Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Running London: South London Windmill Run

The few remaining windmills in the London area are a reminder of the capital's history of absorbing formerly separate rural villages into the expanding city's urban fabric. With a 17 mile long run target as part of my London marathon training I decided to set off last weekend on a windmill-themed run across South London, taking in Peckham, Brixton, Clapham and Wimbledon.

In Peckham, on the corner of Choumert and Bellenden roads, there is a 2014 mural featuring a windmill landscape. It does not, as I first thought, represent an image of Peckham past. In fact I have found no evidence of there ever having been a windmill in Peckham, though there were a number at different times in the Camberwell area. The local connection to this mural is rather more obscure - it was painted by Walter Kershaw as one of a number of works inspired by paintings in the Dulwich Picture Gallery collection.  The windmills are in fact reproduced from a John Constable painting at DPG, which is in itself a copy of 'Landscape with Windmills near Haarlem’ by Jacob Van Ruisdael (1650).

Heading on to Brixton we find a fine windmill at the end of Blenheim Gardens, off Brixton Hill. The Ashby Mill was built in 1816 and remained a working mill until 1935. It has been restored as a result of the efforts of the Friends of Windmill Gardens and others, and was officially reopened in 2011.

The windmill has its own mural nearby in Lyham Road. The lettering at the bottom reads ''The Windmill revamped by community love, will hold us together if push comes to shove'.

The nearby pub, The Windmill, is one of South London's great music venues. Have had some excellent nights there, folk sessions, punk gigs and alt country events. Particularly recall People's Republic of Disco club nights, seeing Art Brut when they were just breaking (Geoff Travis of Rough Trade was in the crowd, think he had just signed them or was about to), and Pine Valley Cosmonauts. 

On Clapham Common there is another landmark pub with the same name.

As the sign outside says, there has been a Windmill pub in that location since at least 1665. Clearly there must originally have been a windmill there too, but it doesn't seem to have lasted  too long as 'milling must have become less important, and beer selling more important'.

Running on to Wimbledon Common I passed near to the remains of another windmill on Wandsworth Common, but confess I didn't actually see it.

The mill on Wimbledon Common, at the end of Windmill Lane of course, is in good condition. It may not have its own pub, but it does have The Windmill tearooms next door.

A sign above the entrance to the windmill states that Baden-Powel wrote part of his book 'Scouting for Boys' (1908) in the mill house.

According to the information sign at the site, it was built by local carpenter Charles March in 1817 and remained open until 1864 when the Lord of the Manor, the fifth Earl Spencer proposed to enclose Wimbledon Common 'and build himself a new Manor House just south of the windmill'. Fortunately this scheme was successfully opposed by local residents, leading  to 'the Commons being protected by the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act 1971'.

As a result of these endeavours, the common remains open for all and among the many sporting associations using it are the Wimbledon Windmilers running club - I saw a group of them meeting up at the Windmill for a run on Sunday. 

Only the week before (11 February 2017) several hundred of us ran over the Common in the final race of the 2016-17 Surrey League men's cross country competition - did I mention that my club, South London's finest Kent AC, won the competition for the 5th year in a row?!

Start of the Surrey League finale on Wimbledon Common, 11 February 2017

My windmill route, which included exploring other parts of Wimbledon on the way back, and getting lost in Tooting, is on Strava.

Other Running London posts:

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Running London: tracking the city's first railway journey

As somebody reminded me on twitter, yesterday was the anniversary of the birth of the London railways. On 8 February 1836, the first section of the London and Greenwich Railway was opened, with trains between Deptford and Spa Road in Bermondsey - the first passenger steam trains in the capital. Over the next few years the line was extended to reach London Bridge at one end and Greenwich at the other.

Today I decided to retrace that first train journey, running as near as I could the track from Deptford to Spa Road and indeed beyond to Druid Street then Tooley Street.

The railway not only transformed transport but the architecture of the city. To avoid the need for lots of level crossings, the railway was elevated above street level on a viaduct with hundreds of brick arches. 

Arches in Deptford

The site of the original Spa Road station is marked by a plaque commemorating 'London's first railway terminus, opened 1836'.

There is also a large photo on display of the old station.

The bridge where the railway crosses Spa Road is a grand structure supported on pillars.

As I ran alongside the railway I reflected on all the ever changing uses of these railway arches, home over the decades to countless stables, workshops, scrap metal yards, churches, gyms, boxing clubs, nightclubs, studios and in their latest incarnation offices like the Neal's Yard Dairy HQ on Druid Street.  I thought of great nights out in railway arches like the Cross club at Kings Cross, Shunt at London Bridge or various arches in 1990s Brixton.  It's been a similar picture in other cities, such as Glasgow, where of course one of the most iconic clubs until it closed in 2015 was The Arches. As urban property has become more valuable and tightly policed, railway arches in some areas are losing their cheap/marginal/semi-outlaw status, but the history of these places isn't played out yet.

