The history of cycle network infrastructure planning in London

There have been three four main phases in London Cycle Network Planning

1930s: segregated cycle lanes beside new arterial roads

Leslie Hore-Belisha was an innovative Minister of Transport, remembered for introducing pedestrian crossings, a 30 MPH speed limit in built up areas and, in 1934,  for opening London’s first segregated cycle track (as shown in the above video). Though intended to make cycling safe and convenient, the track was bitterly opposed by the Cyclists’ Touring Club. Its objection was that they might be restricted to cycle tracks and banned from riding on general roads. Apart from this folly, my impression is that the 1934 track, on the Western Avenue section of the A40 between Hanger Lane and Greenford Road, was not intensively used. Judging from what is now a shared cycle-pedestrian path, the problems are that it the adjoining road traffic is very heavy and that the track does not follow a desire line for green transport modes.
The principle of building cycle tracks where it was convenient to do so, rather than where they would be convenient to users, continued in the post-1946 New Towns, with cycle tracks built near distributor roads. When they attracted few users road engineers saw this as evidence that a ‘good’ road made cycling an obsolete transport mode. The real problem was that for most journeys cycling on the distributor roads was quicker and more convenient than cycling on the segregated tracks.

1980s: London Cycle Network, using signage and backstreets

London saw a fresh approach to bicycle transportation in the 1980s. It was supported by the London Cycling Campaign and Ken Livingstone (as Leader of the Greater London Council from 1981-86). The idea, which looked good on the plan, was to create links between London Borough town centres. It was called the London Cycle Network LCN) and the problems with it were:

  1. most of the links between town centres were  recommended routes on backstreets and most of them were slower than cycling on main roads. Because they had more junctions they tended to be more dangerous than cycling on main roads
  2. some of the links were origin-to-destination desire lines. Most were not.
  3. the physical work of facilitating the recommended routes was signposting and, in places, painting white lines on roads. Neither the signs nor the painting was sufficient for cyclists to follow the routes
  4. the small expenditure on real cycle infrastructure went on advance stop lines and occasional facilities at road junctions

The London Cycle Network LCN survives as a name, an acronym and a paint job but finding a plan of the network on the web is almost impossible: the only drawing I have of it is the one I drew myself c1990.

I think of LCN as a fraud.  With a few short exceptions, it was a network of suggested routes. It was not an infrastructure network of  segregated/protected cycle lanes. Most of the ‘cycling facilities’ were signposts. London Cycle Network Route 2, for example, is a crazy idea for cycling from Greenwich to Westminster on backstreets. As well as being impossible to follow using the signposts, it is slower and more dangerous than doing the same journey on main roads, because the back streets have so many junctions.

On the diagram, below, the black lines show the ‘network’ and the red line shows the kind of route that was signposted on backstreets.

London Cycle Network

Basically, the 1980s ‘London Cycle Network’ was a fraud. It was an exercise in signposting backstreet routes, not in the creation of useful cycle infrastructure.

The principles of the London Cycle Network were also used for LCN+ and for the  Quietway programme (which was better funded than its predecessors)

Phase 1 Cycle Superhighways

London’s first ‘blue paint’ cycle superhighway was opened in 2010. There were some segregated sections but most of the money went on painting blue cycle lanes on existing roads. They were not a bad thing but nor were they a good thing.

Phase 1 of Boris Johnson’s cycle superhighway programme was just a paint job

Phase 2 Cycle Superhighways

London’s first segregated cycle superhighway was opened in 2016 and was the city’s first immediately-popular example of high-quality, purpose-built cycle infrastructure. The East-West Cycle Superhighway was one of several Central London routes but was not part of a London-wide Cycle Network Plan.

Phase 2 of the Boris Johnson cycle superhighway programme provided high-quality origin-destination links but was not part of a London-wide cycle infrastructure network plan embracing both leisure and commuting objectives


Posted in cycleways, London cycle network

Kipling’s Recessional & the Stop Killing Cyclists 2013 TfL Die-in

In church, a recessional is a hymn or piece of music accompanying the withdrawal of the clergy and choir from the chancel to the vestry, at the close of a service. The term is also used for the music after a marriage and Rudyard Kipling’s great poem Recessional (1897) is the source of the words ‘lest we forget’ in Anzac Day remembrance ceremonies for the dead of two world wars.
British people saw Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, for which the poem was written, as an occasion to reflect on imperial glory.  There is something of this in Kipling’s poem but, even more, it is a warning against hubris, a reminder that all glories pass and a foresight of what was about to happen to Britain’s Empire in the 20th century. It may be for this reason that Stop Killing Cyclists die-ins make me think of Kipling’s poem. When the history of the internal combustion engine’s wrecking of London streets comes to be written, the evening of 29th November 2013 will be seen as a turning point. The lament and remembrance took place outside Transport for London’s Blackfriars Road HQ.

