Tag Archives: Walking

Namaste, Nepal!

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Tadasana (mountain pose): Stand tall with the feet together or slightly apart, all four corners of them pressing into the earth, drawing up through the inner arches. Firm the thighs and lift the knee caps. Imagine a thread of light travelling all the way up the spine and out through the crown of the head. Lengthen the tailbone towards the floor. Draw the shoulder blades down and back. Lift the top of the sternum and widen the collarbones. Let the arms hang alongside the body. Have the chin parallel with the floor and soften the eyes. Press the palms of the hands together at the heart. Namaste.

Views from Nagarkot

Views from Nagarkot

Of the fourteen mountains in the world that are taller than 8,000 metres, eight of them are in Nepal.

For my first weekend there, my friends took me to Nagarkot in the Kathmandu Valley – famous for its Everest views. Sitting out on the terrace that connected our Tibetan-themed rooms, I cooed over the setting sun flaming over distant and smoky-coloured hills. But my friends just shook their heads. The haze was obscuring the mountains; this, I was assured, was nothing.

I caught my first glimpse of a Himalayan peak on the initial night of my Annapurna circuit trek with Pokhara-based Purna Yoga. I was tramping across the muddy central courtyard of Australian Camp, hoping against hope that my soggy trekking clothes had dried, when I was held up by a group of Americans and Canadians, chins aloft. I followed the line of their gaze but all I could see were clouds sitting prettily atop the hills.

‘See – one peak,’ came our guide and yoga instructor Mahesh’s voice from behind me.

I looked again. A pinkish white cloud seemed to hover above the dark mass of the hills. I blinked. No, not a cloud.

‘A peak,’ Mahesh confirmed, smiling at my expression.

First proper peak-sighting from Australian Camp

First proper peak-sighting from Australian Camp

Following that, every morning of the trek, we were awoken by Mahesh or our heroic porter Dinesh, bearing sweet, milky Nepali tea and swirling the playing stick gently around a singing bowl (my iPhone alarm will never be the same again) at around 6 a.m., in time for us to watch the rising sun shining pinkly on the side of Annapurna South, Machapuchare or – on the last morning, after

Staggering mountain range viewed from a rainy car window

Staggering mountain range viewed from a rainy car window

we’d trekked up Panchassee Hill – Dhaulagiri.

When my flight back from Pokhara to Kathmandu was cancelled, I ended up travelling back to the capital in a private car. We had stopped in a small town outside the lakeside tourist city for the driver to fuel up and, settling in for a long journey, I was engrossed in my book. Suddenly, something in my peripheral vision caught my attention. Looking up, I realised that the windows on the left side of the car were entirely filled – bigger and closer and more awe-inspiring than I could have ever imagined – by a Himalayan massif. It was as startling and as alien-looking as a spacecraft. I found myself yabbering incoherently – much to the consternation of my driver – tears in my eyes.

This is my yoga journey through Nepal. . .

Downward-facing dog in Nagarkot

Downward-facing dog in Nagarkot

Adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog pose): From uttanasana (forward fold), step both feet to the back of the mat. Have them together or parallel. Plant the palms into the mat, drawing energy up through the arms. Melt the shoulder blades into the back and have the ears between the biceps, the neck in line with the rest of the spine. Draw the tailbone long and stretch through the hamstrings, working the heels towards the floor.

Nepali soldiers, the Gurkhas are famed for their fearlessness and military prowess

Nepali soldiers, the Gurkhas are famed for their fearlessness and military prowess. Many have been involved in the post-earthquake rescue operation

Virabhadransana 1 (warrior 1 pose): Step your left foot towards the back of the mat, six to eight feet from the front foot. Have the right foot facing forwards, the left angled slightly inwards, the arch of the left in line with the heel of the right. Plant the outside edge of the back foot firmly into the mat and draw up through the legs. Inhale and, on the exhalation, bend the front knee, working towards getting the front thigh parallel with the floor. Ensure the front knee is no further forwards than the ankle. Root strongly down through the legs and then lift the arms upwards, clasping the hands. Turn the face towards the hands. Repeat on the other side.

The pipal or bodhi (old fig) tree is famed as being the type under which Siddhartha Gautama – the original Buddha – achieved enlightenment. They are often meeting or resting points for local communities in Nepal

The pipal or bodhi (old fig) tree is famed as being the type under which Siddhartha Gautama – the original Buddha – achieved enlightenment. They are often meeting or resting points for local communities in Nepal

Vrksasana (tree pose): Stand up straight, feet together. Fix the gaze on a point on the floor ahead. Rooting down through the left foot, slowly take the weight off the right, drawing it up the left leg to rest on the left ankle, shin or thigh. If balance allows, lift the hands above the head.

