Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Five signs you don't know when to quit the piste

I'm writing from Obergurgl, a village so lovely I feel like I'm inside a snowglobe. Tiny Obergurgl only has a few hundred inhabitants but as the highest parish in Austria (topping in at 1930m) winter sports fans flock here. The high altitude brings dramatic weather, with snow storms that can bring total whiteout or blow a snowboard straight off the cable car.

With the phenomenal snow quality here, it can be hard to admit to yourself when it's time to stow the skis and sit out the storm. Don't be the only idiot on the piste when Mother Nature is trying to blast you off a cliff face. Here are five signs your snow addiction is getting the better of you.

1. The ski boot rack is full


Shh, they're sleeping. Full boot rack means you're either an early riser or do-or-die snowhead.
Image © Anita Isalska

The lifts opened half an hour ago and yours is the only pair of boots missing from the rack. There's your first clue you're the only nutbag to head out in heavy wind and thick snow. But hey, the ski lifts are running, how bad can it be?

2. The ski lifts are empty


An empty ski lift. Functioning only because the lift operator is snowed in to his cabin (maybe).
Image © Anita Isalska

The mysterious lack of skis dangling from chair lifts means down in the village, all the sensible folk are watching whipped cream slowly dissolve into their mugs of hot chocolate. More fool them: you have an empty piste to enjoy, and the screaming wind adds a certain intensity when you're skiing those moguls.

3. That usually bustling mountain-top cafe is empty


Who needs friends when you have a piste map? Image © Anita Isalska

The cafe owner nearly spits out his schnapps when you stagger through the door, clad in a thick frosting of snow. No fighting for a table today, though you might have to persuade someone to get the chip fryer going.

4. You can't tell where sky ends and snow begins


Stopping for a selfie in a whiteout: great way to lose your camera.
Image © Anita Isalska

In a whiteout, difficulty seeing contours in the snow is the least of your problems. Cloud and snow meet, those craggy mountain vistas are blanked from view, and piste markers even 10 feet away are hard to spot. It really might be time to seek out that hot chocolate.

5. You're eating a lot of snow


I'm totally fine yeah, I actually meant to fall like this. Image © Anita Isalska
No visibility, swirling snowstorm and now a face full of powder. It might be early, but it's time to call it quits and take your tales of survival to the apres-ski hut. Hey, there's always tomorrow.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Top things to do in Barnes, southwest London

Why not be a tourist in your own neighbourhood? I decided to look at my local area with fresh eyes and came up with this ultimate guide to the best sights and attractions in Barnes.

WHY GO?


Each year this peaceful Thameside neighbourhood seizes the world’s attention for the conclusion of the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. Barnes’ distinctive iron bridge is one of the final landmarks for rowers in the annual race, and riverside pubs fill with carousers clinking their glasses of Pimm’s. But even if you’re not wielding oars, there are plenty of reasons to cheer as you arrive in Barnes. This leafy corner of southwest London combines city sophistication with all the cosiness of a country village. There are places to muddy your boots, with the London Wetland Centre to Barnes’ north and Richmond Park in the south. Pubs with huge beer gardens make it one of Greater London’s best neighbourhoods to quench a thirst. And Barnes’ smattering of cultural sights, in between cream teas and jazz evenings, will occupy a very pleasant couple of days.

HISTORY


Though listed in the Domesday Book as far back as 1086, Barnes was little more than a cluster of inns and houses until the 19th century. Railway connections and the building of grand Hammersmith Bridge prompted a boom, and frazzled city folk were soon buying Barnes’ riverside properties as holiday homes. Artists and writers followed, finding Barnes a quiet spot to pen a symphony or verse (Henry Fielding and Gustav Holst both spent time here). Barnes maintains a well-heeled reputation, with London’s actors and politicians snaffling the area’s flower-wreathed cottages. But a thriving university and overspill from lively Clapham have sustained Barnes’ sense of fun.

