Travels inspired by the Wombles

Monday, 27 July 2009

Things you never thought you'd be doing

Yesterday my plan was to visit Hastings to interview a guerrilla gardener. This schedule did not include any aspect of breaking and entering.

Helen and I were visiting someone for a quick walk and a cup of tea before setting off around the seventh Circle of Hell (the M25). The small hitch in this plan was that they had left keys in the locks on the inside of their front and back doors. The prospect of a long wait for a locksmith on a Sunday encouraged us to investigate the one bedroom window which had been left open. Some minutes later, my version of the Fosberry Flop got me through the window, with the aid of an Ottoman footstool to break my fall. This may have been the most athletic thing I have ever done - not that there's much competition.

We did get to Hastings for a chat with the gardener - and he's a splendid and interesting man, of which more, another time.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Slack Bladder's cunning plan

Rory Maclean writes that, while researching his first book, he acquired a reputation for having a weak bladder, because he would dash to the toilet to make notes of conversations, while they were fresh in his mind. Colin Thubron disclosed, at a travel writing event earlier this year, that he does the same thing.

So there we have it. Not only is it a good idea to use the toilet on your travels whenever you can, because you never know how long you'll have to wait for the next's also an aid to travel writing.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Students' success

I opened the latest issue of Real Travel this morning, to find an article from a fellow aspiring travel writer, whom I met at one of Dea Birkett's Travel Writing Workshops last year. It was a pleasing confirmation that all the effort can pay off - even if, in the case of Real Travel, you don't get paid. I did have a touch of envy, of course. "It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail," Gore Vidal is supposed to have said. I'd prefer to be more positive; if my fellow students can get published, so can I.

My wife and I went to an Audley Travel seminar at the weekend, to find out more about the Trans-Siberian Railway. The seminar covered other railways journeys, including routes across Australia. Now, I haven't planned to visit Adelaide, as Miss Adelaide wasn't in the original Wombles TV series. But she was in the books...and Adelaide is not too far from Wellington, New Zealand...and Kangaroo Island just opposite Adelaide sounds like fun...and...

Where can I get some more time? And money?

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Temple tales

While in London yesterday, I visited the Buddhapadipa Thai Temple in Wimbledon, just opposite the Common. The visit didn't get off to a great start. I took off my shoes as required before entering the building, and a short, elderly monk in the classic bright orange robe came out to greet me. His mouth began to open and I waited for wisdom to emerge. He said:

"You come to clean the kitchen?"

I was in casual dress, but this was a bit of a dressing-down (if that's the phrase I want) from someone who could have been going to a fancy dress party as a Terry's Chocolate Orange. Never mind. It turned out this wasn't a good day to go in the temple for some reason, but I could take photos from outside. While I was doing that, the monks and their helpers seemed to be carrying out various maintenance tasks. If you've ever wondered what a Buddhist monk looks like while carrying a ladder, I've seen it. The grounds overall are a bit of a mixture - a modern house at the front, the Thai temple and then other items such as a set of solar panels. The temple is incongruous to say the least, set in the midst of streets of prosperous detached houses with large gates, coats of arms with crossed keys and so on. Advice to pay less attention to material possessions may be lost on those houses' occupants. There's more info about the temple here.

This year's winner is...

Last night I went to London - to Stanfords, perhaps the world's best map and travel book store. I was there for the awards ceremony for this year's Bradt Travel Guides / Independent on Sunday Travel-writing Competition.

As an entrant to this competition for several years, and via other routes, I've made the acquaintance of some of the great and the good of the travel writing profession who were there last night, including Hilary Bradt, the founder of Bradt Travel Guides, and Jonathan Lorie of Travellers' Tales.

I had a stimulating conversation with Adrian Phillips, Bradt's Editorial Director, and we conclusively proved from a sample audience of two that nobody will ever agree 100% on who should win awards! We also listened to a short speech by Matthew Parris - ex-MP, onetime presenter of Weekend World, political sketchwriter, travel writer and judge of the final winner from the six finalists. As always on these occasions, one's feelings are split between admiration for the winners, envy for the prizes they win (in this case, a trip to Colombia) and a nagging feeling about whether you could have done any more with your own entry to give it a better chance of winning.

I am lucky enough to have had the winning feeling - last year. I didn't win the big prize, a trip to Kyrgyzstan, but the Best Unpublished Writer prize (where unpublished = "never paid for being published"). I won a trip to Granada in Spain on a writing course with Travellers' Tales, which was very enjoyable. You can read my winning article here, or this year's winning articles here.

I also had a few words with Jonathan, who has been very helpful and encouraging about the book, and I will be taking up some of his suggestions. Onwards, ever onwards...

