Tube Walks – Epping Forest

When Epping Forest is mentioned, the first thing that usually springs to mind is its reputation as a dumping place for bodies, rather than its impressive status as the largest tract of ancient forest land around London.

Its vast area, relative solitude and complement of grisly stories may make it sound more like a nightmare scenario than an enjoyable walking destination, but that is far from true.

Easily reached on the central line, I disembarked at Theydon Bois, the pronunciation of which, much like ‘Petty France’ made my French companion laugh with derision.

Theydon Bois is like the suburban ideal of a rural village. Neatly cut lawns, big houses and a well patronised local are all there, it seems bizzare that there is a direct link into central London.

From the tube station, entry into the forest is about a five minute walk. I slipped in through a pathway next to a churchyard where a man walking his dog was the only other person to be seen.

Once inside, the options for the route you want to take are almost endless. Covering almost 6000 acres there is certainly plenty to explore. What struck me most was the variety of terrain within a relatively small area, from dense woodland to wide, tree lined paths, bracken swept plains and avenues of grassy mounds and hillocks. You can really keep walking indefinitely, but there are plenty of opportunities for circular walks, including one from the tube station that is marked throughout.

For such a tranquil spot within easy reach of central London it’s remarkably quiet. I visited mid afternoon on a Sunday and only came across a dozen people at most and the majority of these were on the main thoroughfares.

I caught the trees just before the fall. Leaves were still firmly on branches and there was only the faintest hint of the rich orange hues that Autumn will bring. To visit the forest in Autumn proper will surely be a fantastic sight and I will definitely be returning before the year is out.

No hike would be complete without a pint at The Bull, the pub by the station, and once on the tube it’s only a 35 minute journey back to Liverpool Street.

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Tube Walks – Chiltern Hills

Everyone knows that London is severely spoilt when it comes to parks, from the sprawling open space of Hyde Park, the tree strewn acreage of Regents Park and the multitude of more modest, but no less beautiful, green spaces in between, as a city London is blessed by bucolity.

But, I think everyone yearns for something a little more untamed, a litter wilder, ‘real countryside’ for want of a better phrase. Finding this with any ease however can be easier said than done. Firstly, for many Londoners, relying solely on public transport can limit your choices. Secondly, if you gamble on a train to a quaint sounding destination how can you be sure that it’s actually worth visiting.

I am compiling a list of walks, hikes and rambles that can be started and finished entirely on public transport and no more than an hour away from London, with a finish point that is finishing at.

The first such walk that I planned and walked was from Chorleywood to Great Missenden.

Easily reached on the Metropolitan line, it takes about forty five minutes from Kings Cross, Chorleywood is a tiny commuter town just next to Rickmansorth. It’s always interesting to follow a tube line from its centre point to its terminus as the city slips away in front of you.

I had planned to followed the South Bucks Way, which is well signposted enough to mostly negate a map, but to reach it I had to weave a little through footpaths and minor roads, joining the path proper just past the small village of Chalfont St Giles.

This walk takes you through the famous Chiltern Hills, which never seem to be mentioned without the qualifier ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’. This route however includes no major ascents and is generally flat.

After meandering through wooded outcrops and an endless ribbon of fields, the trail passes through Amersham’s old town. The last stop on the Metropolitan line, Amersham was picture postcard quaint, neat rows of tudor buildings, cosy pubs and boutique shops that melted away into a myriad of small lanes pocked with villages, smallholdings and farms.

Eventually the path wound its way into Great Missenden. A town where Roald Dahl lived and wrote and is now home to the striking Roald Dahl museum. For me, who has always been a fan, this is reward enough in itself, but there are also couple of popular pubs that can offer you liquid, and more solid, refreshment.

From Great Missenden there is a direct train back to London Marylebone.

Hobgoblin Unsung Heroes

Camden Town is a rock and roll Disneyland. A place where the very essence of music has become entrenched through the indelible influence of the likes of Amy Winehouse, The Libertines and Madness. Its reputation as central London’s rough diamond has brought swathes of middle class mothers who fawn over the drug dealers that loiter next to the canal as a picture postcard testament to the areas ‘authenticity’. But whilst Camden Town may have lost some of its youthful brashness, the area has never ceased to play host to a wide range of bands and every night the cream of contemporary music can be found playing somewhere between Mornington Crescent and Kentish Town stations. Last Thursday was no exception with the London leg of Hobgoblin’s unsung heroes tour.

The premise of the Unsung Heroes tour is a truly worthy one. It’s all about giving recognition to the usually invisible team that make live music possible; the soundmen, technicians, roadies, drivers and managers. On Thursday night, at Dingwalls, a venue that needs no introduction, Glass Peaks and Island took to the stage to champion this cause.

I have been to gigs in Camden where deserving bands have played to little more than a handful and, conversely, to gigs where some intrepid promoter has managed to cajole a roomful Spanish exchange students into watching a group that weren’t quite ready to leave the garage, but the venue began to fill well before Glass Peaks started, and by the time they hit the first note, the place was heaving.

Rarely can it be said of a stage that has hosted the Foo Fighters and The Strokes that it was overpowered, but in the case of Glass Peaks, this is pure fact. Their sound was purely anthemic, and, in the spirit of the event, the sound technician deserves a well earned round of applause. The addition of a saxophonist in the band added an unconventional yet wholly complementary layer that defies comparison and helped to create an immersive soundscape. For me, their standout song was ‘Home’, the Battles/Foals-esque guitar hook is an earworm that is sure to be a hit for the band.

