Sunday, 2 June 2019


10th to 17th May 2019

I had never been to the Peak District. Driven past it on both sides to places further north many times though. So this year I decided I should go and find out what's in the middle. I booked a week at Middleton-by-Wirksworth at a cottage called The Miner's Rest. Conveniently located for a number of Derbyshire Dales visitor attractions. Yes, that includes railways.

Peak Rail 

I walked up to Middleton Top to the bus stop and caught a local bus to Matlock Bus Station which is handily next to the railway station. Plenty of time before the next Peak Rail departure to have a wander around Matlock before returning to the station and crossing the footbridge to Sainsbury's and platform 2 from where Peak Rail operates.

Top Tip: The bus station toilets require 20p. The ones in Sainsbury don't and you have to walk past them to get to the trains. Just sayin'.

I had a pleasant trip on Peak Rail and being early in the season it wasn't absolutely packed, though by no means quiet.

Ecclesbourne Valley Railway

Next up Derbyshire's longest heritage railway and the closest to where I was staying. The EVR runs from Wirksworth to Duffield. It also has another line running up a steep gradient to Ravenstor but that wasn't running on this particular Sunday.

The EVR was a bit busier than Peak Rail - the sunshine had brought out the Grandparents and Grandchildren - but still not crowded and it was a good run to Duffield and back.

After returning to Wirksworth I walked up to Black Rocks where there is a view not for those without a head for heights but worth the climb.

From here I walked along the High Peak Trail, formerly the Cromford and High Peak Railway, built to carry minerals and goods between the canal at Cromford and that at Whaley Bridge utilizing some incredibly steep inclines, so no level easy strolling.

Along the way I found the other local heritage line, the Steeple Grange Light Railway.
I didn't ride this one (they don't run many trains) but was all but dragged through the gate by one of the enthusiastic volunteers for an interesting chat. They've recently extended the line into Middleton itself.

Heights of Abraham

A different attraction today, The Heights of Abraham at Matlock Bath is a hill top park with a cable car to get up there and tours of show caves - former lead mines - to draw in tourists, which it has been doing since the 1780s.

Top Tip: The Heights of Abraham offer a 20% discount off the £18 cable car tickets for those arriving by Rail or Bus. This makes it cheaper to park at Cromford railway station (£2.50), get an off peak return to Matlock Bath (£1) which is next to the nearest car park to the cable car station anyway which costs £6 a day. (Prices correct at time of writing.)

It's cool in the caves, you might want a jumper. The view from the top is spectacular, even more so if you climb the Victoria Tower (because the hill isn't tall enough?). Who doesn't like a cable car? It's a Derbyshire Dangleway!

Trams, trams, trams

Crich Tramway Village or The National Tramway Museum is the other local "big day out".

Plenty of car parking and I couldn't work out the local buses so I drove (I was going on elsewhere afterwards anyway).

You pay your entry fee and get given an old penny coin (1d). This you then exchange for a day ticket to ride as many times as you want. A piece of totally unnecessary theatre but I guess kids like it and old farts can reminisce about the good old days of £.s.d. (or LSD as appropriate). I've got a big bag of old pennies at home, could've taken my own. There are a lot of trams though only a selection run on a particular day. Also static displays, a cafe, and a pub. A real pub, The Red Lion, transported here from Stoke-on-Trent and rebuilt brick by brick. Damn, should've got the bus.

Newark and Derby

The weather forecast was for showers next day (although in the event I saw none). I decided an awayday was in order and got an off peak return from Cromford to Newark, planning to stop off in Derby on the way back.

Oasis, Some Might Say cover.png
Cromford Station is slightly famous, or at least familiar to fans of the popular beat combo known as Oasis, having appeared on the cover art for the single Some Might Say

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, Link

The line runs from Matlock all the way through to Newark, which means it links both Peak Rail and the EVR to the national rail network.

Newark has a castle, free to enter but partly closed off when I visited due to cracks having been found in the river side curtain wall.

It's an interesting old town to wander in, the market was closing up by the time I arrived but there were plenty of places to obtain vital supplies of cappuccino and cake.
Derby I had actually visited before. At least I had been on a school trip to the now demolished railway works in the late 1970s. I vaguely recognized some of the streets around the station from that trip. As for the city centre, it's much like any other in the UK now. I got something to eat, had a wander about, and headed back to the safety of the hills.

Also while I was there...

