Arwen's meanderings

Hi everyone and welcome to my dinghy cruising blog about my John Welsford designed 'navigator' named Arwen. Built over three years, Arwen was launched in August 2007. She is a standing lug yawl 14' 6" in length. This blog records our dinghy cruising voyages together around the coastal waters of SW England.
Arwen has an associated YouTube channel so visit to find our most recent cruises and click subscribe.
On this blog you will find posts about dinghy cruising locations, accounts of our voyages, maintenance tips and 'How to's' ranging from rigging standing lug sails and building galley boxes to using 'anchor buddies' and creating 'pilotage notes'. I hope you find something that inspires you to get out on the water in your boat. Drop us a comment and happy sailing.
Steve and Arwen

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Bereft about 'Stanford's' in London


Surely it cannot be only me who feels bereft at the news that the London Store ‘Stanford’s’ may be forced to close its doors forever before 2020 ends. 

I know this has nothing to do with dinghy cruising but this news is akin to a sucker punch to the ribs for me, as I sit here surveying our travel wall and shelves. Here, hang hats from various countries, a Thai house for our house spirits to reside in, a seed pod from The Gambia, a tiny coke tin from Costa Rica. Photos adorn the stair well walls of our travels - our epic New Zealand Grand tour, the four weeks exploring Namibia, the five weeks self-driving Costa Rica. The Beijing underground railway travel passes hidden behind lava from Etna and some pumice from Vesuvius. From climbing Kilimanjaro and crossing the Serengeti to canoeing the River Gambia and horse back riding across the wild hills of the inland border regions between The Dominican Republic and Haiti, what links all these artefacts, photos, maps, journals and travel guides is one thing. That one thing they all have in common, they all started as an idea dreamed up from a visit to Stanford’s.

From the Caribbean to China and Thailand
Our journeys all start from inspiration gained at Stanford's Of London and Bristol 

Every map, every guide book, even the little journal I write my notes in now (a sweet A5 lined notebook with an antique Latin map of the world as its cover – one of eight others which grace my work desk – a record of our notes and ideas, dreams and aspirations spanning the last few decades) – all have come from Stanford’s.

The London Stanford’s has always been my go-to place when visiting our capital. When completing my part-time Master’s at the Institute of Education, no weekly visit to that place of academia was complete without me calling in at either the RGS map room, Foyles bookshop or Stanford’s.  I would run at 3.30pm when school finished (I could run quite fast in those days) the two miles to the railway station to catch the ‘earlier’ train up to Victoria. That train would give me a precious two hours before my evening course started, in which I could head for one of my three most favourite places in the city.

One of our many, many,  book shelves given over to maps, guides, travelogues and travel literature 

And is it only a year ago that I was sat on the floor at the Bristol branch with maps and guide books strewn around me – covering South America and the West Coast of the USA – maps of all types, scales and detail; obscure maps of national parks, travel writing books by American authors? Where I scribbled copious notes and ideas for two epic retirement travel tours covering Peru, Bolivia and Chile and then South Western USA? To be surrounded by shiny hardbacks, softbacks, maps of all sizes, scales, shapes and colours, racks of OS maps, shelves dedicated to the cycle trails across Europe or walking the Camino de Santiago (both still on the list of things to do before I reach sixty).

Where else can you sit for hours whilst other shop users step over or skirt around you, completely at ease with your domination of acres of floor space, each one greeting you with that knowing smile, twinkly eyes and quick wink. All complicit in your hogging of space, for they understand, they have been there, they ARE there – for that sense of awe, wonder, intrigue, inspiration, quest and sense of adventure.

Our planned seven week self-guided exploration of Peru, Bolivia and Chile put on hold by unrest in South America; our planned six week self drive exploration of south west USA, cancelled due to Covid; our planned seven week backpacking Interrail tour of Europe - on hold because of covid.
All these itineraries and plans, started out on the shop floors of Stanford's in London and Bristol 

Yes, sense of adventure. Stanford’s is my London bolt-hole, a place where I can dream, gain sanity, reflect on the changing world, gain perspective and plan, yes plan, those little adventures that have been so much part of our family lives. And yes, perhaps in recent years, a visit to Stanford’s has been an attempt to rekindle that adventurous spirit I had when I was in my twenties and that I feel I have now lost.

My, our, first steps to an adventure have always started at Stanford’s or with something purchased from Stanford’s. Not just maps and guide books, travel writing or notebooks but inflatable globes (to be left in schools in The Gambia, Tanzania, Kenya, Namibia and Thailand). Or our collection of travel games – Scrabble, Bananagrams, The British Railway game, our travel chess and draughts boards – all from Stanford’s.

