Ferryland

Kingston to Shepperton

Kingston, Kingston, the years have not been kind. Such a promising start, what with all those crowning of Saxon kings, but now what have you come to? Department Stores on Thames, that’s what.

Here’s a view of the river from the station – a quarter mile away perhaps.

Here’s another shot of the water from a couple of hundred metres.

And having found the river here’s the view looking back into the town from the bridge.

Did someone lock the planning department up and throw away the key?

At least the Thames is on good form here. A long straight stretch makes it a great spot for rowing and even this early on a Saturday morning there were races in full swing.

The weather wasn’t exactly playing fair though, being that particularly trying combination of warmish but wettish. On with the cagoule to avoid the fine mistlike rain (but swelter inside), or keep cool (but get damp)?

I don’t think that these two were together; I think there was just a shortage of seats.

After a while the path began to run alongside the Hampton Court wall and a bit further on, I rounded a bend to see what looked like an elegantly dressed crowd climbing over it. Couldn’t work out what I was seeing until I got closer and realised that this was not a middle class storming of the palace but simply the way into a garden festival.

Not entirely sure why they didn’t use this gate.

And nor was the very chatty security man stationed there.

Are you here to stop people going in this way?

 No, not at all.

So why are they all walking all the way along there?

I have no idea.

Ferry boat captains offering rides between the show and the station were doing their best to entice the gardeners aboard but without success.

It seemed like fool’s errand to me at the time, what with the horticulturally minded coming from sturdy stock and all. Half a mile in the mizzle was not going to defeat these people. Then later, much later, when I found myself catching a stumbling man carrying a clematis in each hand on the Tube, it came to me – of course no one takes a ferry to the show, it’s those getting back from the show laden with leafy treasures that the ferrymen are lying in wait for.

One ferry that was rising above it all was this one, with its disconcerting One Way Only note.

They should call it the Catherine Howard experience.

At Molesey Lock there was this handy map of the Thames.

Also a lovely tea hut, a spotless public loo and a couple of friendly Thames Path walkers. Top spot, all told. The walkers were heading downstream and had walked without stopping for 12 days so far, with another two more to go. They were very enthusiastic about the path which was good to hear. We commiserated each other on the weather. I extolled the cagoule off and brave the damp approach. In return, she recommended boots off and let the feet cool down at lunchtime…

Excellent advice

… while he tried to convince the two of us of his post walk straight into the shower fully clothed trick as a means of getting both body and clothing clean at the same time. We were unconvinced.

And that was about it as far as I can recall, writing this some weeks later. The weather cheered up and on I went. Lots of boats and houseboats, riverside cabins and riverside houses. Another couple of ferries…

and a few odd things that caught my eye.

Then I was almost at Shepperton. I could have taken yet another ferry myself but wimped out and took the bridge. The waterways have got very complicated hereabouts over the years. Have a look.

C’est magnifique. Or time and space.

4. Kew to Kingston

By now it was early July. On this warm Friday afternoon there was an air of holiday time about, as I passed schools with windows open to let in the sunshine and let out the fizzing excitement of the not quite end of term day.

It was with giddy feelings of playing hooky that I’d landed up in the leafy forecourt of Kew Gardens station.  I’d caught a train from Bristol at 10, dropped my bag where I was staying, reached here and yet still people were eating lunch at the pavement tables around the station approach. Somehow it didn’t seem possible to have travelled so far in such a short time.

Kew is famous for being home to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew Palace. It is also undoubtedly famous for having the most enormous village green, across which the most difficult to cross road runs. Last time I was here was a Sunday afternoon, cricket was in full flow and I was very taken with St Anne’s offer of afternoon tea but concluded that no scone was worth risking life and limb dodging the traffic.

Also, I feared that there was some exception printed on that piece of paper stuck in the middle of the sign. Like teas every Sunday, EXCEPT TODAY.

The river, when I reached it, was tree fringed and rural looking despite being only 13 miles from Westminster.

On my side stretched Kew Gardens and on the other lay Syon Park – both one time country estates. But how to keep the riverside riff raff out while still enjoying the view? With an enormously deep haha – a ditch with a steep wall dropping down on their side so that, viewed from landowner’s side, the ground appeared to continue to the river but, seen from the waterside, the welcome mat was most definitely not out.

It’s a 3 – 4 metre drop with a ditch full of water at the bottom

Through breaks in the greenery I caught glimpses of visitors strolling in the gardens and once, disconcertingly, from nowhere came the amplified voice of a guide taking the less mobile on a motorised tour of the grounds.

From a visit to the gardens some years ago I knew that there was a place in the grounds which was amply furnished with picnic benches and an open view of the river and Syon House opposite. Luckily there was also a place in the cheap seats.

Well played, Joan.

I’d like to say that I ate my sandwich savouring the verdant loveliness and the peace and quiet. But a bench directly under the Heathrow flight path, even at the tail end of lockdown, was not as tranquil as it might look. I was mesmerised by the regularity of the planes, waiting for each to reach a certain point above the house before the engines of the next in line to land would begin to scream behind me.

At some point the palace grounds gave way to a golf course and across the water the occasional pretty vista appeared.

Then I was skirting Richmond’s Old Deer Park, the name of which should surely offer much comic potential but I could not think of anything. But what is interesting to this old dear is that in the middle of the park stands the King’s Observatory, built for George III (he of the madness of King George fame). Originally constructed so that he could observe a solar eclipse in 1769, he went on to use the place to develop theories about the passage of the sun and a universal time. And every time I read up on this it goes into my head and falls straight out again so that’s the extent of my shaky understanding. But what I can grasp is that while now the world calculates its longitude from the meridian at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, in King George’s time the meridian was here at Richmond.  So now when we talk of Greenwich Mean Time, back in the day it would have been Richmond Mean Time. Except time zones hadn’t been invented, but I’ll skirt over that one. No, I don’t know why it was moved 0.3023184’ east but I do know that until 1884 every country had its own meridian until a sensible person from each nation got together in Washington DC and they all agreed to have just the one. Time and space nailed down.

