Posted in London on Saturday 30th June 2012 at 10:06pm
Dear reader, I lied to you. Not deliberately. I swore myself off London until after the Games. I didn't want to endure the crowds, the indignity of queuing for trains, the ever increasing paranoia as the perception of a threat ratchets up uncontrollably, and bored security guards itch to act. But faced with this huge absence from my summer, and with something of the spirit of walking reawakened by my last trip I guiltily booked again. I'd not decided what to do - leaving it largely up to coincidence this time. This isn't always a successful way of working with these trips - but this time it produced a memorable day of walking and thinking.
My first coincidence was stumbling across a mention of the Moselle River the night before I travelled. I was at my parents place, browsing on my 'phone while they watched tennis on TV, and the curious tale of this tributary thrice removed of the Thames popped up. Finding a picture of it surfacing in Tottenham Cemetery I tracked it's course back. It wasn't easy - it appeared to take all kinds of odd turns - but finally I had a couple of sections of above-ground route. I planned no more, distracted by reading around the area, but left it until this morning. Bleary-eyed and slightly bemused, poring over an A to Z on the train, and hoping for sunshine as I'd left my coat at home. As we thundered through slate gray Oxfordshire and drizzly Berkshire I feared the worst. I descended onto the Circle Line at Paddington wondering what I'd face on surfacing at Kings Cross. In fact, once I'd negotiated the seemingly circuitous route to the departures side via the new ticket hall, and found my way onto a stopper for Stevenage, the sun was riding high in the sky, with clouds drifting speedily by. I alighted at Hornsey and crossed the bridge, distracted by a view into the rail depot. Immediately after the bridge, a stub of road crossed the New River. I spent a while taking pictures and getting my bearings, before plunging across the street, near a bored parent and his smirking child, and into Harringey. I'd crossed the 'Ladder' once before - further south, and I expected the mix of terraces and town houses. The recycling scheme here seemed as complex as at home, but the result was that the front gardens of every home were jammed with various receptacles for waste. Where a house was divided into flats, the bins jostled for space and supremacy. It was a tawdry sight in an otherwise pleasant area.
I left the ladder, crossing Duckett's Common and passing near to the wonderful art-deco shell of Turnpike Lane underground station. Dodging around the bus depot, I made my way back into the suburban hinterland, the quiet street punctured by distant crying babies and piano practice, then cutting through the narrow band of Mannock Road Allotments and into the hazily defined Belmont area which stretches along Downhills Park Road. This passes a fine old school and it's pretty caretaker's cottage, now converted mostly into a Professional Development Centre for Harringey Children's Services. The difficult associations that brings aren't lost as I shuffle towards the mini-roundabout at Downhills Way. This broad, suburban avenue is typical of many link roads, and is oddly quiet as I cross and note the land rising towards the lip of the Moselle Valley. I follow the hill right to it's peak, but find the views obscured by buildings, so backtrack far enough to find the entrance to Lordship Lane Recreation Ground. I realise I'm worrying a woman walking her dog who thinks I've doubled back to follow her - so I hang back as she heads into the strip of preserved woodland, fearfully checking if I'm following. I'm not, its getting hot and I've spied my first goal where a pathway from Walpole Road marks the culverted entry of the Moselle. As I head for this part of the park I realise something isn't right. Most of the area is fenced off, and there is a major Lottery funded redevelopment of the park underway. I get to the east-west path where the culvert of the Moselle crossed and find an unexpected scene. Beside me, a sluice opens out into a broad artificial river meadow. The channel curves and divides, solid wooden bridges criss-crossing them. At the eastern end, water fills a broad lagoon where it's filtered of its debris and pollution. The real Moselle feeds it here when in flood, the water running off the culvert and entering the channels. I pause to take a picture of the towers of Broadwater Farm reflected in the pool. Beyond here, the channel is a damp bed, aquatic plants just beginning to take hold. I follow along the broad path which has been built over the culvert of the river. It was originally planned to open this out, but the flood risk was too great. At the end of the path a temporary bridge connects the as yet unimproved northern part of the park, and another concrete sluice takes the new channel back into the culverted Moselle as it disappears under the looming bulk of Broadwater Farm. It's impossible not to feel awestruck by these buildings. Their own grim associations echo back from the last great recession and period of civil unrest, and the odd mish-mash of designs and types of housing has only one thing in common - they all stand on stilts above the threat of the Moselle in flood. I find a way in, and note that there is no official walking space. In the ground level carparks I feel vulnerable, and out on the grassy square I feel even more exposed. There's no real threat - the crime rate here is excellent nowadays, the community has taken back it's home turf. But it's an alien culture for a white, middle-class Somerset boy. On the edge of the estate as I leave a white van stops and asks the way to Tangmere - one of the blocks, all named for Battle of Britain airfields. The cockney driver is effortlessly rude, calling me a "Fat fucker" before I've even had a chance to answer him. He explains triumphantly: "I'm asking YOU because you're the first white face I've seen around here". Having a rare chance to respond to his insult I say "Sorry, I'm not from round here. Ask a black face." and leave him cursing me and still lost. I cut along a cycle path through a decent development of old folks places, and find myself on Lordship Lane. I buy fizzy drink and drown a thirst. It's hot and dry, but I've found my walking rhythm again.
