Vincent Van Gogh in Brixton – with Iain Sinclair

“I enjoy the walk from home to the office and in the evening from the office back home. It takes about three-quarters of an hour.”

– Vincent Van Gogh, 30th April 1874

A chilly December day and an invitation from Iain Sinclair to look inside the Brixton residence of Vincent Van Gogh, where the Dutch artist lived for a year between 1873 – 1874. The plan is to then follow Van Gogh’s footsteps on the daily walk he took to work at a commercial gallery in Covent Garden. Iain had recently been commissioned by Tate Etc. magazine to write an article on Van Gogh as a walker to coincide with the Van Gogh and Britain exhibition at Tate Britain that runs until 11th August.

“So I began, unpremeditated, a series of walks through those odd, unreal, summer days while I attempted to connect Van Gogh’s English addresses. Surviving houses and chapels, in the end, feel less significant than the movement between them, when weather and light and random encounters effect an interweaving in the strands of time.”

– Iain Sinclair, Tate Etc. Issue 45

Van Gogh Ramsgate

Van Gogh sketch of Ramsgate

Van Gogh didn’t start producing art until he left London, aside from occasional sketches in the margins of letters he sent to his brother Theo. But he did spend a lot of his time in Britain walking, not only in London but also when he worked in a school in Ramsgate.

“Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better. Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see.”
– Vincent Van Gogh, January 1874

Van Gogh House

Van Gogh House, 87 Hackford Road

Our journey starts though, at the San Mei Gallery nearby in Stockwell, the owners of which have recently purchased the property at 87 Hackford Road and are in the middle of a grand restoration project. Livia Wang told us about their plans for the Van Gough House, to host international artist residencies, tours and workshops aimed at the local community, and a studio space. I remembered the production of Nicholas Wright’s play, Vincent in Brixton that I’d seen multiple times while working at the National Theatre in 2002. Nicholas Hytner’s magical production brought that Hackford Road home vividly to life, featuring a debut performance by a young Emily Blunt playing the landlady’s daughter, Eugenie Loyer, with whom the Dutchman fell hopelessly and unrequitedly in love.

“My dear Theo,

I now have a room, as I’ve long been wishing, without sloping beams and without blue wallpaper with a green border. It’s a very diverting household where I am now, in which they run a school for little boys.”
– Vincent Van Gogh, 30th April 1874

Vincent in Brixton

flier for the event I produced and hosted at Brixton Art Gallery, 2002

Iain leads the way from the house in Hackford Road up Van Gogh Walk and onto Clapham Road. He notes the speed at which Van Gogh must have walked in order to do the journey in 45 minutes. We proceed along Clapham Road, past Kennington Park and the Old Town Hall down Kennington Road to Lambeth North, Victorian Van Gogh era houses lining the route. We cross Westminster Bridge, a point in his commute that the painter in embryo noted in his letters, the light over the Thames.

Van Gogh Walk Cutdown 1.00_10_22_15.Still013

Lambeth Walk

Van Gogh Walk Cutdown 1.00_12_44_03.Still015
We then proceed along Whitehall to the National Gallery and Iain can’t resist going into the gift shop to buy a postcard of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, another piece of the painter still in London. The final leg of the journey takes us along the Strand and then ascend Southampton Street where there’s no trace of the gallery where Vincent worked selling prints to affluent Londoners.

 

You can book guided tours of the Van Gogh House here

The Van Gogh and Britain exhibition at Tate runs until 11th August 2019

 

River Roding Walk – Wanstead to Buckhurst Hill

A walk along the beautiful River Roding from Wanstead to Buckhurst Hill on the 24th February – a day when it felt as if Spring had come early. This is one of my favourite walks – following the meanders through Wanstead, Woodford to Buckhurst Hill (although I’ve yet to walk the Roding beyond Debden). The wooded ridges of Epping Forest rise on the horizon, herons glide over the rushes, and I once saw a snake slither across the path one summer near Woodford Bridge.

 

Transcript of the video

Just a footstep step away from the brutality of Eastern Avenue. We have the glorious little River Roding.
Such a beautiful day. Today is the 24th of February and it feels like spring is really here. And what better thing to do on a day like this than a wander along this beautiful river, the River Roding. This is actually one of my favourite little walks along here. Longtime viewers of the channel may remember the videos I made probably three years ago now, so it’s overdue a revisit, although I don’t expect it to change very much.

One Sunday, about a month ago, I hadn’t been out for a walk, and so I suddenly headed out about an hour before sunset and walked that last hour along here and it was really, really wonderful.

Here’s the first of a collection of really quite interesting and lovely bridges over the River Roding. Forget the bridges of Madison County. Here’s the bridges of the Roding Valley.

