You might be surprised at how difficult it is to find non-city walks easily accessible from London.

Saturday morning I awoke with a irresistible desire to go on a long walk that didn’t involve cross walks and tourist-dodging and so spent the first few hours of my day Googling in the hopes that I would find something that didn’t requite and extended train ride, camping gear or a car. Meanwhile, I was getting progressively frustrated, sitting inside, on the computer, when all I really wanted was some outside time. Finally, after ruling out Kent, Oxfordshire and Wales as inaccessible without a bit more planning, I packed a backpack, laced up my trainers and left the flat heading southwest towards the river.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered a shaded, wooded dirt path along the south bank of the Thames that, despite my rapid pace, continued to stretch out before me into the sunny morning. Feeling increasingly better with each step, I decided to follow the path until I was too tired to go on or something interesting stopped me on my way.

At the time I had no idea I had found the Thames Path, a 184 mile route along the Thames. Of course I was familiar with London’s Southbank and the popular walk passing the London Eye, Houses of Parliament and famous Tower Bridge, but didn’t know that, once the path hits Putney in West London, it becomes a dirt and gravel pedestrian road that winds along the rive through the outskirts of the city towards Windsor, Oxford and beyond. The Thames Path website recommends fourteen days to complete the whole route, with suggested accommodation or camping sites along the way, and promises to send anyone who completes the trip a badge and certificate.

Of course at the time, I was just happy to be getting away from the busy city centre. It wasn’t quite a walk in the woods – the Thames Path wasn’t exactly crowded but pedestrians and bicyclists were also taking advantage of the nice weather – but it was a great deal better than trying to take a walk through the busy streets of Soho. At two points, near the Barnes Bridge and the Kew Bridge, the path merged with the main road and just past the Kew Bridge, the path passed alongside a very unpleasant-smelling waste management facility but aside from those minor inconveniences, it was a comfortable and direct route out of London.

Despite my intention to keep walking west for the rest of the day, I had barely made it six miles before discovering something interesting enough to distract me from the Thames Path – the world famous Kew Gardens. Although I decided to spend the remainder of my day walking around the Gardens, I was thrilled to have found a non-city walk accessible from London with no transport needed. I look forward to exploring more of the Thames path, hopefully doing a weekend walk into Oxfordshire while the weather is still nice.

For more information about the Thames Path, or to plan a trip yourself, visit the Thames Path website.


I have a friend who insists that the entire Harry Potter series is a continued indication of the fact that J.K. Rowling is a very unhappy person. I don’t think I agree with his analysis (especially because he’s only ever read the first book and refuses to read the others) but one does has to wonder if there’s a bit of masochism involved with creating such a terrible life for your main protagonist.

The sixth Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, is just the newest in a long stream of trials and tribulations for our favourite boy wizard and, as the critics are fond of saying, it’s the darkest story yet. While it may be true that the 6th book is certainly darker than its predecessors, it would be a tad optimistic to agree with previews that suggested the film would be the same way. A fantastic first ten minutes, which sees the destruction of my favourite London location, the iconic millennium bridge, as well as the return of the sinister Bellatrix Lestrange, last seen murdering fan favourite Sirius Black in movie five, seem to slow in pace perceptibly after the crew returns to Hogwarts.

The sixth book sometimes takes a bit of a beating from casual fans of the series who claim that nothing really happens. There is quite a bit that’s set up for the last of the series but I think there are some pretty important bits of the sixth book that flesh out the series overall. For my part, when I sat down in the theatre on 16 July to see the long awaited film, I was interested to see how many of those important bits would sneak in. The challenge is that these important snippets of the books fall under the categories of ‘character development’ and ‘rationalisation for why these characters do the things they do.’ Such things rarely translate well to the big screen. Perhaps the most important takeaway from the sixth book is the importance of love – and the fact that Harry can still do so despite all that has happened to him, a point driven home again and again throughout the text. This seems to have been translated into a series of rote scenes of young love appearing seemingly out of no where.

Because I am such a fan of the books, I do have to try to separate the books from the films. The films can never live up to the precedent set by the books. Despite my gripes, I really do think they did a good job with this one. A number of the changes in the film I thought were either absolutely essential to keep those who hadn’t read the books on board or were actually improvements on minor issues in the story. One notable scene in the book involves Harry and Dumbledore examining a memory collected from a colleague only to discover it had been tampered with. In the book, there are more than enough clues even in the tampered memory to make it unlikely that someone as clever as Dumbledore couldn’t figure it out. In the movie, the memory is even further obscured than in the text, actually necessitating Harry’s efforts to find the untarnished memory.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is not going to win any Oscars and despite the fact that the child actors have grown into their roles, there is still a certain amount of suspended disbelief on their behalf as they cardboard-cutout their way through the more emotional scenes. But it’s a fantastic story, a great bit of escapism and a movie that will please non-fans and fans alike. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the film as well – let me know what you thought in the comments below!