Half man, half bird, Garuda is the vehicle and devotee of Vishnu. This is his statue in Durbar Square in Patan

Half man, half bird, Garuda is the vehicle and devotee of Vishnu. This is his statue in the UNESCO World Heritage Site Durbar Square in Patan. The square suffered major damage in the quakes

Garudasana (eagle pose): Start in tadasana. Bend the knees slightly, lift the left foot up and, balancing on right foot, cross the left thigh over the right. Hook the top of the foot behind the lower right calf and balance on the right foot. Stretch the arms straight forward, parallel to the floor. Cross them in front of torso so that the right arm is above the left, then bend elbows. Hook the right elbow into the crook of the left, and raise the forearms perpendicular to the floor, the backs of the hands facing each other. Press the right hand to the right and the left hand to the left, so that the palms are now facing each other. The thumb of the right hand should pass in front of the little finger of the left. Now press the palms together, lift the elbows, and stretch the fingers toward the ceiling. Repeat the pose with the arms and legs reversed.

Machhapuchchhre – or the Fish Tail – in the Annapurna range. This peak is believed to be sacred to Shiva and is therefore out of bounds for climbers

Machhapuchchhre – or the Fish Tail – in the Annapurna range. This peak is believed to be sacred to Shiva and is therefore out of bounds for climbers

Ardha matsyendrasana (half lord of the fishes pose): Sit with legs straight out in front. Bend knees, put feet on the floor, then slide left foot under the right leg to the outside of the right hip. Lie the outside of the left leg on the floor. Step the right foot over the left leg and stand it on the floor outside the left hip. The right knee will point directly up at the ceiling. Exhale and twist towards the inside of the right thigh. Press the right hand against the floor just behind the right buttock, and set the left upper arm on the outside of the right thigh near the knee. Pull the front torso and inner right thigh snugly together. Press the inner right foot into the floor and lengthen the front torso. Lengthen the tailbone into the floor. Turn the head to the right. With every inhalation, lift a little more through the sternum, pushing the fingers against the floor. Twist a little more with every exhalation. Return to the starting position and repeat to the left.

As we trekked, hundreds of butterflies cascaded down the hillsides all around us; beautiful to look at though apparently a pest for the local farmers

As we trekked, hundreds of butterflies cascaded down the hillsides all around us; beautiful to look at though a pest for the local farmers

Bahdha konasana (cobbler’s pose): Sit upright and bring the feet together. Holding onto the feet, bring the hips towards them. Open the feet outwards like the pages of a book so that the outside edges touch but the soles face upwards. Draw up through the spine and inhale. On the exhalation, use the muscles of the thighs and buttocks to squeeze the knees closer to the floor like butterfly wings. Repeat.

The cow is the national animal of Nepal. As in other Hindu-majority countries, the slaughter of cows and bulls in Nepal is completely banned

The cow is the national animal of Nepal. As in other Hindu-majority countries, the slaughter of cows and bulls in Nepal is completely banned

Gomukhasana (cow face pose): Sit upright with the legs straight out in front, then bend the knees and put the feet on the floor. Slide the left foot under the right knee to the outside of the right hip. Then cross the right leg over the left, stacking the right knee on top of the left, and bring the right foot to the outside of the left hip. Try to bring the heels equidistant from the hips. Sit evenly on the sitting bones. Inhale and stretch the right arm straight out to the right, parallel to the floor. Rotate the arm inwardly; the thumb will turn first towards the floor, then point behind, the palm facing the ceiling. Exhaling, sweep the arm behind the torso and tuck the forearm into the hollow of the lower back, working the forearm up the back until it is parallel with the spine. The back of the hand should be working towards being between the shoulder blades. Inhale and stretch the left arm straight forward, pointing toward the opposite wall, parallel to the floor. Turn the palm up and, with another inhalation, stretch the arm straight up towards the ceiling, palm turned back. Bend the elbow and reach down for the right hand. If possible, hook the right and left fingers. Lift the left elbow towards the ceiling and, from the back armpit, descend the right elbow toward the floor. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg configuration.

Viparita karani was a perfect post-trek way to stretch out the legs every day

Viparita karani in our tea house accommodation was a perfect post-trek way to stretch out the legs every day

Viparita karani (legs against the wall): Start sitting curled up sideways on the floor against a wall, with the bottom as close to the wall as possible. Roll over to bring the base of the spine flush against the wall and extend the legs upwards. Stay here and breathe.

A 400-year-old manuscript depicting the chakras in the Patan Museum

A 400-year-old manuscript depicting the chakras in the Patan Museum

Chakrasana (wheel pose – also known as urdhva dhanurasana: upward-facing bow): Lie down on the back with hands by the sides. Bend the knees and bring the heels as close to the buttocks as possible, keeping them wider than hip width apart. Raise the hands and bring them back next to the ears. Place the palms on the floor with the fingers pointing towards the shoulders. Lift the body up with the support of the palms and the feet. Rotate the head slightly, so that the gaze is towards the floor. Stretch the thighs and shoulders.

