Saturday, 21 July 2018

I Remember Yew

21st July 2018

Took an afternoon stroll to see the oldest living thing around here , The Ankerwycke Yew. Standing on the opposite side of the River Thames from the popular Runnymede memorials to Magna Carta and JFK this ancient tree has been witness to centuries of history.
The Ankerwycke Yew
The tree is at least 1400 years old and could be as much as 2500 years old. That's extraordinary. It was here when Magna Carta was being "signed" across on the other bank of the Thames. Or maybe closer according to some arguments which say the signing was done on the Ankerwycke side of the river. It is also said to be the location where Henry VIII met Anne Boleyn in the 1530s. Though I'm not sure who says it, lots of things seem to get attached to the "history" of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, especially if it attracts visitors. That said Ankerwycke is much less busy than Runnymede which is just as well as the parking area, in Magna Carta Lane, Wraysbury, is very small. From there a permitted path leads through fields to the Ankerwycke Yew and the ruins of St. Mary's Priory. Today following this summer's prolonged dry spell the ground was firm, dry and dusty although on a previous visit it was quite muddy and thanks to the presence that time of a herd of cattle, not just muddy. There's a sign at the gate where the path starts but after that it's not well signposted. Keep the hedgerow to your left through two fields until you get to a broad path lined with mature trees. Turn right and follow this avenue which will take you to the yew and priory.
Under the Yew

The tree is hard to miss having a girth of 26 feet (8m) but just in case you're unsure it's the one with a semi-circle of wooden bench seats around it.

The main trunk is riven with splits and almost hollowed out and the branches hang down almost to the ground on all sides. If you stand underneath it's nicely shaded - which was welcome today with the temperature in the high twenties celsius - and the thing has... presence,  particularly if there's no one else about. Not exactly spooky but you can sort of sense the weight of history. Despite the over-flying jet airliners departing Heathrow Airport it feels rather peaceful and between the jets at least it's hard to believe that you are so close to London. Close to the yew tree are the ruins of St. Mary's Priory, small and fenced off alas but the path runs right alongside so you can see it close up. You can also just see the ruins from the other side of the river at Runnymede. 
St. Mary's Priory
On the subject of St. Mary's Priory the Source Of All Knowledge (a.k.a. Wikipedia) says:

Ankerwycke Priory was a priory of Benedictine nuns in BuckinghamshireEngland. It was established around 1160 and dissolved in 1536.

The priory is in the care of the National Trust whose website says:

These crumbling walls were once a nunnery, built during the reign of Henry II and dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene. Following the dissolution of the monasteries the priory passed into private hands, and was patched up many times over the years. During the 19th and 20th centuries much of the surviving building fell into disrepair, and today only a few overgrown walls remain.

There is a lot more information about Magna Carta and Ankerwycke on the site including evidence that Ankerwycke, then a small island belonging to the nunnery, might have been the actual site where King John and his barons met to sign Magna Carta rather than the flat marshy meadow at Runnymede where the barons were camped. 

There are more photos of the Ankerwycke Yew and St. Mary's Priory on my Flickr feed.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Behind the hoardings at Whitechapel Elizabeth Line Station

Got a sneak preview of the new Crossrail Elizabeth Line station at Whitechapel this morning. Well not so much sneak actually as Crossrail are quite keen for people to come and see what's going on as part of their "Engineering - take a closer look" Open Days programme.

Whitechapel ticket hall
The station is still very much a construction site and for the event there were plenty of barriers and plenty of staff on hand to guide visitors around and to answer questions about the station and the new railway generally.

The new ticket hall cum concourse will also form a new route north-south from Whitechapel Road for the locals.

The roof of the ticket hall is a "green roof" topped with sedum plants which gives benefits for biodiversity, conservation, and noise reduction.

The escalators are still being installed, they're in but not finished so no step-free access yet. Instead visitors had to take the 164 steps (according to the information supplied with the invitation ticket) down to platform level. I didn't count them but it did feel like it on the way back up! 

It's the equivalent of a fifteen storey building. (That's an "in joke" the explanation for which can be found here. 😉
Once at platform level visitors were able to explore and take photos and ask questions. Parts of two of the platforms were open, one a little more finished than the other, also the cross passages, and the bottom "landing" area of the three escalators.

Platform level. Light airy space with LED lighting and full-height platform edge doors.

Cross passage showing wide curved corners to ease passenger flows.

New purple roundels!

The escalators.

Slightly less finished platform.

Platform seating.
Notice showing how platform signage will be laid out.

Another cross passage. Cladding still being applied.

As I was coming out transport video blogger Geoff Marshal was going in so for a much better look at the station than I can give you I suggest you check out his Youtube Channel where the video he was making today is now online.

