28 December, 2006

Billingham - Christmas at home

Ah Billingham, where I grew up and had my first proper job! It has the distinction of being one of the Idler's cr*p towns, but this ignores the subtleties and nuances of the place. Firstly there is a saxon church, remodelled in early gothic times and in the 20th century, which just goes to show that nothing much happened there between the 13th and 20th centuries. Then it all happened at once. In 1926 Imperial Chemical Industries took over an ammonia plant and built an estate of houses for staff (via a housing Association). Then in the 1950s and 60s the Council built an entirely new town with a leisure centre and a technical college (demolished) a shopping centre (not what it was) and hundreds of council houses (mostly sold). Then in the late 60s Moore and Cartwright (builders) built a private estate opposite the new town centre. This was completed by 1970 and a new estate built by Wimpey and Yuill in the building boom of the 1980s.
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27 December, 2006

Saltburn by the Sea

Saltburn, named after the small salt river that runs near the original village. The original village has a public house and small collection of fishermens/smugglers/wreckers cottages. This was and is quite isolated under cat nab and the main cliff.

All this changed with the coming of the Railways and development on the cliff top of a fashionable new resort for the ironmasters of Middlesbrough. The development was funded by the directors of the Stockton and Darlington Railway Co. who were mainly industrialists in the Darlington and Middlesbrough area. There were no pubs in the town (as these would attract riff raff), so the drinking had to be done in hotels where a higher class would gather. The streets leading down to the sea were also named after jewels, which shows a bright and sparkly vision of a clean town in the fresh sea air.

The railway led directly into the porch of the Zetland Hotel (Lord Zetland - not the islands) but this hotel overlooked the valley gardens and not the sea. The hotel is now flats and apparently Danny La Rue has one of them. There is also the Club and Institute Union Convalescent Home no doubt chosen for its restful location.

Of the seaside attractions there is a truncated pier with a very small amusement arcade. There is also a hydraulic cliff lift (summer only), but as a seaside resort where anyone would want to spend more than a couple of hours saltburn doesn't really cut the mustard.
The pictures show the cliff lift

The former railway station

and a view of the new town from the end of the pier.

Perched precariously on the cliffside is a cottage called Teddy's Nook. Legend has it that Lily Langtry 'entertained' King Edward VII there when he stayed at the Zetland Hotel. Although I doubt he ever visited Saltburn.

12 December, 2006


A not too bad trip to Manchester for a Co-operative Action board meeting. Poor journey with delays on Sunday which is always my bugbear about Manchester, also the fact it's a dirty hole. Didn't see much touristy but the inside of the Remnant pub.

10 December, 2006

The countryside of East Sussex

I visited brighton for the day to visit co-op stores around the country towns of East Sussex, Polegate, Hailsham and Heathfield. These were very fine stores. We followed this up by dinner at the Brighton municipal pub, The Sportsman, at the Brighton and Hove Albion ground.

I arrived at the station just as the last train was pulling out, therefore had to stay in the Royal Albion. My nice room had a jacuzzi bath, which I made full use of. In the morning I went to Manchester but that's another story.

19 November, 2006


I went to Brighton to celebrate a civil partnership by Mike and Tony. The celebratory party was a great success with friends old and new, with many thanks to Mike and Ken for putting me up at their flat.

The morning after we had a walk through the town around the shops and into the solus George Branch of ASDA. People using this shop and Primark are able to dress very cheaply and very well.

The picture shows the old dairy in Kemp Town

12 November, 2006


Stowmarket is a little market town in Suffolk with a large church in the centre of town dedicated to St Peter.
Posted by Picasa Stowmarket village sign Posted by Picasa

05 November, 2006

Harlow New Town - Hearts and Essex

Harlow in Essex is a new town, built after the Second World War to a 1947 plan by Sir Frederick Gibberd, who also designed the Lansbury Estate at Poplar for the Festival of Britain. There is a population of around 90000 clustered in villages with a lot of green space surrounding the flats and houses. The first tower block in the country was built in Harlow and this is now listed. The new towns were built in a utopian spirit when people still had faith in the future (the past had been so horrible that faith in the future was needed) and people also had faith in their politicians to to deliver it. As politicians no longer believe they can make peoples lives better (only less worse) so the utopian vision has faded, as have the facilities and bus services. The cinema, where once Harlow’s residents dreamed their big dreams has closed and if it was open you would not be able to get to it as the bus doesn’t run. This is shameful.

The first picture shows the Adam clock overlooking the market place in the Festival of Britain style town centre. The town centre was rather characterised by empty shops, with a considerable number in one block alone. Apparently there are faults with construction of some of the buildings which has led to demolition of some of the town centre buildings and it may be that this block is due for demolition also, although I would have thought a town of 90000 people could support a full town centre of shops. There are a few large hypermarkets on the edge which may explain the lack.

Public art is prominent, and the final pictures show some of the public sculptures. Harlow has the largest collection of public sculpture for any town its size. The first is in the market place and is called ‘Meatporters’ by the sculptor Ralph Brown. It shows two porters carrying an eviscerated pig, which is appropriate for a meat and food market.

The second photograph shows a sculpture called ‘Trigon’ by the sculptor Lynn Chadwick outside the former Woolworth (although it is not a good sign that Woolworth has left).

Public art gives a sense of place and shows that the cultural needs of the townspeople are not neglected nor are they thought of as philistines.

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30 October, 2006


I went to Personchester for the Regional Board Conference of the Co-operative Group. The conference was good, I wish I could say the same about the town. Firstly, Manchester is difficult to get to. Virgin trains are around 50% first class therefore second gets very crowded. Often the guards declassify the trains, which is fine if you can't find a seat but if you have a seat in second there's no point giving it up.

When you get to Manchester, the damp climate is also a drawback, and the city centre is in need of considerable regeneration to clean up the former grim industrial buildings. Manchester suffers from low wages and high prices: the price of beer (a good index) being the same as London.

The gay scene always disappoints. The village is now almost totally hetero with only company bar being men only. Council promoted kiss of death.

One picture shows what Manchester is,

the other shows the places where it is preferable to be.

10 October, 2006

London Loop completed. Harold wood to Coldharbour Point.