King George III’s meridian. Andrew Gough has an interesting theory on why this was the spot. See andrewgough.co.uk/articles_richmond

Anyway in a bold attempt to capitalise on something which exists only as an abstract concept, the line of the old meridian is marked out on the towpath. Not once, but twice for the river bends here and so the line is crossed twice. I hadn’t noticed the curve of the path as I walked and so my brain was completely fried on finding a second meridian line.

Richmond lock was up next – the first lock on the Thames (or the last depending on how you’re counting) closely followed by Twickenham Road Bridge with which I was swiftly besotted.

It’s the way in which this 1933 bridge incorporates all the practical necessities – railings, lighting, expansion joints etc – but does so with such striking Art Deco detailing. Naturally there was outrage when the plans were first unveiled.

Its neighbour, the 1908 Richmond Rail Bridge, is no less generous in its decorative flourishes.

Richmond was busy with waterside pubs and cafes, newly relaxed from lockdown strictures, full of people happily enjoying the afternoon sunshine, children feeding the swans and boat hirers getting their fleet ready for the season. It was all rather lovely.

The towpath wound on, sometimes amidst open ground, more often through green corridors with occasional gaps in the greenery to reveal large properties across the water and then the first of the ferries.

Ham House came and went, as did Eel Pie Island. Then Teddington began to hove into view. First a stone obelisk to mark the point at which the Port of London Authority cedes responsibility for the river to the Thames Conservancy (as was, now the Environment Agency).

A passer by saw me looking at the stone and started talking about it to me, beginning by telling me that his wife finds it all very boring. It wasn’t. Until he moved on to the birds that could be seen at certain stages of the tide downstream of here. As I had already come that way and birds are not my thing I began to see his wife’s point but anyway, a nice man and a nice chat. That’s another thing about walking alone. People come and talk to you and they usually have something interesting to say.

The stone used to mark the point at which taxes on cargoes were levied, he said.  And, I believe, the point at which the Thames is no longer tidal.

It was more of the same after Teddington but the weather was perfect and I was in the best of moods. Near Kingston, after school sailing clubs were drawing to an end and girls were larking about in the water, shrieking with laughter as they tried to swim in their life vests. I remember doing that when I was about their age.  It must be something that every generation tries and discovers how strange it is to swim when your buoyancy is so out of whack.

Kingston, as approached from the river, is more than a little unprepossessing. Not to mention Hotel California like in its lowest of low key station. I stepped off the path at the railway bridge, I followed the line into the town, I could see the track across the fence, I could see the platforms over the wire – but could I find the entrance? My first attempt took me to an elegant wood clad building bang next to the fence. Airy and spacious and generously equipped with cycle racks. Nothing to indicate where to go on the ground floor so I went up the stairs. More racks.

C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la gare. It was the bike shed.

Back in central London 45 minutes later, I left the Tube station via an M&S store entrance half way up the exit stairs. I was on my own in London for these few days, so I was looking forward to a long shower followed by a quiet evening in my room, with my maps, my book and my picnic supper. I browsed the salads, picked up a selection and headed for the till. Probably took less than five minutes.

Although Green Park is at the intersection of the Jubilee and Piccadilly lines with the Victoria line (which I’d come in on), it has only two exits, one on each side of the road. So as I left with my shopping I was practically on top of the three or four police cars that, unheard by me, had just screeched to a halt across the street, not parked so much as slammed to a stop and abandoned in haste as the traffic piled up around them. I walked away along the road as five more police vehicles came belting down the street, sirens blaring and light blazing. They had blacked out windows and incomprehensible abbreviations on the sides and carried grim faced officers. Whatever was going on at the station it wasn’t fare dodging.

But it was nothing to do with me and I was walking further and further away from any risk of involvement and so I felt ok about it. I did message those at home to say that I was nowhere near in case whatever was happening made the national news and that was that. I got to my room, made a cup of tea and had a shower. Then my daughter sent a link to a report of a stabbing on the Jubilee line at Green Park. And I felt ok about that because I was on the Victoria line, not the Jubilee line, and anyway, I reasoned, if it was a stabbing most likely the attacker and the victim had some connection so I would have been safe even if I had been on that train, wouldn’t I? How swiftly I othered these two to reassure myself of my invincibility.

And that was that until I read this in the paper a few days later.

The Guardian. Monday 12 July 2021

Did I still feel ok about it? Yes and no. No, because some poor man just going about his ordinary life ended up horribly injured, physically and emotionally scarred for the rest of his days, through no fault of his own. No, of course I don’t feel ok about that.  But as it affected me, then yes, I got back on the Tube next morning without a second thought.

I was close, but not that close. I was not on that train. I never would have been. Were I, then maybe my luck would have been bad. But then maybe my luck would have been good.

And that’s all there ever is.

Rowing and rowing.

3. Putney to Kew: in which nothing very much happens, apart from a homograph.

After last time’s arid stretches, this next section of the Thames Path could not have been leafier, but first there was a fascinating old indicator board on the platform at Vauxhall’s Tube station, and then this intriguing backwater bookshop, already open at 9 on a Sunday morning.

Over the bridge and down on to the river path, not difficult to find this time. Even at this hour there was already an eight out on the river. Interesting to see some life on the river, I thought, wonder if I’ll see any more boats? I’d only walked into rowing central, hadn’t I? I was in the midst of a long line of boathouses, trailers, rowing paraphernalia, and crews arriving to mill around.

There were lots of rowers milling about, I promise you. It’s just that I don’t like sticking my lens in people’s faces so I waited until they were out of the way.

I don’t remember when last I saw Oxford and Cambridge’s finest battle it out in the University Boat Race but it really should have clicked that Putney is the finish line. Hence an enormous linear slip way – if that is the term – with the emphasis on slip by the look of the wet mud that covered it. (The start is at Mortlake I discovered later. The Harrods Depository is the only thing I could remember about the route.)