SIGHTS


London Wetland Centre WILDLIFE PARK / TOP CHOICE / ECO-FRIENDLY
The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust has transformed four former Victorian reservoirs into a 100-acre reserve threaded with walking trails, marshlands and secluded gardens. The park’s 140 species of birdlife will have wildlife lovers scrambling for their binoculars. For close encounters, crouch in one of the centre’s hides (the three-storey Peacock Tower has the best views) or simply unfold a picnic and watch grebes float past, to a soundtrack of chattering parakeets. Make time for the otter feedings at 11am and 2pm and quiz the knowledgeable wardens about where best to spot kingfishers. Book ahead for evening bat walks during the summer.
(www.wwt.org.uk/wetland-centres/london; Queen Elizabeth's Walk; adult/child £10.11/5.64;  9.30am-6pm 29 Mar-24 Oct, 9.30am-5pm 26 Oct-28 Mar)

Olympic Studios NOTABLE BUILDING
The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin all recorded albums in this unassuming spot, soon followed by David Bowie, Madonna, Prince and U2. Psychedelic sounds have since been replaced by the chatter of Barnes residents doing their Saturday shopping, and the Olympic Studios now house a cinema and restaurant. There’s nothing rock n’ roll about art-house movies followed by salmon and kale, but they’re great reasons to hang out in this piece of musical history.
(www.olympiccinema.co.uk; 117-123 Church Road; free; bar/restaurant 8am-11pm Sun-Thu, 8am-12am Fri & Sat)

Tomb of Sir Richard Burton CEMETERY
Legendary explorer Sir Richard Burton’s resting place in St Mary Magdalen churchyard is as splendidly uncompromising as his life of travel, scandal and masterful disguises. The mausoleum takes the shape of a large desert tent. Walk around the back and climb the rusty ladder; through a small window, you can peer at the tombs of Burton and his wife Isabel Arundell, surrounded by religious miscellany. The mausoleum is the main attraction, but the dazzling 20th-century stained glass windows of St Mary Magdalen church (dating to 1852) are worth a peek.
(www.stmarymags.org.uk; free; 61 North Worple Way; Mon-Wed, Fri, Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 9am-7.30pm, closed Thu)

ACTIVITIES


Parkcycle bike hire CYCLING
Approach from Barnes and you’re perfectly positioned to explore Richmond Park by bike. At 2,360 acres, this is the largest of London’s royal parks and is most famous for its population of more than 600 red and fallow deer (keep your distance, especially in September and October when they lock horns). From Barnes train station, Parkcycle is a 20-minute walk up Priory Lane until you reach Richmond Park’s Roehampton Gate. Baby seats, helmets and locks also available for hire.
(www.parkcycle.co.uk; park entry free, bike hire from adult/child £7.50/5.50 per hour; Roehampton Gate Car Park, Richmond Park; low season 10am-4pm, mid-season 10am-6pm, high-season 10am-7pm - see website for details, closed 25-26 Dec)

SLEEPING


The Lodge Hotel TOP END / WIFI
Tranquillity isn’t easily found in Greater London, but this sleek hotel manages to balance a zen setting with access to great sights. The pricier suites in this Victorian building boast wood-beamed ceilings and mood lighting, and the basic rooms are elegantly turned out. Make time for the restaurant (and save room for butternut squash brulee).
(020 8874 1598; www.thelodgehotellondon.com; 52-54 Upper Richmond Road; s/d rooms from £92/120)

Premier Inn London Putney Bridge BUDGET / WIFI
This hotel lacks character but is hard to beat on price. It’s perched by the riverside just a short walk from Putney’s bars and restaurants, with easy bus connections to Barnes from Upper Richmond Road. This hotel chain offers a good night’s sleep guarantee, so speak up if you’re disturbed during your stay.
(0871 527 8674; www.premierinn.com; 3 Putney Bridge Approach; rooms from £72)

Barnes Bed and Breakfast BUDGET
A set of micro B&Bs rather than a single location, Barnes Bed and Breakfast offers bright, airy rooms across Barnes, Putney and nearby Hammersmith. Pick and choose from cheap loft stays or grand Edwardian houses; enjoying your hosts’ local knowledge is part of the fun. Ring or email ahead.
(01485 576 087; enquiry@barnesbedandbreakfast.co.uk; www.barnesbedandbreakfast.co.uk; rooms from s/d £57/76)