This was a rather dull walk, and like the Capital Ring, the loop saves the worst until the last. The walk did have its moments, not least the glass of wine I had at the end.

The first point of interest came at Stratford Station where I was complimented on my camera by a young man who had been working all night with a shovel as a pavior. He was telling me how much he had earned with Islington Council, and this was very impressive. Then a very drunk Irishman called Coleman approached (this is 10 o’clock in the morning) who told me he had drunk a bottle of teachers whisky. He insisted I take his photo. He was alternately Irish, English and Jewish and very loud. He and the pavior were turning cartwheels on the station, I suspect the staff thought to leave well alone. The conversation covered drink, narcotics and their effects on the body and mind, pay rates in the building trade and routemaster busses. Coleman got off the train at Forest Gate and I was left with the pavior who was very pleasant and left at Ilford.

From the train I also saw a coal tax post on the side of the railway.

After this excitement Harold Wood was an anticlimax. I bought a Sunday Times (for the free DVD - mona lisa – a good film in spite of Michael Caine being in it) and my lunch. I had to throw the Sunday Times away later as it was too bulky to carry, and I didn’t enjoy my lunch either. Most of the walking at Harold Wood was through suburban streets but Harold Wood Park was quite nice with trees of different colours adding variety to the landscape and a few footballers playing in a Sunday league. Leaving the park into a community forest I then came to a road and walked along into Upminster, past a few delapidated farms one with an old granary on mushroom posts.
At the end of a suburban road there was a woodlanded way leading up past a school and into more suburban streets. Then there were some donkeys in a field and a parade of shops. Following another suburban street I saw the Upminster Windmill and walked along to a sports centre and park beside the Ingrebourne. I carried on through the Ingrebourne valley (dull dull dull) past St Georges Hospital which looked nice, and saw another couple who were doing the loop. Engaging them in conversation this was their second outing on the loop having come from Chigwell.

More deadly dull suburbia and busy road followed. Not sure why the road was so busy as it only went to Rainham but never mind. I did get to Rainham with its lovely and near complete Norman church and its beautiful 17th Century hall. The peace memorial was in the form of a clock. Now had the loop ended at Rainham (after all, it is a loop not a ring) I think everybody would be happy, but it has to go on. The Channel tunnel rail link goes past Rainham so I had to negotiate a large bridge over this and some very unpleasant industrial areas on Rainham Marshes. However the path soon comes to the Thames, and I walked along to the barrier at Coldharbour Point, then took myself back again to a seat where I raised a third of a bottle of wine in toast to the achievement. But like the Ring, I’ll never do the final section again.


01 October, 2006

Chigwell to Harold Wood – Stages 20 and 21 of the London Loop. Muddy Sunday

This walk began with church bells ringing in my ear and ended with a welcome store. In between, I saw some spectacular storms and got soaked to the skin.

Chigwell, if you ignore the modern parts, is a pretty village with an attractive church and inn group, one of the few inn pictures Arthur Mee uses and it hasn’t changed a lot, except that the pargeting has come off and it is now black and white with a chef and brewer sign. There is also a school in mellow brick.

One of the morning services had just ended at the church so I went in and had a look round, with permission from the friendly rector. The church was obviously extended in the 19th Century with a new nave and chancel, the old nave and chancel serving as a side chapel. The old nave had a wonderful collection of funeral hatchments and the tower was supported on old oak beams with bells hung for full circle ringing. There was beautiful glass and banners with texts, including “be still and know that I am G*d”. I missed the monument to George Shillibeer, who brought 'busses to London in the nineteenth century but I saw the old brass to Archbishop Samuel Harsnett Primate of England, who had been vicar of Chigwell. He died in 1631 having been denounced for popery after having denounced an aspect of Calvinism. However he was a married man and had also written a book on how to expose those who pretended to be casting out evil spirits.

The church appeared bright and lively with its kindly rector. There were also other old houses in the Village and the Archbishop Harsnett school with venetian windows and mellow brick. The old cottages and shops were straight out of Dickens (who called Chigwell the finest place in the world – it isn’t though). The old inn could play host to Mr Pickwick. I left the village over the fields (remember this is London Transport Zone 6) with the bells of Chigwell church ringing in my ears. I crossed fields and more fields and found the first of the mud. This slowed my progress as my boots became encrusted with mud and the rain started to come down. However this gentle rain was but a rehearsal for the rest of the day and I strode on through the shower. I came into Chigwell Row passing a pony club show jumping field by the little yellow brick United Reformed Church with its dignified manse at the back and graveyard. Chigwell Row overlooks the Hainault forest and that’s all you can say about it really. The Hainault forest isn’t much of a forest but there is an informative visitor’s centre with fish tank, and a beacon. There are some beautiful open spaces for a sunny day out in the country. There’s also a rare breeds farm, however breeds only become rare for a reason, which could be poor eating quality. Although these places were not defended by the Corporation, like Epping Forrest and the south London commons, the LCC seems to have done a good job. We’ll meet the LCC a lot on this walk.

Here is the LCC Coat of arms.

After the Hainalt forest the walk led me through a golf course. At least this wasn’t muddy and the path was well waymarked although being Sunday afternoon there were many golfers about.
I soon left the golf course to cross fields with a view of the towers of Romford. There were many more muddy tracks here. I soon went up the hill to view the light glinting off the top of Canary Wharf Tower like some far off emerald city. The Havering country park began as a large mansion, like most of them did but this was demolished in the depressed years of the 1930s and converted, more or less, into a people’s garden city. People were able to buy plots, sometimes for as little as £5, and would be able to erect bungalows on these plots in the days before planning permission. Usually the bungalows, if the owners had enough money to build them, were little more than huts, but these were part of a fairly strong back to the land and hutment movement in the aftermath of the first world war. Of course the gas, water and electricity companies could not be persuaded to lay on utilities and the plots were often many miles from transport facilities. Peacehaven - perhaps the saddest monument to the 1918 peace - was built in this way, with some of the plots given away in a News of the World competition. Eventually hutment inhabitants, where they never got good title to the land and where there were no utilities, had to be dealt with and the LCC bought the land in the 1950s and turned it into a country park free of development. There are some giant (comparitively small) redwood trees in the park which will grow larger in time.