If you're interested in railways, Crossrail, or engineering generally check out the Crossrail Events page where you can sign up to get advance notice of events like the one today. 

They even gave away freebies 😀
Whitechapel Crossrail Oyster Wallet

Sunday, 1 July 2018


16th June 2018

I've always liked Oban. A compact town wrapped around its harbour and ferry terminal, ideal for wandering around with plenty of interest and no shortage of places to eat and drink. The West Highland Line is probably one of the best ways to get there, I driven there in the past but if you're driving you don't really get to appreciate the scenery - at least not without risk of becoming part of it. Also you can take advantage of the above mentioned places to drink :-)

Just over £30 (June 2018) gets you an off-peak return from Glasgow, in my case from Charing Cross changing at Dalmuir from the suburban service to the West Highland Line train that had come from Glasgow Queen Street. I was surprised that it was only a two coach train, quite busy but I had a seat reservation anyway.

Crianlarich station 2015 2

The West Highland Line is famous for spectacular views but it quickly became apparent that we weren't to be afforded any of them by the rain and mist that had descended on the west of Scotland that morning. The photo isn't mine but gives you an idea of what it was like except the mist was thicker.

Fortunately by the time the train reached Oban two and three-quarter hours later the weather had cleared up and though breezy there were some prolonged warm sunny periods and it stayed dry.

Oban town and harbour.
The railway station is right next to the harbour and ferry terminal where Calmac ferries leave for the Western Isles so it's a very short walk and you're right in the town centre and harbour area.

Had a wander about the town, there were a number of tall ships (sailing ships) moored in the harbour at the North Pier. The North Pier has been redeveloped since I first visited and now seems to be dominated by two modern restaurants. I seem to recall there used to be a "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" and a Model Railway exhibition at one time but not any more. There are at least some public toilets which as far as I can tell are the only ones in the town centre.

Above the town and visible from most of it is what appears to be a Roman Amphitheatre. Now we all know that the empire's "civilising" influence didn't reach this far north so what is it really?

McCaig's Tower from the harbour.
McCaig's Tower is a folly that stands on Battery Hill and is worth the steep climb from the town for the extensive views over Oban, the harbour and the Isle of Kerrera. Commisioned by wealthy philanthropist and banker (you don't get many of those) John Stuart McCaig to provide  a monument to his family and to provide work for local stonemasons. Only the outer structure was completed between 1897 and 1902 when McCaig died of a heart attack. I don't know if that was because he got the bill for the construction - £5000 (getting on for £5m today depending on how you measure it).

 Inside McCaig's Tower.
 View to Kerrera from McCaig's Tower

 Harbour entrance from McCaig's Tower

 View over Oban towards Lismore from McCaig's Tower

In spite of the stiff breeze it was warm work climbing up to the tower and back so back into town for an ice cream and a look around the shops, a pint in the Oban Inn, some excellent grilled scallops at MacGillivrays Seafood right by the harbour, and to take some more photos.

 Caledonian MacBrayne ferry coming into Oban
 Oban, along the prom.
 All the way to the Isle of Mull
 Clouds building but they passed without dropping anything on Oban.

Mine! Mine!

That's just immature.

As is the gull.

And then it was time to get the train back to Glasgow. My seat reservation was in Coach G, which was a bit odd for a two coach train but the two coaches were F and G, something to do I think with how the trains out of Glasgow divide at Crianlarich, with part of the train going to Oban and the other going to Mallaig (which is a trip I intend to do at some point in the future). The views were much better on the way back in the evening light although photo's taken through the train windows don't really do them justice.

 Loch Awe from the train.

 Loch Long from the train.
 Dalmally Station.

Tunnocks Teacake.
Traditional Scottish treat for the journey.
Washed down with Irn Bru obviously.

Back at Dalmuir Station to change trains and the setting sun lit up the adjacent tower blocks while waiting for the Scotrail suburban service for Charing Cross.

 Crescent Court bathed by the setting sun.
Suburban service at Dalmuir.

The Scotrail services in and around Glasgow were, at least while I was there, reasonably reliable, fairly frequent, and sometimes even on time.

If you're thinking of visiting Oban then I'd say do it. And let the train take the strain, as they used to say.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Sandhurst to Glasgow the long way.

14th June 2018

The best laid plans are often thwarted by the weather in the UK. In this case Storm Hector which swept across northern England and toppled trees onto the west coast main line, taking out the overhead power cables. So just after I settled on the train at London Euston they announced that it probably wouldn't be going any further than Preston and suggested that passengers should wait until tomorrow to travel - not what you want to hear when you're already part way through your journey.