It’s only fitting to begin talking about Island by first congratulating their unsung heroes, Ben and Mike. I have to admit I’d been sleeping on Islands and didn’t really have much of an idea of what to expect. What struck me first was Rollo Doherty’s voice, it has the gritty and heartfelt distinctiveness that made the first wave of indie bands so great. Their performance was polished to the point of near perfection whilst retaining a presence on stage that made you appreciate you were watching them live and not merely listening at home. With a solid repertoire of well written songs, and gems such as ‘Stargazer’ and ‘Waves’, I’m sure these boys will be gracing playlists up and down the country. It’s a genuine pleasure to discover great British bands like Island that deliver a little flush of national pride that seems rare in these post-brexit days. If you haven’t heard of these guys most definitely check out their soundcloud and catch them at a show somewhere near you.

Hobgoblin, despite a tacit association with rock music, are just beginning to host gigs and live music, and, if their future events are anything like their Unsung Heroes tour, they will no doubt be firm favourites in the live music scene.

Park of the Week: Leicester Square Gardens

Week two and I find myself in a park right in the centre of Central London, flanked by its crowning glory M&M’s World. Amid the tourists clutching brightly coloured bags, the religious salesmen vying for souls and minds and the street dancing trio vying for loose change and recognition, I didn’t find Leicester Square Gardens a particularly peaceful place.

 Close as it is to the cultural behemoth of the National Gallery, it was covered in a film of fast food wrappers and sickly sweet smoke that someone was blowing in plumes from their electronic cigarette. I locked eyes with Shakespeare on his marble plinth and we shared a consolatory nod.

 Admittedly I was visiting during its period of redesign, which explained the expanses of soil where the grass should have been, but, it lacked that unplaceable ‘thing’ that makes a place memorable, The Small Faces certainly wouldn’t have had a hit if they’d only visited here.

Bradley’s Spanish Bar

Making a good bar is either some form of ancient wizardry or a highly unappreciated fine art, because it is a volatile and unpredictable operation.

There is no list of attributes that add up to the perfect bar or pub, neither is there a list of irrecoverable faux pas. Dim lighting and broken locks on the toilet doors are a staple of an East London basement bar, but would leave something to be desired in your local Wetherspoons. Therefore, I think it is a praiseworthy achievement when someone concocts a unanimously appreciated establishment.

Bradley’s Spanish Bar, which lies on Hanway Street, just off Oxford Street, is a perfect example of a bar that does everything right.

The main bar is tiny and would become crowded by a medium sized birthday party, but, in the liberating spirit of European bars, most people drink on the street just outside. There is another bar in the basement with a fair amount of seating, but personally, I prefer the rare freedom to drink outside without being hemmed into a cramped smoking area.

The choice of Spanish beer is very good, the bar staff are friendly and they have the intuitive policy of refunding you the difference in cash if your drink falls below the £10 card limit.

If you find yourself around Oxford Street searching for a bar that has a bit of personality, definitely go and find Bradley’s Spanish Bar.

Park of the Week: Harrington Square Gardens

London, for such a large and sprawling metropolis is extremely well endowed with green space. A map of London looks like an irregular patchwork quilt with parks, gardens and open spaces of all shapes and sizes. I, for one, have no idea the exact number or relative virtues of each, so, in the search for enlightenment, I have set myself the task of visiting a park each week and documenting what I find. For the first week, in a rather understated start, is Harrington Square Gardens.

I would like to say my choice of park wasn’t motivated by the apocalyptically heavy rain that ushered in 2017, but, frankly it was. I have to admit to a rather fleeting visit, inspired at least partially by the intensely quizzical expressions from those passing by, and the fact that I could substantially dry off if I were to take a dip in the Regent’s Canal, thankfully, however, the park is very small, so I think my exploration of it was satisfactory to pass judgement.

Located a stone’s throw from Mornington Crescent tube station, Harrington Square Gardens is very modest. To give it the title ‘Gardens’ is a perhaps an overstatement, admittedly it does have trees, grass and even a few benches, but these are surely the very base qualifications that a garden must possess.

The park itself houses a circular pathway centering on an undersized Christmas tree. Whether the tree was planted as an afterthought for Christmas just passed, or whether they’re playing the long game for a Christmas yet to come is unclear, but that is undoubtedly the focal point. It is fairly difficult to attain a favourable view of a park in a dress rehearsal of the great flood, but I feel as though the Gardens are sorely underappreciated, modest as they are, as I have honestly never seen another soul in there. I did see an advertisement for a BBQ, which is early, late or optimistic, but I hope it does at least indicate some regular patrons.

Le Beaujolais

In the sea of chain restaurants and gastropubs that central London is quickly becoming engulfed by, discovering a noteworthy independent establishment is like finding a hen’s tooth in a haystack. Thus, it was with no small amount of excitement that I discovered Le Beaujolais just off Charing Cross Road.

Le Beaujolais is a traditional French restaurant, serving authentic cuisine with a healthily varied wine list and a perfect array of aperitifs and digestifs. This place truly feels like a little slice of France in London, which, I suppose is relatively unsurprising as the proprietor and all of the bar and waiting staff are French.

I am fortunate enough to have a French partner, who amid an array of other talents, operates very well as a gastronomic barometer. I don’t know what it is about the French sense of taste, but they seem to possess powers far beyond those of the English, perhaps it’s a fringe benefit of early exposure to strong cheese. Whatever the case, my barometer was pointing with both hands at ‘delicious’, she pointed because she was preoccupied with a mouthful of their fantastic hachis parmentier.

If you find yourself around Charing Cross Road and yearn for something more than a Jamie’s Italian or a Pizza Express I highly recommend making your way to 25 Litchfield Street, which is a right just in front of Subway if you’re walking towards Shaftesbury Avenue.

Monday – Friday – 12:00-23:00

Saturday – 17:00 – 23:00

Sunday – Closed