Posted in London on Saturday 30th June 2012 at 10:06pm
Dear reader, I lied to you. Not deliberately. I swore myself off London until after the Games. I didn't want to endure the crowds, the indignity of queuing for trains, the ever increasing paranoia as the perception of a threat ratchets up uncontrollably, and bored security guards itch to act. But faced with this huge absence from my summer, and with something of the spirit of walking reawakened by my last trip I guiltily booked again. I'd not decided what to do - leaving it largely up to coincidence this time. This isn't always a successful way of working with these trips - but this time it produced a memorable day of walking and thinking.
My first coincidence was stumbling across a mention of the Moselle River the night before I travelled. I was at my parents place, browsing on my 'phone while they watched tennis on TV, and the curious tale of this tributary thrice removed of the Thames popped up. Finding a picture of it surfacing in Tottenham Cemetery I tracked it's course back. It wasn't easy - it appeared to take all kinds of odd turns - but finally I had a couple of sections of above-ground route. I planned no more, distracted by reading around the area, but left it until this morning. Bleary-eyed and slightly bemused, poring over an A to Z on the train, and hoping for sunshine as I'd left my coat at home. As we thundered through slate gray Oxfordshire and drizzly Berkshire I feared the worst. I descended onto the Circle Line at Paddington wondering what I'd face on surfacing at Kings Cross. In fact, once I'd negotiated the seemingly circuitous route to the departures side via the new ticket hall, and found my way onto a stopper for Stevenage, the sun was riding high in the sky, with clouds drifting speedily by. I alighted at Hornsey and crossed the bridge, distracted by a view into the rail depot. Immediately after the bridge, a stub of road crossed the New River. I spent a while taking pictures and getting my bearings, before plunging across the street, near a bored parent and his smirking child, and into Harringey. I'd crossed the 'Ladder' once before - further south, and I expected the mix of terraces and town houses. The recycling scheme here seemed as complex as at home, but the result was that the front gardens of every home were jammed with various receptacles for waste. Where a house was divided into flats, the bins jostled for space and supremacy. It was a tawdry sight in an otherwise pleasant area.
I left the ladder, crossing Duckett's Common and passing near to the wonderful art-deco shell of Turnpike Lane underground station. Dodging around the bus depot, I made my way back into the suburban hinterland, the quiet street punctured by distant crying babies and piano practice, then cutting through the narrow band of Mannock Road Allotments and into the hazily defined Belmont area which stretches along Downhills Park Road. This passes a fine old school and it's pretty caretaker's cottage, now converted mostly into a Professional Development Centre for Harringey Children's Services. The difficult associations that brings aren't lost as I shuffle towards the mini-roundabout at Downhills Way. This broad, suburban avenue is typical of many link roads, and is oddly quiet as I cross and note the land rising towards the lip of the Moselle Valley. I follow the hill right to it's peak, but find the views obscured by buildings, so backtrack far enough to find the entrance to Lordship Lane Recreation Ground. I realise I'm worrying a woman walking her dog who thinks I've doubled back to follow her - so I hang back as she heads into the strip of preserved woodland, fearfully checking if I'm following. I'm not, its getting hot and I've spied my first goal where a pathway from Walpole Road marks the culverted entry of the Moselle. As I head for this part of the park I realise something isn't right. Most of the area is fenced off, and there is a major Lottery funded redevelopment of the park underway. I get to the east-west path where the culvert of the Moselle crossed and find an unexpected scene. Beside me, a sluice opens out into a broad artificial river meadow. The channel curves and divides, solid wooden bridges criss-crossing them. At the eastern end, water fills a broad lagoon where it's filtered of its debris and pollution. The real Moselle feeds it here when in flood, the water running off the culvert and entering the channels. I pause to take a picture of the towers of Broadwater Farm reflected in the pool. Beyond here, the channel is a damp bed, aquatic plants just beginning to take hold. I follow along the broad path which has been built over the culvert of the river. It was originally planned to open this out, but the flood risk was too great. At the end of the path a temporary bridge connects the as yet unimproved northern part of the park, and another concrete sluice takes the new channel back into the culverted Moselle as it disappears under the looming bulk of Broadwater Farm. It's impossible not to feel awestruck by these buildings. Their own grim associations echo back from the last great recession and period of civil unrest, and the odd mish-mash of designs and types of housing has only one thing in common - they all stand on stilts above the threat of the Moselle in flood. I find a way in, and note that there is no official walking space. In the ground level carparks I feel vulnerable, and out on the grassy square I feel even more exposed. There's no real threat - the crime rate here is excellent nowadays, the community has taken back it's home turf. But it's an alien culture for a white, middle-class Somerset boy. On the edge of the estate as I leave a white van stops and asks the way to Tangmere - one of the blocks, all named for Battle of Britain airfields. The cockney driver is effortlessly rude, calling me a "Fat fucker" before I've even had a chance to answer him. He explains triumphantly: "I'm asking YOU because you're the first white face I've seen around here". Having a rare chance to respond to his insult I say "Sorry, I'm not from round here. Ask a black face." and leave him cursing me and still lost. I cut along a cycle path through a decent development of old folks places, and find myself on Lordship Lane. I buy fizzy drink and drown a thirst. It's hot and dry, but I've found my walking rhythm again.
