Walk along (and off) Watling Street from Cricklewood to Oxford Circus

Cricklewood

After visiting a friend I decided to go for stroll in a sudden outbreak of September sun. Considering the options – my friend’s suggestion of walking to Horsenden Hill, or my vague pang to retrace old routes to Stonebridge Park in the name of nostalgia – I didn’t fancy the long tube ride home at the end. Eventually, my feet decided for me, as they often do, and drew me south along the A5, the old Watling Street, one of the most ancient roads in Britain.

Shoot-Up Hill

There’s an air of chaos on parts of this oldest of thoroughfares, things going down left-right-and-centre. ‘It’s crazy’, says the Scottish guy in the queue at Co-op check-out as I wait to pay for my discounted falafel wrap. One bloke seems to object to me admiring the architecture – or was he offering further information? It was hard to tell in that vibe.

Hillman CricklewoodAt various times I considered deviating from the route as I passed Brondesbury and Kilburn High Road stations but something kept me plodding on, like a well-drilled Roman Centurion returning to Londinium from a stint in the provinces.

Folkies Kilburn

State Cinema Kilburn

The glorious George Coles (of Leyton) designed Gaumont State Cinema played a big part in calling me along the road. It’s tower rising like a beacon above the Victorian/Edwardian shopping parade, apparently inspired by the Empire State Building.

Abbey Road tourists IMG_3022

My discipline waned when I realised that the famous Abbey Road ran parallel to Watling Street. Surely the Beatles were tapping into the psychogeographical resonances of the area when they went all mad and mystical. Abbey Road originally linked the 12th Century Kilburn Priory, sat on the banks of the Westbourne, with an area of woodland owned by the Priory of St. John in Clerkenwell, now simply called St. John’s Wood. The tourists queuing up to have their photograph taken on the zebra crossing were oblivious to all of this and were merely imitating the iconic Beatles Abbey Road album cover.

Chiltern Street

I avoid Lord’s Cricket Ground and pass down Baker Street with a nod to Chiltern Court before turning into Chiltern Street. Paul Weller poses for a photo with a couple of builders. The beginnings of sunset dance on the russet brickwork.

The seductive contours of Marylebone Lane encourage me to follow the flow of the submerged River Tyburn, a meander through smart-set hang-outs and catwalk pavements till I arrive within the gravitational vortex of Oxford Circus where I am sucked beneath the ground into the tube and projected back blissfully East.

 

Some of my favourite footpaths

Parkland Walk Haringey

Parkland Walk, Harringay

Benfleet, Essex

Benfleet, Essex

Kensington Church Walk

Kensington Church Walk

Holyfield Marsh

Lea Valley Walk, Cheshunt

John Rogers Gants Hill station

Gants Hill Station

Epping Long Green

Epping Long Green

The Ridgeway near Chinnor

The Ridgeway near Chinnor, Bucks

River Stort Navigation

River Stort Navigation

footpath to Barn Hill Sewardstone

footpath to Barn Hill Sewardstone

Barn Hill, Sewardstone

Woolwich Foot Tunnel

Woolwich Foot Tunnel

Woolwich Foot Tunnel

Pitstone Hill Ridgeway

Ridgeway at Pitstone Hill, Bucks

Wanstead Flats Leytonstone winter frost

Wanstead Flats, Leytonstone

Epping Walk

Epping Forest

Argyle Walk

Argyle Walk

Argyle Walk, WC1

Epping Footpath

Epping in the direction of Harlow

Hainault Forest

Hainault Forest

Stepney Green

Stepney Green

P1030026

Rendlesham Forest UFO Trail, Suffolk

Harringay Passage

Harringay Passage

Greenway Hackney

The Greenway, Hackney

IMG_4388

River Lea Navigation

IMG_7667

Southwold, Suffolk – footpath on the disused railway line

wooburn field 1-lores

Wooburn Green, Bucks

Havering-atte-Bower

Havering-atte-Bower

Shooters Hill

Shooter’s Hill

Theydon Bois

Theydon Bois

Aldeburgh Beach

Aldeburgh, Suffolk

Hughenden

Hughenden, Bucks

South London Adventure – Woolwich to Eltham Palace

I’d never been to Eltham despite it being on my itinerary for a number of years. It was a possible chapter for This Other London when I plotted out the walk from Woolwich to the Dartford Salt Marshes. But somehow I’d never made the journey – until the other week that is.

Severndroog Castle

Severndroog Castle

Starting at Woolwich I worked my way up the hill past the barracks and then across Woolwich Common to Eltham Common and Castle Wood. I paid the £3 admission to ascend to the viewing platform of Severndroog Castle, a folly in the woods on Shooter’s Hill built in honour of the naval commander whose victories paved the way for British rule in India.

View from Severndroog Castle

View from Severndroog Castle

A beautiful path through the peaceful Shepherdleas Wood brought me to the slumbering Sunday streets of Eltham. It was too late to justify paying the £16.50 admission price to the Tudor Eltham Palace, so I admired it from across the wide green moat before heading back to Eltham High Street for a bag of chips and a can of Rio on a bench watching the buses head off to Catford.