The Thames is very definitely still tidal here and signs on parking bays warn of the risk of flooding. Another sign proclaims that the Port of London has jurisdiction over these waters but unlike previously when it was fishing and loitering that they had in their sights, here they ban water skiing. Must be a different class of transgressor in these parts.

Not much further on and the Victorian villas fell away leaving me skirting what is now the London Wetland Centre, created from the site of four disused reservoirs back in 2000.

I’m sure it’s carefully managed by the WWT but it feels as though nature has reclaimed the space, making the towpath a lovely green space, peaceful yet busy with walkers, runners and cyclists enjoying their Sunday mornings. Very relaxing, very uneventful until the Harrods Furniture Depository took me by surprise.

Harrods Furniture Depository – fancy name for a stockroom for unsold tables and chairs – still a landmark even if now redeveloped into a residential complex.

Hammersmith Bridge was just around the bend, a delicately elegant suspension bridge.

A bit too delicate it turns out.

Yet again it’s closed to both vehicular and foot traffic due to cracks in alarming places. (Three IRA attacks over the years won’t have helped.) I did read that river traffic beneath the bridge is also proscribed at the moment but I looked in vain for a bale of straw. Something has to be done to fix this rather lovely structure but it’s hard to envisage how given the need for major repairs.

Another green walkway with signs of a recent high tide, the not yet dried traces of puddles. Here the path was more of a leafy corridor with occasional windows onto the Thames

According to the map, just to my left was another disused reservoir but all I could see was scrubby woodland. These photos make the trail look pretty empty and I did question whether I should be anxious being there alone. I certainly didn’t feel so as there were actually a lot of people out and about. To be honest there rather too many of them and they were too regularly spaced when it came to the prospect of taking to the greenery for a comfort stop. When it comes to conveniences Never pass one by has now become my motto.

A bit further and Barnes began to make its presence felt. On the outskirts was this bench, a little forlorn.

David Sharp was the planner and instigator of the Thames Path and much else besides (for a very full obituary of David, see https://campaignerkate.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/david-sharp-father-of-the-thames/)

Then just before Barnes railway bridge there’s a pretty Georgian terrace.

Anneka Rice apparently lives in one of these houses and in a Ramblings episode, she and Clare Balding take to the path. Have a listen – they bring it to life much more eloquently than I can. (BBC Radio 4 – Ramblings, Anneka Rice on the Thames Path in London )

Chiswick Bridge in the distance with the tall Mortlake brewery building on the left.

Around about here signs on lamp posts and in windows began to appear protesting plans to convert Mortlake Brewery into flats. By the time I’d picked my way along a muddy stretch and walked another mile I had completely forgotten about these though and so I was perplexed by the derelict buildings that lined the path for what seemed an awfully long way.

A third green corridor and I was getting ever so slightly tired of them.

Because I am nothing if not picky.

Approaching Kew and the end of this walk I contemplated the stonework on the railway bridge (such detailing on such a utilitarian structure).

I mean, just look at the carvings even in that little tunnel which seems to serve only as a place for flood water to go.

From the river I heard two unseen voices raised in anger. I didn’t catch it all but one rower had upset another and he wasn’t about to apologise. A rowing row. Or a rowing row? Homograph heaven.

Is this wise?

2. Vauxhall to Putney Bridge: a bit of a rant.

On my first day of properly walking the Thames Trail, I was at Vauxhall Bridge early, ready for the off. I didn’t want to look too outdoorsy in the middle of Central London and I thought I’d nailed it with my outfit until I caught sight of my reflection at the Tube station. Masked up as required, I looked less flaneuse and more gentlewoman bank robber.  The dark glasses didn’t help. Still at least I had competently packed my bag. Apples, twice as many as I could eat in a day. A large cagoule, three maps and a guidebook, none of which I needed. And no sun cream, which I did. Plus a candle for a birthday cake. With nine holders.

No idea. Absolutely no idea. Carried them 30 miles before I found them.

I had, I realised, forgotten how to walk.

I set off with another look at MI6 and a bit of wondering about how anyone could ever find their way about in there given what appears to be the odd structure of the place.

Then I realised that I couldn’t actually find the river. I was standing on a bridge approach so I had to be warm but I couldn’t see how to get to it. I dived into a modern residential development, all multi level flats and small neat squares of gardens. Fenced gardens. Gardens which separated me from where I could see people cycling and jogging along the riverside. Not a good start. Nothing for it but to go back to MI6 and begin again. This time I waited until a swingy pony tail type ran past. I followed her and yes, there were the steps and there was the path. Ingenious. Surprised I didn’t get a call from the people over the road.

Plain sailing from here on, I thought. Keep the river on the right and straight on until Putney. 

After 100m the riverside way was barred and the trail diverted back through the flats to the main road. It was to happen over and over again. This stretch of the path passes through areas in transition;

the redevelopment of Nine Elms – look at the vehicles on the road to get an idea of the height of the buildings,
the construction of a mighty cross London super sewer, (great that they honoured women in this way but did they have to do it with boring machines?),
and the transformation of the former Battersea Power Station. How does anyone know what is going on here?

I got heartily sick of all the enormous residential developments, way out of human scale and devoid of signs of life, overlooking a river on which nothing was moving on this Saturday morning, and with a view across to more of the same on the other bank.

The developers of twenty or thirty years ago provided small – very small – public spaces, sculptures, and benches for passers by to appreciate, but today’s developers seemed intent upon designing out the person altogether. Or the person who hasn’t paid for the space, at least. Yes, I know that there can be major issues with antisocial behaviour but this privatisation of space was way beyond what is needed to mitigate that.

And the quality of the build is questionable too. Another diversion took the path away from the river as a newish development was undergoing what was signposted as facade remediation.

They’re either falling down or the cladding is unsafe.

I was not enjoying this walk. You’ve probably got that. I was getting crosser and crosser.