Turning onto the busy A10, I pick up the end of the Roundway, a sweeping curve around a manufactured crescent shaped estate, and then to All Hallows Church. Here, a historic link with Scotland comes into the story - with nearby Bruce Castle and this church a gift from King David I in the 12th Century. It's a crumbling, appealing old building which merits exploration sometime. Instead I head north onto Church Path, a long straight procession passing All Hallows original churchyard and cutting through Tottenham Cemetery between high municipal railings. It's an odd place, and not a comfortable one. Odd scufflings and flutterings in the hot, damp air help me to realise I'm likely not the only living thing here. But I am mostly alone. The sickly smell of lime trees bears down on me as I pass on further into the mass of graves, finally coming across a truly curious thing - a tunnel underneath the Church Path linking the two sides of the cemetery. A simple junction would have sufficed, but instead steps lead down under an arch and ascend the other side. The 1883 built structure is listed, it's listing suggesting some formal role with the chapel and war memorial, but they don't align in a logical sense at all in this oddly unplanned conglomeration of burial lands. A few feet on, I find the Moselle again at last. A fast-flowing stream here, it cuts from west to east across the cemetery. Chuch Path crosses on a high concrete bridge, while a link between portions of the site crosses on an older bridge further upstream. Despite a slightly off-colour smell and a proliferation of insects, it's a pleasant scene and a relief from the sea of graves. Picking my way to the lower bridge to take pictures I see part of a monument to 'Dad' lying in the river bed. I try to follow the river now towards the edge of the site, but it's not easy. The ground is rough, and tends down towards the river running in a brick trough. Graves slip crazily towards it, monuments leaning unsafely. Eventually I find my way to the corner of the field, and pushing through a gap in the trees, find a strange corner clearly frequented by rough-sleepers. The soft, mossy ground slopes down to the river where it disappears under White Hart Lane, not to be seen again. I don't trust the ground enough to get closer, and I don't want to be in this oddly silent little haven any longer. I crash out into the air, and find the nearby gate locked. Instead I trudge to the main entrance and the gatehouse chapel. I'm not sorry to be leaving Tottenham Cemetery. I recuperate on a long bus journey through Stamford Hill, with the orthodox Jews pouring out of synagogues in their shtreimel. The bus is packed, hot and noisy - but I'm glad of the company of the living.
