Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice

Amazing how you can live in London for your entire life, yet still constantly discover new things you’d never seen or heard of before.

Back in October I attended a ceremony at the Cross Bones Graveyard, an unconsecrated burial ground for London’s outcast.  I wrote about how all people are important to the world.  Everyone changes the world in some way, and you don’t need to win the Nobel Peace Prize to make a difference.  A difference, no matter how small, is a difference.  When I walk through ancient cemeteries, I constantly make an effort to pay equal respect to all the graves, especially if the text has been worn away.  Everyone leaves their mark on the world, regardless of whether or not their family could afford a high quality gravestone, or could even afford a proper burial at all.

This afternoon I went to the Museum of London to see the Cheapside Hoard.  The jewels were beautiful, but on the way there I discovered something all the more fascinating.  Just off St Martin’s Le-Grand lies Postman’s Park, joining together the former burial grounds and churchyards of three ancient churches: St Botolph’s-without-Aldersgate, Christ Church Newgate Street, and St Leonard (destroyed during the Great Fire of London and never rebuilt).  Within Postman’s Park lies something beautiful: the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice.

20140328_141410 20140328_140836The Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice was first unveiled in 1900 and added to over the years, having originally been proposed by Victorian artist George Frederic Watts.  The aim was to recognise people who took part in the ultimate acts of bravery: losing their own lives to save the lives of others.  This is no war memorial, however.  This is about ordinary, everyday people who changed the world in everyday life by making the ultimate sacrifice, yet may have disappeared into obscurity had it not been for this memorial.  They are everyday heroes.

20140328_140639The memorial contains a set of tiles dedicated to some amazing people.  Amazing people like Thomas Griffin, a Fitter’s Labourer who died on 12 April 1899 in boiler explosion at a Battersea sugar refinery, fatally scalded in returning to search for his mate.

20140328_153020I have no idea where any of these people were buried, but I’m glad they get to be remembered.

20140328_15361220140328_153156 20140328_153103 20140328_153413George Frederic Watts himself is remembered here.

20140328_141108 20140328_141101This is an extremely beautiful memorial, but let’s remember that it represents only a tiny fraction of people in the world who made such sacrifices for their loved ones, or who improved the lives of others in countless ways.  For every person remembered here, there must be millions who aren’t.  I hope we can spare them all a thought.

20140328_140741 20140328_140752 20140328_140804 20140328_140702 20140328_140716 20140328_140726

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Grand Union Canal: Harefield to Watford

Saturday 14th December 2013

5 miles approx

Toilets: Public toilets in Harefield; Kings Arms, Harefield; Old Orchard, Harefield; Coy Carp, Coppermill Lane; Bury Lake; Batchworth Lock Canal Centre; Watford Station (Metropolitan Line).

Last week we only managed to walk five miles because we had such a great time at the Old Orchard pub in Harefield.  This week, we booked a table for an early lunch at the Old Orchard again, then set off on our way to Watford.  We rejoined the canal by Black Jacks Lock.


We saw lots of interesting canal boats along the way, including this one advertising Thorium, the fuel of the future.


I always like the view of locks that are right next to bridges.


The route was picturesque for a while.  A bit further on we passed some sewage treatment works, which smelled just like you’d expect.  Later on were some permanent moorings around Springwell Lock, and we started to see some weird sights.


On the plus side, we were lucky enough to meet a heron who was friendly enough to pose for the camera.


More interesting sights.


2013-12-14-984 2013-12-14-985 2013-12-14-987 2013-12-14-989Later on we passed a couple of turnings off to visit the Aquadrome at Bury Lake.  We carried on to Batchworth Lock near Rickmansworth, where there was a visitor centre and small outdoor cafe.  We didn’t have time to stop for long, as sunset was just before 4pm.  On we continued.


I loved this boat called Crink Cronk.