I visited Eyam, famous "plague village" of Derbyshire, which was more interesting than expected and had many plaques on the walls of the buildings detailing who had lived and died in them during that dark period during the 1660s.
Shame the National trust have cleared off or I could have made use of my membership. Settled for a nice pot of tea at least.
Edale. Lovely countryside to stroll through. Also the southern terminus of the Pennine Way.

One day.


Flickr Album of my holiday pics if anyone's interested 😀

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Hinton Ampner

4th May 2019

Hinton Ampner
(National Trust)
Hinton Ampner, near Alresford, Hampshire, SO24 0LA
Adult £15.50 Child £7.75 Under 5s Free

Almost like acting my age I paid an afternoon visit to this interesting NT property - trying to make the most of my NT membership for another year - on a day when the weather didn't want to make up its mind what to do and therefore somewhere with indoor and outdoor interest was required.

The house itself is now mostly Neo-Georgian, rebuilt in the early 20th century by then owner Ralph (rhymes with waif) Dutton from an earlier Victorian house adapted from a Georgian house built on the site of a Tudor manor house. Clear? Go here for the full history from the NT.

It got rebuilt again in the early 1960s after Ralph unwisely left an open fire burning in the grate in the library while he went for a post-lunch walk in the woods and came home to find the house he'd spent 15 years rebuilding in his preferred Regency style well and truly ablaze.

It only took 3 years to fix it up again, at the same time replacing the burnt  bits he didn't like (mostly Victorian) with more-to-his-liking Regency style.

Wouldn't get away with that nowadays I shouldn't think, the powers that be would insist on restoration to previous state even if that meant it didn't get done at all.

For reasons of preventing damage by UV light the interior of the house like most NT properties is kept in a state of semi-gloom and I didn't actually take any photos inside. I can tell you it's very nice if you like Regency/Georgian interiors and that Ralph liked stone ornaments, particularly porphyry, and intricate stone-topped tables. There's an Adam ceiling in the dining room of course, as every good Georgian house should have. And a lot of china and "paintings, classical, for country houses".

Outside the house sits in extensive formal gardens within a larger estate. Adjacent to the house is the cafe, in a surviving Tudor building and the church stands a little way from the house.

I got an ice-cream from the young, posh* girl in the converted horse trailer between the house and church and found a seat in the garden on which to enjoy it. At which point the 10% chance of rain became 100%.

(* posh enough to mention to the previous customer that she likes to ride her horse on the estate tracks.)

It was only a brief shower after which I explored the rest of the gardens - several statues and lots of topiary - took lots of photos (see link at bottom of article) and then decided the crowd in the cafe had thinned enough to risk getting tea and cake. The risk for the solo visitor being that you get your tea and cake and when you turn around a load of OAPs have come in and nicked all the free tables.

Plenty of free seats this time though. Decent cuppa too and they give you a pot of hot water to top up the teapot ✔

Earlier while walking through the garden I noticed that the sundial was about 40 minutes slow.

Checking my watch instead showed I had about an hour and a half left before closing time, plenty of time to follow one of the way-marked walks through the countryside of the surrounding estate.

I decided a couple of easy miles would do and picked the Stewkeley walk which according to the NT leaflet and map would allow me to "Enjoy a short stroll around our estate and see how well Hinton Ampner fits into the surrounding landscape". And the showers looked like they were done for now.

Turn right through the small gate just past the church and follow the red markers. Simples.

They weren't taking any chances of you losing the path across the pasture certainly.

If the worst happened the red markers gave an emergency phone number to call and a location number so that they could come and find you.

The walk headed south from the house in an anti-clockwise loop (although if you wanted to be daring you could do it backwards, the markers work both ways).

As promised you could see how the house fitted into the surrounding landscape, especially from the top of the hill opposite (only a gentle ascent).

Where the walk emerges onto a metalled country lane you could either turn left to follow the route or right to detour to explore the village of Kilmeston. I took the short detour.

I didn't explore far but the bit of Kilmeston I saw consisted of a manor house hidden behind a high wall, a red telephone kiosk which no longer contains a payphone, a bus stop, and an 18th century church which didn't look that old from the outside, set in a neat yard with wide gravelled paths and all the gravestones re-sited to form a low wall along one side of the churchyard. And some expensive houses.

I retraced my steps and followed the way-marked route along the lane with one ear open for speeding Range Rovers as the lane is narrow with few refuge spots. As it happens the only traffic I encountered was, unsurprisingly, a solitary MAMIL.

