A Hexham weekend - comprising a Wall, 2-Star Romans, Earl Grey Tea, a Confusing Bridge and a (non) Reflective Slug

Ken’s booking of accomodation at The Station Inn in Hexham from Friday to Monday encouraged 15 EFOG members to travel to Northumberland from 10th-13th August, 2018

I travelled with Kathy and Brian by car, together with Jinan and Fozi, and thus met the others, who had either gone by train or by car, when we arrived in the late afternoon. We all ate together – save Phil who was staying in separate accommodation – in the 2-Star hotel.

The evening meal, I thought, was fine, and the room adequate – if a bit loose on electrical fittings and with a blind that wouldn’t go either up nor down from its halfway position, and itself in a position overlooking a quite busy road. The accomodation was a little basic, but at the price was quite acceptable, the staff were pleasant and helpful and the food was good. It is very close to the railway station, near bus-stops, near to the town centre attractions, and there is car-parking nearby.

hexham hadswall 180811 1126artHadrian's Wall from HousesteadsAfter a decent breakfast, with a variety of choice from or with cereal through to full-Northumbrian, most of us elected to travel by the AD122 bus route to the Roman fort at Housesteads. The AD122 – although a local service-bus route, also serves as a hop-on-hop-off route for destinations along a route which follows that of Hadrian’s Wall. As a normal service bus, English National bus-passes were accepted – a free bonus to those that had them.

Housesteads is a Roman Fort (auxiliary fort, actually) built in AD124 – thus just two years after the bus route was established. Apparently the only Roman there now are possibly Italian visitors. Most of the group paid their money or showed their National Trust cards to visit the remains, but I have been there before and wanted to ensure that I had enough time and energy to walk near the wall itself and visit Sycamore Gap. Eleanor and Marilyn decided to come with me, but found the going tough and turned back in a short while, so I continued alone. The day was just about perfect for walking, neither too hot or cold, too windy or wet, and there is some choice of path, either right next to the wall, which is rather undulating, or slightly away following the somewhat more sensible and easier track, well established by those early Romans and well trodden probably ever since.

hexham sycgap 180811 1251artSycamore GapI looked back occasionally to see if the large and fast EFOG group was catching me up, but never a sign. There were, however, plenty of other walkers, either going in the same or the opposite direction, so it wasn’t lonely. In fact I chatted to a family-and-friends group about their accompanying dog, and they invited me to walk along with them. Very nice people, and a good dog, too. We were all going to Sycamore Gap, but the dog probably didn’t care. It is a lovely walk, with grand and sometimes dramatic views ahead, behind, towards Scotland and into Northumberland.

At Sycamore Gap, I waited for the others. And waited, and waited. Then, a lone Kathy appeared – by herself – so we sat watching the tree, other walkers, a couple of horse-riders, an annoyed cattle, and a bloke who spoilt the view because he was fat and was on a mobile phone. Pacing – like what people do when they are on mobile phones in an iconic place or a railway station. After quite a few Roman numerals time, Lynne appeared, then – distantly- and somewhat pronely, Madeleine, then a gradual descending of other EFOG members.

hexham vindola 180811 1546artVindolandaEventually assembled, we made our way a bit further along the ridge and then down to the Sill Visitor Centre. This was about 3.5 miles walking distance from Housesteads. Even though I trogged around all the car parks, I couldn’t find those other group members who had gone to Vindolanda and explained by phone that were there just as we arrived. However, in my tiredness I hadn’t cottoned on that the Sill and Vindolanda are two separate places. Still…

Having refreshed ourselves at the (expensive) cafe, we caught the AD122 one stop to Vindolanda, paid our entrance fees or showed our passes and went in. The other group had left there by that time, by the way. Vindolanda, despite its confusing name, is another Roman auxiliary fort and village, comprising extensive and still-to-be-uncovered remains and a museum. There is a lot to see, both the remains themselves and in the excellent museum. There is also a delightful glen, complete with a reconstruction of a temple dedicated to nymphs. We didn’t see any of those, however.

hexham temple 180811 16344artThe Nymph's Glen and TempleAnd so back on the last AD122 of the day, to Hexham, and straight away to a somewhat (or at least I thought) depressing ex-cinema Wetherspoons for a meal.