The 4th line in the 4th stanza of Recessional, in italics below, is often interpreted as a slur and, a century later, would be more acceptable with a reference to Less Developed Countries eg Or LDCs without the Law—  since at least half the planet believes in the rule of Law.

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

As the below illustration shows, the protesters are the actors – while TfL staff look down on them from above.

Stop Killing Cyclists TfL Die-in 29th November 2013

Posted in landscape architecture

Lecture on London Cycle Network Planning

Lecture by Tom Turner on 23rd April 2018, the LI London Branch
The Landscape Urbanism Design Method should be applied to the problem of giving London the Cycleway Network it deserves:

  • for getting from A-to-B, the aim should be to make bike trips faster than all other kinds of road trip
  • to complement the ‘superhighway’ cycle commuting network TfL began planning since 2014, London should plan a network of leisure cycle routes
  • wherever possible, cycleways should be planned as greenways:

Highway engineers, transport planners and landscape architects should work together. Together, they can give London a multi-purpose cycleway network, serving transport, leisure, environmental, ecological and landscape objectives. Here is a good example of how not to design a cycleway

Context-insensitive cycleway design (image courtesy Wikipedia)

The 18 cycling videos mentioned in the lecture can be found from this link. The other videos mentioned can be found below:

Greenway definition

History of landscape architecture

Landscape urbanism design method

Greenway/Cycleway planning in Cambridge

Greenways in Central London

Posted in cycleways, landscape architecture, landscape urbanism, London cycle network

Playing chess on the Stockwell Street University of Greenwich roof garden

Chess challenge on the Stockwell Street Roof Garden in Greenwich

Does London have a better place for a game of chess than the University of Greenwich’s Stockwell Street roof garden? If so, please tell me about it. While smelling the sweet scents of spring flowers, you can pick mint, gaze at a part of Le Notre’s design for Greenwich Park and catch up on your plant idents. And if you want more of London to be like this, find a good landscape architect!

Playing chess with a view of Le Notre’s design for Greenwich Park – there is a plan for the grass parterre with his own handwriting


Posted in green roofs, landscape architecture

Rewilding in Britain

Examples of Rewilding Britain

Re-wilding Ideas of re-wilding have been around for some decades, indeed the concept under other labels has been around for upto a century, for instance, the project to back breed the Auroch. Indeed Heck cattle are an attempt dating back to the 1920s. The term was first coined by the US conservationist activist David Foreman in the 1980s.

Current enthusiasm for re-wilding in Europe began with the Dutch project in the 1980s to create a savanna grassland and wetlands on the last large polder to be reclaimed, Zuidelijke Flevoland. This became the 56km2 Oostvaarderplassen, and in 1989 just three decades after being reclaimed it was given Ramsar status.

In Britain there are now a whole series of rewilding projects. They are of two types, either reintroducing a particular species, often an apex species but also including insect reintroductions such that in 1984 of the Large Blue Butterfly (Maculinea arion). The larvae initially feed on the flower-heads of Wild Thyme (Thymus polytrichus) but after three week they feed on Myrmica red ant grubs for the rest of their larval cycle.

But more typical are the reintroductions of predators, and large mammals, such the beaver following its reintroduction since 2009 in the Knapdale Forest in Agyle. There is also a small trial in Devon, on the River Otter, by the Devon Wildllife Trust. Then there is Scottish Wildcat Action efforts to counter hybridisation of this threatened species. Successful bird reintroductions include Red Kites often now seen on the M40 through the Chiltern, the Crane to the Lakenheath and Hickling, the Ospey to Rutland Water, to the Lake District and to Wales.

Larger landscape re-wilding
However, larger landscape re-wilding projects in the UK involve whole stretches of countryside similar to the Dutch example. There are a number of wetland and marshland projects (e.g. The Great Fen, Cambridgeshore and Dingle Marshes in Sufflolk. So that they have become almost commonplace.

