Monday, 25 January 2016

Thames Path

Teddington → Tower of London

marathon.jpg Distance: 24.61 miles
Ascent: 138 metres
Duration: 5 hours 49 minutes

A London Marathon
« Not walked | Island Gardens »

In common with a few other National Trails, the Thames Path has an alternative option for part of its length. As it wends its way through London a route is described on both the north and the south banks of the river. Since I've previously completed the north bank section downstream of the Tower of London, today I decided to bite off the remaining distance in one huge chunk.

The rhythm of the day was of course provided by the bridges. I wish I'd thought to take photographs of them all, but here are the final sixteen. (How many can you name?)

















They are — in order — Battersea, Albert, Chelsea, Grosvenor, Vauxhall, Lambeth Westminster, Hungerford/Golden Jubilee, Waterloo, Blackfriars, Blackfriars Rail, Millennium, Southwark, Canon Street, London, Tower. Top marks if you recognised them all; time for a day-trip to town if you only spotted the last one.

This is the longest walk I've ever done. Once I added getting to the start from Teddington Station, getting from the end to Tower Hill tube and a little extra pacing around, the distance came in at 26.2 miles — a London Marathon, if you will. (Total duration six hours twenty-four minutes. Hardly a time to be proud of, but certainly something to build on.)

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Sunday, 24 January 2016

Thames Path

Waterloo → Woolwich

dr-salters-cat.jpg Distance: 14.56 miles
Ascent: 60 metres
Duration: 4 hours 35 minutes

« Not walked | Not walked »

Today's soggier than yesterday, but there's been so much to see.

here-24859.jpgThe hits kept coming: the new City skyline momentarily lost in low cloud; an abundance of public art (favourite: the sign pointing the 24,589 mile way back to itself by circumnavigating the globe via the North and South Poles); renovated wharves; tales of local heroes; the ghoulish gateposts and Grinling Gibbons "Valley of Dry Bones" reredos at St Nicholas, Deptford; Greenwich with the Cutty Sark, Painted Gallery and Time Ball (we were just in time for the one o'clock drop).

surrey-quays-goat.jpgThe most unusual sight was the tiny farm at Surrey Docks, where inquisitive goats climbed the fence for a better look while pigs, sheep and cattle sat idly by.

In an unusual move we ate lunch out — the Millennium Dome provides plenty of choice just a short distance from the finish line — and topped the meal off with freshly caught whelks from a barrow on the road in New Charlton.

pab-woolwich.jpgAll of a sudden the great Thames Barrier was upon us and the end of another National Trail: my sixth and Emma's fourth. I don't know why it ends here. Indeed, there's a signpost directing walkers on towards Crayford Ness on the Thames Path Extension and it's tempting to just keep going. But where would that lead? A circuit of our island, perhaps?

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Saturday, 23 January 2016

Thames Path

Richmond → Waterloo

battersea-power-station.jpg Distance: 17.16 miles
Ascent: 61 metres
Duration: 4 hours 43 minutes

Birds and cats
« Not walked | Not walked »

We walked with the crowds today. The usual joggers were out, being encouraged on by the Ring-Necked Parakeets that have made the west-London riverside their home. But as we approached Chiswick Bridge, they were joined by cyclists shouting in the direction of the river (and not necessarily looking where they were going).

quintin-head.jpgWe'd stumbled across the Quitin Head race, with 250 rowing eights jostling for position on the water. The starting line was at Hammersmith Bridge, and once past there we had the riverside to ourselves again.

It's been a fascinating walk, partly because it connects so many places I've known over the years. It's also been revealing: I'd forgotten just how many power stations used to operate from the river banks.

What'll stick in our memory most though, are the cats.

cats-and-dogs.jpgA lengthy detour away from the water's edge in Battersea takes the Thames Path past the the Dogs and Cats Home. There was no way Emma would resist a sign directing This Way to the Cats. Inside a well-equipped cattery, waifs and strays mewed plaintively from behind the glass doors of their cells. It's a cheap jibe to compare the place to a prison, but the "inmates" certainly seemed just as keen to escape.

london-eye.jpgTempting as it was to adopt one, we left empty-handed and continued until we reached to the final crowd of the day: camera-laden tourists thronging on the Albert Embankment.

