The Withey Beds

A short visit to a local nature reserve between Moor Park and Watford, just north-west of London, proved an unexpected atmospheric delight, as can be seen from these photos, taken just before sunset in mid-winter, after a number of days of rain. The Withey Beds (named after withys, which are willow stems) is a relatively undisturbed area of wetlands, and so the main field was partially underwater and inaccessible, but the ~300m boardwalk that runs through the south of the site was just below the waterline.

The boardwalk is extremely atmospheric, particularly with the spooky submerged forest all around, and is in good condition so is an easy walk.

There is a curiosity early on the boardwalk – what looks like a simple clump of vegetation, is actually a woven willow feature, created by a local artist, which includes a tunnel – not accessible at all during the waterlogged season, but visible from a short dead-end section of boardwalk, just off the main route.

Fauna included a number of sheep in the main field, staring at me from a slightly raised (and so not submerged) section, a couple of ring necked parakeets that were enjoying unharvested apples from a wild apple tree, and most excitingly of all a Muntjac deer which lurked in the wooded section near the entrance to the reserve, before scampering off.

Access to The Withey Beds is very poor, there is only one entrance, and it is off a busy road (Moor Lane/Tolpits Lane) with no pavement. There is also no car park, although there is a tiny layby on the other side of the road a bit further down, for a couple of cars. The reserve is about a 15 minute walk north-west from Moor Park underground station, through the eponymous private estate and then around 200m on the busy road. Walking from the north, via Croxley station, Croxley Common Moor, the Ebury Way rail trail and Tolpits Lane, is not recommended, due to a long and unpleasant pavement-free section along Tolpits Lane.

It is difficult to see how this could be remedied without considerable expense – a pavement would be the obvious fix (and there is space on the far side of the road) plus an informal crossing near the entrance itself. An eastern entrance, making use of a bridge across the River Colne and an old tunnel underneath the railway, also looks feasible, but would require the blessing of Merchant Taylors School and Prep School, whose sites are on either side of the line.

The Withey Beds. © OpenStreetMap contributors.

There is however something to be said for the current, difficult access. You are very unlikely to bump into anyone else in the reserve, and so you can have all the flora and fauna to yourself.

Welcome to London

Do we get welcomed to Greater London at any of the capital’s boundary point crossings? The City of London has its dragons guarding most entrances, but the larger city area doesn’t really have such obvious symbols. Do we have any welcome signs? Do they welcome to you London or just to the borough you are entering (which may or may not mention London if you look carefully)? In most sections of the border, only the larger roads have signs, and they are almost always just for the borough. Here’s a few examples, using Google Streetview.

Harrow Borough has nice welcome signs on most larger roads, often 100m or so into the border. They do say London, but you have to look really carefully:

Sign on the A4140 in Stanmore.

This sign makes no mention of London at all, it’s at Hamsey Green, as you enter the London Borough of Croydon. It doesn’t specifically welcome you either:

Welcome to Croydon.

Here’s one that mentions London in a readably large font, although the capital is very much not the focus of the welcome:

Sign on the A30 as you enter the London Borough of Hounslow.

Waltham Forest’s are rather nice, if hard to read:

Welcome sign on Ranger’s Road in Epping Forest.

Hillingdon’s are also nice – there is a “London” therefore although it is very small. The Large City award message is in fact referring to Hillingdon Borough itself – it is large enough on its own to be a “Large City” in the awards, even though it is just one of London’s 32 boroughs.

Sign on Eastbury Road, as you enter London. There is continuous suburbia on both sides of the sign here, the border is also marked here in the north of the borough by a narrow footpath that runs along it for several miles.

The one sign you will virtually always see just inside the London border, on roads big and small, is the Transport for London Low Emission Zone sign. I guess it mentions “London” but isn’t exactly a welcome. (Sometimes this sign is quite a way into London – generally, the zone is as close to the border as possible, but allows a “dirty truck” escape route so that vehicles have an opportunity to turn back between the border and the zone start. For example, it will typically be at the first roundabout or other junction encountered:

Low Emission zone just inside the London border at Polsteeple Hill, in Biggin Hill.

