not even a sycamore, but there is the occasional pine. Very little undergrowth, easy to walk through (which might be because so many people and dogs walk through it) and apparently very few characteristic woodland herbaceaous plants (though maybe thats because this is October, I should go back in April or May) The nearest to an understory is holly, with some brambles around, there seems to be or very little if any hazel or elder or small oak (though the steep edges of the wood are full of oak). Just over the road in Lesnes Abbey Woods I’d seen oak and ash and elder and hornbeam and holly and some cherries or other Prunus and Viburnum andClematis and ivy and dozens of other plants.

bostall_4327 Path from Abbey Wood to Bostall Wood bostall_4328

Here its quite different. Nearly all the tree trunks are quite thin – is that because they are close together or just because they are still quite young? Its obviously quite a new wood.

Most of the trees are perhaps not much older than I am. But is it self-seeded or planted? And who plants dense beech woods, or birch at all? And if self-seeded why no ash or sycamore? They get anywhere. Or oak? There is abundant oak, piles of acorns, just hundreds or even tens of metres away. And where did those pines come from? Did this use to be a golf course or some kind of public park?

Whatever the reason for it (whcih I might be able to disover by looking at my bookshelf but I haven’t yet because its more fun speculating) It’s beautiful. The ground is covered with golden-bronze beech-leaves and crunchy beech-mast. There are park benches to sit on, from the Green Chain Walk people. The sunset filters through the trees wonderfully. It smells nice.

Bostall Woods Bostall Heath Lodge

Historical Archives of the First Circumnavigation of London

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First Circumnavigation of London

This was a series of walks done, IIRC, in about 2001/2002. The idea was I would take a train out to the last station in zone two, then walk round to the outermost zone two station on the next line. So dividing the walk into a series of a couple of dozen stages round London. some only a few hundred metres (I tended to go on little excursions in that case) the longest being only a few hours walk, so they could be fitted in to an evening after work (followed by a quick pint in whichever local pub seemed nicest), or a Sunday afternoon stroll and still be back in time for the 6.30 service.

It started by taking the first train up to town from Lewisham (which went, not surprisingly, to London Bridge) then getting on the first tube train out of town, which took me to Willesden Green. So the first walk was something like Willesden Green to Kensal Green, the next Kensal Green to Kensal Rise and so on anti-clockwise (in tune with the natural rotation of the earth, the solar system, and the galaxy 🙂 ) until I found myself back there a year or more later.

The pattern of walks tends to break down in the southern part, Herne Hill to Brockley is a longer stage than I wanted to do, and goes almost entirely through streets I have walked all over before, so I diverted down through Dulwich for variety. And it also breaks down in the downriver section where you need to go all the way to Woolwich to cross the river on foot and the stage ran (before the DLR extension) from Greenwich to Silvertown because you aren’t supposed to walk through the Blackwall tunnel. Though I walked past both ends of it.

Not that I would want to walk through the Blackwall tunnel. I’ve both walked and cycled through the Rotherhithe tunnel and its not recommended for the asthmatic and bronchitic. Or anyone remotely scared of playing with traffic. Its a bit like being trapped in a smelly dirty hole in the ground with a couple of hundred cars and a few dozen big diesel lorries, all belching fumes. In fact it IS being trapped in a smelly dirty hole in the ground with a couple of hundred cars and a few dozen big diesel lorries, all belching fumes. Its worse on the bike. You can’t use the narrow walkway so you have to share the road with the motors. And its a lot longer than it looks on the surface (I have no idea where it goes under the river but it certainly isn’t straight across ), and whichever way you go the second half is continually uphill for about half a mile, straining your lungs while being forced to cycle in the path of the motor vehicles whose drivers are getting angrier and angrier.

Anyway, like I said, time to buy a new book and set off for new journeys. The map books are all coloured now, which is fine for almost every likely use EXCEPT marking where you went by filling in streets with yellow pens. It was all so much simpler when you could still buy a black and white A to Z.

And on to Greenwich

Well, that was that. Here is a picture of the index page of the map book I used. Tomorrow I ought to buy another A to Z – that last book was kept going far too long – and focus more on Greenwich.

Second Circumnavigation of London

In a few weeks the Southwark Diocese Reader’s course starts over a month of “placements”. Which, being interpreted, means we go to church somewhere else for a bit. I’m to be at a church in Greenwich on Sunday mornings. At the momenrt it is looking like a good idea to get to know the area better in other ways as well. Walk around the parish. Maybe visit some of the pubs and cafes there. Relocate a bit of my life for a month or so.