Making new friends on a walk from Nagarkot

Making new friends on a walk from Nagarkot

Balasana (child’s pose): Kneel on the floor, big toes touching, and bottom on heels. Separate the knees about as wide as the hips. Lay the torso between the thighs. Lengthen the tailbone away from the back of the pelvis while lifting the base of the skull away from the back of the neck. Lay the hands on the floor alongside the torso, palms up.

Savasana (corpse pose): Lie flat on the back on the floor, feet mat width apart, rolling gently outwards, arms away from the body, palms facing up. Allow the eyes to gently close and the breath to deepen. Bring the awareness to the breath. Listen to the breath. Listen to the heartbeat. Relax and let go.

 

After my surprise mountain-glimpses from the car on the way back to Kathmandu, when the time came for me to fly home, I was somewhat prepared. I had been unable to check-in online, and the queues at Kathmandu airport were monstrous, so I had to settle for whatever seat was remaining. But luckily the kind Nepali man travelling to the Gulf who was allocated the window seat in my row wanted to sit next to his friend so swapped with me. I sat with my face as close to the window as I could get it, and for the first half hour of the flight, watched peak after peak poking through the clouds, looking so near I imagined I could touch them.

Parting glimpse of the Himalayas

Parting glimpse of the Himalayas

As the world knows, on 25th April this year (less than four weeks after I got back from my trip), Nepal was hit by the biggest earthquake it has experienced in 83 years – measuring 7.8 on the magnitude scale. This was followed by multiple severe aftershocks, including one that registered at 7.3 on the 12th May. The initial earthquake has killed upwards of 8,000 people, and injured many more – according to latest figures. The 12th May quake triggered landslides and has injured around 2,300 people. I’m very lucky that my friends and the people I met and visited there are all safe. But I think of the tiny villages we passed through on the trek, the smiling villagers, the farmers in their fields, the children in their smart school uniforms calling ‘Namaste!’– all their lives now changed forever. As as the outpouring of international aid has appeared to recognise, even beyond the immediate tragedy, the toll of these last few devastating weeks will continue to be felt for years to come. It is hard to know what best to do to help, where the money can be put to most use. Below are a few suggestions.

Purna Yoga:

This is the company who organised my trek. Families of their staff have been badly hit by the quakes. They have set up a fund to support these families and their local communities, and details of this, as well as how they have been spending the money, can be found on their Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/nepalyogatrek

GIZ:

The organisation for which my Nepal-based friends work. They have set up a fund that will directly support the rebuilding of their Nepali staff members’ houses that were destroyed. The details are:

Account name: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH

Account number: 504 089 10

Bankleitzahl:    504 000 00

oder

IBAN: DE29 5040 0000 0050 4089 10

BIC:    MARKDEFFXXX

 Reference:

„Spende Erdbeben Nepal Nationale Mitarbeiter GIZ“

https://www.giz.de/en/html/about_giz.html

Himalayan Disaster Relief Volunteer Group

An impressive community initiative that has done much necessary work since the earthquake. Their coordination efforts have been so effective that some bigger relief agencies are now working through them also. Here is an article about the efforts: http://www.wired.com/2015/05/nepal-earthquake-aid/

You Caring:

The organisation coordinating this campaign are well thought of and have done impressive work so far.

http://www.youcaring.com/emergency-fundraiser/relief-for-nepal-earthquake-victims/343686#.VUX6m-Dse_J.twitter

DZI Foundation: 

An NGO in Nepal that is doing good work in the aftermath of the earthquakes. It is run by an American who has lived in Nepal for 16 years. They have a lot of experience.

https://dzi.org/

Next Generation Nepal:

http://www.nextgenerationnepal.org/Donate_Online

MSF:

http://www.msf.org/country/nepal

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A Snowy Walk in Wootton Fitzpaine

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With more flooding all around the country this week, here’s a more positive extreme-weather experience from the vaults. . .

We woke to find a white wilderness surrounding our little cottage. Filled with childish glee, we gulped back tea and threw on wellies, eager to be out. There had been snow in London that week, too, but it was nothing to this Narnia-like wonderland that awaited us.

Narnia

Narnia

The news had reported traffic chaos across South England, but in the tiny village of Wootton Fitzpaine in Dorset, just three miles north-east of Lyme Regis, all was still. We pointed our boots uphill and creaked over untouched snow towards Wootton Hill and Charmouth Forest. Snow lay in thick slices on gates and branches, and ours were the only footprints.

As we trudged towards the forest, the snow began to fall again, and we threw a few sly snowballs, reassured that the signs of our desecration would be quickly covered over again. Calling a ceasefire, we noticed some smaller tracks and looked up just in time to see a flash of copper against the white, as a glossy-coated fox disappeared into the trees. We followed him noisily and soon found ourselves floundering in snow that almost overwhelmed our wellies.

