Yesterday I fulfilled a long held ambition and went on one of Paul Talling’s guided walks through London, specifically the route of the River Fleet from Blackfriars to St Pancras Old Church. I’ve been a fan of his photos since the very first Derelict London days, when I stumbled across them while researching something completely different, and in 2012 he kindly allowed me to use some of his pre-regeneration photos of the Olympic Park to support a school session I was running at the Museum of London Docklands. When my friend messaged me the other day to say she had a spare ticket for the Fleet walk and would I like to come, there was only one possible answer. As one of my longest-standing friends (37 years!), ex-flatmate in our mis-spent London years and graduate of the Durham Arms school of Sunday drinking, the chance for a catch-up post-lockdown was unmissable too. (Kerst – you know that I’d have said yes even without the walk!)
I never planned to stay in London for more than a few years and certainly never expected to fall in love with it and all its history, but there we are. I have actually done the Fleet walk before, self-guided and in the other direction as part of a partnership with the Hampstead Heath education team: we used Paul Talling’s book and this one to guide us and completed the walk over two days. The first section, from the source just below Kenwood on Hampstead Heath through to St Pancras, was on a gloriously sunny day in early summer. The second part, a few weeks later, was in such torrential rain (in June!) that at the end of the walk we actually had to go to H&M and buy new clothes as everything we were wearing was soaked through. Still, the downpour at least meant that we could see as well as hear the Fleet through the drain on Ray Street in Clerkenwell. Yesterday was hot and sunny and perfect for a lazy ramble through the streets of London.
Blackfriars station, where we had arranged to meet, is on both sides of the river as well as across the middle, and it’s the only one of the big mainline termini I have never caught a train from. Eventually we worked out that if we both went on Blackfriars Bridge we’d be bound to cross paths, so having managed that we headed for coffee and a catch-up before the walk. The start point for the walk was the very beautiful Blackfriar pub, which has been recently restored and the frontage positively glowed in the sunshine.
I won’t go into too much detail about the content of the walk, except to say that Talling’s background as a gig promoter as well as his knowledge of London and its past meant we were treated to a whole lot of side anecdotes about various bands, pubs and local areas. The route took in what’s left of the Bridewell prison, a horde of Millwall fans with a lot of police keeping an eye on them, Smithfield Market (eventually to be the site of the new Museum of London) and Mount Pleasant where the Mail Rail originally started before finishing at St Pancras Old Church and the Hardy Tree. It was only about three miles but took four hours, and we felt we had earned the Nando’s lunch afterwards! We used to go to Nando’s back when we lived in Bethnal Green in the late 90s, so it felt like a good way to end our day. Sunny Saturdays in London always bring out the ill-advised fashion choices – the chap in the turquoise satin tracksuit carrying the bottle of Hooch really was a blast from the past. Here, mate, the 90s called and they want their outfit back!
Here are some of the photos Kersti and I took over the day. We’ll definitely be doing more of these, and perhaps some self-guided ones as well through our old haunts!
Other highlights of the week:
- New haircut (short!)
- Finally coming to the end of the D&D campaign with an epic battle
- Meeting up with the fab Really Big Pants Theatre Company again
- Hearing Miss Jacqui speak at a networking event at Rich Mix
- Finishing the dragon scale shawl I have been working on
- Lovely swim this morning with the swans
So that’s that! Same time next week, gang!
What I’ve been reading:
The Old Success – Martha Grimes
Win – Harlan Coben
All the Colours of Darkness – Peter Robinson