During the night it rained continually, and Sunday was much more overcast and potentially drizzly than Saturday had been. After a joint visit to the visitor centre part of lovely Hexham Abbey, and then to the interesting Hexham Gaol, groups and individuals decided to do differing things, and Jinan and I had decided that a bus-ride to Newcastle might be in order. We were joined by Madeleine and Eleanor and Marilyn. It is about an hour and a quarter journey on the Tyne Valley Ten bus, passing through pleasant countryside and villages, and an enjoyable ride.

newcstle grey 180812 1411artMonument to Earl Grey, NewcastleI don’t know Newcastle, only having glimpsed it from a train and a plane, so after checking return bus times I had to orientate myself for the walk from Eldon Square bus station to the Quays, which are by the river. Eldon Square is sort of the centre of things, with some fine buildings and a monument to the inventor of the tea – Earl Grey himself. I am not keen on the stuff, but it’s nice that the Romans put that great big monument there in his honour. There was an interesting looking arcade nearby, and Eleanor and I went in to look whilst the others went on ahead. The Central Arcade is (as it says in Wikipedia) 'an elegant Edwardian shopping arcade built in 1906 and designed by Oswald and Son, of Newcastle'. It really was attractive, although – being Sunday – just about empty of all life except for ourselves and a chap playing the Northumbrian pipes - except that I realised afterwards that they weren't Northumbrian pipe, but Scottish Small Pipes. I had a chat with the chap (interrupting his playing – but then he didn’t need to blow into the bag like someone playing the Scottish big pipes would), and finished by giving him a few pennies and asking if he could play “Bonny at Morn”, which he couldn’t. Maybe that was because it is a Northumbrian tune and he had the wrong pipes?...

newcstle arcade 180812 1415artThe Central Arcade, NewcastleThe others had re-joined us, and Eleanor had been directed to some fine tiling in Central Station. That wasn’t quite on my planned route, and a little way from where we were, but we went. I have to say, although the station is big and impressive enough, it didn’t quite do it or anything for me, and the tiles – although quite artistic – were rather poorly situated in a bar, dimly-lit and with football or something on a giant screen.

We ploughed past the cathedral, as time was getting on and hunger was threatening, and arrived at the Quays, where an outdoor market was established for the day. But food was more important at that time so we did the usual group thing of walking up and down with typical likes and dislikes until we ended up in a Greggs. Of course, you can’t go to Newcastle and not see the bridges, and there they were, in an appropriate place crossing the river that is just across the road from Greggs.

newcstle sage 180812 1542artThe Sage Music Venue, GatesheadWe half-crossed the Gateshead Millenium one, which lifts up in a confusing way to allow for the passage of ships, and then turned back because the route up to the Gateshead-side-of-the-Tyne reflective-slug sort of building over there looked a bit steep. Then we walked by the riverside, passing under a few bridges until we reached a very nice looking Wetherspoons, into which we didn’t go.

newcstle bridge 180812 1608artNewcastle Prom, with bridge and traditional palm treeJinan said she’d like to visit the slug, so we crossed an old swing bridge into Gateshead, watched the Millenium bridge lifting in the distance, then trudged uphill to the slug (sorry – the Sage). The Sage is a concert venue, and we were just in time to find the bar had closed and the whole place would be closing in an hour, at 6pm. So we descended from the other end, crossed the Millenium Bridge fully this time, and – because of the impending time and bus-journey – I suggested that it might be in order to catch the 5.52 Route 10 bus back to Hexham. That entailed some fast uphill walking, but we made it with four minutes to spare. Madeleine had left us early, so arriving back at Hexham the four of us ate in the County Hotel.

Fozi had caught an early train on Monday, so after breakfast Kathy, Brian, Jinan and myself left for Brian’s drive back to London. We broke the journey near Newark to visit the Workhouse at Southwell which, built in 1824, influenced similar institutions across the country. These workhouses comprised of a strict and harsh regime for those that inhabited them, but this was designed so as to act as a deterrent to all but those most in need of taking advantage of the system. This may be construed as analogous to that of benefit payments now, perhaps?

Thanks to Ken for organising another good break.

Paul Ferris, 14th August 2018

Photo-bombing, Tett Towers and a Strangulation

(AKA another typical EFOG walk)

With the majority of the group being away on Ken’s weekend at Hexham, Ann volunteered to lead a walk on Saturday 11th August for those left at home. So it was that Ann, Cathy, Sue S. and I gathered at Upminster station on a pleasantly warm morning. Cathy decided to use the photo-booth at the station to sit in whilst putting on her boots. However, a loud scream, or possibly two, signalled that the some-one was already using the booth; I don’t know who was the more surprised!

efog 180811 667artMaking a swift exit from the station we turned right, as instructed by Ann, but upon checking the directions found we should have turned left. Not going too well so far! A trip to Costa’s for refreshment was called for. Having orientated ourselves, we set off visiting Upminster thing. Rumour has it that it is a windmill, but it’s been covered in plastic for years and could be anything, so will remain Upminster thing until revealed.

