Top to Bottom: The City from Woolwich; The Grand Union canal below the A40;Mural on a pub wall near Highgate; Kingston Bridge looking east; Pumping outlet station on the Greenway at Bow; Campus, on right, at East London University;Mural at Ford’s Lock, River Lee.
Finally, it’s over. I’ve completed The Capital Ring, the 78 miles or 126KM walk around the fringes of suburban London.My challenge to myself is over and I’m now looking at something which will take longer and is further but which can be completed in stages and is not such a drain on my travelling time. For most of these stage walks begin with a tube or train journey out to the suburbs of London from my central location close to Waterloo. They are also covered by the zonal range of the Oyster card and aren’t such a drain on your wallet or purse. So, it’s either the London LOOP for me next or something further afield like the South Downs walk or the Thames Pathway walk, both equally challenging yet achievable over the course of a few days or more .
I’ve finished walking through ‘important nature reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest’ and across heathland and common; through pristine parks and neglected scrub, bridging brooks and marsh and untangling myself from briar’s. I’ve sunk, ankle deep, into mud below Bitterns Field on a recently drenched riverbank that had survived the floods of 2012 and scrambled across the bog the river bank had become . I’ve trampled concrete path and pavement, broken slab and gouged macadam and played hop-scotch with dog turds on a path from Eltham Palace that was close to a main road but far from regal.I’ve ascended bridges that spanned the M1, the A40, the A2, the A13 and the North Circular before descending into the silence of the subterranean foot tunnel which burrows beneath the Thames crossing at Woolwich . I have walked in less pretty parts of London yet never failed to come across some form of natural beauty and , at times, where it was least expected. It’s fair to say that on this walk I’ve seen it all and experienced London and its urban beauty as I had never imagined it would be.
Spread over a calendar year it took fourteen days in total to complete the fifteen stages though I originally planned to it finish inside a month. The mangling of my schedule was down to the organisers of the London Olympic games (which closed the tow path on the Lea Valley Walk and made an alternative route through Hackney Wick too much to bear) and the disintegration of my right knee ligament (see post below) which made walking too painful. Otherwise it wasn’t a particularly difficult walk but a walk which revealed a verdant beauty to London that will surprise you.
Part of the bank below Bittern’s Field along the Brent River Valley which was underwater days before.
Leg 8 Osterley Lock to Greenford (4.8 miles or 7.8km)
It requires no effort for Londoners to become detached from the land on which the streets and roads that we daily traverse are built. We know that if we walk a path or a pavement or a road or a track it will take us to our destination though the land on which such routes are built flows in a different direction beneath our feet. Through jaded eyes we view London as a flat plan view map and a series of lines, grids, symbols and colours on a map and grow accustomed to travelling with our finger along coloured lines punctuated with the names of streets, roads or places of interest. Often we fail to note the topography of the city beneath our feet or before our peripheral vision or, indeed, towering above our heads as we are consumed by time and the economic imperative. Very often as Londoners we go where we are herded and guided by the paving slabs and the tar macadam or now, in this age of GPS, by the pulsing Map App in our hand.
Yet there is another London we can see and touch and hear if we listen and smell and look for it. It surprises the visitor to learn that Brent is the name given to a river but that has to be understood before grappling with the concept of a river valley in Brent. The river exists and the valley through which it courses is prone to flooding in periods of heavy rain. Yet the average citizen fails to imagine London as an area scarred by a series of swollen, brooding arteries bursting their banks and saturating golf courses and flood plains. That vision belongs to the Severn or the Thames of rural Oxford or Gloucester but not inner London.
It occurred to me,as it probably does to many others, when speeding through these valleys and canopied areas in motor vehicles or aboard public transport that our vision is immune to the changes in topography unless the landscape alters visually in some startling form. Only when we begin to walk the ways and paths of London, free from the paving and the tar macadam, are we able to make sense of the topography and the simple, unspoiled beauty of such places as Brent Meadow or, indeed, the flooded plain of the The Brent River Valley.