The next village was Havering Atte Bower, where our kings and queens have walked. The village stocks and whipping post are preserved on the village green but there is no trace of the former royal palace or even the original village church the current one being 19th century. This village is where Joan of Navarre, queen to Henry IV lived. The queen was accused of the heresy of witchcraft, but was never brought to trial, even in those days when witchcraft was a dread reality. Historians believe that money was the motivation, and when needs were not so pressing they released joan and what remained of her money to live out her days at Havering Atte Bower.

Leaving the village I walked through some more muddy fields keeping in view a round tower known as The tea caddy. I suspect it was a clock for the workers in the fields. I came to some ornate metal gateposts which grace the entrance to Pyrgo Park, with its chapel visible later on the path. It was here that the storm finally broke, when I was on a ridge too! I have seen this quantity of rain very few times in my life and the lightning flashes and thunder made me think of Beethoven (the composer not the dog) but I wished I had a dog with me. I got soaked to the skin. It was so wet I could not take a picture of or even properly see the building that looked like Castle Drogo, but perhaps more modern. Eventually I came to Paternoster Lane after slipping several times. This road was more like a river but at the end was the Castle Drogo like house I admired from the ridge. It was very modern. The road led me down to The Bear, a sizzling inn. By now I was thoroughly soaked and ready for a sizzling platter, preferably applied to my backside to dry my clothes. But I made do with a pint and bag of crisps and a blast under the warm air dryer in the Gents. Setting out from the pub I walked down Tees Avenue in the LCC out of county estate, starting to resemble the River Tees, to walk in the little dell where flows Carter’s brook which becomes Paine’s Brook and then the River Ingrebourne. Understandably this was white water rapids after the storms, and although it poured down on the rest of the walk I didn’t notice a thing with the pint inside me. Thank heaven for alcohol, the cup that really does cheer!
Continuing along the proto Ingrebourne (our rivers have Saxon names) I came to the central park of Gidea Park, fine examples of 1950s LCC housing very different for Mr and Mrs Citizen, the first tenants, and their four children from the three attic rooms where the six of them had been crammed together. The neatly designed cottages in traditional style round a village green, with old people’s dwellings at the corners, and new shops being opened by both the private trade and the London Coöperative Society led to these dwellings becoming highly desirable and sought after. Mr and Mrs Citizen now had room to grow, blossom and, protected by their democratic landlord from arbitrary eviction, they flourished. Is it any surprise then, that in the property owning democracy they sought to purchase their houses and did so when given a chance? And as a bonus Mr and Mrs Citizen were given a discount that made the purchase easy. The tenants cannot be blamed for buying their houses. The Government can be blamed for not allowing the council to use receipts from house sales to build replacement dwellings.
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The last open space on the section of the loop was a small grassed area with what looked like a world war two bunker in it. After this there were some boring suburban streets (not LCC alas) but at the end of it all was a former London Coöperative Society shop refurbished to Welcome Format and welcome it was too. I caught the train home from Harold Wood station that had the original name over the door – London North Eastern Railway.
A muddy, soaking but still impressive day. I want to do this walk in fine weather as I expect it would be most rewarding.

24 September, 2006

Turkey Street to Chigwell – Essex innit! London Loop Sections 18 and 19

I suppose it had to come really. I had to leave Hertfordshire and enter Essex. There were some pleasant spots on this walk and the weather couldn’t be bettered, but Essex is always a bit of a come down.

The day began at Turkey Street station (see Quin Parker’s amusing entry on Turkey Street in his zone 6 guide) and continues following the Turkey Brook where I walked last time. Coming to a major road I had to stop off to look at Unity superstore, one of the North London Branches which was a very fine store. I bought my lunch and one or two other things then continued with the walk walking down some dull suburban streets and through a dull suburban park. It seems that the council here do not provide seats in the parks so be warned if you’re going and take your own. Enfield Lock on the River Lea Navigation was pleasant with the lock keeper’s cottage dating from 1879 and the cruciform Lee Conservancy offices from 1907. I walked very briefly by the Lee Navigation to Swan and Pike Pool where there was a loop information board. Then it was time to walk by the fast flowing River Lee. The river is deep in places and shallow in others and I saw some fish in it. I crossed a modern steel bridge over a flood relief channel into the County of Essex and came to the Sewardstone Marshes Nature reserve. I nearly stopped for lunch here but decided to press on to follow the route to a farm with a big old farm house from the eighteenth century I would suppose. This looked quite attractive but it was surrounded by a high wall so a picture was just about impossible. The path ran through the fields up to the Sewardstone hills. These hills are wooded with some very attractive views over the Lee Valley Reservoirs, which supply around a quarter of London’s water. I stopped for my lunch overlooking the reservoir and then pressed on to Carroll’s Farm which is a charming traditional weatherboarded Essex farm. I also walked along the road and came upon half a cast iron hat coat and umbrella stand. How this came to be beside a road I don’t know but I took a picture of it anyway.

The path took me through the Scout Association National Headquarters at Gilwell Park and through some pretty meadows where I got lost but not unpleasantly. It would have been good for sunbathing but I pressed on to rejoin the loop into the Chingford part of Epping Forest. Some boys (of all ages) were playing with bows and arrows on the footpath, which I thought was a bit dangerous. Epping Forest has been owned by the Corporation of London for many years and preserves a piece of old England for public recreation forever. There is also Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge which has been restored by the Corporation. 
It was originally built as a Grand Standynge to allow spectators to watch the stag hunt – the original Grandstand. The great staircase in the lodge is round a square newel to allow stately processions to climb the stairs. It is said that Queen Elizabeth rode her horse up the stairs – who knows. The lodge had a display of Tudor food and heraldic banners and is quite well interpreted although the idea of keeping servants and others separate did not begin until regency days when corridors first appear.

People were having fun in the forest in all kinds of ways but I soon left them behind to cross the River Ching (into Essex again) and came to the village of Buckhurst Hill (very posh with lots of large houses. I then went through a little green lane down to the Central Line and passed into one of the council estates erected for Londoners in the Roding Valley. It is very council estate-ish here. There is a large recreation ground with a lake excavated to provide gravel for the M11 motorway nearby. I walked round the lake and crossed the River Roding by a bridge then walked round a large recreation centre and school, named after a guru. I wouldn’t like to go to a school named after a guru! I crossed the motorway and came into Chigwell amongst the bandits and bank robbers. I caught the train home from there.

