London 2016

Thoughts from a recent trip to London, looking at building, buildings, buildings (more buildings on Flickr). What has changed in the last decade or so, and what does it all tell us about me, Copenhagen, London and life in 2016?

Sunday: Euston Road, Bloomsbury and Midtown

We started out by walking up Hampstead Road from the disused 1907 Euston tube station to Mornington Crescent, the first of many of Leslie Green‘s stations spotted in central London. Despite dying at the ridiculously young age of 33, Green’s impact on tube station design may well equal that of Charles Holden. Then entering ‘forgotten Camden’ (see Tom Bolton’s St Pancras trail) we took in the splendid 1960s St Aloysius RC Church before approaching the three monster stations on Euston Road.

A sort of 19th century Crossrail, the construction process involved in bringing the railways into London extended over the course of 30 years, displacing 30,000 people in the process. St Pancras International was a new one on me, completely renovated from 2001-07 to welcome Eurostar, and now as much shopping destination as station. A symphony in red and white by George Gilbert Scott from 1868, with the kitschy statue to end all kitschy statues in the gallery, its general over-the-topness is not for me.

Much better is King’s Cross, the gateway to the north, where I have taken many a train and met many a parent. It has also changed completely, a 2014 restoration opening up the concourse and revealing Lewis Cubitt’s beautifully simple building from 1852. In contrasting fortunes 1970s style Euston, originally built in classical style by William Cubitt in 1837 but demolished in 1962, is unchanged, with the Euston Arch still found only on pub signs.

Also shined up is the Brunswick Centre from 1972 , an unusual mixed use development with council housing in a ziggurat design alongside a commercial section. Now renamed The Brunswick with repetitive shopping, and still hosting the Renoir Cinema. Of the Bloomsbury squares and gardens we tarried most at Thomas Cubitt’s 1820s Tavistock Square, with its statue of Virginia Woolf set against Denys Lasdun’s 1977 Institute of Education. After that, Charles Holden’s Senate House (1937) seemed almost underwhelming.

Walking down Tottenham Court Road heralded the self-styled Midtown, centred round St Giles Circus and the iconic Centre Point (1966), currently under wraps. Tottenham Court Road tube is transformed, with 2010s style wide open spaces inside (Paolozzi’s 1984 mosaics either in store or in Edinburgh) and Crossrail damage outside. Renzo Piano’s Central St Giles (2010) sets the tone – time will tell how the refurbishment of New Commonwealth House (1939) will fit into this context.

With the rain showing no sign of slackening we then walked through the gloaming down New and Old Bond Streets to Piccadilly, with its splendidly Art Deco Waterstones in the former Simpsons (1936), before taking in Leicester Square and a sumptuous south Indian thali near Warren Street.

Tavistock Square

Virginia Woolf with Denys Lasdun’s 1977 Institute of Education behind

Monday: from Hampstead modernism to the Alexandra Road estate

Hampstead modernism day, starting in Belsize Park at the Lawn Road Flats (1934) then on to Ernö Goldfinger’s house (1938) on Willow Road facing Hampstead Heath. By all accounts a formidable figure and immortalised by Ian Fleming, the house is quite superb, a ‘reintrepretation’ of a Georgian terrace in brick and wood on a concrete foundation.

Up to Parliament Hill for a first look at London’s new skyline and an inspection of dog walking mores in this prime spot. In contrast to Denmark dogs almost entirely off leash – although up to four per person – and having a good time, interacting in an entirely stress free way. A proposed Dog Control Order on a lamp post emphasised there were no plans to force dog owners to put dogs on a lead on any part of the Heath, although they are not allowed in children’s play areas. Icing on the cake: ‘no cycling’ signs throughout.

After lunch we followed the rest of the Hampstead modernism trail, juggling a laptop and the London A-Z. Highlights: New House at 13 Arkwright Road (1939) with its blue porthole, the six houses at Frognal Close designed by Ernst Freud (1937), where a resident asked us if we were architects, and the multicoloured 66 Frognal (1938). Round the corner on Frognal Way, one of London’s most exclusive streets, is Maxwell Fry’s Sun House and Gracie Fields’ rather less titillating house (which she probably never lived in), both from 1934. On a mild Monday afternoon we encountered any number of east European au pairs with their charges as we walked down to Finchley Road to gawk at the prices in estate agents’ windows.

Leaping forward more than 40 years we finished the day at Neave Browne’s Alexandra Road Estate (1978), made up of 520 apartments in three long crescent shaped blocks and bounded on one side by the West Coast Main Line. The first post-war council housing estate to be listed, in 1994, Alexandra Road has had its problems but retains a pleasing green ambience akin to that of a traditional terrace, if not exactly Bath’s Royal Crescent. Looking at features such as staircases and balconies more closely the evolution of brutalism from modernism comes into focus.

Goldfinger's house (1938)

Goldfinger’s house (1938) in Hampstead

Tuesday: the Thames, London Bridge and Bankside

After mopping up some final West End sights time to go south of the river, with a brief jaunt to Vauxhall for the PoMo classic that is Terry Farrell’s MI6 building (1994) and the Vauxhall Tower (180m) on St George’s Wharf, the latter striking the same bum notes as the Strata Tower at Elephant & Castle, neither well designed nor in the right place.

Bypassing the South Bank on this occasion we re-emerged at the for me practically unrecognisable London Bridge, taking in St Olaf House on Tooley Street (1930) before catching Renzo Piano’s Shard (2012, at nearly 310m, the max allowed, the tallest building in the EU; £25 to visit). Then onward to Norman Foster’s bijou City Hall (2002) and More London, our first encounter with the privatised ‘public realm’.