The canal went under the Metropolitan Line just before Croxley.  It was an interesting mix, such a rural atmosphere but still with the tube in sight.  Whoever lives in the house at Lot Mead Lock could see it from their home.  We kept up a good pace to finish before nightfall, leaving the canal at a small road called Gade Bank, from where it was about a fifteen minute walk to Watford Met Station.  The station is due to close when the Croxley Rail Link is completed in 2016.

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Grand Union Canal and London Loop: Uxbridge to Harefield

Sunday 8th December 2013

5 miles approx

Toilets: Shopping centre and various pubs in Uxbridge; Colne Valley Park Visitor Centre (1/3 mile off route); Horse & Barge pub, Moorhall Road; Old Orchard pub, Harefield; Kings Arms pub, Harefield; public toilets, Harefield.

After getting a load of uni work out of the way, there was finally time to go for a walk and continue our Grand Union Canal journey from Uxbridge.  When the Metropolitan Line reached Harrow on the Hill, there was a funny smell which turned out to be coming from a steam train.  It was time for some trainspotter-spotting.  All the way to Uxbridge, at every station and every bridge, there were middle-aged men with cameras.  A few minutes after we arrived by more conventional means, the steam train arrived.  They do sometimes run these heritage days on the Met Line, but I’m glad it doesn’t happen too often as the building was momentarily filled with steam and we felt little bits of soot falling on us.


After a quick stop-off at the shopping centre, we walked through the streets of Uxbridge to join the canal.  It was a beautiful day – very sunny with blue skies, and not quite as cold as we’d been expecting.  There weren’t many murals under bridges compared to the inner London sections of canal, but we did see this impressive one with lots of animals.


We passed through a couple of industrial areas, though it’s all relative and was nothing like the grimier bits we’ve walked along in the past.  The canal finally started to take on an almost-rural feel.  I say almost-rural, because a lot of the London Loop seems to go around these sorts of areas at the very edge of London.  Semi-rural, but sort-of attached to suburbia in some places but not in others.  Edge-of-town industrial estates next to rivers and fields.  Areas provoking endless discussion about whether they’re rural or urban, concluding with something in between.  In this case, a canal that looks picturesque in the photo, but had the background roar of the A40 and M40.

2013-12-08-944We passed under the A40 and the noise gradually started to fade.  There were rivers nearby, as well as lakes formed from old quarries.  Some of the path was muddy and we were glad to be wearing walking boots.

We passed a turning for the Colne Valley Park Visitor Centre, and Fran’s Tea Room a bit further on at Denham Lock.  We passed under a railway, then by Harefield Marina, where a heron declined to be photographed.  Further up at Black Jack’s Lock was a B&B, Black Jack’s Mill, which looked lovely for an overnight stay for anyone wanting to do a multi-day walk.

Having researched lunch stops in advance, we turned off the canal here and walked up a hill to the Old Orchard pub, from where there was a lovely view over the lakes below.  As it was mid-December we had to wait a while for a table, but it was definitely worth it as the food was absolutely delicious with several great vegetarian options and no token ones, and there was a warm atmosphere.  The original plan had been to walk ten miles to Watford, or stop off early at Rickmansworth if we lost time.  In the end we enjoyed the Old Orchard so much that we decided to end the walk at Harefield, as sunset was before 4pm and there wouldn’t have been time to make it safely to Rickmansworth before dark.  We walked up the road to get the bus (note: the Old Orchard is near Black Jack’s Lock, which is not as far up as the official London Loop end point at Harefield West, where the Coy Carp pub is).  The U9 bus to Uxbridge now goes once an hour on Sundays.  We walked a little bit further up to the village green, where the 331 took us to Northwood (it goes on to Ruislip afterwards, or to Uxbridge if you go in the other direction).

When we were approaching Harrow on the Hill on the way back, the driver warned us beforehand that the station would be very crowded due to “all the trainspotters on the platform”.

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Cross Bones Graveyard, London

Wednesday 23rd October 2013

A short walk away from London Bridge, on Redcross Way, lies the Cross Bones Graveyard.  An unconsecrated burial ground, it contains the remains of thousands of people shunned by society.  Many of them were prostitutes (often referred to as “single women” or “Winchester Geese”) who were granted the Liberty of the Clink whereby they could take part in activities that were banned within the City of London.  There are also an astonishingly high number of perinatal children, either stillborn or having passed away within seven days of their birth.


