Walk to HMS Bulwark from Rotherhithe

HMS Bulwark
HMS Bulwark

London seems to be a weekly commute for me at the moment. This Saturday I have managed to get tickets for a tour of the Navy ship, HMS Bulwark moored up in Greenwich for a few weeks. To make a day of it I thought I would walk from Rotherhithe which will complete the walk I started last weekend when I walked from Rotherhithe to Tower Bridge.

Waiting at Berkhamsted there were quite a few groups of people with picnic hampers clearly some outside event was on. The train was relatively busy but I got a seat with a table for the coffee I purchased on the platform. The train was running 7 minutes late.

I chose to tube it to Rotherhithe, then I kept to the Thames path as much as I could, it turned out to be quite a long walk and at Deptford high street I thought about getting a bus but the next one was in twenty minutes so I carried on walking. By the time I got to the Cutty Sark I was quite tired of walking. There was a sort of French market on and I bought A veggie quiche for lunch the whole transaction done in French. I followed that with a coffee and a pee at the Greenwich  museum the cafe was a bar as well and brewed its own beer in the big atrium of a bar in big copper brewing things.

Inside HMS Bulwark
Inside HMS Bulwark

I joined the queue at about 1245 for the 1300 trip. I had a spare ticket and offered it to a guy carrying a camera, I don’t think he really understood what I was offering him, he said yes bit then disappeared. Luckily for a young lady in the queue near me I was able to offer her the spare one. She had registered but could not get the eTicket up on the screen of her blackberry.

Her name was Natalie and she was a bored commercial lawyer and was thinking of joining the Navy as a legal reserve? We were soon herded into a tent for 10 minutes of how great the Navy is and why we contribute taxes to the service which provides value for money. Then we were herded onto a jetty where our launch to take us to the Bulwark was waiting. Once on board I tagged onto one of the guided tours of he boat. We visited the control room where they play war games the helicopter deck where we were able to go into the cockpit of the helicopter parked there. In the control room I noticed they were still using Windows XP that probably explains why the government has agreed to pay Microsoft for patches post them making the OS end of life. We also went into the depths of the vessel where we got to see the landing craft which can be launched out of the back of the ship.

Cutty Sark
Cutty Sark

We were on board for about an hour and a half. Were were herded back to the pontoon to pick up the launch to take us back to land at the Cutty Sark. I was quite tired by this point so decided to take the most quick and direct route back possible. Google t0 the rescue, a Tube station was near by bit the line was closed further down the line so down 10 flights of steps on to DLR then off at the next stop up some steps, onto a bus that went all round the houses and eventually to another DLR station where I got a train to Bank, then the Northern line to Euston where I was two trains ahead of the Google suggestion.

At Berkhamsted I picked up Helen who was shopping for dinner then we went home for Pizza and salad for me at least an early night. A tiring but enjoyable day.

Elvis Presleys false tooth and the WW2 Bunker

WW2 Paddock bunker in Neasden North London
WW2 Paddock bunker in Neasden North London

I have mentioned the Ian Visits website before on this blog, well today we attended two events we we spotted there. Both events are a bit unusual and completely different. First we visited a rarely open WW2 bunker, then we went to a dentist surgery to have a look at Elvis Presley’s false tooth. The day started with a bit of a panic, when I realised that although we had got up at 07:00 to get to Neasden in good time I thought we had to be there at 09:30 but when I checked the ticket it said 09:00. Any how we left the house at 07:45 and the Sat Nav was suggesting that we would be there by 08:55 plenty of time we thought!

RAF museum at Hendon
RAF museum at Hendon

The Sat Nav it turns out take account of traffic it knows about but that is not all traffic so after following it to detour the traffic it did know we ended up in queues that it had not anticipated. At 08:55 we called Katy the organiser to let them know we were running a few minutes late. We finally go there at 09:20 and they kindly allowed us to tag along with the school kids on the 09:30 tour. The tour started by obviously going down some steps quite a few in fact, the tour guide was very good and explained how far down we were and the little amount history of the place. The Bunker was only ever used twice during the war then was locked up to hardly ever be opened again so no one really was aware of it presence and those that were had signed the official secrets act and could not divulge anything. For example they had contact with a person that whose duty it was check the phones worked every week but she could not tell them much about the place as she was only permitted to descend the steps walk along the corridor check the phones then exit they way she had come,  blissfully unaware of the size of the complex.