Snowy branches

Snowy branches

Locating what we took to be the path through the forest, we found our way barred by boughs weighted to the ground with snow. We clambered over these and deeper into the forest, where the silence was absolute, past columns of tall birch trees, their northerly flanks camouflaged in white while the opposite sides, hidden from the wind, were still bare.

Suddenly, we encountered a second pair of footprints; what looked like a man and a very large dog – perhaps even a bear, we surmised, our imaginations snow-dazzled. Something about these tracks struck us as confident, purposeful, and we followed them deeper into the forest. Here the trail became confused by hundreds of smaller tracks – birds, foxes, deer, and others unidentifiable to our city eyes.

We came across a digger, abandoned in a clearing and looking as though it hadn’t been used in years. Its corners and deep snow harvest provided a fitting ground for Round Two of the snowballing battles.

Rejoining the trail of our man and his bear-dog, as snow began to seep in through a puncture in my welly, we paused to glance at our ordnance survey map, in a bid to discover if we were even vaguely on our intended path.

But the white-out rendered everything strange and unfamiliar. We returned to following the tracks.

Whose footprints?

Whose footprints?

In another clearing, we built a small snowman, before numb hands and rumbling tummies urged us onwards again.

At an apparent dead-end we first began to doubt our guides, as their prints encouraged us to clamber through thick growth. Scratched and muddy, we emerged out of the forest at last and once again on a path of sorts, with fields belonging to farms surrounding us on all fronts. Peering again at our ordnance survey map, we discovered that the only possible route back seemed to take us across some of these fields. Keeping our gloved fingers crossed that any farmers and their dogs would take our trespass kindly, we stumbled on.

After having to retrace our footsteps several times owing to barbed wire, electric fences and unmapped streams, we finally arrived at the top of a hill, on what seemed to be a proper lane. For the first time in over four hours, we heard voices other than our own – children in a nearby field, sledding. Although, as we never saw them, it was hard to be certain.

Slipping in the sludgy remains of driven-over snow, we allowed the steep decline to tug our weary legs back towards home.

Lost in the snow

Lost in the snow

That night, our taxi driver into Lyme Regis cursed the state of the roads. “These lanes are atrocious!” he exclaimed repeatedly, bemoaning the lack of gritters off the main roads. We smiled out of the windows and into the dark hedgerows. The village is also without a post-office, a shop or a pub (and we never quite got up the courage to enter the village hall). A bus does call in Wootton Fitzpaine – but only once a week. Sentimental visitors that we were, the snow seemed just another tool in keeping the place isolated and to ourselves.

London road-trips: The Walking (Night) Camper Van #4

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It’s been quite a while since we took a London road-trip. I’m sure by now you’re all familiar with the concept of the walking camper van – it’s time to introduce you to the walking night camper van. Think night bus, but with less vomit and inane conversation to contend with.*

As is the nature of night transportation, our route will deviate from the day-time one – it will no doubt be less direct, less convenient, but more jolly.

We’re starting from the Curzon cinema on King’s Road, just after midnight – mainly because that’s what suits me, and I’m the driver. Here’s the route:

King's Road to Lambeth Bridge

The playlist for today includes ‘King’s Road’ by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and ‘Hairdresser on Fire’ by Morrissey.

And here’s our passenger:

* There may still be some vomit and inane conversation to contend with.

Stop 1) Sloane Square

First we’ll turn left onto King’s Road and walk all the way down to Sloane Square. At this hour on a weekend night, the streets are filled with young, drunken Sloanies.

‘Zachary! Zachary! I’ve just spoken to Tabitha – they’re going to JuJu. Do you wanna go with?’

Dazzled by upturned shirt collars, long, tanned legs and sparkling teeth, it’s easy to be disoriented. But if you can drag your eyes away, the side streets of Chelsea are really very pretty – if in a highly-sanitised way – with their pastel-painted houses and Narnia lamp posts.

As the name would suggest, King’s Road’s gentile and expensive associations are not new. It originated as Charles II’s personal route to Kew, and it remained a private road until 1830.

Disembark here for smart bars, cafés and restaurants, if you’re feeling flush, or just a spot of night-time window shopping in the designer stores.

Stop 2) Pimlico

From Sloane Square we’ll turn down Lower Sloane Street and then take a left onto Pimlico Road. It’s instantly quieter, though there are still groups of people on their way home – or to the next stage of their night out.

Pimlico was built as a southern extension to Belgravia, but unlike its exclusive neighbour, its grand Regency buildings sit alongside social housing and humble newsagents. So close to the river, it is perhaps unsurprising that the land here was once marshy, until it was reclaimed in the early nineteenth century from soil excavated during the creation of St Katharine’s Dock.

