I did a daft thing a few weeks ago; I signed up with the Long Distance Walking Association to undertake their 3rd Capital Challenge. Starting at St John’s Church Waterloo it circumnavigates some of the best bits of London’s green spaces, ending up at the Viewing Pod on the southern edge of Queen Elizabeth Park, where the 2012 Olympics were held. If you walked directly from start to finish it would probably be about 8 miles.
The way I went it was 27.9 miles. According to my phone that’s 64,000 steps.
Normally I’d take Dog as my trusty companion. The Textiliste put her paw down. He’s small. He has a bit of arthritis. He’s not given a vote. I was on my own.
Over the last few years I’ve become an Audible books addict and I listen a lot when I’m out and about. Timing being everything a new book became available last Tuesday, the third in the series of ‘Rosie’ books by Graham Simsion. If you’ve not discovered Rosie and her extraordinary husband Don, a man with autism, albeit undiagnosed then you are missing a treat.
Starting with the Rosie Project where Don uses his training as a scientist to find a life partner, this is the third book. Don now has, with Rosie, a ten year old son Howard and they wonder, under pressure from his school, is he on the spectrum? The book is a delight, in equal parts funny and poignant. This time, though, it is also both educational as well as addressing some very topical relevant issues, not just about Autism but also other neurological conditions, society’s need for labels and the harm that best intentions can do. Simsion deals with his characters, with whatever non typical neurological conditions they may evidence, with tact and compassion but also without fear, treading on toes at the same time as subverting received widsoms.
However don’t go away think this is anything other than a great read (or listen). As I left the start at just after 8 am, I pressed play. I walked and listened. I stopped a couple of times to buy a tea and have a slice of something and still I listened. A few people chatted to me and I paused the story. At about 4 pm I approached the Greenway that leads to the Viewing Pod and the narrator told me the epilogue had started. I paused one last time, collected my certificate and headed for the train. I almost didn’t want to turn it on again, not wanting it to end. But that wouldn’t do. As I stepped onto the tube at Stratford, the credits rolled.
What a great story. And how neat that it fitted inside the framework of my walk. I don’t particularly recommend this as a one sitting book. That’s just the way the cards fell. But I heartily recommend you read or listen to it.
As for the walk, well it was grey and cool.
Not great for the views the notes promised us, from Primrose Hill and Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath but ideal conditions for a walk.
The first stretch, across the river and past Downing Street was iconic but hardly green.
But then having entered St James Park opposite Horse Guards
I spent the next 3 miles crossing that park, then Green Park, giving Her Maj a nod as she partook of her morning Weetabix
before crossing into Hyde Park
full of runners who may or may not have been undertaking a Parkrun.
North of the parks there’s a stretch of a mile, through to Paddington station – homage to the little Bear
before we joined the Paddington Basin, Little Venice and the Grand Union canal
The twee little canal boats and occasionally odd statuary
caught the eye before we climbed some steps into Regent’s Park past the enormous. Mosque.
Regent’s Park is probably the poshest park, with the ambassadorial homes skirting the boundary. The walk stretched down and then back up through the park, past some of London zoo and a rather lovely rose garden
well sort of almost lovely as it’s not in bloom yet.
Crossing one road and the canal again, being used by paddleborders
and it was Primrose Hill park. This is basically the eponymous hill and a few trees and none the worse for that.
Off the other side and it was another mile of so until we entered Hampstead Heath at the southern end. There was a plus to the road walking hereabouts: the rather lovely Chamomile Cafe where I procured a decent coffee to ease me on my way.
Hampstead is a vast and wild area by comparison with the manicured Parks we’d just visited.
Walking between the ponds and up to the view point on Parliament Hill – not sure why it’s called that other than on a less misty day you might be able to see Parliament you become conscious how big it is, we meandered through paths, fortunately not getting lost until a checkpoint in a car park. And on we went, passing through the rather extraordinary hidden gem of the Pergola and Secret Garden
a raised brick walkway with vines and creepers that directed us towards the exit and the Old Bull and Bush pub,
famous from the song of the same name.
Beyond the Heath is Hampstead Garden suburb, part of London’s expansion in a mean sort of red brick and not, to my eye, that pleasing though some love it. St Jules Church
is a neat landmark without any of the splendour of the earlier churches we’d seen around.
Still we weren’t on road for long and it was then a series of woods and open spaces that link Hampstead with Highgate woods.
15 miles in and we were doing well.
There was a bit of road walking hereabouts and this being north London and a Saturday you couldn’t miss the Orthodox Jewish communities out and about. Sadly, as we saw at the Central London Mosque earlier the rather obvious security presences at the places of worship belied our supposedly tolerant society, probably the only jarring note on the day.
The walk joined the Capital Ring which I’ve written about before, the stretch leading along a disused railway, now a linear park to Finsbury Park. I’m familiar with this section and put the directions away, only to drag them about half a mile on when we encountered the first of four detours. We had Abney Cemetery with its weirdy memorials
and more manicured parks, Finsbury, Clissold and Springfield which lead down to the River Lee in Hackney and the Canal, The River Lea navigation.
Checkpoint five came and went and I managed to lost the route briefly but not badly, rejoining the canal at the top end of the former Olympic, now Queen Elizabeth path.
The end was in sight (and hearing). I was still feeling perky which was just as well as the train I planned to catch back had been cancelled necessitating a change of stations. Still, that was not going to blot the day and Dog was anxiously waiting for me to join him on the sofa…