Perhaps it’s just the major railway stations and airports that will give you a London welcome? Even then, I am not sure they do…!

OpenOrienteeringMap and MapRunF

OpenOrienteeringMap, a website for creating a PDF street orienteering map of anywhere in the world based on OpenStreetMap data, has seen a massive upsurge of use since various countries starting locking down their populations during the Covid-19 crisis. Suddenly, many people have found their exercise limited to around their home area, and, if they aren’t lucky enough to live on a “proper” orienteering map, OOM is a great way of getting a simple map quickly – with blue plaques and (for the UK) postboxes pulled in with a single click as potential control sites.

At the same time, there have been a number of initiatives to combine the basic orienteering concept of navigating with a map between points, with the use of GPS receivers on the smartphones most of us carry, and their increasingly high-resolution screens, to virtually “punch” a control by being in the correct location, and carrying the map on the phone.

MapRunF is one such project – with an Android and iPhone app. Courses can be created on the phone itself using Google Maps aerial imagery, or .ocd format maps and courses loaded in from OCAD or Mapper. But if you want the authentic orienteering experience without needing to do “proper” mapping, OpenOrienteeringMap now offers two buttons to easy the import into MapRunF.

Once you’ve saved your map and course, you can click on the KMZ and KML buttons to download a map and courses file respectably. You can then upload these to Check Sites, note down the ID number, and load it into your phone running MapRun F. Straight away, you have your orienteering map and courses, ready to run!

The KMZ map file does not include the courses or start/finish marker, as these are contained within the KML course file. However, it does contain any crossing point “bridge” symbols or do-not-cross “X” markers that you added.

The KMZ and KML files also work in Google Earth:

Try OpenOrienteeringMap – the UK and Ireland editions update daily from OpenStreetMap, while the Global edition updates once or twice a year – but you can create a map at any time! Look out also for a daily updating Australia version soon.

Camley Street Future Development

The Camden High Line makes a small appearance in the Camley Street Neighbourhood Plan published by Camden Council in July 2019. The eastern entrance to the High Line is on the northern end of Camley Street itself:

The Camden High Line was suggested by blogger Oliver O’Brien in 2015 and is being actively pursued by the Camden Town Unlimited BID. The aim is to create a linear, green and open walkway between King’s Cross and Camden Town. The route would utilise a disused railway line that runs alongside the existing Overground route. O’Brien identified a route whose eastern end terminated at Camley Street, using the existing stairs towards the northern end of Camley Street on the north side of the railway.

A revitalised Camley Street, combined with the High Line, would make for a scenic walking route between Camden Town and King’s Cross Central, or, combined with the canal link, an interesting triangular walk.

The Camley Street Plan also shows it on one of its maps:

London’s Most Easterly Point

…is, roughly, at the small bush in the middle of this photo, on the corner of a field, around 100m south of Fen Lane. It’s a very rural spot – certainly far, in terms of distance and feeling, from the centre of the capital. It’s also part of the only significant area of London than is beyond the M25 motorway that otherwise encircles the capital. Why it is part of London is a historical quirk.

Fen Lane has no sign welcoming travellers along the road to London – the only sign that you are entering the city here is the sudden appearance of 30 mph signs and a very small street sign mentioning the borough that you are now in:

Further on, at the first hamlet, you do get a Welcome – but not to London, just to the London Borough of Havering:

Even once you are in this strange part of London, some of the road signs still point to “London” rather than “Central London”:

It can feel like this little corner doesn’t really want to be part of London at all. But it is:

The East-most point of London is marked with the arrow, in the map extract above. Fen Lane is the narrow road just to the north. North Ockendon is the only London settlement of any significant size, outside of the M25.

I wonder if you are properly welcomed to London at any of the capital’s other boundary entry points?

© OpenStreetMap contributors.