The walking route passes through an avenue of Beech trees and then turns off left onto an estate track back to the starting point near the house and church.

There's a bluebell wood to the right of the path shortly after where it leaves the road and this is the right time of year for Bluebells. There were some other walkers here who were quite excited about it. There again I'm spoilt by having a bluebell wood outside my back garden gate ☺
And back to Hinton Ampner, exiting through the gift shop (there's no other way out) without even the merest hint of temptation to buy anything and taking the shortest and most scenic route home avoiding any major roads or motorways. I remembered the way without the use of sat-nav, not bad since it's a couple of years at least since I last drove it.

I recommend Hinton Ampner for a pleasant afternoon, at least if the weather is on your side.

Lots more photographs in this Flickr Album.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Victorian Steam Pump (A Big Machine for Shifting Sh*t)

22nd April 2019 - Easter Monday

In a corner of a park in South Tottenham, next to the River Lea, is a survivor from the era of grand nineteenth century engineering. The Markfield Beam Engine is a rotary beam engine believed to be the last engine produced by Wood Bros. of Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire. From 12th July 1888.  It saw continuous duty until around 1905, when it was relegated to standby duty for storm water pumping.

Rated at one-hundred horsepower the engine drives two pumps, of the plunger type each capable of moving two million gallons-per-day.

That's an awful lot of sewerage, to put it politely.

The engine house and engine is all that remains of the former sewerage treatment works built by the pioneering Tottenham Local Health Board in 1852 and expanded in 1888 after the original had fallen into disrepair - resulting in Tottenham once again discharging its waste into the River Lea, to the detriment of Londoners downstream.
An increasing population required increased pumping capacity. ‘New Extension Works’ were opened in 1905 including three new additional sets of steam-driven pumps in another new engine house. The 1888 engine then became a standby pump for storm water.

The engine is impressive in size - the beam 21 feet long and 17 feet above the floor, the flywheel 27 feet in diameter and weighing 17 tons.
It's big scale engineering and being Victorian it's big on decoration too. Doric columns and Acanthus leaves abound.

The rest of the works were demolished after it became redundant in 1964, the works at Edmonton having supplanted it, leaving only the 1888 engine in its house.

It was then bricked up until the 1980s when a trust took it on but didn't have the resources to restore it. 

In 2007 Haringey Council regenerated Markfield Park and restored the Grade 2 listed Engine Hall. The Trust restored the beam engine to full working order in 2008 and the Markfield Beam Engine and Museum opened.

Since the original boiler house and coal fired boiler is gone steam is now supplied by a gas-fired boiler in a new boiler house to the rear of the building.

Entry is free but they really welcome donations - every time they steam the engine cost £500. On this sunny Bank Holiday Monday (which are of course rarer than working steam pumps) it was very popular and the engine was run three times for around 40 minutes each time.

There's a very handy cafe next to the engine house too which was doing good trade with many families partaking of chips, tea, and ice cream. They do a nice cappuccino.

Photos cannot do the engine justice so here's the video I shot on the day.

More information and history on the Markfield Beam Engine & Museum web site.

After visiting the museum I took a pleasant walk south along the adjacent River Lea towpath, busy with afternoon strolling Hasidim, many sporting large shtreimels which looked like an unsuitable choice for the warm weather.

At the Lea Bridge Road I hopped onto the threatened 48 bus to London Bridge for a bit of a rest and a chance to recharge my phone which having been used to record the above footage was getting a bit low on juice. Having crossed the Thames I had an early evening pint in the Mudlark in Southwark before heading for the Jubilee and Piccadilly lines and home.

More photos as usual in this Flickr Album

Saturday, 20 April 2019

From Cruise Missiles to Cows

19th April 2019

There was a time when Greenham Common, near Newbury in Berkshire was frequently in the news. Formerly the site of RAF Greenham Common, a WW2 airfield used by the RAF and USAF but more famously the USAF Cold War base that housed the 501st Tactical Missile Wing and their nuclear warhead carrying Cruise Missiles. As a result of which it also became home from 1981 to 2000 to the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp.

The Yanks went home in 1992 and in 1993 the MOD declared the base surplus to requirements and put it up for sale. The built up area in the south of the site mostly became a business park (New Greenham Park), the rest was returned to the public, the long runway dug up and removed, and is now open space for recreation.

