During the past few months, for very boring reasons, I’ve been spending a bit of time running relatively long distances around London.
It’s been quite a revelation. London is, as every Saint Etienne fan knows, a very big place1.
It’s hard to find the time to walk around very much of it, just because the distances are so big. I used to cycle occasionally, but everything goes by a bit quick that way and you’re liable to crash if you spend too much time looking around you. Running turns out to be a pretty good compromise. I’ve been through more interesting bits of London—many of them via canal or river routes—during these few months than I have in years.
I’ve lived in London for nearly 18 years and in west London for ten, yet I’d never before seen the splendid Peace Pagoda in Battersea Park up close, been along the leafy Thames path on the south bank west from Putney, realised that Trellick Tower (below right) sits on the canal side, or had any sense of the relationship between the westbound road, rail, and canal routes from the Paddington basin. (Did you know the canal goes over the North Circular?)
I’d worked near Mile End for six years without ever having been along the Lee Navigation or seen the dramatic Bow locks—never mind peering at the near-future Olympic site.
And I’ve worked in Docklands, yet the only time I’d ever been through Wapping and joined the dots between docks and City was on 7/7, walking home across London when all the transport was out.
I even realised recently that, no matter how many times I may have passed the front of the Palace of Westminster, I’d never been along the length of the building to get any real impression of the scale of it.
I’m not completely ignorant of this place: I know my way around the City and West End well enough, I’ve spent a lot of time walking in various areas further out, I’ve lingered in the Barbican and on the South Bank and so on—which is partly why it’s been so much fun to be reminded how much even of central London I’ve still never properly seen.
1 Apparently the quote about London at the start of You’re In A Bad Way is from the film Billy Liar. I’ve seen the film since becoming familiar with the song, and I didn’t even notice the line. Hopeless, I am.