After recuperating with coffee, I find myself drawn eastwards again. I board a train for Stratford, keen just to see the environs I explored recently again from above. Once again, there's no plan - and on arriving I haven't thought about what to do when an announcement suggests that the new, northern ticket hall is closed due to an "incident in Westfield" and suggesting we use the link bridge instead. I decide to have a look at the bridge, and find myself swept into a tide of people climbing the stairs onto a rust coloured, broad span crossing the station. The mass of humanity is impressive, and there's little hope of stopping to look across at the Olympic Park - but I notice people wandering along Montfichet Way below and wonder about getting down there. Once near the entrance to Westfield I pause. Police are turning people back from 'The Street', an avenue of sportswear and mobile 'phone shops which leads to the Olympic Park entrance. A little listening indicates that there has been a murder - a broad daylight knife-fight involving five men. The shoppers seem only mildly inconvenienced, most of them pushing for a place in the main mall. Some are redirected by pink tabard wearing "Olympic Park" representatives. The space is confusing - who does it really belong to? Finding stairs I head down and find the northern station entrance now open, tatters of Police tape still fluttering. The taxi-rank is closed until September, and so from tomorrow are most of the roads here it seems. Dodging the "LOCOG exclusion zone" of the taxi drop-off, I start to wander along the new, concrete sided bridge. There are small knots of other people walking and even cycling. A tour party cycles by, the leader claiming that "well, it wasn't exactly a wilderness here, but it was somewhere you'd never go". It soon became apparent why all the activity was occuring - this was the last chance to walk the route pre-Games. As of tomorrow, the exclusion would be complete. I took in the view across the complex of railway curves, then to the Aquatics Centre and the inexplicably silly Arcelor-Mittal Orbit sculpture which I'd watched slowly take shape over the past few months. I was filled with an odd amalgam of revulsion and occasion. This senseless waste was about to explode into life, and the hope was it would drag economic benefits in it's wake. Looking across the still unfinished expanses of concrete, dry dust still drifting on the breeze, I doubted it. Pressing on, the road dipped and the forbidding fence climbed into view. At the bottom of the hill a gateway provided access to the National Grid cable tunnel into the site. It was guarded by a security operative, and a man in a deckchair who's main task was to depress a button which lowered a barrier and let the parade of BT Openreach vans and expensively new Olympic-liveried BMWs in and out of the site. The road takes a right angle here at a mini-roundabout, and a family sat on the barriers enjoying the sunshine. The father climbed the grassy bank to look into the site. The security guard wandered over but didn't engage. As I left though, a black car crawled up beside him. I didn't dare watch and headed under the railway bridge, passing the Olympic Park Vehicle Emissions Testing Plaza on my way to the High Street. On the corner, a bit of incomplete planning gain is rising in the form of a high block of dwellings with a Tesco Express at it's foot. The signs urgently claimed to be "Opening before the Olympics!". I was tired, I'd had a lungful of dust and my boots burned on my feet. Slogging along the road I found the Greenway open south of the new bridge and climbed up to it. I sat for awhile, watching people walking and cycling, the minarets of Abbey Mills in the background. I felt oddly content here, and was sorry to leave. As I made the final push for the bus stop at Bow Church, a caterpillar-tracked miltary vehicle passed me at the Interchange.
Thinking over my walk as I dozed my way back to Paddington, completing a probably ill-advised full-length trip on the 205 bus route in the process, I was pleased I'd come back despite my promises. The series of coincidences was odd - being here on the last day I'd be able to walk some of these routes, the day after the terrible events at Westfield. I have this habit of turning up at the best - or indeed the worst moments. I was heading home to the sleepy West Country, and our own set of development and planning issues. The next time I saw these places would likely be on the television - a sanitised, dust-free version, all healthy bodies and shining structures. But, six miles north, hidden in its cemetery ditch the little Moselle would be flowing - into Pymme's Brook, then in turn the Lea, and right back here to Bow Creek. The links were unavoidable, as I fear, the Games will be.
You can see more pictures from the walk here. As an experiment, you can also follow the route on the map below - the blue line is the walking route, the red line the rail and bus journeys.
Posted in London on Saturday 26th May 2012 at 10:05pm
Just now, the whole world seems to be on pause. Events are grinding to a halt to accommodate the twin national patriotic rallying points of the Diamond Jubilee, and more disruptively the 2012 Olympiad. I've written copiously about this, fact and fiction, and I risk painting myself as an obsessive if I'm not careful. Already, it's assumed by many that I'm nothing more than a disciple of Iain Sinclair who can't form my own opinions on the issues as I'm not resident in those distressed eastern environs. Well, much as I admire Sinclair's stance and very much love the way he expresses it, my own view has been formed by passing through the site over the six years since work began, watching it change in character and tone - and most alarmingly in it's loss of the sense of being a public wilderness. But I've never quite dared to walk the waterways myself - afraid of bumping into others like me who are compelled to visit despite doubting the wisdom. I realised though that time was running out. And so, I had to act.