But more challenging are lowland agricultural landscapes such as the 1,400 ha Knepp Castle Estate West Sussex (which includes a Repton Park). The estate is heavy clay and formerly unprofitable dairy pasture and arable land, which since 2001 has been allowed to develop under the advice of ecologist Frans Vera (who was also involved in the Oostvaarderplassen). This has happened naturally under a grazing ecology with Tamworth pigs, English longhorn cattle, red and fallow deer, and Exmoor ponies. This has led to a whole series of species developments including plants, and invertebrates, birds and small mammals.

The Pumlumon Project, Ymddiriedolaeth Natur Maldwyn
A much larger project is that in mid-Wales, run by the Montgomery Wildlife Trust embracing 40,000 ha of the Cambrian Mountains around Plumlumon. Since 2007 the Trust has been pursuing the following aims:

Element 1 Carbon Storage
Peatlands are the UK’s biggest store of carbon. Like many upland areas, Pumlumon holds vast reserves of peat. In the 1950s and 60s, much of it was drained in a largely unsuccessful attempt to improve grazing, so releasing large amounts of stored carbon into the atmosphere. Hnee, reduce these emissions by blocking the drainage ditches. As the bogs become wet again the mosses start to grow, absorbing carbon each summer and locking it away as new peat. At the same time, the existing stores of peat are protected from further erosion, and species marginalised by the original drainage can return.

Element 2 Reconnecting Habitat
Climate change means plants and animals trapped in a fragmented landscape which need green corridors to migrate. Climate change may shift the natural range of some species northwards by more than 250km and/or nearly 300m higher in altitude. After ice ages, plants and animals migrated along natural corridors. But in today’s fragmented landscapes many species will be trapped in habitats which can no longer support them. Hence the needs to provide corridors linking lowland and upland habitat.

Element 3: Storing flood water
At least three million people depend on water which falls as rain in the Pumlumon Project area: the Severn and Wye headwaters are here.
Given the direct link between upland land management and the severity of lowland flooding; strategic tree planting, restoring hedgerows, fencing out watercourses and reducing stocking levels all help to increase the permeability of upland soils, reducing rapid run-off during heavy rain.
The Pumlumon Project area consists of more than 3,700ha of hydrologically active habitats, including wet heath, raised bog, blanket mire, valley mire, and wet woodland.

Element 4: Bringing back wildlife
Just some of the species benefitting from the Pumlumon Project include Ospeys, Red Grouse, Hen Harrier, Black Darter dragonflies and Round Leaved Sundew

Element 5: Changing grazing patterns
Ecologically sensitive grazing doesn’t just enhance the landscape and restore wildlife; it can be more profitable for farmers. Reduction of stocking densities and using cattle instead of sheep, at moderate intensities, and at the appropriate time of year can increase the range of plant species in the turf and the cattle hooves can help break up soil pans.

Element 6: Recreating habitats
Even where large areas of strategically important habitat have been lost, we can put them back. It just takes time The plan is to create a network of wetlands, woodland and species-rich grassland, connected by a latticework of rivers, streams, hedgerows and grass verges.

Element 7: Developing Green Tourism
Underpinning the Pumlumon Project is a simple expectation: a healthy, diverse, wildlife-rich landscape attracts visitors
Including walking, kayaking, mountain biking and wildlife watching. This widens the economy for the local community.

Element 8: Involving communities
The ultimate measure of success is whether local people share these aims and support this project. George Monbiot’s re-wilding writings have made him unpopular in mid-Wales because he directly attacked sheep farming which is a bastion of Welsh-speaking culture, you need to work with the community and support the community.

The IUCN World Database on Protected Areas reports 15% of the earth’s land area is protected. However, the E.O.Wilson, the father of sociobiology, argues 50% of our land area should be wilderness. Meanwhile we are losing wilderness areas.

Posted in landscape planning

Hal Moggridge lecture: Slow Growth: On the Art of Landscape Architecture

On Wednesday 21st February, Hal Moggridge lectured to the London Branch of the Landscape Institute on the theme of his 2017 book Slow Growth: On the Art of Landscape Architecture. A Wikipedia article explains that Slow Food is ‘an organization that promotes local food and traditional cooking. It was founded by Carlo Petrini in Italy in 1986 and has since spread worldwide. Promoted as an alternative to fast food, it strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds, and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem. It was the first established part of the broader slow movement. Its goals of sustainable foods and promotion of local small businesses are paralleled by a political agenda directed against globalization of agricultural products’.  Its obverse, fast food, has a well-deserved reputation for being applied to standardised, cheap products made with little nutritional value and a plethora of harmful side effects on the consumer and on the lands from which it is harvested. ‘Slow food’ is better.