The exact age of the site is unknown, but it was first mentioned in writing in 1598.  As the years passed by, it eventually became a paupers’ burial ground, which was then closed in 1853 on public health grounds.

In the 1990s, during the construction of the Jubilee Line Extension, the Museum of London’s archaeology team excavated the site and found an extremely overcrowded burial ground.  They estimated there were 15,000 burials.

In 1996, the writer and local historian John Constable brought the site into the public eye with his book The Southwark Mysteries.  Written under the name of John Crow, it’s a collection of poetry and mystery plays inspired by the spirit of a Winchester Goose.  There is a petition to establish a public memorial garden on the site, especially as the area is threatened by redevelopment.

On the 23rd of each month, a vigil is held at 7pm outside the gates.  We attended last week, and it was a very moving ceremony.  Open to all faiths and none, it was led by a pagan viewpoint although nobody was required to take part in anything they didn’t want to – everyone was welcome to stand and listen.  People brought along ribbons, mementos and other items to tie around the gates.

Crossbones2 Crossbones3 Songs and poems were performed.  A few people gave little speeches.  It was highly respectful, calm and peaceful.  We were given ribbons with the names of some of the people buried there, taken from public records, and these were also tied onto the gates.

It isn’t right that some people are remembered more than others just because their family could afford a better gravestone, or afford one at all.  There must be millions of people who are buried completely unknown to passers by.  Even when you walk past ancient churches, some of the stones still have legible text and others have completely worn away.  But all people are important.  Everyone makes a difference to the world and makes a difference to someone’s life, even if it’s in a small way.  I think this monthly ceremony makes the situation just a tiny bit fairer.

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Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex

Sunday 6th October 2013

Toilets: outside the Naze Tower

We went on a field trip to Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex, to look at cliff erosion and management issues.  It was the first weekend in October yet the weather was absolutely beautiful.  I wore a t-shirt and ate ice-cream, and really should’ve brought sun cream.  There were still quite a lot of ripe blackberries growing along the cliff tops, surprisingly late in season.

We took a coach through the town itself, which looked like a charmingly old-fashioned seaside town, but we weren’t on holiday so there was no time to stop.  We carried on up to the car park by the Naze Tower, a listed building containing a museum and tea house, along with 111 steps up to the top for some far-reaching views.  Unfortunately there was no time to climb up it.  I’d like to go back one day.


Sea defences have been built along some parts of the coast but not others.  The Crag Walk was completed in 2011 and is quite attractive to walk along.

Walton5aIt’s necessary to allow erosion somewhere, in order to provide a sediment supply for beaches and marshes.  Here’s an example of the kind of slumping that can be seen along the Naze.


The cliffs have layers of London Clay and Red Crag, with Brickearth above.  All along the beach there were lumps of soft, sticky clay lying around.

Walton6Here’s the view across the water to Harwich, or possibly Felixstowe.




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Alban Way: St Albans to Hatfield

Tuesday 27th August 2013

7 miles approx

Toilets: Upstairs at platforms 1-4 at Watford Junction (change here for St Albans Abbey); large supermarket on Hatfield Road/Sutton Road (direct access from Alban Way); Three Horseshoes, Smallford; Hatfield Galleria shopping centre; two pubs near Hatfield Station (note: no toilets at Hatfield Station itself).

The Alban Way was the last of my walks along the five disused railway routes in Hertfordshire, having already done the Ebury Way, Nickey Line, Ayot Greenway and Cole Green Way.  As with the others, this really was the type of walk that should be done in summer, as the route was largely shaded by trees.  The whole path was paved, so I wore trainers instead of walking boots.  Train services ended in 1968, the track was lifted in 1969, and different sections of the new Alban Way footpath were opened between 1985 – 1988.

At Watford Junction I made my way over to the isolated platform 11 to reach the single-track Abbey Line branch, which had a rural feel to it.  Trains only go every 45 minutes, so check the timetable first.