I’m looking forward to it. I love an excuse to meet new people or go to new places.

Night journey through Bromley

The last two stages of the walk round Zones 4 and 5 were from Beckenham and Elmer’s End to Bromley, and then Bromley to Grove Park. Done mostly in the evening, mainly because Saturday being the Day of Rest I have trouble getting out of bed until after the early music programme happens on Radio Three. And then a nice bath is called for. So by the time I’ve bought some bread and juice and taken the bus down to the Outer Darkness of Suburbia, the sun isn’t far from setting.

The Hall Evangelical Church,  Beckenham, at night

To be honest there isn’t that much to say about the walk. Nothing very odd happened. I don;t think I had any stunning insights into the human condition or urban geography or even

The outer suburbs of south-east London would fit most people’s ideas of boring. In fact they are arguably the most boring places in Britain. (Though on the whole I prefer them to the outer suburbs of west London – more hills and fewer motorways

Beckenham churches

Beckenham St Edmund's RC

Beckenham is nicer than it sounds. Also higher density than you might think, at least near the centre of it. Lots of infill and little blocks of flats. And the scene is dominated by church towers. A sort of fake old town.


Beckenham by night

Beckenham churches from the park

As you walk round the suburbs you are never out of earshot of suburban life, even in the middle of a largish park. Not just the ever-present noise of cars (I’m not sure there is anywhere in the south east of England you escape from that) but you can hear the odd snatches of talk, occasional shouts and raised voices, kicks of boot against ball, some partying teenagers, kids out late, now and again a dog barking. You can smell cooking too. Small whiffs of pizza or chips, a late season barbecue, Indian takeaways.

And then, fireworks. I’ve no idea why, or what it was all in aid of, but someone was letting off fireworks from their back garden somewhere round Langley Park. Maybe it was on Barnfield Wood Road. The first of the year. Fireworks always lift my heart. Just great fun.

Langley Park is apparently an Area of Special Residential Character whatever that means. (it seems to be a sort of conservation area for wealthy suburbs) Except they call it Park Langley on the signs.

The approach to Bromley town centre from the south west takes you through another one of those estates that turn out to be a lot higher density than you’d expect. Quite a successful layout for what it is, with shops and restaurants integrated into the blocks. But why so many blind-ended blocks? Neary all the blocks show blank brick walls at one or both ends, and quite a few do along their length as well, the houses set back behind walls and turned inwards. Its pathetic. It just makes dog toilets. Why not just put windows in end walls? It makes the rooms inside more pleasant and lets you overlook the public street, making everyone safer.

The worst are the seven or eight foot high walls at the sides or ends of gardens, or the fences out in front cutting the front of a block of flats off from the streets. Not only do they make even more dog toilets but they reduce the safety of the inhabitants. I suppose they think they will protect against burglars, but they won;t stop any professional thief who knows what he is doing, they won’t stop a fifteen-year-old pissed on cheap cider who doesn’t and they won’t stop a desperate junkie. The illusion of security while making us less safe.

Everyone I see in the street after dark seems to be in their teens or twenties. Where are the other 80% of the population?

Bricklayer's Arms, Bromley

Bromley town centre is not a pretty place any more. It looks like it might have been once, and its got some nice old buildings – and some nice modern buildings – but the sprawl of multiple-lane roads surrounding the overlarge overheated mall make it all a bit inhuman. Not as nasty as Romford (where is?), but not as lively as Croydon or Kingston and on a more inhuman scale than either.

And there are plenty of brutal little buildings tucked away at the back:

Garrard House, Bromley


JW Kingdom Hall, Bromley

I started by getting on the first bus that went past the bottom of our street bound for anywhere beyond Lewisham, and it was a 136 to Grove Park. So I came back on the 136 from Grove Park. Which meant I had to get to Grove Park . And I didn’t fancy walking along Burnt Ash Hill so I went down into the Downham estate and back up again

Downham is in some ways the most unpleasant place I’ve been on my walks round London. Its also in some ways the most familiar. Its very similar to the sort of place my Dad’s relatives lived around Brighton when I was a kid. If it wasn’t for the absence of the South Downs it could almost be Moulscoombe, where Dad was brought up and only a mile or two from where we lived on a slightly newer estate.It is a similar product of the municipalised ebb of the Garden City movement. The Garden City was cut away from its economic and political roots and turned into the Garden Suburb, low-rise low-density council houses covering entire hillsides with families who didn’t have an economic reason to be there or enough money to get out. If they were allowed out. At Valeswood Road in Downham, just round the corner from where I was walking today, they actually built a wall across the street to cut off the LLC council estate from the private suburbs of Bromley. I always feel odd in Downham. Its too much like where I actually come from and don’t particularly want to go back to. I like more obviously urban places.