Back to the walk, and we walked through Upminster Park to bring us out at the River Ingrebourne, which was to be our companion for rest of the walk (and was probably the only one amongst us with any sense of direction!). A very pleasant walk ensued with plenty of wildlife including Egrets, Buzzards and small Blue Butterflies.

efog 180811 668artArriving at Hornchurch Country Park, there was an outdoor gym where we worked out on the equipment in what looked like a practice session for the Gladiators TV show. After lunch at the Essex Wildlife Trust visitor centre, we continued through the park, which was a former World War II airfield. Many of the old defences still remain, such as pill boxes and tett turrets, which were basically reinforced lids to cover snipers hidden in small holes in the ground (think mole with attitude and machine gun).

Anyway, we continued, and as is the fashion now, there were a number of exercise stations along the route, where those so inclined can pretend to be Mr Motivator or whoever. We eventually passed a sit-up bench (which I can do), so to impress the ladies I decided to demonstrate my sporting prowess. Unfortunately my camera case strap, which was hanging casually from my neck, caught on the bench, so that instead of looking like a sporting legend, I almost ended up strangling myself, causing much hilarity (and very little sympathy, I noticed) amongst the ladies.

The rest of the walk was very nice if uneventful and we took a break at Stillwell lake, named after Squadron Leader Stillwell, who we speculated was always referred to as “Stillers” by the chaps. We made our way to Rainham station to complete the walk, passing the surprisingly attractive village of Rainham (at least that’s what it says in the guide). A delightful 5 mile walk, and well done and thanks to Ann for organising her maiden walk.

Trev Eley, 13th August 2018

From Margate to Broadstairs

Where might a good walk for the members of EFOG be on one of the warmest days of the summer? By the seaside of course, and it so happens that a certain newspapers travel section had published this walk so on the 21st July, a sunny summer morning, a group of 17 keen souls set off from Stratford International station to the seaside town of Margate, on the Kent coast. The trouble was, that it was also the first weekend of the school holidays and one of the warmest days of the summer heatwave, so half of the population of London must have jammed its way onto the same train with us, resulting in a marathon stint of standing all the way to Whitstable before the train finally emptied out. Luckily Margate Station has obliging facilities and a coffee shop, so we were able to gather our strength before setting out along the Viking Trail coastal path.

efog botany bayBotany BayMargate was crammed with holiday makers, and it was nice to see lots of children playing on the beaches as opposed to being at computer screens. We headed around the Turner Art Museum and along the coastal path, complete with some very entertaining graffiti, past the old Lido, all the time on the lower coastal path. It was only once we began to approach Botany Bay that the group had to climb a short but steep ramp to the top of the cliffs and were subject to the full glare of the midday sun. With the exceptional heat in mind, a refreshment stop was quickly voted on at the Botany Bay pub hotel, and a very nice rest stop was had by all. This turned out to be a good thing, as the originally-planned stop at Joss Bay ice cream hut was foiled by the fact that the shop wasn't open! The trail swung inland at the North Foreland Lighthouse, but the group stayed on the cliff-top path until we had to circumnavigate Kingsgate Bay Castle, originally built as a stables for the horses belonging to Lord Holland. This Victorian Gothic creation is now in private hands but provides a charming backdrop to the view of the cliffs.

Down a flight of steps in a narrow alley, we made seashore once again by a parade of delightful beach huts and an obliging flat and sandy beach. Once again the walk plan was rapidly reconfigured to allow for a spot of paddling and even a full on swim by one brave Effoger who had forwar-thinkingly brought her swimsuit! It took quite a bit of encouragement to prise people from this particular perch to make the last mile or so into Broadstairs, but make it they did, hot and tired and eager to take advantage of Broadstairs' many hostelries and food outlets - after all what is better than fish and chips by the sea? Well done to those who made the 6.3 mile journey on a very hot day, including newcomers Anne, Dave and Janet, who assure us that they will be back again for another walk at some point!

Sue C., 10th August 2018

photo by Lynne E.

Two Houses and a Heath

On 22nd July we met at Hampstead station for a visit to Fenton House on Hampstead Heath. The weather was superb, again, and a short steep climb saw us at the house.

The house is full of harpsichords, virginals, etc. It also has a good art collection, including paintings donated by the late actor Peter Barkworth. After a pleasant hour wandering through the three floors of the house we went into the gardens. Some pretty and interesting plants on the borders led us to a small orchard and with the shade provided by the trees, we decided to have a picnic. Fred and Brian got the short straw and ate in the hot sunshine.

efog hampstead heath 180722 142435We then descended to the house called No. 2 Willow Road by National Trust, but called Goldfinger’s house by us. It is said that Ian Fleming was inspired to use this architect’s name in one of his Bond novels. We missed the guided tour and had to wait an hour to gain access so we walked round part of Hampstead Heath. The photo is of us resting during the walk. The Heath was full, as was the open air swimming pool. Then back to the house.

