28 April 2011

Walking through the grey soul of London

I've spent many a happy hour walking through the unfamiliar streets of London just to explore and discover. Over the years I have learnt a little more about the various parts of London that I have worked in and about the routes between there and the places I visit regularly.

It can come as no surprise then that I found myself on a walk organised by the Museum of London with the theme Walking through the grey soul of London.

I learnt about the walk at a Big Ideas meeting but dallied a little before booking my place and was lucky to get the final ticket for the night that I wanted to go. Clearly there are quite a few people like me out there.

The heart of the tour was Finsbury, the evocative Borough that got swallowed up by Islington in 1965 leaving behind a few faded reminders of its claim on London.

We met in The Harlequin in Arlington Way, just South of The Angel. I thought that the area was new to me but soon in to the walk I realised that we were just behind Saddler's Wells which I have been to several times.

Within a few minutes we had found a brick wall etched with the signs of policemen, learnt that a long wooden pipe brought water from Hertfordshire to a reservoir there and the little gardens were once the New Tunbridge Wells.

After that the journey took many twists and turns and the stories flew at us as we stopped briefly by each strange landmark.

We encountered Finsbury Town Hall, a road settled by Italians, the house where a woman lived to a ripe old age simply by never cleaning anything and a concert hall that became a church.

Pubs were and advertised feature of the walk and a stop at the Coach and Horses in Ray Street let us refuel and rest a little.

It also allowed some of us (not me!) to lie in the road and listen to the vestiges of the Fleet River heading south towards the Thames.

We also learnt that we had been following the route taken by the Artful Dodger when he first me Oliver.

A little further on we met the recently abandoned Post Office train, a collection of spoons stuck to a wall and various other oddities that I failed to note as we headed towards our next rest at the Pakenham Arms on the borders of Bloomsbury.

Flesh was flagging a little then and it was clear that the advertised 9pm finish was impossible and the suggested 9;30 finish was unlikely.

But that mattered little as we embarked on the final and most interesting part of the evening as we headed back towards The Angel before taking an even more convoluted route than before that took us through parks, past workers' cottages that now cost a fortune, to Lenin's former home and other such delights.

By then it was dark but still our guide, Robert Kingham, kept us enthralled with his stories.

By then it was almost 10pm and even though we were all a little tired and hungry it was with some disappointment that we made our final stop of the evening at the Union Tavern, carefully chosen, it seems, to be as far away from any tube station as it is possible to be in London leaving me with a fair walk back to Kings Cross and the Piccadilly Line home.

It was a fabulous evening rich almost to excess with discovery and delights. It could have been tailor-made for me and the rest of the group seemed to enjoy it just as much.

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