The stars aligned when the London Topographical Society published a walk around the park. By the time their twice-annual journal landed the walk was dangerously out of date, but with a day in London and only the loosest plans I decided to tackle it in preference to other less pressing treks. It was, by far, the hottest day of the year - and perhaps for many years - as I stepped out of the train at Paddington. I breakfasted at leisure and took the 205 bus to Bow Road, a long and sluggish, but as ever interesting transit from suburb to suburb avoiding the city's core. Here I decided to use the Underground for the last leg to Bromley-by-Bow, just to avoid too much diversion before the walk began in earnest - and because there was a sense of purity beginning the walk by popping out of the ground rather than seeing the landmarks of the Olympic Park arise gradually. I surfaced again beside the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road. Passing under, and calling briefly into Tesco for water, I found myself giving to the local foodbank too. It felt right to pay tribute to those struggling in this hostile environment before setting off into Three Mills Lane. This triangle of reclaimed land between Bow Creek and the Prescott Channel is now far from the run-down, dereliction it once was - as it's home to a large complex of film and TV studios occupying two of the former mills, with a great deal done to preserve the character of the area. Crossing the Creek, I noted a tour group huddled around "Tony", their guide. He'd been outside Tesco earlier, holding up a sign saying "2012 Official Tour" and had looked quizically at me, obviously guessing I was a tourist of sorts. Now he was explaining the significance of the area's waterways, linking it back to the Olympics. The group, mostly non-British were a mix of experience-seeking adults and their teenage offspring who looked by turns bored and confused. I pressed on to Three Mills Green. Immaculately manicured, and a rather pleasant spot to absorb the sunshine, as a few locals lolled around on the grass never slow to take the opportunity for a free tan. I walked to the eastern edge of the green to gain a view of Abbey Mills Pumping Station across the tangle of allotments, and the new lock installed to allow building materials reach the Olympics by water. It was in the process of building this that lumps of the Doric Arch from pre-electrification Euston were dredged up, and now sit in storage somewhere awaiting the next development opportunity there. Edging around the park I noticed the tour group again, perched on the rather impressive polished concrete ping pong tables. Lingering in the sun to let them pass, I encountered them again near the Three Mills Wall River as Tony rattled off significant dates in Olympic History. He broke off briefly to ask if I was "trying to get a free tour or something?". I showed him what I was doing, and told him my own history as a guide of walks, and he seemed more relaxed and chatty. He talked about how business was good, how he could do seven or eight of these trips each day if pushed, and how he'd considered charging Â£20.12 for the walk - but "couldn't carry all that facking change about". He said I wouldn't be able to follow the planned route and "I'd see why" before returning to his group and saying "I can't get you into the Olympic Park - no-one can - but I can tell you about what we can see, and what you can't". On this metaphysical point, I left him to it. Veering onto the tight towpath I headed onwards passing a 'phone mast disguised as a giant Olympic torch as I emerged on the busy strip of Stratford High Street. Passing cars kicked up clouds of building dust, and my nostrils complained bitterly at the assault. I was sick, but determined not to let a summer cold stop this final walk before the games began.
The tangle of navigable waterways here was once a necessity due to the congestion and the politics of using the various routes. A price war between canal owners led to these channels becoming part of the vast canal network, and because of this they remain in the ownership of British Waterways. Here, my aim was to use the towpath of another stretch of waterway, the Bow Back River, to reach the Greenway. I crossed the High Street at the lights. Nearby a new bridge, apparently temporary, had been constructed to carry this footway over the road to cope with large Olympic crowds. How many would realise that their walking route was in fact a large, Victorian sewer I wondered? Turning west, I passed City Mill Lock and the river of the same name coming in from the northeast, before surfacing on Marshgate Lane. Here I was due to head up Pudding Mill Lane, beside the now beleaguered DLR station, and to ascend onto the Greenway. However, this was out of the question - Tony had been right. As I poked around trying to figure out the best way to go, a security car drew alongside me and three bored but edgy looking men clambered out. "Path's closed unless you want the DLR" he offered. I replied I was after the Greenway. "Why?" he asked "Been closed for months now. You can't get up there until after the games". The Greenway has been used a means of viewing the park since the build began, even playing host to a dedicated viewing position called View Tube and an associated cafe. Now, in the distance I could see it - a high-fenced channel running through the site like a bristling, protective spine, parts of it due to provide public access to the games while others apparently served as a sort of linear sentry emplacement for the security services. As I wandered off he called after me "No pictures, we know you've been taking pictures and you can't. Not here. It's illegal". I didn't turn back to argue the point. I got the sense that in training these people to protect this national spectacle, they've been told to expect something to happen. Every interaction, every encounter could be that event - and they are hyper-sensitised to it's potentiality. In short, these men felt dangerous to be around.