EATING


Annie’s MODERN BRITISH / TOP CHOICE
Flowers, feathers and Grecian urns adorn this whimsical eatery. Whether you love or loathe the magenta-heavy decor, the food is as fabulous as the hosts are eccentric. Whether you’re stopping for champagne cocktails, hollandaise-drizzled brunch or a wine-fuelled roast dinner, Annie’s cheek and cheer will win you over.
(020 8878 2020; www.anniesrestaurant.co.uk; 36-38 White Hart Lane; mains £10.95-16.95; daily 10am-10pm)

Munal Tandoori NEPALESE / VEGETARIAN
If you want a quiet dinner for two, back away slowly. But if you’re craving something spicy, served to the clatter of dinner plates and bellowing locals giddy on Cobra beer, then Munal Tandoori is the place. Portions of their chilli-flecked masalas are large enough to please an army of Gurkhas, so order side dishes with caution. Takeaway available.
(020 8876 3083; www.munaltandoori.co.uk; 393 Upper Richmond Road; mains £6.10-11.60; Mon-Thu 5pm-11pm, Fri 5pm-12am, Sat 12pm-2.30pm & 5pm-12am, Sun 12pm-2.30pm & 5pm-10.30pm)

Orange Pekoe TEA ROOM
Extend your pinkie finger for hundreds of tea varieties to wash down scones, macarons and dainty sandwiches. Lunches are served from 12pm and afternoon teas from 2pm.
(020 8876 6070; www.orangepekoeteas.com; 3 White Hart Lane; cream teas from £8.95; Mon-Fri 7.30am-5pm, Sat & Sun 9am-5pm)

DRINKING


The Idle Hour TOP CHOICE / WINE BAR / WIFI
Hidden away in Barnes’ ivy-wreathed back alleys, this wine bar will make good on its promise to idle away a few hours of your time. The walls are covered in stopped clocks but it’s the effusive staff and laid-back atmosphere that ensure you’ll linger until last orders.
(www.theidlehour.co.uk; 62 Railway Side; glass of wine from £3.60; Mon-Thu 5pm-11pm, Fri & Sat 12.30pm-1am, Sun 12pm-10pm)


The White Hart PUB
Dating to 1622, this is possibly the area’s oldest pub. It has lost character to repeated refurbishments but there’s simply no beating the river views. Bag an outdoor seat to watch rowers cruise past or seat yourself on the upper floor for a panorama over Barnes Railway Bridge. The ground in the lower garden gets boggy at high tide, so watch your shoes.
(www.whitehartbarnes.co.uk; The Terrace, Riverside; pints from £3.80, main meals from £16; Mon-Thu 11am-11pm, Fri & Sat 11am-12am, Sun 12pm-11pm)


ENTERTAINMENT


Revellers usually roam to nightclubs in nearby Putney or Clapham. But Barnes has a small, pub-focused nightlife to keep your toes tapping for a weekend.

Halfway House LIVE MUSIC / PUB / WIFI
Pint glasses have been emptied here since the 19th century and some of the regulars seem to have been here nearly as long. As a newcomer, you’re sure to attract a curious glance. But in this casual boozer, you’ll soon be chewing the fat over one of the excellent cask ales. The weekend’s live performances create a raucous atmosphere, but they vary in quality. Attend open-mic night at your own risk.
(020 8876 5472; www.halfwayhousebarnes.co.uk; 24 Priests Bridge; daily 12pm-12am; free (incl live music))

The Bull’s Head LIVE MUSIC / PUB
A changing calendar of jazz, blues and folk music keeps this riverside inn buzzing. What this franchise pub lacks in charisma, it compensates for in enthusiasm: there’s a different performer almost every night and the bar has a decent range of craft beers. Tickets are usually available on the door. Check the website for the latest event listings.
(020 8876 5241; www.geronimo-inns.co.uk/london-the-bulls-head; 373 Lonsdale Rd; gig tickets from £8)