Many of these arches have their own distinct stories, some glorious, some tragic. In the latter category, a plaque on Druid Street recalls the Druid Street Arch Bombing when on 25 October 1940 a Nazi bomb killed 77 people sheltering in a railway arch. 

site of the Druid arch bomb, October 1940
(I ran alongside the track for about 3 miles, for most of it close to the line though there were a couple of points where it's not possible to do so - see run details on strava)

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Running on Screen (18): T2 Trainspotting

The opening scene of the original Trainspotting film (1996) famously features Renton (Ewan McGregor) and Spud (Ewen Bremner) running through the streets of Edinburgh being chased by store detectives, set to Iggy Pop's Lust for Life.

The follow up twenty years latter, T2 Trainspotting likewise starts with a run, but of a quite different kind. This time Renton is running on a treadmill in an Amsterdam gym before collapsing - his health shock prompting him to return to Edinburgh and  the heroin addict friends who he ripped off all those years before.

Finding Spud to be still struggling to kick the habit, Renton drags him out for a run to the top of Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh's Holyrood Park, the highest point in the city (this time soundtracked by Young Fathers' Low).

Sitting on top of the hill, they talk about addiction.

Renton: 'you are an addict... so  be addicted to something else'

Spud 'Like running until you feel sick?'

Renton 'yes or something else, you've got to channel it, you've got to control it'.

Certainly not the first person, in fiction or real life, to take a lot more than 12 steps to recovery with the help of running.

Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh has done his share of running, including running London marathon twice, his first in London in 2001 I believe.

Update 10 February 2017:

This week's Athletics Weekly notes that it is Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy) who is the strongest runner of the Trainspotting crew, dating back to his teenage years when he was 4th in the Surrey under 17 1500m champs in 1988. He has run many marathons including the 2008 London Marathon in 3:01.and New York 2013 in 3:19. He has also taken part in some ultras, including 50 mile race through Bear Mountain, New York in 2015 for children's charity Jonah’s Just Begun. In fact in his twitter handle he describes himself as 'Professional pretender, ultrarunner, rare disease patient advocate, dad, ninja. But not in that order'.

Jonny Lee Miller at the finish of 2013 New York City Marathon

Previously in the Running on Screen series:

Running London: in praise of the Greenwich Foot Tunnel

The Greenwich Foot Tunnel is one of the most important routes for London runners on the East side of the city.  With no pedestrian friendly river crossings between it and Tower Bridge five miles upstream (I don't recommend running through the vehicle fumes of the Rotherhithe tunnel, though technically you could), the  370m tunnel connects the north and south banks of the Thames at a very useful point. 

Of course its entrance on the Greenwich side is an iconic running location in its own right, marking with the Cutty Sark ship Mile Seven of the London Marathon route. On Sunday mornings in particular in the lead up to the Spring Marathon season a seemingly never ending stream of runners pass through the tunnel during their long run training. For runners from South  London heading north, the tunnel gives access to parks and waterways of the Isle of Dogs and East London along which it is possible to run for miles with very little interruption from roads. For those heading north to south, the tunnel opens up the way to the hilly Greenwich Park and the green expanse of Blackheath, as well as to Thames-side routes around the Greenwich peninsula up to the 02/Dome and beyond.  

Last weekend for instance a group of us did a 14 mile run from Greenwich that included following the Regents Canal to Victoria Park, then the Hertford Union Canal up to the Olympic London Stadium and back. Yesterday my 16 mile route took me to Mile End, where I did the parkrun before heading back via Limehouse and Millwall Docks to the foot tunnel.

The tunnel was opened in 1902, and was originally intended to help dock workers from the South side get to work on the Isle of Dogs. It was commissioned by the London County Council, with former docker and later Labour MP Will Crooks having a key role as chair of the LCC's Bridges Committee. So runners can thank him and the workers who dug the tunnel through the chalk by hand.

For runners passing through today the main dilemma seems to be whether to use the lift or the stairs - 100 of them at the Greenwich end. Most seem to descend via the spiral staircase but get the lift back up.

(Running Past has written a bit more about the history and notes that  to mark the centenary of the tunnel in 2002, 100 people ran a Greenwich Foot Tunnel Centenary Marathon entirely inside the tunnel (58 laps). Hugh Jones, winner of the 1982 London Marathon, won the tunnel event in a time of 2.45.40).