17 September 2016

walk the south bank

Without a doubt, London is a perfect city to explore on foot. If you want proof of that then the first in our London walking challenges, see Walk the Circle Line, illustrated that point perfectly. For the second walking challenge I decided to tackle one of the busiest tourist stretches of the Capital, taking in some of the cities most iconic sites, sounds and smells. Although shorter in distance, around 9 miles (14km). Although at one point it didn't feel like it! The walk nevertheless should be put on any hardy travellers itinerary to the big city. So Sketches gives you, Walk the South Bank.

Houses of Parliament from the South Bank

The Route

There is no better way to understand and feel a city than walking it. London as we stated at the beginning is a great city to explore by foot.  How else can you really see what goes on, the sheer amount of different activities available, the people and the vast range of sites. This second challenge was to take us along the Embankment and onto Greenwich. Using the Thames Path or for some of it at least and Cycle Route 4 as our route. Again no need for maps with this challenge as its well signposted. A word of warning before setting off on this one! You will either spend a fortune on attractions, food and drink. Or if you are happy just to visit the free attractions and perhaps stop off in a cafe, then its a very cheap way to see the city. Also you could spend a whole week if you take in everything, so be selective.

Our starting point in the Vauxhall region by the Thames 

Vauxhall to the London Eye

I could have picked any number of bridges or landmarks along the Thames as the starting point. Battersea Power Station a short walk away from where I started would make for a perfect starting point. I decided upon Vauxhall (on the Victoria Line), as time wasn't on my side. I started late again! Also it looked the closest to the river, according to the tube map anyway! When you step out of the station you are greeted with a familiar site, especially if you have watched recent James Bond films. The home of MI5 rises towards the skyline on your right. Look to the left and you have high rise luxury apartments, offering fantastic views across London. Oh to be able to afford one of them. The Thames path is a few meters away, so in hindsight I chose well. So it was onwards towards the London Eye. Across the river you'll see a number of key attractions. The Tate Britain gallery and of course The Houses of Parliament. Being on the south side offers you some fantastic photo opportunities of these famous buildings. So make the most of it and snap away. Just along from the start is the base for The Duck Tours, another great way to explore the capital in a more unique way. So much choice! 

Take the London Duck Tour - opposite the Tate Britain
The pathway is safe, wide and when it rains (which it briefly did on this trip) offers shelter. At one point in one of the tunnels it was like a meeting of the United Nations! All friendly and shows the sheer diversity of the people that live and visit the capital. There are outside cafes and a floating restaurant, so you won't get hungry, but I didn't have time to stop on this occasion. As you walk this part of the walk, look out for the old rowing boats that are now seats! They are on the opposite side of the road (to your right). Looks a little odd but is a nice feature and again a good photo moment. As you walk towards the London Eye, the crowds steadily increases. So from the relatively calm of the beginning, we were about to start the dodging of groups and slightly lost tourists. Heading into one of my favourite parts of London. 

The best view of London?

London Eye to Tower Bridge 

This next stage could conceivably take you hours to walk! Actually if you visited everything, days! This is the section that will give you the most distractions. Theatres, restaurants, galleries, pubs, you name it, its along this stretch. Within a few meters of the London Eye you will be bombarded with all sorts of attractions. At the time I was walking this stretch of London there was a fairground and comedy area, bars and much more besides. If its not there when you visit, don't worry, during the Winter months there will be plenty of themed bars to keep you occupied. There is always something going on. After the Festival Hall and the BFI cinemas and museum you head into a treelined boulevard, its romantic and relaxing at the same time, and you'll see many people enjoying this little bit of London bliss. The National Theatre sits behind this area, so within such a short distance your night time entertainment is certainly sorted. On this occasion there was a free concert area. Live bands perform and during the evening there was a broadcast of a play (not a new one but a recording of a play that was on at the National Theatre a few years back). On this evening it was starring James Corden. Thats the beauty of the South Bank. There is so much going on for all ages. Most of it free! 

Can't beat a traditional fairground ride
As you make your way along the South Bank, the choice of places to eat and explore are numerous. You pass iconic buildings, OXO tower being one. As you stroll along the banks, you'll hear buskers, see the working river and enjoy the sites across on the North Side, St Pauls Cathedral for instance. It's not long after the boulevard of trees that you'll reach The Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, within a stones throw of each other. If my memory serves me well there was a street performer, standing still dressed as Yoda! It maybe just me, but I personally prefer a busker sing to standing watching someone, standing there! Depending on your schedule and the day of the week you'll also have Borough Market to distract you (some great local and international food being served up), the Clink Museum, Southwark Cathedral and a little further along The HMS Belfast. There really are so many top attractions that I've no doubt missed out a few. A need to mention the shed featured below!