English: Shop fronts in Pimlico Road Most of t...

Pimlico shops

At this part of Pimlico Road, the shops are all smart-looking design and antiques. When the road splits, we’ll take the right hand branch past The Orange Public House and Hotel – an attractive relic of an earlier age – and St Barnabas Church. On the left side of the road, Peabody buildings reach upwards, looking surprisingly French.

We’ll follow the road as it becomes Ebury Bridge Road, passing the junction for Victoria Station.

Disembark here for rail and coach connections with the rest of the country, although your options may be limited at this time of night.

Stop 3) Millbank

We’ll take the left hand branch of the fork in the road here and walk almost the whole length of Warwick Way. Towards the end, we’ll take a right onto Tachbrook Street – home to a vibrant market during the daytime – which we will walk the full length of to reach Pimlico Station.

Here we’ll cross over and take a left onto Bessborough Street which we’ll follow all the way to busy Vauxhall Bridge Road, which is part of the London Inner Ring Road.

We’ll cross straight over and take Causton Street (to the right of the Random House group building), following it round until we reach a right hand turn onto the quiet of Cureton Street. We follow this all the way round to the right until it reaches the red brick buildings of John Islip Street, which we turn left onto and walk all the way down. This road takes us behind the Tate Britain, which we can admire from the outside (it’s obviously closed at this hour).

Eventually this road turns into Dean Ryle Street, which again we follow all the way until it reaches Horseferry road. This road was named for a ferry which used to transport the Archbishop of Canterbury between Lambeth and Westminster Palaces, along roughly the same trajectory as Lambeth Bridge traces today. There is no one else on the bridge tonight, and it’s nice and quiet for somewhere so central.

Lambeth Bridge

Final Destination: Lambeth Bridge

A right turn here brings us to Lambeth Bridge itself, our final destination. Time for a cup of tea before bed.

Thank you for travelling on the walking night camper van. We would like to wish you a pleasant onward journey and look forward to seeing you again very soon

London road-trips: The Walking Camper Van #3

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Last week’s shock heatwave notwithstanding, it looks like autumn is here in earnest, so it’s high time we took another road-trip to see how the city’s coping with the change in season.

You may want to add waterproof/warm layers to the usual checklist items.

Stop 1) York Way

We’ll start off along the same route as our first trip. It’s still unseasonably warm, but there’s definitely more of a nip in the air than there was last week and the evenings are drawing in. Crunching over cornflake-like leaves, we pass cosy-looking kitchens on Camden Park Road, the warm light and delicious smells emanating from them making Lambeth Bridge seem a long way away. Disembark here for the Amy Winehouse shrine in Camden Square (not really my thing, so I’ll keep the camper van going, if it’s all right with you).

The new developments on York Way are really shooting up (the signs promise ’20 new streets, 10 new squares’), closing part of the pavement and nearly obscuring our reassuring glimpse of the BT Tower. But look over there – the London Eye, even closer to our final destination!

London Eye from afar (it is there, honest!)

Passing over the canal, a flock of birds keeps up a raucous dusk chorus as the sun finally disappears. Time to put on the headlights!

Stop 2) King’s Cross

There actually seem to be more people milling about on the streets than usual, and something of a party atmosphere in the air. We’ll have to swerve here to avoid that group of young dancers practising their moves in the middle of the street, all clad in matching leggings and UGG boots.

We’ll avoid the crowds outside the station this time, instead looping over the ends of Pentonville and Gray’s Inn Roads.

Stop 3) Bloomsbury

We’ll scoot down the little alley alongside the Camden Centre to get onto Tonbridge, then Hastings, then Judd Streets, following the same route (more or less) as our first trip. Taking a left off Guilford Street and into Queen’s Square, we pass the legendary Great Ormond Street Hospital again.

Crossing the square, we’ll take Old Gloucester Street past the fantastically atmospheric October Gallery and onto Theobald’s Road.

Request stop – Covent Garden market

Covent Garden Market, London, UK, Christmas 2008

Covent Garden Market

We (well, I) have an errand to run in Covent Garden market, so from here we’ll take a right onto Great Queen Street, follow it all the way along and across Drury Lane (looking out for the Muffin Man, of course), past the statue of a ballerina in Broad Court, down Long Acre and into the bustling theatre district around the market. Alight here for shops, bars, cafés, clubs, street entertainers, stalls and restaurants.

Stop 4) Waterloo Bridge

Our errand accomplished, we’ll forge a path through the crowds milling outside restaurants and queuing to see The Lion King in the Lyceum, across the Strand and onto Waterloo Bridge. Disembark here for Somerset House and other riverside delights.

The view from Waterloo Bridge is possibly my favourite in London, even (or perhaps especially) in the dark. See? Hmm, well maybe my phone camera doesn’t really do it justice, but you get the idea.