‘Slow growth’ is an excellent characterisation of an approach to the design, planning and construction of landscape architecture projects. It rests on thoughtfulness, sustainability and localism. Colvin and Moggridge, launched by Brenda Colvin in 1922, is the oldest extant landscape practice in the UK. Hal’s lecture, like his book, was illustrated with  a wealth of projects. They are classified as People outdoors, Industrial projects, Settings, Views & Skylines, Cities as landscape.

The lecture was on Wednesday, 21 February 2018 at Arup’s London office (8-13 Fitzroy Street). The book was published by Unicorn in September 2017 (352 pages, 1000 illustrations ISBN-10: 1910787426, ISBN-13: 978-1910787427)

Slow Growth: On the Art of Landscape Architecture

Posted in landscape architecture

Desire lines are a key principle in landscape architecture

Some desire paths are truly desirable. Others are merely functional.

‘Desire line’ is one of landscape architecture’s most useful concepts. Less romantically, Wikipedia calls it a ‘desire path’ and explains the idea as ‘ the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination’. OK, but as everyone knows, desire involves attractiveness as well as opportunity .  A Flickr group collects photographs of desire paths. Some are truly desirable. Others are merely functional.

The origin of the phrase ‘desire line’ is also romantic. So far as I can tell, the usage comes from the New Orleans Tramway which Tennessee Williams made famous with the name of his play, A Streetcar Named Desire. It was published in 1947 and by 1950 American transport planners were using ‘desire line’ to mean  a straight line from an origin to a destination. To my knowledge, the term was being used by UK town planners in the 1960s and UK landscape architects in the 1970s. It remains a basic concept in site planning and design.

The phrase ‘desire line’ is sometimes, and incorrectly, attributed to the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. In a book on The Poetics of Space (1958) he recommended topoanalysis as a counterpart to psychoanalysis and wrote: Thus we cover the universe with drawings we have lived. These drawings need not be exact. They need only to be tonalized on the mode of our inner space. But what a book would have to be written to decide all these problems!Thus we cover the universe with drawings we have lived These drawings need not be exact. They need only to be tolanozed on the mode of our inner space. But what a book would have to be written to decide all these problems! Space calls for action, and before action, the imagination is at work. It mows and ploughs.

The Baroque design of Greenwich Park, in the 1660s, did not extinguish the old desire line. It leads to Greenwich Town Centre and is still in use. Geoffrey Jellicoe recommended its removal because it disfigures the grass parterre designed by Andre le Notre. The path is is now an ugly parallel-side strip of blacktop.

The Baroque design of Greenwich Park, in the 1660s, did not extinguish the old desire line. It leads to Greenwich Town Centre and is still in use. Geoffrey Jellicoe recommended its removal because it disfigures the grass parterre designed by Andre le Notre. The path is is now an ugly parallel-side strip of blacktop

Posted in urban design

A new agricultural landscape for the UK, post-Brexit – 2018 FOLAR Symposium Day

FOLAR organised a really excellent symposium on 14 April 2018, at MERL in Reading. Videos of the seven speakers are below. I plan to comment in more detail but, for the moment, only emphasise a point made the President of the LI: the government’s consultation on The future for food, farming and the environment ends on 8th May – and we should all comment.

The speakers were Merrick Denton-Thompson, LI President, Professor Adrian Phillips
Dr Simon Mortimer,University of Reading, Paul Tiplady CMLI, Craggatak Consulting,
Kate Ahern CMLI, Duncan MacKay, Natural England, Dr Andrew Clark, CMLI, NFU Director of Policy

Merrick Denton-Thompson, chair 

Professor Adrian Phillips

Dr Simon Mortimer,University of Reading

Paul Tiplady CMLI, Craggatak Consulting

Duncan MacKay,Natural England

Kate Ahern, CMLI Director of Landscape Planning at LUC

Dr Andrew Clark, CMLI, NFU Director of Policy

Posted in landscape planning

Ian McHarg’s boyhood in Glasgow, Clydebank and Craigallian Loch

Ian McHarg was born on Clydeside and became the most famous landscape architect of the 20th century. The importance of Clydebank in the development of his Design with Nature philosophy is explained in McHarg’s last book: A Quest for Life: An Autobiography by Ian L. McHarg