Is it a shed or a hut? Visit the Anchor Pub and you can decide

A special note, don't just look at the attractions, there are other sites to see. A shed! Well technically its probably not a shed, but it's outside The Anchors pub and in my mind its a shed! This is a famous pub dating back to Shakespearean times, so well worth a stop off. Also just around the corner was some fantastic graffiti. I know that its not to everyones taste but when done well it adds to a place. Gives it a splash of colour. You pass city hall and there in front of you stands Tower Bridge. London's most famous bridge. Photo opportunities aplenty here.

Make sure to look at the gap in the middle!

Tower Bridge to Greenwich

The final stretch of the walk, was in fact the longest part and perhaps the least interesting part. Although there are plenty of hidden gems to be found. It's just that they aren't as well known. Think the end goal here. Greenwich is a fabulous place to explore and you're only a few miles away from it now. What is interesting to observe on this stretch is the converted warehouses that are now fabulously expensive apartments. Its great that these areas have been rejuvenated and some of the places must be wonderful to live in. Before mixing it with the rich, why not mix it with the ultra rich in St Katherine's Dock. You'll have to cross Tower Bridge to do so. This is a great place to have a nosey at the super rich. Yachts of all shapes and sizes can be found moored there, alongside cafes and shops. It makes for a nice distraction but time as always was against us and at the time I was unsure just how far the walk would be! 

So this stretch requires you to weave your way through nooks and alleyways. Across bridges and around wharfs. So although this part doesn't have the major sites of the first part, it makes up for it with its quirky details. Old cranes have become features in the re-developments. Sculptures and small museums are dotted along the route. Traditional pubs and cafes provide rest. All the time the Thames is beside you, and across the way the Canary Wharf and the business district. Sometimes the signs on this section do seem to just disappear, but a little intuition and luck and you'll be on the right path again. So although a little weary, the sails of the Cutty Sark come into view. Greenwich is a day trip in itself, for today it was just the finishing point and some refreshments. 

The re-imagining of the South side

Walk the South Bank

So what a journey. You really do get to see the great features of London, all done at your own pace. This was a 9 mile / 5 hour walk, that could conceivably take 24 hours! Or even a week if you visited all the attractions this route offers. Whilst dodging cyclists and cursing at the never-ending final stretch, you get a real view of the city and what it offers. Finishing with the majestic view of Greenwich and the Cutty Sark. Walking the South Bank is always a pleasure and never fails to disappoint. Whether its all or some of it you decide to tackle, you'll have experienced the very best that London can offer. 

So thank you for reading our latest challenge, I hope that it has inspired you. If so please let me know about your adventures along this stretch of the river. Thanks as always and keep a look out for the next challenge! 


5 September 2016

a little guide to kites

It's listed in the 50 things to do before you're 113/4 by the National Trust. It's a hobby that dates back in history as far as Ancient China. It has health benefits, gets you outdoors and provides adults and children with hours of fun. It's an adrenaline, sport fuelled activity that can actually be potentially fatal, depending on the type of kiting you undertake. Whatever your preference, there is no doubting that kite flying is a hobby or sport or activity that everyone can do and enjoy. The problem is which kite is best suited to your needs? In this article we're look at three different types, one for the children, one for the occasional flyer, perhaps uncertain how far they wish to take the hobby, and one for the expert. These are kites used in the traditional sense, standing in a field or on the beach. You, your kite and the wind. It's also worth noting that these are just my recommendations, of course there are many other companies and varieties. The joy will be for you to decide what you like best, so hopefully you'll use this as it suggests, as a guide. 

The Revolution Rev 1.5

A (very) Brief History
Kites have been around for centuries, in fact dating back to Ancient  China, some 2,800 years ago! Through the centuries the kite has taken on different roles, both good and bad, from agriculture to being used as a means of transport. Marco Polo is noted as being one of the first to document the construction of kites, to this day new designs are being created that take kiting to high heights! 

Some Rules

It's worth noting that when you go kite flying its important to  remember a few simple rules. That way everyone can enjoy their flying experience. This is not an exhaustive list, manufacturers will often have a leaflet with their product given you more detailed explanations. 

  1. Leave plenty of space between you and the next person. That way you will have your full wind pocket (the area within which your kite flies best) and you are less likely to get your lines tangled. Its a mess when they do! 
  2. Only fly kites in the right conditions - don't fly them in the wet or if a thunderstorm is imminent. Also check the wind speed. Too strong and you'll likely to snap your line, bye bye kite! Little wind and you're unlikely to get it flying. Oh, and don't fly them near airfields or power lines! That's asking for trouble.
  3. Check your equipment before flying. Strings, rods etc 
  4. Be careful of your surroundings (also see Num1). Flying on the beach is fine, in the park ect, just be sure that if you're in a public place, that people are aware of you and can avoid a falling kite. They can really hurt if you get hit by one, believe me! 

