Have you ever looked outside a train window and wondered what it is you are passing, or thought about the history of the towns and the landscape around you?
Learning about the subjects that feature along your journey is exactly what you can now do on a rail journey between London Waterloo and Southampton, thanks to an App called Window Seater, launched today.
Tales of how the River Mole might have got its name, the lifecycle of the endangered European eel and what makes London’s chalk streams globally special now feature on the Window Seater app, which invited the South East Rivers Trust (SERT) to talk about rivers that passengers will pass.
Window Seater interviewed Polly Penn, SERT’s Head of our Working with Communities, to gather insight for an audio story on London’s chalk rivers.
Fascinating histories of art, culture – and rivers
The Wandle, Hogsmill and Mole rivers criss-cross under the railway and feature among 11 stories that listeners can enjoy between Waterloo and Southampton.
Passengers who have downloaded Window Seater are notified as they pass points of interest on their journey, from art, culture and community to history and geography.
You can hear about links to author Jane Austen and fictional spy James Bond, plus Woking’s alien invasion and Britain’s first ever car journey, or pioneering women in motorsport, alongside Polly inspiring you to explore rivers and pathways along them.
The concept for Window Seater was born by Pete Silvester, who – living in Paris at the time – began talking to an old man, a regular on one particular route. This companion started telling him about all the places and histories they were passing.
How fascinating would it be to act as a guide along rail routes around the world, Pete thought?
Meeting like-minded, story-loving travellers Marcus Allender and Richard Edwards in Myanmar (Burma) in south east Asia in 2016, the trio went on to develop Pete’s fledgling concept of Window Seater.
Now, it has been taken on board by South Western Railway.
Inspiring listeners about eels and river walks
Polly gives a commentary about the River Wandle, The River Mole and the Hogsmill River, which all feature along the route.
She explains that where the train passes the Mole near Hersham, this is close to where SERT has a monitoring station for the European Eel as part of a project to help protect this critically endangered species.
Polly further explains the surprising lifecycle of this fish and how her perceptions of eels shaped her views before she moved from the countryside to London.
Her commentary outlines the ability to reconnect with nature via rivers, waterways being spaces where you can unwind and relax, telling listeners that they can walk right along the Wandle or Hogsmill and mentions points where the river intersects with the rail network.
A spokesman for Window Seater said: “At first glance from the train window, south west London suburbia doesn’t shout intrigue – but when we looked a bit harder and saw the little rivers that criss-cross under the railway we knew there had to be a story there.
“It was a delight to collaborate with the South East Rivers Trust and to get Polly’s personal insight into this fascinating part of London’s geography and ecology.”
So next time you are on a train from Waterloo towards Southampton, why not download the free Window Seater App from Apple or Android stores and listen to this tale of our rivers as your train passes through the rolling countryside?