22 August 2016

walk the circle line

The Challenge

'Set yourself some challenges', I said to myself. 'Push the boundaries a little,' 'try to explore London without spending much money.' All thoughts that were going through my mind as I sat contemplating what I would do. I wanted to set myself some challenges to write about, just wasn't sure what. Jump forward a day and I'm stood outside Baker Street tube station on a cloudy August Saturday morning. I've decided upon some walking challenges around London. Why? I want to get a better feel for this city that I love. To try and understand it, to get too its very heart, see what makes it tick, meet some of the characters, and work out what really attracts people to visit this well known capital city. 

For the first challenge I plumped for walking the Circle Line (the yellow line on the tube map), visiting each station on its route. No maps, just following the information boards outside each station and taking in my surroundings. It's 17miles (27km) in distance, has 36 stations, covers many of the key areas of London, and if things got tough I could always bail out at the next station. I chose Baker Street as my starting point, as its the first station I come to when heading into London that connects to the Circle Line, you can start at any of the others of course. Just get a tube map and mark your starting point. Before the adventure though, some history.

tube stations
A selection of Circle Line Tube Stations 
A Brief History of the Circle Line
The Circle Line was constructed in 1863 and completed i.e. as a circular line in 1884. It didn't become a circular line in its own entirety on the tube map though until 1949. It's connects all the main railway termini coming into the capital, (Kings Cross, Euston, Liverpool Street, Cannon Street, Blackfriars and Paddington). Really it's the heartbeat of the tube system, the one line that allows access to all others. So what better line to walk around? All 17 miles of it! Here then is our story. 

Stage 1: Baker Street to South Kensington 

Arriving at Baker Street you're met by the hordes of tourists, heading this way and that. It's the tube stop for London Zoo, Regents Park and a number of other key visitor attractions such as Madame Tussauds. So its inevitable that you'll have to fight your way through the crowds to begin with. Once negotiated the first decision is to decide which way to go, well it is the Circle Line walk! Head off in the direction of Euston Station and the city? Or head towards Paddington? For some reason heading right, as you stand outside the main entrance just seems the most obvious way to go, that's the Paddington route. So decision made, it was time to go, stop watch turned on and the first photo taken. 

Heading off down Marylebone Road, you're struck by how quickly the tourist crowds disappear. They are all headed in the other direction of course. There's not much to see really other than an expensive hotel and apartments that probably cost a fortune. They seem to get more exclusive the closer you edge (pardon the pun) towards Edgware Road. As you stroll by these expensive homes you do ponder 'I wonder how much they cost?' That thought is elevated further when you've headed deeper into the walk, past the redeveloping Paddington Station to be precise and into the district of Bayswater. White washed houses, stretching for as far as the eye can see down continental looking boulevards, the odd luxury car parked outside. It's a beautiful part of the city. It was in this area that I got lost! Well I'm not using a map! Outside each station and dotted around London, mainly close to bus stops, you'll find map boards, showing you key features and street names. Usually within a 5 mile radius. They are a blessing and incredibly useful, not just for the walk but in general. So even if your English isn't quite up to scratch you'll be able to find your way using these maps. After a little re-adjustment, and a few enquires to passing locals, we were back on track. 

circle line
Close to Edgware Station - a random building in total contrast to the expensive houses on the other side of the street

circle line
The whitewashed houses around Bayswater
notting hill
Opulence on a pub! The Churchill Arms near Notting Hill station 
At one stage, as we were headed towards South Kensington, we bumped into an artist, painting a street scene outside on the pavement (see below). I was a bit nosey and looked at the work, really liking it and thought I'd ask for a picture. He obliged happily. Chatting to him, he was painting a commission for the local Indian Restaurant across the road. The painting was lovely but I couldn't take my eyes off his teeth, (he didn't have many!) Sorry if you read this! It brought home to me that it's the people that make a city, going about their business, keeping everything moving, not the attractions (although they help of course). Although I never asked for his name, I felt reassured that London still has its characters. It was wonderful just to have a little chat, and I headed off with a slight spring in my step. So if you're out and about around the Gloucester Road region then have a look out for the toothless painter, make sure you say hello and wish him well. 

The unknown painter 
South Kensington is of course the district of museums. We've covered many of them here on Sketches, you're spoilt for choice. National History Museum, Science Museum and V&A (Victoria and Albert) to name a few. If time isn't an issue, then please pop in. They're free and well worth a look. I didn't have time, I was already behind on my schedule, so I bid the museums a fond farewell. As you walk around be sure to look out for all manner of things. Sculptures, the old red telephone boxes, courtyards, old style pubs and much more. It's what makes the walk fun, finding these little hidden treasures. So we've reached the end of the first stage. So you could in theory stop there if you wanted, but we're doing it all and the next stage is the long trudge, passing many of the iconic attractions of London towards the city, the business district of the capital. 

