Northbound – walk from St.Pauls through Islington to Highgate

It was an odd walk in a way, but one that has stayed with me over the Christmas period since. There was just the desire to walk – to be out. I knew where I didn’t fancy and with only around 3 hours of daylight I wanted options for walking in the dark. The pivotal moment was at the ticket barriers – east or west.

Roman Wall City of London

I alighted at St.Pauls and let old instincts guide me. A look at the Roman London Wall in Noble Street, the on to Golden Lane Estate where there was a recent protest against the redevelopment of former Police accommodation into a block of luxury flats.

Golden Lane development

Up Goswell Road and across Northampton Square, one variation on my daily walk home from work at the South Bank when I lived up at the Angel, and also our route to Ironmonger Row Baths. Andrew Kötting’s expression ‘the noise of memory’ came to mind, when there is so much memory attached to an area that it almost becomes overwhelming. This territory on the slopes of Islington and Finsbury is like that for me, the sound intensifying as I made my way up Chapel Market, the Christmas tree seller having a furious argument down the phone kicking empty boxes. There’s a For Let sign above the iconic Manze’s pie and mash shop, the one featured in The London Nobody Knows, let’s hope I don’t add to the ‘Dead Pie Shop Trail’*.

Manze's Pie and Mash Chapel Market

On through Barnsbury to Holloway Road as the sun starts hitting the glorious Holloway Odeon. I sorely tempted to give up the ghost and while away an hour or two in the Coronet – a beautiful old cinema converted into a Wetherspoons. Something keeps me plodding on towards the Northern Heights, an image I’d conjured in my head at the beginning of the walk of ending up in Highgate.

Coronet Holloway Road

Faced with the Archway Tavern I think of Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity that I first read some 20 years ago when music played a far bigger part in my life than it does today and I would routinely pass a happy hour thumbing through racks of vinyl on dusty old record shops. At the time I felt the Archway Tavern must have been the pub/venue in the book where the record shop staff watch bands. The shop, Championship Vinyl, is located in on Seven Sisters Road (so is the Harry Lauder actually the World’s End instead?). There’s a secondhand book stall in front of the old Archway Tavern and sure enough they have a slightly battered copy of High Fidelity that I pick up for £2.50 and have been reading over Christmas. It’s funny how the book has aged in that time.

Gatehouse Highgate

Highgate Village was every bit as festive as hoped with chains of Christmas lights looped across the High Street. I make for the Gatehouse, an old coaching inn with a resident ghost. I tell the young barman about the spectral guest that haunts the pub and he fixes me with a look of disbelief. ‘It’s true’, I say, ‘look out for it when you’re locking up later.’


– – – – – – – – – – – –

* this was an essay I wrote for Jake Green’s photobook documenting the surviving Pie and Mash shops in London. My essay was a walk linking sites of several former Pie and Mash shops. There are copies of the book in each of the remaining Pie and Mash Shops in London. Get yourself a double pie and mash and settle down with a copy.

Slow Movement at the Barbican

If I hadn’t committed to doing a daily vlog then I probably would have ducked home out of the rain after my morning coffee. I sat in The Sunflower Café pondering on how my vlogs are a form of ‘Slow Vlogging’ – embracing and celebrating the familiar, local, the extraordinary lurking beneath the seemingly mundane. But how do you actual film a walking vlog in the driving rain.

I jumped on the Central Line to St. Paul’s and headed for the Highwalks of the City of London – covered walkways that in parts follow the line of the old Roman Wall. The Postern by the Museum of London is the best place to see how the remains of a Medieval Bastion were built into the wall, lining up with the remains of the Roman wall in Noble Street.

I followed the painted yellow line on the ground – a thread that leads into the Barbican – truly one of the wonders of London. Walking the raised walkways through the Barbican is best done in the middle of the night – but then I’ve only done that by accident when looking for a shortcut home when I lived just off Penton Mound. The soles of my trainers have been worn slippery smooth and I skated over the wet brick paving slaloming around the concrete pillars.

Day of the Triffids
Soon I slid all the way inside the Barbican itself  – the Brutalist mothership, a Le Corbusierian wet dream. Floating along the glass roofed corridors linking sections of the buildings, heavy brass doors hissing open ten yards before your arrival – it felt like being in a Space Station (well what I imagine it feels like from watching films) orbiting the City of London. The huge Conservatory with its towering palms and balconies dripping in tropical plants compound the feeling. It’s a glimpse of a future London after the collapse of civilization when nature has reclaimed the concrete wilderness – images garnered from the 1980’s TV adaptation of John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids.

My feet led me to The Curve Gallery currently housing a sculptural installation by Swiss Artist Roman Signer. A bright Ferrari red kayak is gently skimming over the bare wooden floor dragged by a cable attached to a motorized pulley running along a rail on the ceiling. The only other thing in the gallery are two screens showing the kayak moving in other spaces – being pulled from the back of a jeep along a country lane – and spinning around on a spit. The installation is called ‘Slow Movement’. I filmed the kayak from floor level moving in and out of frame – it was the perfect footage to accompany what I had been pondering that morning – of my daily videos as a kind of ‘slow vlog’. I’d honestly chosen to head for the Barbican so I could walk and film away from the rain – but here was a message inspiring me to stay ‘slow’.