The official diversion signs took me back to the main road, and almost to the throat of the treacherous Bow Interchange which continues to claim the lives of hapless cyclists despite being part of Boris' Cycle Superhighway. Just before I arrived at the dusty concrete wilderness, a bridge and a stair dropped down to the path beside the River Lee Navigation. I gladly followed it into the cool green tunnel. Walking north, the high fence of the park with its razor wire and frequent CCTV points soon came alongside. Accesses from the towpath were discretely but absolutely closed, booms and anchor points ready to close the river to boats and this main towpath to feet and cycles as soon as the event begins. I felt unwanted - and I felt like I was being watched once again, shrugging off the suspicion as irrational but never quite escaping the sensation. However, there were lots of us walking - and there was an unspoken code of nodding or just exchanging morning greetings. Cyclists mostly rang their bells to warn of their passage too. A gently defiant population using the route, adapting to diversions, refusing to be excluded from their wilderness - and as I began to enjoy the walk despite the dust and heat, my wilderness too. We were trapped in a channel, an oddly idyllic single approved pathway through the chaos of the unfinished park above. As adjoining streams came in, I noted their walkways blocked by the last vestiges of the blue wooden fence that once demarcated the whole site before the security fence came. Little bits of ODA history, a history of corruption and displacement, preserved down here where no-one will look.
Continuing north, I came to a spot where two huge pipes leapt over the river, and a substantial bridge crossed. It was clearly marked "Northern Outfall Sewer" and a sense of frustration briefly surfaced that I should be above this spot. The path zig-zagging up to the Greenway was closed, mesh gates and razor wire installed - a huge hospitality zone was being formed above from solid plastic mock-pagodas. But I realised if I had made that direct, diagonal swipe across the park I would have missed this walk through a geography I'd only seen from the railway above. I'd passed on foot the same cement works and sidings which were a tantalising glimpse of what might have been covered on railtours past. Continuing, the river opened out into a junction, with the other route closed by more blue signs. This river, from consulting the map, is the one which carves into the park behind the stadium, creating the Olympic Island and dividing the public areas from the Athlete's Village and other prosaic service sectors. Unsurprisingly, it's now entirely impassible, and I found myself instead crossing a narrow bridge to reach Old Ford Lock. Sitting on the edge of the lock apparatus for a much needed drink, I spotted a familiar sight through a fence. Now a private house, but unmistakable, was the former home of the Big Breakfast TV show. Beyond it, towering above a line of trees was the Olympic Stadium, looking more sinister than ever in this context. I turned and headed west. There was another security guard at the lock, less sure of himself on this non-Olympic property he just whispered into his radio and watched the procession of walkers and cyclists enjoying the weather.
The next part of the walk took me onto Fish Island and into the depths of Hackney Wick. I'd skirted this area previously on an ill-fated dash to escape from Milton Keynes, inexplicably drawn to it but also rather afraid of getting sucked into another desperate corner of London. As I plunged between former warehouses now become artist studios for the likes of Bridget Riley, I turned a corner and happened on a strange scene. On Dace Street, a glamourous but trouble-lined woman in an elegant evening dress was running a junk stall on the pavement, bohemian students picked over her wares and bargained over seventies crockery and oddly shaped lamps. Across the street in a reclaimed warehouse space a makeshift barbecue was cooking, with wonderful smells emerging. Another dilapidated warehouse block housed a cafe, offering ethically sourced goods and claiming to be London's finest. People milled around lazily. Despite being largely ignored I felt out of place in the urban oasis and swiftly passed by to reach the Hertford Union Canal via another footbridge. An ill-starred and little used stretch of water which never quite made the fortune it cost to dig, this cuts dead straight though Hackney Wick towards Victoria Park which was my final target. Having passed under the Blackwall Tunnel Approach Road once again, a little before the ramp up to Cadogan Terrace, I noticed a strange bridge abutment practically in the back garden of a house it seemed. On checking later, I realised that this was the route of the railway to Poplar, once a passenger route and then a busy freight line. It was lifted in the 1980s, isolated and unused beside the Eastern Cross Route, its stations long closed. Only a few years later, the DLR took over it's southern reaches, but then turned east via a new route to get to Pudding Mill Lane and Stratford. The imprint of the junction at the former Victoria Park station is still visible, with trains now shuttling between Richmond and Stratford, straddling the Westfield shopping empire completely. Suddenly all of my interests and curiosities were coming together strangely in this tiny patch of dwindling wilderness amongst the city.