Reopening of the Painted Hall in Maritime Greenwich

This Saturday, the 300-year-old Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, reopens to the public, after a two-year, £8.5 million restoration.

To help preserve the painted walls and ceiling, the old entrance has been permanently closed, and visitors now enter through the undercroft, which was previously a private dining hall for the Royal Navy, but now has a large cafe on one side and shop on the other, with admission desk at the end. At the far end is a small gallery detailing some of the history and relics of the hall.

In this gallery, intriguingly, is an oval-shaped hole. Peering down through this space, you can see parts of the old Greenwich Palace that were discovered during the restoration work. Some tiles from the palace’s hall floor, and alcoves, thought to be for the storage of honey, can be glimpsed.

A glimpse of the old Greenwich Palace.

There is also a dead-end passage ahead which looks rather intriguing – this is the “Ripley Tunnel” which runs underneath the outside path that forms the main “axis” of Maritime Greenwich. The tunnel runs between the Painted Hall and the Chapel.

The Ripley Tunnel.

Visitors then proceed upstairs to the first “wow” moment which is the vestible. Look up, as you are directly underneath one of the two cupolas which define the buildings of Maritime Greenwich (the right-hand one, in that famous view from Island Gardens).

Looking up at the cupola from the Vestible.

Up more stairs and you are in the Painted Gallery itself, with its breathtaking ceiling – the “Sistine Chapel” of the UK. Red cushioned seating, in the middle of the hall and at the sides, allow visitors to lie down and look straight up. The windows have net screen in front of them, to further preserve the paintings, but these also dim the whole hall, giving it a slightly spooky feel. Discrete lighting ensure that the ceiling and other ornamental parts of the hall are lit. At the far end, the Upper Hall contains a plaque on the floor commemorating Lord Nelson (who lay in state at that spot) and his deputy, and another large mural on the wall.

One of the lighting fixtures…

It’s undoubtably an impressive site. The hall is a big, mainly empty space – all the more to appreciate the walls and ceilings, and presumably also very useful as a flexible space for evening events.

The trust have introduced an admission fee – £12 to get in for adults, which is somewhat controversial, as it was free before. However, the first Wednesday of the month is pay-as-you-like (presumably including £0?), and definitely free on this day with a lottery ticket (the Heritage Lottery fund having funded around 40% of the work). The entrance fee includes an audio guide or group guided tour, which undoubtably is useful for interpreting what you see in the hall – as otherwise you do end up just vaguely gazing at the ceiling and its epic battle scene, and thinking it is impressive, without gaining a deeper understanding of what is being depicted and how it was created…

There’s a few other nice bits and pieces to spot – including a modern obelix at the entrance to the cafe, created by students at a college in Stratford. Beside this, there is also an attractive, back-lit drawing of the Maritime Greenwich site. In the main hall, there are also a number of cabinets containing recreations of period objects, such as an ornate crown, to try on. Or just lie down on the red cushions…

The backlit frieze at the entrance to the undercroft, showing Maritime Greenwich viewed from the north.

So, if in Greenwich, this is certainly worth visiting, along with its nearby attractions of the National Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory Greenwich, both of which are a few minutes walk away – particularly on the first Wednesday of the month when you can get in for nothing.

View from the south – the Painted Hall is in the building on the left.

Solved: Bluetooth Connectivity Problems with Recent Huawei Smartphones

Since getting my most recent Huawei phone (using Android 6.0 “Marshmallow”), I’ve noticed that automatic syncing of my Garmin Forerunner GPS watch often didn’t happen automatically – even if the Garmin Connect app was open. Typically, restarting the phone would solve the issue, and allow a sync to happen – however next time, it would fail, meaning another restart was necessary. Very annoying! There was not a problem with my older Huawei phone, which was on an older (v4.0) version of Android.

I recently acquired a Beeline smart compass for my bike, and immediately had the same issue. The initial setup was fraught, as it requires a Bluetooth connection, and I was only able to gain one, and pair it through the app, upon restarting my phone. After a few minutes, the connection would drop and, even though it was paired, the Beeline and phone would be unable to find each other.