But seriously, if this is as bad as it gets we’re doing OK.

And where are the photos I took in Downham? I need to look at my camera again!

Well, I’m back.

OK, Sam walked a lot further than I did, and he didn’t go home every night on the bus. But I finished. It took five years (though two and a half of them were missed due to arthritis) but I have now done my second circumperegrination of London in Zones 4 & 5. I’ve walked through every one of he 30-something London boroughs and across all but two or three of them and visited every single London postal district and (if I include my first circumnavigation of London through zone 2 and 3) visited more or less very large council estate.

Only about a hundred miles. Which in three years of walking is less than a mile a week.

But I finished, I did it.

I have all these notes about Bromley I just wrote up in my notebook for a posting here. But I got back to the local and the landlady’s daughter gave birth earlier today. So there were drinks and more drinks and I’m a bit squiffy now. So maybe my account of walking through Bromley at night gets posted in a day or two when I get the photos online. Or maybe not.

One thing to say. I’ve quite genuinely now been everywhere in London. On my own, on foot, mostly after dark. Walking in to random pubs. Getting on busses. And no-one was ever nasty to me at all. London is a nice place.

But I did it. And I’m chuffed.

Norwood: Hilly and Proud!

Grange Hill to Elmer’s End (or more prosaically, Upper Norwood to Lower Norwood)

Bank Holiday Monday, what we would have called Whitsun once upon a time. The wettest day of the year so far. Just the day to go for an evening stroll through leafy Norwood. I left home about 6.30 (Abi left not much later to go to see Cabaret at the Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue. I’m told its wonderful) got a bus to Brockley Rise…


Brockley Rise in the Rain, May 2007


…then 122 down to Crystal Palace, then I got on the first bus that came along and round the houses down past Gypsy Hill and Beulah Hill (less Biblio-romantically called “Bewley’s Farm” on old maps) to Spa Hill by the David Livingstone Primary School. Yes, Norwood is hilly and proud of it.

I don’t know it well, but I think I like Upper Norwood. For reasons I don’t understand it is nice. There are places you come across (if you wander round London) that are for some reason or other more pleasant than you expected. That make you smile to find them. Not the coolest or the richest or the most trendy or the most fun places. Maybe its partly low expectations. No-one demands much from a visit to Osidge, or to Cricklewood and Willesden Green, or to the denser parts of Penge, so when you find them to be slightly less boring than you feared, your easily-pleasedness is stroked.

Norwood is one of those nice places, or at least the streets between Upper Norwood and Thornton Heath are. Maybe its the combination of high density and greenness and a feeling of openness. Maybe its the way Croydon council have preserved and labeled loads of pathways and twittens between streets, so everything is penetrable. Maybe its the way social and ethnic diversity has been added to what was mostly a lower-middle-class/respectable-working-class Victorian suburb without quite overwhelming it. Maybe its the hills providing views over or out of London. Maybe it just reminds me of home. Maybe there are waves of evangelical niceness pulsing down over the landscape from Spurgeon’s College. Or else its the unpretentious radio waves from the transmitter at the top of the hill – the original ITV TV mast, but now used for Channel 5 TV and local commercial radio stations on MW and DAB, with the UHF being just the hot backup for the 70m taller and much flashier Crystal Palace transmitter. There must be some beneficial effect from living in the shadow of Kiss FM.

If this was America perhaps the Baptists would make a bid to take over the transmitter and broadcast Christian TV. There can’t be many many unused TV transmitters with thirteen and a half million people in the footprint. But as it is, Norwood is a nice place.

My PC seems to have lost my photos of Spurgeon’s College (amongst other things). Try again tomorrow.

