I needed a walk to help recover from a violent stomach bug – the kind that has you laid out for 3 days and still has me on a diet of cous-cous and boiled veg. Walking therapy works for me like no other remedy.
The plan was to revisit my old haunts from when I daily schlepped between the Angel and the South Bank, the warren of runs and ways I etched into my consciousness through repeated walking stretching from Bloomsbury across Clerkenwell, Finsbury, Islington and The City.
I start at Lincoln’s Inn Fields then move onto Fleet Street. I perch in St. Dunstan’s-in-the-West and listen to the choir practice. Up Fetter Lane then breach the border of High Holborn entering the mental realm of lower-Islington. Leather Lane is full of lunchtime bustle. Drop down Herbal Hill behind the Guardian offices then along to Back Hill where St. Martin’s students spread out along the curb munching and sunning themselves. I look through into Black Mary’s Hole, the majesty of Mount Pleasant Sorting Office looms above. I skirt the bomb-site (the last in London?) and then I’m tugged westwards along Calthorpe Street. I sit and reflect in St. Andrew’s Gardens. Push on along Grays Inn Road with a nod to the Calthorpe Project. Stop for a bagel and a coffee (always feels wrong to eat a ham bagel). Harrison Street heading west opens up another front of nostalgia, then along Sidmouth Street and into Tavistock Place. The magnetic force of Judd Street Books is too powerful to resist and I lose myself in there for some time.
I cut behind Camden Town Hall where I once argued with the registrars. Descend into Britannia Street the screech of tubes pulling into Kings Cross below, photo the flats I’m sure are in Mike Leigh’s High Hopes. Lorenzo Street (missed Penton Rise) across Pentonville Road and down along Calshot Street. I’ve neglected to account for post viral fatigue, I’m dizzy, my legs go, I have to regain myself on the steps of the new Peabody Building for the final push. Suck on a Murray Mint. On up the mound. Duck into the old estate – no sign of Sam sitting out in front of his flat. Over to Chapel Market, the Salmon & Compasses having yet another refurb. The record shop I loved has gone – I’d planned to buy the Saint Etienne CD that has been playing in my head all day. Cash Converters has replaced the video shop and Woolies has become Waitrose in a bold statement of intent that the Angel is moving up in the world. Wind up in Borders browsing the stacks of 3 for 2s. End – No.56 bus home. I feel infinitely better.
Set off with no aim other than to head in the general direction of Baker’s Arms – by the most indirect route practical. Avebury Road always has a certain appeal, the romance of it and only this evening did I spot the compatibility of its conjunction with Southwest Road. Further up off Bulwer I again clock Hawbridge Road and I play amateur etymology conjoining the prefix ‘Haw’ = the fruit of the sacred Hawthorne with ‘Bridge’ to suppose that this was a bridge over the Fillebrooke (PhillyBrook/ Phepes Broke). A rummage in W.H. Weston’s History of Leyton and Leytonstone shows a hand-drawn C18th map with the stream running southwest (road?) from Whipps Cross to Ruckholt – a course that would cut through Bulwer. This could have been the Haw Bridge. Another piece of pagan symmetry arising from the Fillebrook is where it once ran through or beside Coronation Gardens in Leyton is today a maze – a pagan symbol of springs and places of worship.
View Larger Map google map showing the possible course of the Phillybrook – a windmill was recorded as sitting on the banks of the stream where the corner of Francis and Newport Roads is today
I pick up a track off Bulwer Road that runs between backs of houses. There are lock up garages for rent and fly-tipping so elaborate that it borders on installation art – Jeremy Deller recreating a liminal space as a site-specific piece. The sunset breaks orange over the Lea. A large crow squawks. There’s a tyre in a shopping trolley waiting patiently outside a phonebox in front of an electricity substation.
Around the corner in Forest Road there is an absolutely majestic example of the architecture of the electricity substation. These things are like temples to the industrial age. Somebody please do a photographic project on them.
slideshow of photos from the walk
In West End Avenue (where the Fillybrooke was last seen above ground) you can see the back of a large abandoned wing of Whipps Cross Hospital with a noughts and crosses pattern of smashed windows. It is bitingly cold and I’m a bit peckish but I push on over Lea Bridge Road and along the beguiling Shernhall Road with its amazing views across the Roding Valley and the Lord Raglan pub that encouragingly allows no caps nor hoods. I turn back at the end and head down Addison Road which delivers me to the warmth of The Village pub in time to catch the football results come rolling in.