Elvis and his false tooth
Elvis and his false tooth

The tour took about an hour and was very interesting, the place was very damp (because when they built some houses on top they breached the water proofing) dirty mouldy and there were stalactites on the ceiling. The Paddocks as the bunker is know is made available to be viewed by the public twice a year by the housing association that built the house on the research site which was above the bunker. This was a stipulation of the planning consent and although the stipulation as run out they sill keep the pumps going to get the water out and pay for the lighting.

Once the tour was finished I suggested we went to the RAF museum at Hendon for a cup of coffee at the cafe there. It turned out to be a popular idea and a cheap one at that the parking cost £3 but the entrance to the museum was free so we had a bit of a look around while we were there. I took the opportunity to take a few panorama sets of photos before we left for the highlight of the day Elvis Presley’s false tooth.

Again Ian Visits tipped me off that there was a once in a life time opportunity to see Elvis Presley’s false tooth (or crown as they say in dental clinics). I set the sat nav and after 30 minutes in London traffic we pulled up outside a house in an Victorian housing estate in Bounds Green which had been pebble dashed and converted into a dentist practice. There appeared to be nothing happening but on the door was a poster suggesting an Elvis tribute would be there between 1200 and 1400. On entering we entered into a strange situation, there was an Elvis impersonator singing songs whilst the practice staff milled about with fancy dress on. On the reception counter was a clear perspex box containing a tooth moulding and a bright white crown, the object of our mission.

Elvis and his false tooth
Elvis and his false tooth

There were a couple of press photographers taking photo’s, some Cancer Awareness representatives and Virgin Active sales people apart from that we seemed to be the only people there at that moment. A woman approached us and asked if we wanted a free mouth cancer check we said yes and filled out the forms. As we waited we made sure we got selfies with the tooth and were interviewed by the Mouth Cancer awareness people. We both declared clear so we left with our sugar coated cup cake!

We headed back via the super market and endured a very violent hail storm on the A41 and were back home to good time, after a bizarrely interesting day.

Oxford on a sunny Spring day

Pitt Rivers musuem Oxford
Pitt Rivers musuem Oxford

Woke up to a sunny day which according to the weather man would be warm at 16 degrees C. A trip to Oxford was in order, a quick Google threw up a Cezanne exhibition at the Ashmolean and an exhibition about the Japan tsunami at the Pitt Rivers, then of course there is always a good browse around the great book shop called Blackwells.

After a leisurely breakfast we headed out to the Thornhill park and ride which is the best way to “do” Oxford from our side. A bus was waiting when we got there and we were soon treading the streets off the City Centre. We headed first to the Ashmolean as it was a paid for and timed entry, £20 lighter but having got some back from HMRC via gift aid we were viewing some rarely seen Cezanne’s. Helen would have liked more paintings , there were quire a few sketches, but was impressed by the Sisley river scape painting.

Natural History Museum Oxford
Natural History Museum Oxford

Next we headed towards the Natural History museum to seen the photo exhibition in the Pitt Rivers we stopped at an independent coffee shop and grabbed a falafel and humus sandwich coffee and cake which we ate on a bench outside the museum. Apart from being a great museum full of Natural history cabinets the building is very interesting. if you take a look from the outside the windows frames are all different, they have a similar overall design but some have more ornate edges than others. On the inside there are a series of columns that are part of the balcony that gives views over the ground floor, each one is made of a different UK rock variety.

Blackwells Oxford photo point
Blackwells Oxford photo point

Whilst there I took the opportunity to take a panorama of the main hall, which also has a very ornate steel roof with lots of glass panels in it. We then ventured in to the Pitt Rivers part where we had a look at a photographic exhibition of how a museum in Japan salvaged lots of museum pieces which were affected by the 2011 Tsunami. They really had their jobs cut out restoring photos and negatives which were water damaged.