So I went for a walk in the Good Friday afternoon sunshine to see what was there. And to take some photos - an activity which once upon a time would have got you shot by a trigger-happy US Military Policeman.

The only building of any note remaining on the north side of the base is the Control Tower, now a heritage and community hub. There is a reasonably sized, donation funded, and easy to find car park here so that's where I started.

Walking west along the gravel path from the tower I spotted another small relic of the US occupation, an American style Fire Hydrant.

When the base was in the hands of the USAF much of the street furniture, direction signs, road markings, etc. was brought over from home. Although they didn't go as far as driving on the wrong side of the road.

About those hydrants. When you see one get hit by a car on TV or Hollywood movies they usually fall over and produce a nice plume of water. Years ago when attending a callout one night to the old American School to the north of the airbase I witnessed someone reverse quite hard into one of these hydrants. It didn't fall over. There was no plume of water. I did make a right bloody mess of the back of matey's Ford Cortina though! 😀

Crossing the airfield where once was Europe's longest runway there is now open scrub, lots of Gorse - bright yellow in the bright sunshine - and several shallow ponds, dug to provide wildlife habitats and drinking water for the cattle that now graze the common.

Apart from the odd small chunk of concrete left behind after the clear-up there's no sign of the runway.

We are assured by the authorities that there's also no radioactive contamination from the 1958 unfortunate incident which resulted in the cremation of a B47 bomber, its pilot, and the nuclear bomb it was carrying. Something that was kept under wraps until the mid 1980s.

To the south west of the airfield is the other significant relic of the US occupation. Behind a strong metal fence are a number of large, low structures that might seem familiar to fans of the Star Wars films.

This is the Ground Launched Cruise Missile Alert & Maintenance Area (GAMA)..

Six blast proof, nuke proof shelters that protected the mobile transport and launch vehicles and their crews who within minutes of the attack warning would have driven out over the local roads to secret pre-arranged launch sites ready to strike back and help send us all to hell. 

Shortly after the USAF left I had to visit Greenham Common on official business in the middle of the night. (Nothing that exciting, just a fault on a line feeding the Police radio transmitter that was on the other side of the airfield.) It was pitch black and I followed the security guard out to a darkened building. While he hunted for a light switch he remarked that only a couple of months previously we'd have needed a high security clearance to get anywhere near this place and here we were just blundering about in the dark.

I tried to work out where it was I'd been that night but to be honest it was a long time ago and it was that dark I don't know if it was at the GAMA or maybe the COMCEN over near the inverted cone shaped water tower. 

It's as well that there were no cows back then or we'd probably have blundered into them in the dark.

I never visited the airbase when it was occupied by the USAF but talking to colleagues who did the hazard back then wasn't cows but trigger-happy "Snowdrops" (US Military Police) who weren't averse to taking pot shots at vehicles that strayed into the wrong area and asking questions later. It probably didn't help that certain people delighted in "winding up the Yanks"  on occasion.

Walking back across the airfield I came across this odd metal structure. Very solid steel and set in the ground. I had no idea what it was but later found out it's the base of a weather recording station. Another small Cold War relic.

That information came from this very interesting web site, a Virtual Tour of Greenham Common which is well worth a look if you want to know more about the site.

I continued back across the airfield to the Control Tower past the much bigger ponds that have been dug out near the north perimeter fence along Bury's Bank Road, which were providing sport and cooling for several excited dogs, and a pleasant place to sit for their owners.

A map of the former RAF Greenham Common airbase (OpenStreetMap
So concluded my second visit to Greenham Common, about 25 years apart in time and experience.
It was a nice wander in the sunshine even if I wasn't being paid to be there this time and stirred up a couple of memories at the same time.

More photographs (and more cows) in this Flickr Album as usual.

Monday, 8 April 2019

Estuary Escapade

5th April 2019

Thursday evening watching John Rogers on Youtube walking down the estuary coast through Leigh-on-Sea and Southend-on-Sea and thinking I have 4 days off work, what should I do? 

30 minutes later I've booked a night in the Premier Inn in Southend and a return railway ticket to Southend East. I've only been to Southend once, years ago for work and didn't see the seafront because I was booked into a hotel at the airport, a few miles inland. So I'd never been to the world's longest pleasure pier with its railway. Time to put that right.

The Journey

To get to Southend I chose to leave London from Fenchurch Street, arguably the capital's prettiest terminus. Another first for me.