I decided that if it was past 8.20pm when I got to the Goat House bridge (where there is no Goat House Tavern any more) I’d look for a pub for a quick drink then get the bus back, but if not I’d extend the walk a little. It was 8.18. So off over the railway and past some flats…


…and into South Norwood Country Park, Which was beautiful quite unexpected, and very wet. Flatter than I expected, with a lot of drainage ditches lined with thorn and elder running between small open areas of grass, nettles, and brambles with tall herbs like cow parsley and hogweed and and some larger trees. Quite a bit of ash and some oak. Almost heathland, but chalk underfoot. I have no idea how it came to be there. By the amount of concrete and brick rubble lying around I guess it might have been built on once. Its hard to be sure in the near-dark but I don’t think I saw many mature trees.

Remarkably empty for a park probably not as much as a quarter of a square mile in extent. Just me in the middle and a couple of dogwalkers working round the edge. Maybe Croydonians don’t like walking in woods in the pouring rain in the evening. Birdsong everywhere. I wish I could identify birds by their song but I usually can’t and I only got a good look at one largish bird perching on a lookout branch in the gloaming and much as I tried to make it a short-eared own it was a crow. It looks like a place for warblers. I could fantasise that there were nightjars there, but I expect that the place is much too small.

Even if there were any it was a little wet for them to be about. This years weather can’t have helped insect-eating birds. An unusually hot and dry early spring, followed by a sodden May. At the end of March and beginning of April London was not only hotter than New York (not unusual at that date) but hotter than LA and Houston – and Melbourne. Almost as hot as Sydney and Cairo. By the end of April the temperature was hotter than our summer average. This last week of May has been cooler than the last week of March was. And its been raining for days. That’s great for plants which got an early start with spring sunshine and no frosts, and are being watered during the long days of cool light, which is more important to them than intense sunshine (most native plants can’t make much use of direct bright sunshine anyway, much of the benefit is lost by photorespiration and increased metabolic rate). But many insects like it the other way round. Damp winters and springs to get the grubs going, then hot dry smelly weather for them to fly around and bother people. And what insects like swifts and nightjars like. I fear they are having a bad year.


And I lost my way and turned too far south on Footpath 666 and ended up at Arena tram stop and had to yomp up the dual carriageway to the uninterpretable junction at Elmer’s End for two pints of Spitfire in the William IV and a bus home.

William IV, Elmer's End

No photos of the Park yet, as it was getting dark and however lovely the light seems when you are in it, trees don’t photograph well after sunset in the rain. Maybe later.

I’ll be back.

From Pollard’s Hill to Norwood Junction

There is a hole in my knowledge of suburban South London. I’ve been familiar with Croydon at least since I was first at university back in the 1970s and I’ve often had reason to visit there. Now I live in Lewisham I sometimes go to Sydenham or Crystal Palace or even Penge because they are easy to get to by train or bus, being in the same radial sector of London, so I just need to go out and in and not round. Brixton I’ve been to, and I used to have friends in Stockwell and Clapham and Tooting. But, apart from the A23 (main road to Brighton via Croydon) and the mainline railway the gap between those places is much more anonymous from my point of view. Streatham, Tooting Common, Norbury, Thornton Heath (north of the Mayday, if the Mayday counts as Thornton Heath) haven’t really been on my radar.

So the next stage of my circumnavigation of London in Zones 4 and 5 was all exploration, at least for the first few miles.

Tube to Clapham Common then 255 bus to take me back to Pollard’s Hill, somewhere I didn’t even know existed till I walked up it last week.

Pollards Hill Baptist Church

Pollards Hill Estate 3259

This time I approached from the Mitcham side through a perhaps 1970s flat-rooved high-density low-rise estate that looked like a little version of the Ferrier at Kidbrooke at first, until I saw if from Pollard’s Hill and realised how huge it was. Pleased to find I could still steer through the little playing fields behind the estate and predict where the hole in the fence that gets me to the hill was – one of the few skills you learn being brought up in suburban council estates outside Brighton, followed by years of experience in walking round putting political leaflets in doors. I can nearly always find my way from a council estate to the nearest little municipal recreation ground or swing park.

Path from estate to top of Pollards Hill

View over Pollards Hill estate

The view from Pollard’s hill is wonderful (if you like looking at south London suburbia, which by now anyone reading this will have realised that I do. Almost 360 degrees, though you have to position yourself very carefully to look north thought the gaps between the houses. In some ways a bigger view than from Crystal Palace or Hilly Fields, perhaps because the hill, though not very high, stands more alone and falls off more steeply.


View North from Pollards Hill

Where do white people go on Sundays? I mean, I’m white, I know where I go, I go to church and the pub and sometimes the shops and occasionally on bus-trips of bike rides or longish walks round London. But where are the rest of them? Not in our church (pretty obviously) but today not in the streets on the east side of Pollard’s Hill either. Today it mostly seemed to be Asian families wearing western clothes and driving BMWs. Its quite posh round there, Some private streets and lots of kempt leafy spaces.



