I went to London and Dover on a 4-day trip 10 August to 13 August this year, which was my first extended trip after I moved to the UK.
I originally hoped to have a few international trips including to Poland, Germany and Sweden, but the border situation did not allow me to do that. As the United Kingdom is not an interesting country for me I didn’t travel domestically until this trip. (I’m mainly interested in countries with recent history of being colonised by the communists and have now become free such as Lithuania, or at the frontier of defending communism such as Taiwan.)
However, as London as a metropolitan city which is an international finance centre, I want to go there as the place I live, Bournemouth, is so damn boring. Also, the second-largest open air swimming pool in Europe, Tooting Bec Lido, which is 91.5 m × 30 m (it was built as 100 yd × 33 yd pre-metrication) larger than an Olympic pool!), is located in South London inside Tooting Common. The public transport in London, although expensive, is world-class with excellent quality which no other place in the whole of England is comparable, which I want to experience as well. The only newly-built high speed railway also starts from London as well. There are skyscrapers and modern office buildings in London, which don’t exist where I live.
In July, I read that South London Orienteers were doing 2 MapRuns in Tooting Bec Common (where the lido is located) between 31 July and 14 August. That’s great! I could swim in the lido and run the maps before or after! That means I would have my trip to London in that period.
Also, as my Channel swim is scheduled in September, I would also like to meet my pilot in Folkestone, and experience what is the training like in Dover. By getting to Dover or Folkestone, the fastest way is to take the high speed train, the fastest domestic train in the UK running at a maximum of 225 km/h, which is also something I want to experience as well, so the trip had become a trip to Dover via London, with the following goals:
- to visit the metropolitan city, Greater London, and try out the world-class public transport;
- to visit Tooting Bec Lido and run the MapRuns in Tooting Common;
- to experience the fastest domestic high-speed train in the UK;
- to participate a training session in Dover;
- to meet my Channel swim pilot.
After that, I saw a post from my “friend”, Kate, that she was finding crew members for her Channel swim in the same period. I met her at Durley training in Bournemouth in June when she asked for a companion for her 6-hour qualification, which was on a weekday, where I accepted and swam for the whole of 6 hours with her (which was my 2nd 6-hour swim in the season). I believed that, by crewing her, I could actually have a first-hand experience of how a Channel swim is like and what I can expect in terms of communication with the crew members in my swim. Also, as she was a much slower than me (as seen from the 6-hour qualification), if she made it across it would be a strong confidence booster for me so my major worry (that I would be too slow and got swept by the tide, ending in the same way as Stuart Handley) would be gone, so I offered to crew for her. I would get to London ahead of her window, wait for her call, and take the high speed train to Dover when she was ready to go. After her swim, I would head to Folkestone to meet my pilot. My plan to participate in a Dover training session would be dropped unless the swim was on a Friday, enabling me to stay at Dover on Saturday.
Her neap tide was blown out by the consistent wind in the whole week, but a window of opportunity appeared on 11 August with uncertainty, therefore, I booked advance train tickets to arrive London in the afternoon of 10 August and return in the evening of 13 August. My plan was to head immediately to Tooting Common to have a swim and run the short MapRun upon arriving London, and go to Leicester Square to have a good dinner. If the swim was on 11 August, I would bought a high-speed train ticket to Dover at night to meet her, if not, I would book a hostel for that night.
Without advance train tickets, the cheapest way of making the trip would be a Bournemouth – Dover through off-peak return ticket, and paying travel in London using Oyster PAYG (which I expected it to be off-peak capped every day within zones 1-3), but it required certainty that I could go to Dover on the departure day as the outward portion is only valid for a single day. Otherwise the cheapest walk-up ticket would be splitting in London, using two off-peak return tickets. I finally grabbed advance tickets, one from Bournemouth to Clapham Junction (for immediate travel to Tooting Bec Lido by bus afterwards), and one from London Waterloo to Bournemouth (which didn’t stop at Clapham Junction), which turned out to be cheaper than buying flexible tickets.
I got off the train at Clapham Junction but I was shocked that the station itself didn’t sell Oyster cards despite it was the busiest station in the whole of Great Britain in terms of train traffic, that I needed to buy it in a convenience store outside the station. I needed an Oyster card because I had a 26-30 railcard and an Oyster card can have a railcard discount added into it for 1/3 off off-peak fares and caps, which can’t be done with contactless.
I did a training set at Tooting Bec Lido, which I was not able to do for about one and half years already because the pools were force closed by the pandemic restriction order when the temperature was appropriate for training in an unheated pool in Hong Kong in winter 2020-2021, and after I moved to the United Kingdom, there are no unheated pools near where I live in Bournemouth, so I had never done any proper pool training in the whole hear.
I tried to do a set similar to what I did in a long training session back in winter 2019-2020. At that time, I could do 6 × 200 m on 4′ returning 3’40” on average, then 8 × 100 m on 2′ returning 1’49” on average, then another 6 × 200 m on 4′ returning 4′ returning 3’50” on average.
I must have remembered the set wrongly thinking that I was doing 10 x 200 m then 10 × 100 m and another 10 × 200 m at that time, so I started off doing 11 × 183 m (the pool is about 91.5 m long so 11 lengths is approximately 1 km) on 3’40” (scaled down from 200 m on 4′). I was returning on an average of 3’32” and stretching to make the 3’40” on the last interval, which was much slower than in 2019 (an average of 3’40” for 6 × 200 m, which meant 3’21” for 183 m), although I only had 1 turn compared to 3 turns in an Olympic-sized pool.
Then I proceeded to do the 91.5 m intervals on 1’50”, but I could only last 5 of them before I couldn’t keep to the interval anymore. And my final set of interval was 91.5 m again, but I had adjusted my interval time to 2′ such that I could make 10 of it, but I was stretching to make it on the last interval.
This set had shown me that I had lost much swimming speed and endurance by not having pool training in 1.5 years, so I really regretted not moving to London directly and catch up the training, as it is impossible to have such training in Bournemouth.
Afterwards, I ran the short MapRun course and went to Leicester Square for dinner. There are hundreds of restaurants in Leicester Square which offer food in cuisines worldwide, with dinner buffet starting at £7!!!!!!!!! In Bournemouth, it was so difficult to find a good buffet restaurant, and I could only get to one after being told by my friend because it is located in an extremely inconvenient location far away from the main bus routes. After I had my dinner, I got the message from Kate that the weather wasn’t good enough and it would be further postponed for a day to be decided on 12 August, so I booked a hostel place for that night.