But if it was the inhumanity of the increasing scale of the cityscape which irked, it was the smaller signs of people living their lives which cheered. There was Battersea Park – quiet and beautifully maintained with manicured rose gardens interspersed with wilder woodland, sports pitches with boating lakes, expanses of grass to kick a ball about with traffic free roads to learn to ride a bike, and cafes with (hallelujah) loos.

Wandsworth Park was another delight, as was St Mary’s, Battersea, where a profits to charity coffee van outside the Church door and a few benches in the Churchyard provided a perfect spot for lunch.

Boat dwellers moored on the tidal reaches created their own ad hoc riverscape

and just occasionally a resident on dry land made their mark amidst the uniformity.

I had a long conversation with a lovely man leaning over his garden wall – how he’d come to be living there, how he’d met his partner, how they’d only moved in back in December, how he’d started his working life taking hundreds and hundreds of cuttings at a specialist shrub nursery in Shropshire and how excited he was about his plans for the garden which – he told me with can’t quite believe how lucky I am glee – was a whopping 200 sq m. We agreed that it was the most phenomenal stroke of luck, not to mention inexplicable, that the developers had chosen to leave this little patch of land free. Then he turned to ask me about my walk. Where does the Thames go?   Are you doing it for charity? Then Why are you doing it then? Tricky. Ask me when I’m done.

So today was a stretch to be ticked off rather than a great walk. What I do remember now is how, despite the almost total erasure of this part of London’s past and its replacement with the ersatz and the short term and the out of scale, the odd remnant that is particular to the city survives. The sign on Albert Bridge may look twee,

but the platform at Putney Bridge station has great charm.

The arcane bale of straw law had me fascinated. Yes, I know it’s nerdy to the point of tedium but I’ll be looking out for it for ever more.

See the bale of straw? According to a contractor’s notice Ancient laws about bridges and bales of straw are enforced for the next few months as repair works are carried out on Wandsworth Bridge. A navigation law requires that any bridge over the River Thames that is open to river traffic but has its clearance reduced must hang a bundle of straw from the bridge as a warning to boats… Whatever the origins of the law, it’s still in effect, and it is enforced.

And I’ll just shoehorn Battersea Dogs’ Home in here. It’s a workaday modern building constructed around a courtyard in which stands the cattery. But what a cattery…

Cats always find the best billets.

Much water, many bridges.

  1. London Bridge to Vauxhall: it’s been a while.

Lockdown, not lockdown, lockdown again, not lockdown again.

And then one day I was in the V&A Museum gift shop in front of this – a replica of an 1889 map of the River Thames.

The Oarsman’s and Angler’s Map of the River Thames from its source to London Bridge. 1889. James Reynolds & Sons.

A light bulb moment. Why not walk the Thames?

Which way? Upstream or downstream? Easy. London is endlessly fascinating and exciting, but I – a fully paid up provincial – also find it tiring, noisy and dirty. Starting in the city and walking my way out of it had to be the answer. And where to begin? The official trail has several starts, earlier and later points, subsequent extensions and the like, but I liked the simplicity of setting out from London Bridge. It’s where the old map begins, and there’s the Shard on the doorstep as a landmark against which I could measure my progress for the first few miles.

The Shard. Quite tall.

I am going to need all the encouragement I can find. Despite dog walks, my strength and stamina has dwindled away to the point where even five miles seems like an arduous trek.

A couple of weeks later I was back in London, ready for the off. I’d planned three days of walking with a museum visit booked for the afternoon I arrived. Not going to name the place as I was underwhelmed by it but it had achieved its purpose in preventing an old church being demolished. Just look at the glorious stained glass that would have been lost if that had happened. So maybe one and a half cheers.

Stained glass and maps – could there be a more perfect combination?

The directions advised taking the Tube to Vauxhall and walking from there. Turns out that Vauxhall is on the river (country mouse, like I said) and Lambeth is a mile or so downstream. I was going to inadvertently start the walk before I meant to. Add on a few more miles after the museum to get me to London Bridge and I’d be doing the whole first stretch backwards.

Might as well.

So I emerged into the daylight at Vauxhall, skirted the MI6 building and then was soon onto a long settled waterside walk with the Houses of Parliament coming into view across the river and the splendid former London Fire Brigade HQ building on my side.

Glorious friezes on the 1930s LFB building. It’s mermen fighting the fire in the bottom plaque. No, me neither.
Plus a few more prosaic illustrations for those who prefer firefighters in trousers.

Next up, the International Maritime Organisation – no slouches themselves when it comes to architectural adornments.

Would have loved to have known what that design brief was – We’re thinking that something a little bit decorative on the front would be nice – maybe a ship or something?

Then it was the museum and the very nice woman on the desk suggested I begin my visit with a trip up the tower for the view. (Look, they were lovely people, ok? It’s just that the permanent exhibition I found a bit thin. And the temporary display on the life and work of a big name showed her to have been a not particularly likeable person. In my reading of her life story. As presented.)

Anyway, the view from the top was indeed worth the climb. Make that two and a half cheers for the Museum.

Lambeth Palace just below, Palace of Westminster across the water.

Heading onwards, on a quiet patch of grass between the path and the road I came upon this unexpected monument to the quiet heroism of the SOE.

That these acts of courage took place years before I was born in no way reduces their extraordinarily selfless sacrifice but there is an element of tidiness in this commemoration. We know how the story ended.

But when it came to the next memorial, an unofficial ephemeral one painted on a wall opposite Westminster, my reaction was more visceral.

The only element of tidiness here is that all refer to the same two years. And we don’t know how the story ends. 

Have a look at Wall of love: the incredible story behind the national Covid memorial | Coronavirus | The Guardian and National Covid Memorial Wall – Wikipedia

The stretch of river bank from Westminster Bridge to Southwark is not my favourite. I think of it as crass and busy and grubby and somehow smelling sickly sweet. But today it was good to see people out on an early summer evening, watching the street performers,

going out and meeting up and living what we remember as a normal life.

I paused to take a photo of the river.

It’s a beautiful view, isn’t it? remarked a young woman passing by

It certainly is.