I lingered for an hour in the park, watching the sunbathers, frisbee players and walkers pass by. Looking back, the stadium leered angrily over the houses and trees, seeming very close indeed. Just two years ago, it hadn't been nearly this omnipresent or oppressive, barely showing over the curtain of trees. I made my way to the bus stop, elated from completing my walk but troubled by some of what I'd encountered. Oddly, my instinct was to return to the rails and take the diverted train service which curved through the geography I'd just walked from above. As we crawled into Stratford station, and the curved platforms which take the line to Coppermill Junction, I looked down on the tow path and the cement works, and peered hard into the tangle of green which marked the line of the river. The trickle of walkers and cyclists continued, the sun beat down on the dusty path and there was a heat haze rising over the stadium. In the still chaotic spaces around the main venues, security Land Rovers ferried back and forth, men muttered into radios and eyed with suspicion people passing on their way to shop at Westfield. I probably had left this walk a little too late, but I couldn't imagine a better day to have done it.
You can see more pictures from the walk here. As an experiment, you can also follow the route on the map below - the blue line is the walking route, the red line the rail journey.
Posted in London on Saturday 28th April 2012 at 11:16pm
My visits to London this year have been frequent and rather hurriedly booked - partly due to huge blank calendar spaces, but also born of a strange compulsion to head that way which I've not yet quite placed. It is perhaps, a year of change for the city - but my usual obsessions are of course with the static, hidden and ordinary. In any case, I found myself heading to the capital on perhaps a better planned footing than last Sunday's jaunt. The object was to head early to Tate Britain, so on arrival at Paddington I enjoyed a late, rather lazy breakfast and then hopped on a bus southbound. Misjudging my stops I failed to get off before Vauxhall Bridge and ended up being carried over the river in the drizzle and ending up at the strangely modernist bus station. With time to kill before the gallery opened I took advantage of a nearby coffee shop and watched the life of the bus station and nearby railway develop as this corner of South London slowly awoke. Then, still in rather damp and gloomy weather, I made the walk over the Bridge to Millbank and the vast, stately bulk of the gallery.
The reason for my visit was the Patrick Keiller curated exhibition. Focused very much on artefacts related to and inspiring "Robinson In Ruins", I was intrigued and amused by much of the collection. In particular, the transplanting of a Government Pipeline marker into the gallery was neatly done, and some of the maps were also fascinating. I was less convinced by some of the artworks selected from the collection - but on the whole, they'd been chosen well to reflect some of the historical events pondered by the narrator of the film. Overall it was a surprisingly well attended bit of the gallery too, being wedged into the main concourse through the wings. Serious looking foreign art students sketched - apparently unsure of why. Especially I noted one sketching one of the paintings, a huge solid black blob, earnestly scratching it onto paper with charcoal. Strange.
I decided that I'd hit the buses next, in an effort to get up to Liverpool Street for some diversions that were running today. However, the city had other idea. When one of the few services which pass the Tate arrived the driver said "I'm only going a couple of stops mate". As I wandered along it became clear - a demonstration by disgruntled cyclists was stopping the very forms of sustainable travel they purported to support. I resigned myself to a walk in this, for me, mostly uncharted part of the city. After heading along Millbank until it became Abingdon Steet and swung north to skirt Parliament, I found myself stuck in crowds. Tourists milled stupidly, cyclists zipped around en route to the demonstration, and the route between the traffic islands of Parliament Square was illogical and confusing. I pushed on, battling the crowds, into Whitehall - following that time-honoured processional route past the Cenotaph and the great offices of State. Outside Downing Street, vendors sold pre-Jubilee tat to Union Flag clad foreign families. The road was divided, ready for the cyclists to pour down which felt like it could be any second. I took the advantage and crossed the street while I could, not wanting to get trapped in Trafalgar Square. The crowds were hemmed into a narrower pavement here so I turned again, into the sudden quiet and calm of Great Scotland Yard, following it's curve to Northumberland Avenue. Spotting the crowds at the Strand end of the street, I veered over to Northumberland Street, taking its shadowed, narrow course to the Strand and heading into Charing Cross. It had been a taxing and irritating, but rather exhilarating trip based on instinctive dashes into side-streets.