Post-Potter

Busy week, late night but just a quick note to say I just saw the new Harry Potter film and will be providing a full recap soon.  One exciting parting thought – I recognised at least ten places I had actually been in the UK during the film!


Spoonfed on Reuters

Last Friday was an exciting day in Spoonfed HQ.  Not only was the weather glorious and there was left over cake from the previous Cake Thursday, but Matt Cowen of Reuters TV came by to pay us a visit, camera in tow, and to learn more about the Spoonfed Radar application for the iPhone.  He interviewed Alex, took some shots of the office, and put together this little piece about finding London nightlife using mobile apps.  If you look closely you’ll spot the back of my head…


It’s quarter to seven in the morning on a Saturday and the fire alarm is going off in the Top Floor Flat. While normally this might be cause for alarm and a rude wakeup, today it’s just our temperamental toaster starting the day. Ann and I groggily wander around the flat, checking we have passports, collecting multiple forms of identification and forgetting the toast before making our way (quietly past our probably furious and equally groggy neighbours) to the London Houses of Parliament for the Big Ben Enthusiasts tour.

This weekend marks the 150th anniversary of the clock, clock tower and bell and Ann has secured a pair of tickets allowing us to take a tour up the tower to view the internal workings of the clock and the great bell itself in action as it tolls the (early) hour. Ourselves and 18 other enthusiasts are the very first group to celebrate Big Ben’s Birthday and as we stand under the famous buildings of Westminster alongside the Thames, I wonder how many Americans get to experience this bit of British history.

There’s a great deal of waffling, it seems, as to what each part of the famous structure actually named. The official word from our tour guides is that the tower is called the Clock Tower (not, as some people believe, St. Stephen’s Tower – there is no such tower on the premises), the clock is called the clock and the bell is called Big Ben. Our tour begins with a quick jaunt up the lower half of the 334-step tower before taking a breather in one of the many rooms that populate the 96m Clock Tower. Here we get a proper introduction to our tour guides, Ian and Paul, the official Palace of Westminster clockmakers who are responsible for not only the Great Clock in the tower but also the other 2000-odd clocks throughout the Houses of Parliament. These guys are seriously passionate about clocks, describing the intricacies of weighing the pendulum with copper pennies, difficulties of rewinding the clock three days each week and the cleaning and lighting of the clock faces.

The bell has had a rocky history. Although we’re celebrating its 150th birthday, it’s origins are from slightly earlier and in fact today’s bell is actually the second version after the first one was broken during test tolls and had to be remelted and cast. Then, shortly after moving into its tower home, misuse of the bell led to a crack in the side that has remained ever since. It’s slightly noteworthy that the company that built Big Ben also made the Liberty Bell so cracks seem to be a trend.

As we ascend the tower, we pass through increasingly exciting bits of the historic monument. From just behind the clock face, roman numerals longer than my arm appear backwards against translucent sheets of glass while above us the clock mechanism is keeping perfect time as dozens of gears wind slowly around. On the half and quarter hours the small quarter bells chime somewhere in the unexplored part of the tower, a hint of what’s to come. Finally, we climb into the cloudy sunlight and the belfry where nothing but a few planks of wood and wire netting separate us from a three-hundred foot tumble. There, in all its glory, is Big Ben itself.

With earplugs in and breath held, Paul and Ian count down the seconds to 10am and the quarter bells start to chime. Sixteen counts later, the hammer lifts against Big Ben and falls to strike the first toll of the ten o’clock hour. Half a minute after the final chime stops, the belfry is still vibrating around us as the resonance fades away.

After the main attraction, we head back down to the Westminster Palace halls but not before we’re presented with commemorative pins to mark the anniversary of Big Ben, a unique piece of memorabilia that only those who toured the tower can claim. As Ann and I leave the Houses of Parliament in search of brunch (the morning’s burnt toast seeming very far away indeed) we give a parting glance to Big Ben which will host another 500 visitors before the weekend is out. I’m happy to be the first to say it, Happy Birthday Ben, thanks for being such an iconic part of London skyline and history.

If you’d like to learn more about the Big Ben 150th anniversary celebrations or find out about public tours up the Clock Tower, visit http://www.bigben.parliament.uk/.