SHOPPING


Barnes Farmers Market MARKET
Suppliers including Dorset fishmongers, Italian delis and artisan bakers arrive each Saturday to ply their trade to a clientele of yummy mummies and gourmands. Younger folk soothe their hangovers with dry-cured bacon butties and speciality coffee. Vendors vary, but at time of writing the hand-rolled sushi and Greek feta stand were firm favourites.
(www.barnesfarmersmarket.co.uk; Essex House Surgery, Station Road (opposite the duck pond); Sat 10am-2pm)

Totally Swedish GIFTS
This tiny shop is an altar to Swedish flavours and designs. The shelves are lined with pickled herrings, rye crackers and tempting cinnamon cookies, plus a heart-melting range of children’s books and comics. Gleaming cookery ware and designer oven gloves promise to bring order to unruly kitchens. Just don’t mention Ikea.
(www.totallyswedish.com; 66 Barnes High Street; Mon-Sat 9am-5.30pm, closed Sun)

INFORMATION



  • Barclays Bank (15 Church Road) 24-hour ATM accepting most cards. At time of writing the bank was being refurbished but the ATM was operating as normal. 
  • Internet access. Coffee chains Caffè Nero (248 Upper Richmond Rd West) and Costa Coffee (389 Upper Richmond Rd West) offer free wifi with drinks purchases. 
  • NatWest bank (341 Upper Richmond Road West; Mon-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 9am-2pm, closed Sun) 24-hour ATM accepting most cards.
  • Post office (234 Upper Richmond Road West; Mon-Sat 9am-5.30pm, closed Sun) Currency exchange available. 24-hour ATM. 
  • Queen Mary’s Hospital (020 8487 6000; Roehampton Lane) Minor injuries department. Take bus 72 from Barnes train station, direction Roehampton.
  • Tourist information (Barnes Community Association, Rose House, 70 Barnes High Street) The noticeboard outside the Community Association is regularly updated with local events, live music, language classes and seasonal festivities.  


GETTING THERE & AWAY


Bus

Find bus connections between Barnes and central London at Hammersmith Bus Station. Take bus 72 (direction Roehampton) to alight at Barnes station or bus 283 for Barnes Pond or Queen Elizabeth’s Walk for the Wetland Centre. Buses run every 7 minutes until 7pm when they run every 15 minutes. Cash is not accepted on buses, buy a reusable Oyster card from a Tube, train or bus station, top it up with cash and scan it onboard the bus (£1.45 per journey). Contactless payment credit cards can also be scanned on buses.

Train

Regular trains on London’s Overground network connect Barnes and Barnes Bridge with London Waterloo and you can use your Oyster card (19min; peak/offpeak £3.20/£2.70). Paper tickets for the same journey cost more (£4.70).

GETTING AROUND


Compact Barnes is best explored on foot but buses 33 and 337 (every 7 min) are the quickest ways to get up and down the main drag of Upper Richmond Road.

What is the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race?


This annual race pits the boat clubs of rival universities Oxford and Cambridge against each other, along the River Thames from Putney to Chiswick Bridge. The Boat Race was first held in 1829, and a public thrashing between these pillars of excellence proved irresistible. The contest has been held annually since 1856 on the last weekend in March or the first in April. So far Cambridge has enjoyed 81 victories to Oxford’s 78, a narrow enough margin to add bite to proceedings. Over the years there have been sinkings, a dead heat, even mutiny.

All this chest-puffing between two bastions of Britain’s elite attracts cynicism. But when Australian protester Trenton Oldfield swam out to disrupt 2012’s race, his anti-elitist message was largely ignored. As for many long-standing British institutions, it will be a while before political correctness is allowed to chisel away at a jolly good excuse for a party.

Barnes Bridge is the last major landmark for rowers in the Boat Race. By the time boats pass beneath it the victor is usually decided. So choose your colours (Cambridge is light blue, Oxford navy) raise a buck’s fizz in a Barnes pub, and see what the fuss is about.