Saturday 28 February 2009

Les pas des amants réunis

I became a Londoner through walking. Growing up in rural North Wales and the northern Home Counties, where we lived in a cluster of houses 4km from a small county town, I found the sheer size and density of London quite overwhelming when I first lived here. I remember waiting at a bus stop on Evelyn Street in Deptford, deafened by the noise of buses, cars and people, and wondering how I'd ever survive. But in the other direction from the flat where I was informally crashing was the river, that generously broad ribbon of water and air that keeps the capital bearable for many, and a fascinating footpath across the mouths of the Surrey Docks, then on the brink of regeneration, to the city farm where I bought free range eggs for breakfast one sunny Sunday morning. Walking drives cognition and writes the mental maps, and slowly the trails of my own steps began to make sense of the complexity.

This was the mid-1980s, and the friend who tenanted the flat had a set of library leaflets for the Green Chain Walk, that pioneering urban route linking green spaces through the boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Croydon and Lewisham -- my part of town, if a bit further out into suburbia. So I found myself on trains and buses to exotic locations like Thamesmead and Erith, tracing the waymarks through remnant woodlands and Victorian parks and along culverted streams. Finally I reached the scientifically inaccurate dinosaur sculptures in Crystal Palace Park -- a landmark for Londoners rarely shared with visitors. Over the years I walked many of the capital's other named footpaths -- I looped the Loop and ringed the Ring when they were little more than lines on a map, I walked the Thames upstream and downstream and I even began to draw my own lines across London. It was probably somewhere in Ealing, in Brent Lodge Park on the Capital Ring with its family zoo -- in West London, which I still regard as something of a mystery -- that I realised just how strongly I'd become placed here, and how happy that made me. I also realised how much I love returning to London -- coming home from, say, San Francisco or Hong Kong, I've felt pleased to be going back to such an endlessly fascinating and exciting place.

So this blog will be about sharing some of that London I've discovered with you. My plan is to walk the network of key walking routes round and across Greater London -- official, unofficial and in some cases aspirational or imagined, including some of my own. Many of these routes I've walked before, sometimes several times, but never recorded my thoughts, and besides things change so there's always something new to see. It'll be a personal blog, an accompaniment to a practical guide rather than the guide itself, although I plan to give links to practical information as I go.

But where to start?

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