Roger Deakin quote from Waterlog

“Most of us live in a world where more and more places and things are signposted, labelled, and officially ‘interpreted’. There is something about all this that is turning the reality of things into virtual reality. It is the reason why walking, cycling and swimming will always be subversive activities. They allow us to regain a sense of what is old and wild in these islands, by getting off the beaten track and breaking free of the official version of things.”

Waterlog by Roger Deakin

Birmingham wander

Headed up to Birmingham yesterday to show my two Solstice Walk super 8 short films in the Still Walking Festival – a screening organised by Magic Cinema and Video Strolls.

Rathayatra festival Birmingham

Leaving London can feel strange sometimes, my wanderings around and within the city occasionally breaking the borders into Essex or Middlesex feel transformative enough, so coursing through the open countryside on a Virgin train is like traveling to another country, leaving the City State for that mythical isle – ENGLAND.

Rathayatra Birmingham

After navigating a few of the city centre hills and valleys I followed the sounds of music into Victoria Square where devotees of Krishna were celebrating Rathayatra. Hindus always seem to look so happy – they clearly have something going on. I bought a copy of the Bhagavad Gita and chatted to the lady on the stall. I told her that I wanted a copy because I have an audio book by David Lynch where he keeps mentioning it, talking about meditation in that David Lynch voice of his but then digressing into an anecdote about Blue Velvet or Eraserhead. The lady on the stall looked slightly nonplussed.

I had about 2 hours for a wander and just followed my nose, through China Town then the Gay district. I have a pretty awful sense of direction at the best of times but Birmingham seemed to completely fry my navigational circuits sending me in large loops around rubble strewn car parks and wholesale markets. Andy from Magic Cinema said this was the effect of the city’s ‘concrete collar’, the asphalt noose formed by a series of ring roads.

The wide open roads and vacant lots put me in mind of the edge of Downtown Los Angeles. In fact it was Digbeth. I was told later that the area is full of artists’ studios and hidden galleries. It was here on Floodgate Street that I should have picked up the River Rea and followed it to Calthorpe Park, but somehow I missed it. Later at the screening I saw a film about a raft race on the Rea in the Digbeth Olympics, I now vow to go back and complete this walk.

I got sucked into The Custard Factory, and they mean ‘THE’ custard factory – Birds Custard, the only custard that matters unless you’re one of those ponces who does the Jamie Oliver recipe. Typhoo Tea was also round here, the essential tastes of England within a single block.

Birmingham is a Ruin Porn Paradise of which I only caught a glimpse. With every corner of London being magicked into luxury buy-to-leave apartments for offshore oligarchs to dump their ill-gotten gains, it was uplifting to see large parts of a city seemingly left to its own devices. Birmingham offers hope, for now at least, although god knows what effect HS2 will have.

The screening was in a fantastic space – Ort Cafe which had the vibe of the kind of place you imagine you’d find in San Francisco and reminded me of Glebe in Sydney. They made a cracking veggie burger which I complimented with a bottle of local Pale Ale. Ort is next door to the old Moseley School of Art, opened in 1900, closed in 1976 doing an Edwardian glamour contest with the public baths opposite.

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While I waited for the No.50 back to New Street Station, Dennis gave me many of the snippets of local knowledge I’ve briefly (mis)remembered here. He told me about the Tolkien link, how Birmingham is Middle Earth, Two Towers, Mordor and all. There’s even a Middle Earth Festival.

The No.50 in the opposite direction terminates at Druids Heath.

Best to watch this with the ‘HD’ turned on up to 1080


 

Have a look at this video by Andy Howlett searching for the River Rea and giving you some interesting info about Birmingham’s past

iPhone Video App test: London Walkabout E11

So I figured that a video app made/promoted by Vimeo ought to be fairly decent and it looks as if Cameo is a nifty addition to your iphone video suite. It also seemed like it might be an interesting tool for sharing footage of walks on the hoof.

It seemed preposterous to me a few years ago that you could shoot 1080p video on a phone and edit it using imovie on the same device. I usually capture my walks on a compact camera (occasionally a DSLR) and hack them together as quickly as possible on Final Cut Pro the next day. So the idea of being able to do it all on my iphone sat in the pub at the end of the day is appealing.

Anyhow this is a quick test run on a short wander up to Leytonstone High Road.

