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High Speed 2

The country is becoming increasingly exercised about the proposed high speed railway line that will link London to Birmingham in 45 minutes. In due course it would also see journey times to the north and Scotland cut and provide the backbone to a British high speed rail network. What’s not to like?

By rights I should be heartily in favour of High Speed 2 (HS2), the name given for this new high speed railway line. It would cut the journey time to see family and bring to this country the sort of rail travel I’ve experienced in Germany and Japan. However I find my enthusiasm muted at best and at worst I’m opposed to the plans altogether.

I’m not a NIMBY, the route will not run within sight or earshot of where I live, however it will run through the Chilterns and impact many of our favourite towns, villages, countryside and walks. Furthermore, I question the absolute necessity for the route that is trying to be sold to us. Are there really no alternatives to this massive financial outlay and substantial environment impact?

Losing the peace

As a nation, there’s a good many of us who are intent on finding a peaceful corner to call home. While some are happy in the noisy bustle of the urban jungle, many others are keen for life away from it. While transport is vital, it needs to be measured and balanced with maintaining a healthy national environment; if the land is utterly criss-crossed with noisy trunk routes then there’ll be no respite from the noise. If HS2 were to closely follow existing motorway routes, as the West Coast Mainline does, then I don’t think I’d have such concerns, however much of the route cuts a swathe through some of Britain’s finest countryside. Valleys unspoilt and at peace with the sounds of their natural environment threaten being ruined with the sight of another huge concrete construction, accompanied by the intense noise of high speed trains passing every few minutes. The limited tranquility of this island will be encroached upon further, a development I cannot welcome. Continue reading

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Walk in the woods

Wendover Woods was my destination on the latest in a series of days out walking in the Chilterns. I find Wendover a very pleasant village, within easy reach of the two highest points of the Chilterns and a high street lined with independent and specialists shops. One of the village’s highlights is the wonderfully helpful and friendly tourist information office; well worth visiting for maps and local knowledge before embarking on a walk in the area.

The Ridgeway through Wendover Woods

My walk is the latest of several forays into the Chilterns to explore the nature and landscape on our doorstep. My last big walk followed the ancient Ridgeway track from Wendover over the hills to Princes Risborough. It was an excellent route for views, taking in Coombe, Pulpit and Whiteleaf Hills, all commanding fine panoramas over the Chilterns, Vale of Aylesbury and beyond. Continue reading

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Beyond the supermarket: sourcing fresh, quality food

We’re great food lovers in Dara Towers, and we’re starting to discover the delights of tracking down quality ingredients for the meals we make.

Like most people, we do most of our shopping at supermarkets – principally Sainburys and Waitrose at present – but we’re starting to investigate local, family run and speciality businesses for certain items. This is due in part to being unable to source all of the fresh food we’d like, especially with our weekly delivered shop. We also like to support local businesses in these tricky economic times and you can’t get lower food miles than something that’s produced just up the road.

For meat we’ve been trying a few butchers as an alternative to the supermarket – including the superb M Newitt in Thame, Oxfordshire, although most regularly we frequent our local butcher, Chris Blake, on Rickmansworth High Street.

Fish is a particular favourite of ours, we’ve found the choice of fresh fish to be limited when shopping online. Our local Waitrose offers a good range both at the counter and pre-packaged, however we’re still often frustrated by being unable to find the fish to fit a selected recipe. We decided to look around for a dedicated fishmonger to see if a greater selection was available. Rickmansworth itself doesn’t have a fishmonger – the number of supermarkets perhaps puts pay to that – however just up the road Chorleywood’s boutique high street boasts the excellent Catch of the Day.

Catch of the Day provides brilliantly friendly service, a selection of fresh fish and sea food that’s certainly beyond that of the supermarkets and the type of personalised service we feared we’d lost from the British high street. We came away with two stunningly fresh looking tuna steaks and two mackerel, which the fishmonger duly gutted for us. Here’s the tuna looking splendid in Saturday’s dinner:

It’ll take a while to experimenting and comparing food from different sources, although that’s very much part of the fun. We’ll be sharing details of the food producers and suppliers we like on our new page simply entitled “We like…

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The Fat Aubergine

A new café has recently opened on Ricky High Street, adding another option to lunching options. We already have Cinnamon Square and Brown Sugar established as firm lunch time favourites on the High Street, with Neros for coffee and snacks and Cafe in the Park at the Aquadrome. So how does this latest contender fare against the existing choices?

The Fat Aubergine makes much of its shakes and smoothies. There’s a bewildering variety, although Brown Sugar already offers a strong selection. As with Brown Sugar there are several menus around which makes it trickier to make a choice than perhaps it should. We both intended to have dairy free options and went for fruit smoothies and shakes, however missing the small print from each menu ended up with yoghurt and a milk shake respectively! They were tasty enough, but you don’t necessarily want to have to spend a good deal of time reading to make a simple choice.

We were more disappointed by the food, which is already prepared and not made to order as in Cinnamon Square or Brown Sugar. This meant that some of the choices were already sold out, and we felt there were relatively few fresh options available; something the competition does well.

On the whole, although it’s nice to see new businesses on the High Street, we didn’t feel Fat Aubergine offered anything that wasn’t already available from other cafés. It’s not the easiest of markets either, as Cinnamon Square uses its award winning homemade breads and is better than ever in its recently expanded form, while Brown Sugar’s deli format offers a superior selection of fresh food. For the moment at least we’re likely to stay with our current regular favourites for weekend lunches.