Turning onto the busy A10, I pick up the end of the Roundway, a sweeping curve around a manufactured crescent shaped estate, and then to All Hallows Church. Here, a historic link with Scotland comes into the story - with nearby Bruce Castle and this church a gift from King David I in the 12th Century. It's a crumbling, appealing old building which merits exploration sometime. Instead I head north onto Church Path, a long straight procession passing All Hallows original churchyard and cutting through Tottenham Cemetery between high municipal railings. It's an odd place, and not a comfortable one. Odd scufflings and flutterings in the hot, damp air help me to realise I'm likely not the only living thing here. But I am mostly alone. The sickly smell of lime trees bears down on me as I pass on further into the mass of graves, finally coming across a truly curious thing - a tunnel underneath the Church Path linking the two sides of the cemetery. A simple junction would have sufficed, but instead steps lead down under an arch and ascend the other side. The 1883 built structure is listed, it's listing suggesting some formal role with the chapel and war memorial, but they don't align in a logical sense at all in this oddly unplanned conglomeration of burial lands. A few feet on, I find the Moselle again at last. A fast-flowing stream here, it cuts from west to east across the cemetery. Chuch Path crosses on a high concrete bridge, while a link between portions of the site crosses on an older bridge further upstream. Despite a slightly off-colour smell and a proliferation of insects, it's a pleasant scene and a relief from the sea of graves. Picking my way to the lower bridge to take pictures I see part of a monument to 'Dad' lying in the river bed. I try to follow the river now towards the edge of the site, but it's not easy. The ground is rough, and tends down towards the river running in a brick trough. Graves slip crazily towards it, monuments leaning unsafely. Eventually I find my way to the corner of the field, and pushing through a gap in the trees, find a strange corner clearly frequented by rough-sleepers. The soft, mossy ground slopes down to the river where it disappears under White Hart Lane, not to be seen again. I don't trust the ground enough to get closer, and I don't want to be in this oddly silent little haven any longer. I crash out into the air, and find the nearby gate locked. Instead I trudge to the main entrance and the gatehouse chapel. I'm not sorry to be leaving Tottenham Cemetery. I recuperate on a long bus journey through Stamford Hill, with the orthodox Jews pouring out of synagogues in their shtreimel. The bus is packed, hot and noisy - but I'm glad of the company of the living.
