A Saturday stroll goes large – Jubilee Greenway 1.

It all started with a bit of a Saturday stroll and by the time the light was fading on an early January afternoon it had metamorphosed into a new project. As with so many of my little excursions it was unplanned but that is the way I like to do things. Let me tell you about it.

As always, apologies to my regular readers (thank you all again) but just a quick word of background is on order for those coming upon my rambles for the first time. Following a period of hospitalisation in August and September 2019, the doctors had told me to take plenty of exercise and walking is my preferred way of doing that. Now that I was more or less “whole” again, I had got back into it but nothing too strenuous as I was nothing like back to the fitness levels of even a couple of years before.

I had already spent two days wandering the Wandle river, which you can read about here.  another couple of days going from Epping to Ongar on the Essex Way which begins here and a few decent walks round Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Berwick-upon-Tweed on a recent trip to Northumberland.

I had not decided upon a new project as I have walked most of the major designated paths in and around London and was still trying to decide on what might come next. Secret / hidden rivers are a possibility but on this Saturday morning in early January 2020 I just fancied a walk, as much for the sheer love of it as for the undoubted health benefits.

I absolutely love canals and everything associated with them and have been lucky enough to have had several holidays “on the cut” as canal people refer to it and also a few turns at crewing for mates on their boats.  Two dear friends of mine actually make their living with working boats on the canal system.

When I started this site I had a vast amount of old projects saved from previous sites I contributed to and I have barely scratched the surface of transferring them here. One I have managed to do is a long weekend spent with friends on a narrowboat travelling on the Hebble and Calder navigation. You can read all about it here if you like.

With this passion for all things inland waterways, I am extremely lucky to have a canal about fifteen minutes walk from my home in the form of the Regent’s Canal which runs from Limehouse Basin on the River Thames to little Venice in Paddington. It then becomes the Grand Union Canal which continues all the way to Gas Street Basin in Birmingham. This was one of the main arteries of the transportation system that was in place before, and made redundant by, the coming of the railways.

I walked the Regents / Grand Union many years back from the Thames as far as Milton Keynes but it was so long ago that I wasn’t doing it particularly with an eye for travel writing although some features of note made it to my pages on the wonderful and now sadly demised Virtual Tourist website. Some of the descriptions in this and subsequent posts may be cut and pastes from those pages, suitably edited and updated if necessary, but I will indicate if that is the case. I might even use the occasional old image to show how things have changed.

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Look out for “ghost signs” in London.

I took the direct route from my home to the basin and even before I had started my “walk proper” I passed a couple of things of interest which I’d like to share with you just to show how much the East End is changing and how some things still cling on. The first image is definitely one that is just about clinging on if only in appearance and not in function. This is one of many “ghost signs” which you can see all over London but most people don’t notice because they never look up. Mobile (cell) ‘phones have only made this phenomenon worse with people staring down at them and walking into you. They don’t know what they are missing.

Had you lived in England 100 years ago, you may well have been eating Daren bread which was baked using flour from the Daren mills in Kent. I won’t go into it too much but there is a fascinating article here although I warn you that it may put you off bread for life! As a local’s tip and the first aside of the post, it is still possible to get excellent bread and pastry products not 500 yards from here in a place you will never find if you don’t know it. All you need to do is get to Rinkoff’s Bakery (use the link) which is over 100 years old and was founded by a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant which is so typical of this part of London.

Enough of the perils of 19th century sandwiches and let’s move on to a couple of sights that sadden me greatly although I have seen them both before. The building without the scaffolding was once the Mercer’s Arms and I drank in there once or twice. It was fine but not one of my regular haunts and is now a block of flats (apartments). The other one, which has suffered the same fate, was the Royal Navy in Salmon Lane although the scaffolding does not denote a conversion taking place as it has been residential for years now.  Just to give you an idea of how many pubs have closed in the East End, the excellent Lost pubs website, which I contribute to, lists nine in this one road alone. Salmon Lane isn’t that long and I have not even included the one that closed down in the 1940’s! It really depresses me.

With a slightly heavy heart I arrived at Limehouse Basin and, like the pub scene in my area, this place has changed out of all recognition since I moved to London in 1988.  My first home in the capital was about 15 minutes walk from here and it has been demolished now as well! The Basin had actually changed slightly since I was last here which surprised me a bit as I had not realised how long it had been since I walked the canal.

At this point I shall reproduce my old Virtual Tourist tip verbatim. I think it dates to about 2006 or thereabouts.

“You may have read my other tip on walking the towpath of the Regents Canal, and if you walk to the end of it you will come to the delightful Limehouse Basin. Now a somewhat swanky (and expensive) mooring for pleasure craft, and surrounded by luxury homes, it nevertheless has an interesting history.

A couple of things stand out. Firstly, the basin was innovative in 1852 in it’s use of a hydraulic system to revolutionise how cargo was removed from boats. The tower that the hydraulic equipment was in still stands although is only open on very limited occasions. Contact British Waterways for further details. Secondly, the railway arches which stand to the North of the basin (see photo) and now carry the Docklands Light Railway are the second oldest urban railway viaduct in the world. They were built in 1840 for the now long defunct London and Blackwall Railway. It was used until 1962, then lay neglected until brought back to life by the opening of the DLR. A triumph of recycling, I would say.

Should you feel a little peckish or thirsty, multi-award winning chef, Gordon Ramsay has his Narrow pub / restaurant called The Narrow just beside the basin on Narrow Street”

Ah, that takes me back. Whilst the history has not changed, one thing at least has. I mentioned British Waterways, properly the British Waterways Board, which ran the canal system at that time. It was a statutory body but was replaced in 2012 by the Canal and River Trust, a charitable NGO. They shall feature again here a bit later on.

I am not sure if the footbridge you see was built last time I was there nor the inlaid sign beside it which indicates the Jubilee Greenway which will also feature heavily later. It is a 60 kilometre circular path beginning and ending at Buckingham Palace which was cobbled together to commemorate Her Majesty’s 60th anniversary as Monarch and also the London Olympics the same year in 2012. I have included an old 2006 image I took when I was out playing with my then new and now ludicrously outdated Konica Minolta camera. It has changed a bit since then. 

Dead centre in one of the images you can see St. Anne’s Church, Limehouse which was built to the design of Nicholas Hawksmoor who I have recently researched whilst writing about a military barracks in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Berwick is almost exactly 350 miles North of here and even more distant in terms of appearance and just about everything else. I am not going to repeat everything here but you may wish to look at this entry as Hawksmoor really is a fascinating character and, if you like a good conspiracy theory, you’ll love that entry.

I wandered round the entire Basin and, for sake of completeness, went right down to the river. where I took the images above. The one on the left looks out onto the Thames and the building on the right of it is the Gordon Ramsay restaurant I mentioned above which is still trading despite his having had to close a few over the years. I have never been there and don’t intend to go. I don’t do posh. Still, he probably has not been in it for years either!

It is fascinating to think that 200 years ago ships were unloading here with goods from the British Empire and beyond being transported all over the country and, in the other direction, British products were exported all over the globe. In the days before rail, this really was the major means of commercial transport.

An Act of Parliament was passed in 1812 for the construction of a canal to link the Paddington Canal with the Thames and a company was formed with the famous architect John Nash as Director. He was responsible for Buckingham Palace and Marble Arch amongst other things. At that time he was in the process of constructing Regent’s Park and wanted the canal to run through it although it ended up running round it. Both canal and park were named for the Prince Regent who was later to become King George IV.

There were all manner of problems during construction including, slightly improbably, fights between “navvies” building the canal and gardeners employed by a local landowner. That must have been worth seeing. Incidentally, if you are wondering where the British slang word “navvy” comes from, it is a contraction of navigational engineer or navigator i.e. a man (often Irish) who dug canals. I’ll not go into all the details of what happened but if you are interested then the wonderful Canal Museum, which I highly recommend, has a fascinating website here.The section from Paddington to Camden opened in 1816 and it was finally driven through to the basin you see in 1820 so exactly 200 years ago. There are any amount of celebratory events planned and I intend to attend a few if I can, I’ll report back here. Let’s go now for a stroll along this fine bicentennial waterway.

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No pubs but a lovely footbridge.

If you are planning to walk the Regents, and I thoroughly recommend you do, it is a touch over eight and a half miles long and has 13 locks. You have already seen Locks 13 at the river and 12 at the North end of the Basin and you will realise that, as usual, I am doing everything back to front. I have an awful habit of doing that. The lock you see above, with the flashy new footbridge adjacent, is Salmon Lane, Lock #11 on the road of the closed pubs I had walked along earlier.

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Do you know what it is?

Passing under the London, Tilbury and Southend railway bridge, I was faced with this chimney which stands rather forlornly by itself. I am sure I was once told what it had originally been part of or used for but if my life depended on it I cannot remember now. I suspect it was associated with a canalside activity rather than the canal itself and was probably part of an industrial building that stood here. My guess, albeit an educated one based on my knowledge of the area, is that the green space here is probably a bombsite from the Blitz and the chimney is all that remains of the former site.

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Passing under Ben Jonson Road I walked past this fairly unremarkable looking building, obviously another old industrial remnant from another age. I happened to know that it is in fact a museum, specifically the Ragged School Museum and that the building had started life as warehouses for canal trade. In 1877 Thomas Barnardo, he of Barnardo’s Homes fame, opened a “ragged” school here to provide free education for the very ragged children of this most deprived of urban areas. The Museum is primarily aimed at children and groups of them come to experience what Victorian schooling was like. I actually remember the Museum opening back in 1990 which caused quite a stir locally.

I almost ignored the next item I saw which looked like either the poorly built nest of some monstrous bird or the aftermath of a particularly lazy council gardener but it was neither although if not for the sign I would have been none the wiser. This is nothing less than a bug hotel constructed, if that is the right word, by someone called Si who is a member of the Lower Regent’s Coalition which I had never heard of, despite being a local. I was to pass one of their groups out on a litter pick a little further on and I thought it was great what they were doing. I am seriously thinking of volunteering myself.

On a bit further and we come to lock #10 – Johnson’s Lock. I should warn you that I had by this point decided to photograph all the locks I saw, so you have been warned. Johnson’s Lock is unusual in that it still has it’s horse ramps which were used for animal rescue when the poor old horses pulling the working boats fell in the canal as they occasionally did.

Next we come to Mile End Road bridge which is totally unremarkable as you can see. The only reason I took this image was that I was already thinking about writing up this piece and I wanted to mention that if I had gone left on the road here I could have walked home in 15 minutes, that is how close I live to the canal. Don’t worry, we are not going to my place yet.

Actually, I am possibly being a bit unkind to the poor old bridge. Mile End Road is the A11, one of the major roads leading from the centre of London like the spokes of a wheel. If you followed this spoke far enough you would end up in Norwich, but it might take you a while.  It is a very busy road and considering the bridge dates to 1818 I think it is doing very well.

From the towpath here I saw the rather sad sight of another old pub gone, in this case the New Globe which was so called to differentiate it from the nearby Old Globe which itself is now a betting shop. In the six weeks between taking the image and writing this piece I see that there is renovation going on and it is apparently going to be a hotel / pizza parlour / karaoke bar.  I don’t know whether to laugh or cry!

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Not a bad sight for the heart of the East End.

Walking along past Mile End Park, I couldn’t resist the image above. I’ll bet there were not too many swans here when the Regents was a fully functioning, filthy waterway.

I did warn you that you were going to get most of the locks and here is #8, Old Ford. Not far beyond that I came to the first of a common sight on the Regents and every other canal in England.

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I nearly lived on one of these once.

House prices in London are ludicrous and many people simply cannot afford them. A marginally cheaper and infinitely cooler option is to live on the water although narrowboats do not come cheap and mooring costs in London are also pretty steep. The vessels range from tiny 35 footers barely afloat to double width 70+ foot barges converted into floating palaces and where my flat (apartment) would fit in the living room! I was going to do this some years ago but decided to buy a more solid residence instead.

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Rightly or wrongly, I love these monsters.

What you see above represents another one of those places / structures that I cannot ever seem to take enough images of. Other examples are Ramsgate Harbour and bridges anywhere as I have mentioned before. These old disused gasometers are in Corbridge Crescent and I simply love them. I have images of them in every conceivable light and weather and will undoubtedly take many more in future. I think they are unbelievably photogenic although you may have a different view. You may well think they are an eyesore and should be torn down to make room for something useful.  Land in this part of town is extremely valuable and these undoubtedly have a huge footprint whilst they do, well nothing really.

Just past the gasometers I came to the wonderfully named Cat and Mutton Bridge and I walked up from the towpath to the bottom of Broadway Market where I took the two images you see above from the same spot and which say so much about the modern East End, not much of it good!

The image on the left is of the lower end of Broadway Market, which used to be a proper market in what was a fairly rough and ready part of the capital called London Fields. It is in the London Borough of Hackney and I have some dear friends who live five minutes walk away, proper East Enders. There was a proper butchers here. The butchers now is a “Master Butcher and Cookshop” specialising in organic meat and it turns into a restaurant at night. What is that all about?

Another staple of the East end was the pie and mash shop and Cooke’s here was legendary. It closed less than two weeks before this image was taken on Xmas Eve 2019 after 120 years in the same family on this site (back to 1826 on another site). Tragic. What were once real shops for real people are now eco-friendly this, vegan that, ethical the other and overpriced everything. Hackney has become hipster central and it hacks me right off.

The right hand image is about the only authentic business left in the Market although technically it is just outside it in Goldsmith’s Row. It is the Perseverance pub and remains fairly much as it always was although the hipsters are starting to infiltrate in search of the next “authentic East End experience”. It is the only pub in the whole area I would drink in now. I mentioned the Cat and Mutton Bridge which is named for the Cat and Mutton pub just down the road. It may be the other way round, nobody is really sure but the pub used to be OK a few years ago. I wouldn’t thank you for it now with it’s premium lagers, Disney quiz nights (for adults?) and £6 cheese toasties. Sod that. It is described online as a “traditional gastropub” which, as oxymorons go, is surely up there with “honest politician” or “truthful lawyer”. Right, I’ll get off my soapbox.

After a pint and a watch of the rugby in the “Percy” as it is known locally, I took to the towpath again and soon came to Lock #7, Acton’s Lock. Who Mr. Acton may have been I have no idea but I can tell you about the adjacent moorings which are called Talavera Moorings and named after a battle of that name in the Peninsualar Wars which was fought in 1809. Presumably the event was still fresh in the memory when the canal was being constructed less than a decade later.

In the moorings I saw a narrowboat and I simply had to take an image. You may already know that Silmarillion is a book by J.R.R. Tolkein but that is not the reason I took it. The book also gave rise to the name of possibly my favourite band ever who started off using the name but later shortened it to Marillion to avoid copyright hassles. That was then an earworm of various old Marillion tracks which stayed with me the rest of the day.

By now I was in Haggerston and once again I had to wonder at how things have changed. The Haggerston and Kingsland estates were some of the roughest places in the East End in the 1980’s when I came to London and that is certainly saying something. You really needed to know what you were about to even go there. Now, it is much changed with many South East Asian immigrants, especially Vietnamese and a lot of small tech businesses as well. Another locals tip here for visitors. If you want the best Vietnamese food in London, this is the place to be.

I won’t bore you with Lock #6, Sturt’s because it is pretty ugly so we shall pass on, by way of a lovely boat underway to what you see in the right hand image. Where’s the towpath gone? Good question. What you are looking at is the Eastern portal of the Islington Tunnel, all 960 yards (880 metres) of it which bores under the higher ground round the Angel.

I have already mentioned that the working boats were initially horse drawn so how did they get through here with no towpath? Well, it took a bit of legwork. Literally. Men would lie on top of the cargo or the roof of the cabin and literally propel the craft through by pushing with their legs. Remember that these are 70 foot long boats loaded with literally tons of cargo so how they did it I really do not know.

The legmen were soon replaced and in 1826 a steam tug took over the hauling. I have navigated a 68 foot narrowboat through the Blisworth Tunnel in Northamptonshire which is admittedly three times as long but when we emerged my eyes were streaming from the diesel fumes in there. 19th century canal tunnels are not well ventilated and so what conditions must have been like with a coal powered tug belching out fumes I can only imagine. It must have been awful but it remained that way for over a century until a diesel engine was installed in the 1930’s.

Naturally, if you are walking the towpath you have to go “overground” at this point and I’ll tell you the official route as it is not that well signed. To make matters worse, there are at least three different types of sign in use as you can see but it is not too difficult.
Follow the way you were going along Duncan Street until you come to the busy main road which is Upper Street, then turn left. Walk along the same pavement towards the Angel Tube station and cross at the pedestrian crossing just before it. Go up the main road opposite (Liverpool Road) and turn first left into Chapel Market. There may even be a market here as it still functions and is a proper one unlike it’s Broadway counterpart. Follow that all the way to the end and you are at Penton Street. Cross over and turn right. The second road on the left is Maygood Street which peters out into a path through a housing estate. I have included an image to help you. This will bring you out onto Muriel Street where the Western portal is.

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I was lucky enough to catch a vessel coming out of the tunnel and the eagle-eyed amongst you will see that it is the same one I had photographed earlier. I am not sure who was following who. It demonstrates a point about how relaxing being on a canal boat is. The speed limit on all English canals is 4 m.p.h. which happens to be exactly the speed I normally walk at, so you are literally living at walking pace instead of rushing about at Mach Two which seems to be the 21st century way. No wonder people love it.
By now it was about 1530 and I was figuring on probably diving off the towpath at King’s Cross which would give me an easy tube ride home but there were still a few little goodies to see.