In the Pitt Rivers main section with all its glass cabinets full of stuff, and the curators with wind up torches always ready to show you where the witch in a bottle is displayed, I got into a conversation with one regarding photography in such a dark place. I promised to post the photos on his Flickr group.

It was about 14:30 by the time we had finished, and we had had enough of walking around so we headed back to the bus stop via Blackwells the best book shop in Oxford followed by the covered market, and went home. All in all a lovely day out and the weather made all the difference.

UK Photography show 2014

The 14:30 to London Euston
The 14:30 to London Euston

Helen is at work this morning I was  unsure what to do with my self, I had thought about the UK Photography show at the Birmingham NEC but decided against on Saturday. However when I woke up I decided that seeing as I had to drop Helen off at work I may as well keep on driving up the M40 and have a look.

Yesterday I made the most of the great weather by going for  a walk in the morning . I did the walk I blogged here but  I bit off more than I could chew when after I got back I had an offer from N for a walk from Nrothchurch to Ashridge NT Cafe. So that afternoon N&M walked from Northchurch to the monument at Ashridge. Trouble is by the time we got to the cafe my knees were complaining so rather than walking back I got a lift back to Northchurch with P and left the other two to walk back.

The exhibition I did not go to
The exhibition I did not go to

However I digress this is a post about the UK Photography show at the Birmingham NEC. I left Aylesbury just after 08:00 after dropping Helen off, then headed to Bicester to pick up the M40, and I stopped at the first services for a coffee as I had not had time for one earlier. The motorway was pretty quiet I noticed that spring was on the way as I say lots of rooks flying about in pairs as wells as quite a few common buzzards often being harassed by the rooks. I made good time and arrived at the exhibition center just before 10:00 and was soon on the shuttle bus from the car park to the exhibition halls.

The entrance fee was £10 which when added to the £10 for parking is quite steep. I need to figure out how to get trade entry to all these things, as well as saving money you get access to all areas. The exhibition was fairly busy and all the usual suspects were there i.e. Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, as well as a lot of the major camera shops.

A few things attracted my attention. First was a Chinese guy selling sensor cleaners that are basically a cude of gel on the end of a plastic stick, they were no cheap at £30 but they clearly work from the demo he gave cleaning someones camera. Trouble is I thought I would go back before I left to buy one but could not figure out where he was when I went back. I took my time to have a look at the Wacom Intuos tablets which replace the mouse with a tablet and pen. Helen asked to to look for a birthday present I think I may have found it. There were lots of stalls selling camera rucksacks which I could do with replacing but I just could not be bothered to fight the crowds to take a good look.

The UK photography show 2014
The UK photography show 2014

Amongst the other exhibitors there were plenty of people selling ways to print and display photo’s and plenty of tripods to look at . The current trend in tripods are ones where the legs folder right up in the opposite direction from which they are used, this ensures that the head is between the legs when it is folded up and it results n a very compact package. Trouble is the good ones are circa £250.

After about three hours wandering around I had had enough especially after all the walking on Saturday, so I left and headed south. I picked up the ingredient to make a Thai style coleslaw for tea and picked Helen up in Aylesbury.

Cross rail a big hole in the ground

Big Crane at the Crossrail site
Big Crane at the Crossrail site

I subscribe to the http://ianvisists.co.uk RSS feed and the other day I noticed that a post about visits to the Crossrail building site near Bond Street. Usually these things get booked up pretty quickly but I was lucky enough to get a space, if I remember correctly I was bored waiting for a plane when I did the booking via the http://eventbrite.co.uk website.

I had quite a few things planned already for the weekend so time was not on my side. First I had to check a couple of things for work as the electricity was being turned off at my local site so we were using the generator to keep the power to the computers going, I just had to check that it was still working which I did at 07:30. Then I checked a couple of issues for the accountants as it was the first end of period of the year there is always a few things that need tweaking. Next stop was a long over due hair cut, I find the best strategy is to get to the barbers in Wendover just before they open at 08:30 as you can get a space to park outside the shop and your first in the queue. On this occasion I was running late but third in the queue was OK as they have three chairs running on a Saturday.

