Late Sunday afternoon and I’m overcome by the desire to strike out through the forest. Maybe it was my father calling me up earlier in the day asking to speak to Fieldfare and then berating me for my recent lack of walking.
I live a good 20 minutes walk from the edge of Epping Forest so to bring it closer I decide to head up along Forest Road, a pastoral row of cottages with nattering birds and flower festooned gardens.
A clockwise spin around the Hollow Ponds in the rain with a polystyrene cup of tea from one of the roadside huts and then through the trees emerging opposite The Forest – a row of beautiful Victorian houses overlooked by the fourteen grand-a-year Forest School.
Back through the woods and as I start to revel in the sylvan beauty of it all I’m confronted with a psychedelically decorated concrete underpass, and worse, an intersection of directional signs. ‘Waltamstow – Redbridge – Chingford’, not a choice so much as a warning, a rambler’s Russian roulette, I was looking for a state of fugue, not an example of poor post war urban planning.
I end up changing my mind twice – first in favour of Chingford, then Redbridge. This delivers me to a promenade that runs beside the majestic North Circular – a road to which Deep Topographer Nick Papadimitriou is symbiotically attached. You can’t walk beside such a road (which at the time I confess I mistakenly identify as the M11 – maybe that’s a Leytonstone thing – all motorways become the M11, all motorways are the M11). This brilliant path is raised high along the cutting giving a grandstand view of the metal pods hurtling past with the dark hills of the forest rising in the distance.
It’s not possible to walk beside a motorway without thinking both of Nick and his North Circ obsession (I once witnessed him clasping his hands and declaring his love for the road from the top deck of a bus as we passed it near North Finchley – I have this beautiful Brief Encounter like moment on video), and Iain Sinclair’s magisterial book ‘London Orbital’. The combination of these two references makes it futile to even consider writing about the experience of walking beside a motorway, so instead I stand on a footbridge and think about the documentary series of motorway walks that I plan to pitch to bemused commissioning editors (note to commissioning editors: come on – it’ll be great) – I just need to work on getting Clarkson onboard.
As I see the sign announcing Stanstead airport I momentarily plan to propose a walk out to the airport – then realise that the other member of the triumvirate of great contemporary psychogeographers, Will Self, has perfected this practice to the extent of boarding a plane, flying to another continent then continuing his walk into the city centre (no small feat in LA or New York – more of this when I get round to blogging my recent trip to LA).
I’m further drawn along the roadside by the sight of a cluster of tower blocks rising in the distance like some kind of proto-Croydon. Where can it be?
Turns out to be South Woodford, lovely old Tory South Woodford and a development being misbranded as Queen Mary’s Gate by Telford Homes (“at the forefront of East London regeneration”). These developments always seem to have a fortress-like appearance, the outpost of a colonial power, in this case City capital. But with the credit crunch starting to bite it’s not so difficult to imagine the potential ghetto-isation of such ‘prestige’ communities.
I amble down George Lane which feels like it belongs in Boscombe or Ventnor, particularly on a lazy Sunday evening – so I stop for gelato and take it on the tube home with me.