The two images above show just how inventively used the canal now is. The vessels are self-explanatory and moored not too far from each other. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have your home and business here all in one place in these lovely surroundings? I think it would be bliss.

The light was starting to go quickly and I decided that Camley Street would do me as I know my way round there for reasons I shall explain in the next entry but before I got there I discovered that I didn’t know the area quite as well as I thought. In my defence, it has been a long time since I was there. What I remembered as another old gasworks and ancillary industrial buildings has been transformed out of all recognition with the block of flats, office block, shopping centre and park you can see above. It is quite spectacular. Friends of mine used to live on their boat in St. Pancras Basin across the canal here and it certainly did not look like this back then.

I did take a couple more images on my way to the Tube station but they are not great due to the light and I retook much better ones the next day when I returned to do a bit more. I’ll show you them then.

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Before I go, I have one last thing to do. In the last entry I promised you that a vegetable fell in love with me and I would tell you about it in this post so here goes. Amongst all my other medical woes, I was awaiting a cardiology consultation at this time which was pretty pointless as I had known about the condition for over 30 years and had been told then, and more recently in hospital, that it is nothing to worry about but my G.P (doctor) insisted on sending me. One evening, as I was preparing dinner, I happened upon this and I took it to be a good sign. I didn’t have the heart (get it?) to eat it and am now trying to grow it on my windowsill!  Sorry about the quality, but you get the idea.

Speaking of the next day as I was, in that entry I carry on with my new project, go too far as usual, hang out with some Mods and get to the end of the Regents Canal so stay tuned and spread the word.

The only Way is Essex – the slightly easier way.

I do hope you have come to this page by way of the previous entry where I walked the first section of the Essex Way from Epping to Ongar, or rather I didn’t exactly walk it. I had set out to do so, become completely lost before I had walked 50 yards, trespassed on private land and a railway line and nearly got killed on an unlit busy A road. There you are, you don’t need to read it now but I do hope you do if you haven’t already as it is an object lesson in how not to undertake a hike. This entry is not exactly textbook rambling but it is a whole lot better than the previous effort.

Following a bit of a medical hiccup in the autumn I had been told to take plenty of exercise which for me consists of walking, a favourite pastime. In years past I had completed both the London Loop and Capital Ring as well as the section of the Thames Path around London and beyond and I was on the lookout for new paths to walk. I had recently spent a couple of days on the Wandle Trail which you can read about here and then attempted to make a start on the Essex Way with the near fatal results outlined above. I decided to have another go, mostly just to prove to myself that I hadn’t lost it completely and could still master a section of a way-marked long-distance path graded as easy.

I made another reasonably early start and this time round there were three things in my favour which had been against me before. Firstly the weather, which had been abysmal on the last attempt and which was much improved, cold but clear and bright which boded well for both photography and decent light towards the end of the day.  Secondly, I had actually managed to get some sleep the previous night and was not punch-drunk from insomnia leading to some terrible decision making. Thirdly, and undoubtedly most importantly, I had actually looked beforehand and found out where the Way actually started and roughly what route it followed.

The two images above demonstrate my flying start. You can see the commemorative but totally useless sign indicating the start of the Way which I had inexplicably managed to miss before and also the footbridge over the tracks which I had equally inexplicably failed to cross. I should have done really as that is where the Way goes.

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Six minutes walk from the Tube.

After the briefest of walks through a residential area and past a school I found myself right in the country. I took the image above, not for any particular feature of interest but to demonstrate the fact that it had taken me exactly six minutes to walk from the Tube / Metro / subway system of one of the busiest capital cities in the world to this. As another little piece of trivia, if I had not left the station and crossed to the other platform then I could have undertaken the longest Tube journey possible without changing which is from here to West Ruislip, a journey of 34 miles, give or take. Obviously that would have been even longer when the line continued to Ongar which was precisely what I intended to do.

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That’s what I was looking for.

Right from the off, I found the waymarks that I had been searching in vain for before, although the way-marking was not of a uniform standard throughout the walk as you shall see shortly. In light of this I shall give brief instructions where you might go wrong if you decide to walk the path yourself but I shall not go overboard on it as this is not primarily a walking guide. There is an excellent, detailed set of instructions here. When you cross the first of the fields you will come to Stewards Green Road where you need to turn left and left again, almost back on yourself. The waymark for the second turn is hard to spot and I initially missed it so look carefully.

Having discovered where I should be going, I found myself on a pleasant but fairly muddy path which wasn’t a major problem as I had the new walking boots on and was trying to field test them – literally. The mud was to be a constant feature all day. I am no geologist but my layman’s take on the soil around here is that it is very thick and very sticky when when!

I soon emerged into Coopersale Street which is even smaller than nearby Coopersale Common which I had traversed on my previous excursion. I did pause to take an image of the old-fashioned roadsign you can see which features such quaint place names so common in Britain. They almost begged an old fashioned folk song so get your finger in your ear and try this to tune of your choosing.  “Forty Shades of Green” works well but don’t try it with “Fifty Shades of Grey” or anything might happen!
“As I roved out from Toot Hill,
For Fiddlershamlet bound,
To catch the morning stagecoach
For dear old Harlow Town…………………….”
OK, so my future doesn’t lie in traditional folk lyrics but you get the idea.

The barn is quite typical of an old style once common in the Eastern parts of England and I think it looks fantastic. Of course, every “Olde English” hamlet requires a village pub and there it was, in the form of the Theydon Oak which looked very inviting but was thankfully shut or the whole expedition could have ground to a halt there and then.

From the mental map I was vaguely carrying around with me I knew I was due a left fairly soon and there it was, a public footpath. Brilliant. Brilliant but wrong. I strode off along it and soon enough came to my old nemesis, the M11 but this time there was a bridge over it. This must be the right path as there are not that many bridges over the motorway, they cost a lot of money to build. I have included a couple of images to show exactly how busy it is.

As I was crossing I saw a large and obviously expensive SUV coming towards me so I gave the occupants a cheery wave and wondered at the slightly puzzled look the lady passenger gave me. This looked like a road and I wanted a footpath so I took the only obvious one on the right. After a while this just ended so I went back to the small road and carried on. No more climbing into farmer’s fields for me, thank you very much.

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A flat costs how much?

Up ahead I could see a very fine building which was obviously where the road led to and I carried on, taking the image you can see. I got to a fairly imposing electronically controlled gate and looked around for the footpath. There wasn’t one. Right. Not wanting to heap mistake upon mistake as I had stupidly done the last time, I took stock and decided I had better bite the bullet and go back to the last place I definitely know I was right, which is what I did and it was all the way back to the last pub. On the way, the same large SUV passed me again with both of us going the other way and the lady in the vehicle had upgraded her appraisal of me from slightly puzzled to downright suspicious. In truth, I don’t blame her as I know I do look a bit rough and certainly incongruous in this setting. I was half expecting the police to turn up at any moment.

Before we regain the lost path, let me tell you about the big house which is called Gaynes Park Mansions. It is now a wedding venue and eye-wateringly expensive residential accommodation. A flat there sold for £776K in 2015 and has risen an incredible 42.5% in five years with a current (February 2020) estimate of £2.3 to £2.8 million! No wonder the locals were looking strangely at me.

For that kind of money you would expect a bit of history and you would not be short changed. There are records of a manorial dwelling here back to the 14th century and the will of Earl William Fitz-William in 1534 bequeaths 50 shillings to build a road between here and Chigwell. There have been various structures here over the years and this incarnation is Victorian as the Gothic style suggests although there are apparently a few features of the earlier 1770 mansion still evident, or at least they were before the recent redevelopment. I couldn’t possibly comment as I didn’t get within a hundred yards of it. There is an interesting article here about what it looked like before it was done up.

Back at the pub, it was time to start again and here is another quick navigational tip so you do not make the same mistake I did. You should take the first path on the left past the pub car-park, literally twenty or thirty yards on. It is hard to see and you almost double back on yourself.

Another short field walk brought me back to Gernon Bushes where things had gone so badly awry before although I did not know I was back there again at the time. All those Essex woods look the same to me! Hindsight is undoubtedly 20/20 vision, which is a fitting thing to write in the year 2020 with tomorrow being 20/02/2020 or 02/20/2020 if you follow the American system. Either way, it is pleasing on the eye. I allowed myself my first sit down of the day on the thoughtfully provided bench which is on a bit of a rise and affords pleasant views.


As I was stumbling about finding an as yet unidentified (by me) archaeological structure and trespassing on some poor farmer’s land the previous time, I had been only a few hundred yards from the Way but had I not got lost I would have missed North Weald.  I am surprised the Way does not visit it and there are certainly enough existing public rights of way to make it feasible. It has plenty of interest with the old airfield and the heritage railway but the LDP (Long-Distance Path) avoids it completely. A net loss for the rambler who actually uses a map but a net gain for me. Swings and roundabouts, I suppose.

 

Once again my unplanned diversion had cost me time but it didn’t bother me. I was having a good walk, out of London in the fresh air, testing my new boots which were muddy by this stage but not letting in, and thoroughly enjoying myself.

The path crosses the M11 yet again and by now I was getting a little fed up of this damn road but that is the price of progress I suppose. Dick Turpin, the notorious highwayman, used to ply his trade in the woods hereabouts and I wonder what he would make of this “highway”. I’d love to see him try to stop a 40 foot articulated lorry whilst on horseback and brandishing a pair of muzzle-loading pistols. Good luck with that one, Dick.

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Once over the motorway, Gernon Bushes becomes Birching Coppice and then Mount Wood and in all of them there are numerous paths and anything but numerous waymarks. I just kept going the way I was going and eventually, probably more by good luck than good judgement, I emerged into the charmingly named Toot Hill as featured in my recently and hastily penned folk song opening verse above. It was now gone 1400 and I thought I had earned a pint which was not going to be a problem as I has spied the Green Man and Courtyard pub a few yards off.

I did the proper thing and took off my muddy boots outside to enter what was a lovely old-fashioned pub which had obviously been relatively recently done up and was wearing it’s Xmas finery as befitted the month. It was equally obviously a bit upmarket and definitely in the gastropub category as the menu and the group of “ladies who lunch” in the front room attested but my scruffy looks and unshod lower extremities did not have me shown the door. On the contrary, I was engaged in friendly conversation by the two delightful ladies behind the bar. Whilst Epping is still comparatively urban, Toot Hill, despite only being a few miles distant, has a much more country feel and I am sure they are used to people who have been out for a trudge over the fields.

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I’ll get my guitar.

After my pint I left to get back on the path and on the way I spotted the charming sign for the local Folk Club. I briefly toyed with the idea of bringing the guitar along for a bit of a session but it is just completely impractical as there is no way I could get home. A pleasant thought, though.

I regained the path where I soon encountered a man with his small and excitable dog. The canine was of, shall we say, very mixed pedigree and like so many of his ilk was adorable although he did have to be dissuaded from jumping up on me with his muddy paws. This time round I had taken the precaution of tucking my jeans in my socks to keep some of the mud off and it was working pretty well. Fido could easily have ruined the whole plan.

We wandered on and chatted of this and that in a very sociable fashion and I wondered again, as I often do, about the difference between urban and city life. I know it is something of a generalisation but, had I tried to strike up a similar conversation near where I live, the other person would undoubtedly have been on the defensive and thinking I was either insane, begging, or about to attack and rob them and not without justification. It is sad really.

You may be wondering at the lack of images in this latter section of the day’s walk but, if you have read my recent entries you will know that I was using a new Samsung compact camera which has the most appalling battery life and I wanted to save some of it for a little treat I knew was coming up.

I left the gent and his best friend at a road where he had parked his car and he gave me instructions how to get to the hamlet of Greensted and the treat I mentioned.  What I wanted to see was the Church of St. Andrew which is the oldest wooden church in the world and possibly the oldest wooden building in Europe still standing. Worth a look, surely.

I came to a road junction, knowing from my new friend’s instructions that I needed to turn right but I didn’t and, no, I haven’t gone crazy again. I saw a woman all dressed up for a walk emerging from a gate and, with my ramblers head on, stopped to have a chat. She indicated a route on a path the way she had come which would take me to the church. Looking at a map now, the road was marginally shorter than the path but the path was undoubtedly better. Also, it actually put me back on the designated path which I had somehow got detached from whilst walking with one man and his dog.

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Isn’t it wonderful?

It wasn’t too far until I could see the church ahead and whilst it is not particularly impressive in terms of size I knew it was something special. The fact that it is Grade I listed proves this. I have spoken of listings often before and this is a “big boy’s historical building”. The definition of Grade I listed buildings is very simple, they are “buildings of exceptional interest” and Greensted Church certainly is. Let me tell you about it.

Parts of the structure you see today was long thought to date back to 845 but in 1995 more advanced dendrochronological (I love that word) techniques moved it to a period 1063 to 1108. If it is the former, it pre-dates the invasion of England in 1066 by William the Bastard and his Norsemen defeating the English King Harold Godwinson (very English surname!) and his Norsemen to take over the country. You may have heard the story as William the Conqueror, 1066 and all that but it wasn’t quite so simple. I have spoken of it before here and won’t go into it all again but the facts are worth looking at if you like that sort of thing.

Other archaeological evidence suggests either previous structures or at least a place of worship here possibly dating back as far as the 4th century which is indeed the very dawn of Christianity in the British Isles. I now give fair warning that as unerringly as I had strayed off the Essex Way we are now going to stray into my pet subjects of “everything is connected” and “every day is a schoolday”. You have been warned!

I learned today whilst researching this that the body of King Edmund, later St. Edmund the Martyr, rested here in 1013. Edmund had been King of Anglia in the late 9th century when the Vikings invaded and he was either killed in battle or, according to legend, martyred by them for refusing to renounce Christ. His martyrdom (if it ever happened) was particularly gruesome involving being beaten, shot with arrows and beheaded. The Vikings were nothing if not thorough.

As a further aside to an aside, I am composing this in a busy pub in Ramsgate and literally two minutes ago, as I was typing, a comment drifted over from a group at the next table which I quote exactly, “That William the Conqueror has a lot to answer for, hasn’t he”? I swear I am not making this up, why would I? It just gives me more typing to do. Strange things keep happening to me but back to Edmund.

Whatever his fate, the King was buried at what is now known as Bury St. Edmunds. Go figure, as the Americans might say. In the years following his death, a cult grew up around him to the extent that he became England’s first patron saint. The present patron saint, the Turkish St. George, was introduced at the time of Edward III who was effectively a Frenchman. At least Edmund was English while George never even visited the country.

Fearing further Viking depradations in 1010, Edmund’s remains were disinterred and taken to London for safe keeping and it was on the return journey three years later that Greensted features in the story.

That was the schoolday bit now here is the everything is connected bit. Regular readers will know that I knock out a few chords on my guitar and warble a bit and possibly the largest crowd I ever played to was in Islington in 2009 on the 175th anniversary of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. It seems to be a piece about martyrs here. I played on the same stage as Martin Carthy, Leon Rosselson and Billy Bragg which was a huge thrill as they are all heroes of mine. I shall tell you, briefly I promise, about the men of Tolpuddle.

In 1834, agricultural workers in the Dorset village of Tolpuddle formed a trade union which was by then legal. This was prompted by the advent of new technology which had meant cuts in pay and life was very hard. Obviously, the “powers that be” didn’t like the way the wind was blowing and the “Martyrs” were prosecuted, not for forming a union but for taking an oath of secrecy which was an illegal act. Six of the leaders were sentenced to seven years transportation to the then penal colony of Australia despite huge public outcry and a large march in London which was what the gig I played was commemorating. The March was 100,000 strong and departed from Copenhagen Fields, which was where we played all those years later, to Parliament.

The public pressure on Government eventually paid off and the Martyrs were returned early to England in 1837 where they were granted tenancies in and around Greensted. One of the Martyrs married the daughter of another in this very Church and the record of the marriage remains intact. That is the potted version of the Martyrs and the inevitable asides and so back to the Church.

The Church authorities are obviously used to the mud in the area and the occasional booted rambler like myself dropping in and so they have very kindly provided plastic overshoes of the type favoured by forensic crime scene types which saves the bother of removing your boots. I did check first if the building was open because so many churches are not as I have mentioned. I was overjoyed to find that the wooden door gave way nicely.

Again I will let the images do most of the talking here but I will quote the first line of a prayer written by the vicar on the excellent Church website which is, “Lord, as I sit in this ancient church I can feel that it is a special place”. I am not at all religious but I would not disagree. I could not leave without buying one of the wide variety of jams, preserves, chutnies etc. on offer. I chose one that involved ale as I thought it would go well with cheese. I haven’t tried it yet but I’ll update here when I do.

The light was still good but I knew there was not much of it left so I put my best foot forward and headed for Ongar – again! I knew it wasn’t far and the walk was unremarkable except for the muck. The Essex countryside had saved the worst for last and it was awful. When I got back onto the paved surface in Ongar I spent a good amount of time trying to wipe it off on the grass at the side of the road with limited success. I didn’t fancy going into a pub with them on and was even a little concerned lest the bus driver turn me away but he didn’t and I got back to Essex and home in good order.