The problem is due to a bug in the way Huawei’s battery management of its Bluetooth connection to apps, works. A simple configuration change was all that was needed, in order to fix both the Bluetooth connectivity between the Garmin Connect app and my Garmin Forerunner, and between the Beeline app and my Beeline device itself. Once I made the change, I was able to set up Garmin Connect so that it runs in the background, and now I don’t even have to manually open the app in order to sync, after a cycle ride.

The change is surprisingly poorly documented, and also quite hard to find. Indeed it seems to have been specifically hidden away. Essentially, you need to disable Huawei battery management for the app.

The steps you need to do are:

  1. Go to the Settings app.
  2. Choose “Apps & notifications”
  3. Choose “Apps”
  4. Press “Setting” at the bottom.
  5. Press “Special access” under the Advanced section.
  6. Press “Ignore battery optimisation”
  7. Press the “Allowed” dropdown at the top.
  8. Choose “All apps”
  9. Scroll to the app which is experiencing the Bluetooth connection issues. It will probably have “Not allowed” displayed below it.
  10. Select the app concerned.
  11. Choose the “Allow” option and press OK.

That’s it!

Your Beeline, or Garmin Forerunner, should now generally connect without issues. You have to wait a few seconds, and you may sometimes need to toggle off and on the Bluetooth function from your shortcut panel. But you shouldn’t have to restart your phone just to be able to connect your devices.

Crossrail Preview – Whitechapel

Crossrail, who are building the Elizabeth line railway across London that is due to open this December, held “sneak preview” open days recently at two of their stations – Whitechapel in east London, and Tottenham Court Road in the centre of the city. The previews were self-guided tours of part of the new sections of the stations, including the Crossrail platforms and ticket halls.

Here’s some photos from the visit to Whitechapel. This already has Underground and Overground platforms (the former famously underneath the latter) but the Crossrail ones are far deeper down both.

The surface-level station reconstruction looks quite far from finished in places, however on the outside of one of the new buildings there is some nice concrete detailing:

Whitechapel has an additional six months before it comes into use in May 2019 as an Elizabeth line station, when the Shenfield services start to be threaded with the Abbey Wood services, into central London.

Descent was via over a hundred steps – these huge escalators are not yet for public use:

We were then able to walk around a section of the platform. Notice how the main lighting source is a continuous light panel that sits above the platform screen doors, between the two are the next train indicators – these screens for these are tilted down and covered in this picture, with some cabling sticking out:

The glass platform screen doors were visible, along with the pristine looking running track:

A reminder that the project is close to completion:

Also, impressive in size was the huge connecting chamber – there is only one normal exit from each platform, unlike many other Crossrail stations which will have exits at either end. The connecting chambers don’t have regular corners onto the platforms and passages, instead they curve around rather sinuously. The effect is quite futuristic and rather fantastic:

It was great to get out of the oppressive heatwave, down into the cool (for now) platforms of the Crossrail project.

London Borough Challenge

Is it possible to visit all 32 London boroughs (& the City of London) in a day? How quickly can you do it?

The “London Borough Challenge” has been on my to-do list for a while, and I finally got around to tackling the challenge on Saturday.

For my first attempt, and so possibly the World Record (if no one else has done/beaten it) the time was: 9 hours, 25 minutes, 23 seconds. It was 92km of cycling in 10 stages + 103km on 9 train journeys.

My initial thoughts were to do a route involving tube/trains, stopping at a station in each borough. Kind of a borough version of Geoff Marshall’s famous Tube Challenge. However I thought that would be a bit underwhelming for a “tour of London” – just railway platforms rather than the public realm. Also, it was a lovely, warm day, and spending the whole day cooped up in various trains and tunnels didn’t appeal. So, I decided to do a bicycle + train combo. If you don’t have a bike, you can probably substitute the cycling sections with a combination of walking, jogging and buses/trams. I’d not recommend a bikeshare bike, as if you are cycling nearly 100km, you want something that is comfortable for you for those kinds of distances.