After recuperating with coffee, I find myself drawn eastwards again. I board a train for Stratford, keen just to see the environs I explored recently again from above. Once again, there's no plan - and on arriving I haven't thought about what to do when an announcement suggests that the new, northern ticket hall is closed due to an "incident in Westfield" and suggesting we use the link bridge instead. I decide to have a look at the bridge, and find myself swept into a tide of people climbing the stairs onto a rust coloured, broad span crossing the station. The mass of humanity is impressive, and there's little hope of stopping to look across at the Olympic Park - but I notice people wandering along Montfichet Way below and wonder about getting down there. Once near the entrance to Westfield I pause. Police are turning people back from 'The Street', an avenue of sportswear and mobile 'phone shops which leads to the Olympic Park entrance. A little listening indicates that there has been a murder - a broad daylight knife-fight involving five men. The shoppers seem only mildly inconvenienced, most of them pushing for a place in the main mall. Some are redirected by pink tabard wearing "Olympic Park" representatives. The space is confusing - who does it really belong to? Finding stairs I head down and find the northern station entrance now open, tatters of Police tape still fluttering. The taxi-rank is closed until September, and so from tomorrow are most of the roads here it seems. Dodging the "LOCOG exclusion zone" of the taxi drop-off, I start to wander along the new, concrete sided bridge. There are small knots of other people walking and even cycling. A tour party cycles by, the leader claiming that "well, it wasn't exactly a wilderness here, but it was somewhere you'd never go". It soon became apparent why all the activity was occuring - this was the last chance to walk the route pre-Games. As of tomorrow, the exclusion would be complete. I took in the view across the complex of railway curves, then to the Aquatics Centre and the inexplicably silly Arcelor-Mittal Orbit sculpture which I'd watched slowly take shape over the past few months. I was filled with an odd amalgam of revulsion and occasion. This senseless waste was about to explode into life, and the hope was it would drag economic benefits in it's wake. Looking across the still unfinished expanses of concrete, dry dust still drifting on the breeze, I doubted it. Pressing on, the road dipped and the forbidding fence climbed into view. At the bottom of the hill a gateway provided access to the National Grid cable tunnel into the site. It was guarded by a security operative, and a man in a deckchair who's main task was to depress a button which lowered a barrier and let the parade of BT Openreach vans and expensively new Olympic-liveried BMWs in and out of the site. The road takes a right angle here at a mini-roundabout, and a family sat on the barriers enjoying the sunshine. The father climbed the grassy bank to look into the site. The security guard wandered over but didn't engage. As I left though, a black car crawled up beside him. I didn't dare watch and headed under the railway bridge, passing the Olympic Park Vehicle Emissions Testing Plaza on my way to the High Street. On the corner, a bit of incomplete planning gain is rising in the form of a high block of dwellings with a Tesco Express at it's foot. The signs urgently claimed to be "Opening before the Olympics!". I was tired, I'd had a lungful of dust and my boots burned on my feet. Slogging along the road I found the Greenway open south of the new bridge and climbed up to it. I sat for awhile, watching people walking and cycling, the minarets of Abbey Mills in the background. I felt oddly content here, and was sorry to leave. As I made the final push for the bus stop at Bow Church, a caterpillar-tracked miltary vehicle passed me at the Interchange.
Thinking over my walk as I dozed my way back to Paddington, completing a probably ill-advised full-length trip on the 205 bus route in the process, I was pleased I'd come back despite my promises. The series of coincidences was odd - being here on the last day I'd be able to walk some of these routes, the day after the terrible events at Westfield. I have this habit of turning up at the best - or indeed the worst moments. I was heading home to the sleepy West Country, and our own set of development and planning issues. The next time I saw these places would likely be on the television - a sanitised, dust-free version, all healthy bodies and shining structures. But, six miles north, hidden in its cemetery ditch the little Moselle would be flowing - into Pymme's Brook, then in turn the Lea, and right back here to Bow Creek. The links were unavoidable, as I fear, the Games will be.
You can see more pictures from the walk here. As an experiment, you can also follow the route on the map below - the blue line is the walking route, the red line the rail and bus journeys.
Posted in Reading on Tuesday 26th June 2012 at 6:45am
It's a long time since I felt the need to write about a book I'd read on here, at least as directly as this - but perhaps it's something I should do more often. The irony of reading "Scarp" in the middle of Glasgow, while the city moved quickly to take advantage of unexpected sunshine wasn't lost on me. George Square glistened in the light, pale skinned, blinking office workers emerging for their lunch break. Spending it with trouser legs and skirts rolled up, shades on while feet away, propped against a huge marble monument and just a little way from the huge metallic Olympic symbol erected for the summer, I sat devouring this curious book. In some ways, it's the book I wish I could write - part personal reverie, part hymn to the places around me. It delves deep into the landscape, and where current descriptions won't suffice creates a new map - you won't find "Scarp" identified anywhere I'm certain. But that's where this book plays its master stroke - we all invent our own maps and landscapes, but some of us do so more consciously than others. So "Scarp" is Papadimitriou's name for a mass of high-seated land which joins Chiltern Ridge to Lea Valley in a broad sweep across his beloved Middlesex. Buried in it are streams, lanes and byways which he has walked - often in dark times with all the associations they carry - to make sense of his county and his world.