Two Billy Conolly jokes characterise Clydeside: ‘Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that who cares? He’s a mile away and you’ve got his shoes’. ‘The great thing about Glasgow is that if there’s a nuclear attack it’ll look exactly the same afterwards’. But McHarg soon saw the contrast between the inhumanity of Clydebank and the humanity of Craigallian Loch, leading to his interest in religion and to his passionate advocacy of Design with Nature. Like Bob Grieve, McHarg was one of the Craigallian Fire Men: ‘These men and boys have walked or cycled here from the city or Clydebank in search of fresh air, freedom and radical talk, and this fire is to become famous. It was the alma mater of people who changed Scotland’s attitude to the outdoors – writers and talkers, planners, outdoor educators, mountaineers and the founders of renowned climbing clubs.’ They also helped change America’s attitude to nature and the outdoors.

In Glasgow, McHarg is perhaps best remembered for his contribution to ‘making the outdoors great’.  As discussed in the video, they should also remember and apply his Design with nature approach to landscape architecture. If they had listened to him in the 1940s, McHarg might not have left Scotland and Glasgow might be miles and miles better than it is today. Regarding the Fire Men, the Sunday Herald reported in 2012 that:

The year is 1932 and a camp fire is heaped high in the woods beside a loch 10 miles north of Glasgow.

Hanging above it on blackened ironwork is a large can labelled Rodine Rat Poison.

Around the flames perhaps 20 figures huddle, their faces reddened and shadowed. Their clothes are patched and layered – it is May and the nights are cold.

Some have schoolboy crops, some can’t afford a barber. All are lean, most are young. Those with blankets draw them closer. Others use the “travelling man’s duvet”, scrunched-up newspaper stuffed down their jackets. They dip tin mugs in the can to draw out tea, the poison long since rinsed away. One starts to sing – Home On The Range, the popular cowboy tune – and a harmonica joins in. Later they will sleep in the open, on the ground, near the fire.

These men and boys have walked or cycled here from the city or Clydebank in search of fresh air, freedom and radical talk, and this fire is to become famous. It was the alma mater of people who changed Scotland’s attitude to the outdoors – writers and talkers, planners, outdoor educators, mountaineers and the founders of renowned climbing clubs.

Those who knew it said it was always burning, day and night, the dubious tea can boiling. It became known simply as the fire that never went out. Now, more than 70 years after the last embers cooled at the fire by Craigallian Loch, on the West Highland Way at Carbeth, a permanent marker is to be placed there.

The names of a handful of “fire-sitters” are known, including Jock Nimlin, an influential climber, National Trust For Scotland stalwart and journalist who wrote about the fire and its Rodine kettle. It is thanks to his journalism, and the autobiography of climber and broadcaster Tom Weir, that we know men from the fire undertook long and difficult journeys across hills and glens, mostly on foot, to get to the mountains and crags they loved

Some stories come from men such as Iain and Willie Grieve, passed down by their fire-sitter father Bob, later Sir Robert. They say the sitters were central to the outdoors movement that defied landowners and opened up the countryside to ordinary people, like a Caledonian wild west, and were even involved in the occasional gunfight with gamekeepers. Scott Valentine, a climber from Bearsden, says his grandfather Tom was one of the Craigallian weekenders. “He spoke fondly of his experiences around the fire,” Valentine says. “He would pass by en route to the hills and take a brew while enjoying the craic or debating the pros of Socialism, Clydesider style.”

But we can only guess who most of the men were, when the fire began, and when and why it ended. If any of the original sitters are still alive, they will be in their 90s or older. So far none has contacted the Grieve brothers through their Craigallian Fire memorial website. We look as though through the smoke of the fire itself at a past just beyond our grasp.

It is thought the fire lasted from the late 1920s to perhaps the mid-to-late 1930s. Most of Bob Grieve’s companions were industrial workers or jobless, and the talk was of Socialism and Communism. Grieve and others said many of the Scots who fought on the Republican Government’s side in the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939 had been fire-sitters.