The Shard at Portobello Film Festival

Portobello Film Festival 2018

Last night over to the Portobello Film Festival for the screening of In the Shadow of the Shard. Ladbroke Grove is unavoidably WEST London, hits straight you away the moment you leave the station. You expect to see Paul Simonon strolling down the street. London Calling bounces out of the pillars of the Hammersmith & City Line viaduct. The vibe is very particular, I feel a million miles away from the EAST. From here forests are to be found in Bavaria rather than Chingford.

I wait 20-minutes for grilled chicken at a joint near the station which seemed to be a hang-out for people on their way home and moped delivery drivers. I scoff the lot down in 6-minutes flat, it was tasty but not worth the wait. Then it’s off to the screening at Westway – my film coming at the end of a 4-hour programme titled, The Revolution Will Be Televised. I catch the final half-hour of Rupert Russell’s Freedom for the Wolf which looks well worth watching all the way through.

Portobello Film Festival 2018

After introducing the film I settled on a sofa and watched till the end – unusual at this stage of a film’s life when I would have seen it around twenty times before, the majority of them forensically checking for errors and corrections. But I enjoyed seeing it in this setting – away from the previous on-site events in Tenants Halls around Bermondsey and Rotherhithe. I wondered what the West London audience were making of it.

After hanging around for a bit chatting to audience members I took a night-time stroll down Ladbroke Grove past Performance terraces and into Portobello Road. Posh young things loitered chattering on street corners, the last diners huddled over tables at the rear of boutique restaurants. On the last stretch into Notting Hill I tried to imagine the grand houses in their fifties-sixties guise as the lodgings for arrivals from the Caribbean and Australian wanderers. It seems so distant, purely a scene in a period drama.

Old Swan Notting Hill

I’m not ready to head underground to re-emerge in a different reality back in Leytonstone so find a seat by the window of the Old Swan at the top of Kensington Church Street. There’s hardly anyone in the pub, although the few people seem intent on broadcasting their conversations to the world. It’s hard to concentrate on my book so I scribble in my notebook instead. Pint sunk I’m ready for the Tube and that transition through worlds across the city.

Brave New London at North Greenwich

Greenwich Penninsula

This was the scene that greeted me at North Greenwich Station yesterday as I alighted the bus from Eltham – a brave new world of golden tower blocks rising from Bugsby’s Marshes. Whale oil to property development, money magicked from mud. I’d just gazed across a moat at the Tudor Eltham Palace, and here new palaces stacked atop each other jutting out on a peninsula in the Thames. Eerily the website for the development has a headline that I’ve been using as the work-in-progress title for my new book.

Walk along the River Lea from Rye House to Hertford

There are few finer things in life than a walk along the River Lea, the mantra of gravel under foot, gazing into the reflections in the water letting your mind drift. I hadn’t previously walked this section of the River,  taking various other routes to cover the Lea Valley from Rye House into Hertford – usually the New River Path, or through Wormley Woods and along Ermine Street, or even over the hills from Roydon and Stanstead Abbotts dropping down into Ware (and there must have been others too).

It was glorious the entire way – especially that last stretch between Ware and Hertford, where the geese gather in a field and the Bronze Age burial mound at Pinehurst looks over the bend in the river. More walks suggest themselves in the marshes that run nearby and over the hills heading deeper into Hertfordshire. We’re blessed in East London to be part of the Lea Valley ecosystem, such a rich and storied landscape.

 

Picturing Forgotten London at the London Metropolitan Archives

Islington Spa engraving

Met the brilliant Dave Binns the other week for a look at the Picturing Forgotten London exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives. The mood was perfectly set by the walk up through the winding backstreets of Clerkenwell to the LMA by Spa Green Fields. After signing in at reception, then being directed to deposit our bags in a locker, we were free to go up to the exhibition with the instruction that all notes were to be made solely with a pencil and that our notebooks should be carried in a large transparent plastic bag (which was provided).

The exhibition starts on the staircase to the gallery – an ante-room to the main archive. The first image to grab my attention was an aerial photograph of Caledonian Market on Copenhagen Fields taken in 1930, a site I’ve been interested in for a number of years. It captures the full extent of the market grounds, some of which is now preserved as parkland along with the majestic clocktower.

In the gallery I was drawn to the glass display case dedicated to artist and writer Geoffrey Fletcher, presented as if containing holy relics. There was a photo of Fletcher sat on the ground sketching the Roman Temple of Mithras (recently relocated) along with a fine hardback edition of London Overlooked and a penguin paperback of The London Nobody Knows. A banner printed with a large photo of the Skylon at the 1951 Festival of Britain hangs nearby.

A collection of images show ‘The Devil’s Acre’, an area of poor housing just to the south of Westminster Abbey that was described by Charles Dickens in his magazine Household Words. A section on Housing includes an engraving from 1775 of The Norman Baynard’s Castle on a corner by the confluence of the Fleet and the Thames near a photo of a prefab on the back of a truck in 1962, and wooden cottages in East India Dock Road in 1860.

Layers upon layers of London are hanging on the walls at the Metropolitan Archives, whole other worlds within worlds. The exhibition runs until 31st October 2018 and is highly recommended.