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Saturday, 16 January 2016

Thames Path

Walton-on-Thames → Richmond

boat-shed.jpg Distance: 13.06 miles
Ascent: 37 metres
Duration: 3 hours 38 minutes

Towards the centre of the dart board
« Not walked | Not walked »

When we resumed walking the Thames Path in October we were determined to finish before the end of the year. We didn't quite achieve that, but having crossed the M25 last time we feel the end is in sight.

It's been a cold day, and the path has been muddy where the ice has started to melt. At Kingston we crossed the line of the London Outer Orbital Path, and at Richmond we intersected the Capital Ring. Slicing through these concentric round-London routes it feels as through we're working our way to the bullseye of the dart board of the capital.

hampton-court.jpgThe highlight was brushing past the Royal Palace at Hampton Court. There's no getting away from its splendour, but it's disappointing that the entire park is hidden from the river behind a double-fence or high hedge.

Originally we'd planned to walk further today but there seems little point. No matter how far we go we'd still have two walks remaining so stopping at a good transport hub seemed sensible option.

If all goes to plan, next time we'll pierce the final circle: the Jubilee Walkway at the heart of the city.

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Friday, 15 January 2016


Last and First Men

Published in 1930, Last and First Men is the first novel written by the pacifist philosopher Olaf Stapledon. It's a future history of mankind stretching from the (then) present-day to a point one thousand million, million years in the future when mankind finally ceases to exist.

Twenty years ago a stranger recommended the book to me, and today I've finally finished reading it. At times it's horribly turgid, but those moments are interspersed with sections of sheer brilliance.

While occasionally the writing discloses the era in which it was written (there are hints at eugenics and much preoccupation with aviation), it's surprising just how relevant the underlying themes are to today's society. This just demonstrates Stapledon's greatest achievement: he has expressed essential human weaknesses in a way that's sadly too believable.

Frequently Stapledon's pacifistic views come to the fore and it's hard not to be swept along with them, such as this impassioned speech by an un-named member of the British Cabinet:

"From the people of England to the people of France. Catastrophe has fallen on us at your hands. In this hour of agony, all hate and anger have left us. Our eyes are opened. No longer can we think of ourselves as English merely, and you as merely French; all of us are, before all else, civilized beings. Do not imagine that we are defeated, and that this message is a cry for mercy. Our armament is intact, and our resources still very great. Yet, because of the revelation which has come to us today, we will not fight. No plane, no ship, no soldier of Britain shall commit any further act of hostility. Do what you will. It would be better even that a great people should be destroyed than that the whole race should be thrown into turmoil. But you will not strike again. As our own eyes have been opened by agony, yours now will be opened by our act of brotherhood."

It's a tough read, but worthwhile if you have the stamina.

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Sunday, 3 January 2016


Peak Beard

All good experiments must come to an end.


On the plus side, I no longer have to be nervous about eating soup again.

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Sunday, 13 December 2015

Thames Path

Windsor → Walton-on-Thames

qe2-runnymead.jpg Distance: 15.92 miles
Ascent: 46 metres
Duration: 4 hours 51 minutes

A birthday walk
« Not walked | Not walked »

You can tell we're heading towards the darkest night of the year; the day felt like a permanent dusk. It's been soggy, drizzly and grey, as if the sun couldn't see the point of bringing us any light.

Still, we're keen to try and complete the Thames Path this year so trudged on regardless.

There doesn't seem much to write about. Runnymead held no particular fascination, and the less said of Staines (even with its recent "-upon-Thames" appendage) the better.

weybridge-ferry.jpgThe one point of interest was the sole ferry we'll take on this National Trail, from Shepperton to Weybridge. We'd just missed one service when we arrived at the pontoon, but a friendly man quickly arrived to take us across. "I couldn't watch you wait another quarter of an hour," he said, gesturing to the skies. He was a glimmer of sunshine before we departed back into the grey.

