Tag Archives: Eleanor of Castile

Olympic London: slalom canoe course, Waltham Cross

‘Lean left! Left! Hard left!’ shouted our guide. Our raft, it seemed, had other ideas, and in a flash the boat had flipped and I was plunging through rapids. Just dodging some sharp-looking rocks and body-surfing a raging torrent I found my footing and dragged myself to the side. I’d swallowed about half the river but was laughing hard. It was the absurdity that got me. I wasn’t on the Zambezi at Victoria Falls, or New Zealand’s Karawau River, but in Waltham Cross, right in the middle of London’s commuter belt. And it is here that the Canoe Slalom events for the 2012 Olympic Games will be held. Best of all, it’s one of the few Olympic venues mere mortals like you and I can have a go in, too.

King Canoe: the Olympic course

Located north of London proper, the Lee (or Lea, no-one’s really sure) Valley doesn’t tend to attract too many tourists. A trickle may come to admire the nearby town of Waltham Cross’ Eleanor Cross, one of three surviving from the original twelve monuments erected by Edward I along the funeral procession of his Queen in 1291. Otherwise there’s just leafy, green scenery around the waterways of Hertfordshire to stroll around, popular with families, runners and dog-walkers.

The newly opened Lee Valley White Water Centre looks set to change all that. It’s easy to reach – journey time is 40 minutes by train from London’s Liverpool Street station. The first and only Olympic venue to open before the games, and home to the Great Britain Canoe Slalom team, it is as visually striking as it is thrilling to ride. The Olympic course runs for 300m and has a 5.5m descent over the length of the route. I was excited to have the chance to have a go.

The author meets Wenlock (left) and Mandeville, London 2012 mascots, pre-dunking

Before the soaking, the briefing. There were to be eight of us in a raft, and each was given a wetsuit, that most flattering of garments, and a full safety briefing. Then, after an initial dunking masquerading as a man overboard-type drill we paddled into position onto the ramp up to the head of the course. This felt a little like the start of a rollercoaster, and we were soon off, flying through rapids and, as you might expect, getting utterly drenched.

After one run I was thinking future ones could feel samey, but one of my team decided to liven things up by leaning the wrong way at a crucial moment, sending us all tipping out of the boat. After that four of our team decided they’d had enough, leaving the rest of us on the final two runs to surf, scoot and crash around the course. At one point the British rafting team, testing the course out, also went flying, which made us all feel reasonably hardcore.

If London is short on one thing, it’s a waterpark with slides and chutes. You won’t find that here, but it’s definitely the most fun you can have in a wetsuit close to the capital. Best of all, you’ll be smashing through waves made by 2012’s Olympic heroes.

Lee Valley White Water Centre is now open to the public. Advance bookings are necessary. A raft adventure lasts around two hours, including getting kitted out with a wetsuit, buoyancy jacket and helmet, a safety briefing and four runs on the Olympic course. www.gowhitewater.co.uk

Here are some shots of the Eleanor Cross:

Waltham Cross' Eleanor Cross

Brompton meets Eleanor

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Northampton’s Eleanor Cross

The Taj Mahal is often celebrated as the world’s finest monument to love. Shah Jahan’s wife’s mausoleum is indeed impressive, but England’s Eleanor Crosses run it a close second.

Edward I with his sequel, Edward II

The story starts with Edward I, King of England from 1272 to 1307 and also known as Edward Longshanks on account of his great height. He was 6″2 , which may not be excessively tall to you and me, but to a 14th-century peasant who doesn’t believe in eating greens, walks with a hunch and towers over only Ronnie Corbett he’d have been an intimidating sight. With the weight of monarchy behind him he wouldn’t have had much trouble getting his bidding done. Among other things, he’s also known as the Hammer of the Scots and copped flack from Hollywood in Braveheart for his treatment of them.

Ed & El

Anyway, whatever the man’s faults he loved his wife, Eleanor of Castile, very, very much. This wasn’t a given in medieval marriages, and royal matrimonies were almost always strategic and political rather than romantic. If you liked your partner it was a bonus, and the truth was often very different. She died in November 1290 and Edward was grief-stricken.

Eleanor died near Lincoln, and her body moved in slow procession, returning for burial in London. Twenty miles a day would have been fast for a journey of this kind, and the Queen’s remains paused twelve times on its journey to Westminster Abbey. Each was originally marked with a wooden cross, later with a lavishly decorated stone cross. In London, there was one on Westcheap, today’s Cheapside. One formed the original Charing Cross. Only three survive: one at Geddington, near Corby; one at Waltham Cross – hence the name and one between them at Hardingstone, Northampton. I place this one last because I was lucky enough to pay it a visit this week.

The M1 is very, very familiar. My Dad once said he’d driven it so many times on away trips with Arsenal, family holidays and runs up to Sheffield and Leeds to drop off and pick up university-bound sons that he could do it with his eyes closed. The familiar landmarks and service stations haven’t changed much over the years. The Biling Aquadrome* sign remains baffling. What is an aquadrome anyway? On a trip to Leicester with some friends to see a band which never showed up we detoured off at Junction 15 bound for the Hardingstone Cross.

We wondered how many of the drivers roaring along the A508 and A45 understood the provenance of Queen Eleanor Interchange, the most visisble modern sign of the cross. The roundabout is busy enough to spook an entire royal entourage and as we dodged our way around it cars tooted and hooted. Rush hour traffic has no time for 820-year-old memorials. We, however, were bright-eyed as we neared the fringed of Delapre Park, on the site of the Abbey where Eleanor’s body rested all those years ago. And there it was, on a broadly sloping hill with views of Northampton beyond.

Though it was night, the Cross was well lit and you could clearly make up that it was missing its top section. The remainder was well-preserved and superbly lit on a cold December night. Someone’s proud of it, even if there are no signs to say what you’re looking at. The semi-detached houses opposite have quite a view. As it was dark the only picture I have is a bit ‘arty’, but there’s a daylight snap here.

Eleanor of Castile, Queen of England never had a curry house named after her though. Mumtaz Jahan has several so is some sort of proof of primacy.

*Don’t click the link if you want to remain ignorant about Biling Aquadrome. I reproduce it without looking. Actually knowing what it is and what it’s for would be no fun at all.