Papadimitriou describes his work as deep topography and sets himself a little apart from the Psychogeographer. I was sceptical about the need to do so at first, but now I think I accept it a little more. He takes a sort of amalgam of old Ordnance Survey atlas, decommissioned guide book prose and personal recollection, and rewalks the landscape with no preconception. He accepts its stories, often it's casualties without judgement and most importantly without recourse to human sciences or politics to justify the links he makes. The prose is sometimes edgy, fast-paced and visceral - but is equally prone to longer passages of lush descriptive work - not least when Papadimitriou strays from a well-worn personal path and finds a new vista just feet from his more routine walks. The thrill of this is palpable in his writing, and having felt this same heart-leap at a sudden turn of a corner and never quite expressed it, it gave me huge pleasure to see it described in print.
Ultimately, "Scarp" is unresolved. We never get the end of the autobiographical thread which winds through the book, explaining perhaps why the author took to the edgelands and the streambeds - nor do we get to achieve the idea of "Scarp" as a whole. But that's because Papadimitriou hasn't yet managed that either. And it's likely he never will. There is both a luxury and a a risk in writing about such a specific and rarely trodden area. The post-cultural tourists who follow in the footsteps of the more famous psychogeographers probably won't stray this far up the Piccadilly Line, and this is perhaps a bit too redolent of the pylon, sewer outfall and business park to get the semi-professional walking set interested. But "Scarp" is a life's work, a labour of intense love for the landscape and a tribute to the land which sustains us, which we walk in difficult times, which links up homes, prisons, hospitals and bus stops. This is the landscape challenged and personified, but described in the loving detail of a botanist's catalogue. It's nothing short of a remarkable piece of work in that respect.
Posted in Railways on Saturday 23rd June 2012 at 10:57pm
This jaunt has now become something of an annual pilgrimage to the far south west, usually involving a mixed band of locals and northerners, and always involving quite a bit of real ale. It was also of special significance this time around because Spitfire have not run a tour since February, and I've not been able to make one since November 2011. The reasons are mired in commercial intrigue and unfairness, but suffice to say it's not about the will or the drive - it's to do with the economics and legalities. So, I was looking forward to this opportunity to catch up with a lot of people I now see very rarely. I was though, believe it or not, less into the idea of being royally drunk once again. After a week off work, and facing a return on Monday to what could be a rather tricky situation involving a 'transfer' to Bristol, I needed this time to count. Nevertheless, we assembled - the usual band - for the first train out to Bristol. With the Taunton stop off, this was the only sensible way to the trip - but it did allow for breakfast, newspaper purchasing and a chat with some of the local spotter folks not travelling today, before the familiar pair of West Coast Railway Company Class 37s curved into Platform 6. It was time to head south...
The journey was relatively uneventful - decent company, civilised drinks and lots of catching up. Just like the previous recent tour to Cornwall, the times left us very much ahead by Exeter, and we had an unexpected half-hour break in Plymouth which allowed for a photo stop and an opportunity to get coffee. Back on board, and over the Royal Albert Bridge - currently shrouded for repairs - and into Cornwall. The train sadly wasn't particularly full given some uncertainty about the traction - or indeed whether it would run given the loss of it's 'sister' trip from Eastleigh. But here we began to set down for the various usual options - Eden Project, Lost Gardens of Heligan, Bodmin and Wenford Railway etc. I'd even toyed with a trip to Lands End myself to avoid drunkenness, but hadn't seen this through!
The return was the usual, sleepy affair with lots of well fed and watered passengers on board. I admit to snoozing myself, but woke for the assault on the Devon Banks and the fast run through Taunton and Exeter which saw us reclaim most of the time lost due to following a stopping train out of Cornwall. Having chased the rain north, it was gloomy at Bristol as I watched the train head north for Birgminham and headed over to catch the usual train home. It had been a relaxing end to a week of successful and varied travel - and the continuation of a tradition which we thought may have ended too.
Posted in Railways on Saturday 16th June 2012 at 7:39pm
Considering the number and scope of the rail journeys I undertake, I really have a pretty trouble-free time of it. I know that some people experience minor disruptions as bigger issues because they travel less, but really I don't find myself feeling concerned very often. Some of this is down to expertise and knowing my way around the system, some of it is to do with a fairly easygoing approach to travelling. But today, the system confounded even me with its oddness! The plan was simple - as ever I'd break my trip to Scotland on the first day, to enable a more useful arrival time and meaning I could make a gig later that day. I'd settled on Preston some time ago as it promised a decent hotel at a good price, and a pleasant, sociably well-timed run into Glasgow on a Sunday morning. I'd also noted during the week that this would provide me with the chance to sample a new bit of Metrolink line in Manchester.