 

London beers #1: Reliance Pale Ale & Wu Gang

London is currently bursting with breweries, at least 50 at the last count. Luckily for me a place has opened on my doorstep that sells a great selection of the ales they are turning out giving me the opportunity to sample them by taking the short stroll across Wanstead Flats to the Wanstead Tap

Brixton Brewery Pale Ale

Reliance Pale Ale – Brixton Brewery

According to the eye-catchingly designed label this luscious golden pale ale is named in honour of one Brixton’s dreamlike arcades – the Reliance Arcade built in 1925 and now thankfully granted Grade 2 listed status. I wrote about the arcades in This Other London. German theorist Walter Benjamin used the Paris Arcades as the inspiration for his seminal work The Arcades Project. Benjamin saw the arcades as being like the portals to the underworld of ancient Greece, ‘a land full of inconspicuous places from which dreams arise’. The arcades were ‘galleries leading into the city’s past’ that we pass during the day not realizing the wonders they hold.

In the case of the Reliance Arcade the dream that has arisen is this glorious pale ale. I don’t know how to describe it in terms of its aromas and the varieties of hops used in its brewing except to say that my taste buds ascended to the heavens and did laps around the evening sun. It’s bloody gorgeous.

Pressure Drop Brewery

Wu Gang Chops The Tree – Pressure Drop Brewing

I had no idea what a Hefeweisse is and was beguiled into buying this curious brew by the idea that it contained ‘foraged herb’(s). Dan at the Tap suggested it had hints of sage. It’s also got a lovely label – you don’t find artwork like that on a tin of Carlsberg. Pressure Drop are also relatively local being based over the valley in Hackney.

It slides down like a melted ice cream working it way over your knuckles on a childhood summer afternoon. I couldn’t taste the foraged herbs to be honest but by the time I’d worked that out it didn’t matter.

I’d better get over to the Tap for the next batch.

Charles Dickens on walking at night

Charles Dickens London walks

Night is generally my time for walking. In the summer I often leave home early in the morning, and roam about fields and lanes all day, or even escape for days or weeks together; but, saving in the country, I seldom go out until after dark, though, Heaven be thanked, I love its light and feel the cheerfulness it sheds upon the earth, as much as any creature living.

I have fallen insensibly into this habit, both because it favours my infirmity and because it affords me greater opportunity of speculating on the characters and occupations of those who fill the streets. The glare and hurry of broad noon are not adapted to idle pursuits like mine; a glimpse of passing faces caught by the light of a street-lamp or a shop window is often better for my purpose than their full revelation in the daylight; and, if I must add the truth, night is kinder in this respect than day, which too often destroys an air-built castle at the moment of its completion, without the least ceremony or remorse.”
- Charles Dickens – “The Old Curiosity Shop”

Redbridge Country Ramble

The North Circular cut short my walk away from the Redbridge Roundabout so the only route left was an overgrown path beside some football pitches. The metal barrier across the entrance and the way the branches held hands across the path indicated it was little if ever used aside by some intrepid fly-tippers, and from the rusted remains of what had been dumped even they hadn’t been this way for a while. The moss speckled Redbridge Council sign poking through the foliage is like something from a future post-apocalyptic London, a still from The Day of the Triffids.

Redbridge Allotments

After running into several solid walls of bramble I end up in a patch of grassland where toppled fence posts enclose waist-high weeds and wildflowers.

The rusted frame of classic old municipal chair, its canvas covers long rotted away, stands guard over these abandoned allotments. They are still marked on Redbridge Council’s map of allotments with the legend, ‘Currently not in use’. No kidding.

Roding walk

Across the football pitches, where the fence has collapsed, another path hugs the River Roding. Mellifluous birdsong fills the warm air. I feel like an intruder – this land has been returned to the wildlife and here I am barging back in.

The River Roding runs clear. Electric blue dragonflies zip amongst the tall stems of grass and wildflowers. Long spikes of purple loosestrife cling to the riverbank. Across the water – Lincoln and Rook Islands in Wanstead Park.

The path leads through what is referred to on Wanstead Wildlife as ‘Whisker’s Island’. I continue as the Roding flows through Ilford Golf Course then take the path through cool wooded shade stalking the Alders Brook with the City of London Cemetery on my right. What was a reel around the Redbridge roundabout has turned into a country ramble along forgotten byways serenaded with birdsong and beguiled by the babbling Alders Brook.

wanstead flats

The bucolic reverie is ended as I am dumped out onto the Romford Road just shy of Ilford, looking startled, rubbing my eyes like I have slipped through time from the 17th Century. It takes me a while to readjust and work out where I am. Once orientated I soon find my way to back country London on Wanstead Flats for the walk fieldpath ramble to Leytonstone.