‘Let us now praise famous men’*. And a woman who is not a bit well known.

(* an earworm ever since I was drilled to sing the anthem in my girls’ school assembly.)

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Hebden Bridge

Mid June and it should have been a heat wave. When I booked the weekend in West Yorkshire’s Calder Valley, I had visions of striding out, slathered in sun cream, Panama at a jaunty angle. Along the Rochdale Canal I would go from our towpath cottage in Hebden Bridge, west to Todmorden one day, east to Sowerby Bridge the next, and then return to spend the balmy evenings outside enjoying a bottle of wine as the world floated by. Well, that didn’t happen. Too rainy the first day so instead it was off to the Todmorden Agricultural Show for T and me, picking our way across the soggy fields. And the long hot evenings? We battened down the hatches and switched on the heating. All very enjoyable, of course, but not what we had anticipated.

Next day there appeared to be a window in the downpour forecast so, encouraged by Yorkshire born and bred T, I decided to stop being a Southern sissy and step out.

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Black Pit aqueduct, where the Rochdale Canal crosses the River Calder. On Boxing Day 2015, the town was flooded when torrential rains caused the river waters to sweep down through the streets. The water level in the Calder at this point shown here was so high that it engulfed the canal.

I got 200m and it began to rain.

But enough of the moaning. Hebden Bridge is a really, really interesting place. There’s definitely a dissertation to be written there. It was known as Trouser Town back in the day being a centre for the production of corduroy, Nowadays it is better known as the lesbian capital of the UK if this rather dusty piece in the Guardian is to be believed (https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2001/jul/29/theobserver.uknews2) (and look, someone’s already done the dissertation). Whatever. It’s post industrial, but prosperous, packed with creative types, independent shops and artsy crafty endeavours. Strung out along the River Calder and the canal, it sits at the meeting of two steep river valleys and is an attractive town in all senses.

We’d had a look at Todmorden the previous day when we’d changed buses on our way to the Show so Sowerby Bridge, on the outskirts of Halifax, was in my sights today. T had a bit of work to do so he decided to hop on a train and meet me at the other end. Yorkshire (North, South and West Yorkshire – all of them) is a bit of a foreign field to me so I was keen to see what it was like. The hills, the drystone walls, the building stone all looked different, the accents and the place names sounded different. I mean, I have no idea how to pronounce some of them – Mytholmroyd I didn’t attempt, Sowerby I was shaky on after my inept inflections over Todmorden. These sites were named by speakers of another tongue, not the Brythonic Celtic types that hold sway along the coastlines of Wales and the far South West. 

I’d read that settlements along the Upper Calder Valley sprang up with the mechanisation of the textile industry in the early 1800s and the completion in 1804 of the Rochdale Canal (the major commercial link between Manchester and Leeds until the railway in 1841), so I was expecting urban and signs of manufacturing. But as the UK textile industry today is a shadow of its former self, I anticipated that, with production having left the valley (the country even), then I would find only remnants of the industrial heartland of the past. Unsurprisingly, many of the old mill buildings in Hebden Bridge have been converted into housing, studios and workshops but would I find this repurposing all the way along the canal?

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A mix of new, old, and converted residential units

Or would I find dereliction of the Turn Off The Lights, Close The Door, And Let The Roof Fall In variety? Well, no, not so much.

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This building has been firmly mothballed but with an attempt to make the place look still occupied. There’s clearly been a dispute over whether imitation mock Georgian glazing bars would look better than a more modern style

Some old sites have been purposefully razed, while elsewhere new industrial units are sidling up to the water’s edge. Others are reincarnated as bases for newer commercial enterprises, some more unexpected than others. If you’re wondering where the 89a to Blackheath has got to…

What can I tell you about this stretch of canal? It was a very pleasant walk.IMG_4714 (2) There were a couple of locks, a tunnel, a few villages along the way, and some tiptop waterside gardens. And more commemorations of local worthies than I had expected. There was Ted Hughes at Mytholdroyd, his birthplace; there was Bramwell Bronte at Sowerby Bridge station, where he’d worked for five months; and there was Edward Kilner with his eponymous lock,

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Kilner’s Lock – not named for the man behind the jars but for a lawyer associated with the canal.

The fragrant Lady This or Mrs John That may have graciously tapped a commemorative trowel on a foundation stone a century ago, but Miss Ainsworth made me stop in my tracks.IMG_4742 (2) It’s not often a woman in her own right is commemorated on a plaque. 

Approaching Sowerby Bridge and just as I was trying to get a look at this place, IMG_4752 (2)squinting at what I thought was one of those Why Not Take On The Lease Of This Pub? banners that hang hopefully from the peeling woodwork of some forlorn inn, and wondering who on earth would ever go there for a drink there was a voice behind me. They’re doing a good job there, aren’t they? It’s looking really nice, isn’t it? Er no. A brisk woman fully kitted out for a long hike, lipstick exactly matching her fuchsia fleece (kudos for the attention to detail), had caught me up. Turns out the place is being renovated by a charity working to give homeless people in the town the construction skills to find work and move off the streets. So yes, they are doing a good job there actually. But I still don’t know who on earth would ever go there for a drink.

Sowerby Bridge is no Hebden Bridge. Sunday morning may not have been the time to see it at its best, but it remains more as it was than as it could be.

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Cobbled streets in Sowerby Bridge

But when we got down through the town and up the other side to the station (I’d met up with T by now) it all began to get a bit Richard Curtis, a bit stereotypical soft focus, rosy glow, old time Yorkshire.  First, there was the former station café, now an independent enterprise, offering a long list of refreshments to early morning commutersIMG_4772 (2) and later in the day a vast range of ales, whiskeys and gins – and coffee too – amidst a huge collection of railway memorabilia which cleverly hit the entertaining note rather than the specialist enthusiast one (www.jubileerefreshmentrooms.co.uk).

If I were a regular on the Leeds to Manchester line I think I’d be planning to hop off for quick one on the way home.