But it almost cost a lot more than planned. From the moment I woke, it was pretty clear the 05:48 wasn't going to run. This train is pretty reliable in fairness, and I was surprised when it wasn't reinstated before departure - but in the end it stayed cancelled and I was forced to travel on the 06:55. The guard did some enquiring and found out a member of staff had failed to show. He was sure my reservation on the 07:00 would be honoured later though, even after I described issues with CrossCountry I'd experienced. The CrossCountry guy at the Bristol Temple Meads gateline was equally sure. Get the ticket endorsed with the cancellation details, he'd seen my Season and knew why I'd booked from Bristol. Onto the 08:00, strangely enough into my booked seat too. Couldn't settle until I'd been gripped though... Eventually the train manager arrived. She listened to my tale and looked dubiously at the ticket, and my season. I told her that her colleague had advised this approach as she said "Well, he shouldn't - this is from Bristol". I reminded her about the combination rules for Seasons in the conditions of carriage, and asked why on earth I would double-pay the section of route my season covered. She still insisted she should charge me for a new ticket. At this point I lost my cool and pointed out that it wasn't my fault that the first train was cancelled, and that it was the railway's current ticketing practice which was making people split journeys anyway. She looked rather taken aback at this but backed down slightly. After working her way up the train issuing a few Penalty Fares here and there for people who were obviously trying it on, often with Railcards, she'd been forced to think about this one. Eventually she passed me to travel, but not before I'd managed to get seriously rattled.
I didn't really settle for the rest of the trip, expecting trouble with the new TM from Birmingham, but he really wasn't too interested in tickets from down south. So, I managed to settle a little into the journey via Stoke and Stockport despite my frustration. Even with an hour lopped off my time here, I'd still have time to spare - so losing only my planned coffee stop I headed down to the Metrolink. The plan was to get a Bury tram to Victoria then travel on to Oldham Mumps, using the former rail line which closed back in 2009 in a flurry of tour activity. But, no Bury tram arrived. The platform filled, endless Altrincham and Media City services passed, but no Bury tram. Eventually over 30 minutes later it arrived and the punters piled on. Lots of them! More squeezed in at Piccadilly Gardens. It was a warm morning, and none too pleasant on the tram, so I elected to hop off at Market Street - the first potential change point. I'm not keen on this stop, set in the middle of a busy shopping street, looking over the crowds of shoppers - but it would serve today. Extracted myself and let the tram leave - followed by three out-of-course Bury trams which were all but empty! Finally an Oldham Mumps service arrived and I joined, covering the familiar route to Victoria and the Bury lines, before curving away using a former railway alignment around Monsall. Running on this section was swift and sure, with the impressive Central Park station with it's slanted disc of a roof the only major feature. Leaping over the heavy rail lines, the tram tracks descended beside Newton Heath Depot, giving excellent views of the DMUs stabled. The left-hand line of the pair here is still a heavy rail access to Dean Lane Waste Transfer station and it's run-around loop, meaning trams bottleneck into a single line here. It didn't slow things much and we were soon onto the route of the former Oldham Loop line proper. Nearly all trace of the former rail line is gone - signal boxes demolished and tell-tale signs removed. This was particularly true of the temporary station at Oldham Mumps - a vast swathe of concrete occupying the site of the former platforms. It's temporary because eventually the tram will veer off before Werneth Tunnel, running through the streets of Oldham before regaining the rail corridor to Rochdale further north. The concrete pad for the turnouts onto the street are already laid - it's only a matter of times before the rails leave this bit of Oldham forever.
Retraced my steps to Victoria on the same tram, and made it in time for the 13:22. Once an Adelante, this Blackpool service is not a rather tired Northern Class 150 - but it was at least fairly lightly loaded. The run out to Preston was sleepy, and I noted the rain closing in as we headed into Lancashire. I ended up making a dash through the heavy, slanting downpour to my hotel for the night - watching the bluff northern blokes strutting around in t-shirts, pretending it wasn't raining. Preston is an odd place, and it had been a pretty strange day.
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.