Durham long weekend 11-14th September 2015

Nine EFOG members enjoyed a long weekend in Durham in mid-September, organised by Marian.

Some of us met at midday at Kings Cross station for the 3 hour rail journey, some went on other trains. Few of us were seated together as mostly we'd booked our tickets independently! As the train was 40 minutes late arriving, some of us may look forward to a rebate on the ticket price...

It didn't matter that we were late arriving; the journey to our accommodation was by a shuttle-bus that went directly to the Cathedral – about a ten minute journey – and our accommodation was in student's lodgings in St. Chad's College, which is situated in a mediaeval street immediately adjacent to the east end of the cathedral. In fact, those who had rooms at the front of their buildings looked out and across to the great east window. I had a back-facing room which looked out to the college gardens, and perhaps was mercifully saved the all-night bell chimes!

We took a stroll down a narrow lane adjacent to the college refectory, and down a series of stone stairs to the River Wear. The old town of Durham is situated on a great rocky peninsula which the river bounds on three sides. At its peak is the cathedral and castle. Friday evening was beginning to take off in the town as we ascended from the quietness and cannabis of the riverside onto a busy but traffic-free bridge, and as we ascended the old streets, through the market square and back to the cathedral and our lodgings, the girls were beginning to totter out – and in some cases looked as if they were about fall out.

Beamish0430cThe train from Kings CrossThe evening meal was at Bill's, amongst the many eating, drinking and clubbing places in the old town. Bill's, apparently, is an expanding chain, so watch out. There was a slight misunderstanding – as I understand it – with our assembly time for a meal and hence one of our group was waiting for us after we'd left. Usual problem on Group trips: trying to phone someone who is missing. There are only about four reliable keep-their-phone-on people in the whole group, by my reckoning. This is actually a point to consider when on group trips. Anyway, as the late-comer ordered a starter on arrival (which none of the rest of us had), together with a new waitress trying to serve our meals all together, and probably kitchen troubles to boot, resulted in a wait of an hour-and-a-half for our main meals. Or was it more? Whatever, we complained and got a considerable amount taken off our total bill. So that was alright.

We'd booked bed and breakfast, and the breakfast was provided from 8am in the refectory, which is a grand, high, chandeliered building set out with long tables for dining and a plentiful supply of cereals, fruit juices and fruit. Supplies of tea and coffee were brought to our tables, and the available breakfasts consisted of just about anything you'd expect.

We took a bus from the town to Beamish Open Air Museum on Saturday, which wasn't spoilt but might have been better if it hadn't been a bit drizzly. Beamish is well worth a visit – not just a reproduction early 20th Century town, but chapel, colliery-workers cottages, colliery, a fairground and a steam railway amongst the attractions and all served by old buses and a circular tram-system. The colliery was fascinating, listening to a guide who had actually worked there describing and demonstrating the intricacies of the system and a walk down into a coal-face to be shown and told about the working conditions. There is a fine fish and chip shop, cooked and served in traditional manner (although the newspaper for the cones were fakes!), and Jackie and I treated ourselves to a sugar-mouse each from the sweet-shop. Can't say that I really enjoyed it, but then I've aged a bit since I last ate one. Those of us that went to the dentist's nearby were intrigued – and maybe horrified – by what we learnt there! I suspect sugar-mice were more prevalent in those days.

We'd asked the friendly bus driver where the local Wetherspoons was - coincidentally right opposite the bus station, so that was where we had our evening meal. It was absolutely crowded in the main bar area, but remarkably we got our food order in quickly at the bar and even found a relatively out-of-the-way eating area. Unlike the previous evening, our meals arrived together and quickly.

Beamish0429cIt was a bit drizzly inside the observation car at BeamishSunday was Durham's Open-house day, and after a look round the modern museum building in the cathedral/castle square, we took advantage of the free-entry and non-guided access to the castle. This is now college buildings as Durham doesn't seem to be so threatened by the Scots these days. It – like the cathedral – has many Norman aspects including a wonderful Norman arch, so well preserved because it is an interior one. We then walked just to the edge of the town to visit Crook Hall and gardens. Crook Hall is a Grade 1 listed manor house, with a 14th Century hall. It is the family home of the Cassell family who have allowed visitors to roam freely through much of their home. The 4 acres of gardens are lovely, and maintained in the English country style. 