Then after a leisurely coffee (yes, it came with a Nice biscuit – when did I last have one of them?) and a quick train ride we were back in Hebden Bridge, in a main line station which appears not to have noticed the passing of the last 50 years. IMG_4774 (2)

And then, as we left the platform the sound of a brass band drifted towards us. Now we knew that there was to be a band competition that afternoon (it was billed as the Hebden Bridge Band March and Hymn Tune Contest) but hadn’t expected to come across bands limbering up in the town park. IMG_4777 (2)But there they were and there were more of them gathering in the centre of town ready to march down the street,

arrange themselves around a sculpture in a giant knitted condom and then to play their hymn and reprise their march tune.

12 bands were competing in all, 11 local and one from Canada (no idea) so it was quite a crowd. As the by now hot and sunny afternoon wore on and thirsts were addressed, the atmosphere shifted from pre performance nervous anticipation to post march relief. Ties were loosened, jackets were removed and instruments were scattered about.

A grand day out. Yorkshire? What’s not to like?

To the lighthouse. Again.

IMG_3760 (3)Back to Cornwall for a few more days of coast path, beginning where I began last time, a year or so ago (https://wordpress.com/post/womanwalkingblog.wordpress.com/6377).IMG_3745 (2)Godrevy Point at the far end of Gwithian Sands was the spot but this time, instead of taking the Age Concern minibus to the start I had my own driver in the form of T who agreed to drop me off and meet me 7 miles later with such alacrity that I knew that a clandestine Full English had to figure in his plans somewhere. We actually reached the National Trust car park at practically the crack of dawn as we were both on city time when it came to waking up. But still the car park was hosting a good few surfers’ cars and vans.

Off I went in one direction and off went my husband in another.

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I seem to have taken a great many And So We Say Goodbye shots of Godrevy lighthouse. I like this one best.

The National Trust own and manage the coast land here and, in that much of their work was imperceptible to me, and in that I very much appreciated their re routing of the path to allow for recent cliff falls, I did find some of their signage (and that of other charities) a little intrusive.

But it is a difficult balance to achieve and I have nothing against seals.

I thought I’d heard of excellent carrot cake being found on sale at the café hereabouts and I do love a piece of carrot cake. I hadn’t checked my sources too closely and so the first place I had my eye on turned out to be public toilets. Disappointing. In the fullness of time, at about the moment I walked off the edge of my very first OS map and onto the second (woohoo), I arrived at the café at Hell’s Mouth – the very place – but so early that it was yet to open and, to be honest, it was too early for cake, even for me. Still, I passed by with some regret but later, on rereading Jude’s post, I realised it may not have been so bad after all. (https://cornwallincolours.wordpress.com/2018/08/29/hells-mouth/).

I walked on as the way, although high up on the cliff,  ran flat and close to the road for several miles. Car parks popped up from time to time. It was turning into the least interesting section so far and I was growing rather fed up. It did give me time to reflect on my new walking/trail shoes and award them 9 out of 10.

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Ugly  brutes, aren’t they?

Still not 100% right. The quest continues.

Lovely array of wildflowers along the way though – bluebells, primroses, violets, red campion and a whole load of nameless others.

Just as my inner moaner was starting on the Are We Nearly There Yet? whining, the path dropped away, right from the top of the cliff to a few metres above the beach.

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Didn’t see that coming.

A steep down followed by a steep up. That’ll teach me to get bored. Just time to catch my breath at the top and WHAT? Here we go again, all the way down and all the way up again. A double dip. Not sporting. Not sporting at all.

Then it was around the headland and into Portreath, my morning’s destination. I have to admit that I found the place a little odd. Its raison d’etre was as a port used to export tin and copper from the local mines across to South Wales for processing and to import Welsh coal to power the mine machinery. As I saw a bit more I came to admire its plucky ingenuity. IMG_3809 (2)I mean, would you build a harbour here on this wide expanse of gently sloping sands?

At one side of the beach walls were constructed to create the narrowest of channels to form the harbour. The skill that must have been required to navigate that unfeasibly tight passage is extraordinary.IMG_4042 (2)

The village itself is rather unusual. Although equipped with the requisite golden sands (and some truly ugly, crassly overdeveloped properties), just behind the beach front car park is an estate of 1970s housing where the old maps show were once coal yards. IMG_4040 (2)Throw in several derelict bungalows around which property developers must be circling, a couple of not very enticing pubs, a beach café reeking of chip fat

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Farm fresh premium pre-fried chilled chips? 

and a (much nicer) cycle café where we drank coffee amidst the frames and the inner tubes and it was all a bit of a mishmash.

I couldn’t wait to leave.

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But what’s that giant golfball up on the hill above the village?

That’s for the next walk

Back on track

Here we are again approaching Sea Mills station, my current second favourite railway station, much loved by me for its quiet, single track sleepiness and its pleasantly unexceptional suburban setting. But most of all for THIS.IMG_0814 (2) River – blah, fields – blah, mud – blah. Yes, yes, but look, there’s a boat mired where the Trym meets the Avon. Now if I were to hop aboard, let the tide rise and then cast off, I could drift downstream to where the Avon joins the Severn and then sail away down the Bristol Channel, into the Celtic Sea and on to the North Atlantic Ocean, deciding on a whim to turn left for Cape Town, straight on for Rio, or maybe I’d keep right for New York.

Obviously this would be insane because a) I don’t know how to sail, b) that’s not a sailing boat, and c) I don’t like getting wet. But it doesn’t stop my heart lifting at the sight.

