The Sketch

Why am I writing a post about one of London’s premier open water swimming events in my memoires of geocaching? Mainly because whilst Kas had a place in Swim Serpentine, I don’t really swim. I certainly don’t do open water swimming. However, it afforded me the opportunity to spend a day “down the smoke” for a bit of geocaching.

So I wasn’t swimming, other than in geocaches. But we move on.

The Morning

Kas set off at some awful time of the morning because she’d arranged to go to Ilford (I think) to do a parkrun. Because, you know, a 2 mile swim in the afternoon isn’t enough. So she was out of the house while it was still dark. I got up at a more leisurely time. I headed off to the station for a train at about 9 am. That’s still (currently) an early time for me on a Saturday. I’d made a point after the Lincoln trip of getting myself in bed early.

The train down was, well, train-ish. All was going well until we got past Wembley, at which point a freight train apparently pulled out onto the main line in front of us, and slowed us down. And once that was out of the way, we incurred a further delay because routes into Euston Station were considerably slowed down by engineering works, which meant they closed masses of the approaches and there was a bottleneck getting trains in and out of the platforms. It’s just as well I’d grabbed coffee and pastries at MK station before setting off.

University College

My first caching stop was at the main campus of University College London, which is literally over the road from Euston. There was a set of 5 lab caches around the campus. They turned out to be a little challenging to do. Whilst the campus is apparently open-access, and that was enhanced by it being an open day for new students, I get a kind of creepy feeling wandering around a campus on a weekend when I’m not a student. Also, a couple of the key entrances weren’t open, and I wasn’t comfortable just walking through a door to see what happened.

So I circled around the campus to do a series of dashes in and out from the adjacent roads. I did spend some time wandering around inside following signs, but frankly the signs weren’t great and I was uncomfortable every time I went inside a building. So I was glad when I’d done them. From here, I jumped on the Hammersmith and City Line from Euston Square to Paddington.

No Comment

I can’t comment too much on the campus itself, nor the institution that occupies it, because I’m an Imperial College man. When I was there it was a part of the University of London, much like UCL. A few years back they voted to leave the University of London.

Back at the plot, Imperial is ranked the 5th best college in the UK and the second best in London (after London School of Economics). UCL languishes in a very lowly 8th place (3rd in London). My point being, obviously, that I consider walking around UCL to be a bit like walking around Scumbag College off the Young Ones. Harsh, I know, but one has to champion one’s own successes.

I have no idea how LSE can come first. Don’t they just play with spreadsheets and guess what large numbers of people will do with their money?

I digress. Digression is my middle name.

Bear Necessities

OK, that is a poor pun, but I’m well known for those.

Paddington Station is one of those London stations that seems to be in a permanent state of rebuilding. I guess they recently put the Elizabeth Line through it, and I know they’ve been extending it with new platforms for the Heathrow Express and other things, but somehow it manages to combine spangly new extensions with Victorian brickwork and scaffolding in roughly equal proportions.

My quest was to find two sets of lab caches plus a few other bits and bobs in the area before walking towards Hyde Park. One set of those was entirely within the station. Those were quick to do despite me suffering my usual semi-panic, semi-frustrated “isn’t London busy?” phase there. Many parts of London are very busy. I tend to get out of the semi-panic phase by either a) stopping for coffee / beer or b) walking a street or so off the main drag to somewhere that’s quieter.

St Mary’s

The second set of labs fell into category b). It started south of the station and moved northwards, and the route took me once again to a bit of my history. Playing back to my university days, when I was at Imperial College it covered all physical sciences and engineering disciplines except for medicine. It had grown out of more pure science and engineering colleges, but the lack of medical school seemed an omission for one of the UK’s premier scientific establishments. There’s rumour they merged with a medical school just to increase the proportion of female undergraduates. When I was there, it was very much of a male dominated establishment. One would hope things have changed in the last 36 years since I left.

They addressed that issue in 1988, the year after I left, by merging with the St Mary’s Hospital Medical School. St Mary’s is the hospital next to Paddington. OK, so this bit isn’t part of my history, and I make no claim of responsibility on Imperial deciding to diversify into medicine, but it was a convenient segway between bits of this post. And, indeed, there’s more of that coming later.

The end of the set of labs had me standing by the side of the Westway just to the east of Paddington. It was time to go elsewhere.

Heading Southwards

After walking as quickly as possible back across Westway and through Paddington I found myself in the Hyde Park Estate, one of London’s more upmarket areas. Thankfully here the streets were a little quieter than at Paddington and I was able to move quickly and search more freely. Rather unfortunately though, I couldn’t seem to find any of the caches that were supposed to be there. That was a bit irritating. One in particular was the final of a whole series of virtual caches that I’ve been picking my way through ever since I began caching.

So I left the posh area feeling a bit the worse for wear, and looking forward to notching up a few more finds. Salvation was found in the walk from Marble Arch down Park Lane. Down here there was a set of labs placed by the London Calling crew that I’d not had time to do on London Calling day back in April. Today was the perfect day.

To continue the theme of disappointment with physical caches though, I’d got the final coordinates for two wherigos that require you to travel round the whole of London and randomly open the wherigo cartridge at anywhere vaguely touristy to see if was one of the required zones. I’d been doing that cartridge for donkey’s years too. There was a final point and an extra bonus final, both of which I thought were on Park Lane. I couldn’t find diddly at either location.

Random Acts of Kindness

While I was in this phase, I assisted a lovely but rather confused lady from Oregon who was wandering around London on holiday, but was struggling because she didn’t have a phone signal, and didn’t really know where she was. Anyway, ultimately she produced a key card from her hotel and I googled the location and pointed which way she needed to go. It wasn’t far, but when she met me she was walking away from it.

