'Madam will you walk? ...And you Sir - will you walk and talk with me?'
'Perhaps we will soon lose the use of our feet, which will develop into pads for pressing accelerator and brake' speculatesTom Pocock in his 'London Walks' published in 1973, that is the year before I was born.
In the charming, warm and personal book he reminds us that king Charles II walked his spaniels in St James's Park, Dean Swift creator of 'Gulliver's Travels' counted the paces between Chelsea and Westminster, Dr Johnson and Boswell walked down Fleet Street, Horatio Nelson wandered in dark alleys on the night his marriage collapsed while Charles Dickens was striding over Hamstead Heath.
Tom Pocock would be happy to see that the art of walking in London has not died out:)
I must confess that I can't drive, my bike got stolen a few years ago ( somewhat fortunately as I am a bit accident prone) and I may occasionally get claustrophobic on buses and trains in rush hour.
Walking in London is perfect as long as it doesn't involve getting soaked in torrential rain with strong winds trying to push you off the beaten truck. That particular day in June I count myself luckier than the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh and all the revellers could on the memorable 3rd June the Jubilee River Pagent.
Unlike Johnathan Swift I do not count my steps, but by the time I finally get to Alexandra Park Station I must have already walked more than 5 miles. I have been hanging around in Chelsea all the morning where I meet yet another pensioner of Royal Hospital who shows me round his berth equipped with what he calls 'wetroom'. 'Paddy' Fox is a type of a celebrity here as he shows me with pride the album 'Men in Scarlet' that in 2010 sold 100,000 copies, yet reassuring me that actually he can't sing at all. There is also a framed photo of him with Princess Eugenie whose school , as he puts it,'adopted him'.
Somewhat reluctantly I say goodbye and head for my Spanish lesson with Maria who is in fact an example of dying species. It takes a special teacher to correct you 100th time without for a moment losing their patience and a smile. It also takes a very experienced and talented teacher to satisfy a critical by nature teacher-turned-tour guide like me. My natural instinct for sharing and talking makes me tell her all about my recent adventures. Finally, I confide in her that I am a bit worried how I will make my 5 mile walk tonight with London Hikers.
When I get to the venue I have two hours to kill and a full bladder that is killing me, not to mention my rambling stomach. The gastropub opposite the station fails to attract me with an offer of its pizza.
Instead, I turn left and wander aimlessly until I see another pub and on impulse I walk in. Apart from one woman sitting by the window I can only see men watching yet another Euro 2012 football game. No matter what I think or how I feel about it I am determined not to leave without using the toilet first.
They have no food on offer apart from snacks and in the end I have a pint for dinner. Suddenly, I realise that I do not understand what the locals are talking about. It takes a while before I identify that strange language as Gaelic. I spent over an hour chatting amicably with quite a few of the Irish men. Tentatively we speak of history and politics and then they try to teach me some Irish so that I can impress my Irish husband back at home... I also take a photo of a telephone box placed in the middle of the pub used to store a mop and cleaning stuff.
Finally, I say I have 5 miles to walk to Finsbury Park station tonight. They urge me to take a bus or train instead. Why walk?!
There are six of us London Hikers including Fabio the organiser of the meetup group. I'm aware that I do not look like a hiker and Fabio admits that with my camera he would rather take me for a tourist.
Duncan walks with his bike that he now and again has to lift up as we walk up the hill or steps... The walk takes us along the disused railway line from Alexandra Palace Station to Finsbury Park. I expect that for 2 pounds I will be simply navigated to the destination point. It comes as a lovely surprise when Fabio tells us stories of Alexandra Palace, points out the antenna at the top, shows us the map of the now forgotten tracks, explains about the plants and trees...
We walk and talk.
While walking and talking we even lose a track at some point and show the spirit of solidarity supported by GPS in mobile phones and common sense to find it back! As we stop before the disused platforms at Crouch End I suddenly lift my head up. 'What the hell is that?'! I exclaim involuntarily.
If I were on my own in that isolated place as the darkness is falling, the sight of the life-size figure above my head would have made me scream and run wild. Our organiser is ready to solve the mystery. That huge Pan-like figure placed in one of the alcoves of the viaduct is Green Spriggon, a sculpture by Maryllin Collins. It is said to be a tribute to a ghostly goat-man who haunted that particular area.
The story comes some time after Nigel mentions a real life case of the murderer in the neighbourhood a sort of Jack the Ripper of North London. I am relieved by the time we get to our final destination where we reward ourselves with a larger or ale and take a photo.
I get on a train at Charing Cross and watch the Thames with London Eye and the Houses of Parliament romantically lit at night wishing very strongly that someone would book a night walk in London with My London Tours soon.
Willy-nilly I listen to a more than moderately intoxicated girl desperately trying to guess, for some obscure reason, a male fellow passenger's job by asking him a series of 'Yes' and 'No' questions. When the girl comes to the conclusion that the stranger's job is 'law but dodgy' I realise I have got on a wrong train and may need to walk a bit more that night or for a change take a bus...
Let me finish with the same words that Tom Pocock starts his story about London in 'London Walks' referring to once a popular 19th century ballad:
'Madam will you walk? Madam may I talk? Madam and you, Sir - will you walk and talk with me?
London Hikers have just returned from their adventure in Transylvania, My London Tours in the meantime is looking forward to summer Thames walks, but should you prefer to discover London from a back seat of a black cab instead please 'hail a tour' with a very special guide-cab driver Robert. I may be do it myself one day:)
I failed to identify the pub we had our pints in at the end of the walk near Finsbury Park Station, but the pub occupied by friendly Irish locals must be the Park Inn :)