How competitive walking (in Blackheath) captivated Georgian Britain h/t @FakeDaveGreen

via How Competitive Walking Captivated Georgian Britain – Atlas Obscura

I’ve been enjoying this surprising article about competitive walking in Georgian Britain, it was particularly interesting to me given that it takes place partly at Hare and Billet in Blackheath which has been the site of my own recent excursions 🙂

Incidentally the reason I took up walking in and around London was after re-reading Dickens’ Oliver Twist in my mid-twenties. I’d always taken the bus everywhere before that (living in Camberwell at the time meant the tube was less of an option anyway) and enjoyed reading about people walking through bits of London I passed on the bus. It just hadn’t really occurred to me that one might or could walk around London, or that it might be done for pleasure, or health benefits. The people in the book had to walk from necessity (couldn’t afford the alternatives) so it probably wasn’t much fun for them.

I would have been no good at Georgian competitive pedestrianism though. Because I’d regularly bussed and walked the journey from Camden to Charing Cross, and from Charing Cross to Camberwell I’d assumed it would be plain sailing to follow the 53 route back to Blackheath. So one hot Saturday afternoon a few years ago I set off from Camden and walked all the way to Deptford before thinking better of it. According to my GPS tracker I’d done 14 miles in about six hours, which is fairly feeble (and the distance can’t really be much more than 9 miles – though I was following the less direct bus route). By the time I arrived at Deptford Bridge I was more shuffling than walking. A 53 bus arrived and I realised I wouldn’t be able to get on to it as I could barely lift my feet up, then someone with crutches arrived (overtaking me) and the driver lowered the platform for them and I was able to shuffle on. I remember my hip joints squeaking as I walked up the stairs to my flat and I thought I’d never do that again, though by the next day I was perfectly fine. These days I tend to restrict myself to 40 minute walks though, can’t be too careful 😉

Walking in London is actually quite hard-going and it’s not that related to the distances. You’re constantly keeping out of others’ way and at very regular intervals you’re required to cross roads which breaks your pace a fair bit, not to mention the general background efforts at being ‘London alert’. And in my case especially, trying not to get lost (this is why I follow the bus routes).



Watch out for the cute beetles in Blackheath

A few years ago, while walking across Blackheath, I thought someone had started throwing popcorn at me. It turned out to be Summer Chafer (similar to cockchafer beetles but a bit smaller) in flight. These sleep underground and then in the late afternoon / twilight pop out of the ground and buzz around the tops of trees to meet other beetles, make friends, mate, lay eggs, that sort of thing. There are a variety of cockchafer beetles, and other beetles known as ‘June bugs’ (or in some places ‘May bugs’).

I’m pretty sure the ones we get in Blackheath are the summer cockchafers (they go by the name Amphimallon solstitiale (I’ve also seen it spelled solstitiale but this is apparently incorrect terminology)) which look like little mint humbugs and persistently ‘attack’ you if they think you might be a tree. They’re actually utterly harmless but the Daily Mail has singled them out as something to be frightened of1.

Here’s a pic of one from 30 June 2010, sitting on my hat (original Twitpic), three segments (four stitched lines) is about an inch. In flight they remind me of the Golden Snitch in the Harry Potter books/films.

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Below you can just make out the blurry image of the beetle in flight above the tree.


And here a beetle obligingly landed on a bit of the same tree.


Here’s me talking (sorry for the windy recording, taken while on the heath), exactly 7 years ago today on 30 June 2010, about my growing fascination for the small beetles.


Yesterday, while walking across the heath I spotted lots of birds (I think they’re either swifts or swallows, I’m not knowledgeable about birds) which are a very good marker at this time of year for the beetles being out and about swarming the trees. The birds were up by Hare and Billet pond so I headed over there and sure enough, it was full of beetles. The pictures above (except the one on the hat) and below were taken there on 29 June 2017.


(Above) Hare and Billet pond at dusk. Isn’t it lovely. The only birds visible in this picture are a duck and his / her duckling on the water. Just out of view of this picture, on the grass to the right is a moorhen (probably).

The video below is a not entirely successful attempt at videoing the birds, in slow motion, to see if I can work out what they are.

Update 30 June – I popped back there this evening and there were loads on the walk over from the heath, persistently buzzing and divebombing me. When I arrived at the pond one of the larger trees was surrounded, a very health crop of Summer Chafers this year, hooray. The tweet right at the top was taken after one landed on my bag while I was trying to take a photo of another one that had ‘attacked’ me. I had to swat them away with a bit of card haha.