Challenge rules

  1. Visit all 32 boroughs + the City of London, take a photo in each one to prove the visit.
  2. Each photo must be taken from within the borough and must be of a street name sign with the borough name and/or borough crest/logo on it.
  3. Where a borough does not have street name signs with the borough on it, then a photo of a borough-owned street name sign with an immoveable object beside it (e.g. anchored waste bin, grit bin) with the borough name/logo on it is OK. (e.g. Bromley, Sutton)
  4. Truncated borough names (e.g. “Barking” for Barking & Dagenham) are OK.
  5. You can also have local neighbourhood welcome signs if they also contain the borough name/crest/logo (e.g. Corbets Tey in Havering, and Pinner in Harrow) as long as it’s not a “welcome to the borough” sign (as you are not standing in the borough when you see the sign!) and as long as it’s not on the edge of the borough (same reason).

Note that none of the 9 photos in this blogpost qualify – click on the blue pins in the map above to see the actual qualifying photos.

My route was constrained by the inevitable weekend railway engineering works. The main effect this had, on the day, was very limited services out of London Bridge station. The line through Forest Hill was closed, as were the lines through/near Lewisham. This would make the south-east London section difficult, with a long cycle needed from the Greenwich line down to Bromley, rather than a train dropping me near the Greenwich/Bexley/Bromley intersection; and then another long cycle down to Croydon rather than the London Overground dropping me there. I decided to cycle from Abbey Wood, on the Greenwich line, as I wanted to have a look at the brand new station there (it is a very nice new structure!) and thought this would avoid Shooters Hill – it did, but I forgot about Knee Hill – not quite as big, but very definitely a hill.

The main issue of the day was that I ran low on my GPS battery and phone battery. The former died completely about 20 minutes before the end of the challenge, so I missed tracing my final route into Barnet. The phone looked like it was on its way out before the end too, but by using airplane mode I was able to eek out the last bit of charge. This however meant I couldn’t risk using it for navigation in the latter part of the day. The location of the sun was useful as a rough compass indicator, but as I only started my challenge at around 2pm, it got dark during the latter part of the challenge and so I suffered some navigational problems thereon. In particular, my route out of Wimbledon station was very poor – I thought I was heading northwards alongside Wimbledon Park whereas I was heading southwestwards. You can see a dramatic and accidental curve in the map above. I similarly took a poor route from Richmond Park to Richmond proper, and wasn’t sure of the boundary lines around Turnham Green station, hence some double-backing around here while reading street signs for borough information! (it was nice to see this artwork there though.

So, I am sure 9 hours, 25 minutes and 23 seconds is easily beatable. Maybe it will be much faster if done by car, at night? A route much shorter than 195km should be possible, a squint at the map suggests the shortest route would not be much less than 138km. Maybe going via Crystal Palace (five boroughs within a few hundred metres), if you can make it up that hill? 33 stops works out at less than 20 minutes per borough though, and actually finding a “qualifying” sign took quite a while in places. I think I got lucky for some boroughs. Waltham Forest appeared to have no labelled signs, but literally as I was exiting the borough, having cycled right through it, I found a very old street sign with the borough name on it. I also think I was very lucky to find a Wandsworth labelled sign. For four boroughs (Bromley, Sutton, Havering and Harrow) I never did find a street name sign with the borough name on it.