That then was the first portion of the Essex Way done more or less the way it was intended and I looked at the next sections of it but I don’t think I’ll bother. Most of the interesting things I had discovered were stumbled upon when I was not even on the path and the walking, whilst not unpleasant, was not overly inspiring. I can think of other places within a similar radius of my home that offer better possibilities. Added to this, public transport options become very limited further on for long stretches so I’ll probably give it a miss.

In the next entry I go for a leisurely stroll near my home and end up embarking on another walking project, plus a vegetable falls in love with me so stay tuned and spread the word.

The only Way is Essex – the hard way.

Hello again and welcome back or a fresh welcome to you if you have not read any of my pages before.

In the last couple of entries I walked the Wandle Trail which follows the course of the river of that name in South London from Wandsworth, where it empties into the Thames, to one of it’s two sources at the rather picturesque Carshalton Ponds. It is a distance of about nine or ten miles (depending on which website you read) and had taken me two days which doesn’t sound like much and indeed it isn’t compared to the distances I did in my youth. Without wishing to bore my regular readers, the brief story is that I had been hospitalised in the latter part of 2019 and the medicos had told me to take plenty of exercise.

Due to a bad back and various other factors, the most telling of which is advancing old age, a lot of forms of strenuous physical activity are out and so I decided to do a lot of walking which I love and had done regularly anyway. I was on the hunt for other delineated paths to tackle and found the Essex Way, an 81 mile way-marked long-distance footpath which runs from Epping on the outskirts of London to Harwich on the coast.

The Essex Way appealed for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the start point is at Epping Tube station which is only about a 45 minute journey “door to door” from my home with no changes.  Secondly, Epping is tied up with some public transport history, which I have an interest in. I was planning for my first day’s walking to go as far as Ongar which is linked to the same transportation history. Let me tell you about it.

I had always had it in my head that the Tube system was a 19th century innovation and to a certain extent this is true. I still travel quite often through tunnels that were cut in the latter half of that century and equally often in conditions that you might think were designed as a torture from a much earlier era. I knew there were fairly recent lines like the Jubilee which I remember opening but I had always sub-consciously taken the Central to be one of the older ones. The Central Line, incidentally, is the red one on the iconic Tube map, if you are not familiar with the network. Technically, I suppose it is 19th century as it was constructed then although it was not opened to the public until the first year of the 20th century, with a line from Shepherd’s Bush in the West to Bank in the heart of the City of London.

It was not until 1911 that it was extended a mere half mile to connect with Liverpool Street train station and further expansion to the West took place in the 1930’s. At this time work was underway to extend East all the way to Ongar, well outside the London boundary in the County of Essex, but the Second World War put paid to that. Many of the unopened new stations served as air raid shelters against German bombing during the Blitz.

it was in one of these unopened stations at Bethnal Green that the single greatest loss of civilian life during the War occurred.  A woman with a baby in the crowd entering the station tripped and the resulting pile-up of humanity on the stairs resulted in the loss of 173 lives with many more injured.  Bethnal Green is a mere ten minutes walk from my home and I regularly go down those same steps, pausing to glance at the memorial to those who perished.

Another three mile section of the unopened line between Wanstead and Gant’s Hill was converted into a munitions factory which I think was quite ingenious.

The line to the East was not as difficult as it might have been as much of it merely entailed the electrification of an existing mainline route and only five of the 16 stations on the new line had to be constructed from scratch. With the War finally over, the new Eastern section was eventually opened all the way to Ongar between 1946 and 1949.
From the outset, the line beyond Epping was something of an oddity as it was single line with a passing place at North Weald which meant it was only possible to operate a service every 40 minutes. This probably was not too much of a problem as it also passed Blake Hall Station which, at one point, averaged a mere six passengers per day. The only reason it was built at all was that the “Lord of the Manor” insisted on it as part of his agreement to allow the railway to be built over his land at all. Strange but true.

In the latter part of the 20th century it made little sense to keep the extremity of the line open and the section beyond Epping was closed in 1994 amidst huge public outcry. I even remember a guy singing a song that he had composed about it in a folk club I was associated with then. Sadly the Club, like the Tube Line, is long gone. The silver lining in this particular cloud is that the track stations and all the ancillaries have been taken over by the Epping Ongar heritage railway which I shall be coming extremely “up close and personal” with in a few paragraphs.

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Go walking in this? You must be mad.

The whole day was an exercise in lunacy from the outset as I had been up most of the night due to insomnia and the weather was pretty awful with no improvement indicated in the forecast. I took the image above at my start point at the unearthly hour of 0750 which gives you an idea of what it was like. I got out to Epping quite comfortably as I was going against the flow of commuters heading into the city to start a day’s work. I really didn’t envy them in the trains we passed, crammed in together in conditions that would have put the Black Hole of Calcutta to shame.

What prompted this lunacy? I was annoyed by my inability to sleep, I hadn’t been out for a couple of days and I was, quite frankly, getting a bit sick of the sight of the four walls of my living room. As a little further impetus, I had bought a new pair of hiking boots to replace the venerable old Line7 pair that had sadly passed away in Luxembourg back in 2017 and, although I had worn them to the pub and on an urban wander or two, I had not really tested them. I thought a walk in the countryside in late November might test them a bit. I was right!

There is an old Army saying which informs us that “prior preparation and planning prevents piss-ups and poor performances” which, apart from being a lovely piece of alliteration, is also very true.  It ranks up there with the phrase so beloved of PT Instructors that “pain is only another sensation”.  Try mentally processing that one when you are on or beyond the point of total exhaustion. I obviously wasn’t mentally processing anything very well as I completely failed to prepare and then compounded the felony by making a series of extremely poor decisions as you shall see.

My planning had consisted of looking at an extremely large scale map, fixing Epping and Ongar in my head, knowing there was a marked path between the two as well as an occasionally used heritage railway and that was it. How difficult could it be? I’ll tell you now.

I came out of the station and totally failed to see the sign informing me that this was the start of the Essex Way and that it had been put there in 1993 on the 21st anniversary of it’s opening. Even if I had seen it I would not have been much better off as there were no directions given. Within 30 yards of the station door I was on the wrong track and was not to be on the right one all day. I should have gone over the footbridge to the other side of the station but I just wandered up the access road following the direction of the now only partially used track. Straight ahead was a residential development which didn’t appear to lead anywhere so I turned left towards the village thinking that a right turn there would be leading me towards Ongar (correct) and also that I was bound to hit the path sooner or later (completely incorrect).

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Check out the clock.

I had been to Epping before and knew it to be a pleasant and fairly affluent village but I had never really explored it properly. I hadn’t gone too far when I spied the impressive St. John the Baptist Church. It would have been hard to miss it with it’s slightly unusual clock tower where the clock is not on one or more faces of the tower itself but rather extends over the High Street in the manner of, say, an old bank or department store. The original Parish Church stands on another site but there has been a place of worship on this site since at least 1397. It is now the main church of three which are grouped in one joint ministry.

The Church was designed to mimic late 14th century architecture which was a common practice in the late Victorian period when it was constructed. It is to the design of G.F. Bodley who died before the tower was consecrated in 1909. He did, however, live to see the main building dedicated in 1891. Bodley had studied under George Gilbert Scott who I am a great fan of and who I have mentioned in previous entries. I know I will do so again as I know what the next project here is!

I took my external image and went to the door more in hope than expectation as I know that nearly all churches are closed up in the modern age which is very sad but sensible. To my great delight, not only was the door open but there were lights on and when I removed my headgear and entered I saw two ladies bustling about with a tea trolly. I started up the aisle and was met by not one but two clerics who must have wondered what I was doing there at nine o’clock on a dreary November Monday morning.  I briefly explained my quest (nice vaguely religious allusion there, I thought) and was bade welcome with a hearty handshake and told I was free to explore at my leisure and take as many images as I wanted. Having greeted me in such a friendly way, the two gentlemen of the cloth hurried off to wherever it was they were going to. I nodded a greeting to the tea ladies and set about having a look round.

The Church is typical of the period and style but there are a few of features of note which no doubt contribute to it’s Grade II listing. I liked both the pulpit and font which Historic England describe thus. “The polygonal wooden pulpit, of wine-glass type, dates from 1889 but was rebuilt in 1914: its figures stand under richly traceried canopies. The font has an octagonal bowl with shields in recesses and stands on a base surrounded by Frosterley-type marble shafts”.

The organ was very impressive and there were some very fine stained glass windows, mainly the work of Burlison and Grylls and C.E. Kempe. I do like stained glass. There were also a couple of war memorials which I pictured for inclusion on the War Memorials Online site I contribute to. I hope the collage above gives some idea.

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Exiting the Church and walking past a few market stalls setting up I went from being a bit lost to becoming fairly hopelessly lost. I have no idea what compelled me to do it but I ducked down a side alley and tried to use my mobile (cell) ‘phone to find out where the path was but that proved to be way above my pay grade so I just kept on walking. I found myself passing through a tidy residential estate in what I thought might be vaguely the right direction until I found myself on a fairly busy road which had left the housing estates behind and was going through Epping Forest. There was a sign for Ongar so I just kept on going.

I knew that in my direction of travel the railway / disused train line was to my right and so when I saw a “street” sign saying “The Woodyard” and the remains of very old wooden footpath sign I reckoned that was worth a go. I walked a little way down and saw an notice board telling me that the wooded area to my left was called Wintry Wood and never was a place better named as this was that morning. It looked very wintry indeed and not a little soggy underfoot so I went on down the lane to be stopped in my tracks by the gates of, you’ve guessed it, a woodyard. There were saws screeching and the very pleasant aroma of freshly cut lumber but there was clearly no way through. Nothing else for it but to risk the wood and see what my new footwear was capable of.  These boots were made for walkin’ as Nancy Sinatra once famously sang although I doubt she envisaged a soggy Epping Forest in winter.

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A very aptly named location.

I began on what looked like a path which very soon wasn’t and although I could clearly hear the traffic hurtling by no more than one hundred yards away I was trudging through leaves and mud, trying constantly to disentangle my clothing from brambles and branches. Strangely, given all that I have described, I was completely happy and took to singing audibly. My chosen song was almost inevitably “The Battle of Epping Forest”, a great favourite of mine by the band Genesis from the album “Selling England by the Pound” which was part of the soundtrack of my very prog-rock influenced teenage years.

It is a Peter Gabriel composition based on a supposedly true story of two East End gangs settling a turf war by means of a gang fight in the Forest. It is nearly 12 minutes long and has about a hundred verses, OK not literally, so there is no way I can remember all the words. What scant fauna may have been about were treated to a mere precis which definitely included Harold Demure from Art Literature nipping up his tree!  Please look up the lyrics for yourself to stop me going on any further.

After my own battle with Epping Forest, I came to a dead end and so had to return to the road for a bit more. If you had been here 450,000 years ago, you would have had more than a few brambles and a bit of mud to worry about as you would have been buried under ice. This was the Southern edge of the Anglian Ice Sheet which covered most of Britain and apparently defines the geology here although I didn’t notice it. There is also a brick pit in the wood which fell into disuse about the time the church was being built but I didn’t see that either. I was too busy looking where I was going.

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I walked as far as a junction where I turned right to try and find this elusive railway and found myself entering Coopersale Common, no more than a hamlet really, and bingo, my instincts were proved correct. I passed under a bridge which was obviously the missing railway and so it was now just a matter of following it, or so I thought.

I walked along a quiet residential road which was marked as a cul-de-sac and soon found a footpath leading off it which I took. Although I did not know it at the time, I had entered Gernon Bushes nature reserve, which understandably looked very much like Wintry Wood.

After a short way I came upon a strange circular feature whilst trying to photograph a fallen tree (of which there were plenty) and so I went to investigate. The feature was circular and obviously not a natural phenomenon as it was too regular and my immediate thought was that it was some sort of prehistoric structure like a round fort which I have seen plenty of. Almost immediately, I discounted that idea as it was clearly too small, perhaps 20 feet across. I still don’t know what it was but I remain convinced that it was a human construction and this idea seems less far-fetched to me now as it did at the time.

My research whilst writing this piece has thrown up the information that there were prehistoric settlements hereabouts in the form of Loughton Camp and Ambresbury Bank that form part of a chain which marked the often violently disputed boundary between the lands of the Trinovantes and the Catuvellauni. Queen Boudicca, whose name you may have heard misrepresented as Boadicea, of the Iceni tribe from further North in present day Norfolk, was roaming about here in the early years of the Common Era and giving the Romans quite a headache.

The fairly well defined path I was on began a gradual but still obvious turn to the right which meant I was soon heading back the way I had come and I really didn’t want that. It was at that point that my decision making became completely unhinged. To my left there was a pasture with beasts grazing and a farmhouse just visible in the distance.  In a former life I learned how to get over fences without damaging them and this is what I did. Wrong, stupid and criminal but I did it. I really was not thinking straight at all.

Thankfully the beasts were at the far side of the large field and were not inquisitive enough to come over to check me out so I kept to the fence line and kept on going. There was, however, one substantial obstacle in my way in the form of the M11 motorway which was manically busy.  I knew that trying to cross it would be further illegality not to mention an arguably suicidal act so that was not an option. What I was hoping for was some sort of farm track under it as I have seen before where old rights of way were preserved when motorways were built.

Right in the corner of the field there was a way under the motorway all right, it was the railway which had curved round to go under. I was now really in the proverbial rock and a hard place situation. I could die horribly on the main road from London to Cambridge or I could commit further trespass and stray onto a railway line which is not the smartest of moves. Yes, there was another option of heading back via the farm which had to be linked to a road but that risked a potentially interesting conversation with the farmer complete with shotgun and / or his dogs. Hmm.

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What was I doing here?

I chose the railway, primarily because I was fairly sure it was no longer electrified and I was almost certain it would not be in use on a day like this. My fence-friendly traversing skills were not even required as there was a Fergy sized hole in it. Honestly. It was just Fergy sized and no more and there was further snagging of my ordinary street jacket before I managed to scramble down the bank and onto the tracks. Despite being 99% certain there was no power in the lines I made damn sure not to step on anything metal, just in case, and headed off in the direction of North Weald.  I kept my eyes and ears well tuned as well. 99% certainty, in this case that there would be no traffic, is not much consolation when you are run down by 50 tons of locomotive.

On the way, I saw the rather sad but strangely photogenic sight you see above and hoped that it was not an omen. I thought I would make best speed but it was surprisingly difficult as my normal stride was too long to step on every sleeper and not quite long enough to go for every other one. I toddled along in a most ungainly manner until I could see a station in the distance with plenty of old rolling stock sitting about. Great, that must be North Weald and I would obviously be able to regain a road there.

Nothing was ever going to be simple that day and as I approached the station I could see that there was a gang of workmen going about their business close by the track. There was no way I was going to turn back and I thought I might be able to front it if they were just contractors and not members of the heritage railway.  I strode purposefully on and not one of them even looked at me.  It was as if it was the most normal thing in the world to see a guy wandering up the middle of a railway track from the depths of the Essex countryside.


Having got past them, I really chanced my luck. Undoubtedly I should have hightailed it out as fast as I could but it was a disused Tube / railway station with lost of interesting things to look at so it seemed rude not to. Apparently this was the highest point of the Tube network once upon a time at an Alpine 340 feet above sea level. With my fetish for knowledge I looked it up and I can tell you that that distinction is now held by Amersham station which is a Himalayan 480 feet above. You may need oxygen! I’ll let the images speak for themselves but if you have nothing else to do with your time you may want to try to find the spelling mistake on the air raid notice.

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What a beauty.

Having taken my fill of images I walked out of the station forecourt, went down to the main road and turned right in the approximate direction the line had been going. By now it was nearly 1300 and when I spied the wonderful Kings Head there was only ever going to be one outcome and in I went. It had been quite a trying morning one way and another and I thought I needed a pint, albeit one of my silly and only marginally alcoholic concoctions.

The pub was formerly called the George IV and parts of it date back 450 years although the majority of what you can see was contructed in the mid 17th century from old ship’s timbers. Who said recycling was a modern concept? I took a seat near the very welcome blazing log fire and tried to imagine a very much more recent period in history than the construction of the pub. I was thinking of the Second World War.

North Weald is probably most famous for it’s airfield, which still exists and functions as such, and which was hugely important during World War Two, particularly in the Battle of Britain. It has a history dating right back to the Royal Flying Corps in 1916 and therby pre-dating the RAF by two years. It was always a fighter base as opposed to housing bombers and initially hosted Hurricanes and Blenheim night-fighters.

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Later on, American Eagle squadrons and two Norwegian squadrons flying Spitfires. Although I didn’t know about the Allied pilots at the time, I was thinking about RAF men, many of them ridiculously young to be doing what they were asked to do, sitting and standing around the roaring fire, smoking and drinking and not knowing if they would be alive that time tomorrow for another drink. I’ll swear I could almost hear them.

I could have happily spent more time in this fine old pub but it had become a matter of “Ongar or bust”, it was personal now after the morning’s performance. I was going to finish this if it killed me and, little did I know it then but it damn nearly did.

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I had decided to give up on ever finding the Essex Way and the concept of me suddenly and miraculously mastering my mobile ‘phone was equally remote and so I resolved to stick to the roads. Surely that could not be too difficult, especially after I saw a road sign for Ongar and so off I set at a brisk pace. All went well at first and I paused only briefly to take a couple of images. I should have stuck to my plan.

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The road to nowhere.