1. see [warning: Daily Mail link. Click cautiously as the Mail is surely far more terrifying than beetles] “The chubby insects terrorising Britain’s backyards: The plague of fat, flying beetles found in your garden (and your home)

Pilot yourself around London’s canals with @GoBoatLDN

The tl;dr version:– GoBoat London will let you hire small boats, from Paddington basin, that you can ‘drive’ (yourself, with a quick bit of training) around London’s canals (£75 for 2 hours for up to 8 people, 6 hrs is £200). Boat has massive picnic table in it, can bring own food or order a picnic. Looks lovely. You can go West to Kensal Green, or East to Camden Lock. [Website] [About] [FAQ] [Routemap] [Twitter]

Earlier in the week, on something like Gardeners’ Question Time, I heard mention of the  new ‘Paddington Pocket Park’ which is a garden floating on a pontoon in the Paddington Basin at Merchant Square* and parked that in my mind as something to visit.

Yesterday, after another lovely visit to Lewisham Shopping Centre’s pop up maritime museum I decided to head into Camden and ‘do’ one of those water bus journeys from Camden Lock. Checking the details (where to pick up the boats, where they actually go and so on) while sitting on the 24 bus from Charing Cross to Camden Lock I realised that the boat goes to Little Venice which is conveniently close to Paddington Basin, so I ended up visiting the pocket park too.

Pic credit: Me! @JoBrodie (boat in pic is unrelated to the boats mentioned in the post).

The Water Bus from Camden Lock to Little Venice was lovely and I’ll post up some pictures from that separately, but this post is about the little silver-grey ‘GoBoat’ boats I kept seeing in the canals. They’re small boats that seat eight and you and up to seven friends can hire one and pilot yourself around London’s waterways. I didn’t really know what I was seeing at first – it looked like a table boat, literally a boat with a table in it and I assumed it must be a quirky one-off miniature floating restaurant, then I saw another couple of them and realised it must be a ‘thing’.

Apparently these GoBoat boats launched in London in May, and their terminal is in Merchant Place… where the floating garden is!

I believe the company’s from Copenhagen (one tweeter described them rather nicely as a floating picnic table) and the aim is to make waterways accessible to more people – “The mission of GoBoat London is  to make the canal waters accessible to all, in a sociable and sustainable manner.  … Our boats allow guests to comfortably face each other, whilst enjoying food and drink on a large picnic table in the middle of the boat.

I’m now telling my friends about this so that I can try this out!

*One way to get to Paddington Basin is via an entrance just to the left of the Tesco Metro on South Wharf Road, which is near Edgware Road station and links to Praed Street and Paddington Station. As I was coming from Little Venice mooring point I walked up towards the blue bridge and turned left past the Waterside Cafe, down Westbourne Terrace Road and onto the A404, picked up the 18 bus (stop on the right hand side) and took it two stops to the Police station, then walked back a little to take the underpass to the other side. I used the Citymapper app to get me there.

A couple more pics from me below, including info about what’s happening



Some adverts below over which I have no control. I hope they’re not too wretched…



Lewisham Shopping Centre’s pop-up maritime museum

Note it’s CLOSED on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays

This was a delightful thing to discover as I was leaving Lewisham Shopping Centre yesterday. Some genius (it turns out to be @museumsailor and colleagues) at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich has come up with the brilliant idea to have a pop-up maritime museum in a vacant shop lot among the regular high street shops. I liked it a lot. It’s near what I think of as the main entrance to the Centre, near the Clock Tower (if you’re looking at the entrance TK Maxx is on the left hand side), apparently it’s been there since February.

There was a glass cabinet with decorated (shark’s teeth, feathers) Tahitian neckwear used to show off one’s higher status, and some stiff fabric made of woven grasses for the less exalted community-members. Also a Polynesian navigational aid with shells representing islands, and sticks representing the layout, directions and prevailing winds etc. Having no sense of direction I’d need a “You are here” shell or bead that would follow me around as I travelled among the Polynesian islands.

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Glass cabinet (picture above) with some wax stuff that I didn’t investigate (on upper shelf) and (on lower shelf) there’s the fancy neck decoration roughly in the middle of the shelf (the thing with the rows of black feathers with white shark teeth) and on the right (with the white parcel label on top) there’s a woven fabric. I think most of the items on display were modern recreations rather than originals as we were encouraged to handle them.