It was with a cold head that I returned home to have a quick coffee then drop Helen off up the road then head to Berkhamsted station to catch the 09:46 which luckily for me was running 5 minutes late and I managed to catch it. About half way to London we stopped due to no power in the overhead lines but we were only stationary for about 5 minutes, clearly the train needed some maintenance running late then having to stop. We arrived at Euston at 10:24.

Crossrail big hole Bond Street London
Crossrail big hole Bond Street London

I had plenty of time so I decided to walk, despite having a railcard. I had a couple of hours so I could take my time. Just off Euston the is the welcome trust which is always with dropping into as there is always something unusual to look around. Today there was an interesting art and photography exhibition. Then I walked down Tottenham Court road and did a bit of browsing in the technology so windows. I called Specsavers in Aylesbury to see if they had my contact lenses in and it turned out they had not, they gave been messing me about and I was about to run out of lenses. I had passed a branch earlier so I hoped on the bus and retraced my steps back where a reluctant employee phoned my branch to get my prescription only to announce that they had none. I asked about alternatives then she went into a back room and same back with a sample pack of 5 which would hopefully tide me over until they get some in Aylesbury.

I noticed that there are a lot of Japanese style fast food outlets about these days, but when I need lunch there were none to be found. I settled for a cheese sandwich from Pret. I found the building where we would all meet up it is at 75 Davies St in the Crossrail offices on the 2nd floor. We were given a presentation by the Bond street project manager who was very passionate about the whole project and was proud to be a part of it. I must say that all of the people they had laid on to talk to us were all very proud of their contributions. After the presentation with a few videos thrown in we went to an observation room in the offices which overlooked one of the ticket hall sites where yet more employees told us a bit more about the issues they had to overcome building in such a built up area.

Crossrail building site Bond Street London
Crossrail building site Bond Street London

There were the local residents of Mayfair no less, then the problem of getting stuff in and out of the site in such a busy area of London, then they had to be careful off the surrounding structures. All the local buildings were constantly monitored for movement, as well as under ground sensors as they were within three metres if the Jubilee line.

Next we were herded round the block to gave a look at the building site it self. Disappointingly we did not get to go underground but had to settle for a look down into the deep hole that had constructed to get the tunneling machines down. When the tour was over I had been on my feet long enough so I hopped on the tube and was soon back at Euston to catch the 15:54 back to Berkhamsted.

All in all an interesting day out.

Science and art all on the same day

LHC detector
LHC detector

I got Helen some theatre tickets to see Mojo at the Harold Pinter theatre for Christmas, to lessen the pain for me not a theatre lover Helen agreed to go to the LHC exhibition at the science museum. We also planned a visit to the The National Theatre to look round the free landscape  photographer of the year exhibition in the foyer. The day was all planned out.

We were booked on the LHC at 10:20 so had to be up relaunched early to get the train from Berkhamsted. We left the house at 08:40 with the hope of getting the 09:01. I had filled out a form for a rail card the night before so we could get one their of of the tickets, it works only take two trips to London to start to make savings something we would easily do in the year the card lays, the cost was £30.

Turns out I had filled out the wrong form we needed a child to qualify not something you can rustle up at the ticket office. The was an alternative so we got one of those instead same price same conditions just different form! The delay meant that we had to get the 09:15 which it turns out was an express so made little difference to our arrival time.

A bit of the LHC
A bit of the LHC

We jumped on the tube at Euston and were soon at the science museum which is a short walk from Kensington Station via the French style cafés. At the museum we headed straight to the  exhibition as we were a bit late for our 19:20 slot. The  show starts with a multimedia show on a curved wall with scientists explaining their excitement of working on such a big experiment involving 10,000  scientists, and how they don’t movie if they have found any thing until the unblinding of the results a method used to take the human bias out of the experiment results. I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition and I think Helen did although she would never admit it. We had coffee and cake before leaving for our next destination the National Theatre for the landscape photographer of the year exhibition.

We granted a bus outside the V&A and changed at Haymarket to the 139 which dropped us of at Waterloo Bridge. The photographs wee very good but place was a bit b busy so it was sometimes difficult to get a good look at the pictures. You soon realise that it takes some effort to get a good picture when you realise that the photographers were at the top of a mountain to get the picture of the sunrise they must have walked up in the dark or camped out on the snow to get the perfect shot. If you’re in town it is with the effort and free.