After a while I took a right down an unpaved road which I was sure would lead me back to some sort of path except that it didn’t. It led me into a field and I ploughed on although the farmer hadn’t bothered. The field was still in grass but the recent heavy rain made it pretty boggy underfoot. The gate to the field had indicated a right of way although there was no footpath marked anywhere and so I walked until I came to some outbuildings blocked by a gate and a fairly unequivocal “Private Property – No Trespassing” sign.  Not there then as I faced the possibility of irate farmers with twelve bores and slavering hounds again. I followed the hedge line round and I could see dwellings tantalisingly close but with absolutely no way to get to them With no obvious exit it was all the way back up the hill the way I came and back to the road again. I reckon that little excursion had cost me about thirty minutes.

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What is it? Answers on a postcard please.

Whilst it had been a total waste in terms of progress, it had produced an interesting if somewhat ugly point of interest which you can see above. I was desperately trying to work out what it was as there were a few of them in the field, and I thought that it must be something to do with the airfield. My initial surmise was that they were tethering posts for barrage balloons to defend the airfield but surely that was a double edged sword as they would endanger your own aircraft as well. Having poked around a bit online, the best guess I can come up with is that they were indeed anchor points but for radio antennae rather than balloons.

Presumably due to the relative elevation of North Weald, it was deemed a good position for radio masts and the Marconi company had been operating here since 1920. From what I can discover, the masts were indeed a problem for the pilots. As always, please get in touch if I am completely wide of the mark.

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Not even halfway yet.

A short distance along the road I came to the old milepost you can see and I had not even gone half way. Three miles by road and I had probably done five with all my meandering. Still, I was good to go for a bit of a push along a signposted road and I know I can do four miles an hour if I stride out. It was now about 1400, the light was due to go at 1559 in good conditions but these were not good conditions. It had barely been properly light all day and it certainly was not going to get any better. The road was only marginally less busy than the M11 had been earlier, at least it seemed that way but at least I was allowed to be on this road and this pavement and then the pavement stopped.

OK, keep facing the traffic and the pavement will start up again. It didn’t. I spent what seemed like an eternity jumping in and out of the hedge trying to avoid cars and lorries, it was terrifying. My images tell me that it was not an eternity but just about an hour dead. I thought I was dead several times, never mind the time. I have done some fairly stressful things in my time and that is right up there with them. I didn’t want to deviate along a side road as that was going to be no better in terms of width although undoubtedly in terms of traffic but I didn’t know where any of them led. Keep plugging on. I really had lost all reason by this stage and it was just all senses on full to get to Ongar in one piece.

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At long last.

Eventually I saw a sign which told me that I had arrived in Ongar and that it was twinned with Cerizay in France. That’s nice for them but it still didn’t look much like a village to me but at least there was a verge to walk on which was a relief.

I took a couple of images of a rather sorry-looking bridge which I now know spans the equally sorry-looking Cripsey Brook and in my discombobulated state my brain started raging at the fact that there probably had not been a centenary ceremony in 2013. Undoubtedly, grand structures like Tower Bridge or the Forth Rail Bridge either had or will have celebrations on significant birthdays so why not the Cripsey Brook Bridge? What was going on? I was mentally rehearsing arguments urging egalitarianism for the bridges of the UK. I really had lost it a bit by this stage.

After a bit more walking it became apparent that there was indeed a settlement here and it had not been completely abandoned after Boudica died. I had finally made it to Ongar without the slightest recourse to the Essex Way. I am sure I have been happier to see habitation in my life but I really cannot remember when. After what I had been through, it was a joy to walk along the High Street and even I could not miss the station which I took a few snaps of. It looked great, as North Weald had, and I am more determined than ever now to have a trip on the heritage railway. It will be a damn sight easier than the route I had taken.

By now there was only one thing for it and that was a pint. I didn’t just want one, I really needed one. I looked at the Cock Tavern, looked at myself and decided against. I had made a bit of an effort to get the worst of the mud off my boots and the foliage off my jacket but the bottom of my jeans were a bit muddy and I reckoned I would find somewhere a little more appropriate. I passed the Kings Head for much the same reasons and then did a bit of a double take when I saw the shop you can see in the image. The Brick Lane Bagel Co., what was all that about?

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The (nothing to do with) Brick Lane Bagel shop.

Brick Lane is a road running from Whitechapel Road up to Bethnal Green Road, not far from where I live. It is in the heart of what was a traditionally very Jewish area although it is now virtually 100% Bangladeshi with numerous curry houses. Undeoubtedly the most famous remnant of the Jewish era is the Beigel Bake which has been there for over 100 years and never closes. It is very good but not actually the best beigel place on the lane which is Everings. Take it from a local!

I could not for the life of me understand why they had expanded to such a random place as Ongar but it appears they haven’t. A quick look at Companies House records shows the business is registered in Ongar with the other named person living in Hornchurch. It is a very dubious, although presumably legal, appropriation of the concept of the Brick Lane outlet but don’t be fooled. I have no idea how good it is but the staff were good enough sports to give me a wave after they saw my taking the image.

I really needed a pint, not a bagel and my salvation came in the form of the Royal Oak which looked more my sort of place. When I went in, it was my sort of place. I have a nose for these things. I got my pint of cider spritzer and immediately had to set about resisting the attempts of a complete maniac who plonked himself right beside me when there were loads of seats available in the small “snug” I was in. The main bar had been pretty full and I had deliberately chosen it as I wanted to just relax quietly for a while before heading home.

His opening conversational gambit was, “They don’t like me in there, they say I’m a nuisance” and I knew I was not going to have too much peace. I didn’t tell him to go away in so many words but my lack of response, general appearance and probably pretty deranged stare seemed to do the trick because he did so anyway.

With my pint finished, I walked back up High Street to the bus stop to wait for the bus back to Epping and on the way I was looking out the window as we drove along the road I had walked and wondered all over again how I was not dead. At least the day’s exertions and excitement had the desired effect and I slept like a baby that night.

Incidentally, if you are wondering about the title of this entry, it is a bit of play on one of those appalling “reality” TV shows that we are subjected to here in the UK called “The only way is Essex”. As far as I can see the only reality is that they are all populaced by self-promoting wannabees getting famous for being famous and having no other visible talent. I loathe them and never watch them but I was thinking lately that some TV crew should have filmed “Fergy’s way is not the Essex Way”, it could have been a lot of fun.

By my own fairly lunatic standards, this had been an eventful day and the next entry is a lot less frantic. In it I manage to find the Essex Way at last, I manage to get to Ongar (again) with only a few detours and I visit the oldest wooden church in the world so stay tuned and spread the word.

Wandering the Wandle 2.

If you are reading this having read my previous post then I thank you and promise this one is a bit better. Let’s be honest, it wasn’t exactly a riveting read but I was working with some pretty average source material. If you are reading this without having read the previous entry and wonder what exactly I am on about I shall explain.

My previous post was about my first day on the Wandle Trail in South London which is supposedly a signed path following the River Wandle.  What that walk had actually entailed was a day of trudging through industrial and residential areas with very little of interest to see. If the path was waymarked at all, which it frequently wasn’t, the signs had no sense of cohesion and many of them featured a URL address which leads to a potentially dangerous Chinese (?) website. The weather had been pretty abysmal and it really had not been a great day out.

I did a fair bit of moaning about all this in that post so you might well wonder why I chose to continue from my finishing point of the previous day and I was frankly wondering much the same as I caught the Tube back to Morden for another go at it.  I can only ascribe it to my sheer bloody-mindedness and perhaps a vague notion that things can only get better as D-ream once famously sang. I only just found out that they are from my home country of Northern Ireland. They featured Professor Brian Cox, the well-known physicist and broadcaster on keyboards in their touring band. Perhaps most famously, their signature song mentioned above was hijacked as the anthem for the “New” Labour Party who proved the song’s premise to be totally wrong. I was rather hoping my day would turn out better.

I had found it a little odd that I was so negative in the last entry as I am generally pretty upbeat about places I visit and this was unusual. In the entry prior to that I had wondered whether I was perhaps naive for gushing so much about everything I had experienced on a recent trip to Northumberland. This appears somewhat contradictory and I did think about it before I posted the last entry but I do believe in writing totally honestly or else I just don’t see the point.

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I’m back again.

Unlike the previous day, the London transport system had not messed me about and I arrived good time for a decent day of walking before the light went at about 1600. I thought I might be able to finish the Trail today depending on what I found to distract me on the way but it was not an imperative. I certainly wasn’t going to kill myself slogging along further or faster than I wanted as that was not the purpose and, although I had been happy with the distance covered the day before, I was still a bit unsure about what my current daily range was

I glanced across the road from the Tube station and noted that Ganley’s pub, where I had enjoyed a pint the previous evening, was not yet open so that was one temptation removed. There is only so much temptation I can resist in the one day.

I went back into Morden Hall Park and turned right to regain the Wandle Trail. I had checked on a map that morning and knew where to go. If I had been trying to follow the river itself I might have had a spot of bother as it splits off in various directions in the park, some terminating in dead ends and which I suspect had been channelled artificially as decorative features.

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Morden Hall.

After a couple of hundred yards I was treated to the sight of Morden Hall itself for which the park was obviously named. I already knew that it is now used as a wedding and function facility so that at least saved me the bother of walking up to it but I did admire it from a distance, it is rather impressive. I took a couple of images of the weir and the little bridge with the Hall in the background which I hope give you an idea.


Morden Hall was built between 1759 and 1765 in the park which had originally been owned by Westminster Abbey. It had been sold in 1533 to two gentlemen called Duckett and Whitworth and almost immediately sold on the the Garth family.  The particular Garth who eventually sold the house was the fifth generation of the family, all called Richard. Very imaginative. It was sold in 1867 to a man called Hatfeild who was a tobacco merchant and this shall become relevant in a moment. It was he who laid out the gardens as they are now.
During World War One the Hall was loaned to the London Hospital for the convalescence of injured servicemen. This is of interest to me as the London (now the Royal London and part of the Barts NHS group – is nothing sacred?) is close to where I live and where I am still attending regularly for my seemingly endless consultations. After a period as a Salvation Army refuge for women and children it eventually passed to the National Trust who currently administer it.  More of them in a moment.

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Look, I found another one!

Not far beyond the Hall I found a waterwheel which, if you have read the previous entry, you will know is the logo for the Wandle Trail. I suspect this is more of a historical reference as this was only the second such piece of equipment I had seen and I was at least half way along the route.


This wheel was not used for milling flour, as was common in the 19th century, nor was it used for manufacturing material as the one at Merton Abbey had been but I mentioned Mr. Hatfeild, the tobacco merchant earlier and the building here was a snuff mill. The second image shows some of the quern stones associated with the milling.

Younger readers may not know what snuff is as it has fallen completely out of fashion in the 21st century.  It is finely ground dried tobacco leaves in a powder form which you then sniff, or “snort” in modern drugs parlance, to give you nicotine “hit”. Yes, I know it sounds odd and before you ask, yes, I have taken it.

I once played for, and helped to organise, a social rugby side who played end of season charity games. We had a tradition of taking snuff and drinking vintage port which sounds quite sociable but we used to do it BEFORE the match. It used to get messy as we would meet in the pub we represented and have a few pints beforehand. Come the first scrum, ruck or maul most of us were half drunk and still sneezing. Half-time was more vintage port, more snuff and a cigarette for those of us who indulged. Fun times indeed but hardly geared to high performance athletic activity.

The snuff mill here was one of two operated by Taddy & Co., of which Hatfeild was a part owner and there is another connection with the East End of London here. The milled tobacco was taken to the company factory in the Minories, which again is easy walking distance from my home and where I was to have a Christmas meal with some Virtual Tourist friends a few weeks later. Everything goes round in circles. At the height of production the mill here was turning out 6000lbs. of snuff a month which is a considerable amount.

Following a strike in 1922 in the Minories factory the company closed down and the mill became a workshop for the estate with the wheel still producing the power. This mill was opened as a classroom and education centre concentrating on the lives of the mill workers which must be fascinating.

Now that I have more or less stopped smoking I might see if I can find a box of snuff somewhere, just for old times sake.

The walking here was very pleasant with the noise of the nearby A297 no more than a murmur and the weather wasn’t too bad. It was cold and flat calm as the images of the water show but there was no sign of rain which I was grateful for. After the previous day it was positively bucolic despite being in a busy London suburb.

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Another attempt at creativity.

Morden Hall Park more or less peters out and I found myself in Ravensbury Park although I had no idea of that at the time, there was nothing to tell me. I had crossed a road to get there so I guessed I was in a different open space. This Park is apparently part of the part of the Upper Wandle River Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation, whatever the Hell that is. I am completely baffled by the number of official designations for open land and this is yet another new one on me as I research this piece.

Just to put you out of your misery, the official definition states that “A site of metropolitan importance is a site of importance for nature conservation within London at a London-wide level. They contain examples of London’s habitats, may have rare species, or have significance in built-up areas”, whatever that load of jargon might mean. I do hope you are a little the wiser now because I’m not.

Whatever it’s designation, it is a pleasant enough open space although I didn’t spot any of the rare species mentioned. Come to think of it, I didn’t spot much in the way of common or garden species either. Well, it was November, I suppose. This Park was once part of a large industrial area in the grounds of Ravensbury Hall and had it’s own water driven power source, in this case used for calico production. The Park today is much smaller than the original grounds as much of the land was sold off in the early 20th century for residential development.

Yet again I tried my hand at a bit of creative photography as you can see above.  Amongst the traditional russets of autumn there were plenty of these snow-white leaves which I found rather attractive.

Another road crossed and another park entered, this time Watermeads Nature Reserve which is also administered by the National Trust. This is hardly surprising as it was gifted to them in 1913 by a committee set up by Octavia Hill, one of the three founders of that worthy organisation. I shall take a moment here to tell you about that remarkable lady who, to my shame, I had never heard of until walking this Trail.

Octavia was born in Wisbech in Cambridgeshire in 1838 into a large and relatively affluent society who were home-schooled by her Mother who had initially been Governess for her Father’s children from a previous marriage.  Things were soon to change, though, as her Father’s business went bankrupt and he declined into mental illness. At age 13 the young Octavia was sent to a “guild for distressed gentlewomen” where she learned glass painting. By the age of 14, she was not only in charge of the guild but working in her spare time for the art critic, artist and social reformer John Ruskin.

Octavia became very aware of the appalling conditions of the poor children she encountered in her work and developed very strong ideas about assistance for the worse off in society through self-help. She thought that unsupervised and untargetted philanthropy was a terrible thing. By 1865 Ruskin had inherited a large sum and some of that went to purchase three six room cottages in Marylebone which were in a pretty rough state of repair. He put Octavia in charge of the project and of a subsequent group of another five houses nearby which they leased the next year. Through his contacts Ruskin knew that money men would be prepared to invest in such schemes if they were guaranteed a 5% annual return on their investments.

The homes were made habitable and rented to the less well off and her methods became a template for social housing. Rents were collected weekly, always by women who, in addition to their revenue gathering duties also ensured the premises were kept in good order and looked to the welfare of the tenants. For the early part of the Victorian era this was a most forward-looking way doing things and it worked so well that by 1874 she was in charge of 15 schemes with 3,000 tenants.

It seems an ideal situation whereby the investors saw a reasonable and steady return on their investment, the tenants had living conditions vastly superior to the awful slums most of them were used to and Hill, Ruskin et al had something to ease their acute social consciences. It is a model that continues, more or less unchanged, to this day.

Hill believed that, apart from sanitary living conditions, people’s well-being was a holistic matter and they also needed recreational space, fresh air, leisure activities and so on. It seems that her enthusiasm, not to mention sheer energy, were almost boundless. Amongst her accomplishments she set up the first independent Army Cadet Force Unit in Southwark which was so popular it’s numbers had to be capped. She also laid the foundations for the modern social work system by having her lady rent collectors look after the welfare of her tenants.  So good was she at what she did that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners asked her to take over their slum properties in South London which were very lawless and deprived. She quickly turned them into model communities.

What Octavia Hill will undoubtedly be best remembered for is her championing of public open spaces, all part of her holistic approach to well-being and thinking that was well ahead of it’s time. It was her who actually coined the term “green belt” and, whilst she saved open spaces all over the country, Londoners (myself included) have a couple of things to particularly thank her for. Along with others, she saved Parliament Hill Fields and Hampstead Heath from residential development and it is difficult to think of London today without them as open spaces. Apart from anything else, Hampstead Heath affords some of the best views of London without hiring a helicopter!

Her relentless campaigning, managing and lobbying took it’s inevitable toll in 1877 and she had a breakdown which necessitated her delegating some of her workload, something she had been loath to do previously.  She still managed to do enough to set up the National Trust in 1894, along with Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley and Sir Robert Hunter. The rest, as they say, is history. Octavia Hill died on 1912 of cancer and is buried in Kent alongside her sister who predeceased her.

On the subject of urban open spaces I shall leave the last word to this remarkable lady herself. In 1883 she wrote, “I think we want four things. Places to sit in, places to play in, places to stroll in, and places to spend a day in”. In 2020 I write “I think she did rather well and I thank her”.

According to the information board at the Reserve entrance there is an inscribed sandstone seat here dedicated to Octavia Hill’s sister Miranda who was a teacher hereabouts although I was damned if I could find it. What I did find beside the path was a large sports ground which was apparently the training ground for Chelsea F.C. from 1966 – 1976 so the likes of Peter Bonetti, Dave Webb, John Hollins and “Chopper” Harris would all have been training here when they won the F.A. Cup in 1970. I actually remember that game.

