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Wednesday, 28 January 2009

These boots are made for walking

For the last two Wednesdays, a friend and I have walked two sections of the Capital Ring. The Capital Ring is a series of walks through the suburbs of London. We’ve completed two sections – from Hendon Central to Highgate Tube and from Highgate to Stoke Newington. They couldn’t be more different. Not because of the route but because of the weather.

The first walk from Hendon was shrouded in mist and fog. Hendon Park was quite fantastical, hidden in wraps of grey and watery lights. The whole of the walk was through a tunnel of mist, the rumble of the North Circular, when we met it, deadened as if we were in water. The route took us through Hampstead Garden Suburbs – an estate born of socialist dreams and artisan aspirations which soon was captured by the well off managerial classes. Not that I’m objecting – the estate is perfect. It was such a joy walking past houses that were part of a plan, which soothed the eye, let you relax and believe that there was more than just the roaring, loud mouth designs of the more recent, moneyed past.

After many adventures and a short walk through Highgate Wood we arrived at a delightful pub whose name I can’t recall. It didn’t look like much on the outside – with “Over 21 only” stickers on the windows and doors and a rather nondescript appearance. But the beer was good and the food substantial. A fitting end to a misty walk – such a shame we had to get the train back to Walthamstow.

The following Wednesday we picked up the track at Highgate and this time headed for Stoke Newington. The day was perfect; cool and very sunny. Much of the route is along a disused railway track - "The Parkland Walk". The line, which ran from Finsbury Park to Finchley, was started in the 1850’s and was used as a commuter line for nearly 100 years. The plan was for it to be electrified as part of the Northern Line, but the Second World War intervened and that scheme was dropped. It struggled on carrying passengers into the 1950’s and stopped carrying freight in the early 1970’s. Now it’s a nature trail running all the way from Highgate to Finsbury Park, passing through Crouch End and Stroud Green.

The route gives you fabulous views of the back of London streets. Rows and rows of substantial Victorian and Edwardian piles which have been tinkered about with, beautified or plain and simply buggered up. A walk through Finsbury Park Рa real gem Рdown to Stoke Newington Church Street, via Clissold Park and some very nice properties; and thence into Abney Park cemetery Рfull of death, pious hopes and over blown monuments Рand fabulous. We finished up at a pub on the corner of Stoke Newington Church Street and Stamford Hill Рagain the name escaped me. They had no beer, plenty of lager and hideous wine, which we unfortunately plumped for. However, the food was good and we were entertained by a baby cr̬che. Each afternoon Stokey mums wheel their toddlers into the pub and they have a meet up. Quite fascinating Рit was also extremely noisy: - the mums not the kids.

And back to Walthamstow to find that the Council has closed down another take away because of infestation. Two in less than two weeks. We shouldn’t be surprised. The number of take aways in Walthamstow is worrying. In the past it appears to have been the easiest business to get approved by the Council. Now they’ve woken up to the damage such a proliferation can do to the borough. I’m fully in favour of their restrictions on such businesses. Also the Council appears to be taking the elimination of fly tipping, litter and graffiti seriously. Well done!

A general degradation of the environment does so much damage – loss of civic pride, annoyance and anger. No amount of grandiose developments can compensate for that. Let’s hope the Council are focusing their restricted resources on making changes that make a difference rather than competing against fellow boroughs for the tallest, brashest and most expensive white elephant.

Now all we need to do is somehow magic away all those surplus flat developments.

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