Monday, 6 July 2009

Wimbledon: a reader writes

I've been (very politely) taken to task for describing the Wimbledon tennis championships as lacking the atmosphere of other top sporting venues. Apparently the final Sunday of the tournament is not typical of the fortnight as a whole. No doubt it is a lot buzzier when more of the courts are in action. I sit corrected.

If you'd like to take issue with anything I write - especially if you think there is a significant factual error - or even if you'd like to agree with can either use the Comments facility at the foot of each blog entry, or email

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Game, set...

It may seem perverse to call this blog Journeys from Wimbledon Common and then make my first port of call Wimbledon...but I have my reasons. In no particular order, they are:

1. Wimbledon is the first place I've visited since starting the blog
2. It was the final day of the annual Tennis Championships today
3. Er...
4. That's it

I'd never been to the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and I may well never go again. This isn't a moan - nothing bad happened - but nothing great happened, either. I was planning to visit Wimbledon Windmill Museum and the Wimbledon Society Museum before they both closed, so this meant I couldn't stay to watch Roger Federer win 202-200 (or whatever the final score was) in the final set of the men's final. It took two hours of queueing to get into the All England Lawn Tennis Club. This experience could have been a lot worse than it was. The weather was warm and dry, the queue kept moving most of the time and the stewards gave me "A Guide to Queueing for the Championships" to read...while in the queue. Thus I was conversant with the Queue Code of Conduct (pages 13-14). I've never heard of queues having codes of conduct. Among other things, this one states that:

"Pizza / 'take-away' orders must be arranged for delivery at the Wimbledon Park Road gate."

This is Wimbledon's equivalent of those signs you see on the London Underground which state: "Dogs must be carried." Whenever I see such a sign, I wonder exactly how I'm going to acquire a dog. In similar vein, I ignored the All England Club's stricture about pizza and take-away orders, as I wasn't hungry and didn't see the need to order anything. As a result, they will in all likelihood bar me from the Club for life. To be fair, some thoughtful sponsors gave us free bottles of mineral water and free cartons of watermelon juice.

Once inside, I was struck by how unmanic everything was. No doubt it would have been much more exciting if Andy Murray had made it to the final. There didn't seem to be any problem getting anywhere you could go within the Club. Mind you, a lot of the human traffic was diminished because so many people were eating. One of the diverting little quiz Q&A boards we read while queueing estimated that, at an average Wimbledon fortnight, 8,000 litres of Robinson's barley water, 135,000 ice creams and 300,000 cups of tea are consumed. There was plenty of eating and drinking in evidence, but I resisted the lure of half a lobster with salad for a mere £20, opting for a more economical but less interesting Cornish pasty. The AELTC decor is very green and purple; the flowers are very blue. As it was the final day of the Championships, and the men's final had yet to start, there wasn't much play to see. I did watch a few points from the women's doubles wheelchair final (pictured above). The finalists' adaptability and competitiveness was admirable. But I didn't feel the Club had the atmosphere of one of the world's great sporting venues. As a cricket fan rather than a tennis fan, I am biased, but it wasn't a patch on Lord's.

The day was not, overall, as useful as it might have been. I walked to the Windmill Museum to acquire a Great Uncle Bulgaria and a Bungo, for later stages of the project. Some misguided fool chose to design this version of Bungo with his cap on back to front, as if he were Lleyton Hewitt or Andy Roddick. Shame, but I'm sure he and Bulgaria will be excellent travelling companions. Photos to come soon. My other stop today was supposed to be the Wimbledon Society Museum of Local History. I wanted to find out more about the rifle shooting contests which used to take place on the Common and about the Prime Minister who fought a duel there (Pitt the Younger). But the Museum was closed. I checked their website yesterday and found nothing about closure - it is normally open at weekends - but it was my fault for not checking earlier in advance. The day also served to remind me that I need to get some serious walking practice in the next few weeks. I'm walking for a week in the Rodopi Mountains in Bulgaria in early September - anything up to 15 miles a day in high temperatures. Judging by my wheezing efforts as I yomped up and down Wimbledon Hill Road, it might be a struggle...

Saturday, 4 July 2009


Welcome to Journeys from Wimbledon Common, the blog of one man's travels to the places which gave their names to the Wombles.

All travel writing is, in one way or another, a quest. Some quests are more humorous than others. I hope this quest will entertain and also give food for thought - like the original Wombles themselves, created by Elisabeth Beresford.

Since last year, I've been going “underground, overground”, to the locations after which the individual Wombles were named. I'll be continuing the quest over the next 12-18 months, journeying from the Trans-Siberian Railway to a small town in Somerset, from western France to a district of a Japanese island and beyond. I've also been meeting people whose lives and even careers have been changed forever by the Wombles.

Why not join me on the journey?