I sincerely hope she got back to her hotel and enjoyed the rest of her visit. Or, indeed, that she is still enjoying her visit.

Going Round in Circles

At the bottom end of Park Lane is Hyde Park Corner. Fundamentally it’s a massive traffic island filled with war memorials, but as a geocacher it jumps out at you because of the number of caches there. There’s a set of labs and 2 or 3 earthcaches, and a virtual, so the small area contains 10 or so caches. I did them fairly quickly and then sat down on the end of the memorial to Bomber Command (which is technically on Piccadilly rather than Hyde Park Corner). I needed a rest, and my phone needed to be recharged, and I needed to find out where Kas was and whether I needed to walk across to meet her.

All was fairly good on the Kas front. She was chillin’ with friends under a tree and I’d still got nearly two hours before her race was die to start. So I was good for a bit more caching.

Serious Nostalgia

I decided to leg it along Knightsbridge and Kensington Gore to the Royal Albert Hall. There were a couple of caches on the way, and the Albert Hall is where, in 1987, I got to impress my parents by having my graduation ceremony there. It’s a fine location for a graduation ceremony.

On the way, I had to find a way around the largest mobile crane I’ve ever seen, and then pick my way through a clutch of police and protesters outside the Iranian Embassy on Prince’s Gate. It’s the same building that was stormed by the SAS in 1980. Anyway, there was a peaceful protest of several hundred taking place over the road, and the police were happily letting people walk by. It didn’t feel unsafe.

At the Albert Hall, I found one cache and then ducked out of another that appeared to need a tree climb. Then a little further on there was another, before returning to the Albert Memorial for a couple more. I had forgotten how large and incredibly fiddly the Albert Memorial is. One thing you can certainly say about the Victorian era is that they weren’t keen on plainness. The more fiddly the better.

Where’s the Mrs?

Well, I knew where she was. But before I went to meet her I took a walk through Kensington Gardens following another set of lab caches. Kensington Gardens is where we used to do our lunchtime football training while I was a student. It doesn’t look like they let people run around in studded boots any more, but I may be wrong.

This set of labs took me round the Round Pond and then to the top end of the Serpentine – actually, it’s called “The Long Water” up at that end, but who’s counting? Anyway, the labs finished in the Italian Gardens and that meant I could walk down the north side of the Serpentine directly to where Kas had been camped out all afternoon. Marvellous.

Lazing Around

I met up with Kas and a couple of others she’d been spending the day with. I then immediately disappeared to buy more drinks and a snack to keep me happy. It was a warm day and I was finding I needed to drink a lot, even though I wasn’t at all hungry. So I got coffee, coke and water, and some crisps.

Back at the plot, Kas was getting into her wetsuit and generally preparing for some swimming. I wandered off to the start with her just so I knew where to go at the end. There’s no point in trying to watch an open water swimming event, because fundamentally it’s a load of splashing a pink hats moving serenely through the water. You can’t tell who is who. So when she started I went back and lay beneath a tree, drinking my drinks and munching my crisps. Anyway, my GPS said I’d walked 16km at least, so I’d earned a sit down. And a snooze. In fact, I was so ready for a snooze that I decided I should set an alarm just in case.

Kas finished in good time and I was able to spot her coming out of the water. We met up and then I went back to the tree while she got changed.

Dinner

The swimming members of the crew were ready for some food. I probably was too, so that was a deal. We started walking in the general direction of Oxford Street. By this time it was about 6:30 and the place was heaving. So I didn’t enjoy that bit very much, but at least the rest meant my feet weren’t hurting at all.

We ended up in a Pizza Express, the one at the bottom end of Thayer Street. The pizzas were pizza-flavoured. I didn’t bother getting my glasses out to read the menu. I could discern “American Hot” without them, so that was enough. There was a bewildering array of options I wasn’t expecting. I’m sure an American Hot just used to be an American Hot, but anyway, it was good. The others had beer, but I’d made the mistake of taking my car to the station, so I didn’t have beer.

After dinner we were all on a mission to get back to Euston to get home. My motivation was that the Co-Op shuts at 10pm, and I wanted to get there in time to buy beer.

Quick Walk, Slow Train

So we legged it all the way up Thayer Street and along Marylebone Road/Euston Road to get back to the station. One of our number had done some googling. The best train for us would be one due to leave at 8:25. Time was a bit tight all the way, and when we got to the station we ended up sprinting along the platform to get on it. We made it though, but there were no seats because of all the delays and consequent train overcrowding.

And then we waited. Apparently, on top of all the engineering works they also managed a signalling failure. That meant we didn’t get out of Euston until nearly 9 pm. We were joined in our by-the-doors space by a young woman from Birmingham. She, like us, was just trying to get home. She was having a bit of a mare because she only had a ticket on her phone and her phone ran out of juice. She’d sponged enough ziggies at a seat in the Premium Standard seats but had then received a glare and some less than choice words from the train manager because she’d dared to take a sip of the free water she’d been offered.

Seriously?

Things went downhill as we made an unscheduled stop at Watford so they could get the Transport Police on. They wanted to remove some people who’d camped in the premium seats and were refusing to pay the upgrade fee. I can see their point, but really? The train was only full because they’d spent all day delaying and cancelling them. So it seemed a bit off to threaten to cancel a train containing several hundred paying passengers on the basis that they had half a dozen people who didn’t want to pay an upgrade for seats that would otherwise have sat empty. Sometimes things like this make me laugh. Sometimes.

Back at MK, the car was where I left it. We made a tactical trip into a off-license at the station to get beer. We would have made it to the Co-Op in time, but only just. So I sat typing up caching logs, drinking beer, and listening to Match of the Day. A perfect end to a busy day.