Lovers of London, Unite!
I might go on these walks alone, but sometimes I feel as if I am part of a quintet. Nearly every day I am accompanied by at least one of my fellow London lover/walker/writers: Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens. While only two of us were contemporaries (and we’re all just a little tired of hearing about how much fun they had together), we still chase each other around the city, drinking in the same pubs, writing in neighbouring cafes, living next to each other and going for long walks through London’s “innumerable little lanes and courts”.
He may not appear present, but Sam Pepys isn’t really out of the picture. If you recall from Day 22, he was born just around the corner.
Today I passed the homes of three of these London chums (ok, technically Boswell never lived in this building, but he was nearby). That might sound significant, but considering they all moved frequently (Johnson had 17 known addresses and Dickens’ are innumerable), it was inevitable that they would all be neighbours at some point.
Today’s walk was split into two very distinctive halves: grotty and grim vs. bright and inspiring. They seemed worlds apart but interestingly these two halves were united by one game-changing invention: the printing press.
For the first half of my walk, the streets were pretty dull. Some of them were boring and grey and others were dingy, dirty and just plain ugly. I got the impression it was an area that London kind of forgot about. There were no decorations, no plants, no pieces of outdoor art.
As it turns out though, apparently it’s always been pretty drab. In fact, considering this historical description I found on an oddly informative placard down a dark alley, I’d say it’s actually much improved: The Fleet Street was regarded as having unwanted amounts of filth, smells and a noisy clatter of, amongst other things, many churches, street traders and brawls.
I had several moments of panic wondering if I would find anything of interest to share with you. It didn’t look promising. A couple of important blue plaques maybe, but not a whole lot more than that.
Then a theme started to emerge and bits and pieces of earlier walks started to creep into my mind. Remember back on Day 5 when we meet Wynkyn de Worde, the “Father of Fleet Street”? If you recall (or reread) he was the first to set up a printing press on this famous road back in 1500, and in doing so he changed the future of the neighbourhood. Continue reading
You couldn’t ask for a better day for walking than today. After two days of fairly crap weather, today felt a little like a (slightly belated) Valentine’s Day gift from the heavens. The sun filled absolutely every corner of a crisp and cloudless sky. It was bliss.
My official walk was a little shorter than normal because I went for a pre-walk walk earlier in the morning (I just couldn’t stay indoors on such a tempting day). Although it isn’t in the Congestion Zone (and, therefore, not technically part of this project), I feel compelled to share a few snaps of my outing to the Columbia Road Flower Market this morning. It’s one of my perennial favourites (pardon the pun) and a place you should definitely include on your next sunny Sunday agenda.
Something about the fishmonger-style shouting, typically touting large slabs of dead things –“Three pounds each, two for five!! Get them while you can!” – bellowed instead to sell bouquets of daisies makes me smile every time. Even better when the bald, muscly, tatted-up vendor looks like he would fit right in on an Alaskan crab boat. Nothing about this guy is a pansy – except maybe the ones he’s selling. Continue reading
Today I found myself back in the London I know and love: the one full of quirks and mystery. Despite my plans for the day, the streets kept pulling me off course, down dark passages, through tiny alleys and into camouflaged courts. I was entirely at the mercy of London, and that’s exactly how I like it.
For approximately five minutes of today’s walk, I found myself transported out of London. Ely Place, a tiny road just off Holborn Circus, has a curious jurisdictional arrangement: the land is obviously in London proper and the buildings have London postcodes, but this street is technically a tiny sliver of Cambridgeshire.
The geographic and legal distinction is so clear that even the London Metropolitan Police have no right of entry without the permission of the Commissioners of Ely Place. So if you happen to commit your next crime in this area, be sure to run here. Not only can the police not arrest you, but you can post up at the Ye Olde Mitre pub tucked away in the side alley and have a really great pint of cider while you plot your next move. Continue reading
I’ve given up on planning my walks according to the weather forecast. It rains when the sun is meant to be out and pours down buckets of light on a day predicted to have a 100% chance of heavy rain with low visibility and winds. Lies. All lies. Just look these sun-drenched streets. Absolute bliss.
Today was one of the most all-around enjoyable wanders I’ve had. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Clerkenwell is immensely walkable. Though my walks don’t lend themselves entirely to aimless wandering (I’ve got an awful lot of streets to get to), this neighbourhood kept surprising me with new options for exploration, each one better than the last. If you are looking for somewhere to go for a weekend wander, this is the place for you.
And now for the highlights! Continue reading
Remember this scene from Willy Wonka?
Today’s walk was a bit like that.
The streets had literally nothing going on. Apart from the large roads surrounding it, this area had no people on the streets, no store fronts, no shops to speak of, no cafes, delis or restaurants, and it seemed that no matter where I went I was on the back side of the buildings.
And yet, there were subtle hints that just behind the closed doors, all kinds of creative, innovative things were happening. Continue reading
I hate to admit I am a fair-weather walker but I kind of sort of am. So while the rain pours down today, I thought I’d give you a run down of the progress so far – and ask a favour of you.
For those who love stats, here are the numbers as of Day 19:
NB: The time is H:M:S not D:H:M for those who worry I’ve walked 49 days straight.
And for those of you who are more visual, next up is the current map: Continue reading