17 September, 2006


I've been to Manchester before, and no doubt I'll go again but what I observed this time was the statue of Queen Alexandrina Victoria in Picadilly Gardens. This is a grade 2 listed building.

The Queen is crowned and sat on a throne looking completely debauched. She looks like she has been out night clubbing until six in the morning and has drunk rather a lot of alcohol as well as being tired. She cannot even hold her sceptre straight. It really is a bad representation.

16 September, 2006

Cockfosters to Turkey Street: a stroll along the Turkey Brook London Loop Sect 17.

This section is a part of the Loop that manages to miss out almost all of the worthwhile sights as it meanders along the Turkey Brook.

The first part after the car park and cemetery runs through Trent Park which contains an obelisk to the memory of the duke of Gloucester and another one built as an eyecatcher in the landscape. It certainly does catch the eye, but the loop does not pass it, except from a distance. In the middle of summer here you can’t see the house at Trent Park, which is a campus of Middlesex university, because all the trees are in the way. Another sight missed.

The loop then takes in some pleasant open fields where there were cows grazing. They came over to see who was wandering round the edge of their field. Here’s a picture of one of them

The next section was a lot more of the same although the fields were empty, except for a few horses. I got slightly lost here and walked up a farm track towards Botany Bay cottages, but soon got back on the loop again through a memorial plantation called Brooke Wood, although I don’t know whose (or what’s) memorial it was – Mr or Mrs Brooke or Brooke the racehorse – could be any of those. Although the Ordnance Survey map says it is on Cuckold’s Hill, so I wonder if there’s a story there?

Here’s a picture of the farm.
The path came out at a road called the Ridgeway and there I broke to search for lunch – it seemed quite a long search to a shop but I found one.

After lunch the next section led me down a drive to a farm and a mini version of Beckingham Palace called the Red House stuck in the country. Hilly Fields Park is rather pretty with the Turkey Brook running through it and wooded valleys including a bandstand in the valley.

I crossed a hazardous road into the grounds of Forty Hall which is another interesting place the loop misses. I don’t have time on these trips to do these things as I need to get the walk done! The old channel of the New River runs through here almost completely dried up. We met the end of the new river on the Capital Ring at Clissold Park. The new river isn’t either new or a river but is still quenching the thirst of Londoners after 400 years. The course was straightened in the 1850s and the old channels were left to their own devices. The path led by a fishing lake in Forty Hall grounds, then comes out near a Thames Water establishment which IS the New River which ducks under the Turkey Brook at this point. I crossed a road by a foot bridge (no hazards here) then walked by a cemetery and crematorium into a suburban street – yes, you guessed it – Turkey Street. The station was waiting for me so I left the loop at this point and joined Coöperative member and staff at the Thames Festival, which was thronged! Posted by Picasa

13 September, 2006


Shoreham station is miles away from the sea and I only got as far as the river Adur and what might be the finest church in Sussex. Certainly the church was an impressive Romanesque church, and although I was prevented from walking in the nave and aisles by a heavy metal railing I was awed by the place, which had been once much bigger. The village has two bridges made of concrete over the Adur, one for foot passengers which slides back to allow ships to pass, and one for cars. I don’t know if the car bridge moves. Shoreham village has never come to terms with its traffic problem and there was a constant stream of cars in the main street.
The pictures show the church and the little museum.
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I visited Worthing more to see where it was than anything else and to walk along its art deco pier. The front resembles very closely the picture in my 1937 guide book, however the lido (no swimming pool) and the seafront gardens seemed to emanate decayed decay. The views from the front are of the distant seven sister cliffs and Brighton which appeared bathed in sunlight when I called.

The town museum had a good collection including prehistory and costume, which readers will know I’m not interested in, but there were some items of civic memorabilia which I am.

There were some shops also.
The pictures show the pier and the lido
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12 September, 2006


What more can I say about Brighton? I visited some places this time that I hadn’t visited before, mostly on the west side of Dyke Road, my attentions are usually confined to the east. I saw St Michael and All Angels Church, which is really two churches, the new nave and aisle having been added as an extension to the former nave and two aisles. I did rather better for Kings England Books here as a bookshop had a stock of them at reasonable prices. It just goes to show that you don’t need to go to a book town.

I was down at Mike and Ken’s for the duration of my stay and we entered the pub quiz at the Star Bar, acquitting ourselves very well I thought, although I made a blunder on the flavour of fennel leaves. I didn’t walk on the pier this time but walked down to Hove Lagoon, where the film stars have their retreats right on the beach.

My first day was spent visiting Preston Manor and church, the Manor being a museum of life in Edwardian days for both the couple who lived in the house and their 15 servants. The fifteen did include three gardeners but even so I’m not sue what they would have done all day, even if clothes were more difficult to launder, fires required laying and lighting and rooms required scrubbing rather than hovering. They can’t have scrubbed them every day. The reason it was given to the Council appears to be that the money for its upkeep ran out. The house and its curators were pleasant and informative but did not mention the ghosts that are supposed to haunt the place, besides a reference to an extraordinary séance in the guide book. This had taken place in 1896 after mysterious apparitions and inexplicable phenomena had troubled the family. There is a collection of 18th century furniture and a large pride of Buddhist lions in the cabinet in the dining room.

The redundant church of St Peter at Preston was locked when I called, so I had to borrow the key from one of the pubs in the village. Inside there were stained glass windows showing the cardinal virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity (also translated as love). There are wall paintings, including one showing the murder of Thomas a Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury murdered at the altar by drunken knights who considered that they were doing the King’s bidding. These paintings were saved from a fire one hundred years ago.
Brighton’s new public library, the Jubilee Library, is housed in a futuristic building, giving much convenience to its readers. The photos show this and the weather vane on the old church of Brighton, St Nicholas.
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11 September, 2006

Hay on Wye

Hay is a book town with more than 30 bookshops, and is a beautiful bus ride through orchards and valleys from Hereford. It is not particularly special architecturally but I thought the bookshops would be good and reasonably priced. They were good but not cheap. I did spend a few pounds on books but there were very few in the Kings England Series that I like (and collect) and the few there were, were overpriced. I did the rounds of the bookshops and quite enjoyed it but I doubt I will go back there again.