The rest may have included at any time Nimlin, Weir and other early members of the tough, notorious Creagh Dhu Mountaineering Club – Johnnie Harvey, who in 1932 founded its Glasgow rival, the Lomond MC; Ian McHarg, later an influential professor of town planning in the United States; and Grieve’s friend, Malcolm Finlayson, who would become a police chief superintendent and shoot murderer James Griffiths in 1969, after the gunman went on a deadly rampage in Glasgow.

Bob Grieve, who died in 1995, went on to become a civil engineer, the first professor of planning at Glasgow University and chairman of the Highlands And Islands Development Board, but he always remembered the fire. “He had a humble upbringing in Maryhill, one of six children in a family that hovered on the edge of dire poverty,” says his son Willie, 62, when we meet at the site to briefly relight the fire. “But the fire was hugely significant for him because it was here and around here that he met the people who developed his ideas and made him who he was.”

The Grieves have raised £5000 for a stone memorial on the site, including a substantial donation from the John Muir Trust. The stone base is in place and a grand unveiling is planned next month.

The choice of site is obvious enough. It’s a hard evening or morning’s walk from Glasgow and Clydebank. It has a burn, was sheltered by woods and city people already used the area: the Carbeth huts holiday homes sprang up about the same time.

The fire was, of course, part of the movement of Glaswegians into the hills and woods around the city in the years after the First World War, a movement reflected in other cities in Scotland. In his biography of Nimlin, IDS Thomson says expanding public transport, more private cars and lorries to “tap” lifts from and mass-produced bicycles were key to the movement, inspired by walking columnists such as Tramp Royal in the Evening Times and Hobnailer in the Daily Record.

Historian and hillwalker Richard Oram of Stirling University traces the roots of the movement to the outdoors image of the Victorian royal family and upper classes. “There was an image of the superior physical state of the ruling class,” he says, “and a lot of this was based on their involvement in outdoor activities. People expected the Victorian gentlemen to be able to walk for miles, with high-status people going on huge tours.

“Poets like Wordsworth and Byron would walk more than 20 miles a day across rough country, and this was seen as a demonstration of their physical advancement.”

Oram believes such ideals filtered down, and churches helped pass them to the “lower orders” in part to prevent working men with time and money on their hands spending both in pubs.

He also says the First World War had a profound effect on men who would have been the older fire-sitters. In the army, large groups were cooped up with time to talk and a sense of ill-treatment: ideas of social justice would find fertile ground.

Former seaman and engineering industry worker Lawrie Travers is 91 years old and until recently still stepped out in the Campsie Fells. He has also kept busy working as a volunteer on the tall ship Glenlee at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow. Originally from Partick, he took to the hills in his teens when the Craigallian blaze still shot sparks to the heavens.

He agrees cheap public transport was an influence. “It was a 2d [2p] tram ride to Milngavie, or you could get the bus out to Blanefield, and then you had the freedom of the open country,” he recalls.

And although Oram says churches pushed people into the outdoors, Travers suggests that, by the 1920s, with greater social freedom, more people would cock a snook at religious convention and instead take to the open air on their day off.

So, as the athletic ideal of the upper classes filtered down, it met rebellion and ideas of social justice in the men around the fire. “They would have asked themselves why these healthy and exciting outdoor pursuits should be reserved for the elite,” says Oram.

With no money for long-distance trains, expensive boots, thick tweed or accommodation, and unable to negotiate access to private estates – as gentlemen climbers could – getting into the mountains would have been tough.

But a fire like Craigallian, warm enough to keep the night chill at bay, where people would talk of defying landowners and reclaiming the land, would have been a starting point.

From the fire, the Southern Highlands were within walking range. Glen Coe was a hitch-hiking target. Some isolated cottages welcomed visitors, letting them sleep in byres and stables – Travers recalls one winter night in a stable when the heat from horses below was a welcome bonus.

But there were conflicts, too, when estate workers would prohibit men heading for the mountains. On one occasion, when Nimlin planned to camp on a property, he was met by obstructive estate workers. He kept going all night until they were too exhausted to follow him, then lit his fire.

Willie and Ian Grieve believe returning Spanish Civil War veterans brought a new edge to things: their father said many kept their weapons, and an exchange of shots with gamekeepers was not unknown. Thomson records a rifle kept by Creagh Dhu members at a bothy near Glencoe, and Creagh Dhu old timers tell me it is probably still buried there.