Some of the UK's lost icons as seen on route 

Stage 2: South Kensington to Tower Hill 

Chelsea is somewhere I've not been to before, not consciously anyway. I felt very undressed, not fashionable. Shorts and t-shirts are perhaps not the best attire for this area of the city. I was behind my schedule at this point, and hot and sweaty! Not a good combination in such an exclusive district. Close to Sloane Square, outside the Sacchi Gallery in fact was a food market. I imagine its there every weekend? Foods and condiments from all places. There really is a food revolution going on in the UK. Locally made produce, chocolate, beers, you name it, the UK seems to be able to produce it. So if you're in London then try and seek out the food markets, you'll be surprised at just how good our food can be, promise. I took a quick look around, could have spent a fortune. So be warned. 

After Victoria Station (another that is being re-developed), you head into central tourist district. Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, and of course the river bank of the Thames and the London Eye and the South Bank. It's noticeable that everyone is taking exactly the same picture from the same angle, so I tried to do something a little different. Probably failing? I took a moment or two to admire these wonderful buildings, and felt proud that this is one reason why people visit. We really are quite lucky to have such famous landmarks. The stations on this section are all along the river, so although it is a long walk, its also the most beautiful part. So take your time and enjoy.

south bank london
The main attraction? The London Eye 
I love it here, although the South Bank is where all the action goes on across the river. There is still plenty to take in on the North side of the river. Walking along the Embankment, you pass Universities,  official Government buildings, Somerset House and more reconstructed railway stations. You pass the monument to the Great Fire of London, and then all of a sudden The Tower of London comes into view and Tower Bridge. Canary Wharf in the distance. You're back with the tourist masses once more, you're also in the heart of the City of London. Stage 2 complete, one to go. 

Stage 3: Tower Hill to Baker Street

It's a Saturday and once you say goodbye to the crowds at Tower Hill you head into the City of London. Aldgate, Liverpool Street, Moorgate and the Barbican. It's noticeable how quiet it all is. Hardly any shops are open, a few cafes have a couple of customers, its a ghost town. It's really rather nice, and with each of these stations not too far apart you can explore the streets without bumping into too many people. A few tourist groups with guides are dotted around, and it's of course where Jack the Ripper went about placing himself into history. I'd highly recommend doing one of the Jack the Ripper tours. They are fun and give you a real inside into the mystery. Who was he? I'll let you decide. So there is plenty to see, historical and modern architecture mingle. You can enjoy looking at the new towers that are being constructed, marvel at The Gherkin (see below). It's such a contrast from the early stages of the walk. The two sides of London, all witnessed in a days walk. We continue on, our end goal now in sight, almost! 

At the heart of the city of London: The Gherkin
After this area we're into perhaps (depending on your opinion) the ugliest part of London, the Barbican centre and its surrounding estate. Not sure that estate is the right word really because the apartments are probably worth more than I can imagine. However its a bit of a concrete jungle, a 1960's vision of modern life, as it was at the time. It does make for a good little adventure, (you can easily get lost too). The Barbican centre has restaurants and cafes and you can sit out by the central pond. I take a short break, but that's all. I weave my way through this maze towards the station, yellow lines marking the way. Spitalfields (the meat market) is locked as we pass it towards Farringdon. If you are in that area on a weekday, please take a moment to look inside. You might pick up a bargain in the process. I can vouch for the quality of the steaks. Amazing.

The final stretch of the walk isn't perhaps the most interesting. Farringdon to Kings Cross doesn't offer much, other than the odd cafe. So best to get to the final part as quickly as possible. From the bustling Kings Cross its a straight walk to the finish line. You pass the British Library and there is the wonderful St Pancras railway station building to admire. Say a quick 'hello' to Euston Station and then before you know it, Regents Park is on your right and the final few yards to Baker Street. The walk is done!

The Circle Line Walk

The Circle Line Walk - using the Suunto Traverse GPS watch

After 27km and 5 hours plus of walking we're back at Baker Street in the hot sun. It's early evening now and the crowds are leaving the attractions and heading towards the centre for dinner and a night at one of the west end shows. As I take a breather, I look back at the day, the contrasts in the different regions of London, the people, the sites. Yes it was hard work, yes I have a blister or two, but I also have a far better understanding of this great city. I've seen parts that I'd not normally see, I've found quaint pubs and coffee shops that I'll one day search for and visit. I've looked at the famous attractions, once again marvelling at their beauty. Always finding something else to keep me interested. I've also burnt some calories and hardly spent a penny. A coffee break and a bottle of water aside. A perfect day out!