In the evening some of us went to a Thai restaurant whilst others went to Pizza Express. I chose the latter – not being so keen on Thai food and because Madeleine had a voucher for 40% of the total bill, including drinks. So that was alright.

We'd all booked different trains except Madeleine and I who travelled together together and Fred, who was in a different carriage. This gave some of us time on Monday morning to have a good look around and inside the cathedral before getting the shuttle-bus to the station. The cathedral really is magnificent and – to my mind – feels a lot more comfortable than an increasing number of such buildings where you are guided past ticket offices and security guards to ensure that everybody pays the “suggested” entry donations. Durham has boxes, of course, where you can donate as you wish. The staff in the cathedral seemed genuinely friendly and willing to talk about aspects of it. This seems to reflect just about all the people that we met there, a real friendliness and joy of chatting.

Our train journey, including the London stretch, was easy enough. A most enjoyable weekend and thanks to Marian for arranging it and the others for the company.

Paul Ferris, 16th September 2015

Marian, Dave, Fozi, Fred, Jackie, Ken, Madeleine, Paul, Phil

River Thames Walk - The Last Leg

For those of you who have been following our progress, this is, sadly the final episode.  In the manner of all good television shows though, we went out with a 'blinder'!  What looked to be a slightly drizzly day - Saturday 12th September - turned into a lovely sunny one and the wildlife came out en masse for the hardy who were prepared to make the long trek to Slade's Green.

Thames 5 seal 0445artNo sooner had we reached the riverside at Woolwich than Trevor, who now has the Native American name of Seal Spotter, noticed a little fellow on top of one of the old bridge supports.  Poor chap had obviously gone up there on the high tide and got stuck till the next tide was due but he provided a perfect viewing moment or several for the group.  It took a while to drag ourselves away, because although there have been many reports of seals on the river, none of us had ever seen one.

Moving on from the beautiful old buildings of the Woolwich Arsenal and on to the Thamesmead Estate, distinctly different architecturally,  the path here also changes to gravelled rather than paved and becomes wilder.  We passed Tripcock Ness, mooring site of the prison hulks that Dickens' character Magwitch from Great Expectations escaped from.  It is also the scene of the worst ever peacetime disaster, when 600 of 900 passengers on the paddle steamer Princess Alice died after it was hit by a coal steamer.  Many of the passengers were suffocated rather than drowned after swallowing the polluted water from industrial waste and sewage.

Shortly after this, on the opposite bank is the Barking Relief Barrier at the mouth of the River Roding, another monument to engineering in the name of flood protection.  On the south bank we also encountered another protector of London, a small concrete machine gun bunker left over from World War II.  All the while along, thanks to Tim the bird man's expertise, we were able to identify the various birds that were on parade.  They were particularly numerous at Crossness, a Victorian pumping station that still has steam days for devotees of this Victorian art.  Typically decorative as a building, it's quite a contrast to the sewage treatment plant next door that deals with some of London's current waste, as you can tell by the fragrant air!

The views of the other side of the river are of London as an industrial city.  The Dagenham car plant and the Tate and Lyle factory dominate a long stretch of the river, followed suitably by a large green hill, which far from being rural is actually a vast landfill site covered over to disguise it's true nature.  It's a landmark for the townspeople of Erith, our only stop on the route.  Erith has a pier, used by fishermen these days, which makes an excellent spot for a picnic lunch in the sunshine.

Thames 5 group 0448artAfter Erith, we had to move inland for a short while, past some light industrial sites until the yacht club comes into view.  Here we were able to turn back to the river and along a raised earth bank sea wall that took us into the Erith marshes.  Jim gave us a quick run down of some more military history at Crayford Ness, describing the anti aircraft sites and the remains of the bunkers that are still visible in a field behind the sea wall.  At Erith Saltings, the last remaining fragment of salt marsh in south London, Seal Spotter was on target again.  On the edge of the water a group of five black dots on closer inspection turned out to be a group of seals, possibly a mother and kids, playing happily at the waters edge!

As we turned off of the Thames into Dartford Creek, we passed another tidal barrier and headed along a country lane.  The fields provided us with some egrets to watch, gracefully flapping away as they spotted us spotting them.  Not to be outdone, the very last part of the walk took us back to the age of the Normans, with the ruined moated Manor House, Howbury Moat, once home to Bishop Odo of Bayeux, half brother to William the Conqueror.