It seems to be taking an unfathomable amount of time for my knee to heal from the arthroscopy I had at the beginning of November. I managed a broken three-miler filming with Nick Papadimitriou the other Sunday, out to Mogden Purification Works, then down to HMP Bronzefield. But I seem to have been paying for it ever since. This period of restricted mobility inevitably turns the mind to walking – the dream of perambulating across the city, into the Chilterns. I start to make imaginary walks – plan excursions I’ll make when recovered. Right now I’m thinking of the walk I did with the family at the end of the summer – a rare hot day when we set out across Wanstead Flats from the Dames Road end of Leytonstone, past the ponds, along Capel Road dodging fiercely fought multinational football matches, the boys intrigued by the deep trenches dug for the re-laying of the water-mains that scar the meadows, around Aldersbrook to the gates of the City of London Cemetery then back again in a broad loop to upper Leytonstone. That I shall reprise in the winter light. Meeting old comrade Jerry Whyte for a beer in Clerkenwell took me round one of my imagined routes – The Three Kings, lost looking for the Jerusalem before a walk along Saffron Hill to the Mitre off Ely Place. Last Christmas saw me tramping my old grounds around Fetter Lane and Doughty Street. Where this year? Have to see where the city’s mood draws me.
Sat in The Heathcote last night reading David Boote’s excellent series of leaflets on the Leyton Loop made me think about the walk that I did through Leyton to the West End via Kings Cross in June 2007. I posted a blog about it at the time.
Enthused, I came home from the pub, dug out the miniDV tape and quickly edited together this vid. It’s always difficult to capture the experience of walking in any form – literature seems to have managed it best. Here I tried to film as instinctively as possible as if scribbling in a notebook.
The Heathcote btw was shut tonight due to a gas leak – was it something I did? Not quite sure what I’ll do if it stays shut for a while. Maybe get round to writing up some notes I’ve got on walking that I’d like to share.
The topographical ramble, the derive, the drift, the sarha (Arab/Palestinian expression meaning to roam without restraint where the spirit takes you – see the brilliant Palestinian Walks) – has gone beat with Mike Skinner’s latest release The Escapist. The video sees Mike heading off in a reverie on a 770 mile fugue from Dover to Cannes like an electro Ivor Gurney – although Gurney merely walked from High Wycombe to Gloucester in just over a day – a paltry 76 miles that produced a piano prelude in D-Flat minor.
Could Skinner’s muso-psychogeograhical detour have been inspired by Krautrocking Archdrud Julian Cope who traversed the unlikely path from pop to being an expert on neolithic monuments and godhead of neo-paganism. Or am I making that connection because they both appeared the current Observer Music Monthly
The idea has been with me ever since I first picked up a copy of E.O. Gordon’s ‘Prehistoric London : its mounds and circles’ – to walk between the mounds on the summer solstice. In her criminally under-celebrated book Gordon describes how the mounds and circles of the British Isles are the remnants of a lost culture. No news there when looking at the solstice celebrations at Stonehenge (30,000 pagan celebrants this year), but London?
The only acknowledgement of the significance of these sites was a record of The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids forsaking Stonehenge in favour of performing ceremonies at Tower Hill in March 1963.
I confess that resonance was added by the fact that at the time I lived yards away from Penton Mound at the top of Pentonville Road. But what vision of the city would be formed by perambulating between its founding sites – the great monuments that were at the centre of a thriving city long before the Romans rocked up.
Westminster/Tothill to Bryn Gwyn/The Tower of London to Penton/ New River Upper Reservoir to The Llandin/ Parliament Hill – a day to achieve it in.
In its original formulation this would have been a grand ritual unifying the city led by the nation’s Druids. In this inaugural event it maybe fitting that it is a family affair – just me and my sister.