Settled on board a late morning C2C train - no trouble getting a seat - and connected to the excellent free on-board Wi-Fi without having to part with excessive amounts of personal data. Other TOCs please take note.

For the first part the journey runs out through East London, then into the undulating and mostly flat Essex countryside. Between Leigh-on-Sea and Chalkwell the line runs right alongside the water, as close as does the GWR at Dawlish, and affords interesting views across the estuary. Arrived on time at Southend East station and walked down to the coast about three quarters of a mile through Southend's suburbs.

The Pier

First distant sight of the pier. Walked along the seafront to the pier and bought a return ticket for the pier train. 

Trains run from the shore end on the hour and half past the hour so I had a 20 minute wait. I thought I was getting the whole train to myself for a while ( I was visiting outside the busy season) but soon a gaggle of young Mums with pushchairs and pre-school age offspring joined the queue (at the front naturally).

There was only one of the two trains in use today but there was plenty of room - I made sure to be in a different carriage from the Mums & pushchairs. Although once electrified, train service is currently provided by two diesel trains, running on 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge track. Each train consists of a diesel-hydraulic locomotive at the southern end, five trailer coaches and, at the northern end, a driver control unit with passenger space. One train is named Sir John Betjeman, "the Pier is Southend, Southend is the Pier" , and the other Sir William Heygate.  I assume the latter refers to the local Baronets rather than Billy Butlin but I could be wrong.

A mile and a quarter of in places spectacularly bumpy train ride later the train arrives at the far end of the pier.

On the way it passes quite a bit of repair or building activity on the pier, getting ready for the summer season.

It was a fine if breezy day with the Kent shore on the other side of the estuary visible if a bit hazy and its a good spot to watch passing ships.

At the far end of the pier is the RNLI lifeboat station, museum, and shop on the bit that kinks to the east.

Between that and the railway station is a very modern building containing a cafe, with outside seating.

Tea and cake were consumed. The outside seating area is fairly sheltered and was pleasantly warm in the sunshine.

Unusually it was not necessary to defend one's cake from marauding seagulls. I don't recall seeing a single gull anywhere on the pier, and very few in Southend itself. Very strange. There were pigeons on the pier though they are much less trouble than gulls.

There was also a flock of birds sitting on a slipway on the east side near the cafe, all facing east. It would have been easy to walk past and not notice them, as I did the first time.

Apparently they're Ruddy Turnstones and have been something of an obstacle when it comes to carrying out any building or repair work on the pier.

They don't try to steal cake though.

Most of the other pier end attractions, mainly housed in wooden huts, were closed on this early season Friday so after taking lots of photos it was time for the return train trip and then go and check into the hotel.

The Seafront

Cannot be at the seaside on a Friday evening and not get fish and chips, can you? A little online research suggested that rather than the seafront fish and chip shops better was to be had by walking back up towards Southend East station and locating Brothers Fish Bar in Woodgrange Drive. The research was correct and the results excellent.

I took them back down to the front and enjoyed them there.

The tide had gone out and with it the earlier clear skies, the setting sun heavily veiled by clouds.

I walked eastwards along the seafront to Thorpe Bay past many small craft lying stranded on the mud by the receding tide, then up the long gentle slope through the straight streets of neat bungalows and past the shops and restaurants in The Broadway to Thorpe Bay station.

Where I was feeling lazy enough to get a train the two stops back to Southend Central in search of the bright lights.

I had thought there was more of Southend seafront than there actually is - it's no Great Yarmouth to be sure - but there were bright lights, a few bright young things, some rather odd "local characters" and The Borough Hotel which appeared to be the most pub-like bar on the seafront and the one most obviously serving real ale.

Pint of Fullers ESB, reasonably priced and perfectly acceptable. At least it wasn't the ubiquitous Doom Bar.

I had another and then a wander back up to the hotel, watched the latest from All The Stations Ireland on Youtube (Premier Inn free Wifi ✅) and slept like a log. It had been a long day.


The next morning I took a train to Shoeburyness. There's quite a lot of historic defences on the coast there though as it turned out mostly not accessible to the public as they're on MOD land.

The biggest and most obvious though is the northern end of the Anti-submarine Boom that went from here to Sheerness on the Kent coast.

Originally built to protect the Thames and London from Nazi U-boats the current structure dates from the Cold War.

There's really not a lot else at Shoeburyness. As the catering van on the beach was not yet open (at 1030) I grabbed a sandwich in the local shop and headed back to the station.