10 September, 2006



I moved on from Cardiff by train to Hereford where I was to stay for a few days to go to Hay on Wye. Hereford is also in a beautiful setting on the Wye. Travelling up with Robert and one of the Coöperative College academic Staff, and had a jolly journey – not very frequent on the railways today.

Hereford is a pleasant cathedral city, although the cathedral was largely rebuilt (or, as they called it then, restored) in the nineteenth Century. It is also headquarters of the SAS, an elite British Army Squad.

After I had found a hotel, I went to look around the main drag of the town. The place had a large number of public houses full of young people, probably some of whom were pretending to be SAS but I suspect most were farmers sons. Nevertheless, there was some top totty on display, and I do like my eye candy.

My first port of tourism call was the Conningsby hospital and Blackfriars Priory ruins.
The hospital is an almshouse foundation by the Order of St John of Jerusalem and there is a Saint John’s Ambulance station next door to these pretty cottages built in the characteristic local pink stone. I did not get to see inside the almshouse grounds but the priory, which was founded by the black prince stands in a pleasant rose garden, with a fourteenth century preaching cross which was set up by the black friars, also known as the Order of Preachers, and this is where the friars would preach to the multitudes.
It is a survivor as very few such crosses have survived. After this, it was time for Sung Eucharist in the Cathedral Church of Saint Mary the Virgin and Saint Ethelbert the King. The congregation were a little bit on the elderly side but the hymns and the service were beautifully sung by the Cathedral choir which had just returned after the summer break. Afterwards Coöperative Fair Trade coffee was served in the hall of the Vicars Choral, normally off limits to the public. This is accessed via a medieval corridor with fine carving on its timber roof and there are little houses round a cloister originally built for the vicars choral who provided the music for the cathedral in days of yore. Their dining hall was rebuilt in the eighteenth century and is a finely proportioned and comfortable room.

The Cathedral is also home to the Mappa Mundi, the medieval map of the world and two chained libraries. The Mappa Mundi was drawn on vellum in 1305 by a canon of Hereford. The map was not a navigation aid, it was drawn to show the relation between G*d and his church/people. Hence, it shows Jerusalem as the centre of the world with Jesus presiding over the last judgement. At the outer edge is England, looking remarkably exact, with Lincoln Cathedral proudly shown as scholars consider the canon had once been at Lincoln Cathedral. The second largest chained library in the country has come from All Saints Church, Hereford which is just a short distance from the cathedral, and the largest chained library is the one belonging to Hereford Cathedral itself. The library of All Saints has been sent to the cathedral where a new library building has been built to house the collection. This new library is climate controlled and has all kinds of modern aids to prevent the destruction of the books, except by readers. However, the library has been for most of its existence just anywhere in the cathedral or the church and has still been preserved from destruction. The odd thing about the library is that the books have their fore edges facing the reader and not the spines. This looks wrong to modern eyes but prevents the chains becoming tangled.

My next call was the Borough Museum and Art Gallery which was interesting in the way these museums are. There were fragments of a Roman pavement and good some good dressing up and other interactive games for children.

The Old house in Hereford was formerly the end of Butchers Row in the town. It became a traffic island but a pedestrianisation scheme has made it more accessible. This house was built for a wealthy butcher during Jacobean times and is furnished in the way it would have been in 1621. The ceilings have very fine pargeting and there are old wall paintings that have been removed from other places in the city. The bedrooms are not very comfortable – they would need four poster hangings to keep warm I’m sure.

The time had come to change hotels and I moved to one which was like the American House in Sinclair Lewis’s Work of Art book. The lamps were cunningly placed so I couldn’t use them to read in bed and the television was old. At least the room did not appear to be a working man’s room but more a tourist one, the hotel being thus divided.

One thing it did do was serve local faggots as a snack. As I didn’t meet any local faggots, I was unable to ask them what they thought of this. Perhaps they’d all been eaten as snacks.

Hereford was quite a jolly place to be in with a lot to see. There is a curious suspension bridge over the Wye and some old churches. In All Saints, I found a café offering home made meals, including home made bread to the people in a popular café. There must have been a long tradition of this as there was an old bread shelf, once used to distribute bread to the poor after Sunday service. There were stairs to a former rood loft and a stainless steel modular lavatory that was also popular.

At Saint Peters, I found a tribute to a former incumbent who had helped to establish welfare services in the city including public baths and cottages for the poor. The pubs in Hereford are quite good as befits a garrison town with cheap beer and food.

An enjoyable stay.

04 September, 2006

Cardiff College of Education and Cardiff Bay

I went to this college because of the annual conference of the UK Society for Coöperative Studies which was held here as this is where the Wales Institute of research into coöperatives is based. The college was extraordinarily average but the international company was excellent with Americans, Canadians and Hungarians. On one of the evenings, we went in a coach to see the new attractions at Cardiff Bay. These included the new home of the Welsh National Opera Company and the welsh assembly building. The bay has been improved by keeping it full of water; previously it was smelly mud flats. The Welsh National Opera was a spectacular building faced with copper with half Welsh language and half English inscription on the façade, no doubt making it incomprehensible to all but the 15000 people who speak Welsh. The Welsh Assembly Building looked like a modern airport and the water feature outside it could have done with lighting to ensure that it showed itself off well. The conference went well. A friend of mine called Robert, from Liverpool was also there and we took an opportunity to renew our acquaintance over a game of pool with Richard, the secretary of the UK Society.

Elstree to Cockfosters: Stage 15 of the London Loop. It didn’t seem like ten miles!

The law locks up the man or woman
Who steals the goose from off the common
But leaves the greater villain loose
Who steals the common from the goose.

Ah, Elstree. Is it because it is the end of the Eles Street, the ancient road that we met at Fryent Country Park (see the dead fox picture)? Of course, last time I covered it I did the studios, which are actually in Borehamwood. The Gate Studios have now been demolished since then (I don’t know why as they were used for producing cinema screens: perhaps the cinema building craze has stopped) but I left the station to walk up a street past some film star houses and even some film star flats called ‘Hollywood Court’. It’s great to be back on waymarked paths which make the guidebook redundant. The walk went up a long steep hill then turned into another lane with even bigger film star houses and a slightly steeper gradient. I suspect these houses are now occupied by rice merchants from Park Royal or slum grocers, who seem to be the millionaires now.

