I am reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry at the moment. It is the story of a bloke that walks from Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed to see/save an old friend that is dying of cancer. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or just down to the fact that I’ve had Harold Fry on my mind, but this morning I decided to walk from Turnpike Lane to the Southbank where I was going to meet my Dad. I get that 6 miles has nothing on 647 but.
In every other place that I’ve lived in London, walking to the centre has been one of my initiation activities. A way of recceing out where I am in relation to everything else. A strange sort of staking my ownership kind of thing. Turnpike Lane has, however, seemed a little far for this activity. Plus, it’s been hard to resist the lure of the always-on Piccadilly line. Nearly 6 months in, however, it felt time to see how this bit of London joined up and, inspired by Harold Fry, I decided to ignore the March drizzle and put my new walking boots to the test.
Turnpike Lane is a funny area. I have always lived in places with the same set of high street shops peppered with cute boutiques but there’s very little of that around here. Instead, the shops spill onto the street and are full of food from all over the world and the craziest vegetables I’ve seen. There’s none of the uniformity that I have come to expect, and there’s a real sense of the shopping streets and the streets where people live being one and the same.
Green Lanes, the road out of Turnpike Lane into London, is transitional and far longer than I imagined. By the time you’re nearing Manor House, the Turkish and Polish restaurants are dwindling away and it’s back into English pub and corner-shop territory with a few stretches of park. This section took me nearly an hour and felt like the longest bit by far. London seems to fray at the edges but once you hit the centre, everything suddenly seems to tighten up.
I had expected Camden road but Google decided that I was going via Highbury, and I’m particularly pleased that this bit of the walk happened before my phone died and I did. I’ve been to see friends in Highbury Fields before and swum in the teeny pool there, but I hadn’t realised quite how cute the area is. With beautiful houses recalling Victorian London and an actual field isolating the area from traffic, if I ever win the lottery, I will definitely be moving there.
From Highbury, I walked along Upper Street towards – and then over – Angel and along St John’s road. This is another part of London that I would quite happily uproot too. Just between the City and the always busting Upper Street, the houses get smaller suddenly and the roads a bit windier, and it starts to feel a little like you could step back in time. There is something about the heart of London that is hard to put into words but you can feel in buildings and roads which have lived far longer than the come-and-go shops and the fast-flowing crowd.
By this point, my phone was on its last legs, so I decided to follow bus routes for the final part of my journey. Trailing the 4 out of Angel and then the 341 to Holborn, I took a sharp left at Chancery lane and headed down towards Fleet Street and the Strand. The City was blissfully quiet and, stopping to pause outside Kings and look up at the creamy old buildings, I felt like a tourist. It is good to live in a City that feels like both an adventure and home.
The last stretch was a bit of a rushed blur to be honest. Suddenly, the unfamiliar snapped into the familiar and I found myself heading down Embankment and aware of how cold my hands were and how much my legs ached. I arrived with ten minutes to spare, feeling strangely proud and independent. It’s been a while since I remembered how amazing a pair of legs is.