Walk along the Paddington Arm from Kensal Green to Northolt

Click  photos to enlarge

I haven’t been keen on canal walks recently – finding the towpath restricting my desire to drift and wander, the negation of a chance find at the end of a random sequence of turns. But yesterday I found the removal of choice liberating, locking myself onto the path at Kensal Green then chuntering along like a rickety barge till sunset and my need for beer and food got the better of me – which was around 4 hours later at Northolt, where I stumbled upon the beauties of Belvue Park and found a table at the back of the village pub across the green from St. Mary’s Church.

This branch of the Grand Union Canal offers a scenic slideshow of what remains of the ‘West London Industrial Belt’ – a zone that once employed around a quarter of million workers.
Delicious chocolate odors drift over the water from the United Biscuits factory at Harlesdon. Joggers, cyclists, and fisherman populated the canalside till I passed through Perivale then the people melted away and it was just the swans, ducks and cormorants.

London Perambulator panel with Iain Sinclair, Will Self and myself

It’s 5 years ago nearly to the day that The London Perambulator premiered at The Whitechapel Gallery in the East End Film Festival. This is the ‘Edgelands’ panel discussion that followed with Will Self, Iain Sinclair and me – hosted by Andrea Phillips from Goldsmiths.

The London Perambulator is screening at the Holloway Arts Festival on 6th June followed by Q&A with Nick Papadimitriou and me – details here

 

A field in England

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As bucolic as anything you would find in the ‘traditional’ countryside – our precious Leyton Marshes, a step away from Lea Bridge Road. Once part of the ancient Lammas Lands (open access grazing pasture for the people of the parish between August and March).

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Through the trees and down across a ditch and you are across the Parish boundary on the Walthamstow Marshes – again former Lammas Land. I couldn’t help noticing that there was more signage than on the Leyton side and which also looked in generally better nick – or am I succumbing to local rivalries and insecurities.

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What they don’t have in Walthamstow is this seductive pumping house near the Essex Filter Beds. You have to love the use of glass bricks and its overall symmetry. You expect it to house more than a pump, which is merely a front for what is actually an imaginarium.

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You suspect that whoever attempted to break through the wooden door wasn’t attempting to gain access to this glorious pump. They may have thought it would open a Stargate … or perhaps provide a place to kip for the night. I hope they weren’t too disappointed – I certainly appreciated being able to have a sneaky peak inside.

(There’s more on the marshes in This Other London)

Snaresbrook

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‘Hope Lodge’

Hope is a place in Snaresbrook (with echoes of West Hollywood)

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I came to admire the gothic revival architecture of the orphanage designed by Sir Gilbert Scott (he of the Albert Memorial and St Pancras Midland Hotel) and William Moffatt (1841). The other people in the grounds were beating a hasty path to the Snaresbrook Crown Court as witnesses, barristers, friends sucking anxious fags outside, “Yeah I know a bloke who got banged up for turning over the same place”

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The Eagle Pond – formerly Snares Pond. This is a high ground of gravels – there’s water everywhere – you need good boots when walking through the forest here.

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Is this a remnant of the Saye’s Brook / Sayers Brook that gives Snaresbrook its name, now reduced to a muddy ditch at parts and elsewhere running along a concrete culvert.

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Apparently there were two streams running through Snaresbrook, across Wanstead and into the Roding – the Saye’s or Sayers Brook and the Holt. All around London these tiny tributaries have been buried, lost, ignored but they’ve stamped their names all over the A-Z – the Saye’s Brook has its named called out regularly on the 6 o’clock news, “Today at Snaresbrook Crown Court”.

East Village (Olympic Village) diary video

I’m becoming slightly obsessed with East Village, the name given to the London 2012 Athlete’s Village. It’s fascinating to watch a new neighbourhood slowly creak into life. And it’s right on my doorstep – a small provincial settlement dropped onto the marshes. There are few things as mundane as waiting at a bus stop on a wet Wednesday evening – but these are the experiences that form the bedrock of the narrative of a place, a world away from the glitz and hype of the multi-billion pound Olympic Games when celebrated gold medalists strutted these same streets. They’ve moved on to become a face on the front of a box of cereals and now people with less accessible histories and mythologies and moving onto the same ground, stubbing their toes on a loose paving slab, munching on fried chicken, dropping their dummies out of a pram.

Shadwell – Limehouse walkabout

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St George in the East – the psychogeographers’ church (‘a nodule of energy’ in Iain Sinclair’s city). You have to risk death crossing the Highway with shipping containers and cement mixers competing to turn you into road marmalade.

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‘Ornamental Canal’ should be an oxymoron shouldn’t it – I can’t separate canals from their industrial heritage, and yes I’ve been to Venice but not before I’d lived in Hackney.

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Shadwell Basin – the oasis of the east, London’s blue lagoon. Joggers pound down the avenue of early hawthorn blossom along one side.

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For some reason this converted wharf made me think of the early 90′s – the pre-Black Wednesday chutzpah that would turn into a 1980′s hangover.

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“I wonder whether the citizens of London E14, know where they are living?” wrote Tom Pocock in his London Walks. Published in 1973, Pocock walks from Wapping to Limehouse at the point of transition from docklands to riverside resort of City bankers.  He observed, “The danger is of polarisation: the rich by the river, the poor inland. But what a place this could be!”

 

 

Old Stairs of the Thames at Wapping and Shadwell

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Onto the No.339 bus down to Shadwell in search of the locations of a series of old photos in Wonderful London (circa 1926) of two sets of the old Watermen’s Stairs on the Thames. This beguiling picture above is of the Ratcliffe Cross Stairs. The caption reads: “.. an ancient and much used landing place and point of departure of a ferry. There is a tradition that Sir Martin Frobisher took boat here for his ship when starting on his voyage to find the North-West Passage.”

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Ratcliffe Cross Stairs

This is the Ratcliffe Cross Stairs today (or at least that is what I’ve deduced from old maps and descriptions of the location, at the junction of Broad Street, Shadwell and Narrow Street, Limehouse) protruding out from the bottom of a block of flats as the lunchtime City joggers pound across the wooden bridge above. The Watermen of the 21st Century cruising past in their City Clipper tour boats.

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Wonderful London also offers this view of the Thames from the muddy foreshore at Shadwell at Low Tide looking eastwards.

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No barges marooned on the shore the day I was there – the Towers of Mammon rising around the river bend on the Isle of Dogs.

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Pelican Stairs

Running down from the historic Prospect of Whitby pub (dating from 1520) are the Pelican Stairs, where on the shore some wag has erected a noose in honour of the ‘Hanging’ Judge Jeffries who was a regular at the Prospect.

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King Henry’s Stairs

Heading West along Wapping High Street you encounter King Henry’s Stairs. Although these historic riverside rights of way have been preserved, some have been allowed to slowly decay.

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Wonderful London describes Wapping Old Stairs as “one of liveliest spots in the country” in the great days of the maritime Thames.

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Wapping Old Stairs today

“but the swaggering sailormen and the loathly crew of bullies and harridans who prey on these Jack Juncks and Bill Bobstays during their few days ashore have, happily, gone as completely as the foul dens that harboured them” – Wonderful London

Wapping Old Stairs video with the sound of the Thames lapping against the stone steps