I passed by two air shafts for the Borehamwood Tunnel quite close together then descended into the Scratchwood local nature reserve. Every boy from the north who looks wistfully at London has heard of Scratchwood, as it is the last motorway service station on the way from the north. However they may not reach the wood itself (although they might, they’re intrepid those boys) which was quite pleasant as woods go. All the blackberries have now gone to the devil even before Michelmas. He seems to have claimed them early this year for some reason.

Scratchwood was part of a shooting estate but covers some very ancient oak woodlands. They seem a lot better managed than some other woods and the brambles appeared to be cleared quite well. It was a pity that the woods didn’t last very long and I had to go down to the A1(T) which is no longer the Great North Road but at this section is Barnet Way as it is the Barnet By-pass. I had to go a fairly long way down the road to cross by a subway next to the Mill Hill Golf Club (Memberships available - no joining fee!) and then walk back up to reach Moat Mount open space, which was a shooting estate, its mansion long gone and the grounds sold to Barnet Council. I walked up a little stream here and then came out into some open fields with wired off pathways, including some that were only permissive and not public rights of way. There were horned cattle in one field, but very few of them. I didn’t look too closely but I think they were bullocks rather than milkers. I came to another dangerous road and then walked through the London Wildlife Trust Totteridge Fields and crossed a football field and onto the Dollis Brook way. We have encountered the Dollis Brook on the Capital Ring but only slightly. In two of the fields I passed there were fairs going on. The first one I came upon looked like a horse fair with gypsies doing deals on horses and some finely painted gypsy caravans and carts. The other one was more a travelling funfair, perhaps it was Barnet Fair. Barnet fair is cockney rhyming slang for hair (abbreviated to Barnet) and there is a hairdressers near me called Barnet Fair.

After open countryside the Dollis Brook Way (and the London Loop) pass by various council estates which you can date by the manner of construction – 1950s brick, and 1960s prefabrication. Coming into Barnet proper I joined the Great North Road (although alas the little coöp shop has gone so I had to go elsewhere for my lunch) and went straight off it again to cross King Georges Fields. These appear to be named after King George V and possibly purchased for his Silver Jubilee in 1935. These fields were so secluded I took off my T shirt and had a brief sunbathe. There were also views over London although not particularly clear.

The Fields led me to Hadley Green where the battle of Barnet was fought on Easter day 1471. Edward IV overthrew Warwick the Kingmaker who was killed here. As it was a misty day, the soldiers could not see which side they were fighting and chaos ensued. General battle conditions I would have thought. If you wanted to be king in the middle ages you applied to Warwick the Kingmaker (in own handwriting) giving name and names of father and mother (if nun write none). Seller and Yateman ride again. Hadley has some very fine houses on its green including an old manor house with a very fine front door and a turret on its stable block. Not so large but very unassuming is a row of six tiny cottages with paired front doors built in mellow brick – the Sir Roger Wilbrahams Almshouses. Sir Roger was Solicitor General of Ireland in the time of Queen Elizabeth I and he founded his homes for six decayed housekeepers here in 1612. The current residents may have a quiet laugh about that.

There is a pleasant scene by the church with old cottages and the beacon on the church, erected to guide travellers over the wilds of Enfield Chase. The Monken Hadley common is the remains of Enfield Chase which was enclosed in the 1770s and is gated. I had to pass through the white painted gate to continue past some more very large houses to descend into the woods of the common. These woods were quite muddy and I got my boots coated. I soon got to Cockfosters though via more large houses on the common. Cockfosters had a 19th Century church and a 1930s-1950s underground station which proved very serviceable indeed to getting me home after a very pleasant walk indeed. Even the weather was kind.

01 September, 2006

Moor Park to Elstree Walks 14 and 15 of the London Loop

An early start on Friday enabled me to complete this walk. The thing is, in this corner of Norf London it is supposed to be very posh and posh people in the early part of this century did not want the railways bringing day trippers to their lovely areas no thank you! So the railways didn’t come, apart from the Metropolitan Line (see Diamond Geezer for that) and there are very few trains in these oh so outer suburbs.

The walk started and finished on a golf course and even on Friday I was dodging the golf balls although at the Moor Park end there were only one or two golfers at nine o’clock on a Friday morning. One or two cutie pies walking dogs though who flashed me a nice smile and a “good morning”. I soon left the golf course behind and went into Sandy lodge lane with a view over the Colne Valley, and down to the main road, Hampermill Lane and up through some posts to a little playing field for the council estate beyond. I was glad to know that there were some ordinary people living near Moor Park station, even if they were not too near. I walked through the estate into Oxhey Woods, where I managed to get completely lost. There was a waymarker (the first I’d seen that day) but it was of little use. I found I was near the reservoir after a brief excursion down a very exclusive road, probably inhabited either by film stars or Russian ‘businessmen’ or maybe just successful solicitors/estate agents/prostitutes and the like. It was in Oxhey woods that I lost my digicam so there are no pictures of this spot until I get my films developed. If anyone finds it can they please hand it in to the police. When I lost my way I spoke to somebody who was walking around and asked where Pinnerwood Farm (my destination) was and he said that it was over two miles away. It seems like he was a person who only drives because the farm was a lot less than that, but it would be over two miles to drive. Anyway, I got back on the loop with minimal trouble and reached the rather scruffy stud that is Pinnerwood Farm. I took in some beautiful views of Harrow Church, on the hill, and the new Wembley stadium. This brought back memories of the Capital Ring and how much better that walk was signposted. I never got lost on the Capital Ring. What – never? No – never! What – never? Well – hardly ever. And I’ll come back to Gilbert and Sullivan later.