Out of the Watermeads and a bit more walking to come to another open space of note albeit considerably more modest in size that the previous ones.

This is Hackbridge Community Garden, the brainchild of Brazilian artist Claudio Funari who moved to London from his native Brazil in 2016 to be nearer his son. He started by clearing rubbish from the Wandle and as if that wasn’t a noble enough thing to be doing at the age of 68, he took into creating seats and pieces of art out of all the waste he collected. He then used these to trick out a garden he created on a piece of waste land with the results you see.

Obviously November was not the best time to see a garden but it was getting geared up for Xmas with the reindeer which I believe are constructed from recycled fencing. Muito bem, Senhor.

At this point I should explain at this point that there are not going to be a lot of images for the next portion of the walk and I’ll explain why.

For many years I used a succession of Canon Ixus compact digital cameras and was very happy with them. I never leave home without the camera in my pocket and this inevitably leads to dust getting inside them which spoils the images and so I recently changed to a Samsung WB36F which I got at a very good price in a sale. The Samsung is probably a better camera in terms of features but it appears to either have a design fault or else I have been unlucky enough to get a duff battery as it lasts no time at all. With the Canon I could have snapped away all day without having to change batteries but the Samsung only takes maybe 40 images tops before the battery goes. I now have to carry a battery pack with me which fairly well negates the advantages of a compact. Not only that but it takes forever to recharge, it is a bit of a pain. I was therefore wandering along with the damn thing charging in my jacket pocket instead of taking images to bore you good people with.

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I passed by the charmingly named Wilderness Island, another Nature Reserve, but I didn’t bother to explore it as by this time I was getting the idea in my head that it was quite possible I could finish the walk off that day. It is at this point that the river divides to go to it’s two different sources. I didn’t make a conscious decision as to which one to follow, I just kept going the way I was already walking and this turned out to be the Carshalton “arm” as it would be called on a canal.

The camera was still not fully charged but it had recovered itself enough to capture the attempt at another of my arty shots and even some of the local fauna in the form of the cute little chap you can see. Actually, I was quite pleased with that one as the buggers never stay still enough to get a decent shot.

Before I realised it I was approaching Carshalton Ponds which I knew was journey’s end and the vista at that end was the complete antithesis of that at the beginning. Click back to my last entry to see what I mean if you have not already read it. This was a scene that would not have been out of place in any rural village in the land which is indeed what Carshalton was until about 150 years ago with the coming of the railway and the building of a station in 1868.

This seems to be a good time to tell you about the history of Carshalton, as I seem to tell you about everywhere else I visit!

Archaeological excavations in the area prove habitation back s far as Neolithic times and, even before the invasion of the UK by the Normans in 1066, there were five manors here, owned by freemen who were not to remain free for long. The Domesday Book of 1086 records the village as Aultone which was owned by a knight called de Manville, obviously a Norman, and it brought in an annual revenue of fifteen pounds and ten shillings.. Interestingly in light of my walk and the watermill motif constant throughout that, there was a watermill here even then and the water probably contributed to the name as “aul” means well or spring and “ton” is a farm. The origin of the “car” element is unclear.

By the end of the 19th century the mills had multiplied with calico production important locally and the village continued to grow steadily but not dramatically until the 1890’s when the local estate was sold for housing. With the railway in place this led to the phenomenon of the commuter and the beginnings of suburbia which was taking place all around the fringes of the capital.

Another local speciality was lavender which was grown in abundance locally and gave Carshalton the title of “the lavender capital of the world”. Although there are still some lavender fields and and annual Lavender Fair in late July, the large scale production stopped some years ago due to a rat infestation of all things. Lavender is still grown on local allotments by a not for profit organisation.  It must smell absolutely lovely here at that time of year.

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A fine old church.

The rather fine church you can see is All Saints and actually pre-dates the Norman occupation although it has been much altered over the years, most notably in 1891. Sadly, it was not open when I visited.

As well as the calico previously mentioned, the mills of the Wandle also had a more sinister purpose and there was a gunpowder mill on the river here in the late 17th century. Paper, log-wood, leather and seed oil were also produced using water power.  It must have been an industrious place and I have read of the Wandle being referred to as “the hardest working river in London”.

The ponds should really have signalled journey’s end for me and would have been had I not spotted not one but two things that piqued my interest. First was the very impressive war memorial which has a beautiful situation overlooking the pond and which I obviously took images of for inclusion in the War Memorials Online site.

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Honeywood Musem.

The second was a sign for the Honeywood Museum which turned out to be the beautiful building you see above. I was not at all certain if it would be open given the day, time of year and location but, to my delight it was and I was in there like a shot.

I was bade welcome by a very charming lady and gentleman and invited to look around at my leisure. Not only that but when I enquired I was informed that photography was not only permitted but positively encouraged and would I be so kind as to post any images on social media? I really didn’t have the heart to tell them I didn’t use it but I did mention that my walk was to do with my blog and they would go there. Again, I didn’t have the heart to tell them exactly what the traffic figures were for the site!

The house is on the site of a 17th dwelling called Wandle Cottage and although little of this now remains you can still see the odd bit of the old flint and chalk structure. It may seem like a strange place to build a home, sited as it is over a watercourse which feeds the pond but this may be explained by the vogue then for “cold baths” which were a popular medical treatment. I suppose it was preferable to the blood-letting and leeches which were also prevalent in medical procedures of the day. Basically, patients were dropped through a trapdoor in the floor into the stream and then fished out again. I think I’ll give that one a miss especially on a day like that was.

The house was bought in 1883 by a man called John Kirk who was involved in the embryonic photography industry and from which he eventually made quite a sum of money. He put a lot of this wealth into renovating and extending the building, leaving the rather grand structure we have today. It was taken over in the 1980’s by a charitable group and opened as a heritage centre.

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Have you heard what Gladstone said last week?

While there are exhibits dealing with all periods of the history of Carshalton and the house itself, for me the great attraction of the place was in the way much of it is preserved as it was in Edwardian times. Absolutely my favourite room was the billiard room, adjacent to the front desk which is a joy. It is as if the gentlemen had merely stepped outside for a moment nd I spent a while sitting imagining myself in full Edwardian garb, cigar and brandy in hand, discussing Gladstone’s policies whilst my friends played billiards.

Dragging myself back to the 21st century I went to explore the rest of Honeywood which is very interesting and includes exhibits dedicated to the Second World War when the building was used for the training of Air Raid Wardens. I was surprised to learn that there had been 78 civilian fatalities in Carshalton during the war as I couldn’t imagine what the bombing targets would have been. It is not near enough central London or the docks on the Thames to have been “collateral damage” as so much of the East End was.
There must have been a threat as there was an air raid shelter large enough for 1,000 people was discovered in 2012 in Carshalton Park where it had lain forgotten about for decades. A little research reveals that Carshalton was hit by several V1 terror weapons which were wildly inaccurate and this may account for the apparently large number of casualties.

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I even had another attempt at the artistic side of photography with the image above of the Ponds through a mullioned window which I quite liked.
That then was the end of my “Wandering the Wandle” as I have dubbed it in the title and, had I but known it, I was less than two hundred yards from the Hope pub which hd indirectly started the whole little project. Had I known then a celebratory pint would have been in order but in my ignorance I headed off looking for a bus stop in a direction I had seen buses going.

I found a stop at which there was a large group of schoolgirls who I believe were from the nearby St. Philomena’s School. They were being, well, teenage girls and there was plenty of noise and jumping about and I was thinking the bus journey might be interesting. I am of an age where I like to moan! I moan about lots of things and noisy, ignorant teenagers is one of them. I was somewhat surprised therefore when I was checking the timetable and a very polite young lady from the group asked if she could assist. Credit where it is due. I told her I was fine but it didn’t half make me feel old. The poor girl had obviously been brought up to help the elderly and, at her age, I suppose that is what I was.

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Another one gone.

I mused on this all the way back to Croydon where I walked to the Overground station by way of another “lost” pub.

So that was my experience of the Wandle Trail and thankfully this day was much better than the previous one so normal service is resumed in my writing about being happy about things I saw and did. Who knows, after this outing I might even return and follow the other part of the river up to Croydon.  I’m not sure if I should risk my luck though!

The upper part of the Wandle Trail is fine for a day out walking if you happen to be down that way but overall I wouldn’t make a point of doing the whole route as I did, it really is not worth it. If I do decide to risk the other portion you will obviously be the first to know.

In the next entry I go for another walk, get totally lost and end up doing something that was not only a bit stupid but also illegal so stay tuned and spread the word.

Bye bye Berwick.

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A good start to the day.

I woke in my room in the Castle Hotel on the morning of Wednesday 6th October 2019 in the knowledge that the next bed I slept in would probably be my own in London some 350 miles more or less due South.

After the events of the previous morning I had decided to skip breakfast, tasty as it was, as I would have had to have awoken at about 0600 to allow my slightly battered gastro-intestinal system time to get going and do it justice. It wasn’t as if there weren’t plenty of decent options for a bite to eat round the town.

For reasons of economy and logistics I was booked on a train at 1413 which would give me the morning in Berwick, some time in Newcastle to meet up with Paul for a pint and to collect my guitar and then a teatime train back to “the smoke” aka London.  This would get me in at a civilised hour that would not involve night buses to get home. With luck I might even have time for a pint in my local to see if any of the lads were about.

I’ve explained the logistics so I’ll explain the economy aspect very briefly for those who may not have red my previous posts. Rail fares in UK are ludicrously high for reasons I will not bore you with and, if you are not time constrained, it really pays to choose your train carefully. As usual, I’ll give a quick realistic example for today (07/01/2020) as I write this. I don’t just seek out anomalies to make my point. If I was doing the Berwick Newcastle portion of my journey on the 1413 today it would be £14:70 single. The next train at 1450 is £29:80 and the one after that at 1512 is a bargain at £6:40 so the middle train, which also happens to be the slowest is more than double the price of the preceding one and more than quadruple the price of the succeeding one. As a famous British journalist is fond of saying, “You couldn’t make it up”.

The upshot of all the juggling with the lunacies of the rail timetables and ticketing policies was that I had a few hours to kill in Berwick and by then I was fairly tuned into the place, I did like it there.  This might be a good time to mention something that I discovered whilst researching this series of entries and which really did surprise me.

I didn’t expect there to be many visitors in Berwick during the week in early November and with the awful weather, which was still pretty bleak that morning, but I had it somewhere in the back of my mind that it must be a fairly touristy place in season. Apparently, this is not the case as this article from the Daily Telegraph, a fairly respected UK broadsheet shows.

The magnificently named Boudicca Fox-Leonard, the Telegraph journalist of the 2017 piece, lists some very good reasons to visit, a few of which overlap with my own observations and experiences.  It is, however, a quote from one of the locals that is telling when he says, “Our local council and English Heritage do nothing about it. It’s like Fight Club. The first rule of Berwick is no one talks about Berwick.” This really is a shame.

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Just look at that weather!

Due to my little medical blip I was unable to fly for while and I dread to think what my travel insurance will be the next time I go abroad.  I try to fly now only if it is long-haul, not particularly for any ecological reasons although they are worthy enough but because I just hate the hassle and discomfort of flying. I have described elsewhere on this blog how it is not much slower for me to visit my family in Northern Ireland by train and ferry than it is to fly and the one time I used the Eurostar was a joy.

Whilst my ability to fly was somewhat in limbo for an indeterminate time I had decided that I was going to do a lot more travelling in UK as there is just so much of it I have not seen and there is certainly plenty to see. Had I not had to return to London for yet another medical appointment and to pick up further medication I would undoubtedly have rambled around the North of England for a lot longer. I have since sorted out the medication problem by registering for an electronic system whereby I can pick up my repeat prescriptions at any pharmacy in the country so at least that hurdle is overcome and more UK travel is definitely on the horizon.

Certainly Berwick is particularly interesting in view of it’s location and turbulent history but there must be so many other similar “undiscovered” gems and I intend to winkle a few of them out. A friend of mine, another refugee from Virtual Tourist, who lives near Leicester lamented for years that nobody ever visited for the purposes of tourism as there was so much to see there. That is slightly different now with the discovery of the remains of Richard III under a carpark and their re-interment in the Cathedral but Leicester has really “won the lottery” in that respect.

The Telegraph piece I mentioned above has another linked item entitled, “Is Lincoln Britain’s most underrated city break?” which I decided to have a quick look at and have immediately added Lincolnshire’s County town / cathedral city to my bucket list. It will be a re-visit but it is about 30 years since I was there.

I could pick a few random names here, Derby, Exeter, Carlisle (which was on my radar this time round), Hereford, I could go on for a long time. I’ll bet that with my knack of ferreting out interesting places, purely by luck and with neither skill nor planning involved, that I could cobble together a decent break in any of the above and so many more beside. Cobble several together to save on travel expenses and you have the beginnings of a proper adventure. Obviously I’ll keep you posted here on how it goes but I’m getting ahead of myself so back to a rainy Berwick.

I wandered about Berwick fairly aimlessly as I had seen about all I wanted to see, well all that was open at least and I was really just killing time. I did pop into a lovely old-fashioned and prosaically named “Music Shop” where I had a long chat with the lovely lady there who told me that the premises had been in her family since Noah was a sea cadet We had a general moan about the decline of music shops due mostly to online competition. There were a few guitars but not many as she said that so many youngsters were too lazy to learn and her best selling line was ukeleles which are infinitely easier to play. This was borne out by a large selection on display and she told me that her absolute #1 seller was the ukelele with a livery of the Scottish flag. With all due respect to George Formby and Tiny Tim I cannot stand ukeleles but if they are keeping an independent music shop alive then I can’t complain too much.

If the Music Shop was prosaically named then coffee shop a few doors along most certainly wasn’t. I stupidly didn’t take an image so you’ll just have to believe me when I tell you that it was called “The Mule on Rouge”, complete with a red paintjob and a logo of a mule bucking. Priceless but not unique in terms of quirkily named Berwick coffee shops. The previous day I had spotted a place called “The Loovre” which was situated in a beautifully restored Victorian public toilet. Utter madness.

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By this point my stomach had woken itself up and I thought it was time for a bite to eat. As I have mentioned there is a plentiful supply of eating houses in Berwick and for some reason I had decided on one I had not even seen. I had noticed earlier the sign you can see advertising Sinners Cafe which was indicated through an archway and pretty well hidden away from the road. The sign says Sinners of Sidey Court is “Berwick’s best kept secret” and may well be although I am sure the locals have sussed it out as it is very good.

Sinners of Sidey Court, what a lovely old-fashioned name in this historic town. Actually it’s not. A plaque on the opposite wall of the archway informs us that the building was formerly the Avenue Hotel and was redeveloped and named after Thomas Leslie Sidey, the town’s Mayor in 1980 – 81 and the worthy gentleman himself opened the redevelopment in 1982. Hardly ancient but I suppose all history has to start somewhere.

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A lovely poppy display.

The first thing I noticed about the exterior was the prominent display of poppy wreaths and crosses as Remembrance Day was fast approaching. I mentioned in a previous post how seriously they seemed to take it very seriously in Berwick and I like that. Inside the cafe they had a whole table dedicated to the full range of poppy related items so good for them. I already had my poppy so I got a poppy wristband to add to my collection.

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Maybe some other time.

I had seen a rather monstrous looking meal called the “Ultimate Sinners Breakfast” advertised which you can read for yourself in the image but my stomach wasn’t that awake just yet. I had also noticed that they served breakfast until the somewhat arbitrary hour of 1120.  I suppose the kitchen needs to get ready for lunch but it just seemed rather a strange time to pick. I was just about in time and so I picked a slightly less-challenging offering than the “Ultimate” which I would love to have go at under the right conditions.

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Up came my rather more modest choice served by a very cheery lady and I do apologise if this is getting repetitive but just about everyone I met during the whole trip was just so damned friendly and I do feel it is worthy of mention. I polished it off in no time flat and read a few pages of my book whilst finishing off my coffee. It was that “in-between” time and the place was pretty empty so I didn’t feel guilty about hogging the table.

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As you can see from the interior image, there is a slightly retro feel to Sinners and whilst it may not be exactly a secret as claimed in the advertising, it is a great find and I thoroughly recommend it. Incidentally, they have good veggie / vegan options if that is an issue for you.

After my tasty breakfast it was back to killing time and I hit couple of the charity shops where I struck exceptionally lucky and ended up with rather more books than it was possibly sensible to be humping about in a suitcase. Books are bloody heavy! I had only one final piece of shopping to do and the image below may give you a clue.

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The oldest business in town.

I described in the last entry the wonderful haggis dinner I had enjoyed in the Brewers Arms and how much I love that particular delicacy. I always buy some when I am in Scotland to bring home and usually some Lorne / square sausage as well but I’ll tell you what that is another time. Unfortunately, I have a tiny freezer compartment in the tiny fridge in the tiny kitchen in my tiny flat (apartment) – OK, you get the idea. The upshot of that is that, much as I would love to, I cannot bulk buy and freeze. I am lucky in that my local supermarket stocks MacSweens haggis which is a very well known brand and very good so I don’t actually have to go “haggis cold turkey” if that is not an oxymoron but I do like proper butcher’s haggis when I can get it.