This section of the River Roding here is flowing through Wanstead, or ‘Wan Stead’, the white house ‘Woden stead’. I was up here yesterday, given a little tour of the churchyard and the church of St Mary’s Wanstead, really glorious church and still has a very active and quite sizeable congregation. However, their regular services are under threat for some reason. So there is a Save St. Mary’s Campaign.

I’ve been asked a few times about the viability of kayaking or canoeing on the Roding and when you see it here, you think that looks like a reasonable idea. Further along it looks a little bit trickier and the water at the moment is actually quite shallow.

Here we have our next bridge. It’s amazing the variety of bridges on this river I suppose because they were all built at different times. We have a fantastic old pumping station, great cathedrals to the Victorian industrial age aren’t they.

I saw a little grass snake along here once when I was walking along in the morning, I doubt, I’ll see anything today, but you never know.

Just stopped back there by the pumping station to make a little video talking about the things I take on a walk with me. Sean, South London gardener Sean, walking the London Loop Sean, he requested it and I’ll upload it as a separate video though, but it means I’ve been sat there for a while so I better crack on.

All hail the pylon

Sounds like a rather obvious thing to say, but with river walks it does make a difference which side of the river you walk on and the first few times I walked along the Roding I walked on the other side there just like a big park mown grass and it takes you right underneath that pylon. Whereas on this side, a bramble covered bank you’ve got the pylons here and then you’ve got these industrial units that run alongside the Roding.

The first time the jacket comes off after winter is always a magical moment. A day that is marked in the memory for a long time. 24th of February, 2019 look, here I am just a shirt, I could even just be down to a tee shirt if I was a little bit more adventurous, but it’s a big moment, no jacket.

This is where we pass beneath a number of big busy roads. I think that’s where approaching Woodford or in Woodford, I think we’ve got a combination of the North Circular, the Woodford Avenue, maybe a little bit of a feeder road for the M11.

We have to cross the busy road here. This is Charlie Brown’s roundabout and there is some delightful old footage on YouTube of Charlie Brown’s roundabout being built. I believe there was a pub here wasn’t there, called the Charlie Brown? I know there’s going to be several people in the comment section who know all about this.

I should have said this back at the beginning of the walk, the Roding rises up near Stanstead Airport, I can’t remember the exact name of the little village where it rises, and it makes its way down through the Essex countryside and then it’s confluence with the Thames is down at Barking. I’ve walked it as far as Abridge. I have crossed it other points further North, but it’s a little bit more difficult to follow after Abridge. The footpath doesn’t run along the river, so you’re zigzagging across it. But I would like to go and walk the upper reaches of the Roding at some point because it’s such a beautiful, magical little river.

Some glorious birdsong in the trees and bushes on the river bank here. The birds are obviously very happy that the weather’s improved. The path here is so overgrown I don’t think it’s legitimately passable, so you have to go up service road here that goes to the waste disposal, sort of recycling area and see if I can get back on the river further up. If you’re interested in the idea of edgelands, you could do no worse than walk along the River Roding, classic edgelands in the urban part of it anyway. Everything you could want along here.

I do remember actually going along this little sort of alleyway. So that’s the way ahead. Couple of different generations of Thames Water facilities here. The more a recent utilitarian brick block on the right, and then the picturesque what I would guess is a Victorian utility over there. Close to the banks, the river. The Wynn Valley pumping station.

Now we’re back on the banks of the River Roding.

Here we have another bridge across the river. I don’t think any two bridges have been the same so far. We start to see the terrain around the river open up slightly, passing through Woodford still heading towards Buckhurst Hill and the wooded Hills there rising in the distance, which I guess must be the edge of Epping Forest.

How good does it feel to have a 5.30pm sunset? It’s funny, isn’t it? It’s just that extra sort of hour from a month ago is enormous. It feels like we’re being propelled into a glorious summer. It’s just after four. Now about a quarter past four, and this is obviously, as I’ve said, probably every walk, this is a time when the magic happens. This is glorious. It uplifts the soul as you walk into the sunset.

So a little bit of a decision point coming up ahead because when we get to Roding Valley, that’s where can’t carry on to Buckhurst Hill you have to kind of go up the hill and around to rejoin the river. So I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do there. I suppose we’ll see, we’ve still got a little ways to go before that and actually really glorious section of the river.

The Roding Valley hinterland.

So peaceful here. I suppose it’s the time of day and also as the river kind of frees itself from the urban fringe.

That’s interesting. I have no memory of this housing estate here beside the river makes me wonder whether it’s been built in the last three to four years. [Looks at map on phone] This is where I am. Looks as if this estate is part of the old London Guildhall University sports ground. That’s my Alma mater.

