5 September 2021

30km to Uxbridge

I had walked to Uxbridge before and had also done the local sections of London Loop but I had not walked with the Ramblers before, despite being a member for a few years, and I took the opportunity of the 20th anniversary celebrations of the Loop to do all three.

The Ramblers part of the walk was all of section 10 and most of section 11 which went from Hatton Cross to West Drayton. I supplemented that by walking from home to Hatton Cross, which is sort of section 9 of the Loop, and then continued on to Uxbridge completing section 11.

I made no attempt to follow the Loop to Hatton Cross and my route was determined more by having to get there by 11am and the location of some target Pokemon Go gyms. That meant more main roads that the Loop but it also took me through Hanworth Park and let me get a coffee and another excellent cake from the deservedly packed Lisboa Loja cafe in Feltham.

I arrived at Hatton Cross at 10:58 feeling suitably smug at my timing and pleased to have taken a key target gym in Hampton and two more in Hanworth Park. The day had started well.

The walk to West Drayton went much as expected and was mostly a route I had taken several times before.

There are always options on routes like these and after crossing Bath Road in Cranford I headed confidently to Avenue Park only for everyone else to go to Cranford Park. I conceded defeat and joined them.

We joined the canal soon after and I was expecting us to follow it all the way to West Drayton so the detour via Stockley Park was unexpected though understandable.

It is both a strength and a weakness of London Loop that it often takes a longer route to include parks when the direct route is already pretty. That was the case here in leaving, and then rejoining, the canal and also in section 9 where it goes through Hampstead Heath when the path along River Crane is both shorter and, in my opinion, prettier (though, to be fair, it can be closed due to flooding). The conflicting requirements of walking for pleasure (prettiest route) and for travel (shortest route), and attempts to mix the two, make designing walking routes difficult with no right answers. I think that is the main reason that I prefer to walk alone or with a friend, we get to choose the route at each point rather than somebody else.

The Ramblers abandoned me in West Drayton where the effects of the sun drove me into a pub for a beer. As advised, the pub by the station was pretty dire - the London Pride was off and the substitute bottle of Tribute was (just) out of date. The crisps were ok but basic.

Short beer break over I continued uneventfully along the canal to Uxbridge. I probably should have checked the status of public transport before making these plans as my expected route was unavailable due to no District Line trains running to Richmond but two Piccadilly Line trains to Acton Town then South Ealing and a 65 bus did the trick, eventually.

With a couple of short breaks the 30km walk took something under seven hours. That is what I call a good walk.

10 August 2021

A less scenic route to Feltham

This was another simple plan for a walk and, to be honest, it did not really work.

Recent and planned long walks headed from Richmond north, north-east, east and south-east so it seemed fair to give south-west another try. We had been that way a few (three?) times either following the Thames or the Mole. This time I thought that we could head for the two large reservoirs near West Molesey. Feltham was chosen as the end-point simply because it is in Zone 6 so we could get home for free.

The walk started well enough as we went through the centre of Bushy Park. There was more traffic there than we would have liked despite the through route being closed as cars were still allowed to access the two car parks in the centre. Still, it was quiet enough for us to walk along the road.

We followed The Thames west for a while before heading for the reservoirs. The roads there were too busy for the walk to be relaxing and the pavements left a great deal to be desired. That proved to be the case for most of the rest of the walk and ultimately led to the failure of the plan.

There were some good points along the way, such as when we rejoined the river just before Walton-on-Thames. BP's International Centre for Business & Technology in Sunbury had some impressive modern buildings. An unnamed area of heath in Lower Feltham was a flowery delight and we took a slight detour to enjoy it. We took another short detour for Grosvenor Park in Feltham but as that is just a recreation ground this was scant reward for the extra steps.

The final ignominy was having to have my end of walk beer in a Wetherspoons in Feltham.

Far from the greatest walk ever but not the worst either, at least the weather was good, and covering 21 km was a decent result for four hour's effort.

6 August 2021

Once more to Feltham

There are several reasons why I keep walking to Feltham.

It strings together several parks and while urban areas and main roads cannot be avoided the wild beauty and peace of places like The Lower Crane Valley, Hanworth Park and Feltham Park more than compensate. These parks follow the River Crane or The Duke of Northumberland's River which brings adds to the natural beauty.

It is also a nice distance for a walk with options to jump in an out of the route, by bus and train, if the time or the weather demands it.

The final excuse, I have to admit, is that I am chasing gold badges in some Pokemon Go gyms along the route and so I have to revisit them regularly.

I had walked every section of this route several times before but this is the first time that I had strung them together like this. My choice or route kept changing on the day depending on my mood as each decision had to be made.