With buses out of action I decided to hop on a train just as far as London Bridge. From there, I fought my way out of the station and it's much enlarged concourse into the tangle of a building site. The footway signposted for the 149 bus stop didn't in fact go there, and was sealed off from the main road at the end. I wasn't alone in having to retrace my steps, the bored security folks not too concerned about us. It was raining now, and my trudge over to the west side of the bridge was a damp one. There were a good few waiting here, and one woman tackled the driver of a passing bus about a different service, completely unaware how she was delaying the service despite other passengers remonstrating with her. Eventually just hoped on one I thought might go near Liverpool Street, ending up leaping at Aldgate and walking up through Houndsditch to the station. The object was to take a Cambridge or Stansted service, which were today diverted via Stratford and Temple Mills to reach Tottenham Hale. I travelled out and back, using the opportunity to survey progress on the Olympic Park with a little hint of a wish to get down among the wilderness which survived on the edge of the area. On arriving I touched out and optimistically visited the bus station. The routes didn't throw up any immediate possibilties and needed work, so I headed over the bridge and caught a pair of cool, quiet Class 379s back to Livepool Street and the inevitable coffee. It wasn't new track, but the scenes out here change so often it was well worth the visit.
On the way back to Paddington, via a lazy trip on the 205, I thought a lot about today's traversal of the traditional route through the stately environs of the city, and how my second eastern objective would soon see some of the same once the Games start. Quite how the royals will react to the contaminated dustbowl remains to be seen. But what is abundantly clear is that I need to strike out that way before it's too late...
...but that's for next time. For tonight, all that was left was a pleasantly lazy trip home on the usual train - and time to think about Keiller and "Robinson" and how I connect to places.
Posted in London on Saturday 10th December 2011 at 10:11pm
I often find myself haunting the same places at the end of the year. As the official trips dry up, I seem to seek solace in a round of familiar journeys which take me back to places - sometimes significant, sometimes just familiar and interesting enough to divert my attention for the day. Today though, despite starting out as just such a solitary ramble, ended up having a couple of purposeful intentions.
Set out a little later than normal on the direct train to Weston - though knowing I'd need to find breakfast and given an oddity of the ticketing system I decided to grab a ride on the 06:55 unit from here, catching the following London train from Weston. We left a couple of minutes down, but soon made up time on a speedy run west with the sun rising in cold but surprisingly bright sky. Expected that perhaps this train would be a little busier than usual, but in fact all was quiet until Reading, when a family got on and decided to sit directly across from me with the father occupying the seat in front of me in a sort of side-saddle fashion with his wheeled case blocking the aisle. Eventually he took the hint that it was in the way of the procession to the buffet, but the rest of them squawked and hollered all the way to London - mostly the adults in fact. Decided that a bus would be the best way to arrive roughly around when I wished to at Spitalfields, so took a 205 and enjoyed a survey of the Euston Road as we arced across to Liverpool Street. Confused by some Crossrail related diversions, which meant a little walk to the station where I had coffee at a disorganised Starbucks. My arguments with the Bristol Temple Meads branch about opening times were becoming the stuff of legend, but I'm still hooked on the coffee, so good intentions and protests are at best patchy at present. Then, over to Old Spitalfields Market where the Independent Record Label Market was just beginning to get started. The idea was that lots of the labels affected by the fire during the summer would sell direct to the public, throwing in some special deals and exclusive stuff, and therefore making a bit of much needed cash. Browsed for some time, noting a growing crowd of hipsters developing. Swooped in for a good look at Domino's vinyl and the Chemikal Underground stall, where I made a few purchases and handed over cash to Aidan Moffat himself.
After a further wander and more coffee I made my way to Whitechapel Station to meet a friend who now lives south of the river. I arrived a little early, and with the coffee taking it's toll, I decided that there must be a toilet in the Royal London Hospital and so I ventured into the forbidding building. Following the signs for the toilet took me deep into the building, down stairs and into low tunnels with hanging wires and exposed pipework. Doors leading off to therapeutic facilities were everywhere, and there was little separation of public and 'private' space. Made one wrong turn at the bottom of a staircase and found myself in a corridor with a number of old people waiting silently in chairs and trolleys. Very odd, very troubling and incredibly creepy. Not sorry to escape back into the turmoil of Whitechapel and to meet my friend.
After an interesting walk up Brick Lane and around Spitalfields, we retired for food and drink and chatted. It struck me I rarely enjoy London as a customer or a consumer these days and it felt good to be catching up, sharing stories and generally just relaxing for a very welcome change. All too soon, time to head back to Liverpool Street where we took tubes in opposing directions, with me heading back to Paddington for my ride home. It had been a day of rare purposefulness, but a very happy and relaxing one. I should do this more often.
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.