Waterloo Bridge
Waterloo Bridge

Back on the 139 to Haymarket again for some lunch at Pizza Express, then it was over the road to the Harold Pinter theatre to see the play called Mojo, which had some famous actors in it. You may already know that I am not a fan of theatre the main reason is that I just don’t have the capacity to figures out what is going on. I have not problems with following films just state plays, I do enjoy the slapstick ones like “One man two governors” but it does not take much to follow the plot there. The important things is that Helen enjoyed it and I got a few brownie points for taking her.

It was dark when we left the theatre but eh journey back was simple despite there being a lot of people trying to leave central London at the same time as we did. We got the tube from Piccadilly Circus to kings cross then walked to Euston, and got the 17:54 express to Berkhamsted. Then it was share piazza from M&S a Netflix film and early to bed as it had been a long but very enjoyable day.

Up the Guinness and lard (Shard)

View from the Shard 72nd floor
View from the Shard 72nd floor

We caught the 09:01 from Berhamsted to Euston, at that tome an a Saturday you can park on the road near the station. Our mission to visit The View From The Shard, the new pointy building in London. Seats were easily found on the train and it arrived on time. Next was 68 bus to Waterloo bridge followed by a leisurely walk along the Southbank. We dipped in land a bit at the Golden Hind, and walked through Borough Market which was pretty packed and full of enticing food offerings. We found the Shard but our tickets were timed for 11:30 and we were early the nan an on the door said we would have to come back at the right time! Coffee time then.

Queuing was a breeze with plenty of security thrown in, including bag x-ray, metal detector and for me a frisk with a hand held detector because I set off the walk through one. Next we were herded to a lift which has video screens in the ceiling, the lift attendant told us we were travelling at 6 metres a second, and that was just about all the time she had before we arrived on floor 33.

View inside the Shard observation floor
View inside the Shard observation floor

Out of the lift round the corner and into another which dropped us off at floor 69, just as quickly as the first one. I asked ho many floors a day the lift man did he said they could only do one hour a day. Perhaps something to do with the rapid change on pressure that makes your ears pop.

The view from floor 70 is great far higher than the London eye. From this deck we saw the maintenance crews abseiling done the building.

We went up a couple more floors where you are more exposed to the elements, but still behind glass which makes taking photos a bit trick. I found that my polarising filter helped quite a bit. To leave you just do the same lifts but in reverse, and there is no security.

We wandered round borough market twisting all the cheese on offer, but did both get a halloumi burger each from a stall run by a couple of French hippies, I never knew the French had any concept of vegetarianism. We found a scarce spot to sit in the local church yard to eat our burgers the headed across the river to walk along the north bank of the Thames.

Church outside Borough Market
Church outside Borough Market

We wandered and ambled along until eventually we came across Covent. Garden, but realised that our heart was not into shopping. So we headed towards Dustin but not before a visit to a travel book shop and a quick stop in a shop on Tottenham Court Road where I purchased a USB extension cable, for the Raspberry Pi webcam set up. We then jumped back on a bus back to Euston and caught the 16:54 fast train back to Berkhamsted. We popped into Waitrose and got some salad stuff to eat , then went home had something to eat and watched the excellent BBC HD Australia documentary.

Chocks away

Some of RAF Uxbridge Battle of Britain bunker 76 stairs
Some of RAF Uxbridge Battle of Britain bunker 76 stairs

Following a recommendation from the Ian Visits website we were going to visit the Battle of Britain Bunker at RAF Uxbridge, but before that I needed a haircut. Have been letting it grow for a change, but have got to the point where I either need to buy a comb or get it cut. The barber’s is in Wendover and if you get there just a few moments before 08:30 you can usually be the first in the queue. Today was no exception  by 09:00 I was back home and shorn.