After a few minutes of road walking, the Alban Way started in a corner of Cottonmill Lane.  I soon had views out over some allotments and towards St Albans Abbey.

2013-08-27-642At the crossing of London Road I passed the old London Road Station, a Listed Building which has now been converted into a nursery.

2013-08-27-645The route then went under London Road itself.

2013-08-27-650I don’t need to say anything about navigation as the route was obvious, but I saw a few old platforms and other evidence of the path’s past life as a railway.

2013-08-27-652 2013-08-27-656 2013-08-27-660This was one of the best types of path to walk along on a hot day.


I passed this arch shortly before reaching the A1(M) motorway.

2013-08-27-666The path reached the Galleria shopping centre where I stopped for a quick break, before going down some steps outside to continue the walk.  As it was late August, there were lots of people out picking blackberries, so I helped myself to a few.

As with most other disused railway walks, this wasn’t necessarily the most exciting walk in the world – they do get a bit samey after a while.  However, it was a great way of getting some outdoor exercise while staying mainly in the shade.

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Mam Tor and Lose Hill

Friday 23rd August 2013

8 miles approx.

Toilets: Public toilets, cafes and pubs in Castleton and Hope; Outside Speedwell Cavern; Treak Cliff Cavern; Blue John Cavern.

We spent a week in Castleton in the Peak District.  No holiday in Castleton would be complete without a walk up Mam Tor, so off we went on a circular route across Mam Tor, Hollins Cross, Back Tor, Lose Hill and down to Hope.  Mam Tor and Lose Hill were the main landmarks we could see from Castleton.  As a Londoner, this route felt just right – enough of a challenge, just the right amount of ascent, but not a mountain, and achievable in half a day.  I’m capable of walking long distances over relatively flat landscapes, but we don’t exactly have many hills where I come from.  The summit of Mam Tor is 517 metres up, but Castleton is already about 200m above sea level.

We started by taking the footpath off Goosehill, leading to Speedwell Cavern.


Next to Speedwell Cavern was Winnats Pass, a picturesque road which is very steep for vehicles.  (This photo was taken a few days beforehand, which is obvious from the colour of the sky).

2013-08-22-586Rather than walking up Winnats Pass, we continued north and then west along a footpath which took us past Treak Cliff Cavern.  Below us, we could see the abandoned part of the A625 road that was closed in 1979.  Continued landslip from Mam Tor over thousands of years meant that the road had little chance, and it was eventually decided to abandon it and let nature take over.  Parts of the road were completely warped, and parts had disappeared altogether.

2013-08-23-595Our route continued past Blue John Cavern, Winnats Head Farm and Windy Knoll.  This route was chosen to make the walk as easy as possible.  We finally had a good view of Mam Tor itself, with clear evidence of thousands of years of landslip.

2013-08-23-597Mam Tor and the entire ridge were paved.  This made it less “natural”, but it’s such a popular route that something had to be done to stop the hills eroding.  Stuck between a rock and a hard place, something had to be done to protect the hills without limiting access.

Plus, I must admit, these stairs made it much easier to get to the top.

2013-08-23-602Here’s the trig point at the top!  It was really windy up there, but luckily the ridge was wide enough for lots of people to walk along it safely.  Once we reached the summit, there was relatively little ascent for the rest of the walk.

2013-08-23-613Here’s the view along the rest of the ridge up to Lose Hill.  The hardest part was Back Tor, which was quite steep and was verging on a scramble in a couple of places, but that only lasted a few minutes.

2013-08-23-619From the summit of Lose Hill, it was a pleasant walk back down via various footpaths to Hope, where we stopped for drink at the excellent pub attached to the Old Hall Hotel.  From there, we took the main road back to Castleton.  A few times during the week while going between Castleton and Hope, we took the pleasant footpath next to Peakshole water, which felt nice and cold to splash around in during hot days.  We also once took the minor road via Pindale Farm, which takes you along a ridge with lovely views down into the valley below.

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