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Wendover & Gerrards Cross

Today we had something of a two centre day trip. The morning consisted of an antiques hunt in Wendover. Well, less of a hunt and more of a browse, really. Wendover seems to have carved out something of a local niche as a antiques centre, boasting a couple of large rambling buildings stuffed full of antiques in every corner. There’s also a military art gallery we visited on our last trip – paintings of WWII fighters and bombers – you know the kind of thing.

We visited the two main antique shops and from the second emerged with a bugle; a trapping that is becoming an almost inevitable purchase on one of our days out. Tara is now amassing something of a collection of the things.

A third stop in Wendover was that of the chocolaterie we’d eyed up on our visit last year. Although Wendover is a pleasant town, the weather was biting and damp, making a stop off for hot drinks and food and welcome and, we felt, a rather necessary requirement, although deterring further exploration of the area.

Putting off a more extensive wander around Wendover for a warmer month, we set off on a largely diagonal route across the area to Gerrards Cross on the A413. Gerrards Cross (GX) is a town we know very little about, other than we’d identified it having a cinema, which struck us as unusual, given it’s rather modest size (a population of some 7,000, according to Wikipedia).

Again we had a curtailed wander around the shopping streets of GX due to the weather, which offered a few nice looking cafes and a Cafe Rouge, although not a huge amount of great interest otherwise. There was a great amount of work going on over the railway line, where the ill-fated attempt in 2005 to build a Tesco over a tunnel has seemingly been restarted. There’s apparently a common, but again, it will have to wait for the summer months.

We spent the afternoon in the warmth of the town’s rather diddy Odeon cinema. Although there was a large half-term audience, they were all impressively well behaved, which perhaps reflects well on the purportedly well-heeled inhabitants of this area; one of the priciest outside of London, no less.

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A return to picture of the day

Although winter is by no means the best time of year for photography, the autumn season we’re currently experiencing that precedes it offers, in comparison, a wealth of colour, light and opportunities.

The first photo for the newly reprised Photo of the Day is not, however, an autumnal scene, although I hope many will follow. Today, the first day parliament is sitting following the summer recess, saw Greenpeace protestors on the roof of the Palace of Westminster. Alas, my iPhone’s paltry camera didn’t masterly touch this piece of current affairs, however hopefully something of the scene was captured:

Greenpeace protestors on the Palace of Westminster roof
Greenpeace protestors on the Palace of Westminster roof

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An introduction to Rickmansworth

The blog has been unusually quiet in recent weeks, however with good reason, as the Mule has been on the move. While remaining in the heart of Metro-land, we’ve ventured further up the Metropolitan line, beyond the bounds of Greater London and into the Hertfordshire countryside. In a search of that elusive combination of rural idyll and urban convenience at a price that’s affordable we’ve ended up in Rickmansworth. A smallish town of some 14,000 or so, it’s nevertheless home to the district council, has a decent selection of shops and eateries, good connections to London while being just 3 miles from the megastore shopping of Watford. Being beyond the London sprawl the countryside is on the doorstep, in the form of lakes, rivers and the Grand Union canal.

We’re hoping it will suit us nicely. It’s true that while Rickmansworth lacks something of the charm and fancy restaurants of Pinner, there’s a strong population of young professionals and we’ll not object to decent, reasonably priced meals out plus a couple of fine old pubs given a modern twist.

Regular visitors to the blog will know that the Mule is fond of snickets; those often little know alleys and paths linking streets. Metro-land is prime territory for snickets, perhaps owing to the preponderance of inter-war housing. Rickmansworth is no exception and we quickly discovered a handy snicket for accessing Waitrose:

Rickmansworth snicket to Waitrose
Rickmansworth snicket to Waitrose

We’re still very much in the early stages of exploring the area, however, and we’d much appreciate any local recommendations of eateries, hostelries, shops, services, walks, entertainment etc.

More from Dara Towers and Rickmansworth to follow!

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Aylesbury

Aylesbury Market Square
Aylesbury Market Square

The Mule has travelling up the line to Aylesbury, county town of Buckinghamshire. Although not so many miles away neither of us had visited what is the most sizable stop on the line outside of London. At one time served by the Metropolitan and Great Central railways, Aylesbury is now the end of the line and a pleasant hour’s journey out of London Marylebone on the Chiltern Turbo. The countryside is very much interwar Metro-land suburbia until past Northwood when the urban sprawl turns into countryside and stops become distinct towns in the Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire countryside. Passing through the modest Chiltern hills we pass the Boer War memorial atop Coombe Hill upon leaving Wendover. Before we realised it we were pulling into Aylesbury.

Continue reading

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Nowhere Boy brings the 1950s to Pinner

Filming of Nowhere Boy in progress
Filming of Nowhere Boy in progress

This morning the High Street of Pinner was intermittently closed off for filming around the Queen’s Head pub. Normally filming is rather anonymous but on this occasion the informative signage around the area declared this was for a film called Nowhere Boy. A quick search of IMDB revealed this to be a film about the childhood of John Lennon.

IMDB links to a Digitalspy article from last Wednesday announcing filming to have begun, however although filming locations at Ealing Studios, Blackpool and, naturally, Liverpool, no mention is given to Pinner, but it was here they were this very morning. Continue reading

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