Satnav was on but when we got to the edge of the very large site we had a challenge because some entries were blocked and the road was up at others, but eventually we parked up at the bunker. The place is run by enthusiastic volunteers. From the entrance there are 76 steps down which I reckon is about 5 floors worth. At the bottom we were ushered into a film that had just started, where we were told all about the Dowding method for tracking planes during the war. The video was a bit amateur but informative and well presented.

Following the film there were about 8 rooms to look around with lots of RAF memorabilia to look at some of more interest to RAF people but much of it the sort of thing you wish museums showed more of. Lots of pictures of young airman, details of their planes, and where appropriate, where the brave men lost their lives. Part way through the viewing route was the main room where they used to push blocks representing aircraft across a map and allowed decisions about who and how many aircraft to send to deal with. There was lots of WAAF memorabilia including an example of the fetching regulation purple bloomers. One of the guides was particularly informative and wished that they could get hold of some more mannequins for the map room, in order to represent how busy and full these rooms were during peak times.  One for M&S public relations I think! Some really interesting exhibits and well worth a visit. The steps were more difficult leaving than arriving unusual for a museum!

RAF Uxbridge Battle of Britain bunker, map room
RAF Uxbridge Battle of Britain bunker, map room

Helen was all RAF’d up and decided a trip to the RAF memorial at Runnymede was necessary, so I cancelled the satnav destination and put in the new one. Before leaving Uxbridge we stopped off at an Asian supermarket for some cheap garlic, ginger, and falafel mix. We had been to Runnymede once before but it was only when we got within mile that I recognised the area.

We parked up and walked the few hundred metres to the memorial. You enter via some wooden gates, to a tarmac drive, that leads to what looks like a low building, with a central section slightly taller. When you get to the building you realise that the building is actually a sheltered stone wall surrounding a central grassy area with a cenotaph in the centre.  It is a very peaceful and atmospheric place, with great views towards the West. The roar of aircraft taking off from Heathrow echoes overhead as you run your eyes down the plaques of the 20,000 airmen remembered there who lost their lives and have no known grave. Watching the cloud bank covering the sky it was easy to imagine Lancasters breaking through the cloud as they flew on in some endless journey.

Runnymede RAF Memorial
Runnymede RAF Memorial

Helen went off to find out which list of names an acquaintance of a relative was on by referring to the registers. I tried my hand at a couple of hand held panorama shots, one outside and one inside. I also went up the stairs where from the top you could get great views over Windsor.  As we left two buzzards were sweeping across the sky above the memorial in the Spring sunshine.

It was getting a bit late to get home for lunch, but I had the idea that we should stop at The Crown in Little Missenden, a real gem of a pub. Helen had chosen the blue route back which meant passing down Slough High street, where Helen felt the need to break out into the On The Buses theme tune!

I created two panoramas at the Runnymede memorial one outside and one inside.
Outside panorama – http://neilbaldwin.netpanorama/local/runnymede-raf-memorial/
Inside panorama – http://neilbaldwin.netpanorama/local/runnymede-raf-memorial-inside/

A day bird watching

Church in Norfolk
Church in Norfolk

Up at reasonable time with breakfast sorted, we left the house at 09:22 destination Cley Marshes, and a day bird watching. The route was familiar along the A149 which runs from around the North Norfolk coast from the broads at Yarmouth to Kings Lynn. We usually don’t like to spend too much time driving around when we are on holiday but the draw of Cley Marshes and the potential for bird watching was too much to resist.

The one hour journey was shortened somewhat by three episodes of The Archers, and my attempt to break my fuel usage record. The adaptive cruise control on the golf tends to accelerate smoothly and economically and the A149 has some long stretches of 50mph, by the time we parked up at the Norfolk Wildlife Trust car park we had achieved 61 miles per gallon which is very impressive.

Cley beach view
Cley beach view

We checked in at the visitors center had a pee and set off around the reserve, in a clockwise direction, which is not the way we usually walk around. At the first group of three hides it was great to see plenty of waders out on the scrapes; Ringed Plovers, Godwits, Dunlin, Sandpipers, Turnstone to mention a few. We then headed out to the beach car park where alas the cafe and loo are no more, following a storm a few years back the temporary structures have been removed. We walked on to the north most hide where we had some of A’s great Christmas cake that we had frozen just after Christmas. Then we stopped for sandwiches at the bench on the south east corner, where I also tried a timelapse with the go pro. We checked out the final hide nearest the visitors center, before we went in for a coffee and some well deserved apple cake.