The old Stanford's in Covent Garden - my bolt hole and refuge from the chaos of the world around me

And what a place the London Stanford’s is. Over 160 years of history from when it was first established by Edward Stanford in 1853. The roll call of adventurers who have used the place as their first port of call for planning an adventure – Amy Johnson, David Livingston, Robert Falcon Scott, Ernest Shackleton, Florence Nightingale, Ranulph Fiennes, Bill Bryson, Michael Palin and Levinson Woods. How many of these have been my exploration heroes, how many of their books have I read and pored over down through the years? To walk in their steps, to reach for maps off shelves where they once stood?  

A sense of history that saw the first shop through two world wars, where its founders became royal cartographers to queens and kings, where Argentinian diplomats bought up all the stock of maps of the Falkland’s months before that war started, forcing the British Army to become reliant on captured enemy maps during the conflict. Where Michael Palin started his travel career and ‘Around the World in 80 days’ – that shot of him starting the journey from leaving Stanford’s.

Stanford’s has been, is, a much-loved vital part of our travel landscape, the world’s biggest map retailer, an organisation that prides itself on the depth and range of its stock. If you can’t find the map you want at Stanford’s then the reason is simple – it was never published in the first place!

Stanford's 1901

2020 has decimated the travel industry. As Covid 19 has spread, practically uncontrolled in many parts of the world, travel has been all but impossible. The world has become paralysed but like many of our businesses, taxes, rent, wages have not. Footfall and income to the London store has dropped away to barely anything and the shop faces the real threat of closure before the end of the year. This joyful, tranquil retreat in the chaos of London, where adventures are dreamed of or planned will be lost forever and I cannot believe that I am the only outdoor enthusiast and armchair explorer who will deeply regret its demise.

There is a life line. Stanford’s has been given it by the Mayor of London’s ‘Pay It Forward Crowdfunder Initiative’ – a project to help stricken businesses across the city. Donations from £5 will get the donor a reward from the shop should its target of £120,000 by Spring 2021 be reached, when Stanford’s hope that the travel industry will be up once again and people travelling once more.

I cannot help every single business facing the prospect of closure. I will do all that I can to help local businesses on my local high street throughout the impact time of this pandemic. I buy books online from small book businesses, I shun the Amazon’s of this world.

And, I will definitely donate to the Crowdfunder to save the London Stanford’s. I may only visit it once very couple of years, but there has never ever been a time when I have visited London when I have not ended up sat on its floor surrounded by maps and travelogues, guide books and journals, dreaming of adventures and explorations to come.

It is, and always will be, my place of refuge from the chaos of life, my source of inspiration, curiosity and wanderlust – a place where I see the detail of our amazing planet, where I plan new adventures to witness changing life and nature across our varied continents, where I can plan to meet old friends and create journeys to make new ones.

Moved just around the corner - the new (above) and the old (below) Stanford's of Covent Garden, London

When I started this post, I apologised for it having little to do with dinghy cruising. But, I have come to realise that actually it does. For dinghy cruisers are small boat adventurers. 'Adventure' doesn't have to be found only on epic journeys to far flung places. It is found in our backyards, our national parks, our countryside, our rivers and coastlines and yes, even our cities too. If you are a true adventurer blessed with an exploratory, inquisitive, adventurous nature, then please donate if you can.

Williamson and me
The summit of Mount Kilimanjaro 1991
Guide books and maps.....from Stanford's of London! 


Steve-the-Wargamer said...

To my eternal shame I have never heard of Stanford's before your post..

steve said...

No, never. It is one of those shops that has a particular community. If you are an adventurer, an explorer, an expeditioner or a big traveller - then you will know it. It sort of goes hand in hand with the RGS library and map room although you have to be a member of the RGS I think to access these. I used to be a fellow but once I left the London area, I didnt renew my subscription.

Stanford's and the cafe now as well, is just a fantastic place to go explore and dream, to research and basically chill as well. For a geographer/environmentalist/outdoor educationalist like me - its heaven :)
I have a thing about maps as well - which drives the boss mad - I can't go anywhere without having a map of the place

Now, how are you doing amidst this pandemic - you OK?

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

All good here... Sparrow was out of the water for this year, but I hadn't realised what a huge positive difference she makes to me mentally - there has been a feeling of slight discombobulation all year as a result of the lack of regular "water time"... she will be going in next season whatever happens...!

steve said...

Glad to hear you OK. I cannot wait to get Arwen out on the water, doesn't matter how cold it will be!
I hope to try and get some overnight trips in January up some of our local rivers all being well. I need to finish my Kingsbridge estuary series with an overnight at Frogmore Creek and one at Kingsbridge itself.

I'd quite like to get up the Lynher beyond Treluggan and there are some stretches of the river Tamar I'd like to go and explore more closely.