Prism kite - EO-6: single line box kite

Prism Kites - EO Atom: single line box kite

For the Children

The first thing I want to say here is that, if you're able, spend a little more on getting a decent kite for the kids. One that will last, is well made and can be easily assembled. Kiting is about having fun, and you don't want to buy a cheap one that breaks within a few hours of buying it. Spend a little more and that scenario shouldn't happen. You can buy cheap ones (we're talking between £8 - £20) and they will do a decent enough job, especially if your children are very young. However add an extra £15 and you'll be able to get a kite that will take your kiting experience to a different level. For me then, the Prism kites are perfect. From the ages of 4 upwards these kites are perfect. They are great fun to fly, even if they do only have one line. 

How do they fly?

They look good (see the examples above), and fly beautifully. They dart about the sky in the right conditions. Weaving this way and that. They are not hard to control, and you can extend them out to quite a distance. Also they look fantastic. Imagine, its a Prism you're flying, not a traditional looking one or a delta wing for that matter. It looks like it shouldn't fly, but certainly does. They also pack away to a convenient size and shape; flat basically. When M and K have flown them, there have been a number of times when people have stopped us and asked, 'What kite is that?' and 'Where can you get them?' The simple answer to the second question is,  online. There are a number of online stores that stock a range of unusual kites, but if I had to pick one then Kiteworld is perfect. They stock all types (including the Prism kites) and much more besides. So to get the children interested and having fun, these are the kites I would choose. They retail around the £35 ($40) mark, so aren't a massive investment. So what if you're looking for a little more power? You want to take your kiting experience to a more challenging level. Then its the power kites you need. 

Flexifoil - Big Buzz

The Power Kite

The pull of the wind on a kite can be an exhilarating experience. Can also feel like your arms are about to be pulled off too! With a foil kite you get that experience in spades. Depending on your needs, the large ones are mainly used for more extreme means such as kitesurfing, kiteboarding and parakiting. If you're a starter to the world of the power kite, and you want to stay on terrafirma, then the Flexifoil Big Buzz is the perfect kite to meet those needs. Firstly they are very easy to unpack and pack away again. It all fits into a bag that can be carried, it weighs next to nothing, so you can take it anywhere. An example being I took the Big Buzz away with me to Dubai. I was able to fly the kite in the middle of the Dubai desert and on the beach. The locations were amazing, the flying fun, the two key factors in why kiting is such a joyous hobby. 

Although not cheap, you're looking at around £75 for the Big Buzz, its money very well spent. The quality of the kite is second to none. It's well designed and will bring you hours of fun. To fly, its bags of fun. Although quite slow through the air (you can get smaller power kites, about 1.5m in width that are much faster), it has a graceful feel when gliding through the air. Long swoops, and twists and turns can be achieved. A word of warning in stronger winds the Big Buzz can really pull, sometimes it can take you by surprise. This is not a toy for a young child, its a proper power kite and needs your full attention. Adult supervision will be required, even with a teenager. I cannot recommend this kite enough. It's a wonderful piece of equipment, that has given me many happy hours of flying. If you respect the wind and the kites capabilities then the kite will respect you. 

The Revolution Rev 1.5

The Ultimate Stunt Kite

Kites come in many shapes and sizes, the ultimate kite (in my opinion) is the Revolution Kite. It's shape is like nothing else in the sky. It's agility is a marvel and flying it is, I promise an absolute joy. Once you've mastered a few moves. Yes it will take some practice, you get a free DVD when you buy one, but that is part of the fun. It's all about taking your kiting to a new level. It flies backwards, hoovers, lands and takes off under your control, twists and turns with ease. If you can get a couple of you flying them at the same time, then the experience increases sevenfold. Create displays and a crowd will soon gather. 

The Rev is a four string kite, so worth remembering. It's actually easy to assemble and there are a number of different types, that will increase speed and agility. The one illustrated is really the entry level version, so once you've mastered that, then you're ready to go for their pro versions. These kites are not cheap. When I got mine a few years ago it was around £165. The price increases the more professional the kite. What more is there to say about these beautifully made kites (made with carbon fibre by the way). Although they are a land based kite, you could use them for boarding if you wanted to. I love the Revolution kite and I'm sure if you purchased one, you would do too.

A Little Guide to Kites 
I could go on and on. There are so many kites available. I've not even touched on the Delta stunt kites or the more novelty types. It's really all down to your preference. What do you want from your kite flying experience? Kiting is great fun, a simple pursuit at its heart. Why do it? Well there is an adrenaline aspect to it, but it is also very therapeutic. It can help take you away from the pressures of the outside world, just you, a bit of string, carbon fibre and fabric, creating a dance in the sky. Now that is something worth pursuing, isn't it? 

I hope you have enjoyed our little guide to kiting. Do you have a kite? Have you been kiting? I'd love to hear your stories. Thanks as always for your support. Until the next time. 



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