More Trains

The train back to Liverpool Street (Fenchurch Street not being served at weekends) had about half a dozen passengers on it leaving Shoeburyness but was standing-room only by the time it arrived in London.

For once the trains all ran OK and Paddington to reading was on a good old HST rather than the new IET, that won't be the case for long.

I even managed to get within 100 yards of home before the rain started!

So that was an enjoyable if brief excursion to Essex and I can now say I've visited Southend properly rather than just the motel at the airport which honestly really resembled that in Crossroads 😀

As ever there are more photos from this trip in this Flickr Album 

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Stonehenge Experience

24th March 2019

Last time I went to Stonehenge you could still walk right up to the stones, so it must have been in the 1970s. I vaguely remember the old visitor centre and car park. Of course back then the A344 still passed to the north of the monument, since then it has been closed and partly obliterated, the remaining part being used for shuttle buses to ferry the less able bodied or the lazy from the new visitor centre to the stones.

The new visitor centre contains an exhibition about the site, a ticket office, toilets, and of course a gift shop and cafeteria.

Entry is by timed ticket. I got in for "free" as an English Heritage member as do National Trust members but you do need to download a timed ticket and present this at the ticket office where an entry ticket will be issued. I was a bit early but was told not to take any notice of the time on the ticket and just go in anyway via the exhibition where my ticket was examined and ticked with a marker pen. The exhibition would be worth spending some time studying if you weren't at all familiar with Stonehenge. I gave it a brief tour and then headed outside, past the replica neolithic houses, and walked up the former A344 to the monument.

On the way there is a roadside memorial to Major Alexander William Hewetson, of the 66th Battery Royal Field Artillery, who was killed in a flying accident on 17 July 1913. In the early 20th century this was a  popular area for flying (and crashing) military aircraft. By the visitor centre is another similar memorial, the Airman's Cross,  erected in memory of two pioneer airmen, Captain Eustace Loraine and Staff Sergeant Richard Wilson, who were killed in a flying accident near Stonehenge in 1912.

On arrival at the end of the access road where the shuttle buses stop my ticket was checked again and I was allowed to join the crowds around the stones. The majority of whom seemed to be busloads of European teenagers, presumably on school trips. Along with them were the obligatory Oriental tourists and the occasional New Age pagan type. What they all had in common was an obsession with taking selfies.

I had downloaded the free app and audio guide before my visit - although I had to dig out an older smartphone as the app refused to play more than 1 second of the audio on my current one - so I put my earphones in which helped cover the noise from the student horde and made my way around the site with the guided commentary. Which was actually quite clear and informative. Worth getting if you're visiting, audio guide gadgets can be rented from the visitor centre if you don't have a suitable smartphone or tablet.

The stones remain an impressive feat of engineering whatever their purpose was.

There are plenty of theories and many of them have evidence to support them. I don't propose to go not them here though.

One thing is certain though, they had bugger all to do with the Druids. Not the original ones anyway. There were one or two modern ones amongst the crowds though.

Concern for the preservation of the underlying archeology and the misbehaviour of some visitors in the 1970s means you can no longer get within touching distance of the stones unfortunately.

The closest point that the fenced path gets is to the back of the monument where many of the stones are missing, affording a better view into the interior.

It's here that the press of selfie takers is thickest. In fact some visitors don't seem to bother looking any further. Stonehenge ✅
Walking back to the visitor centre I went the quiet way, up across the chalk to the Cursus Barrows and then behind the wooded area of the Fargo Plantation.

Up here there were hardly any visitors. It was a pleasant stroll back in the sunshine with the short turf underfoot, a gentle breeze, and the sound of birdsong (and the distant A303) in the ears.

That A303 of course may not be there in future if the plans go ahead to put it in a tunnel, depriving passing travellers of a free view of the stones. It might or might not also end the long traffic jams at busy times although more likely will just move them elsewhere.

So did I enjoy my second visit to Stonehenge? Yes, up to a point. Over the last couple of years I  have driven past it many times on the way to work somewhere or other so it made a change to turn off at the Winterbourne Stoke roundabout instead. Would I have visited if I'd had to stump up the £20 rather than got in "free" as a member?
Probably not if I'm honest. As with many of our heritage sites there's a certain amount of "disneyfication" that puts me off.