Challenge miscellany

  • I only spent a couple of hours planning the route and checking to see what trains were running.
  • I did not do any research into which boroughs would typically have borough names on their street name signs. This proved to be a problem right at the start – which was going to be around the IKEA at Tottenham. A fruitless search for names in this pretty bleak part of London, until I headed westwards into more residential areas.
  • I scribbled down rough timings, planned route (town-to-town) and boroughs. The rough rule that any journey in London on public transport takes half an hour seemed to hold true. My timings suggested a start at 14:00 and finish at 23:45. I started a little earlier and quite quickly made up half an hour by doing the central London leg at speed. I spent the rest of the day consistently 20-30 minutes ahead. I was keen to maintain this so that I could get through Richmond Park before the gates were locked – I forgot that it’s actually open 24 hours for pedestrians/bikes.
  • I used a Google MyMaps map (not the one above) loaded with a KML of the boroughs, to check where I was and where a nearby borough boundary was.
  • I used OSMAnd loaded with an offline OpenStreetMap map of London for detailed navigation when I needed it.
  • Total cost was just £9.75 for the day – £8.30 on an Zone 1-6 paper travelcard with railcard, and £1.45 on a fizzy drink in Sutton (it was a hot day!)
  • Trains generally ran to time, except for (guess who) Southern from West Croydon to Sutton which was around 10 minutes late.
  • OMG the Thameslink loop around Sutton is really very slow – although quite scenic.
  • I don’t know what on earth is going on with the road layout around Barking but it is a complete mess.
  • The only place I suffered from impatient (but not rude) drivers was, quite reasonably, as I was going up Knee Hill. Very steep, busy, no pavement…
  • I probably wouldn’t recommend cycling around Crittal’s Corner on the Bexley/Bromley border – and especially stopping on the slip to take a photo of the sign (above).

The challenge was a nice way to see a cross-section of London. However I did only spend a few seconds in some boroughs (Camden, Ealing) so it perhaps wasn’t a representative tour of the whole metropolis. The most intense full-on London experience was at/around Barking station, particularly as the street market was on. The nicest bit was, for sure, cycling through Richmond Park at sunset, with its lovely views and herds of deer. Uxbridge Road in Harrow, less so (although it was dark and I was rushing at that point). It was good to find some new cycle infrastructure – the new tracks along Forest Road in Waltham Forest and from Aldersbrook to Manor Park, for example. 0 I only got to cycle right across a few boroughs – Waltham Forest, Bexley, Hammersmith & Fulham and Harrow. A few – Havering, Sutton and Brent, were just jump out of the train, cycle around a bit, jump back on the next train. I was happy not to have to spend too long in Harlesden. But London is a city of villages and several that I visited were pleasant – Wimbledon village, Wood Street, Sydenham, Alderbrook. Upminster seemed nice enough. Spitalfields was buzzy as ever. Even Abbey Wood appears to be having an embryonic rebrand as Abbey Wood Village – hello there Crossrail.