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Close-up (above) of a recreation of a Polynesian nav-aid which sailors would use to navigate the seas around their islands. I’m trying to imagine the smartphone version.

There was also a sextant, I didn’t get a chance to play with it, maybe next time. I don’t know how it works beyond you point it at stuff and use a book of astronomical stuff to work out where you are, in relation to the angle you’re at to various planets or stars. When I went on a cruise a couple of years ago I wanted to take one with me but thought better of it when I saw the book of tables I’d have to understand before I set off.

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Here’s a handy video (below) showing how to use a home-made one. I’ve watched it so now I do know how a sextant works!

I felt the wonderful Tall Ships Festival in Greenwich and Woolwich needed more science talks about navigation (and lots of other topics), and I’d probably enjoy an evening class in that.

Shortly before the festival I wrote this post (on my main blog) about what I might put in an Imaginary Maritime Science Festival that might take place at the same time as the next Tall Ships festival.

The pop-up museum is open until 9 July 2017 and runs from Thur-Sun (Thur-Sat: 10-5, Sun: 11-4pm).


They’re looking for volunteers to help, and are having a recruitment session on 24 May (Wednesday) at 11am. Contact for more info.

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There’s something interesting going on at the Queen’s House in Greenwich, to do with the use of plants. Checking the QH website, or searching the title (‘Unearthing season at Queen’s House’) on Google didn’t bring up anything though. Since found it, but too late.

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Below are messages created from lollipop sticks, I’m not sure what the round things with feathers are.

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Visitors were also invited to suggest what explorers to Lewisham would take back with them. Lewisham has a very big fruit and veg market… this suggestion featured a few times.

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Lewisham’s Bus Stop A is out of action until November

Note that the 380 bus will be on diversion from 7 September until after the OnBlackheath event has finished – it won’t go through Hare and Billet road.

A tantalus is a wooden cabinet that displays your alcoholic beverages but is locked in such a cunning way that without the key your servants and children can’t quaff any, according to the Wikipedia article. Something similar is going on at Bus Stop A in Lewisham which is now veiled behind a ‘site entrance’ (see pic below) and is inaccessible. This is thanks to the interminable crossrail roadworks resulting in inconsistent travel routes, from week to week, and reminds me of the stairs at Hogwarts which move around when they feel like it.

Even with a wire cutter Bus Stop A will not bring me any buses.

There is no visible information here to tell me where I can get the bus I want. The closest bus stops offer me buses that are going in the wrong direction, and there’s no information there either. I was a bit miffed.

  1. I know Lewisham well and know where the Blackheath-bound 380 buses stop. Clocktower (bus stop P), then Bus Stop A (when it’s in use) then up Lewisham Hill which is hail-and-ride.
  2. I’m fit enough to walk to either of those two stops
  3. I feel pretty safe in Lewisham though I feel a lot safer at a bus stop surrounded by taxis and rail passengers than I do exposed in the middle of the shopping centre surrounded by closed shops and random strangers. There’s hardly anyone on Lewisham Hill at night so I’d pick that one before the ‘city centre’.

I’m not sure what you’d do if you don’t know the area very well or aren’t very mobile – get a taxi I suppose if you can afford it. It’s pretty poor of TfL not to have a map or some info – at the bus stop I mean, who cares if there’s information on a website – on the options available.

Paul (@bitoclass) is my go-to-guy on Lewisham’s changing transport infrastructure and he tells me that Bus Stop A is now out of action until November.

My solution was to speak with the driver of the 380 bus that terminated at Lewisham station (just a few feet back along the route I’d taken from Platform 1 at the railway station). He very kindly let me get on and take the bus around to the standing point (behind the shopping centre) – we had a very nice chat about our favourite bus routes and the changes in Lewisham and how confusing it all seemed – before he began his new journey which included dropping me off in Blackheath.


Greenwich to Kew by boat

Thanks to Thames Clippers extending their ferry service to include a stop at Westminster Pier as of 1 August 2016 it’s now much easier to journey fairly directly from Greenwich to Kew. Directly-ish, but at least you can get off one boat and get on another at the same pier now (Westminster) though you will have to leave the pier to get a ticket for the second part of the journey. Note that this is  journey is only possible between April and October.

I did the whole trip in reverse last week and it took two hours (on an express clipper, I’d expect it to be 2.5hrs on a regular service but I’d allow three hours).

