An eggcellent obsession

Cities appear to be developing a curious passion for littering their streets with pieces of themed sculpture. Two years ago, London had the elephant hunt. Last summer Bristol had an invasion of gorillas. This Lent, London is playing host to the Big Egg Hunt.

I first became aware of it before Christmas, when a friend whose love of the elephants had bordered upon obsessive (and who’d made a special trip to Bristol just to see the gorillas) told me about it and set about organising a Girls Day Out to egg hunt. That date is now just days away (this Saturday), but living in central London meant that I’ve been conducting my own hunt simply through my day-to-day meanderings through the city.

Unlike the Elephants, the eggs are in 12 specific zones – but it just so happens that at least three of these (Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square and Knightsbridge) are parts of town that I’m required to pass through at least weekly, so having found a few by chance, I soon felt compelled to intentionally seek them out. Some friends have moaned that I’m getting ahead of those who’ll be hunting this weekend, but I argue that I stand a realistic chance of finding all 209 – the out of towners do not. I am saving the zones we’re planning to hit, but that’s my limit.

The useful thing about the zones is that it gives excellent parameters for London walks – on Saturday my aim was to try and complete the Southbank zone in a morning, leaving early enough (i.e. just after 10am) that it would still be fairly tourist-free. By the time I arrived at the RFH to study, I’d found 13 of the zone’s 16 eggs. Perhaps indicating the level my obsession had already got to, I then spent 20 minutes cross-referencing the online maps with the mobile site and the photos I’d already taken in order to find the missing ones, plus the remaining eggs in Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square. I think I now can officially be labelled ‘obsessed’. Anyway, it paid off. By lunchtime I had the whole zone:

In case you’re wondering, top right is the ‘invisible egg’. No, I don’t get it either…

However, with just one to go, I became despondent. A third National Theatre egg seemed impossible to find. I hunted high and low, but couldn’t find it anywhere. I climbed the steps to Waterloo Bridge intent on at least finding more Covent Garden eggs, but took one final look over my shoulder at the NT behind me…

…and there it was! Can you see it? Third level up (which is actually the fourth, you can’t see the ground floor in the photo) and shining in the sun. I was ridiculously delighted and felt like I’d really achieved something.

If you’re inspired to actively look for them yourself, rather than just hope that you stumble upon them, then here’s some tips I’ve come up with so far:

  • Print off the maps and make particular note of whether eggs are indoors or outdoors. Tick them off as you go along, so you know which ones you’ve found. [The mobile version of the site doesn’t include this part of the map, annoyingly, so you need it before you head out!] 
  • Use Google maps to hunt for locations mentioned on the map that you’re unsure of.
  • Look above you as well as around you. 
  • Follow the Big Egg Hunt on Facebook if you want hints on where to find Wally the travelling egg on any particular day. 
  • Go to the egg shop in Selfridges. (It’s next to 4 of the eggs, so you’d kill 2 birds with one stone…)
  • If you’re lacking in time, choose one of the smaller zones – like Carnaby Street, St Christopher’s Place or the Southbank. Don’t choose Covent Garden! I’ve now hunted three times in that area and haven’t found them all.
  • If you can only look at weekends, choose quieter zones like the City or the parks. 
Chances are I’ll report back after Saturday’s corporate hunting experience, if only to recommend egg-based snacks to help make it a truly eggcellent eggsperience…

Forget TfL – use feet!

Taking away my 45 minute daily commute, my monthly travelcard and my extortionate gym membership; replacing it with a 15 minute commute two or three days a week, a 45 minute commute one day a week, two or three days a week of flexibility, a pre-pay Oyster card and a desperate need for exercise has resulted in one thing lately: an awful lot of walking.

I’m a big fan of walking in London – after all, I did spend two days walking 42 miles of the Thames Path back in May. It’s just that often I’ve not had the time to do much of it. Training for the Thames Path challenge resulted in a few walks to work, but that also required some very early starts to make it in on time. Now, time is something I have a bit more of, but (oddly frustratingly) many of the places I need to go are just a short walk away.