Route narrative/timings

13:50:05EnfieldStart right by the Haringey border, having found a suitable sign.
13:54:20HaringeyFollowed by a nice cycle through Tottenham Marshes and then along Forest Road and Wood Street.
14:25:57Waltham ForestHaving cycled right through the borough, found a named sign a few metres pretty much on the boundary.
14:27:30RedbridgeA very old sign, for the same road as above, and didn’t find any more.
14:37:07NewhamBy Manor Park station, with the borough crest on the sign.
14:55:06Barking & DagenhamA sign for “Borough of Barking” which counts as it’s part of the borough name, even though the sign is for the pre-1965 Barking borough.
15:02C2C trainAir conditioned 🙂 from Barking fast to Upminster. 9 minutes for 12km.
15:19:30HaveringA borough without its name on its street name signs, but found a Welcome to Corbets Tay sign with the borough name/logo on it.
15:35C2C trainFrom Upminster to, interestingly, Liverpool Street, via Barking and Stratford. 27 minutes for 25km. I think this is a weekend only route. It was packed with Stratford Westfield shoppers.
16:04:25City of LondonLike all inner London boroughs, the City of London name appears on all street name signs.
16:06:58Tower Hamlets 
16:17:44CamdenOnly in borough for a few seconds.
16:27:46LambethThe Welcome to Lambeth sign appears at the other end of Waterloo Bridge from the Thanks for Visiting Westminster sign. No-mans-land in between?
16:41Southeastern trainFrom London Bridge to Abbey Wood. 27 minutes for 16km. Slow train! It was the part of a special route to Orpington via Erith and Lee (!). I could have gone from Waterloo East and got off at Woolwich, but I fancied visiting the rebuilt London Bridge and Abbey Wood stations which are both impressive soaring lit-wooden-ceiling structures. Plus there was a train at Abbey Wood with the “Elizabeth Line” roundel (not “TfL Rail”) on it 🙂
17:13:35GreenwichA long way from Greenwich itself, but not too hard to find a sign.
17:20:57BexleyWeirdly, Bexley borough street name signs seem to have a “no dog mess” symbol as the “logo”, rather than a council symbol or crest.
17:52Thameslink + Southeastern trainsSt Mary Cray to Bickley, and then Bickley to Penge East. 18 minutes for 12km + 6 minute change. In Bromley borough for the entirety of this leg.
18:26:21LewishamMost street name signs without the borough name, but found this one near a roundabout in Sydenham.
18:54:36CroydonAlmost no street signs with the borough name on them, so continued cycling past Selhurst, until finally found one outside West Croydon station.
18:59Southern trainWest Croydon to Sutton. A bit delayed. 12 minutes for 7km.
19:25:27SuttonAnother borough which hides its identity on its street name signs. So found a fixed bin. Had a nice looking shopping parade though with the borough logo on its gates, and a lovely clock outside the station.
19:37Thameslink trainSutton to Wimbledon. On the Thameslink loop – very slow. 21 minutes for 9km.
20:03:30MertonPretty every sign has the council name/logo on it.
20:22:11WandsworthWith phone battery running low and it getting dark, I didn’t realise I that I did a huge accidental 180-degree loop from Wimbledon Park into Wimbledon village instead of Southfields. Crossed into Wandsworth eventually and found this very old sign, almost entirely hidden by branches – so did some gardening.
20:36:26KingstonFollowed by a twilight cycle through Richmond Park.
20:51:39RichmondAll street name signs mention the borough.
21:04London Underground tubeRichmond to Turnham Green. 9 minutes for 5.5km.
21:17:57HounslowAll signs have the borough name on them.
21:19:00EalingAnother “easy” one. Only in Ealing borough for a few seconds.
21:23:16Hammersmith & FulhamThe borough finishes just beyond this sign.
21:31:21Kensington & ChelseaAs you might expect, this Royal borough loves to put its name on all the signs.
21:43London Overground trainShepherd’s Bush to Willesden Junction. 9 minutes for 4km. With a 10 minute wait for this one too, I probably should have cycled it.
21:59:02BrentBizarre spiral route out of Willesden Junction, walking at track level, with the platform (and train) beside/above you, along a very long walkway. Quick loop through, as all street signs have “Brent” on them, to find the other entrance to the station.
22:11London Overground trainWillesden Junction to Hatch End. 20 minutes for 13km.
22:39:20HarrowNo street name signs mention Harrow, but it does have neighbourhood welcome signs.
22:47:30HillingdonDidn’t realise this at the time (no map), but I’d followed the edge of the borough around.
23:15:28BarnetTedious and unpleasant cycle along a surprisingly busy Uxbridge Road. They don’t expect cyclists this far out.


To get back to the start, I took advantage of the travelcard and the limited carriage of bikes on the Northern Line to go two stops from Edgware to Colindale and then one stop from Finchley Central to East Finchley (a suprisingly long way) thus managing a rare single journey involving both branches of the northern line in the same direction. It only makes sense if you look at the line geographically. Which left for an exciting finish for a weary cyclist down Muswell Hill. 🙂

Huawei P Smart Review

Through The Insiders I recently received a Huawei P Smart smartphone at a special rate. Here’s a review of it and some notes, a couple of weeks in:

The Huawei P Smart is a new “budget” phone launched by Huawei in the UK in early 2018, around the same time as its premium featured/priced P20 range, but an attractive price-point (£230 list price, in practice around £200) compared with £600+ for the P20 series.

