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