26 July 2014

Walking through The Grey Soul of London (July 2014)

For each of the last three years I have taken Minimum Labyrinth's walk through The Grey Soul of London and I saw no reason for 2014 to be any different. The Grey Soul is a great walk and talk, and so are their others, which is why I have been on a few of them.

All of the Grey Soul walks have been a little different; they have been at different times in different weathers and one ended at a different location and my fourth attempt was probably the one that best kept to the script. It also finished on time, 6pm, which the other attempts had spectacularly failed to do.

Being the fourth time also meant that, finally, I had some sort of handle on where we were and where we were going. It also meant that I had taken photos of the main sites before so this time I have tried to pick a few different ones. I've not always succeeded.

We started in the Shakespeare's Head behind Sadlers's Wells. The first thing that I noticed was that one of the other walkers was wearing a Zenith t-shirt, a promising omen for things to come.

We headed off south towards the former Finsbury Town Hall before wandering down Exmouth Market and along to the brilliantly named Coldbath Square before turning east along Warner Street.

We stopped several times to hear Robert's stories about the places we were passing through while I took the sort of photos that I would take if I was visiting the place on holiday. That means that there were two parallel tales, those narrated by Robert and those told to me by the buildings we walked past.

The distinctly different middle part of our journey took us in to the industrial zone dominated, but far from limited to, the Mount Pleasant Sorting Office. Just before we got there I was captivated by this collection of brick and metal in Eyre Street Hill.

That is where we had a set-back when the pub we were aiming for was closed and so was the fall-back. That meant we had to head for the Union Tavern where we were due to end our exploration later on. I found that very useful as it helped me to work out where the Union Tavern actually is in relation to the other places that we visited.

After our brief dalliance with industry we headed in to the Georgian squares in what may be Pentonville, or Finsbury, or Islington. This was also the world of Arthur Machen, one of the inspirations behind this walk.

Our entry to this new world was the Riceyman Steps, made famous in a novel of the same name by Arnold Bennett. At the top we found Granville Square, the first of several.

These houses are fairly typical of what we saw for that section of the walk as Robert dragged as down unknown streets and alleyways in a fairly successful attempt to get us all lost. And he kept telling us tales to distract us.

Water formed part of many stories that day from the wells that still live on to place names, the submerged and subjugated Fleet river, a shy reservoir in Claremont Square and a Thames Water pumping station in Amwell Street which was proud to show off some of its pipes.

Somewhere around there we found another pub. This time it was open but it was not the pub that we expected. The legendary Filthy MacNasty's was our intended destination but it was being turned in to The Fountain, a fairly standard gastro pub with little beer and fewer staff. It took a while but I did mange to get a pint of something drinkable.

Passing along an alleyway between Naoroji Street and Lloyd Square I could not fail to notice this green house covered in scaffolding. It was not part of the formal walk but was very much the sort of thing that I like to see, and photograph.

My final picture from the walk is another typical picture of the area we explored at the end. I think this is LLoyd Square but the precise location is not the point.

From there we headed back to the Union Tavern this time for a longer stay and some food. Robert had finished his tales by then so we had to fill the gap with our own conversations. This was considerably helped by finding other people who read comics, and not just the Zenith guy, and a woman whose boyfriend could not make the walk because he was off being a wizard somewhere.

This was another fine walk through The Grey Soul of London and another fine walk from those nice chaps at Minimum Labyrinth. As long as they keep doing them I am going to keep walking with them.

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