One important decision was on where to stop for coffee and with not many decent options beyond Hampton I thought that I would give Lisboa Loja in Feltham another go. I had been there only once before and that was when I had got lost following the wrong river (there are three in the area). Lisboa Loja came up trumps with possibly the best cake that I have ever eaten! It was something like a Mango Coconut Bundt Cake but with more fruit. I will have to go back and have it again.

The final decisions were to keep walking and not to take a bus part of the way home. I could do this as I had started early, around 8:30am, and so despite walking for just over five hours I was still home in time for lunch. In those five hours I walked over 25km, a great start to the day!

20 July 2021

L’amico Fritz at Opera Holland Park

I know why I go to Glyndebourne (the whole experience) and why I do not go to Royal Opera House (too expensive for what it is) but I am not sure why I have been avoiding Opera Holland Park. 

Some of it is, I think, the lack of original programming. There is a limit to how often I want to see any opera even one as good as, say, Carmen or Madama Butterfly, and my only previous visit to Opera Holland Park was in 2015 to see the exceptional modern opera Flight that I had seen previously at Glyndebourne (twice).

Some of it is also the relatively poor visitor experience and I had bad memories of slow unmanaged queues for drinks. I know it is not trying to be Glyndebourne but I had been disappointed on my first, and only, visit.

All that said, when our eldest son offered to take us to see the unknown to us L’amico Fritz by Pietro Mascagni we quickly agreed.

Pre-opera meant a short walk up from Hammersmith, to keep the daily step count up, and a rather excellent supper at Megan's on the High Street by the entrance to Holland Park. The brief shower of rain did nothing to dampen our spirits.

We got to Opera Holland Park about half an hour before the performance, as planned, and went straight for the bubbly. Our son arrived soon after and the glasses of bubbly were followed by a bottle.

We were still under covid-19 restrictions which helped by reducing the numbers and simplifying some of the procedures, such as queuing for drinks! It was all very pleasant.

The restrictions also meant a big change in the seating, gone were the standard stadium seats and in were dining chairs arranged in small groups with gaps between them. These gaps helped to compensate for the lack of raking and I had a good view of the stage. We learned later that all the chairs has been used as props at theatres and were being given a second life here. 

L’amico Fritz is a light comedy with one of the simplest plots ever staged, a rich young man and a confirmed bachelor falls in love with the local farmer's daughter, and she with him, but it takes them about an hour to realise this, which is long after everyone else has.

The music was simple, to my untrained ear, and jolly. It skipped along evenly without any great highs or lows. Like the plot, it was pleasant and easily appreciated.

The singing was sumptuous, especially by the two leads and what could have been a light meal became a rich feast. I loved it.

That may have done enough to tempt me back to Opera Holland Park sooner rather than later, we will see.

17 July 2021

Learning about The Buildings of Ham Common

My favourite community events, by a country mile, are the local architecture walks and talks given by local architect Richard Woolf and organised by local community group Ham United Group so I was delighted to join his tour of The Buildings of Ham Common.

Ham Common, unsurprisingly, is the heart of Ham and it is ringed by an interesting collection of buildings from old cottages to substantial modern lodges. Richard squeezed eighteen of them into a fact-filled, informative and entertaining walk.

Here we see Richard explaining the rise of Neo-Georgian (Neo-Geo) houses and how the few examples on Ham Common sit uneasily with their grander Georgian neighbours.

I know the buildings on Ham Common pretty well and have photographed them all, often many times, for my community blog HamPhotos, but I was still absorbing new insights on their design and construction at a prodigious rate of knots.

This was a fascinating talk and it ended on the best possible note, Richard promised to do another walk and talk next year.

16 July 2021

The Game of Love and Chance at Arcola Outside was very jolly

My return to theatregoing is still tentative but Arcola Theatre is one of my favourites and I was keen to get back there. The Game of Love and Chance gave me the chance to do that with the promise of some easy laughs.

But first I had to get there.

The familiar routine of going to the Arcola was partially forgotten and things had changed too. Arcola had opened up a new performance space, Arcola Outside (where Arcola Tent once was) to give performances in a highly ventilated space with distanced seating.

The new bar did not do food but one of the staff recommended the pub across the road, The Speakeasy, and that did the job brilliantly, albeit at the price you would expect of a bar full of young Dalstonians.

The seating looked little more than wooden boxes, providing useful space underneath for bags, but it proved to be surprisingly comfortable.

The other surprising thing was the lack of mask wearing. I had mine on all the time but only a small number of other people did.

The play itself was a simply constructed farce where only two of the players and we, the audience, knew what was really going on. The trick was people swapping roles to great comic effect.

The acting was beautifully exaggerated and special praise must go to Ellie Nunn as the minor royal falling in love with a chauffeur for her expressions and looks to the audience, and to Michael Lyle for his enthusiastic son-of-a-billionaire chasing a maid.