When I discovered I’d be moving to ‘proper’ central London, many people said that I’d be able to walk everywhere. I scoffed at this, thinking it a massive generalisation. Yes, trips to Marylebone, Oxford Street, Waterloo and Angel would be massively doable, but what about college in South Kensington – surely that would be a bit of a trek? I presumed the same would also be true of my friends in the East End.

However, the combination of no gym membership [I’ve been blessed with a bargain Groupon for 10 day passes, but I’m trying to use them wisely] and Google maps on my iPhone has spurred me into action. Awakening a tad hangover on Friday with nothing planned but a trip to Bow to visit a friend’s new place, I typed the postcode into Google and discovered it was exactly 5 miles away, and, according to the computer, just 1 hour 40 minutes away. Perfect exercise on a beautiful day! It was a good walk – I got a couple of chores done; timed the precise journey time to favourite karaoke bar; stitched together Shoreditch and Bethnal Green; and discovered that the Roman Road is a flipping long road. The walk was so good that a few hours later I walked home again, varying my route, just to keep things interesting.

Using the same app tactic, on Monday I pondered walking home from college – again it hit the 5 mile mark and I figured this would be an excellent antidote to a day of intense concentration. I was enticed by the fact that a considerable chunk of it involved Hyde Park – an excellent place to walk on a crisp autumnal day. It was immensely pleasant – I listened to Wittertainment, caught up with a friend (that multi-tasking thing again) and managed to route my stroll through Selfridges Food Hall where I purchased special offer Cholla bread. Good times, and definitely something to be done again. (Though the purchasing of items in Selfridges rather negates the saving of money in not taking the tube.)

Apologies for the wonky Albert Memorial…

Yesterday, I found myself in Wapping, so checked my phone on the off-chance that a walk was possible. It told me I could be home in 75 minutes – only thirty more than if I took the tube or a bus during rush hour. I had the time, so got going. It turned into a highly entertaining adventure given as it passes through The City, where many streets have amusing names… 
Stop that giggling right now! 

Plus, you get very close to some iconic London landmarks: 
For the uninitiated, that’s the Tower of London (and the Shard) and a glimpse of St Paul’s. 

In the last five days I’ve walked 19 miles on this mission – I don’t think that’s bad going at all. It’s rather fortunate that my Dad’s recently sent me CDs via which I can learn Greek grammar by song, soon I’ll be able to walk and become familiar with participles while singing Old MacDonald… That, my friends, is perfect multi-tasking!

Intentional and determined

I did it. In fact, I did it in style.
The ‘it’ would of course be my slightly ridiculous weekend activity of walking part of the Thames Path – a 42 mile chunk would be precise. It was a truly memorable experience and definitely one I’d repeat, in fact, I’m already gathering allies for potential Moon Walk participation next year.

As with all such things, there were both highs and lows…

The lows:

  • Thinking I might have to drop out before lunch on the first day thanks to a random stomach complaint. (I was fine, though did have an unnerving ‘old lady opening the door of the toilet’ moment I was at a pub over lunch.) 
  • Pretty much everything from Putney onwards on Saturday afternoon/evening. We reached Putney at 4pm and Vauxhall around 6pm, most of what occurred in those two hours was hellish. Our legs hurt, our feet hurt, it began to rain – heavily, the path twisted in and out of buildings built next to the river lengthening our journey considerably. 
  • Reaching London Bridge and discovering the trains to South Bermondsey weren’t running (something Southern Trains had publicised in a very low key way). I may have cried and ranted incoherently at the London Bridge staff member who informed me of this fact. 
  • Two of our team fainting after Saturday night baths – one even necessitating an ambulance. FYI: don’t have a hot bath if you’re potentially dehydrated. 
  • Waking up on Sunday, in agony, and realising that we had to do it all over again. 
  • One of the team injuring her foot about a mile in on Sunday – then dropping out at lunch. 
  • The crowds on the South Bank between Tower Bridge & Westminster. Honestly, people were very nearly strangled for walking too slowly… 