The transfer process was straightforward. First I made sure my Whatsapp history was auto-backed up to Google Drive, then I simply removed my current SIM, snapped out the Nano shape and put it in the new phone, transferring my SD memory card at the same time. I then installed Phone Clone on both phones, the app creating a phone-to-phone network and then copying all applications

The Good

  • Comes in a nice compact Apple-style white box.
  • The fingerprint unlock mechanism is simple to set up and works very well.
  • The phone is a really nice physical design, with a curved edge and nice, black back with thin two metal bars to add a nice bit of styling. The logo is the bottom rather than the top, which is a bit weird but I’m getting used to it there.
  • Comes with USB Micro socket for charging, and a nice compact charger with a pop-up third pin. USB Micro cables/chargers are widely available so it’s good to have this as the charging solution rather than the still rare USB C.
  • Quite quick to charge – around 3 hours from empty to 100%.
  • Comes part charged (~60%) out of the box.
  • Comes with a decent looking pair of headphones, and a regular headphone socket.
  • Takes nano SIMs and Micro SD card on the same slideout tray
  • The screen is lovely and sharp.
  • Both front and rear cameras take excellent, sharp photos (see the examples above and below).
  • The “Bokeh” effect, while not being perfect (see grumble below) produces really nice “portrait” photos, as long as you have the distance right and good lighting conditions. A great example is a photo I took of a colleague above.
  • Comes with Android v8 which is a great UI and well designed, with an improved permissions request mechanism and more UI consistency.
  • Definitely a lot snappier than my Ascend G7 was, with the same number of apps loaded/open.
  • Not too many “junk” apps installed on it.
  • Nice auto-switch between mobile network data and Wifi data. One of my perenial annoyances was where I would auto-connect to a Wifi network and then not get data as I was not logged into it. Now, it will just switch back to the mobile data without me needing to disconnect the Wifi manually. Conversely, it will also auto-connect to new open Wifi networks it finds, seamlessly, for saving on mobile data usage limits.
  • Only a single speaker – but this a good thing, phones are juke-boxes to irritate near people with, the speaker should just be for ringing, or use the nice stereo headphones.

The Bad

  • It only lasted about 30 hours between its first charge to 100%, and being empty, with “normal use” (no videos). I was hoping it would manage to go 2 days and 1 night without a charge, at least for its first year, like the Huawei Ascend G7 it is replacing. Since then, it’s done a little better. With light use it will manage a couple of days. But if you spend a day at an event (e.g. wedding reception), taking lots of photos and maybe using the map a few times, it will be out of power before the end of the day.
  • This is the first Huawei “budget” phone to have dual back cameras for simulating low F Number effects (allowing for blurring of background detail while bringing the only subject into sharp focus). This works quite well but is not perfect – perhaps because the second camera, which is calculating the depth of field, is low-resolution (2MP). So, it doesn’t quite get the blur/not blur boundary quite right.
  • It is also not obvious how to start using this feature. Basically, it is activated by using the Portrait mode.
  • Photo processing tends to aggressively sharpen images, causing a halo effect for certain shots.
  • The system occasionally pauses/hangs for a few seconds, e.g. when reopening Google Maps, or going from standby to taking a photo with the camera. It’s something that my older phone did all the time, but I was hoping that this newer one would never suffer these pauses.
  • In the default keyboard, the space bar has been shifted slightly to the right. This means I keep hitting the new Emoji button which is in the middle-left, where the space bar used to extend to, and so keep putting in Emojis when I was just hoping to have a space…
  • Out of the box, the system uses 7GB of space, so you have 7GB less to play with, than is written on the box (so 25GB rather than 32GB in my case). Slightly confusingly, the space is called “ROM” on the box, which I always thought was Read Only Memory. These days its referring to the solid-state internal memory space for storing files/photos.

Conclusion: It’s not perfect, but for £200 SIM-free this is an excellent smartphone, well built, powerful and with some good premium features. Just be prepared to watch that battery, and be patient when waking it.