Next stop was Cley Spy binocular shop where I had an opportunity to try our loads of binoculars, including a tempting set by Opticron at £299 DBA 10×25 Oasis W/P which give a great bright image, and pack down really small so would be perfect to keep in my rucksack when out for a walk. I picked up a bargain mini ball tripod head for £39 instead of the usual £55.

Fly on Alexander
Fly on Alexander

On the way home we picked up some supplies at Waitrose North Walsham. I had a plan for the evening after we had eaten, which was to try our the raptor watch point at Stubb Mill, apparently you can often see 10’s of Marsh Harriers and other raptors. I drove up to and parked at the visitors center but when I walked up the lane as I understood you were supposed to, I noticed that the gate was lockable. Despite looking at all the notices at the reserve there was not indication of when the gate would be locked, so I got back in the car and drove down to Stubb Mill. There were signs that suggested that they prefer people not to park there, I squeezed the car up against a bank next to the watch point, and kept my fingers crossed that no one would come and tell me off.

The sun was about 30 minutes from setting and was shining on the scrubby fields in front of me, but apart from the odd crow, cow and deer there was not much happening. I took some pictures and set up the gopro to do some timelapses, as I waited. Just as I was thinking I had wasted my time and that they only roost in the winter, I started noticing Harriers arriving in their ones and twos! My guess is that they were all Marsh Harriers but I did see one that I thought was grey on top which would make it a Hen Harrier, but I will not be putting it on my list. Then I started to hear not only a Bittern booming but a Cuckoo, well Cuckooing. I can imaging that in the winter when they are not breeding and it is cold they the sight is quite spectacular.

A French slam dunk and Ozzie rules

The Haynes family
The Haynes family

Through a couple of good friends A&C got the opportunity to go to an Olympic event (basketball), they had a spare ticket and I am always up for opportunistic days out because I am not good at sorting things out in advance. A&C picked me up at 05:30 on the main road through the village, it was was not very bright out as it was overcast and very early in the day. We parked up at Berkhamsted station and timed it to perfection to get the 06:01 to Euston.

The Olympic tickets cover your travel to the event so we only needed to but a return to Watford junction. The train was a fast one and we were soon at Euston, the train was fairly quiet at that time in the morning so we had no trouble getting seats together. From the station there were signs leading us to the Javelin train service from St Pancras, which runs every 10 minutes and shuttles between St Pancras a Stratford station. The signs took us via the back roads to St Pancras rather than along the busy Euston Road, interestingly they has painted some silhouettes  prints on the pavement, it took us a couple to figure out what they were all about. Each one had a name, city and year, it was obvious that the cities were all Olympic venues, but not all the names were familiar. They turned out to be representations of some famous Olympic feats, the silhouettes we the foot/hand outlines representing  the moves required to do the event. For example ones had lots of foot prints clustered together at many angles, then further down the street was the outline of a ball connected to a handle and chain representing a hammer, the the track and field.

London 2012 Olympic Basketball Arena fish eye view
London 2012 Olympic Basketball Arena fish eye view

As we arrived at St Pancras (only a five minute walk) we were directed by official Olympic helpers in their purple Olympic uniforms, towards the platform for the Javelin Shuttle service. We stopped off at Sourced Market for a coffee and I chose a couple of Chelsea buns for lunch later, because I had not made any sandwiches. A was carrying a really heavy rucksack, which probably contained enough chocolate to feed everyone in the basketball arena. Our timing was perfect we boarded the train with about a minute to spare, and seven minutes later we were at Stratford.

At Stratford you exit the station almost directly into the Westfield shopping mall, with all it high end fashion shops. We walked through the mall and out the other side where the entrance to the Olympic park awaited us. It was not yet 08:00 but the park was open and the queues at security were short. We finished off any water we had in bottles, but kept them in our bags as we had been told that there are water fountains where you can fill them once inside the Olympic park. Security was a breeze we hardly had to wait and the army guys on duty were courteous and friendly, whilst x-raying our bags and scanning or bodies for guns.