The highs:

  • Exploring unknown parts of London. One of my favourite discoveries was Harrods Village – a former furniture warehouse turned into flats that you happen upon completely unexpectedly along a country path. 
  • Retracing steps from the Deptford hidden walk and spotting familiar landmarks – like favourite pubs and the Hawksmoor churches. The bonus of being on home turf was that I could share fascinating facts with the rest of the team. I’m pretty sure this was appreciated. 
  • Discovering things I didn’t know about my own neighbourhood, like lovely pubs and a city farm. (It did become slightly depressing that for the worst part of Sunday – the interminable Rotherhithe peninsula – we were consistently around a mile from my home.) 
  • Making new friends and getting lots of time to chat with existing ones. (We knew things were bad when we stopped talking – like the final 2 hours of Saturday…) 
  • An a cappella singing challenge on the way to the o2. I suppose it should be expected of a challenge for a music project, but being taught a round and then singing it in three parts was fun – if not a little bit embarrassing. 
  • Taking photos of/on random things – there’s an inevitable Flickr set.
  • Finishing. 

The Harrods Village and the fabulous Captain Kidd (too far away for a pint.)

 Making the most of photo opportunities as they arose were a welcome distraction from pain.
(Attempting that position on the right was not a good idea – my hips were not happy.)

One of the reasons why Saturday was so bad was that we actually walked about 5 miles more than we intended – through no fault of our own. Signage and mileage on the Thames Path is eccentric to say the least, bearing little relation to what the path actually does – perhaps they measure the distance according to how the swim would be? However, the plus side of this was that Sunday was shorter, a very good thing given how our bodies were feeling! 
We followed those signs for hours. I never want to see another one.
I can’t begin to tell you just how happy we were to reach Vauxhall yesterday afternoon – 42 miles is a looooooong way people! And as for my body today, suffice to say it will take some time for it to completely forgive me. All movements involving legs will be accompanied by audible ouches for the foreseeable future. 

Potentially foolish intentions

Those that follow me on Twitter may have noticed a slightly odd routine creeping into my tweets, where once a week I ask fellow tweeters to help motivate me to get up and walk to work. For many, this will seem strange as walking to work shouldn’t really require much more motivation than going to work generally requires. However, those that know where I live and where I work have expressed some surprise at my new habit. There is, of course, method in my madness…

Several months ago I enthusiastically signed up to walk along the Thames Path in order to help raise money for a musical outreach programme some friends have set up on an estate in Battersea – the Ignito Project. I’m all in favour of such initiatives and, being as I’m not quite talented enough to run a music class, I figured taking part in the walk would be my contribution. Plus, I do enjoy walking, I love the Thames, oh, and I get to spend two days with some lovely people- so really, what’s not to like about the concept?

However, this was potentially a foolish decision, as the original proposal was a 67 mile walk in 24 hours – even my normally supportive parents thought this was a ridiculous challenge to take on! It then became 40 miles over two days, which is much more manageable, yet still something of a daunting prospect – for a whole host of reasons:

  • I’m not sure that I’ve ever walked 20 miles in one day before, let alone repeated that feat the following day.
  • What if it rains all the time? 
  • What if we get a sudden heatwave? 
  • I’m going to a wedding the day before, so will have to be super self-restrained in my partying. 
  • What if my (rather old but very comfortable) trainers expire en route?
  • What if the walking aggravates my long-term sporting injury. [Taking up running made me develop tendonnitis in my ankles 7 years ago & the wrong kind of physical activity (or shoes) triggers it again.] 
  • What if I can’t move a single muscle on Monday? 
If add to all that the fact that in all probability all I’ll want on Saturday and Sunday night is a long hot bath and my flat only contains a shower, you’ll understand why I’m somewhat wary of what 8am on Saturday morning  will bring! 
But the training has been fun. Walking from the wilds of Bermondsey to Baker Street isn’t an impossible task by any means and takes 2 hours door to door. Plus, it’s a route that has an almost infinite number of possibilities – so it’s difficult to get bored. On Friday morning, as I crossed Millennium Bridge and watched the sun twinkle on the river’s waves while celebrating McFly day, life felt pretty bloody good. Whether it will be enough preparation for the weekend’s events remains to be seen, but I think it might become a regular thing – the Twitter motivation will have to continue though as my ability to get up at 6.30 when I could stay in bed till 7.30 is severely lacking. 
Oh, and if you fancy giving me a little extra motivation, you can sponsor me here.

Hidden London: East Rotherhithe Edition

The best way to explore London is on foot, discovering alleyways and stumbling upon churches – spotting things you couldn’t possibly see from the tube or even a bus. Thing is, even then it’s difficult to know why things are where they are; why they’re named what they are; and, more importantly, finding the things you didn’t even know were there.

For ages I’ve wanted a good walking guide to the city. City Walks – London has sat on my wishlist for ages – ever since I discovered Bee-Boppin’ the Boroughs which blogged the New York version – but without anyone ever buying it for me. Then, while on a book-buying spree in the London Transport Museum shop, I spotted London’s Hidden Walks and persuaded my sister to buy it for me as an Easter gift (she got two Cath Kidston for Uniqlo t-shirts, so I feel this was a fair deal). A sunny Bank Holiday with no plans other than a need to distract myself from my worldly worries seemed like the perfect occasion to try one of the walks out.

The book contains 13 walks, all aiming to take you into parts of the city you wouldn’t normally explore and reveal things you’d never even think to look for. As my only other Bank Holiday activity involved grocery shopping, I figured I’d start with a walk that began virtually on my doorstep – Canada Water to Greenwich, via Deptford. On reflection, it would have been better to do the walk in reverse seeing as my main supermarket was at the start of the walk, but I have enough map/directions issues without trying to read them backwards!

The walk was actually easy to follow, especially as much of it was along the Thames Path which is very well signposted. The only time I got lost was when I was instructed to come off the path in Deptford and was led into an estate that I wouldn’t normally have passed through. At one point my walk was interrupted by the arrival of three patrol cars and a police van – I think that says a lot. (This also rather surprised the hard-core ramblers I passed who were presumably following the Thames Path.) Actually, I generally wouldn’t go into Deptford at all and was dubious of its historic merits – turns out it’s actually quite a fascinating place…

I should have guessed that an estate named after Pepys meant the area was connected to the diarist, but didn’t expect to discover that Tsar Peter the Great lived there for a while too. Nor had I fully realised that Christopher Marlowe was killed on Deptford Strand. Or, that Deptford was such a hotspot for religious radicals (ok, Quakers) that the Church of England felt the need to build a massively imposing church in the town (for town it was until the city absorbed it) in order to reassert its presence. It all looked rather lovely in the unseasonally bright sun and all in all was just the distraction I needed.

Random things found along the river – a staircase to nowhere, and the spot on the strand where Marlowe’s body was found. 
 
 Deptford signage – proof that a Tsar [that’s the spelling I was taught in Russian history & I’m sticking to it] once lived here and a fabulously named playground.
 
 St Nicholas church – a beautiful, calm oasis in the middle of chaos and the Marlowe’s final resting place. 
 
The deliberately ostentatious St Paul’s and the uber fabulous Laban centre. 
 
Oh, and I knackered my sandals by the end of it. 
It’s the price you pay for walking miles along the mean streets of London. 
 
The rest of the photos are on Flickr and I’ll try and aim to do these fairly regularly. In fact, there’s another Bank Holiday Monday in the offing and I currently have no plans for it, so perhaps it could be a good day for another adventure. Fellow walkers are more than welcome, I’m sure it’ll be super fun!