Walking my eccentric version of the city

When I lived in Brixton I often used to walk the four miles to my Holborn office in the centre of London. Having walked these same streets many times I wanted to change up my route and see a different view as I wandered along - so I would take diversions along side streets. Gradually my routes spread further and further and I started to wonder how many streets I had walked and if it was possible to walk every street in London. And so, six years ago, began my quest to walk every road, avenue, mews, row, alleyway and square of my home city.

As I started to cross off streets, walking the city became part of living in the city. Now, if I’m early for a train, or to meet friends at the pub, I’ll take a walk around the block. Instead of jumping on the bus or taking the tube I’ll walk, or if I have time I’ll get off a stop early to see a new part of the city. I take advantage of some of the fantastic trails we have in city including the Thames Path, Green Chain Walk, the Capital Ring and The Line Sculpture Trail. Sometime I will just get on a train to a part of the city I don’t know every well and wander around, with no fixed route in mind. I record my progress by colouring in my large copy of the A-Z and, a backup Google Map – the red lines slowly spreading over the city.

I cover most streets on a Saturday morning where I try to link up sections of London, walking as the city wakes up to the weekend. A recent favourite was the seven mile walk from the imposing Georgian splendour and open space of Blackheath (reputed site of London plague pits) to the heart of the old City of London. On the way you dive right under the Thames itself at the Greenwich foot tunnel, weave up the Isle of Dogs, pass the 1,500,000m2 of glass office and retail space at Canary Wharf and through Whitechapel with its markers of Huguenot, German Lutheran, Jewish and Bangladeshi immigration.

On a recent crisp Saturday morning I set out for a fourteen mile walk from East Finchley in the North London borough of Barnet to my home in Lewisham, South East London. This walk starts with the gaudy, opulent and often ugly mansions of The Bishops Avenue (otherwise known as Billionaires Row, the second most expensive street in Britain but where an estimated £350m of property is left empty and neglected) and then links up the beautiful green spaces of Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill and Regents Park. Heading towards Victoria you cross Oxford Street and pass the Duke of Wellington's residence (original address: Number 1, London) and then along streets in Pimlico lined with boarding houses and nondescript hotels (“Running water and central heating in ALL rooms”). Then crossing to the south of the river, passing the Ramblers office on the Albert Embankment, through Kennington and Camberwell, over Dog Kennel Hill to Peckham Rye where a young William Blake once saw visions of a tree “filled with angels, bright angelic wings bespangling every bough like stars”. Finally over One Tree Hill, a remnant of the Great North Wood, to home and a rest in front of the fire – a perfect day’s urban exploring.



Walking between areas I have started to see how the bones of the city fit together. The cultures, style and history of the city unfolds before you. I have become healthier, happier and I understand the city much more. The quest continues and this year I’m planning to visit every page of my A-Z and complete the 150 mile London Loop. As we start to see the beginning of spring I’ll be taking to the streets after work, wandering around and seeing what the city has to offer.

In his fantastic book, The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, and Literature of Pedestrianism, Geoff Nicholson writes that urban walking “has to be personalised; you’re doing it for yourself, increasing your own store of particular knowledge, walking your own eccentric version of the city”. Perhaps one day, many years in the future, my own eccentric version of London will be complete?

  

  • Our Paving the Way campaign calls on local authorities to improve walking infrastructure and to make walking in towns and cities the easy choice. We’re celebrating neighbourhoods that are already great for walking in our Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood Award. Voting on the 2018 Award has closed, but there’s still plenty of time to nominate your neighbourhood for 2019 Award.