If you are a keen walker, or have become a keen walker, lockdown, with its confusing instructions, has forced you to be inventive. Once a week I have been combining a fairly long walk with shopping. I have been alternating these trips – once a fortnight to Richmond, while the other week I’ve been exploring other locations.
My walk to Richmond takes me through Richmond Park, along some of the Capital Ring and a little stretch of the Thames Path. Going home I do more of the Thames Path then cut up by Ham House through some of the Ham Riverside Lands estate bordering Ham Lands to home. A shade under 7 miles in total which takes about 3 hours including the actual shopping.
I’m absolutely loving walking through a car free (and almost bike free, as only key worker cyclists are allowed right now) Richmond Park. The route I use for this walk isn’t really affected by roads but the lack of traffic noise not only allows you to hear birdsong but also woodpeckers drumming away in the trees. There’s an overall quality of feel that the park is getting back to what it was originally intended for – people strolling around admiring the flora, like the rhododendrons and fauna, like the deer.
It’s a joy for walkers and I really hope that the Royal Parks think long and hard about how they can remove, or reduce significantly, motorised traffic in the park and then put adequate measures in place to ensure the cycling is monitored and regulated. As a charity, surely their mission is for park users not cars and vans using the roads as a through route. It must be possible, and relatively easy to do, to reconfigure the road system to prevent this. My question would be: If not now, when?
I exit using Petersham Gate and follow the Capital Ring which runs down the side of the Dysart. As we were considering traffic, I have to say that over the last 2 weeks I’ve noticed a gradual increase in car numbers. Don’t get me wrong it’s still nothing like a ‘normal’ day but it’s becoming increasingly odd to see buses trundle by with a couple or more usually no passengers on board with a stream of traffic behind. People in south west London are already relaxing their ‘lockdown’ rules and car usage is creeping up. It is a worry that one of the few benefits we seem to have reaped from this approach, markedly improved air quality, is being eroded day by day. Two weeks ago, I could easily exit via the gate and cross the road straight away with barely a check left and right. Now I have to briefly detour to the crossing and press the button to wait for the ‘green man’ like the old days. Not much of a new normal here.
The Capital Ring takes me to Petersham Meadows where I join the Thames Path. It has to be said that although the route is wide here it is undoubtedly crowded with all sorts of users. Usually it would gladden my heart to see walkers, families with buggies, kids on bikes, and joggers weaving in and out of the folk eating ice cream. It all just about works at the moment but you can see the distress on some people’s faces as they’re not sure what to do to maintain a safe distance and trying to work out who, if anybody has the right of way. When I keep reading and hearing about all the people who are scared to go out, it’s this picture I see in my mind. I’ve varied my route every time on this part of the journey to avoid this congestion because even the act of observing it is changing the dynamic.
After a visit to the shops, Marks & Spencer Food Hall this time, thanks for asking, I head back home along some of the Thames Path. I used the pavements, not very wide here and a problem even before social distancing, as far as River Lane and follow this down to the Thames. The path is very wide here and copes exceptionally well with walkers, joggers, family groups and cyclists. I leave the path at Ham House, the local authority car park by the river is more crowded than a normal work day at this time but although this is a shame because again it points to increased car usage it is sort of understandable given my comments above and the fact that there is a lot of green space round here.
It is my understanding that, pre-pandemic, according to TfL, 68% of car journeys in greater London were 3 miles or under. I’ll be writing more about this in my next post but it would be such a lost opportunity if a combination of lockdown relaxation and a need to restart the economy with reduced public transport led to an increase in this already horrific number. We should be aiming for a drastic reduction.
Thinking about inventive. David Fathers, author of London’s Hidden Rivers and Bloody London (Ramblers’ members in the south east can look forward to my review of this book in the upcoming South East Walker) amongst other titles, is using the lockdown to walk every street, alleyway, highway and byway in N12. You can follow his progress on @thetilbury or his Instagram account. In the interests of full disclosure, he is a Spurs fan but unusually for that tribe his follow through is total and if he’s started, he will see this through to successful conclusion. He’s an illustrator and I recommend his books not only as walking guides but also to spot the Spurs references, he artfully (see what I did there) slips into the drawings. He’s also become a good friend of mine as we co-host walks regularly and we had big plans for 2020. Curses – shakes fist at the coronavirus.
And while we’re on inventive. As part of the Government’s ‘test, track, trace’ strategy, this week it soft launched its smartphone app on the Isle of Wight. So, I’m no data expert but I am wedded to my smartphone and this is how I understand it, with thanks to friends who know more than me about this. Tracking and tracing comes in 2 approaches – centralised and decentralised. The decentralised model is supported and recommended by the major suppliers and providers of mobile operating systems. You know, the ones who have made $billions in the last decade or so and deal with this stuff every single minute of every single day. The centralised path takes you to a permanently accessible database of your data. This system will be built by the UK Government via NHSX (and who knew this lot actually existed until a couple of months ago) and the Government have, it seems to me, never developed and built any system to budget or timetable or has actually worked.
Unsurprisingly this Government has opted for the centralised model despite most other countries choosing the decentralised route. (And I don’t know, but the contract has probably been ‘given’ to one of Dominic Cummings’ mates, who didn’t do anything like abuse the use of personal data in the Brexit referendum debacle, did they?)
And, even more unsurprisingly, having launched Tuesday 5 May by Thursday 7 May the Government were said to be ‘pivoting’ to the decentralised course. We used to call this a U-turn. You really cannot make this stuff up. No news on the 20,000 actual tracers that will need to be employed to make all this effort worthwhile. Guess that contract will go to SERCO or Group4 or another those multi-nationals who have trousered £millions not delivering services to the UK population. Same as it ever was.
My exercise/shopping walk combination on Strava: https://strava.app.link/505oQqsa55
The walking class hero lockdown days playlist:
Dixie Chicks – The Long Way Round
Supertramp – Take the Long Way Home
Bonnie Raitt – Can’t Find My Way Home
Anne Müller – Drifting Circles