I went in to W.R. Skelly the butcher in Marygate purely because it looked like a “proper” old-fashioned butcher and that turned out to be the truth as I now know it is run by the seventh generation of the same family in a business stretching back over 250 years. It is said to be the oldest business in the town and I can believe it.

I enquired about Lorne sausage and the butcher was very apologetic that he didn’t have any so I asked about the haggis. I was in luck, he told me, as he had some freshly made that very morning. Morning for him would have been early as the shop opens every day except Sunday at 0600. I really cannot imagine what trade they get at that hour but they must or they would not do it.

I told him that I was cooking for one and a whole haggis as sold in the supermarket was a bit much so I asked if he did the sliced haggis which is the other way it is commonly sold. He said he did although that this batch was so fresh that it had not properly firmed up yet but if I told him how many slices I wanted he’d cut me a big piece to and a while in the fridge at home would make it easy to slice. This is what he did and it sliced exactly as he said not to mention being possibly the best (and freshest) haggis I have ever eaten. It wasn’t even from Scotland although I suppose if I had been here a few centuries before it would have been, such is Berwick.

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Time to hit the rails again – eventually.

I took the image of the butcher’s at 1350 and by 1400 I had gone back to the hotel, picked up my bag and said cheerio to the lovely lady on reception and walked to the station. Berwick is quite compact place which is yet another reason to visit.

As it happened I needn’t have rushed as all trains coming from Scotland were being delayed due to some accident. That wasn’t a major problem as I had plenty of time scheduled in Newcastle but it was a bit of an annoyance. Berwick station isn’t a bad place to hang about, if a bit cold and blustery that day and, as you can see, you can even get a bit of a history lesson both from the sign and the little bit of the castle that wasn’t either robbed out to build the Parish Church or flattened to make way for the station. You can just see it across the works yard in one of the images.


I certainly felt more than a twinge of regret leaving Berwick. In fairness to English Heritage, who were castigated by one of people interviewed for the Telegraph piece I linked above, they do have an excellent guide which is available free online here. The tagline is “three places, two nations, one town” and, whilst I had only visited one of the three places I feel that this is a fairly good summation of the town. It is definitely on my re-visit list when I get time, possibly linked with a bit more explorataion of the Borders which is an area I have spent far too little time in.

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Newcastle railway station.

When I alighted back in Newcastle I took a little time to look around the station there and, as promised a few entries ago, I’ll give you a quick potted history here.
The story of the station starts in 1846 when the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway commissioned that man John Dobson to design a central station to link the various services that were going to pass through the city, from London to the South, Scotland to the North and Carlisle to the West. The curved nature of the platforms was to accommodate the alignment of the tracks approaching form the different directions. Yes, as I told you before, Dobson really was responsible for designing about half of Newcastle.

Dobson produced a grand design which had thankfully changed very little and is unlikely to do so in future as it is quite rightly a listed building. Today, as it was at the time of it’s conception, it is a major transport hub with just shy of nine million passengers in 2018 / 19 with the figure rising to over 13 million if you include the integrated Metro station and, of course, the Metro is to a large extent just an upgrade of the former branch line.

As the station was to be built on the North bank of the Tyne a crossing was required which was the High Level Bridge, my vertiginous nemesis of the previous Saturday and this was given priority for resources which meant that construction of the station was not particularly speedy. I was surprised to learn that the contract was tendered at £92,000 which is the equivalent of about £8.5 million today. In light of the recent £1 billion refurbishment of London Bridge station I think this is quite reasonable. I know which one I would rather look at.

Due to money problems in the railway company at the time, Dobson’s original grandiose plan was pared back some with the covered carriage drive and attached hotel going by the board. This is quite unusual in that most major rail stations had their own hotels in those days. Two excellent examples are the Balmoral which many (myself included) still refer to as the North British and the wonderful George Gilbert Scott creation at St. Pancras in London.

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The station was eventually opened by H.M. Queen Victoria on 29th August 1850 and, naturally, she arrived by train to perform the ceremony. I am always fascinated by how inextricably steam railways and the associated engineering are so inextricably linked to the admittedly lengthy reign of that durable monarch. I often wonder how history will look back on the reign of our current monarch, who has reigned even longer. I do not mean in terms of Her Majesty herself but in terms of what is associated with this period of British history which has covered my entire life.

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Anyone here seen Carter?

Paul had texted me with his ETA and I still had a bit of time to kill, notwithstanding the delay, so I thought I might chance a pint and I didn’t have far to go as I spied the Victoria Comet right opposite the station. On the principle that I had not been in it before I thought I would give it a try and I was in for a treat. Having secured my pint and a seat, I took myself for a bit of look round and was utterly delighted to find the display you can just about see in the image. Sorry about the reflections, it was the best I could do. You can just make out that it refers to the 1971 film “Get Carter” which is a great favourite of mine.

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Starring Michael Caine, Britt Eckland and Ian Hendry and directed by Mike Hodges, the film tells the story of gangster Jack Carter (Caine) who returns to Newcastle to avenge the suspicious death of his brother. In the opening sequence of the film Carter travels to Newcastle by train and this really dates the film, not to mention commenting on how the railways have changed. On the train he dines in a proper dining car complete with white-jacketed waiters and proper food whilst in the carriage there is a man smoking!  Have a look.

Right at the end of this clip you can see him heading across the road, as I had done, and you can just see the outside of the Comet where the film then cuts to an inside scene. In this clip, narrated by Si King, who is himself a bit of a cooking hero of mine and a Geordie, there is a brief glimpse of the interior and it really has not changed much. I remember reading somewhere that when they were filming things got a bit lively as all the extras were drinking proper drink, presumably paid for by the film crew, and getting more than a little merry.

Get Carter is a great film and I do urge you to see it if you have not done so already. Apart from anything else, it shows the dramatic changes in the city in the last 50 or so years. It even features that damned High Level Bridge which looks as terrifyingly high in 1970, when filming took place, as it does today.

I thought I’d get quick bite to eat and the grub in the Comet looked great but all a bit hearty. I wasn’t terribly hungry after my excellent breakfast but I thought it made sense to grab a little something. I really didn’t fancy eating on the train as the food isn’t much to speak of and is priced in accordance with the tickets i.e. to put maximum profit in the pockets of the shareholders. Nothing else for it then but to head back to the Mile Castle for my favourite small Hawaiian pizza which is what I did.

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Yes, I am a creature of habit.

Paul had arranged to meet me in the Centurion Bar in the station which made sense as it meant he would not have to lug my guitar far and I theoretically shouldn’t miss my train.

I have mentioned that I generally don’t like station bars but when I walked into this one my jaw dropped as it is the most magnificent room. A 2015 article in the Telegraph newspaper mentioned above describes it as, “one of Britain’s finest bars”. I didn’t want to annoy people by using flash but I hope the image of the bar below gives you some idea.

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This really is something special.

Stunning as it is, the bar has not always looked like this and it has a quite chequered history. It was originally a waiting room under Dobson’s plans but in 1892 it was completely done up to provide a First Class Waiting Room and Bar. Not least in this makeover was the exquisite tiling which alone is now valued at £3.5 million and is said to be the best example of Bumantofts tiles outside a museum. No doubt a ceramicist could tell you what these are although I had no idea at the time but you can have a look at the link here. What I can tell you is that they are bloody impressive and there is currently a single tile on eBay for £29:50 which makes sense of the £3.5 million.

What beggars belief is the act of vandalism that took place in the 1960’s when these magnificent tiles were concreted over and the room was used as cells for the British Transport Police. It really is astonishing that anyone saw fit to do this. The tiles were thus hidden until they were “re-discovered” during building work in 2000 and someone had the very good idea to restore the Centurion to it’s former glory and use. I am so glad they did.

I also found out whilst researching this that there is a “secret” bar here and indeed it is. It is so secret that I had no idea of it’s existence even whilst sitting in the main bar and I still don’t know where it is!

Bidding Paul a sad adieu and with very heartfelt thanks I ambled over to my platform and settled myself down for the journey home. The train left bang on time but, being British railways, that punctuality was never going to last. Somewhere during the journey the guard, or whatever stupid name they have given them now, came on the PA system.  From what I could make out of the tinny squawk he told us the train wasn’t working properly. The result was that were were going to be late arriving which we were, about 35 minutes if memory serves. Brilliant. Two journeys and two delays that day, just my luck, or was it? According to their latest figures, only 43.4% of LNER trains over the network arrived at stations on time so I am not just making this up.

As I said, I had built in a bit of time to possibly have a drink in my local on the way home, which I did, but none of my mates were about and so I limited myself to the one and headed home to sleep in my own bed, which was becoming something of a rarity recently.

Time now for my usual round-up of the trip which I had thoroughly enjoyed for so many reasons. You’ll be glad to know that I won’t go on too much but one thought has struck me, especially whilst writing the last few entries.

I know I am always writing about how interesting everything was and how friendly people were and how tasty the food was and so on. I am becoming slightly concerned that I sound either like an advertising agency for various entities or else I am naive to the point of having a childlike wonder at everything I see and do. I can assure you that I do not receive a penny for any of my comments here, they are all genuine reflections of what I experienced.

As for my possible naivety, I do enjoy travelling immensely and my natural curiosity leads me to seek things out and then research them to within an inch of their lives when I write them up. If that is an unsophisticated approach to both exploration and writing then so be it as I am unlikely to change at my time of life.

Northumberland was a great trip and I really want to get back there soon. Paul, I know you read this so don’t forget me if you need a dep again!

In the next entry I am “confined to barracks” a bit for various reasons and have to find some diversions closer to home so stay tuned and spread the word.

A heavy blow in Berwick, in both senses of the term.

“Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot”.

So runs the old children’s rhyme concerning the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when Guy aka Guido Fawkes and others attempted to blow up the King and Parliament. I once had a friend who was affectionately known as “Mad Katie” who wore a T-shirt with the legend “Guy Fawkes – the only man ever to enter Parliament with honest intentions” which always amused me. So here I was, 415 years later, waking up in a very comfy bed in the Castle Hotel in Berwick-upon-Tweed and, to be honest, attempted regicide was not really on my mind.

What was more on my mind was the weather as I had a day’s sightseeing planned come Hell or high water and a glance out the window confirmed that the latter was much more likely than fire and brimstone as the weather was disgusting. If you have read my earlier entries you will know that the day before had been appalling and it showed no signs of letting up. Still, it was November, where was this year going? It is a cliché, and like most clichés it is based in truth, that time goes faster the older you get and I had really noticed it in 2019 but I wasn’t going to let it get to me.

I was having a brilliant trip to Northumberland, I had a whole new historic town to explore and, best of all, a Regimental Museum to visit. I love military history and the Museum of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers was going to be added to my list of similar establishments already visited.

I had arisen with the lark, having unusually set my alarm clock as I wanted an early start to my explorations and also because there was breakfast on offer.   I thought if I had good feed now I could do with a quick bite at lunchtime or perhaps skip it completely and so have more time to look round. I don’t normally eat for a few hours after I wake but it seemed to make sense.

When I got to the breakfast room I was obviously the last arrival as they had most of the chairs on the tables, presumably to clean the floor although it looked spotless to me. Thankfully there was a table still in operation and so I parked myself there, ignoring the cereals on offer although I did have a glass of orange juice. A friendly lady came out and took my order for a full English which was indeed full, full on that is.

If you have read other posts of mine from my time back in Northern Ireland you will know that I cook and eat the most monstrous fry-ups but that is when my stomach has had a few hours to wake up. The breakfast was gorgeous, with special mention for the bacon which was first rate, but it defeated me and I just could not finish it which annoyed me as I hate food waste.

More than full up, it was time to hit the road, downpour or no. I had looked briefly online and decided to head down towards the sea to take in the Bell Tower and the Lord’s Mount before going round by town walls which would bring me to the Barracks which house the Museum I was so keen to see. A walk along the High Greens and the Low Greens brought me to the Bell Tower and I noted the pleasant looking Pilot Inn for later investigation.

There was a reasonable path to the Tower but couldn’t really explore properly as I still had only those silly white training shoes which I mentioned before. Memo to self – bring walking boots to Northumberland in November!

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Early warning system, 16th century style.

The Bell Tower was built in 1577 on an earlier 14th century base and formed part of the medieval defensive walls which are amongst the best preserved in Europe and were begun by Edward I who reigned from 1272 to 1307. He was known as “Malleus Scotorum” or “Hammer of the Scots” and herein lies a clue as to much of what Berwick represents.

Although it is now in England it is only a bit over 50 miles from Edinburgh and was for centuries the front line between the warring English and Scots. It has changed hands no less than 13 times over the years which in some ways defines the place. For example, I found the accent here much more akin to Scots than to that of their fellow Northumbrians in Newcastle.

The 1502 Treaty of Everlasting Peace between the two nations stated that Berwick was “of England but not in England” and for centuries was mentioned separately in all Acts of Parliament and this gives rise to a story you may have heard of relating to to the town, if you have heard of it at all.

It is popularly believed that an administrative oversight during the drafting of the 1856 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Crimean war between Russia and the United Kingdom, omitted to mention Berwick and so the town had technically remained at war with the Russians until a peace treaty was signed in the 1960’s. Sadly, like so many great stories it is completely false and probably arose out of a talk given by a local cleric in the early 20th century. True or not, I doubt the Russians were ever too worried about the 12,000 or so residents of Berwick taking up arms and marching on the Kremlin.

My plans to visit the Lord’s Mount foundered on the rock of my pristine footwear and the prospect of a very soggy route underfoot so I stayed on the solid pavement of the charmingly named Low Greens until I came upon the delightful sight you see above albeit that it undoubtedly looks a whole lot better on a sunny day.  If this is the green referred to in the street name then it is certainly one of the smaller ones I have seen but they have made the most of it and the excellent information board gives a fascinating insight into the area.

This part of town is generically known as Greenses Harbour although I saw no evidence of fishing except for this decorative little dinghy. It is so named for a natural harbour here which was once home to a thriving fleet with herring being a popular catch, along with cod and haddock.  Illegally poached salmon also provided a good proportion of the local’s diet.

The locals were so swarthy and weather-beaten from their hard, outdoor life that they were known as “Greenses Arabs” which was partly due, in addition to the climate, by virtue of the fact that some were of Flemish, Spanish, Portuguese and French extraction although I am unsure how such a varied bunch found themselves washed up here. Perhaps that is the reason, they were all shipwrecked mariners. When I was later to catch sight of the wild North Sea battering the coast, that is perhaps not such a fanciful notion.

Walking further along Low Greens took me back in the direction of the town where I knew I was bound to come to the town walls sooner or later. On the way, I saw what I initially thought was a Church / Community Hall by it’s appearance but turned out to be a charity shop for the local hospice although I stick by my idea of what the building was originally. I am a sucker for charity shops to the extent that I literally cannot remember the last time I bought book in a conventional bookshop and I read a lot. What passes for my wardrobe, and I am certainly no fashion victim as some of you know, was similarly sourced.

Having just read on the information board about the very hard and impoverished conditions of the Greenses Harbour fishermen I came to the conclusion that it was very changed times round there as the items for sale were all top of the range, designer labelled and obviously priced at a fraction of what they had gone for initially. In the event I didn’t find anything I fancied but I did have a great chat with the lovely ladies in there. They were incredulous when I told them how and why I was in Berwick and wandering about on day like this but they wished me well for my sightseeing and I took off back into the teeth of the howling onshore wind.

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Do you fancy attacking this?

I came to the walls soon enough and was again amazed at how well they were preserved given their age. The next thing to do was find a way either onto or through them. As you can see, they are still fairly formidable and there was no way I could have scaled them.  To think of having to have assaulted them a few hundred years ago under enfilading fire, which was how they were designed, is a fairly daunting prospect.

I eventually found a gate behind which I could see the barracks which pleased me as the image shows just how much the terrible weather had deteriorated by this point.
Passing through the gate gave a very good illustration of just how solid these walls were, they must be a minimum of 25 feet thick and it would have taken a serious naval barrage to even put a scratch in it. The gates are still intact as well and they look like a pretty tough proposition as well.

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My first glimpse.

Immediately on passing through the gate I took the external image of the barracks which you can see and immediately I saw that something was wrong. I hadn’t checked on opening times and perhaps this was the one day a week it closed or perhaps there was another entrance round the corner or………. What I hadn’t expected, when I checked the information board was that it was seasonal and had closed for the winter the previous weekend. My main reason for visiting the town and I had missed it by two days. Sod that for a game of soldiers (pun absolutely intended).

I took an image or two of the now-closed barracks by threading my camera through the bars of the locked gate and it is a fine structure indeed which is no surprise as it was built by Nicholas Hawksmoor and brings me back to something I say often here which is that everything to do with my travelling and my life seems to connect and come round in circles. I’ll make this brief or we will be here all day.

Nicholas Hawksmoor (c.1661 – 1736) was a famous architect who worked with Sir Christopher Wren, notably on St. Paul’s Cathedral in London as well as Hampton Court Palace and the Hospitals of Greenwich and Chelsea. Churches were very much his stock-in-trade and he was the beneficiary of an Act of Parliament of 1711 to build 50 new churches in and around the City of London.

As it turned out, only twelve churches were built with six of these to Hawksmoor’s designs along with two collaborations where he took a minor role. Three of them (St. Anne’s Limehouse, St. George in the East, Wapping and the grandest, Christ Church, Spitalfields) are all within 30 minutes brisk walk of my home. These three, along with some of his other designs were all places I wrote about on Virtual Tourist and I may well dig out the text and do a piece here if I ever get up to date! Hawksmoor and I go back a long way and my piece on St. George in the East was one of the first I ever posted on the internet and possibly where I got the bug for this kind of thing.