So there we were for another outing for what I persist in calling the embryonic walking group (with some justification, I contend, seeing as this is only our second meet this year). As it was such a long time since our last outing in April we had rather forgotten where we had got to on our circumnavigation of Bristol, but all agreed that an exception could be made and a path traced along the banks of the Avon instead. We set off along the unexpectedly bucolic stretch set between the river, the railway and the last hurrahs of the A4, a remarkably peaceful spot given all that is going on around it.IMG_0824 (3) After a mile or so of loveliness the bank narrows and the path ends. Nothing for it but to climb back up to the main road and to the traffic for a mile of grot. IMG_0878 (3).JPG Eventually the Suspension Bridge came into view, making all things better, and after rather a lot more mud, we left the Avon and headed for the Floating Harbour (which is basically a giant pound with lock gates at either end to keep the water at a constant level). There’s always loads to see on the Harbourside, whether it’s a view across the waterIMG_0901 (2)

or one of Bristol’s sons in a festive landscape.IMG_0908 (2)

And can you spot Morph in this unintentionally tricksy shot through Aardman’s window?IMG_0915 (2).JPGHeading for Temple Meads station and the train back to the start, we left the water’s edge as L, whose office had once been based in these parts, took us off piste down narrow cobbled streets.IMG_0927 (2) We hadn’t intended to stop at St Mary Redcliffe Church though it is undoubtedly a fine and ancient building (Elizabeth I called it the fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church in England. So there. Mind you, she probably said that a lot). However, the prospect of Treefest, a forest of decorated Christmas trees, did call for a detour. There were some beauties,IMG_0944 (2) there were some cannily placed,

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The WI take the festive spot next to St Nicholas

there were some ingeniously inventive offerings,

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Just don’t sneeze anywhere near here.

there were some horrors (I’ll spare you), and there were many from those supporting the suffering.IMG_0950 (2).JPG There were some that made me laugh,

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Handcuffs as tree decorations?

and then there was the one from Asda.

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Would it have killed you to have found a few more lights, Asda?

And finally, at a bakery tucked into a railway arch beneath the station there was coffee and cake. Splendid.

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Never board a train without picking up a coffee and a little something from Harts Bakery (http://www.hartsbakery.co.uk/)

Changing places

The other day the excellent Annie, who writes amusingly, movingly, and thought provokingly at nohatnogloves.wordpress.com, asked if I’d like to chip in with my thoughts on a matter that is currently exercising her.

Well, of course I would, and might she consider returning the shot with a few words of her own? Good grief, she was back within the hour with this splendid piece – a great read. So, in a first for this blog, we’re going for simultaneous publication. I’m over at https://nohatnogloves.wordpress.com/ and she’s got the floor here.

Over to Annie…

Walking: it’s the way forward

When it comes to walking, it must be said that I am a fan.  It was not always so and, when a teenager, I didn’t care for it at all.  I had a very brief stage of trying to walk barefoot – it was 1973, I was a mere child of nature – but found that was extremely unwise.  Litter, broken glass and dog poo was everywhere and, to be frank, I looked like a fool.  Long hair, long skirt, bare feet and a limp.  Very cool.  I rather liked being driven about at the time.  My father, on the other hand, took a view of walking that came into conflict with my own leisurely style.  I used to go to work for him in the summer holidays and we would travel up to London on the early train and then cross the City post-haste, Dad always setting a pace that made me irritable and laggard.  Waving his rolled-up newspaper, he would stride ahead, constantly telling me to get a move on.  But I was wearing platforms.  I might as well have tried staggering with bricks on my feet.

Pooter

Image from The Diary of a Nobody  on Pinterest. Annie claims Mr Pooter as her stylist

Things did change, especially when I left home and went to live in London.  I would spend days on end walking, walking, walking around the City, crossing the river and back again, getting myself happily lost.  After a while, it became the most sensible way to get somewhere quickly, picking up short cuts and back-doubles, hurrying round slowcoaches and dodging the traffic.  I regularly walked about six miles a day to work and back in the early 80s, sometimes in very inadvisable footwear.  With my friend Carol, I would regularly stagger home in the small hours, teetering on heels and stopping off at the takeaway for chips.  Wonderful way to prevent a hangover and cheaper than a taxi. Back then, wearing special walking shoes was a mystery but my feet never seemed to suffer.  I enjoyed the peace and the opportunity to enjoy my thoughts, often dreaming the miles away as I pounded up and down Wood Lane and under the Westway, heading for work by Wormwood Scrubs.

By the time I had moved to the village where I now live, walking had another very useful purpose.  In the early 90s I suffered from depression – started quite mildly after my son was born, got worse when my dad died, exploded a couple of years later – and walking was a real boon.  I joined up with some friends after we had dropped off our children at the school doors and we strode up hill, down dale (literally, this is Yorkshire), chatting and sharing the joys and otherwise of our lives.  It was very helpful indeed and I began to feel that I could find a way out of this downbeat way of life; thankfully, I was right.  I still walk to loosen up my mind or stave off feelings of anxiety because I know that the moment I turn out into the street, things will start to look and feel different, lighter.

I don’t mind walking in bad weather or fine as long as I have the proper footwear (no more platforms) and the right outerwear (the misery of being cold and wet) and I am happy walking city streets or slogging up hills.  Deserts, mountains, valleys, concrete and tarmac – walked them all.  As I have vertigo I may well get wobbly in certain situations – coming down, not going up is the dangerous bit – and when that happens I transfer to my bottom and a fine array of swearing.  It helps.  Sometimes it startles people.

Some years ago, my friend Astra and I decided to do the Moonwalk night-time walking marathon.  We trained with real intent and bowled up at Battersea Park on a splendid May evening with a golden setting sun.  It was brilliant, if agonizing by 5am.  We laughed ourselves stupid when trying to wee behind tiny bushes and thoroughly enjoyed the reactions of drunken Londoners when they encountered the mass of bra-wearing women who seemed to have taken over the streets.  As dawn broke over West London, we urged each other onward; by the time we got to Kensington Gardens all we could think of was the pain in our backs.  Almost too weary to cheer, we walked together through the gates of the park again and literally staggered into a taxi.  God knows how we got out.  Think Pats and Eddie in Ab Fab.  Pretty close.  We did the Moonwalk a few more times so it just goes to prove that you can forget pain quite quickly, like childbirth.