I meet Cathy on Broad Sanctuary at 2.15pm after a detour to the Widescreen Centre to pick up a role of TriX black & white Super 8 film to attempt a film of the ritual – a 3 minute in camera edited film. We are delayed longer than planned at Westminster – get caught up with the small good natured demonstration on Parliament Square in support of the Iraqi people. We blow the cover of the supposed Heritage Wardens who confess to being GLA employees spying on the demo (there are barely double figures present). We move on over Westminster Bridge leaving the Royal Gorsedd and cut behind County Hall haunted by the spindly Wicker Man that they call The London Eye. Then its down Roupel Street, Union Street and into the quiet. We ponder upon the fetishisation of dereliction as we marvel at some beautiful crumbling relics – one a stone doorway with the word ‘OFFICE’ carved into the lintel adrift in an empty street. I realise that with my focus being on the film it cancels out words – my notebook virtually empty – the whole 2 hour wander to Tower Hill only inspiring a single note – ‘Great Maze Pond SE1’ which I take to fit in with the pagan theme of the derive (mazes being created in oak groves and markers of places of druidic ritual).
We spend little time at Tower Hill/ Bryn Gwyn – along with Westminster/ Tothill – as I feel an overwhelming urge to deny the desecration of the sites by the invaders – the so-called Parliament at the ancient place of congregation and communal law-making and the Prison on the site of the British people’s fortress where the severed head of Bendigeid Vran, first king of this island, is said to be buried. I record them on camera but we move on enjoying the calm City streets.
Into Barbican from Moorgate through the halls and out into Whitecross Street guided by Hawksmoor’s spire on St Luke’s. On Goswell I show Cathy the Mount Mills fortification and we follow the Cromwellian defences through Northampton Square and out to face Lubetkin’s Spa Green Estate. We skirt its perimeter and I then point out the Mount Zion Chapel – redolent of a riff in Gordon that links the British Mounds to their spiritual cousins in Palestine (a few years ago I emailed Mount Zion Chapel to enquire what had guided the location of their chapel – I received no reply).
Cathy leaves me at the Penton to complete the final leg alone. It’s 7.30pm and I should stop for a cuppa somewhere but Islington at that time on a Saturday is geared up for one thing only. Also as I push on along Penton Street I’m too awash in a sea of memories of my happy years spent living here. The Penny Farthing has been given a confused make-over and is now a restaurant serving an odd combination of pizza and sushi – I suppose they don‘t attempt to trade in on the pub‘s heritage as the true home of cricket – the pavilion for the club that would become the MCC after they moved across town to Marleybone. Change takes on odd forms – a tattoo parlour has opened next to the corner shop that supplied me with cans of beer and emergency nappies.
Down Copenhagen Street and walks (and blog postings) past come back as do trips to playgroups and the wonderful library on Thornhill Square. I get second wind.
Turning the corner into York Way I shoot some of the old station posts that seemed to have survived the coming of the Eurostar. Then the vista of the day – the cleared scorched earth west of York Way – a train slowly moving across the land below three enormous silos – I consider running off the remainder of my film here – a Tarkovskian landscape worthy of its own 50ft of TriX.
Gordon relates York Way’s original name, Maiden Lane to its purpose of leading people to their places of congregation (Maiden Lane that runs through Covent Garden lines up with Parliament Square). I note the street name of a sorry backstreet behind a warehouse – Vale Royal – the last indicator of the rich mythology linked to this area from Boadicea’s last stand to the first Christian Church (in the world!).
I’ve now decided to keep going without a stop till I ascend the top of the Llandin – a continuous yomp from the south end of Tower Bridge. Up along Brecknock Road where the dark ridge of Highgate Woods marks the horizon. Down through Dartmouth Park and I’m there on Parliament Hill Fields. I must be hallucinating because I see a white robed Druid atop the hill – yes. I grab the camera and zoom in – not a Druid but the freshly painted white monument to right of free speech that exists here. I do a kind of stop-frame dance around the stone till the film runs out and the journey is over – 50 feet of film, 10 miles and 6 hours walking.
Needed to blow out the Crimbo cobwebs and the remnants of a belligerent stomach bug, so headed off for a wander. Instead of a write-up I’ve posted a video of the walk scored with a soundtrack I made before going with my old 12-string and a kids accordion.