What I should have done at that point was get off, walk down the road to King's Cross and get a train up the east coast which was at that point still running OK. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

But they only said probably, so by the time we get there perhaps it will be OK. Right? Wrong. The further north we went the more definite it became that the west coast line was not going to reopen. Eventually the train manager announced that we should get something to write on as he would shortly be giving us some instructions on how to get to Glasgow. The plan was from Preston go to Bolton, then to Manchester Victoria, then to York where we could pick up an east coast train to Glasgow via Edinburgh. Not a simple plan but a plan nonetheless.
Original route in red, actual journey in blue.

It would also take a bit longer, ETA was now about 20:15 rather than 16:00. 

It almost went to plan. At Manchester Victoria I was able to get a delayed Trans Pennine Express cutting out a wait there. The train manager on that suggested we change at Leeds instead of York to avoid the crush at York as east coast trains were now very crowded with everyone travelling north having to go that way. Alas he was wrong. It was physically impossible to get on the train at Leeds and even if you could it would have meant standing for 4 hours. Bugger that, wait for another train. Next one was to Dunbar, that will get me to Edinburgh. That hindsight thing again, should have stayed on the train at Leeds - it went through to Newcastle anyway! 

Slowly the train went north, with us all fighting over the seats and playing musical chairs as people got on with reserved seats. Got off at Edinburgh, 21:00 ish, nearly there, just need a train to Glasgow Queen Street. Fortunately there were plenty of those and an hour and a quarter later I was on my last train of the day, Queen St. to Charing Cross, and I was very glad to be staying in the hotel directly above the station. I was even more glad that the bar was still open!

Train to Bolton, hooray for the Pacer!

I have had better rail journeys. Thirteen and a half hours and eight different trains in all. I wouldn't want to do it often. However on this occasion the problems weren't the direct fault of the train operating companies or Network Rail, nature will do what it will. And the train staff tried their best to get us round the problem, with some success (apart from the guy who suggested changing at Leeds) and kept us up to date as best they could with the changing situation. I was also glad to have the Train Track app on my phone to get a look at upcoming trains and which platform they departed from, though it would have been even more useful if Three actually had some network coverage anywhere between Leeds and Edinburgh.

Could've been worse. Could've been stuck in a traffic jam on a motorway for hours. At least travelling by train you can find somewhere to take a leak :-)

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Along the riverbank, the Isle of Dogs

14th April 2018

The sudden unexpected reappearance of the sun 🌞 at the weekend what's more fuelled an urge to go out and explore. Camera at hand I headed for Wapping Station then turned right to walk east along Wapping High St. and Wapping Wall to find the Thames Path. 

First stop the Prospect of Whitby for a swift one. A historic pub right on the river's edge, Greene King but OK really. There's a small outside area by the river but you probably have to get there early to bag a seat. Beer was good.

Bar, Prospect of Whitby, Wapping
Thirst quenched, onward and eastward. Past the former Wapping Hydraulic Power Station and on to Shadwell Basin, built 1828-32 and although disused hasn't been filled in like some London docks and is used for leisure pursuits and is bordered by housing. The entrance from the River Thames is bridged by a bascule bridge, alas no longer operational but an impressive piece of engineering history.
Shadwell Basin bascule bridge
Following the Thames Path into the King Edward VII Memorial Park you pass a circular brick building with ornate iron grilles in the windows. This is actually a ventilation shaft for the Rotherhithe road tunnel below. Alongside it is a memorial to 16th Century English navigators who set out from this part of the Thames to "explore the northern seas".

Rotherhithe Tunnel ventilation shaft

Seafarer's Memorial
I continued on east along the Thames Path, through Limehouse, having to wait for the Narrow Street swing bridge to let a boat into Limehouse Basin and onto the Isle of Dogs. There are many modern apartment developments along this stretch of the riverbank, few of much interest but I did like this one with it's uppermost balconies reaching out to each other.

A little further on is a simple memorial plaque to the victims of the Bullivant's Wharf air raid shelter tragedy, the biggest wartime disaster on the Isle of Dogs but which I hadn't heard about previously. 40 dead and 60 injured when a public air raid shelter took a direct hit. Today our idiot Prime Minister decided to involve our country in another war 😞

Bullivant's Wharf memorial
Walking east or rather south at this point along the river you come to the old entrance, now blocked off, to Millwall Outer Dock.  Preserved here is part of the machinery that would have opened and closed the huge lock gates separating the docks from the open Thames.

Millwall Outer Dock entrance
Rounding the southern end of the Isle of Dogs past Masthouse Terrace Pier and the launching ramp for Brunel's SS Great Eastern you can see down the river to Greenwich, the masts of Cutty Sark towering over the surrounding buildings.

Greenwich distant
Nearby amongst the new apartment blocks are still some historic buildings. This was until 1986 the site of a colour factory, producing pigments and dyes. Allegedly the local bird-life would get into the factory buildings and become contaminated with the dyes: it was reputedly common to see pigeons in various unusual colours flying around the area. 