From Waterloo Bridge, blurrily

It’s quite blustery here, but say what you like about pollution levels in London, it still feels like fresh air after a day cooped up in the office. As we near the south side of the bridge, look right to admire Pipilotti Rist’s knicker lanterns outside the Hayward Gallery and the remains of restaurant Dishoom’s recreation of Mumbai’s Chowpatty Beach. Alight here for the many attractions of the South Bank.

Stop 5) Waterloo station/Lower Marsh

Having travelled through the underpass, we’ll emerge by the main entrance to Waterloo station, feeling very, very grateful that we don’t have deal with South West Trains today (if you are alighting here to connect with an overland train, you have my deepest sympathies).

We’ll pass the multistorey bike rack and the taxi rank and marvel at the sign prohibiting the movement of barrows across the station’s booking hall floor.

Crossing over Station Approach Road, we’ll pass onto Lower Marsh. I love this local street – it has everything you could possibly need; Thai greasy spoons, a traditional English greasy spoon, a swanky deli, a Cuban bar/restaurant, funky ScooterCaffe (where you can sip super-strength coffees, beers or wine with Lambeth’s arty crowd) and the most wonderful vintage/retro shop, Radio Days.

Final Destination: Lambeth Palace

We’ll cross the main road and go under the railway bridge, listening to the screech of trains along the tracks. In daylight we could take a short cut through Archbishop’s Park, (in which I do believe just about every sport is represented in a tiny space) but since it’s dark we’ll have to content ourselves with listening to the sound boxes of William Blake’s poetry between Carlisle Lane and Hercules road.

Emerging at the top of Hercules Road, it’s only a short hop to the right (moving briskly past Finecrown Patisserie to avoid being tormented by the smells of fresh croissants) to Lambeth Palace.

Now this is moving beyond my remit as your driver (is it a bad time to mention I don’t have a licence and have never driven a non-virtual vehicle?)/tour guide, but I heartily recommend spicy roast vegetable risotto and hot ports when you get home, in keeping with the autumnal feel and as a reward for our long walk.

Thank you for travelling on the walking camper van. We would like to wish you a pleasant onward journey and look forward to seeing you again very soon

Panorama of the London skyline. Taken from the...

London skyline

London road-trips: The Walking Camper Van #2

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I had a few potential subjects lined up for my latest post, but given the events earlier this week in London (and later in Manchester, Birmingham and Wolverhampton, among other places in the country), I felt there was really only one suitable option.

The riots have provoked as many different reactions and opinions as there are people in this city. But, at the risk of sounding mawkish, the image that has stood out most for me among all the violent scenes on our TV screens and in our newspapers is that of volunteers of all ages, backgrounds, genders and ethnicities coming together to clean up the mess afterwards. (The councils have undoubtedly done amazing work too, but I am speaking of course of the grass-roots Riot Clean Up movement that sprang up overnight on  Monday.)

Londoners don’t have the best reputation around the world, or even the country. We’re accused of being unfriendly, aggressive, rude. All these things may seem true, may even be true at times. But actually, we’re very proud of our city, and pretty fond of each other, when it comes down to it.

So, come on, camper van trippers, let’s remind ourselves what we love so much about this place. We’ve learned some lessons from our last trip. 

And, in addition to the usual checklist items, you might like to bring a broom, and some sturdy gloves and bin bags. You never know, we might encounter some London wombles in need of another pair of hands.

We’re going to vary the route a bit this time, to keep things interesting. Map 2

Stop 1) Camden

We’ll follow the same route as last time until we reach Camden Road, at which point we’ll turn right and walk all the way along to the end, past playgrounds, cafés, pubs and Camden Road overland station.

Anybody in London in the days since Monday night can’t have missed the sirens in the background of every conversation, in addition to a greater number of police men and women and community support officers out on the streets. But in general the atmosphere now is calm, and here we pass a young man joking with a pair of police women and plenty of people chatting out in the evening sunshine.

Hippy Camden was one of the areas targeted in Monday night’s riots, but today almost all the shops are open as normal, the street is clean and the tourists are back out in force.

Disembark here for market stalls selling a range of merchandise of varying quality, trendy clubs and shisha cafés, or a chilled-out drink by the lock.

Stop 2) Albany Street

Crossing over to Parkway we’ll move quickly past these men drinking and chatting through the window of the Dublin Castle pub, trying to ignore all the delicious smells emanating from a wealth of restaurants, and keep going straight until we reach a left turn onto Albany Street. This road runs along the outside of Regent’s Park (passengers should, of course, alight if they wish to take a stroll through the beautiful park). It’s a long, straight and – yes, OK, then – rather dull street, so now seems a good time for a car game. Or maybe a singalong? Perhaps ‘I Predict a Riot’ by the Kaiser Chiefs (who, incidentally, joined in with post-riot clean-up activities), or ‘Panic’ by The Smiths, to keep our spirits up?