Anyway, Flickr Album of photographs of the stones and surroundings here.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Dismantled railway walk, Finchley Park to Ally Pally

20th March 2019

This walk in North London, known as the Parkland Walk goes from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace Park, following (mostly) the route of the former Edgware, Highgate, & London railway from Finsbury Park to Highgate and then part of the branch line from Highgate to Alexandra Palace. The history of the line is complicated and covered in this Wikipedia Article.

The walk is now a linear nature reserve divided into two sections, total distance around three and a quarter miles (5km). This is the hilly part of North London and so the railway is sometimes on an embankment, sometimes in a cutting, and sometimes on a viaduct with some very good views over London.

This Google Map shows the route helpfully indicating where you can take in (or let out) fluids and the options for getting between the two sections. 

 The start, cross this footbridge over the railway from Finsbury Park.

As you leave it says Welcome to Finsbury Park, which is a bit odd.

If you're tall enough you can pause to watch the trains coming and going along the lines leading north from King's Cross and Moorgate.

 The path starts of looking like any other path through the trees but soon you find the first obvious sign that you're on what was the railway track, a bridge over the roadat Upper Tollington Park.

 At Stapleton Hall Road the disused railway passes over the road which passes above the Gospel Oak to Barking Overground line far below.

There is as you'd expect quite in an urban environment quite a lot of street art, or graffiti, or vandalism depending on your point of view.

Very pink though in this case.

 Where Mount View Road crosses the line, sorry, walk some maintenance seems to be ongoing to the structure of the over-bridge so you can't see it for scaffolding.

These arches in the retaining wall as you approach Crouch End Hill have been heavily decorated.

What I wonder is whether they bring ladders or abseil down from the top to reach the middle?

The 3 guys that were there at the time had plenty of paint cans but no obvious ladders.

 The most obvious railway relic on the southern part of the walk is Crouch End Station.

The platforms remain in fairly complete condition.

Only a small part of the station buildings remain, the greater part of it which was located on the road bridge having been demolished.

Beyond Crouch End Station on the right are the remains of a small brick structure, may be a line side hut which has been all but consumed by the growth of a tree.

 At Stanhope Road the railway bridge seems to be only half as wide as it should be.

Not sure if half has been removed or if the bridge that is there is a replacement just for the Parkland Walk.

Nearly at Highgate.

On the right a wildlife trail is being created featuring amongst other habitats a bug hotel, stag beetle loggery and a pond.

 At the very end of the southern section of the Parkland Walk in a rather wet cutting are the twin portals of Highgate East Tunnels.

These lead to the disused Highgate Station - the Great Northern Railway one not the Northern Line tube station nearby.

They are home to roosting bats and are not publicly accessible.

At this point you have to leave the route of the railway and walk up Archway Road past Highgate tube station and turn right onto Muswell Hill Road following the Parkland Walk North signs. There are a choice of three routes to the north section of the walk, probably the nicest being through Highgate Woods. I went that way, not least because by this point I was bursting for a piss and there are public loos in the woods. Also a cafe but it appeared to be in the process of closing for the day.

 You rejoin the Parkland Walk just east of the now demolished Cranley Gardens Station.

It was on the other side of this bridge but nothing remains now, a school having been built on the site.

What very much does still exist and is the best feature of this northern part of the walk is St. James Lane viaduct.

 From the path though it's not immediately obvious that you are on it, at least until you look right and see how far up you are.

This 17 arch viaduct provides good views to the east and south over Haringey. 

There is a clear view of the Olympic park, The Shard and The Gherkin.

And on this particular day a good view of a red helicopter circling over London.
Panorama of London from St. James Lane viaduct

 From the north end you can get see the viaduct arches, mostly housing garages.

You can also be shouted at "No consento! No consento!" by some bloke while taking the photograph and while walking away. Given the huge cloud of marijuana smoke emanating from the same location as the shout I guess he wasn't going to want to discuss the rights and wrongs of taking photos in a public place with a police officer 😜

 The end of the Parkland Walk is via this pedestrian subway into Alexandra Palace Park, past a puddle-splashng toddler, and to the thankfully still open cafe for tea and cake.

From there I walked up to the People's Palace and then down the other side of the hill to Alexandra Palace station to catch a train back into town.

 Alternatively I could have got a W3 bus back to Finsbury Park but I had more places to see. It's not a long walk but it's an easy one and has plenty of interest whether you're looking for wildlife or railway relics, or just a good view over London.

More pictures in this Flickr Album

And more pictures of Alexandra Palace in this Flickr Album