Believe the word meander is the name of a river in Turkey. I extrapolated that information from the title of a book where a guy kayaks along the Meander in Turkey. It’s a book I really need to read, isn’t it?

Here we have the bridge that carries the Central Line, over the River Roding, really majestic structure.
This is one of my favourite little stretches of the river, it’s where my first walk along the Roding ended and I think I may end today’s walk here as well. The other side of this recreation ground, you have to depart from the river and work your way up through the streets of Buckhurst Hill and do a big loop to rejoin the river at the park where I was recently. If you look at the video, I go to Linder’s Field. That’s a continuation of the Roding there.

I’ll just walk to the far end of this recreation ground here where the allotments are and where the Roding then can be left in peace for a while before it gets to the Roding Valley recreation ground at Buckhurst Hill, and we were just before Christmas.

What a really wonderful walk. I’m so glad I came back out here today, to mark really what I hope is the beginnings of spring. You can never be too sure, it did snow twice in March last year, but no, not this year. Anyway, again, thanks again for coming with me, see you on the next walk, wherever that may be.

Walking the London Loop – Section 11 Uxbridge to Hayes

A walk along Section 11 of the London Loop from Uxbridge to Hayes and Harlington.

This was a glorious section of the London taking in the Grand Union Canal, River Colne, and Stockley Park on the route. One of my favourites so far. This western edge of the London Loop is characterised by watercourses – rivers, canals, lakes, and the industrial western fringe of London. It is classic edgelands territory.

This was an eventful walk. I was pelted with great lumps of hail and briefly lost my bearings where the River Colne feeds a series of fishing lakes.

London Loop Section 11 map

Then there was a curious a towpath encounter with a guy in shades at the junction of the canals near West Drayton who told me how the barges were once used for drug dealing (in the 1980’s), stashes in the bushes, even underwater, old Hippies making a few quid and serious criminals with connections at Heathrow. It’s all changed now, he tells me, but “it was a war zone down here 30 years ago”, he says as his parting shot. Walking on, not more than 100 yards, three skinny pale furtive blokes hunched under a bridge over the towpath – doing business. They shoot me a furtive look. Is this what prompted the man in shades to stop me – a warning of what was ahead?

The other side of West Drayton, at Stockley Park is a Black Mirror Techno World presaged by a large Tesla dealership. Eerily silent on a Sunday afternoon as early evening light broke through the leaden clouds.

The London Loop always seems to deliver – looking forward to the sections ahead.

Deptford Jack in the Green May Day Celebrations Greenwich

The streets of Deptford and Greenwich were yesterday taken over by The Jack in the Green May Day celebrations, led by Fowlers Troop and the Deptford Jack. A great cacophony of instruments filled the air peppered with shrieks and yells as the Jack processed along the banks of the Thames to the Cutty Sark where Morris Dancers pranced around the Jack and a Mummers Play was performed. A bright pink Oss gambolled through crowd. Two hurdy-gurdy players duelled in front of watching tourists.

I asked great film-maker Andrew Kötting, who’d been inside the Jack along the riverside, what it’s all about, “fecundity, awareness, what was, what isn’t, and what yet might be”, he said.
Deptford Jack in the Green
The Jack in the Green is a framework adorned with laurel leaves and flowers (dressed the night before in the Dog and Bell in Deptford), that is paraded through the streets accompanied by musicians, Morris dancers and Mummers. It’s said to date from the 17th Century as an evolution of traditional May Day celebrations, a time of cavorting and revelry with deep pagan roots.

Deptford Jack in the Green

I’m told the Jack went ‘rogue’ in Greenwich Park, as Jack in the Green is compelled to do on May Day. It doesn’t surprise me, the atmosphere was alive with the spirit of Spring.

Through Old West Ham to Cody Dock & River Lea

A few years ago some friends, Stuart and Rayna (who made the brilliant A13 road movie), asked if I’d ever been to Cody Dock. I’d not only never been there but I’d never even heard of it. So a couple of weeks ago at the end of February, I plotted out a route from Stratford Broadway down through Old West Ham to Cody Dock.

My path took me past the site of Stratford Langthorne Abbey, and from Cody Dock I doubled back along the Lea Valley Path to Bow Locks.

The video features some wonderful music by Emily A. Sprague from the YouTube Audio Library

Walking the London Loop – Moor Park to Uxbridge

I’m resting after walking Section 11 of the London Loop from Uxbridge to Hayes, so now seems the perfect time to revisit my walk along sections 13 and 12 of the London Loop from Moor Park to Uxbridge taking in Batchworth Heath, Bishops Wood, Park Wood and the Grand Union Canal. This picks up from my previous London Loop walk in July 2018.

Filmed on 20th January 2019

London Loop District Beaconsfield