If you like a good conspiracy theory, and who doesn’t, there is a beauty about Hawksmoor and his churches. It is not conspiracy but documented fact that Hawksmoor and his mentor Wren were both Freemasons and Wren is supposed to have been fairly high up in the craft. He is also alleged to be part of the Illuminati, if you believe in that sort of thing. Geometry plays a large part in the symbolism of the Masons and both men, as architects, would have been well versed in that science. The basis of the theory is that if you plot some of Hawksmoor’s churches on a map they form a pentagram with St. Paul’s at the centre.

All the above may be complete nonsense but I have just spent quite a few hours diverted into a world I had never really considered and yet which I had been exploring unknowingly for years. Yes, that is a bit cryptic and no, I haven’t gone completely mad, at least not as far as I can tell.  On the back of this I can see a few new projects coming up for my explorations if I ever get this current lot written up, which seems unlikely at this rate.

If you want to have a look for yourself then just try an internet search on “psychogeography”, itself a gorgeous word, and “London” and see what you come up with. I do warn you that if you are as as inquisitive as me it can be a lengthy operation. For a quick start, all the hard work regarding the Hawksmoor idea is done for you here. I won’t go into more detail but that is the bare bones and I want to get back to a rainy day in Berwick.

To say that I was disappointed by my failure to visit the Barracks was would be an understatement and to have missed it by such a narrow margin was indeed a bitter pill to swallow. Still, I had the bridges to look forward to and I was quite sure I would find something else along the way, I always do.

The next “find” was a complete reverse of the Barracks and very close to it. Sadly, in this day and age, I do not really expect to find churches open unless they are very large tourist attractions or are open for a special purpose like a service and so I didn’t hold out much hope as I approached the Church of the Holy Trinity and St. Mary aka Berwick Parish Church which stands just opposite the Barracks. To my surprise and delight it was open.

I was just glad to be in out of the rain but I was soon back in exploring mode and this was a fascinating place. Given the bellicose nature of the town and the long-standing barracks a stone’s throw away it came as no surprise that there were a number of military memorials here and that suited nicely as it tied in with my practice of photographing such objects. As I have mentioned before I contribute to the excellent War Memorials Online project and there were rich pickings here indeed.

 

One memorial that particularly caught my eye was one to a Lt. Wanston of the Inniskilling Dragoons, the reason being that the Regiment was raised around Co. Fermanagh in what is now Northern Ireland, the country of my birth. The unfortunate Lt. Wanston had lost his life in 1900 in the Boer War which I think is a much forgotten part of British military history, possibly because it is not particularly glorious but that is a discussion for another time.

 

Apart from the numerous personal memorials, the main remembrance of the fallen of two World Wars is particularly impressive as it covers the entire lower wall behind the altar which gives it a position of physical and symbolic prominence in the church. I may have seen similar examples before but I really cannot recall where or when.
In a town that is only about 2 ½ miles from the border and boasts so many “furthest Norths in England” it is unsurprising that this is the Northernmost Church in the country, having taken that distinction from the now re-used St. Mary’s, Castlegate that I mentioned in the last entry.

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One of very few.

With my track record for such things it is almost inevitable that this building is of particular interest in that it is one of only a handful built during the Commonwealth which was the period between 1649 and 1660, after the Civil War, when England did not have a monarch and were ruled as a Republic by Parliament / Oliver Cromwell. It is also the only one still in use as a place of worship. This is where it starts to get little strange.

One of the other rare Commonwealth era churches is St. Matthias Old Church, now a Community Centre, which is in Poplar and not 30 minutes walk from my home.  Again, I had previously written about in my time on Virtual Tourist. It was merged in the 1970’s with St. Anne’s, Limehouse which was odd as St. Matthias had by far the larger and more active congregation. The reason cited was that St. Anne’s was too architecturally important to lose which is interesting as it was designed by our old friend Hawksmoor, as I mentioned above. Although I had no inkling of any of this at the time and only discovered it all today whilst researching this piece, it leads me inexorbly back to the concept of the “interconnectedness of all things” that I refer to often and am becoming increasingly convinced of.

Money to build a Church here had actually been granted by King Charles I in 1641 before he literally lost his head in 1649 and the building work carried on, to the design of John Young, using mostly stone plundered from Berwick Castle. It was finally finished in 1652 but was not consecrated until 1660 after the Restoration of the Monarchy.

There is a fine organ in the church which is the latest of a series of rebuilds of a 1773 original designed by Byfield and Green of London with the latest update costing a princely £160,000 in 2010. This was necessitated by a botched rebuild by the organist in the 1970’s.

You may wonder why a church that was consecrated in 1660 did not have an organ for over a century later and the clue to this lies in it’s date. The time of the Republic was a time of puritanism and so the church was built without chancel, altar, organ, tower or bells. The local Bishop ordered a chancel and altar built when he consecrated it but, as the image shows, of tower and bells there are none to this day.  This situation is remedied by the slightly unusual arrangement whereby the “church” bells were installed in the tower of the nearby Town Hall from where they are rung. Fearing another time-consuming digression I have disciplined myself not to investigate this state of affairs but I’ll bet it is pretty rare.

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As much symbolism as you like.

Another of my many loves is stained glass and, again, Holy Trinity and St. Mary’s served me well as you can see above. This is the Millennium Window designed by Ann Southeran and is absolutely loaded with symbolism. At this point I shall defer to an entry in an excellent blog written by a “Northern vicar” so he should know what he is talking about. He tells us,
“At the top of the centre bay the window holds the symbol of the Trinity, drawn as a Celtic knot, endlessly intertwining. Beneath is the Tree of Life also a Celtic veneration of growing things – God in Creation. The Tree is nourished by the water of life, also the symbol of Baptism for the window which is directly above the font. The image of the church is from a sketch by Susan E. Hughes. The water becomes the River Tweed, Tweed Dock and the coastline. The main cross is Celtic, with a circle representing encirclement, protection and eternity – it stretches across all three lights of the window. In each of the four corners are the four Evangelists. In the left is St Columba with the Scriptures overlaying Iona; the right hand is St Aidan overlaying Holy Island. Wonderful”.

Wonderful indeed, although I am always a little surprised at the use of Celtic symbolism in churches and gravestones as Christianity did it’s best to obliterate the older Celtic / pagan belief system and regrettably succeeded. A little subconscious triumphalism, perhaps?

A little warmer and a lot happier I went outside to brave the elements again, still with no plan other than those lovely bridges which were exerting some sort of siren song by this point.

Heading back towards the river I passed the rather grandly named “St Andrew’s Wallace Green and Lowick Church of Scotland” which sadly was not open as it’s Church of England neighbour had been. Perhaps the canny Scots are more suspicious of the modern world than their English counterparts. Although the Church and building dte to 1859 it did not become part of the Church of Scotland until 1971. I m sure that is an interesting tale but another one that will have to remain unresearched at present.

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Another one bits the dust!

Passing another sadly closed pub (the Cobbled Yard Hotel) which I photographed to submit to the Lost Pubs website and passing also my hotel I headed back towards the station where I knew there was the entrance to park which would lead me to the River and hopefully some good images of the railway bridge.

I hadn’t even got into the park when I met the cuddly looking and very cleverly carved chap you can see who I was informed by the attached plaque is Bari the Berwick Bear which I feel needs some explanation and it is rather clever. The sculpture was carved in 2017 by David Gross and it references the name of the town. Berwick is named from the old English “bere” and “wick” which mean barley and farm respectively. Simple enough. Transliterate this into modern English and you get “bear” and “wych” which is a type of elm tree. The logo of the town Council is a bear and an elm tree. I told you it was clever stuff. The name? Well, bari is a local dialect word for something that is really nice and I wouldn’t disagree.

Leaving my new-found ursine friend behind I finally made it into the Castle Vale Park which really was not seen to best advantage in these conditions. A very informative board told me that the park was built on part of a ravine which once formed part of the defences of the now derelict Berwick Castle which would have been to my right as I looked towards the river and beside the railway bridge I was aiming for. The railway station itself is actually built on part of the site of the castle. The board also indicated that there was a path along the river which would bring me nicely back into town via the other two bridges. Job done, I had a new plan.

The park is small, narrow and and the path is just bit slippery underfoot in weather like this was so be careful. In a town as ancient as this it is a fairly modern addition to the attractions having only been laid out in 1931 on land given to the people by a philantrhropic Mr. Cairns. Thank you, sir!

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I made it at last.

Getting down to the river I was treated to a wonderful view of the bridge I was so desirous of seeing and photographing and I did have quite a few attempts at it of which the one above is my favourite. The flat calm and a very temporary lull in the rain made for some great reflections on the Tweed.

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I wanted to get “up close and personal” and walked up to, and under, the bridge in search of a new camera angle but I didn’t improve on my previous efforts. What I found instead was a lovely, slightly brooding, River Tweed upstream. Not only had I managed my images of the bridge but I was also at the remains of the Castle, such as they are.

Berwick Castle dates to the 12th century and it was here in 1292 that King Edward I (yes, Longshanks again) declared John Balliol King of Scotland over the rival claim of Robert the Bruce. What I did not know until writing this was that the Count of Holland also had his hat in the ring for the Kingship although I am not quite sure how. Despite what appears to be a fairly strong defensive position on top of a steep hill, the castle was captured by both sides over the years so it was not at all impregnable. At one point King Richard I, the so-called Lionheart, sold the castle to the Scots to fund his ultimately ill-fated Third Crusade to the Holy Land.

With the building of the new ramparts in the 16th century the castle became largely obsolete and in the 19th century much of what remained was demolished to make way for the station. All that really remains now is what you can see in the images including the very aptly named “Breakneck Stairs”. Breaking your neck seems a likely fate for those attempting them in the dark, especially on a day like this was.

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They shall not pass!

With what remains of the castle duly photographed it was time for my riverside walk along the riverside path which was built in 1815 and is referred to as the New Road. Road it may or may not be but what it certainly was not that day was a thoroughfare as the image shows. Could anything else go wrong on this walk? All the way back up I climbed and I did manage another few decent images of the bridge but I won’t bore you with them here.

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Following a higher level path I soon came upon the the ramparts again, it is difficult not to. This particular portion of the walls is called Meg’s Mount and I can only surmise that Meg must have been a cannon of some description like the famous and monstrously calibred Mons Meg in Edinburgh Castle. If so, I can offer no explanation as to the use of the name Meg for heavy artillery. Can anyone enlighten me?

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I walked a little further and found this rather pleasing water fountain which was erected on the occasion of the Queen Victoria’s Silver Jubilee in 1897.

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By this point it was getting on for three in the afternoon, I had been walking a lot and so I was getting thirsty. Whilst looking at the pubs online the previous evening I had noted the Leaping Salmon and I knew it was nearby so, passing through the Castlegate which I was becoming quite familiar with, I headed on down towards the river. Of course, being that close to the river I was close to the bridges and so another few images were quickly rattled off.

In the course of taking the bridge images it occurred to me that the light was going and so I did the completely unthinkable and gave the pub a miss to get a bit more sightseeing done. Yes, really. I walked past the pub but I did return later that evening when it was dark and my photographic attempts were not calling.


I decided to try to walk a bit more of the ramparts and was heading back towards Meg’s Mount when I came upon the statue of Annie, Lady Jerningham and took a couple of images as I found it quite charming with the two dogs. Naturally, I felt compelled to do a bit of research as I had never heard of Lady J. or her husband and I was a little intrigued by the statement on the inscription describing him as “late and last member of Parliament for the borough”. I found it unlikely that notwithstanding Berwick’s unusual political history it had no parliamentary representation so here is the story.

Sir Hubert Edward Henry Jerningham had served as MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed which was redefined under the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 and hence the phrase on the inscription. The good folk of Berwick are indeed represented in Parliament, at time of writing by Anne-Marie Trevelyan of the Conservative party. Unusually, this constituency is one of only two in the Northeast never to have had a Labour MP.

After leaving Parliament, Sir Hubert entered what might loosely be described as the Diplomatic Service and was first the Governor of Mauritius and then Trinidad and Tobago, taking his wife, Lady Annie with him. She was the widow of a man called Charles Mather when she married Sir Hubert. Sadly, colonial life apparently did not suit her health and she died in 1901 of an illness contracted in Trinidad and Tobago.
As another ridiculous aside, did you know that Trinidad and Tobago is named for the Spanish words for (holy) trinity and tobacco? You do now but back to rainy Berwick and my walk round the ramparts.

I had passed under Castlegate often enough but it was only when I walked over the top of it that I not only got a great shot of the Town Hall but also found out about a very unusual artistic connection with the town. As I was looking at the Town Hall from the rampart I could not help but notice the information board headed “the Lowry Trail” and with an image very obviously in the style of the painter L.S. Lowry and of exactly the view I was now looking at.

I know next to nothing about art but even I recognise the “matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs” style immortalised in the appalling 1978 hit song by Brian and Michael. I have juxtaposed my image and the facsimile of Lowry’s painting here to illustrate how little has changed in the intervening eight decades or so.

In my mind Lowry was inextricably linked with the grime of the industrial Northwest, particularly the area round Salford where he lived so why was there a trail here in this seaside Northumbrian former fishing town? It appears that in the 1930’s, up until the outbreak of World War Two he took his annual holiday here and did a lot of painting as you might expect.  After his stint as a war artist in that conflict he continued to visit right up until his death.

Lowry would have had plenty of views to choose from in this attractive place. There is more of him in a moment but for now it is useless trivia time again. L.S. Lowry was the official artist for the Coronation of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II. I wonder if he worked in the style of “matchstick Queens and matchstick cats and corgis”.

Following the ramparts on round I found myself back at the sea, more or less where I had started that morning. Being slightly elevated gave me good view over the golf course, the undoubtedly closed holiday park and the North Sea which was still looking fairly unwelcoming. I was also treated to a view of how effective the defences must have been as shown in the second image above. Imagine trying to assault the walls over that completely exposed killing ground, it would have been complete suicide. It is easy to see that when they were constructed, these formidable defences represented the cutting edge of military engineering, largely inspired by Italian design and are today regarded as some of the finest remaining examples in Europe.

Another view of the Barracks did little to soften the blow of my earlier visit and when I came down from the walls I was not at all surprised to find that the Gymnasuim Gallery, equally unsurprisingly housed in the old Barracks gym, was also closed. I did allow myself a small smile at the thought of the amount of sweat that must have been produced in there by generations of squaddies being beasted by ackers. In conventional English that means generations of rank and file soldiers being trained hard by Physical Training Instructors!

Carrying on a bit further I discovered that I was still on the Lowry trail although I was making no conscious effort to do so. I found myself facing what had once obviously been a rather grand house and reading the Lowry information board about it. It is rather unimagintively known as  and is a listed building. It was refurbished in early 2019 although whether it still serves as a residence I really cannot say although somehow I doubt it.

There is a probably apocryphal story that Lowry spoke of buying the premises but a surveyor friend found it riddled with damp.  Lowry was a single man who would have had no use for such a large dwelling and used to stay in the Castle Hotel when he visited. When I found that out I couldn’t help but wonder if he had ever stayed in the room I was in. Possibly not but it is a nice thought.

As you can probably guess from the length of the description I had walked a fair bit that day which was good as I am supposed to exercise regularly but what was not so good was that I hadn’t eaten since that gargantuan breakfast and it seemed like a long time ago. Certainly it was large enough to keep me going but I was getting a bit peckish and so I decided to regroup in the Brewers Arms where I had been the day before and where the food had looked good. There had also been plenty of diners which I always take to be a good sign.

Approaching the pub, I not only had my choice of dining venue confirmed but also my menu choice decided before I even set foot in the place! They had a blackboard outside with an extensive list of the daily specials on it and that included haggis so there was no doubt in my mind. I know haggis is not to everyone’s taste being made from the lungs, heart and various other sheep offal mixed with oatmeal and traditionally wrapped in the intestine of the poor old sheep. Put like that it does not sound overly appetising but I love the stuff.


In I went, ordered my first pint of the day, if you can believe that, and the special of haggis which included a dessert so I went for the pear crumble with custard as any sort of crumble is another favourite of mine although I am not much of a sweet eater. The meal was duly served by a very friendly young lady and I took to it with a will. I had certainly earned it and it turned out to be a fitting reward for my exertions as the whole meal was excellent and obviously home made. OK, the haggis would have been bought in, but you know what I mean and it was very good, nice and spicy as I like it.

Quite replete I decided on a quick spruce up and an hour’s post-prandial doze which I duly did. Suitably refreshed I took off into the filthy night for the short walk to the Pilot Inn which I mentioned what seems like half a book ago now. Online I had seen words like “quaint”, “traditional” and “homely” bandied about and it was certainly all of those. It was also completely empty and I mean there was not even anyone behind the bar. I ventured a tentative, “Hello” and was rewarded by what I took to be the landlady who, after serving me, apologised and said that he was having her dinner in the other room but that if I required anything to just call her. There I was, a complete stranger, left all alone in the bar where I could have stolen just about anything I could have carried. It was very trusting of her.

I had a good look round and studied the various old pictures on the wall. I also took the image of the beer font you can see as I know the Broughton Brewery is a small brewery nearby in the Scottish Borders and this seems to reflect the policy here of having various guest ales available.