Back to Norbury High Street (or whatever the A23 is called there) and up the other side through back streets. It seems to be a bit of a taxi suburb. The homes of cab drivers congregate in London. There are few streets round the back of Welling where you could almost believe about one house in five has a black taxi parked outside it. And there is a bigger load of them in Ilford. There seemed to be quite a few parked outside lockups and in little alleyways round Thornton Heath and Norbury. Quiet streets of semi-detached or largish terraced houses, mostly inter-war, very lace-curtain and respectable, often with front gardens, some looking like ex-Council places. One suspects that there are many large flat-screen TVs inside. The London working class moved a few notches upmarket and out to the suburbs, but not so far out as to make it hard to drive in to town. Who wants a two-hour journey home after their last fare of the night? Maybe if Welling is where the white drivers accumulate, and Asians in Ilford, black black cab drivers end up in Thornton Heath.



Up the hill towards the centre of Thornton Heath and houses getting shabbier and older – must have grown out north from Croydon rather than being developed south from inner London through Brixton or Sydenham – or perhaps more likely they merged from a little cluster of high-density nineteenth-century hosusing round each station, the sort of thing you see near every little station on the Brighton Line – even such exurban places as Hassocks or Balcombe (Or do I mean Barcombe? Very irritating that they are in the same county) can have a street or two of smaller older houses around the station. Before they filled in the gaps with the 1920s and 30s semis this must have been a little like a Surrey version of the MegaVillage One in Sussex (a name my brother-in-law gave to the network of “villages” north of the Downs between Lewes and Henfield and north almost to Hayward’s Heath). There is a web of roads connecting old centres that actually or almost join with each other, with nineteenth century streets at right-angles to them, and newer housing filling in the gaps. Large chunks of Thorton Heath could easily be in Brighton. The houses are almost identical to places like Ditchling Road.




Further up the hill through the little recreation ground towards Thornton Heath station and the old houses are grottier again, though older and larger. And much of the infill is council estate with the odd brutalist block, or else some very new estates of high density private housing. There’s a very flash old building just uphill from the station that has been turned into flats. Looks half-way between a posh French house and a church. The little square of new houses beneath it is called Reservoir Close so I guess it must be a waterworks building. Really flash

Now I can either turn left up through a very nice-looking park towards the little Croydon clone of the Crystal Palace mast and back to the Fields We Know that way, or I can drop down to Norwood Junction and get a 75 bus, The second option would join this walk to the route of one I did to Penge a few months ago, so I go for that.

Duke of Cambridge, Selhurst

Croydon Sickle Cell

Selhurst Congregational Church

Selhurst Evangelical Church

And take a wrong turning on what I assumed was Whitehorse Road and ended up crossing the mainline railway and had to backtrack round the Palace ground to get to Norwood clocktower and a pint at the Alliance Tavern. And I was only five minutes late for evening service.

Norwood Baptists

Alliance, Norwood Junction

There are two ways to finish the circumnavigtion formally

In the first year of the walk I worked my way anticlockwise in stages round from Grove Park station (at Downham between Lewisham and Bromley)
to Mitcham via Beckton, Forest Gate, Enfield, Mill Hill, Harrow, Hillingdon, Whitton, Kingston, and Sutton (amongst other places). Not in a continuous set of walks but in a sequence of overlapping walks crossing each other zigzagging through each others routes.But there it rested for about two years longer than intended, In the gap I’ve visited Penge and Norwood a few times (and once the Norwoody bit of Streatham) and I’ve been to Beckenham Place Park. so I know have lines on my AtoZ connecting Norwood junction to Beckenham. I also went to Downham for a funeral and walked back to Lewisham. So I know have only two gaps, totalling less than a kilometre from to connect Beckenham to Grove Park. So I could join the dots with a couple of busrides and less than half an hour’s walking.

Or I can work my way east from Norwood Junction through Zone Four passing south of Beckenham through the outer reaches of Croydon – all those anonymous suburban stations in the litany of the Mid-Kent Railway and the old Crystal Palace line named after pubs and some now reborn as tramstops: Kent House, Clock House, Elmers End, Birkbeck, Bellingham, Beckenham, Bickley. That will keep the outerness going

(Piccies added Monday night)