Pinnerwood House (adjacent to the farm) was where Edward Bulwer Lytton lived in the 1830s. He was a politician and a popular author, and actually invented part of the name BovrilTM from his book ‘Vril: the power of the coming race’. Bovril has been in the news today as UnileverTM are putting Beef extract back in the product having taken it out in response to concerns from Muslim countries (where Bovril is a top seller) that the beef was not slaughtered in a halal manner. They must now be sourcing halal beef. Going back a little way to see if I’d dropped my camera, I was accompanied by the farm dog, a Pyrenean mountain dog which is so called because of its resemblance to a mountain. It did not accompany me very far though and I crossed another few fields along the backs of ordinary bungalows. There were an amazing number of apples strewn along the backs of these suburban semis, which was weird. Some were just crab apples but some were of an eatable size. They couldn’t all have been rotten.

After this edge of suburbia with fields on one side and semis on the other I came to a lane that crossed the main railway line to Birmingham and the North West. The bridge was very narrow to accommodate the little country lane this road had been but was no longer and while I was standing there I heard a scrape of metal on brickwork. A bloke in a Bentley, yes a Bentley, had scraped his passenger side on the brick of the bridge!

The road led past a garden centre up through another golf course, with a surprising number of players, including a man out with his son. Golf courses tend to be quite badly waymarked but this one was OK.

I left and entered the ancient earthwork that the Ordnance Survey refers to as 'Grim’s Ditch' but others refer to as Grim’s Dyke. Grim is Wodin, the Norse God, and Grim’s Dyke is an earthwork. I doubt that the people who constructed the earthwork called it Grim’s Dyke. Try as I might I can’t get excited over earthworks. They may be just the iron age equivalent of landfill. Who knows why they built them and really who cares. They are practically invisible now, although I don’t know why that should be. One archaeologist advised me it was earthworm activity. He also advised me that low doors on ancient buildings were because the floors had been built up. I have no reason to doubt these explanations but for earthworks at least perhaps they weren’t very big to begin with.

I deviated from the route at Grim’s Dyke to photograph the house (now a hotel) where W.S. Gilbert lived (I did say I’d come back to Gilbert and Sullivan).
HREF='http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/5802/1324/640/Grimm%27s%20Dyke570.jpg'> This one would put the others I say to shame. If people today think they are rich living in a house on a street think how wealthy Gilbert must have been as a highly successful dramatist. Followers of Gilbert and Sullivan will note the use of the word ‘dramatist’, which is how Gilbert referred to himself absolutely detesting the word playwright which he used to describe Shakespeare, another pet hate (and mine too). Norman Shaw designed Grim’s Dyke in 1872 in the popular Tudor style. Gilbert moved in in 1890 after his success with possibly during the run of the Gondoliers. He changed the name from Graeme’s dyke. There is lots of ref brick, stone mullions and half timbered gables. The route sadly passed by the lake in the grounds where Gilbert drowned in 1911 while assisting a young girl visitor during a swimming lesson. The lake is just about dry now and there are some rotting remains of a summer house. There is a plaque on the lake to commemorate Gilbert and there is a blue plaque on the house itself.

Leaving the grounds past a British Telecom openreach transmitting station and former gravel workings on the Harrow Weald common, I came onto Bentley Priory circular walk. In a very deserted part of the common, I came upon a man sitting on a bench with a woman. Nothing odd about that except they never moved as I approached and the woman kept her face hidden. Perhaps she was somebody else’s wife.

This part of the walk takes a War Department concrete path. Passing by a bizarre collection of dumped walking frames, I could not see Bentley Priory, which is still an air force establishment with standard hutments and assorted military buildings. I followed the WhD concrete path outside the buildings (admiring the concrete boundary posts) and sitting on a seat while the clock at Bentley Priory struck one. Then time to move on into another unadopted road, with a 1930’s house all in white with a green roof, which rather appealed. In fact, this street was a bit of a millionaires’ row, it’s surprising the number of these I have encountered on my travels. But I must always take the rough with the smooth and I was soon walking through the pretty village of Stanmore with its hall with William Morris Interiors. Stanmore had a pretty village green and two ponds which legend has it were dug by the Romans. And maybe they were – who can tell after all this time.
Passing the ponds I came out by the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital with its 1930s to 1950s buildings. I walked by a farm then under the M1 motorway at Junction 4. I went onto Elstree Road where drivers were driving far too fast. I don’t want to be a patient at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. I came to a pub called the fisheries inn and had lunch there. Better than average.

The next highlight was Aldenham Country Park and Reservoir. The reservoir was for the Grand Union Canal and was built by French Prisoners of war who made a pretty bad job of it (as one would expect). The dam is now concrete (I hope I haven’t written that as damn elsewhere) and doesn’t leak. Hertfordshire County Council has created a park with a farm and a lakeside walk. I did the lakeside walk in full but didn’t do the farm. Maybe I should, as it is a rare breed farm. Of course the reason rare breeds are rare is that there was something wrong with either the eating quality or the temperament of the animal. The park was a pleasant spot.

Leaving the park I crossed some fields with the spire of Elstree church in the distance. Then, crossing Watling Street I went through some fields with unfriendly notices to enter another golf course. Getting lost on the way I crossed this and went into Parkfield, a park and a field for Elstree. Coming to the road and the end of today’s journey I saw somebody had pulled down the gate studios that were here when I last visited.

An inauspicious start to my holidays.

31 August, 2006

Why might you want to read my random notes?

Looking around on the web the other day, I came upon the following view, which is attributed to G K Chesterton as the theme in all his work. I think it's a good one. Against the background that nothing might exist - think about that: what if nothing existed? - then everything is interesting. I hope all my readers find this blog is at least in part, interesting.

27 August, 2006

Yiewsley to Moor Park – completed stage 11 and stages 12 and 13 of the London Loop

I resumed walking the loop where I left off last time at Yiewsley outside the superstore there, having been in to pick up my lunch for today. Today was a good walk for photography although my skill with a digicam leaves a lot to be desired – the real photos will be better. One point of note, travelling from Paddington to West Drayton Station I crossed the Wharncliffe Viaduct – do you remember me passing under it on the Capital Ring? I was also going to post pictures of Uxbridge town centre here, but as I didn’t pass through it, I thought better of it. This walk was easy in places and tough in others but there are only 11 stages on the loop left to do!