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Saturday, 5 December 2015


Rock → Padstow

rock-ferry.jpg Distance: 12.94 miles
Ascent: 296 metres
Duration: 3 hours 12 minutes

England Again
« Polzeath | Harlyn »

"Wait. Aren't you done with England? Isn't that what February 2014 was about?"

Indeed. They're fair questions. While I may have completed the contiguous route around this province's coastline back then, there are plenty of refinements to make.

For a start, there are the ferries. At a minimum there's the Afon Wsyg, River Taw, Helford River, Carrick Roads and Percuil River, River Fowey, Cremyll/Stonehouse Narrows, River Yealm, River Avon (Devon), Kingsbridge Estuary, Dartmouth Harbour, River Exe, Poole Harbour, River Crouch and Shields Harbour (River Tyne). There's plenty more coastwalking yet!

dinham.jpgWe've been staying in Wadebridge for a few days this week, walking to Padstow daily on the wonderful Camel Trail — a cycle path that runs along the south side of the Camel Estuary. The Padstow Christmas Festival is in full swing, and although I've very much enjoyed the time I've spent there I'm having a day off from eating food samples, leaving Emma there to enjoy the cookery demos while I walk up and down the river.

wadebridge-bridge.jpgThe north side of the estuary doesn't have a good walking route, so I spent most of the first half on country lanes. Recent heavy rain made the brief footpath interludes far from appealing with paths flooded to the depth of a foot or more and meadows waterlogged. Not fun.

cycling-santas.jpgFrom Wadebridge I was on familiar ground, having got to know this section very well over recent days. There was one surprise though: I caught up with the stragglers on the "Santa vs Rudolf" fun run/ride, which meant I began to regret wearing my scruffy beard and red walking top lest I be mistaken for a participant!

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Saturday, 21 November 2015

Thames Path

Marlow → Windsor

cookham-moor.jpg Distance: 14.47 miles
Ascent: 112 metres
Duration: 4 hours 13 minutes

On home turf
« Not walked | Not walked »

cliveden-deep.jpgAnd so to the walk of which we know every step.

laser-security.jpgThe houses are just as big as on the previous leg. If anything affluence is even more visible, with boathouses attached to most properties and threatening notices warning of "laser security".

Yet we've become immune to this, having walked these paths so many times over the years.

For a few moments we became tourists again, playing with the echo under Brunel's famous Sounding Arch and later marvelling at the majesty of Windsor Castle appearing in the distance.

sounding-arch.jpgThe bright autumnal light on this cold, crisp day brought the countryside to life and it felt as if this might be the very best stretch of the river thought I'm sure that's just familiarity talking.

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Wednesday, 18 November 2015


Steve Jobs

I try hard to avoid being an unwavering Apple fanatic. It won't help that the first time I've been to a cinema in five years is to watch this film named after the one of the company's founders.

In my defence I'll point out that those closest to Steve Jobs — his family and work colleagues — have treated the film with disdain. I might also add that I've frequently enjoyed work by Danny Boyle, Kate Winslet and Aaron Sorkin so a film they've all had a hand in was likely to curry favour with me.

It did impress. Much has been made of its dense dialogue, its innovative use of different film stocks to distinguish the three acts and the fact that this is really a film about broken people not computers. I've not seen reference to the presence of iconic fonts or the Arthur C Clarke interview/prologue.

For me though, the heart of the film is in one line. Introducing her to the first Mac, Steve Jobs tells his daughter, "there is literally nothing you can do to break this," and leaves her to explore the computer on her own. That goal — an unbreakable appliance — is something we should still be yearning for in technology. As for relationships, perhaps what makes them so special is that such a goal for them would be completely unattainable.

ticket-machine.jpg(Side note: things have changed since I was previously at the cinema. For a start, the box office is a machine. Unfortunately the user interface is so clunky and the implementation so unreliable I was left with a foot-long receipt of an aborted transaction and had to resort to human intervention. There's an irony here.)

