Saturday was a good day. We try to alternate hard and easy weekend walks and, as our date with the Sutherland Trail approaches, we’re reluctant to push really hard: if we overstrain our knees now, we’ll regret it. Reason for a London walk 🙂 The unforgiving pavement makes even an 8 mile/13km walk seem hard, but the low mileage leaves our knees happy – and we get to eat good food and see strange sights. This time we started with an early lunch in Borough Market (roast pork sandwich for him, bratwurst and sauerkraut for me, a lamington stuffed in my bag for emergencies, then headed east on the Thames Path running on the south bank.
Another reason to walk: to test my new lightweight Panasonic camera – it won’t do RAW files, but it’s half the weight of the Canon and it does panoramic views. The City lines the north bank; can you spot the spire of St Dunstan-in-the-East? The fretwork delicacy of Wren’s steeple is a reminder of how badly east London suffered during WWII as the Germans sought to destroy the Pool of London. Further east we walked past street after street after street of postwar housing, built to replace the streets demolished during ‘The Blitz‘. I’m kicking myself for not taking a photo of one of the rare pre-war buildings standing in a sea of 1960s council houses, but I was too busy wondering how we’d cope today with the stresses of such a war.
As we reach Hays Galleria, once a major tea and cheese wharf, I take the opportunity to photograph ‘The Navigators’, a sculpture that intrigues me. Apparently the paddles move, the prow appears to slice through the water, but I’ve never seen it working.
It’s a witty and humorous piece that, for me at least, doesn’t touch the wistfulness that colours this walk. In the 21st century the south bank of the Thames is lined with bars and cafés and smart offices and trendy living space.
Only the names on the streets and the warehouses converted to smart flats with views of the river commemorate the history of this area. I brush my hand against the brickwork as we walk and wonder if, under the bright modern paint, the buildings smelt of spices and coffee and tea and cheese and hides, if I sat quietly in a corner late, late at night I’d hear echoes of the voices of the dockers swearing and sweating as they shifted the goods that made Britain ‘Great’. It’s a strange place, this. To me the historic past is far more concrete, more real, than the present built on imagined financial wealth. But we can’t turn the clock back, and it will be some time before the world turns far enough that any nation will be able to build an empire once more.
Look back upriver and see a classic view: the dome of St Pauls, Tower Bridge and the City of London. And don’t neglect to consider the Thames itself, without which none of this would be. Try to imagine the scene as the Romans saw it, a muddy river flowing through marsh and low islands. This is one of the myriad things I love about London: it’s a time machine. The city has existed in the landscape and in the minds of its inhabitants and the larger world for over 2000 years. Walk through London and you are walking through time made concrete, stone and timber. And water. Because without the Thames, there’d be no reason for London.
We continued east to Surrey Docks. Compare the tiny map at top right on that page (all the docks! Think of the ships unloading goods from Canada, Russia, Norway. Furs, timber, amber, explorers!) with the area on Google Maps today:
We were planning to be in Leicester Square by about 1630, so it was time to either turn back or (if there was pedestrian access) walk under the river in the Rotherhithe Tunnel. Wikipedia assured us we could do it even if the riverside shafts and their spiral stairs were closed (which they were). So we walked back to the road and entered Purgatory, a constant roar of traffic and haze of car exhaust. I tried not to think about “A 2003 survey rated the Rotherhithe Tunnel the tenth most dangerous tunnel in the whole of Europe due to its poor safety features. Its proximity to the river also made it vulnerable to flooding, as happened in the 1928 Thames flood…” The emergency signs for pedestrians were notable for their uselessness: small green and yellow images of a running figure with an arrow pointing ahead labelled ‘north exit’ and another pointing back, labelled ‘south exit’.
That photo was taken below the bed of the Thames. I didn’t stop walking to take it, either! At the north end we turned west and followed the Thames back to the City. Through Wapping to St Katherines Docks, past the Tower to Waterloo, where we headed north to Covent Garden and Leicester Square, arriving with time to enjoy an ice cream (I had to repeat ‘raspberry’ twice for a tourist enamoured of my accent) before sitting down (ah, bliss!) to watch Coraline. An amazing film. Wonderful, amazing, incredibly detailed, deeply unsettling and it all ends as well as things can in Neil Gaiman’s worlds. It’s a fairytale. A proper one, with lessons learned. Go and see it. And pay particular attention to Althea Crome’s knitting! Apparently you can knit your own Coraline sweater from the pattern here (I’m not competent to judge whether or not that’s a good pattern). And after that we had dinner, and then we went home. The End.
Speaking of knitting. Our credit card bill arrived on Friday. I opened it, my eyes ran lightly down the transactions list (as one does) and stopped in their tracks at a purchase from Blue Moon Fiber Arts. Last month. I didn’t buy anything from BMFA last month. I checked the date. It was the day I tried to remove the beads from my Aeolian, the day I broke it, the day I’d told him the sad story in the same way that, as a child, I told my parents of the lessons I’d learned when I’d done something stupid. When he arrived home on Friday evening I explained that A Friend had a Dilemma. She’d checked a credit card bill and found a transaction that her partner probably didn’t intend her to see. Should she not say anything and leave him thinking she didn’t check the bills, or should she…. at this point he said “I hoped it would arrive before the bill did”. Reader, I don’t deserve him. Really. I must have been ever so good in a previous life.
Here’s some more knitting; in some strange way, 5 repeats of this unutterably boring knit was penance for my Aeolian stupidity. I am now on the 12th, theoretically-final repeat of the Maikell centre panel but, given I’m using thinner yarn and smaller needles, it’s far too small. So I’m going for 18. And then I will pick up stitches around the edge and knit a border outward. If the Estonian knitters had had circs, they’d have used them 🙂