It was all extremely jolly and I laughed a lot. It was just the sort of exuberant pick-me-up I needed after a long period without theatre or anything else very much.

12 July 2021

Delighted by Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser at V&A

Once upon a Time the V&A was my favourite place on the planet and I went there so often it felt like a second home. Then I stopped working in Central London and then covid-19 happened and unexpectedly I had not been there for two years. 

I could have been away for even longer but for the chance to use a corporate booking to see all three of the current exhibitions. A previous medical appointment meant that I had no time for Bags: Inside Out and I chose to go to Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser first.

I arrived at South Kensington in good time and with the V&A cafe sadly still closed I had a mid-morning boost, coffee and cake, at Brown & Rosie.

I was not sure what to expect from the exhibition, I rarely do, and I was pleased to discover that it largely focussed on the iconic imagery and little was said about the text, other than putting it in the context of the time it was written.

I had a copy of the classic book as a child, and it is probably still in the library room somewhere, so I have known the original John Tenniel illustrations for over fifty years. It was interesting to read how this writer and this artist worked together, something I am familiar with from comics, and also to see other examples of Tenniel's work.

A large part of the exhibition then showed how these iconic (I know I used the word earlier and I repeat it to make the point) characters and images have been included and adapted in popular culture from then to the present day.

The story has been retold many times and in many forms. Notable film versions include Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010) with Johnny Depp and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1972) with just about everybody around at that time including Peter Sellers and Dudley Moore.

There were also posters from plays, album covers, books of foreign adaptations and quite a few other things that I paid too little attention as I rushed round in the little time that I had (about an hour).

Several images struck me hard in a good way, like the Japanese Lolita outfit in black, and the standout image for me was this from the Pirelli 2018 calendar shot by Tim Walker and styled by Edward Enninful.

And that's why I love the V&A, I never expected to be see, let alone be delighted by, a photo from a Pirelli calendar.

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser was as excellent as I have come to expect a V&A exhibition to be and I might well go again before it finishes at the end of the year.

I had planned to also see Epic Iran and had a ticket for entry between 1;30 and 1:45. I got there at 1:35 to find the exhibition closed. There were a couple of other people there with tickets and after some discussion we were allowed in but told that we had to be out again by 2pm, which then became 1:55. That gave me 20 minutes to try and absorb what I could but this did not work as what I saw was quite wordy, unlike Alice, and there was little of the architecture and decorative tiles that I was hoping to see. It was very disappointing and I saw nothing to tempt me back for a proper look.

Things got better when I went back to Brown & Rosie for some lunch and a beer in the sunshine.

6 July 2021

Following the Brent to Perivale

The plan was even rougher than usual and was little more than "follow the Brent".

That was the middle part of the route more or less sorted and the first part, getting to the Brent, needed no planning as it was the very familiar route to Brentford and then the not quite as familiar route along the Grand Union Canal. The final part, heading home was left deliberately vague but was always likely to include Ealing Broadway where the 65 bus could take us both home.

The weather, as it often is, was another unknown part of the plan and we largely chose to ignore the threat of heavy rainstorms. And is often the case, we were proved right.

The walk was simple enough, as we knew it would be, until we hit Hanwell and turned off the Grand Union Canal to start following the Brent. We had been that way once before when following the Capital Ring and my recollections of that included mud and getting lost. This time was much the same though as we were following a river rather than a trail it was usually obvious to choose a path.

In Perivale Park we parted way with Capital Ring and continued to follow the Brent as it turned sharply east into Pitshanger Park.

We had been walking for about three hours by then and another vague part of the plan became firmer, a return to a cafe we had discovered on our first visit to Perivale forced on us by the closure of the footpath along the Grand Union Canal. Sadly we had forgotten it's name and the technology, Google and Foursquare, was quite hopeless in helping us to find it again. The first road that I went for because it appeared to have several cafes in turned out to be a massive industrial estate but on exiting that, eventually, we found ourselves in the right road, Bilton Road, and almost facing The Lunch Box, as we then found it was called. I deserved and thoroughly enjoyed Vegetarian Breakfast 2 which came with tea and toast.

The route down to Ealing Broadway looked easy enough so we set off to walk there rather than take one of the convenient buses passing by. This meant rejoining the Brent for a short while as it passed though Brentham Meadows. We got slightly lost here too but we are used to that.

That took us into the magnificent Brentham Garden Suburb which alone justified the decision to walk, despite the hill.

Approaching from the north, the commercial centre of Ealing appeared suddenly but before we caught the bus home we paid a short visit to The Haven Arms where I had a pint of Proper Job, a fine way to end a fine walk.

The statistics of the walk were 21 km in something over 4 hours, a reasonable pace given our leisurely intent and the regular mud.