I do enjoy walking with friends but am mostly happy when walking alone, thoughts running free, setting my own pace and getting somewhere, even if that is just to the local Aldi for a bottle of milk.  There is no technique to what I do and no scheme of improvement, rarely a swinging of arms.  I have seen what happens when you stop moving about and it isn’t appealing.  As the years go by I will probably slow down a bit, maybe even resort to using a stick.  Do I have plans for more walks?  Yes, certainly.  I should like to do at least a part of the pilgrim route of Santiago de Compostela and, closer to home, the Pilgrims Way across the Downs.  Not all in one go, but in stages, stopping off to admire things along the way and having a good lunch.

Things connected to walking that I love:

Stout shoes, fine socks

A snack in the pocket

Never worrying about how I look (not confined to walking)

Getting in a hot bath afterwards or a cold shower, depending on weather

Thinking without pressure

The wonderful film The Way

 

It really isn’t the destination, it is truly the journey.

 

Pembrokeshire again

Since I was 7, Pembrokeshire has been something of a constant in my life. Many years have passed since that first trip to Abercastell jammed in to the back seat of the family car, wedged in alongside my brother, my grandmother and my great grandmother (cue a throwing up of hands at the old ways). But still I return. Sometimes I’ve visited every year, sometimes a decade has vanished between visits, but still the place keeps calling me back. (I have no idea why this thing with the font keeps happening – apologies).

Strangely, in what appears at first to be a constant landscape, this place  – Abereiddi – is much changed. From a cow filled, green space leading down to the sea, where days were passed with picnics and playing in the gritty grey sand it evolved into a more organised, sea defended, car park complete with ice cream van which sagely sold hot tea alongside the choc ices, before it drifted towards its current incarnation, sea defences no longer maintained, foreshore denuded of green but instead furnished with a perky woman demanding a large sum to park for the day and gesturing at a cabin offering all manner of fun by the hour  –  mountain bikes, canoes, surfboards, paddle boats and the like,  available to rent.IMG_6498 (2)

This is not how I remember Abereiddi.

Instead I think of the time thirteen thirtysomething friends and friends of friends rented  a couple of those cottages to see in the new year, a year which, though we saw it in together, we saw it out in very different places. New jobs, new partners, new continents even.  And for us – T and me – the next new year’s eve saw us joyfully preoccupied with our first born (whose wedding has had me joyfully preoccupied again these past months).

But it was our second born, E, who was my walking companion this time. It’s been more than a decade since he was last over here so, as we had taken a cottage for a few days and as he had a few days off work, he decided to join me to walk our regular walk once more  (because while Abereiddi doesn’t have a lot to see, over the hill is a much more lovely beach inaccessible by any closer road).

Rather than take the short cut over the headland we decided to go for the full works and diverted off to see the Blue Lagoon. Now this may sound exotic but I must point out that this spot is neither blue, nor a lagoon. It is in fact an old slate quarry, with a sea entrance which was blasted through to flood the pit once extraction ended in the early twentieth century. It is undeniably picturesque and it has always attracted the more daring swimmer (Yes. When I was young and foolish. In April as well as in August). Although now, of course, there are signs to warn dippers that the water is cold (yes) and deep (who knew?) and best approached as part of an organised adventure group. More fun by the hour.IMG_6490 (2)

The location caught the eye of cliff divers and for a couple of years it hosted cliff diving championships but the circus seems to have moved on and left the place to slumber on with fearless sheep the only audience.

We ploughed on up to the clifftops and round the headland with E (who, forgetting just how much colder it is by the sea than at home,  wearing every item of clothing he had brought) bearing a disconcerting resemblance to the Grim Reaper.

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How come sheep can get so close to the cliff edge and never fall off?

As we turned the corner, the much lovelier beach – Traeth Llyfn – began to come into view. But not before this odd sign stopped us in our tracks – the Pembrokeshire Coast Path is now part of the Appalachian Trail?

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Really? I mean, I could just about accept the argument that the St Michael’s Way in Cornwall could be allied to the Camino de Santiago – there are all manner of interconnected pilgrims’ paths and trade routes along the seaboard of Western Europe, after all. But the Appalachians and Pembrokeshire? How? 

I digress.IMG_6527 (3).JPG

Here’s  Traeth Llfyn –  clearly a lovely beach – but how to you get down to it?

Once it was a case of clambering down a path that was not so much cut into the cliff side as lightly etched into the shale.

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You can just about make out the old step in the rocks at the bottom and see the line of the path heading off and up diagonally from the top of the flight. I’d always heard that it was built by Italian prisoners of war but why they carved out this access to a remote beach in a remote part of Wales remains a mystery to me.

Happly a while back the original path was found to be just a little bit too adventurous and this fire escape type structure took its place. Good.

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Once down on the beach we found what – in more rarified circles – might be termed a series of art installations.

Rather lovely, aren’t they?

Then it was back up the stairs, onto the cliff top, round a few bays, pausing to admire the arch and the sea stack along the way,IMG_6599 (2).JPG and we began to approach Porthgain. IMG_6600 (3)

More industrial remnants here – of brickmaking and quarrying – now long abandoned. 

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The Grim Reaper fails to spook the resident sheep.

Around the corner and down another steep flight of steps and there’s Porthgain harbour.

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Not much going on today but once it was a busy port exporting bricks and slate to build Edwardian cities.

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The fish and chip shop on the quay has won high praise but the Grim Reaper was intent upon beer and crisps so we made for the pub instead (which is good but it’s not Michelin).

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Although some commercial fishing does still go on here, Porthgain’s main income nowadays comes from visitors. There’s an ice cream shop and a couple of art galleries too, but I like that there’s still a ramshackle air about the place.

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Maybe it was this which caught the attention of the location scouts for Their Finest, (it’s not), a 2016 film featuring Gemma Arterton, Sam Claflin, Bill Nighy.  

But although I like Arterton enormously, don’t know Claflin, and can always rely on Nighy to play Nighy, for me it’s Porthgain which is the star of the film.

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Two genial coves stare into the middle distance and wonder when The Sloop will be open.