Burrell's Wharf
Further along the Thames Path diverts inland along Ferry Street, a clue to the fact that there are no bridges this far east in London and until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, no other ways to cross the river. Another reminder being the Ferry House pub.

The Ferry House
From Ferry Street the path goes behind the Poplar, Blackwall, and District Rowing Club, who seemed to be doing much carousing but no rowing today, and into Island Gardens park. Get a cuppa from the nice people in the Island Gardens Cafe and grab a riverside bench to take in the view of Greenwich across the river that inspired Canaletto

Greenwich from Island Gardens
The river traffic travels a bit faster now than in the 18th century though!

Island Gardens is the north terminal of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, a quarter mile walk under the Thames brings you out amongst the thronging tourists around the Cutty Sark, where you can catch a river boat or look back across to the relatively peaceful Isle of Dogs.

The Isle of Dogs from Greenwich 
From Greenwich it was time to take my aching feet to catch a train home. It was an interesting wander through an area with a long history which is still to be found if you look. Many more photos were taken along the way, the full set can be seen in this Flickr Album

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Brummagem part three

Day three 14th March 2018

A historic railway station and a trip to Worcester

For my third day I decided to venture out of Birmingham and catch a train to Worcester, a city with which I'm familiar but haven't visited for some years. I wanted to see if it had changed and to see some of the bits I'd not previously visited, such as the cathedral. So once again up, showered, out, breakfast (Pret), and this time down to Moor Street station. Unlike the labyrinthine New Street and the subterranean Snow Hill, Moor Street is a traditional station,  a combination of the original station, opened in 1909 by the GWR as a terminus for local trains, and a newer Moor Street station with through platforms, adjacent to the original, which opened in 1987, the two were combined into one station in 2002, when the original was reopened and restored, and the newer station rebuilt in 1930s style. It's certainly the nicest of the three.

Moor Street station

Moor Street station

Moor Street station

Moor Street station water tower
The 11:09 West Midland Railway service took a little under an hour to get to Worcester Foregate Street and is under a tenner for an off-peak return. A walk down through the city centre showed few changes, some familiar shops gone, some moved. The biggest change being the recent big redevelopment of the Cathedral Square shopping mall. Carrying on down to the bridge found the River Severn very full as usual at this time of year. So full that it had overflowed its banks in places blocking the path to the cathedral.

River Severn
River Severn in flood

Worcester Bridge
Next was the cathedral, or as its officially called ,the Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Mary the Virgin of Worcester. (No gags about finding a virgin in Worcester please.) Built between 1084 and 1504 it towers over the Severn and contains the tombs of King John of Magna Carta fame, Prince Arthur, younger brother of Henry VIII, and Stanley Baldwin, three-time UK Prime Minister. I'd never been inside before. It's big. Very big. 

Tomb of King John

Worcester Cathedral crypt

Worcester Cathedral interior

Worcester Cathedral interior & tomb of King John

Worcester Cathedral from Cathedral Square
There's little left of medieval Worcester apart from the cathedral, much having been replaced in the 1960s in what some locals refer to as "the rape of Worcester" when the council redeveloped much of the city centre. Friar Street contains quite a few ancient buildings including Greyfriars, built around 1485 and since 1966 owned by the National Trust. I'm a NT member so that was the next place to visit.


The volunteers in Greyfriars were very knowledgeable and informative and able to discuss the long history of the house and its former occupants. Part of the house is still let as a private residence - part of the agreement of its being given to the trust being that it remained in use as a home not just a museum.

Friar Street

Friar Street

Friar Street
After a day in Worcester it was time to return to the station (via Starbucks) and get the train back to Birmingham. The return train went via Worcester Shrub Hill where it stopped for a 15 minute rest, so the trip back to Moor Street was a little longer in duration.

Worcester Foregate Street station
Selfridges Building, Bullring, Birmingham
Back to the hotel for a bit then out again for food and a couple of pints in The Wellington. The beggars were out in force again in the city centre but were at least willing to accept the blatant lie "sorry mate, haven't got any change" and move on.

Day four 15th March 2018

The return home

Checked out after another comfortable night and breakfasted at Pret again, using their Wi-Fi to check the travel situation and to find out how close May and Putin were to chucking nukes about. The train from New Street was only a couple of minutes late and after the usual seat claiming dance made an uneventful journey to Reading, easily making Reading in time for the connexion to Sandhurst. Despite gathering clouds I was able to walk home from the station without getting wet.

It was an enjoyable trip all told and considering I'm writing these reports while watching the snow fall again, well timed weather wise.

I took many more photos than shown in this blog and they can be seen in this Flickr Album