Travers has his own recollection of guns in the hills in the 1950s, when he was the organiser of the Lomond club bus. Creagh Dhu members were allowed to fill empty seats. On one occasion they shot a hind and stashed the meat on the parcel rack.

“A woman came to me and said she had blood on her clothes, and it had come from above. I wondered what on earth was going on,” he recalls. “I didn’t know I was running a bus for the shooting club.”

They called it the fire that never went out but eventually it did – for ever. No-one is quite sure why. The owners of the site at the time have no descendants and it has changed hands twice since the 1930s and its end some time after 1935 has several possible explanations.

Tom Weir’s friend, fire-sitter, Lenzie butcher and ornithologist Matt Forrester wrote that the sheer popularity of hillwalking was to blame. “With the enthusiasm came the camp followers, the litter louts and despoilers,” he wrote.

“The fire was banned. The land proprietor forbade it under penalty of law. For a while the notice board was disregarded. A few hard cases persisted with the fire, but its day was done -“

Others ascribe the end to the loss of men to Spain in 1936, but at least one younger sitter, Ian McHarg, recalled veterans at the fire talking about the civil war, dating its end to perhaps 1938. Nimlin wrote of an attempt, probably in the 1940s, to revive the fire. The police were called, two men were taken to court, and although one – in true rebel style – called the magistrate a “tinpot Mussolini”, there were no more revivals.

But in a metaphorical sense – and it always was a metaphor for something greater – the fire lit in the 1920s is still burning. Grieve, Nimlin and Weir influenced everything from climbing ethics to national park policy.

The Lomond Mountaineering Club, started by fire-sitter Johnnie Harvey in 1932, is still home to the spirit of good companionship, individualism and readiness for a good argument, as is the Creagh Dhu. There is also a link between the fire-sitters and modern Munro-bagging. It took off when Hamish Brown published his magical account of the game, Hamish’s Mountain Walk, in which he made the first non-stop trip around the 279 hills – as the list stood at the time – higher than 3000ft in Scotland.

Munro’s table of mountains over 3000ft was published in 1891, and in the 77 years before Brown’s book, 200 people climbed them all. Seven years after the book, that number had doubled. Now there are 4000-plus people who have climbed all the Munros.

Brown, now in his 70s and living in Fife, knew many fire-sitters, and as a young man lived the same rugged life of dossing and tramping the hills, inspired by them. “It was the ethos of people like Tom Weir,” he says. “We didn’t have the gear in those days. The spirit of going out and roughing it was very strong. After talking to them you didn’t have any doubts about sleeping in haystacks and under bridges.

“I believe the tougher the introduction people have to the outdoor world, the more likely they are to stay interested.”

Those fire-sitters, with their newspaper bedding and rat poison kettle, their tussles with gamekeepers and marathon walks, had the toughest of introductions. And perhaps that’s why their passion for the hills lives on.

See Friends of the Craigallian Fire.

Posted in landscape architecture

Jeremy Vine tells the truth about London cycle infrastructure, to the GLA London Assembly Transport Committee

London transport policy favours motor-power transport and discriminates against human-powered travel. This may be compared with official discrimination against women, gays and ethnic minorities at the start of the twentieth century. Jeremy Vine was interviewed by the London Assembly Transport Committee on 19 February 2018 and told many truths about the need for cycle infrastructure in London. . He spoke calmly and effectively, which is good. But there is also a need for impassioned oratory, in the manner of the Stop Killing Cyclists campaign, so the video ends with a clip from Donnachadh McCarthy’s speech outside the Treasury on 11th February 2017.

I support the design policies Boris Johnson described, with customary buffoonary, as Superhighways, Quietways and Mini-Hollands, but conceive them as an urban landscape approach to the planning of cycle infrastructure.

  • London should be permeable both to motorised and non-motorised traffic
  • Transport planning for commercial objectives is not enough
  • Cycling and walking routes should be planned with regard to commuting, leisure and environmental objectives

Some people will suffer from the re-design of London’s urban landscape to serve multiple objectives but there will be many more winners than losers:

  • Fewer people will die from ill-health caused by air pollution and obesity. Less money will be spent on treating these diseases.
  • The proportion of London’s wealth spent on transporting people and goods will decrease, as will the demand for expenditure on transport infrastructure.
  • London will be more peaceful and more beautiful and more vegetated

Cycle planning in SE England, France and Belgium

Posted in cycleways, London cycle network