Slade Green station should have been our way back to Woolwich, but the trains were not running, so we took the bus, passing much of the scenery we had viewed on our way from Woolwich.

If you missed any of the sections of the walk, it has already been the subject of discussion to repeat the walk, this time in reverse order, from Slade Green to Hampton Court.  Watch this space in 2016!

Sue U. 24th September 2015

Cycling and walking in Cambridgeshire - 8/9th August 2015

We had a small walking group (Fred, Ken and Fozi) and two cyclists (Lynne and Val) meet up with Bill and Inger in Soham at The Cherrytree Pub for a 10am start on a lovely bright sunny Saturday morning.

The walkers set off for a 6/7 mile walk in the Soham area and the cyclists set off for what turned out to be a 23 mile tour of some beautiful local villages, passing through Isleham, West Row, Mildenhall, Barton Mills, Freckenham, Fordham and back to Soham.

During the cycle ride we had a short stop at West Row in the Judes Ferry Pub grounds, which was on the riverside in a lovely setting, and a lunch break at Barton Mills. In Freckenham we made another short stop at friend’s of Lynne, who’s home just happened to be on route.

Late afternoon found us all back at The Cherrytree Pub in Soham, good and ready for something to eat, and then back to Bill and Ingers home for an overnight stay. Inger always has some good home made cakes etc and and we spent a few hours chatting and catching up on what has been happening at EFOG over this last year.

Sunday morning after a hearty breakfast the walkers went into Ely for a walk along the river and we cyclists set off from Pymoor via Coveney, Wardy Hill, Witcham, Witchford and Ely, where we met up with the walkers mid-afternoon. We had a little light refreshment In the Cathedral Café, after which the walkers left to drive back to London.

We cyclists then cycled back to Pymoor via California and Dunkirk, where we saw two majestic Suffolk Punch horses in a field. The total miles cycled on Sunday was 22 miles, and the total was 55 miles over the weekend, which seemed pretty good to me.

Val, 11th August 2015

Quintessentially Summer - Kent in August

I'm doing this quickly, late, and from memory before it fades – though some images will stay for a long time. I did make a few notes at the time – words and phrases in my 'walking' notebook – but where is it now when I'm in the mood to write? Lost! So - what were those word I jotted down – the 'triggers' for inspiration?

'Quintessential' - I remember that one well – a summing up of Lynne's walk around Sevenoaks in Kent on the 1st day of August this year. We chatted about that word when it 'came' to me – my 'dyslexic tongue' struggling to pronounce it correctly. So, what made it so – so …..... “quintessential?

The weather – bright sunshine with a cooling breeze; dappled light - made by the many, varied trees – appreciated oases from the sun. The silence - no traffic noise (so common in our London walks). The country lanes and pathways – so 'English' – the houses beautifully old (or pretending to be), the pleasant, varied architecture of country life and living – for those with the means to live there – the resources to 'buy or build a dream'.

Waving wheat fields – not rape – almost singing, heavy with seed. Hedgerows, some coming into fruit – most not quite ready yet - but promising a good harvest. A lavender farm – rows cropped into neat mounds with a few flowers still remaining for the bees and butterflies. The horse-tails (ancient plants) – I hope I remembered the name right. A cheeky parson-in-the pulpit thrusting through a mat of green. The copse nearby - with cob nut trees? We didn't see any hops that I remember but there were a few oast houses and at times, a hazy smell of brewing – or was that my imagination?

Then there was that incredible tree in One Tree Wood (or was it One Tree Hill?). In a place full of trees – but perhaps not forever, as evidence of their 'fate' was very clear - when you looked down into the ravine. There a massive tree clutched soil between its roots, helping it hang on to the side – an anchor – stopping the soil itself from being swished down as well – when heavy rain, we saw the evidence clearly, sent rivulets down the side.

The parakeets? Perhaps not 'quintessential' - yet? But there were other birds (none of us were that brilliant at recognising their calls), a few horses and several deer – and of course the unicorn which turned out to be a llama – remember that one Jenny!

