A walk from Kensal Rise to Primrose Hill

A walk through the streets of northwest London starting at Wrentham Avenue in Kensal Rise and ending at Primrose Hill

In this video I also introduce my project in collaboration with Kensal Rise Library for Brent 2020 London Borough of Culture in the Brent Biennal

If you scroll back through the archives of this blog (stretching through the ether to 2004) you’ll see that much of my ‘study’ of London came from random spontaneous drifts through the city being guided by my feet and finding whatever I found. This is still my primary method of mapping out the city even though much of my ‘work’ is produced from more focused expeditions. This walk was partly a return to the practice of drift or dérive, where I dispensed with my everyday concerns and allowed myself to be “drawn by the attractions of the terrain” (Guy Debord). However I was unable to completely dispense with the reality of the 34 degree heat of the afternoon.

Heading out of Kensal Rise via Wrentham Avenue, I was keen to pay a visit to Tiverton Green, a location that several people I’d interviewed in the area had mentioned. It’s said that on a clear day you can see the North Downs.  I then followed Brondesbury Park to Salusbury Road, Queens Park , then turned along Lonsdale Road to Brondesbury Road.

Kensal Rise

where the River Westbourne crosses West End Lane

We cross Kilburn High Road which forms part of the Roman Road of Watling Street, believed to be a much older trackway. In West End Lane I could sense the contours of a river valley and discovered once at home that the buried ‘lost’ river of the Westbourne or the Kilburn (Kilbourne) that rises in Hampstead, flows beneath Watling Street near this point on its way to make its confluence with the Thames at Chelsea. “In the lush meadows of Westbourne, near the highway to Harrow, the citizen of London could once see dragonflies and loosestrife, or, lying face down in the buttercups, tickle a brace of trout against the coming Friday” (Alan Ivimey, Wonderful London).

Kensal Rise walk

Passing Abbey Road and Priory Road, with its resonances of Kilburn Priory, we work our way to Finchley Road and Swiss Cottage before turning off Adelaide Road down Harley Road to Primrose Hill. This venerated spot was once the meeting place of Bards and Druids (the modern version) and is one of the protected views of London. For all of those more celebrated resonances, it was a white stone on the side of Barrow Hill that drew me in. Did it mark the possible burial site of fallen warriors in some epic battle of the distant past, or was it more prosaically a boundary marker?

The Grubby Mitts at Cecil Sharp House

Grubby Mitts Cecil Sharp House

There was something so perfect about The Grubby Mitts playing Cecil Sharp House. Bedford’s art rockers at the home of the English Folk Dance and Song Society nestled in the well-heeled streets of Primrose Hill. London’s village hall. In my mind they belong in large spaces, I’d first seen them at Bob and Roberta Smith’s Art Party Conference at the Spa in Scarborough, an even more cavernous venue.

When I arrived Andy Holden was on the stage holding up ceramic cats to a camera under a table lamp as the band played and the close-up cat images were projected on the big screen while Holden narrated. This wasn’t the main gig, but a performance piece called Catharsis. The cats had belonged to Holden’s Grandmother who left them to him in a series of large cardboard boxes after her death – his performance taking the form of a peculiar ‘unboxing video’.

The Grubby Mitts at Cecil Sharp House

The main hall at Cecil Sharp House is huge, with echoes of folk heroes and grand dances. The Grubby Mitts crowd stuck mostly to the bank of seating around the wall leaving the ballroom floor clear aside from a handfull of die-hards forming a line across the middle of the space. It worked – seemed to fit the mood, the awkward school disco kids, let the sounds fill the void. The show was apparently linked to Andy Holden’s current Art angel show with his father Peter Holden, Natural Selection.

The Grubby Mitts at Cecil Sharp House

I only lasted half a song before taking the floor and joining the ranks of the standing, barely dancing line. The band worked through most (if not all) of their album What The World Needs Now Is along with what I presume were newer tunes. A three-piece brass section joined some numbers swelling the sound into the high vaulted ceiling euphorically. Holden twisted knobs hunched over at a table of electronics, played the guitar, and gesticulated at the drummer. It was a majestic performance from the whole band.

It ended with a stunning rendition of To A Friend’s House the Way is Never Long. The band departed the stage and then stood in the hall with the rest of us as the lights came back on and the audience dribbled out into the Primrose Hill night. I rarely go to gigs these days aside from local nights in Leytonstone, this was perfect. Wandering down into Camden Town, freezing cold, I fancied a pint but turns out Camden Council have rigid licencing laws with no booze sold after 10.30pm on a Sunday. Rather than pissing me off it just added to the quirky vibe of a magical event.