We do pass the Territorial Army’s Regent’s Park barracks, which were once home to the Royal Horse Guards, so it’s not entirely without interest.

Stop 3) Great Portland Street

Over the road and past the exclusive, high-end shops and restaurants of Great Portland Street, which was developed by the Dukes of Portland and forms the boundary between Fitzrovia and Marylebone.

There are lots of pretty buildings and window-shopping opportunities here, but unless anyone needs a break for ‘powdering noses’ (as my tour guide on a school trip to Greece insisted on calling it), we’ll plough on.

Stop 4) Oxford Circus/Soho

Right, any passengers wishing to disembark here should do so as quickly as possible, before hoards of determined shoppers mow the rest of us down.

I, for one, can’t get down Argyll Street and into Soho quickly enough. Here we will have a well-earned refuelling break in gorgeous Flat Planet café and pick up our first ever non-virtual passenger! Isn’t she lovely?

Carnaby Street is, to my mind, a much more pleasant shopping experience, though still a far cry from it’s origins as a market in the nineteenth century, and an alternative hang-out for quirky, liberal types across the mid-twentieth century.

Carnaby Street 1

Carnaby Street

Soho itself has a long-standing association with the entertainment business (which extended, in the last century, to include the sex industry). It might have lost its edgy crown to the likes of Shoreditch and Dalston, but it remains a very pleasant place to pass an evening.

Crossing over Beak Street, we’ll pass through the romantically named Golden Square, turn right onto Glasshouse Street and then left onto Regent Street.

Passengers for the salubrious neighbourhood of Mayfair should alight here and cross over the road. The rest of us will continue down to hectic Piccadilly Circus.

Stop 5) Waterloo Place/The Mall

Turning right onto the continuation of Regent Street, we’ll follow the road all the way down as it becomes Waterloo Place (ooh look at the newly-weds!),  and admire the statue of the Duke of York at the top of the steps by the same name.

Descending the steps (passengers for the endlessly diverting Institute of Contemporary Arts may hop off here), we’ll cross the dramatic stretch of The Mall, with its Union Jacks billowing in the breeze.

Stop 6) St James’s Park/Horse Guards Road

All is mellow in St James’s this evening, with groups sitting around enjoying boozy picnics, and the peace only occasionally disturbed by the screech of geese on the lake.

A sudden roar from Horse Guards Parade makes us jump, but it’s only the crowd at one of the beach volleyball test events ahead of next year’s Olympics.

Stop 7) Westminster/Millbank

Turning left off Horse Guards Road onto Great George Street and then right onto Little George Street we get our first clear view of what is surely the most iconic London image – Big Ben himself. Passing the statue of George Canning (eighteenth/nineteenth century statesman), his cloak slung jauntily across one shoulder, and then skirting the edge of the Democracy Village camp, we’ll turn onto St Margaret’s Street, passing the Jewel Tower on our right and Parliament, of course, on our left.

We could keep going along Millbank, but I suggest cutting through the peaceful Victoria Tower Gardens.

Victoria Tower Gardens, 2005, with the Buxton ...

Victoria Tower Gardens

From here we can see across to our pretty Albert Embankment, which, as I have just learned from Bill Bryson’s At Home, was created in the late-nineteenth by Sir Joseph Bazalgette as part of the development of London’s first proper sewage system. So it’s not just a pretty face!

Final destination: Lambeth Bridge/Lambeth Palace

Here we are, back in good old Lambeth. And, really, with views like this, what’s not to love about this city?

Thank you for travelling on the walking camper van. Please make sure you have all your possessions before disembarking. We would like to wish you a pleasant onward journey and look forward to seeing you again very soon.

London road-trips: The Walking Camper Van #1

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I know you’ve scarcely had time to settle into the swing of life on the roadside, but I’d like you to join me now for the first in my mini-blog-within-a-blog series.

 You’re familiar with the concept of a walking bus? Usually employed as a more healthy and environmentally-friendly way of getting children to school, they collect ‘passengers’ along a pre-arranged route from A to B. Allow me to introduce you to the concept of the walking camper van. We all know that walking is one of the best ways to get to know a city – even your own city. So I’ve decided to make mini-walking road-trips from my office in Kentish Town to my flat by Lambeth Bridge a regular activity. (Look, it should be pretty much a straight line.)

And you’re all coming with me!

So, let’s do a quick checklist first: portable music-playing device with appropriate playlist? (I suggest ‘Waterloo Sunset’, ‘Lambeth Walk’ and ‘Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner’ as essentials). Bottle of water? Appropriate footwear? No, me neither. 

Never mind, let’s go.

If you wish to disembark the camper van at any time, please ring the bell. (Yes, there’s a bell in my camper van. It’s imaginary – I can have anything I like in it.) Oh and ditch your A-Z – or, in this day and age, switch off your smartphone’s GPS – please. Part of the fun is getting lost and, after all, would I ever steer you wrong?