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Sunday, 8 November 2015

Thames Path

Reading → Marlow

henley-angel.jpg Distance: 18.55 miles
Ascent: 103 metres
Duration: 5 hours 48 minutes

Familiar but foreign
« Not walked | Not walked »

The landscape is getting more familiar. Running through towns and villages we've been to plenty of times before, this section of the river is distinctly recognisable though only the final two miles from Hurley to Marlow are well known to us.

rag-dolls.jpgThe recent rain has made this a slippery, sticky and muddy walk today along the most exclusive length of the Thames that we've seen. George Clooney's new pad in Sonning, Paul Daniels' place in Wargrave and the rowing reaches of Henley all hint at the exclusive nature of this part of the valley. It may be undeniably beautiful, and certainly civil, but to us this could never feel like home no matter how familiar it is.

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Wednesday, 4 November 2015



A throwaway song from an interim album formed the emotional heart of this, U2's latest tour.

And I have no compass
And I have no map
And I have no reasons
No reasons to get back

And I have no religion
And I don't know what's what
And I don't know the limits
The limits of what we've got

Don't worry baby
It's gonna be alright
Uncertainty can be a guiding light
I hear voices, ridiculous voices
Out in the slipstream
Let's go to the overground
Get your head out of the mud baby

We're gonna dream of the world we want to live in
We're gonna dream out loud
Dream out loud


The lengthy stage lit by fluorescent tubes took on the form of a sanctuary and the text #refugeeswelcome appeared on the screens. A breathtaking moment from a spectacular show.

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Thursday, 29 October 2015


Over the Rhine, St Giles in the Fields

Many of Over the Rhine's songs either make direct reference to old hymns or sound like they would sit comfortably in a hymnbook. That's not to say that they frequently tackle faith head-on, but rather blow it a kiss from across the room.

over-the-rhine.jpgIt's fitting then that for their first UK date in eight years Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist are here in a beautiful church in London's West End. The setting nods to the literary (it's a street away from Charing Cross Road) and musical too (that street is Tin Pan Alley — Denmark Street).

I'm never going to be able to review Over the Rhine without bias. I've loved these people and their music for over twenty years. Too many songs hold too many memories for me to be impartial.

This was a truly special evening. There's no doubting the talent in the room.

But don't take it from me. Take it from the stage manager. "Not another band," she told us was her pre-show thought. Afterwards was a different story. "They were amazing," she said as she sprinted to the merchandise table to buy her first OtR CD.

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Sunday, 25 October 2015

Thames Path

Shillingford → Reading

autumn-colours.jpg Distance: 21.39 miles
Ascent: 166 metres
Duration: 6 hours 16 minutes

Racing the sun
« Not walked | Not walked »

We've been racing the sun today. It didn't help that the clocks went forward this morning with the end of summer time. After getting the first bus from Reading to Shillingford it was always going to be a push to make it all the way back before sunset, but we just sneaked in with half an hour to spare.

For the first third of the walk the path was sticky and slippery after recent rain. We thought it unlikely we'd make it to the end in time, but after Streatley conditions improved and we were able to enjoy the crisp, autumnal air.

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Saturday, 17 October 2015

Thames Path

Oxford → Shillingford

Distance: 19.88 miles
Ascent: 43 metres
Duration: 5 hours 41 minutes

Through villages and towns
« Not walked | Not walked »

Eight years was too long last time; so this time we've returned to the Thames a fortnight after our previous outing.

rowing.jpgOxford was a horrible town to walk through. Early on a Saturday morning the river was teeming with rowing boats, and cyclists did their best to dominate the narrow towpath.

Downstream of Sandford Lock we had the towpath to ourselves, but this is no longer the lonely Thames of last week. We've seen the last of the isolated riverside pubs: all now come with villages and towns attached, although the word "charming" is still an appropriate adjective. Looking at the map of the route ahead, I don't think that will be hold true for long.

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