The first point of interest is the packet boat marina on the Slough Arm of the Grand Union Canal. The Slough Arm was the last canal to be built in this country in the 1880s, and its purpose was to carry bricks to London from the brickfields of Langley. The marina was completed in 2003. Packet boats were boats which carried parcels and passengers (and possibly letters but that would be excessively slow)rather than general cargoes (coal, grain, pottery etc.) which the normal canal boats carried.
Carrying on up the canal it was strange to find that the canal crossed the river fray via an aqueduct. Looking down to the river, the aqueduct was quite deep and would have made any navigation on the river impossible (it was only a little river). I did notice that the fray had some very large fish in it.
Later on, I came upon a coal tax marker in granite (they were usually cast iron). The act quoted on the marker was an act from Queen Victoria’s day so I will have to look it up and see what it says, although if anybody knows please can they comment. This was not the last coal tax marker I would see although they were not present in the places the book said they should be. At the marker, I crossed the bridge over the canal and passed along some very quiet pathways alongside the River Colne, alas with very few blackberries, but there were plenty of elderberries and I thought I’d share them with you.
The embankments to this path looked like a dumping ground for pottery and there were remains of broken plates and cooking pots around here. There was also much more dubious litter including a bath as I approached Little Britain Lakes. These have nothing to do with the television show but are named because they look like a map of Great Britain. I didn’t have my helicopter with me so I cannot show you a picture of them. I crossed the Colne into Buckinghamshire and walked alongside until I reached road leading to the village of Iver. I crossed the Colne back into Hillingdon and there, just on the bridge, was this coal tax marker.   
The route then took a hairpin bend past a very large metal insecurity fence that followed the boundary of the Colne Valley Pak, which is marked with these pleasant wooden signs.  

After passing through some dull industrial units (noticing one of them was reinforced concrete from the 1950s), I came upon a row of pretty cottages called culvert lane. I also saw a little bridge over the culvert called Church Lane. I came upon a pretty church and National School Group which had all been converted to housing although very tastefully. One could hardly fail to hear a doorbell like the one on the church. Back to the route, I rejoined the Grand Union Canal and walked along, with lots of boats moored here. One of the bridges had a World War II pillbox built in. In the 1940s of course, the canals were still moving goods around and essential to the war effort. In fact, the evacuation seat of government (that had been planned in Napoleonic times) was on the canal network, rather than the railway network. By then it was time to have my lunch so I sat down outside the Swan and Bottle in Uxbridge and had my pie, my fruit and my 25cl bottle of wine, bought especially for the occasion. I had a nice chat with a professional photographer who was trying to make Uxbridge look lovely. I hope he succeeded.

After lunch, I moved up to Uxbridge Lock and opened the gates to allow a boat through. It was interesting to watch the boat sink in the lock and then sail out again. Just after Uxbridge I spotted this paddle boat. It was called Severnake, but I thought it should perhaps be Cotton Blossom (musical buffs will get that).  

Again carrying on up the Grand Union Canal past Denham Lock where this white water has occurred.   Posted by Picasa

Denham lock is the deepest on the canal which is what causes the white water here when a boat goes through. At Denham Lock, there was a beautiful little tea garden on the banks of the Colne. It looked very pretty. On my way up top cross the canal two boys in a tub boat had got their fishing line snagged on a boat, and I stepped aboard and released it, so I have been on the canal as well as by it. I crossed the canal and wandered by the lakes and marinas of Denham Country Park, passing under a large blue brick viaduct, which I think carries trains to Birmingham via High Wycombe. The lakes are excavated gravel workings. There was another large marina in the park with lots of narrow boats all in a row, with their brightly painted prows and sterns showing off their owners artistic flair. This type of folk art developed to show pictures and creativity when a boatman and his family would live in two small cabins in the stern of the boat. This surely must be an aspect of the life afloat that the boatmen will not miss. I rejoined the canal at Widewater Lock then carried on up to Black Jack’s Mill lock, a reminder of Britain’s days of slavery as Black Jack was a slave who went with the mill. The mill was in a beautiful setting with a mill race. There were also weirs here which were a picture. There are also some beautiful houses here. All good things come to an end and I had to leave the Canal at this point, passing the pub. The loop took me through some more open countryside.

The leaflet calls stage 13 easy walking. I’m not sure that it is though. The first part involves negotiating a very busy road away from the Grand Union Canal and past what used to be a copper mill. Then the path climbs past a row of beautifully kept cottages and through a closely guarded steep path to eventually come out into open fields. Harefield is the highest point in Middlesex (or is that Horsenden Hill that we met on the ring?) and the Middlesex County Tuberculosis Hospital was built here to cash in on the fresh air cure that was the only way of treating the white plague before the discovery of antibiotics. The hospital still performs a useful function today treating cancer patients.

The next stage of the loop was entirely through fields of cattle and maize, the cows kept out of the maize by an electric fence (ouch!). The police helicopter also flew above me. I wonder if they were looking for me?

Harefield road was difficult with speeding cars and no footpath but the Rose and Crown pub at the top served an excellent shandy with good company. The pub is unspoilt and even had an attractive barman to help things along. But one must press on and the next path went through fields until it reached the Bishop’s Wood Country Park where I followed the winding path through the ancient woods. Walking under some high tension electricity pylons I felt like a pioneer. This is a path less travelled and it was very overgrown in places. I just kept the overhead wires in sight and hoped for the best. Eventually I came out at the Olde Greene Manne Pub. Dick Turpin supposedly visited this pub. There was also the Prince of Wales, which was the one if you remember where I had the encounter with the stripper early in the blog. I tore myself away from the delights of public houses to look for another coal tax marker which I couldn’t see, then went on a paved path (or trod), the boundary between Middlesex and Hertfordshire. And that makes three counties I have been in today: Greater London, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. If you count the pre 1889 Counties, I have been in Surrey (at home) and Middlesex too. The path eventually came out by some very nice houses indeed, which Lord Leverhulme (the soap and Margarine king) developed in the 1920s. Moor Park is an anagram of Poor Mark, but there’s nobody here who is poor. The substantial houses in private roads just say untold wealth. Well they probably owe more money than I do anyway. I soon came to the Metropolitan line, and passed under the bridge that carried it. Walking up through the woods to the station was a weary trek but very pleasant.

This is a pretty walk.