It’s a two-stage journey:

  1. Greenwich to Westminster (fast, frequent service with Thames Clippers)
  2. Westminster to Kew (fewer boats, more leisurely journey with Thames Cruises)

1. Greenwich to Westminster
(RB1 and RB1X [express] ferries with Thames Clippers)

Thames Clippers has a fairly frequent and fast service but you may have to queue for a boat. In fact at busy times you may end up queueing and not actually being able to get on the first boat, having to wait for a later one. At weekends some of the boats are express boats and will get you to Westminster more quickly, missing out some of the pier stops.

From 15 August 2016 the new times (PDF) will be as follows:

0853 (0934), 0923 (1004), 0938 (1015), 0953 (1034), 1008 (1045), 1023 (1104), 1038 (1115), 1053 (1134), 1108 (1145), 1123 (1204), 1138 (1215), 1153 (1234), 1208 (1245), 1223 (1304), 1238 (1315), 1253 (1334), 1308 (1345) – this one is cutting it a bit fine in terms of getting tickets for the Kew boat, 1323 (1404), 1338 (1415), 1353 (1434), 1408 (1445), 1423 (1504), 1438 (1515), 1453  (1534), 1508 (1545).

The ones in grey won’t get you to Kew, the ones in brackets are arrival time at Westminster, starting times are from Greenwich Pier next to Cutty Sark.

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You cannot smoke or vape anywhere on Thames Clippers ferries. There are loos on board and a Costa with hot drinks, alcoholic drinks and sweets and biscuits.

Tip: Be sure to allow enough time at Westminster Pier to go to the booking office to get a ticket to Kew as it seems these cannot be bought in advance. They prefer you to be there 30 mins before the sailing.

2. Westminster to Kew
(Thames River Boats)

The rate-limiting-step will be getting a boat from Westminster to Kew because there are fewer boats and the take about one and a half hours. Because the journey involves going under Hammersmith Bridge if the tide is too high the journey will take longer (the boat has to wait for the waters to recede otherwise it’s all a bit scrape-y).

Once at Westminster you’ll need to exit the pier, collect a ticket, then return to the boarding point for the boat. An adult single is about £14 but it’s £8.65 if you have a travelcard (not Oystercard, they don’t seem to be geared up for that as far as I could tell).

Latest sailings and journey times can be found here.

Sailing times vary (check in advance) but generally there are four sailings between 10am and 2pm, for example –

  • 10.30am (arriving at midday)
  • 11.15am (12.45)
  • 12.00pm (1.30pm)
  • 2pm (3.30pm).

For the first half hour of the journey there’s a commentary over the public address system telling you about the local sites. On the boat I was on (Connaught) there was a bar downstairs serving alcoholic & hot and cold drinks and snacks. You can smoke or vape on the open upper decks. There are loos on board.

There are no stops on the way to Kew but the boat continues on to Richmond and Hampton Court.

When you arrive at Kew familiarise yourself with the chalkboard. The return journey is very tide-dependent so timings can change.

Return journey
The last boat from Kew Pier is likely to be between 5.30 and 6.30 and again it will take an hour and a half to get back to Westminster. There are plenty of boats from Westminster to Greenwich, even on a Sunday.


Camberwell Free Film Festival – on now

Camberwell is a 14 minute train ride from Blackheath to Denmark Hill station, plus a 10 min walk into the main shopping bit of Camberwell, so pretty much half an hour door to door.Dulwich is a tiny little bit further away though.

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Camberwell Free Film Festival – 31 March to 10 April 2016

7 April (Thursday)
A girl walks home alone at night – 9pm, Jazz Live at the Crypt, Camberwell Screen Shot 2016-04-06 at 23.28.05

8 April (Friday)
Another Sunday and Sweet FA + Fraktus – 7.45pm, Dulwich Hamlet Football Club

9 April (Saturday)
Paddington – 1pm, Sceaux Gardens Tenants and Residents Association – Camberwell
Changing face of Camberwell + Pool of London – 2pm, William Booth College – Camberwell
Bugsy Malone – 7.30pm, Longfield Hall – Camberwell

10 April (Sunday)
Suffragette – 2pm, William Booth College – Camberwell
Tangerine – 8pm, The Flying Dutchman – Camberwell


Getting there
It’s the Victoria train and it runs every half an hour, last one returning is 00:21 and if you miss it the N89 runs through Camberwell ‘village’ or the 185 and 484 buses go past Denmark Hill on their way to Lewisham.
[Find next train from Blackheath to Denmark Hill]
[Find next train from Denmark Hill to Blackheath]