Goldfinger was a modern architect and the house was his vision of the future. It is a concrete framed house but after objections the concrete was covered by brickwork more sympathetic to the area. The garage had been converted by National Trust into a cinema where we saw an introductory video and then we entered the house. Sliding and folding doors made it a versatile home and the panoramic windows gave fine views. The tools used by an architect in the mid-twentieth century were on display and there was some nice artwork. Many notable people were visitors to the house and visiting artists left some of their work.

Lynne left us to have a swim in the ladies-only pool on the Heath and the rest of us returned to Belsize Park station and home.

Brian U.  22nd July 2018

Circuiting the Chesham Ring

Sometimes what I like about walks, outings, holidays – as well as the walks, outings and holidays – is getting there. Of course that depends on whether my journey is going relatively smoothly, and thus how early or – more particularly – how late I will be.

So, on Saturday July 14th, the day of Ken’s walk around the Chesham Ring – which appropriately enough is around the town of Chesham in Bucks. – I was pleased that I departed from home at my proposed time, caught the intended-and-on-time train at Manor Park, and saw – as arranged – Jinan waiting for me exactly by the doors of my carriage at Stratford Station.

I can’t say that I’d planned or expected us to walk across the platform, off one train and straight on to a Central Line train, but that’s what happened. Similarly, changing from the Central Line to the Bakerloo at Oxford Circus, as we reached the platform an appropriate train came in and in three stops, some stairs and escalators, we were in Marylebone Main Line Station. Oh, and we’d met Lynne walking along the same foot-tunnels that serviced the escalators and stairs.

efog chiltern mound 180714artIf this was a mini Newgrange, we couldn't find the entranceWith the smoothness of the day, I had time to look at Marylebone Station itself, inside and out, meeting Ken and Fred and Peter B. in the process. I haven’t been to Marylebone before – having lived in London just about all of my life so far – but it’s quite a nice station and I wouldn’t be surprised if John Betjeman hasn’t mentioned it somewhere.

So, onto the intended train, departing on time at 09.27, and – still going smoothly – through the Metropolitan suburbs of London.

It was only when we reached Chalfont and Latimer Station that I received a message from Amina saying she’d missed the train by a door-won’t-open-’cos-it’s-ready-to-depart whisker, and was on the next one. And would we wait? Well, Ken being in charge as well as a gentleman said that we would, so I texted her a positive reply. But, we were only at Chal.&Lat., and our meeting place was 10.15 at Chesham, where others might be. Gallantly – being lady and gentlemen (if that terminology is still acceptable) – Jinan, Peter and I said we’d while away the time talking on the platform at C.&L., whilst the others went for refreshments in Chesham – which is one Metropolitan Line stop away, on a branch line.

In due course, as per the Chiltern Railways’ timetable, the next train arrived and we met a thankful Amina. Then, the four of us had to wait for a branch-line train. Which duly arrived, together with Kathy and Ann and Trevor amongst it’s passengers.

Reaching Chesham, our next step was to find the refreshmenteers, and a phone call ascertained that they were in a Black Cafe, but in Italian. Walking towards that appuntamento (that’s rendezvous in English French), some of us spotted Peter G. and Parviz looking for a car-park, so we informed them of our cafe destination and joined the pioneers. Teas, coffees and buns duly drunk or noshed and Peter and Parviz having found us, the then 12 eventually set-walk through Saturday car-free Chesham High Street, beginning our circuitous foot journey around the town.

efog chiltern black horse 180714artOutside the Black Horse. Note the No Parking signs.I have decided because it is 23.32 not to go into too much detail about the walk. Briefly, it is a nice one, with some up-hills and some down-hills, quite a lot of (not particularly well sign-posted for the Chesham Ring) footpaths, a bit of road-edge walking, one or two slight wrong ways, one leader and some self-appointed deputies, three maps (one usefully G.P.S.’d), only one buried compass amongst the twelve of us (not counting the possibly unreliable Smartphone one), quite a lot of heat and sunshine, one pub where we had to be surreptitious about eating our own lunches – even having bought our pints and that – quite a lot of Red Kites, no Partridges, at least one Pheasant, one Marbled White, and some other things.

The 7.5 mile circuit got us back to Chesham at 17.10, a train left at 17.27, so – leaving nine people in a cafe – Jinan, Lynne, Amina and myself bought ice-creams and caught the 17.27.

So – a nice walk was had by all, I think. I think it was a nice walk, and thanks to Ken – and to Clive for pre-walking (most of) it with Ken – and thanks to the rest of the pleasant company during the day.

It is now 23.42. The article is about a day out. It was to enable a walk around Chesham, but I decided I’d write about something other than the walk itself. After all, there’s more to a journey than just the walking bit. And one of the photos shows some of us walking.

Paul Ferris, 15th July 2018