Stop 1) York Way

Our starting point is the corner of Leighton Road and Torriano Avenue in one of the more picturesque corners of Kentish Town. All we need to do is to go straight down Torriano Avenue, crossing over Camden Road and continuing straight down Camden Park Road until we reach York Way.

Now, there’s no getting around it, York Way is not pretty. See?

But, hey, getting to know a city also involves seeing it’s ugly side. And York Way – once an important route between Grays Inn and High Barnet – is not entirely without it’s charms. Well, maybe ‘charms’ is overstating it, but there’s the disused York Road Tube station – a stop on the Great Northern, Brompton and Piccadilly Railway line (now abbreviated to the catchier Piccadilly line) between 1906 and 1918.

Then a few minutes later we pass Regent’s Canal on the right, with barges lined up and people drinking cans in the rare July sunshine. And look, over there – that pinhead on the horizon is the BT Tower.

So you see, civilisation is not so far away.

And another definite perk of travelling along York Way is that we won’t encounter many other tourists wandering around here.

Stop 2) King’s Cross Station

Now, this is more like it, eh? Bustling King’s Cross has been a transport hub since the mid-nineteenth century, but with the transfer of the Eurostar terminus here to St Pancras from Waterloo in 2007 (as a south Londoner, I’m still smarting at the insult), and the ongoing restoration and development of the station, we can expect even bigger things. Or, at least, disruption for commuters for years to come. Hurrah!

In the meantime, feel free to alight here for an array of trendy bars and cafés. Otherwise, let’s hurry past this class of French students having their packed lunch  . . . at 7 p.m. and this young couple who for some reason are descending the stairs with one pair of crutches between them. Hmmm.

Over the road, we’ll take a left onto Judd Street.

Stop 3) Bloomsbury

Things are on the up and up. Bloomsbury might not be as aesthetically pleasing as it was when first developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but it still conjures an air of dusty academia, literary genius and tortured inspiration. We’ll carry on down Judd Street as it turns into Hunter Street and then Grenville. Disembark and take a left here for the wonderful and moving Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square, which tells the story of the hospital that was once London’s first home for abandoned children. If that all sounds a bit depressing, the museum also has a lovely airy café overlooking the roller-blading youths out on the square.

Bloomsbury: Great Ormond Street Hospital for C...

Great Ormond Street Hospital, Bloomsbury

Continuing up along Grenville, and passing the pretty Colonnade on our right, we then turn right up Guildford Street, through narrow Queen Anne’s, then right onto Great Ormond Street, site of the famous children’s hospital to which J. M. Barrie left his royalty earnings from
Peter Pan
.

Stop 4) Covent Garden/Holborn

And here we are on Shaftesbury Avenue. Fine, fine, we may have taken a wrong turning around about Theobald’s Road, but I promise this will be good. We’ll keep going this way until we hit Charing Cross Road, filled with second-hand book shops and more than enough tourists to make up for the lack on York Way a thousand times over. The camper van is going to have to seriously slow down here, but do feel free to alight for the theatre district. Or maybe you want to pop up to Chinatown for a bit of dinner?

We’ll continue down to the Embankment and cross over the Hungerford/Golden Jubilee Bridges. Along the way, a pair of young Indian men ask us for directions (but strangely don’t seem to want a lift), which is a sure sign we look like we know where we’re going. Which we do – we’re on the home stretch now. Pausing briefly to admire the view in either direction along the river, we arrive on the South Bank.

Stop 5) The South Bank – Albert Embankment

Again, it’s going to be slow-going for the camper van along this stretch, as we turn right along the riverfront. Tourists mill around watching the myriad street performers, queuing for the Eye and spilling out of the Aquarium. You’re welcome to disembark here and join the throng.

Otherwise, we’ll push on through to Westminster Bridge. If you fancy a close-up visit to Parliament, hop off here and cross the bridge. Otherwise, we’ll go through the underpass and wallow in the peace and quiet on the other side. I don’t know what happens to all the tourists at this point, but from here all we have to contend with are the couples smooching against a backdrop of Big Ben, and the occasional jogger. Bliss!

6) Final destination: Lambeth Palace

Here we are! Lovely Lambeth Palace, the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, with its charming garden museum, is our final stop. Or, at least, where we empty the camper van. (I’m not sure we’re quite ready for me to invite you back to my flat). But Vauxhall is a stroll to the south, Waterloo an amble to the north, and the Tamesis Dock is the perfect pub-on-a-boat in which to put your feet up and aim paper airplanes at Dave, Nick, and the rest of their cronies in Parliament over pints and nachos.

Thank you for travelling on the walking camper van. We would like to wish you a pleasant onward journey and look forward to seeing you again very soon.