London 2012 Olympic Velodrome
London 2012 Olympic Velodrome

Once in the park the helpers were doing a great job corralling the crowds to the events, using load hailers, which they seemed to have given to people who had a sense of humour which was great. They seemed to be attempting to have one side of the routes for one direction and the other for the other direction, i guess when it gets busy this will really keep the flow of people moving. The last thing you want to people walking against each other as one event leaves and another event arrives, which will just slow right down. We head towards the Basketball arena at the other end of the park in our own time as we had plenty of time to spare.

Once in the area of the arena we found a water fountain to fill our bottles and a WC for a comfort break, then we headed to the entrance where again without any significant queue we had our tickets validated, and headed into the arena itself. We had seats in block 201 row 20, which basically meant we had fairly good seats, we were up in the high section but fairly low down in the section, at one end of the arena. We were close enough for A&C to get good pictures with their 200mm zoom. Soon after we sat down AH arrived the 4th person in our party. AH is very devoted to Olympics spectating he had taken 2 weeks off work and had tickets for at least one event everyday, except for the opening ceremony. It seemed like a labour of love to me, he was getting up early and going from one event to another, including one which involved getting to Dorny lake by bus via trains to London he lived in Princes Risborough, he had managed only 22 hours sleep in the first 4 days.

London 2012 Wiggins Way
London 2012 Wiggins Way

Basketball is quite and animated event with music and a compère  getting the crowd going, and cheerleaders and dancers wheeled on during time-outs and between ends. The first match covered by our tickets was France v Lithuania, which was won by France. The game had a fairly high scoring rate and the Lithuanian’s racked up more fouls than the French. Towards the end of the match the French seemed to raise their game and kept the lead until the time ran out. The support for the French was nearly non-existent I did at one point here some people singing “Allez La France” but it was not that loud compared to the background noise, it could hardly be noticed. Compare that to the Lithuanian’s who cheered loudly when they had the ball and booed and whistled when the French had the ball, which was not very sporting. I notice later that a Lithuanian supported had been arrested and fined at an earlier match against Nigeria for racist chanting, which is a bit reminiscent of the trouble at the Euro 2012 football earlier in the year.

Next up was China v Australia and to make things just a little bit more special for us, the mum, dad, and brother of one of the Australia team Aaron Haynes, were sitting in the row just in front of us, we became the Aaron fan club corner, and they kindly explained some of the finer points of the rules of basketball. Australia were in control through out the match and never really looked in danger of losing but it was not a whitewash. The score line was lower than the previous game and so was the number of fouls. We left the arana after the game it was around13:00.

London 2012 Olympic Park Aquatic centre
London 2012 Olympic Park Aquatic centre

Next we went for a wander round the park there were a few more people about than earlier I guess due to the fact that we were between sessions now not at the start. We went to the merchandise shop but the queue was so long we gave it miss. The  ArcelorMittal Orbit was impressive in that it was tall but as a piece of art it did nothing for me. We were near the BMW centre when it started to threaten rain so we popped in for a look the got corralled into the corporate video before exiting via the roof to get some shots of the view across the park.

After some food, thanks to A for making egg and tomato sandwiches which went down really well, we headed slowly round to Wiggins Way the name that has been given to the grassy area around the large outdoor screens which show the events. We found a fairly good spot with a good view of one of the screens, and settled in to watch the events in the Velodrome, it was a strange feeling to be watching an event with the building where they were taking place also being within view. Great Britain won a couple of gold medals, and at arounf 18:30 we decided we had had a long enough day and headed back home.

London 2012 pavement art
London 2012 pavement art

The journey home was just as good as the way in there were a few more people on the trains but we still managed to all sit together. As we got off the train at St Pancras A noticed that Stella McCartney was just a few yards ahead of us, I tried to get a photo but it came out blurred. On the train we chatted to a couple of Germans (father and son) over for two weeks going to many events, and two other guys originally from the east end who had been to the Velodrome which made us fell envious. I got home at 22:00 and went straight to bed it had been a long day, but an excellent one, thanks to A and A&C for the experience.