If you really want to get to the heart of London, have some spare time and don't mind walking, then The Circle Line Walk is for you. You can of course do half or even quarter of it. It doesn't really matter, what does matter though is that you're getting a real taste of London, and more importantly, its fun!


I hope you have enjoyed reading this little adventure, I'd love to hear from you and perhaps if you're in London in the next week or so then you'd be welcome to join me for the next challenge. Can't tell you what that is yet, but it'll be fun! Keep a look out on my Twitter and Instagram feed for details.


20 August 2016

saal-digital photo book

Instagram Crazy!
I'm going Instagram crazy at the moment! Photographing everything I can, creating stories. It's great fun, helped of course by modern technology and the number of photo apps available. As a travel writer, images are everything, they bring a post to life, and without them, Sketches in Travel would be a little dull shall we say. I've recently concentrated on nature, especially flowers and the changing scenery, from Spring to Summer. What we often don't do is re-produce them in a different format, a book or large prints. In light of this I've teamed up with Saal-Digital.co.uk, a digital photograph company that produces quality books of all shapes and sizes. It seemed the perfect way to showcase some of the pictures that have become a key part of the Sketches blog and a part of Summer 2016. 

You can choose from a number of different front cover styles, colours and textures
Sketches in Travel Photo Book 
The images in this post all feature in the Sketches in Travel photo book, and I've picked some of my favourite nature photos and given the stories behind the image. The book itself features many aspects of the Sketches photo catalogue from nature to attractions and some aviation pieces. 

As for the book itself, it is very well put together, professional, and re-produced on quality paper. I chose a smaller book, around A4 size, however you can get bigger sizes for a little extra cost. The fun comes in putting the book together, picking the pictures and choosing the format of the photographs. You can pick from a vast number of styles to suit your needs. I decided to mix it up a little with full double page pictures, mainly for landscapes and a mix of smaller photos and half page pictures. There is a vast choice. It's very easy to put together, and if you make a mistake then you can change it without too much trouble. You can add in comments, stories etc, and given a little more time I probably would have done. So if you're not careful you could spend hours and hours putting it together. It depends on your needs and time. Once you're happy then its easy to order, and you'll always be aware of the costs as you add in extras. Once ordered I was really impressed by how quickly it arrived. Within 5 days. So you don't have to wait long. As for the quality, well I was extremely pleased, especially as many of the photos were taken from my phone. The colours were clear and the quality was very impressive. So Saal-digital get the thumbs up from me. 

You can view the full book and decide for yourself by clicking on the following link, and if you like it you can also order it here; Sketches in Travel Photo Book. So to give you a little teaser, below is just a little taste of what our photo book offers. Firstly some images from the book itself.

You can choose the layout of your photos 
The quality is outstanding, allowing for full landscape pictures 
The photo books allow you to show off landscape pictures in their full glory

Stories behind the pictures
A number of the pictures featured in the book were taken when on random walks around the local area, especially in the last few months. I'm really impressed by just how good smart phone cameras are these days, so I'm constantly snapping away. I thought I'd give you a little insight into some of the pictures that feature in the book, why I took them. I hope you enjoy?

These were taken in someones front garden. No idea what flower they are! I just wanted to capture them so that we could see the unique shapes, and just how usual they look.
Extreme close up! These foxgloves are just so alien looking. I wanted to capture them as close as would allow, with my Samsung S6 phone. These were just growing at the side of a country lane, all alone, almost crying out for attention. 
These were actually in a park close to the University district of Vienna. I was just taken aback by how yellow they were! There's a tram line just behind them.
Along many footpaths that skirt close to houses you'll find large bushes of roses. These were hanging over onto the path. Pinks, reds, whites, yellows; whatever colour they are a beautiful flower.
At the moment many of our farmed fields have pockets of poppy flowers, adding colour to the summer surroundings. 
Whilst out cycling along a country lane, there was this bank full of these wonderful flowers: Ox-eye Daisy. Its hard to put into perspective just how many there were of them. It made for a wonderful scene however.  I also tried to give it an old feel when editing.
Saal-digital Photo Book
I hope you have enjoyed this little gallery of some of the images that feature in the photo book. I have to thank Saal-digital for giving me the opportunity to test out their books. I was overly impressed. So what are you waiting for? Why not get out there and see what you can capture and then capture them forever in a photo book. We seem to reply so much on technology now that sometimes its nice to have a book of photos we can pick up and browse through. 

Please let us know what you think of the book and the photos. Hopefully you'll see the continued story on here and the various accounts, including Instagram that I have. There are many more adventures ahead. I do hope you'll join me. 

