Escaping London’s toxic air – A day of nature in… Egham!

2017 started with a bit of a shock for all Londoner’s. While everybody who lives here has to deal daily with the problem of pollution, we did not believe it was nearly that bad. But only 5 days into the new year, the first London location, Brixton road, had already breached the air pollution limit for the whole year! Things were not better in other places and at the end of January London apparently even topped Beijing’s pollution level for the first time ever!

As a cycler in London, I know the problem well. At some crossings in particularly busy areas, for instance the end of Waterloo Bridge at Embankment, I often feel like choking when I am stuck behind the cars on a red light. It is also a visible problem: On a sunny day in January, Chris and I visited Skygarden, a viewing platform with a nice indoor garden on top of a Bank skyscraper which is free to visit if you book tickets in advance. The view was great and we could see all across London, including this nice orange area just above the horizon – the smog!

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Chris in SkyGarden
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Do you see the smog on the horizon?!!

Feeling and seeing the problem ourselves is not all we did around the air pollution problem in the last weeks. King’s College researchers had even set up an air pollution event at Sommerset House recently where we could inform ourselves on all aspects of it. We met likeminded cyclers and Londoners who wanted to raise awareness for the problem such as a group of Greenpeace activists who installed a large balloon figure of Mary Poppins with an oxygen mask! 20170128_124248

At the event, we could watch through VR glasses how the embankment area could look in a green and sustainable London and cycled on installed bikes to power a DJ set and several smoothie makers that rewarded us with a free drink.  A group of researchers at the event even wanted to find out if the lung volume of visitors would correlate with their residential and work area – they collected a note from each of us which we had to sing into a recorder, for as long as we possibly could.The event was interesting and nice but did not fill our lungs with untoxic air. For that reason it was time to get out of the city centre and exchange the city smog with nature. On a free day, we therefore took the train from Waterloo station to Egham, a village just outside of London, south of Heathrow Airport. Travel in off-peak hours and a group discount made the return tickets available for only 7.80 per person!

On arrival in Egham, we first walked towards the beautiful Royal Holloway University – a Harry Potter-like castle building, only made of red bricks. Already in the village, the air felt so much cleaner than in London. Here are some pictures of the university.

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After visiting the uni building, we left the village and walked for 15 minutes until we reached the entrance of the Valley Gardens which are part of Windsor Great Park, a huge areal full of forest, lakes, walking paths and, most importantly extremely fresh air. The day was really sunny, so we spent a nice time there, walking around and enjoying the weather.

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After we had explored enough, we walked back to Egham and treated ourselves some burgers at the Student Union restaurant (only 4.50 for a burger with fries, also the prices are worth visiting for!). The train back to Waterloo took 40 minutes. All in all, it was a great day and a well-deserved break from the city and its air. Hopefully, London’s mayor will make his plans for tackling the air pollution come true rather sooner than later. In any case, Egham is a great place to visit on a sunny day. Inhale deeply and enjoy!

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