Sunday 21 August 2016

A Capital Idea - Part 1

Capital Ring

Day 1 - Wimbledon Common to Richmond

7.00 miles

Isn’t it funny how it’s often the little things in life that give you the most pleasure?

You know, those little happenings or events that are pretty minor in their own right but that take on a bigger-than-expected meaning in your life?

Choose one path, and life trundles on much as before. Choose another, and you experience something new that brings unexpected reward – a parallel universe where life is much as it always was, but slightly richer.

The start of our Capital Ring walk, entering Wimbledon Common

This time last year, we had only the vaguest notion of a walk circumnavigating the capital, but a get-together with friends last summer in Bushy Park had introduced us to the London LOOP, a project we went on to complete in stages over the winter months of 2015/6 and enjoyed very much.

Details of this circular walk were to be found on the Transport for London (TfL) website, and it was while planning our attempt on the LOOP that we came across details of a second circumambulation of the conurbation – the Capital Ring.

With Nick & Celia

Because of its circular trajectory around the outer fringes of London, the LOOP is considered by some to be the M25 of walking routes. If so, then the Capital Ring equates to the North and South Circular, describing a smaller circle closer to the city centre – around 80 miles compared to the LOOP’s 150+.

However, the raison d’etre for its existence is much the same, connecting green spaces and interesting places as it goes.

Queensmere Lake

So once again we found ourselves with an early morning tootle on the train, crossing the city by tube and rail to Wimbledon to meet up with our friends Nick and Celia, who had kindly agreed to walk the first couple of miles with us.

A short bus journey later, we alighted close to where the Capital Ring enters Wimbledon Common and took our first steps along the route amidst the finest of mizzle.

How wide do you want the bole?

Now readers of a certain age will probably be thinking “Wimbledon Common, eh?” And indeed we did see hundreds of short, fat, furry creatures in funny outfits shuffling around in the undergrowth.

But enough about the competitors in the Wimbledon Common Half Marathon, we wanted to see Wombles.

Mind you, if the Wombles were about and wanting to make good use of the “things that the everyday folks leave behind” they’d need a lot of ideas for things to do with empty plastic water bottles.

In Richmond Park, near Spankers Hill Wood

After a lovely couple of miles ambling across Wimbledon Common, it was time to say goodbye to Nick and Celia. They went off to catch the bus while we continued along the Capital Ring, entering Richmond Park via the Robin Hood Gate.

We climbed a gentle incline past the indelicately-named Spankers Hill Wood, and stopped for lunch on a bench overlooking the open grasslands. Richmond Park covers 2,500 acres, is a national nature reserve and SSSI, and is one of the largest urban parks in Europe. Plenty of room, then, for the herds of deer we were watching to roam freely across the Serengeti-like plains.

Deer in Richmaond Park

Moving on, we followed the track between the two lakes of Pen Ponds. Away to our right stood White Lodge, now the home of the Royal Ballet School.

Looking back to Pen Ponds

Coincidences and connections intrigue me. The initial reason for our visit this weekend was to see an evening performance of Swan Lake by the Bolshoi Ballet at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Swan Lake and Pen Ponds, the ballet school and the best-known ballet company in the world – symmetries thrown up by a random choice of activities on one particular weekend.

Old oak tree

Passing an old, hollow oak, we crossed Queen’s Road by Pembroke Lodge, one-time home of former Prime Minister Lord John Russell and of his grandson, philosopher, logician, writer and historian Bertrand Russell.

Pembroke Lodge stands on a ridge overlooking the Thames valley, and you can see the logic behind the location of this historic house. The views from here are splendid, and we could see Twickenham stadium, Ham House and the river.

Descending into the Thames valley

Nearby Henry’s Mound (a burial mound so named because Henry VIII is said to have waited here for news of the execution of Anne Boleyn and the freedom to marry Jane Seymour) offers one of London’s protected views – a view which no tall buildings are allowed to obstruct – which stretches to St. Paul’s Cathedral 12 miles away.

Cattle grazing in Petersham Meadows (after John Constable)

After a steep descent, we crossed the road and entered Petersham Meadows, where a tarmac path led us on to the Thames towpath (part of the Thames Path National route – now there’s an idea!). Needless to say, on a warm, summer’s weekend in the school holidays, it was busy with families and tourists strolling and picnicking beside the river.

Beside the river

Richmond marks the end of this section of the Capital Ring. Having arrived in good time, we decided on an impromptu river cruise along the Thames – something neither of us had done before – around Eel Pie Island (a famous venue for jazz and blues music, where acts such as The Who, Genesis, Hawkwind and The Rolling Stones performed back in the 1960s) and back.

Richmond Bridge

A performance of a different sort beckoned in the evening. Covent Garden was busy and buzzing as we shoved our way through crowds and past street entertainers en route to the Royal Opera House.

Street entertainers, Covent Garden

Although not our usual choice of gig, we were familiar with much of Tchaikovsky’s music and the traditional choreography. Like with much “live” entertainment, you get a far more visceral sense of the performance seeing it on stage, and in this case the effort put in by the orchestra and the physicality of the dancers really impressed.

Inside the Royal Opera House, waiting for the curtain to rise

The journey home was a late affair, and it was no surprise we were sleepy after a long day. A good day it was, though, and we look forward to more of the Capital Ring over the winter of 2016/7.

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