6 August 2016

why you need to go to swanage now

Travel Diaries - 5 days in Swanage

Everyone should try camping at least once in their lifetime! Alright not the most obvious start to a post about Swanage, but keep with me. A tent though was our accommodation for this little adventure. What's not to like about sleeping with nature, feeling cold at night. Needing a pee at 3 in the morning! Having to wash up in the open air, putting a tent up in the wind and rain! And then taking it down again, in the wind and rain, I could go on. 

I took M and K down to sunny Swanage in Dorset, for an adventure and to see if they enjoyed camping. Answer; YES they most certainly did enjoy. Luckily it actually was sunny, most of the time, and warm too! 

If you've been following my Instagram feed you'll have seen some of the photos from the adventures we had. So here to add a bit of weight to those pictures here is why you should try camping and why you need to go to Swanage now.

steam trains
The only way to travel to the seaside - Swanage Railway
I've mentioned Swanage before in an old post called 1040 to Corfe Castle, in that article we talked about the railway, and once again on this trip the railway featured heavily, especially transporting us from the campsite to the seaside. The fact that K loves trains helped. We were staying at the rather good Woodyhyde campsite near Harmans Cross station. The campsite has three large fields, that allowed for plenty of space and happy camping. It's child friendly making for a safe and respectful environment, with warm showers. A bonus. So with a steam railway station a short walk away we ditched the car and took the wonderful locomotives the railway run the few miles into Swanage central. 

Harman's Cross Signal Box - Swanage Railway
Harmans Cross
Harman's Cross Station - Swanage Railway
What's not to like but taking a steam train to the sea? It's the romantic way to travel, the only way to travel, isn't it? Let's just say we weren't the only ones taking the journey. Top tip: If you're staying at Woodyhyde campsite then you also get a discount on your train ticket

The seaside town of Swanage is in a large cove, and also marks the start of the Jurassic coastline of the South coast of England. White cliffs are to the left as you look out to sea, the Isle of Wight directly ahead in the distance and the pier to the right. It's has a sandy beach, and much in the old seaside tradition has some arcades and adventure parks along the seafront. Nothing though which is to overpowering. It has a lovely olde world feel to it, smart little shops can be found down small alleyways, and you will find plenty of places for a coffee or ice cream. A great way to get a view of the town and the surrounding area is to climb to the top of the park (on the pier side) and you'll be greeted by a rather large drop towards the sea on one side, so be careful, and a view back across to Swanage the on the other. Most of our time was spent in Swanage; on the beach, exploring the pier and town. We never got bored.  

Looking towards Swanage
Corfe Castle
On the only rainy day of our visit, we decided, before it started raining to walk to Corfe Castle. It was only a mile or so away. Well that's if you know how to get there! We got lost, went into a field we shouldn't have. Sorry farmer! Clambered over a tree and a stream, and then had to head back in the direction we had just come, eventually finding the path! Corfe Castle is a great way to spend a few hours. The National Trust owned castle is a must and the village itself is quaint and lively with tourists, even in the rain. Lets just say we enjoyed it, but were glad to get out of the rain! 

national trust
Looking Towards Corfe Castle
A visit to Swanage in the summer months means you'll be able to enjoy one of its many festivals. There's a Jazz Festival, Folk Festival, and when we were there a Pirate Festival. The town is full of pirates during the three days its held. Shop keepers join in, in fact everyone seems to join in. Locals dress up and there are pirates wondering around everywhere. There are shows, and demonstrations, not forgetting the pirate ship anchored at the pier. It all creates a wonderful atmosphere that's perfect for children. The pirate festival gives way to the Swanage Carnival and for three Saturdays it holds a large firework display. So if you are going to visit, then between June and September you'll have plenty to enjoy. Swanage is certainly not a dull seaside town.

Russian Sailing ship part of the Swanage Pirate Festival
Swanage Carnival

There has been much written about the UK's beaches, seaside resorts and weather! Alright they can be a bit tacky! Often the weather is awful and the beaches aren't always golden sands. Try saying that to the thousands of people that visit each day during the summer and us for that matter. K and M loved digging holes on the beach and paddling; they didn't go in and neither did I for once. We really should be celebrating our seaside towns. A little re-investment would go a long way to bringing some pride back. Saying that I love Swanage. It's a wonderful place to go, doesn't disappoint and it kept my two occupied for 5 days. So if you're stuck for a place to visit, then choose a trip to Swanage, take a steam train and oh, make sure you go camping. It's fun. I promise. 

Have you been to Swanage? Why not tell us about your adventures, I'd love to hear them. Thanks as always for your support and see you on the beach. That's the place where I'll be. 


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