Halloween, and a young man’s thoughts turn towards the witching hour down at Herne Hill. Events conspired for the fragrant mrs onionbagblogger and I to head south bound to SE24, for an afternoon and evening of freakish fun, in what can often be the forgotten corner of South London.
First up was the inaugural Herne Hill Expo [pdf] The rather fanciful name may be out of character for an area not usually known for its self-promotion. The geographical positioning of being trapped between the borders of Lambeth and Southwark makes Herne Hill something of an ostracised hermit within the local area.
Improving the local environment and putting in place tangible benefits for the community, is often at the whim of the rival political parties that divide and govern Herne Hill. It may not be quite an iron fist, but Lambeth Labour and the LibDems of Southwark don’t make for the best of bedfellows. Caught in the middle of course are the constituents.
The idea behind the Expo is to make a start at transforming this image. At its most crude level, the afternoon was seen as an opportunity for service providers (@lambeth_council) to engage with the electorate on a non-political platform. Good intentions, but how do you entice the locals out into the street for an afternoon of meet ‘n greet with some local politicians?
A visible campaign has built up around Herne Hill over recent weeks, spreading the message of The Expo. At the centre of this message has been the transformation of the Herne Hill tunnel from a dimly lit p*** alley at the side of the railway station, to become a public work of art that stimulates debate and awareness.
A couple of local artists have created a wordscape design, running from one end of the tunnel to the other. This has served as a stimulus for the main event on Saturday afternoon, the Herne Hill Hunt.
Organisers of The Expo identified early on that an activity had to be in place in order to get people to come out and participate. With much of Herne Hill being hidden, the treasure hunt was the perfect vehicle for letting people know that there’s much more to the area than being a political boundary borough.
My Treasure Hunting companion and I approached our Herne Hill afternoon rather late in the day, with the skies already beginning to bruise over SE24. The magnificent sight of a young couple cycling on a tandem, decked out in tweed and with a trail of tin cans and a Just Married sign on their back, convinced us that yep, there is much more to Herne Hill than simply traffic congestion.
We kept with the two wheels theme, and with the aid of an iPhone and a little help from following a young mother and child around on a bike, more or less managed to keep on course with the various checkpoints.
Our lack of Herne Hill knowledge was no hindrance – this was the whole point of the Hunt, to try and learn something new about the area. The clues were clever (‘look for a noble emporium‘ – Noble’s newsagents of course,) and in the time frame of just over an hour, we had traversed the triangle taking in Denmark Hill, Herne Hill and Half Moon Lane.
A brief stop off back at Expo HQ to hand in the forms, and then we headed across the Dulwich Road to the lovely @thelidocafe. Much like the Herne Hill Hunt, our timing wasn’t great. Too late for lunch, an hour or so early for the Halloween menu [pdf] put together by chef.
No worries, the Lido Cafe are an accommodating crowd; a delightful chorizo sausage served with fries, plus buttermilk squash ravioli for the lady, all washed down with some red wine and we were ready for stage three of the Herne Hill Halloween experience.
I was tempted to see if I could sneak out around the back the lido cafe for a cheeky, moonlit Halloween dip. But that would just be irresponsible, not to mention bloody freezing.
The final leg of the Herne Hill Halloween experience was le velo for the Muddy Hell cyclocross event. Cycling past Herne Hill station, and en route we noticed that The Expo party was in full swing. Well, it would be rude not to offer some support, wouldn’t it?
A salsa band was brightening up a rather damp evening in a corner of South London, pulling in a sizable crowd as well. The ingenious Indian Eye restaurant opposite was staging a projection of local images in the window. The lovely @mayoroflambeth was doing his civic thing, and local businesses had very kindly donated ample food servings and a steady supply of mulled wine. We stayed at the station for possibly slightly longer than was polite, enjoying the company, and the generous rounds of mulled wine.
And then finally, finally, sometime slightly before 7pm and we were velo bound. Cycling along Burbage Road and the shock was of all the Halloween activity. Things get slightly scary back at the SW8 base, but Sunny Stockwell this most certainly wasn’t. It seemed that every other house was decked out in Halloween decorations. The level of dedication was easily on par with the more traditional Christmas celebrations.
Much like Herne Hill and South London earlier in the afternoon, cyclocross is often the Cinderella of cycling in SE24. Track riding rules, and rightfully so. But VCL also boasts a thriving junior cyclocross club.
There was a series of racers for juniors, women, men and vets. I think I fall somewhere in the sub-vet section, and so wisely left my set of wheels firmly locked up in the VCL club lock up.
Racing under lights added to the atmosphere. Most riders had made the effort with a Halloween meets lycra style of racing kit. This was matched with the crossover of messenger meets serious sportive competitors. Adding to the ambience was a DJ and a roller racing set up. If it hadn’t been for that fourth (or was it fifth?) mulled wine outside Herne Hill station, I would have been tempted to have a spin on the rollers myself.
The cyclocross course itself was something of a killer. Circumnavigating the perimeter of the track, and then crossing into the centre and with a huge ten-foot drop at one stage, I don’t think it was designed for my track bike. A bunny-hopping VCL rider played to the crowd, delighting the beer tent boys as he jumped over the hurdle after every lap.
The coming together of VCL and Rollapolooza shows what can be achieved from two quite diverse groups. The common theme is of course cycling – how each organisation goes about getting there are quite different. Herne Hill simply provided the perfect setting for a meeting of the clans.
And so some eight hours after setting off for the forgotten terrains of Herne Hill, we arrived back in Sunny Stockwell after an afternoon and evening of treasure hunting, poolside dining and floodlit cyclocross. I’ll have to remember not to forget about Hill Herne more often.