My solitary existence was interrupted, although not unpleasantly so, by a young girl who had come in to charge her mobile ‘phone and when I got talking to her she regaled me with a story about having had a row with her Mother who had thrown her out.  She needed the ‘phone charged to call round and found somewhere to stay. I’ve heard all sorts of spurious tales of woe from beggars but for various reasons I think she was telling the truth and, feeling sorry for her, bought her a drink after summoning the landlady from her TV soap watching in the other room.

I was a little concerned about the young lady, who was certainly not dressed for being outdoors in that weather but she assured me she would be alright when she had made a few calls. She thanked me for the drink and took off to wherever it was she was going. I do hope she was OK.

By about 2100 it was very obvious that I was going to be the only patron that evening and so I spoke to the landlady about when she was going to close. Although she invited me to make myself at home, which I already had done, and stay as long as I liked, I reckoned she would bar the door as soon as I went so I took my leave. When I was there I discovered that they held regular open folk music sessions so I’d love to get back for one of those. It was a great little pub and I was sorry to leave although it was clearly the decent thing to do.

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I missed it the first time but not the second.

As if I had not done enough walking for one day I trekked all the way back down the town to the Leaping Salmon which I had so stoically avoided earlier. The Leaping Salmon is quite unusual in that it was formerly a Wetherspoons pub but they had sold it which is something of a rarity as they normally hang onto places they own and make a roaring success of them. The Salmon is now owned by Great UK Pubs, a subsidiary of Stonegate which is quite a large chain all over the UK but it might as well still be a ‘Spoons as they follow exactly the same business model. I had a couple in there and then headed back to the hotel for an earlyish night.  Obviously, I had taken the image above earlier in the day.

I got back to the hotel with no problem but the problem with the early night plan arose upon entering the premises where I noticed the bar was still open. Well, rude not to have a nightcap I suppose. I got chatting to the barmaid who was great fun and had a look round the triangular shaped bar which boasts a lovely open fire that was somewhat inexplicably unlit. I don’t know if they wait for a full-on blizzard before they light it. I should add that the bar was perfectly warm without it. Up the stairs to bed and after my rather energetic day it was straight off to dreamland.

Well, it appears as if I have finally come to the end of this epic and I do hope I have not bored you overly.

In the next entry, which I promise will be shorter, I return to Newcastle to meet Paul, have a “get Carter” moment, visit an absolute gem of a station bar and then make my way back to London to conclude this trip so stay tuned and spread the word.

Bearing North to Berwick.

Up on the Monday morning and it was time to pack as I was back on the road again. More properly speaking I was back on the rails which made a pleasant change from being off the rails as I so frequently am. Paul’s time-critical project was becoming less time and more critical by the day and I thought I’d get out of the way and not overstay my welcome as he and Sue had been so lovely to me.

I was off to Berwick-upon-Tweed as I had already booked my ticket and I’ll explain the rationale for both of these things now. I had booked my ticket online the night before as buying a walk-up ticket on the British railway system is merely asking to be robbed. I could start yet another rant here about how appalling rail fares are in UK but I’ll spare you.

Why Berwick-upon-Tweed? Well, it was one of several options. I had considered popping up to Edinburgh and possibly meeting up with my friend as I had not seen her for a while but I have been to Edinburgh many times and, much as I love it, I thought I’d give it a miss this time round. I had considered Hexham for the utterly ludicrous reason that one of my favourite bands, Fairport Convention,have a great song called the Hexhamshire Lass and I had never been there. Honestly, I decide to go to places for such idiotic reasons. Carlisle was also in the frame as there is a direct cross-country train and I had only ever spent one night in that quite important county town decades ago but in the end I plumped for Berwick for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, I have been up and down the East Coast rail line more times than I can remember and a highlight of it is always going over the wonderful railway bridge which spans the Tweed. I had often looked down at the peaceful looking town so far below and thought I would like to go there one day and this seemed like a good opportunity as it is only about 45 minutes on the train.  Another good reason and the one that probably swung it was that there is a military museum there, the Regimental Museum of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, or the Kosbies as they are known in the mob. There turns out to be a bit of a story attached to the Museum as you shall see.

My train was at about 1400 and Paul happened to be going into town and so gave me lift to the Station so after collecting my ticket from the self-service machine I had a bit of time to kill so I thought of going for a bit of a wander but it was never going to be anything major as I had the suitcase and the weather was pretty unpleasant and getting worse by the minute. At least I didn’t have to lug the guitar as well as Paul had very kindly let me plank it in his place with the arrangement that we would meet up for a drink when I came back through Newcastle and he would bring it for me. Nice one, mate.

I managed a few images, shown above, but the weather was just evil so I ducked into the nearby Wetherspoons for a bite to eat as I was getting a bit peckish. I really cannot believe, even now, how my appetite came back after my surgery. For non-regular readers, Wetherspoons is a large chain (1,000+ and counting) which utilises the economies of scale and provides inexpensive food and beverages and whilst it attracts criticism in some quarters, I like them and use them a lot, especially when I am travelling.

Wetherspoons very rarely buy over existing pubs but rather they go for old banks, cinemas, theatres and just about any other large building they can convert. I have even been in one that was formerly a postal sorting office! The outlet close to Newcastle station is called the Mile Castle and is in the lovely old building you can see in the image which was formerly a Savings Bank dating to 1861.

‘Spoons, as they are often called, always take their name from a local person, event or landmark and they always have old photographs, posters, paintings etc. on display with accompanying text. I always have a good look round in any new ‘Spoons I visit as is amazing what you can learn about the local area and you know how obsessed I am with that.

As for the name, it refers to the nearby Hadrian’s Wall which built by the Romans to keep the “barbarian” Scots at bay. There was a castle built every mile along it’s length to house the sentries and one of them stood near here, hence the name. I have to say that on a day like this I wouldn’t have fancied “stagging” (Army slang for sentry duty) in a draughty turret. Trust me, sentry duty is no fun at all!

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Just right for lunch.

Another thing about Wetherspoons that I like is the reasonably recent introduction of small pizzas. I like a pizza now and again but often struggle with a whole one, especially if it is regular crust as the dough just bloats me. Deep pan pizzas are a complete non-starter for me. The Wetherspoons ones are, I believe, 8″ and just the right size for a lunch for me. I usually go for the Hawaiian and I apologise to pizza purists for that but I love them and the little beauty you see here was just enough to keep me going. I was working on the principle that I would be eating out that night and it would probably be something fairly substantial so I didn’t want to overdo it early on.

Lunch over, I walked back to the station at a fairly brisk pace as I didn’t want to be out in that any longer than I had to be. I had a few minutes to look round what is one of my favourite railway stations in UK, many of which seem to be on the Northeast line like York and Edinburgh Waverley, along with this place. As they have often been described, Victorian railway stations were cathedrals to the god of steam and they always speak to me of a bygone age.

I’ll deal fully with John Dobson’s masterpiece here in a future post but for now let’s get back on the train which I thought was surprisingly busy for an early November afternoon. Perhaps it was because it was the “cheap train” which was certainly the reason I had picked it and I’ll explain that to you briefly here.

Once again apologies to those who have read it before but this quick tip is for those who may be visiting UK and travelling by rail. It really does pay to shop around when you book tickets online as I had done as the savings can be considerable thereby making your holiday £ / $ / € / Ұ go a lot further. For example, if I get the equivalent train tomorrow at 1352 (03/02/2020) it will be £12:70 advance single. The preceding train at 1335 is £29:80 as is the succeeding one at 1455. The trains are exactly the same and it is not as if you are paying for a quicker service as the “cheap train” in this instance is marginally the quickest of the three. Don’t ask me why, it is yet another mystery of the modern day Great Train Robbery.

The journey was quick and uneventful, indeed it would take me much longer to get from my home to, say, Twickenham for a rugby match and both of them are in London. However, the change was much more marked than my notional journey in the capital. I know there is some pleasant scenery on this stretch although it was impossible to appreciate in this murk but when I alighted at Berwick-upon-Tweed I was in very different environment to the bustle of Newcastle city centre.


Stepping down onto the platform at the fairly quiet station I could not help feeling a little like Michael Portillo and, again for the benefit of non-UK readers, a quick explanation follows. Michael Denzil Xavier Portillo, or Miguel Portillo y Blyth as he is named on his Spanish passport (his father was a refugee from Franco’s Spain) was formerly a British politician, achieving Cabinet rank in the Conservative Government.

He incredibly managed to lose his very safe seat in a Labour landslide election in 1997 but was parachuted into another one shortly thereafter. He described his finest achievement in politics as “saving the Settle to Carlisle railway” and I would echo that sentiment as it is arguably the most attractive line in the UK which was threatened with closure.

After leaving politics in 2005 and carved out a career as a broadcaster with his signature TV series involving him travelling by train in various parts of the world, often accompanied by a Bradshaw’s antique railway guide, and I simple love them. Coincidentally I was watching some earlier today on the BBC iPlayer. I shall not post any links here as I know they are not available in all parts of the world but I do recommend you try to find them if you can.

I often find myself mentally scripting “pieces to camera” as I am in railway stations or on trains and I was “doing a Portillo” as I took off into the drizzle for my short walk to the hotel. Many of these mental telejournalism exercises end up here in my blog entries so now you know. Yes, I did warn you I was odd.

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Castle Hotel, Berwick-upon-Tweed.

With Mr. / Senor Portillo having the resources and budget of the BBC licence payer’s fees behind him he habitually stays in the finest hotels and one of the episodes I watched today had him holed up in the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong, having been transferred there in one of their fleet of 14 Rolls Royce Phantoms. Your humble narrator does not have access to such resources and so walked the couple of hundred yards to the Castle Hotel where I was greeted by a very friendly lady. This was to be feature as all the staff were lovely. I told her I had a reservation and this appeared to cause a bit of consternation. I had booked a single room with shared facilities as that does not bother me at all and it saves a few £££ but for some reason which I wasn’t actually told, my room was not available. After a bit of muttering and jiggery pokery on the computer I was informed that I had been upgraded to a double en-suite room for the same price. Happy days.

I cannot remember how much I paid but it was a last minute deal and, if memory serves, was only about £40 or £45 a night. I wasn’t expecting the George V at that price but I am a man of simple tastes and all I require is a comfy bed, preferably long enough for my lanky frame, not too much noise and some hot water for a shower. The Castle certainly had all that and rather than describe it in detail I’ll let the images speak for themselves. I still have this habit of taking loads of images when I go into a hotel room which is a throwback to the days when I wrote tips / reviews for Virtual Tourist. I had to include the image of the toilet roll holder as there was no way I was going to run out, even had I stayed there a month, I thought it was very practical but slightly amusing. Perhaps it is just my odd sense of humour again.

I had booked room only as, even with my newly re-acquired appetite I still rarely eat breakfast, at least not at conventional breakfast time but the lady had told me breakfast was included, so another bonus. I think you’ll agree that I had scored a right bargain and I was well satisfied.

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Lest we forget.

Having dumped my kit I headed back out quickly as I reckoned that in the conditions I had probably about an hour of semi-daylight left and I wanted to make the most of it. Almost immediately I found the local war memorial which I took images of for the War Memorials Online project that I contribute to although it was difficult to get any sort of an image in that light.

 

In what appeared to be a private dwelling just beside the War Memorial I spotted the display you can see above in the front window, commemorating a Private William Edward Currins of the 1st / 7th Battalion, Northumberla

nd Fusiliers who died in Flanders in 1916 and is buried there. He was 23. I don’t know if there was a family connection there or if he was just one of the fallen chosen at random.
I should explain that the time of year is relevant here as it was the 4th of November which made it exactly one week before Armistice Day and six days before the National Act of Remembrance which is always held on the Sunday nearest to it. I attended in central London as I do if I am not travelling at the time and shall report on that here in due course.

I am glad to see that Remembrance Day, poppy selling et, seems to be important as ever but I was particularly struck by the extent of the observance in Berwick. Perhaps it is because this is historically a military town and homeplace to the Kings Own Scottish Borders Regiment, which was one of the main reasons I was here, but it was noticeable.

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Former St. Mary’s church, Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Overlooking the Memorial was the church you can see and I thought I might take a look because churches fascinate me as regular readers will know. I could see that th front door was not open so I thought I would go round the side, which I did and something just wasn’t right. It clearly wasn’t a Church. A quick internet search reveals it was formerly the Church of St. Mary, Castlegate, was built in 1857 – 8 and once had the distinction of being the most Northerly Church in England. It is Grade II listed with Historic England, was de-consecrated in 1989 and now serves as an adult training centre. I do like to know these things.

So, no Church to see and frankly I wasn’t too bothered about seeing much else of anything as the weather was steadily deteriorating if such a thing was possible. Nothing else for it but to hit the pub and purely at random I picked the Brewers Arms which turned out to be a good choice and a place I was to return to during my stay. The Brewers had an extensive menu with inexpensive daily specials and the food is good as I was to find out later on but I had set my heart on having a curry that night for no particular reason other than I had not had one for a while.

The pub was not too busy and I sat myself down at a table beside a fireplace which I was desperately trying to date. I had taken a wild stab at about 1930’s and this may or may not be correct as the building dates to 1905 and was previously called the Heavy Battery. Although there is not much online about the pub, it is described on one website as being art deco style which is a favourite of mine when I manage to recognise it. This is beautifully illustrated by the funnel shaped entrance which I have never seen before and really is attractive so I am going to stick to my 1930’s guess for the fireplace and surmise that it was a refurbishment at that time!

Whilst I was in there Paul texted me to find out if I had arrived safely and enquired where I was. When I told him he recommended that I take myself off to the Barrels pub down by the river. He knows Berwick pretty well and has played there so I was definitely going to take his tip. Come to think of it, Paul has played just about everywhere one time or another. I finished my drink and took off in the direction he had told me heading for the Barrels. On the way I marked a decent looking Indian restaurant for later use but, in the event, I never got there.

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You know I love bridges!

I found the Barrels easily enough, pausing only briefly to take a night shot of the bridge.  Well, you know by now what I am like about bridges.  I walked into a very small bar but I found out later that it is only one of several bars on the premises including the basement which is home to the town’s major live music venue  It is still a live venue despite the attempts of a litigious neighbour to have it shut down a few years back. I explained my “drinking problem” to the cheerful barman who dispensed my odd cider concoction sympathetically and I took a seat at one of only a few tables in there.

I should have stayed at the bar which is my normal practice as the adjacent table was occupied by two men, one of whom was obviously slightly the worse for wear and he had shortly managed to upend my pint as he tried to stand up. Fortunately I was quick enough to dodge most of it and at least he had the decency to buy me another albeit he could not quite believe it when I told him what I was drinking.

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Sorry about the quality.

I didn’t take any images in the pub as I really did not want my “friend” starting asking awkward questions about what I was doing so the pretty poor external image above will have to suffice along with the poster of forthcoming events which was in the gents. If you look at it you will see that there was an open mic night the next evening which I might have even considered had I not very helpfully left my guitar behind in Newcastle! It would have been nice to tell Paul that I had played there as well but such is life.

Once again, I did not retrace my steps but rather continued along Bridge Street, knowing that I could loop round and find my way back to the Indian restaurant I had on mind but not too far along I spied the Magna Tandoori which looked OK from the outside and the menu posted outside looked fine so in I went. I have included an image taken in daylight the next day from which you can see that the windows are fairly high up and partially over by some attractive window boxes so I couldn’t actually see inside.

It was a dismally wet Monday night in November and I wasn’t expecting many people to be out but having negotiated the desk and been shown into one of the two huge dining rooms I hadn’t expected to be the only person in the whole place. The dining room you can see is only one half of the restaurant which is massive. The building was apparently formerly a Georgian townhouse and it must have been some dwelling in it’s day. I am sure the Magna is very pleasant with a few people in it but it was a bit like eating in an aircraft hanger with just me there. However, I just wanted a decent feed and there was certainly plenty of choice.

Apart from the “usual suspects” the chef’s specials included venison and duck dishes as well as regional specialities from Bengal, Goa and Bombay. Trapped in the indecision of another fine menu (go on, Google that phrase!) I inexplicbly played very safe and ordered the mixed pakora followed by the lamb dansak. As is my way, I did not order rice which always seems to amaze waiters but it just bloats me and opted instead for some chapatis. I do so love Indian breads. I also treated myself to a Cobra beer as I reckoned it would not tip me over my self-imposed daily limit and it’s not really a curry without beer, is it?

The meal was fine with just a couple of things worthy of mention. The first was the sauce accompanying the pakora which was mango but much thinner than the usual chutney and served warm which I had never encountered before. The second little oddity was that there was pineapple in the dansak which was another first for me but it was very good and I am particularly fond of that fruit. Normally pineapple is associated with the milder curries and I like a bit of oomph so that worked well. I am sure the staff wanted rid of me so they could close up but they didn’t rush me in any way which is to their credit.

Having settled the pretty painless bill I zipped up my leather bike jacket and stepped out into a night that had somehow managed to get even more unpleasant if that was possible. I was glad that jacket was well-padded. If you’ll pardon the indelicacy, it was a case of head down, arse up and go like Hell which I did until I reached the sanctuary of the hotel and my nice cosy bed.

In the next entry I brave appalling weather, have an utter disaster of a day sightseeing and still manage to thoroughly enjoy myself so stay tuned and spread the word.