Quintessential images hinting at timelessness – or at least scenes which could have been from centuries ago – young stags 'playing' at being 'adults' – other deer grazing quietly in glades or moving in unison away from strangers. Some, of course, at the café, eating from human hands. So much to see on such a glorious day.

Finally – the two “stately homes” of England, Igtham Mote and Knole House (nestled in the deer park through which we walked ) and promised ourselves we would visit one day (we could do both in a day – but would need to have cars). Put this on the next programme, perhaps?

Thanks to Lynne for organising such a dream of a day – and to my other fantastic EFOG companions for their company.

Pam. 12 August 2015

Thames Path Walk - 5th Leg: Greenwich to Woolwich

July 18th 2015 - a lovely sunny Saturday - saw the Effoggers on the next leg of the Thames Path series of walks.  The last walk left us in front of the Cutty Sark at Greenwich, and for this stretch the walkers assembled in front of Cutty Sark DLR station to continue on the trail - trying not to be confused with a Ramblers walk, the Hawksmoor Church Walk or another group who were all meeting at the same location!.

efog Thames barrier SC 150718 289artGreenwich is all about the river. The Royal Naval College dominates the first stretch of the walk, with the views through to the Queens House and the Royal Observatory up the hill. For those interested in history, our first stop was at a pink obelisk, a monument to Joseph Bellot. His is not a name that is particularly well known, but he died in 1853 on an unsuccessful mission to find out what happened to the Sir John Franklin expedition that aimed to find the north west passage around Canada. This section of the walk has the best architectural views as, after passing through a small paved alley with a row of Victorian terraced houses we stopped to admire the Trinity Hospital almshouses, built in 1616 and still in use as a home for the elderly. Just beyond Greenwich Power Station there is a row of Georgian houses ending in the old Harbour Master's office, beyond which the architecture comes bang up to date. Shiny new flats and endless building sites mark this as an area very literally on the rise.
After about a mile, where the buildings of Canary Wharf and the O2 Arena seem to trade places on opposite banks, we passed the area known as Blackwall Point.  In the 17th century the bodies of hanged pirates were displayed here in cages as a warning to anyone thinking of entering the profession. On the opposite bank is Trinity Buoy Wharf, home at present to a centre for the arts but previously a training centre for lighthouse keepers.
Rounding the O2, we stopped at the Emirates Cable Car cafe for a little light refreshment and to watch the travellers coming aefog Thames barrier 150718 SC 288cnd going overhead in the pods, and doubtless getting a very good view as they crossed the river. The next stretch of the walk started with a flock of small yachts, making the area look very much more like the seaside than a couple of miles from the centre of London. The group took a small but delightful detour around the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park, a nicely-planted man-made, with lots of wildlife and water lilies making for a pastoral setting. From here the path reverts back to industrial London, albeit not anywhere as busy as in it's heyday although a number of the buildings and sites are still operational. What catches the eye along this stretch is the Thames Barrier, a row of shiny upturned boat shapes that has been keeping London safe from major floods since 1982. Stretching along the length of the tunnel under the barrier is representation of the entire river from start to finish, and on this we were able to see our walks from Hampton Court to this point. The Thames Path technically ends at the barrier but there is now an extension path, the first part of which we followed into Woolwich.
Woolwich has been a dockyard since 1512 and played a big part in the development of the Royal Navy. The docks closed in 1869 as ships grew too large for this section of the river but many of the buildings remain unused and unloved. The path here diverts inland for a while along the untidy and busy Woolwich Road, to emerge back on the river opposite the Tate and Lyle sugar factory. A short way further along is the Woolwich Ferry, still free to usel and transporting pedestrians and vehicles from one side of the river to the other. The path goes around the entrance to the ferry and back onto the riverside before passing a waterfront leisure centre. Shortly thereafter we arrived at the Woolwich Arsenal.  The original home of Arsenal football club, the depot was established in 1671 and became a centre for the research and manufacture of arms, the site growing to 1300 acres during the First World War. The bulk of the land has been sold off by the MoD, and much of it is now converted into flats, but for a short while until it too closes the site houses the Royal Artillery Museum. See it while you can as the exhibits are already earmarked for other sites and the many fine buildings are no doubt due to be turned into flats.
The walk finished at Woolwich DLR station, the starting point for the next, final leg of the Thames Path.
Sue C.  29th July 2015