The south bank of the Thames is well laid out for walking, albeit with endless upscale shopping and drinking opportunities on this stretch. The outdated 1980s viewpoints with plaques detailing buildings on the north bank provide some sort of context for the changing skyline and an overview of architectural fashions – what will remain after a further 30 years?

Next, a short stop at Tate Modern, itself undergoing redevelopment with a monster extension due to open in June. The gallery has been open since 2000, but I remember it better as Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s power station hulk, in operation for a scant 30 years. GGS was also responsible for Battersea Power Station, still ‘under redevelopment’ after being decommissioned in 1983. The Oxo Tower just west of Tate Modern, originally built as a power station but rebuilt as an Art Deco cold store in 1929, has found a new role as Oxo Tower Wharf, with a full raft of shopping, eating, housing and cultural uses.

Then over Norman Foster’s Millennium Bridge, a bridge story to rival some of Copenhagen’s, to St Paul’s and Paternoster Square, then onwards to Aldgate, where we were stayed for the next three nights.

London skyline

City skyline from More London

Wednesday: the City and the Barbican

A tortured heap of towers? Foster+Partners’ Gherkin (2003, 180m), aka 30 St Mary Axe and previously the Swiss Re Building, on the site of the bombed in 1992 Baltic Exchange, was in situ the last time I visited London, but it’s Richard Seifert’s 1980 NatWest Tower, now Tower 42, I think of first.

In 2016 though there’s a whole City cluster away from St Paul’s sightlines – notably Richard Rogers’ Cheesegrater (1 Leadenhall; 2013, 225m), across the road from his 1986 Lloyds’ Building, as well as Rafael Vinoly’s infamous Walkie Talkie (2014, 160m; Britain’s most hated buildingstory | Carbuncle Cup) at 20 Fenchurch Street with its Sky Garden (from which you don’t have to look at the thing). Less written about or in your face is the Heron Tower (2011), at 230m the tallest building in the City. Which will last the longest?

What effect is all this having? See climate walk article for starters. Then there’s Crossrail, eliminating numerous blocks, and the general privatisation of public space. Bankrolled by oil money, derided as phallic symbols…but a successful city brand, judging by the number of tourist around in the first week of January. If you enjoy looking up, getting some perspectives on things, it feels well done –  at least if you don’t know what was there before.

On another note, the City is one square mile of prime walking country. Even if you are just popping out for your sandwich/ramen of choice, during office hours the streets are never quiet. Visit the City offers a visitor trail map (“one trail: hundreds of stories”), with a main trail and ‘side-tracks’ for London stories, culture, law and literature, skyscrapers and sculpture, and markets. Each square of the map is approx 400m, or about a five minute walk at a steady 3 mph pace, just feel the walking love…in addition there are 10 city walk leaflets, including a tree trail, and for locals a cornucopia of delights including short lunchtime walks for a quick heritage hit. Apparently Harry Potter tours are a thing, as were James Bond tours around the time of Skyfall, plus anti-capitalism tours such as Occupy London tackling inter alia public realm issues. It never stops…

After all that corporate excess on to old friend the Barbican (story) with its nods to culture (we tracked a lad carrying a tuba across the plaza and back over lunch) and upscale brutalist housing, and the gentrifying 1950s Golden Lane Estate

Gropius shopfront

shopfront designed by Walter Gropius in 1936, at 115 Cannon Street

Thursday: the Olympic Park, Poplar and the East End

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park reopened in Easter 2014. In terms of legacy, without coming over all Twenty Twelve, it shows off a lot of current tropes.

It was rainy and pretty deserted when we visited as part of our packed east London programme, so no time to explore the The Olympic Walk from Sporting Tours of London, good wheeze that. While the revitalised park, “the same size as Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens combined”, seems focused on looking forward, a London 2012 trail guide does offer pointers to what happened where. Designed by the team behind New York’s High Line with waterways, woods and wildlife habitats created on the marshlands, there’s plenty to explore beyond the playgrounds and between the building sites, although this kind of designed experience hides rather than reveals.

The four interactive trails on offer include a guide to the 26 permanent artworks in the park. Biggest is the 114.5m high ArcelorMittal Orbit, Britain’s largest sculpture. You can climb it or abseil down it for £85 (£130 to upgrade to live vid), and a slide will be in action later in 2016. Also offers activities and events. Entry: £12, which feels a bit steep for a view of east London. Rather more pleasing are Ackroyd & Harvey’s 10 History Trees, placed at entry points to the park; in total 4300 trees have been planted in the area.

The Olympic Village, renamed the East Village, is the most developed quarter, a dead ringer for any of Copenhagen’s bland new areas. Scandi style, or just modern style? It certainly didn’t feel like London. Oliver Wainwright in July 2013: “making workable streets from tarmac wastes and weaving housing around velodromes is a difficult and expensive way of producing a good city”. A shopping centre and a new ‘international’ station doesn’t a place make – the arrival of West Ham may be what’s needed. Update: here’s Olly in August 2016.

From Stratford we took the DLR down to Poplar, formed as a district as long ago as 1855 and encompassing areas including Bow, Blackwall and the Isle of Dogs, but from 1965 part of Tower Hamlets. Two town halls remain, both listed: on Poplar High Street (1870) and the Art Deco style New Town Hall on Bow Road (1938), which we missed by turning the wrong way exiting the station.

Poplar plays a key role in the history of social housing in the UK. Between the wars the council built a total of 1500 homes in the area, including the Art Deco Holmsdale House (1938), complete with deck access. In 1951 the first phase of the Lansbury Estate (again; fab article; in 2017 the home of the V&A’s Lansbury Micro Museum) was chosen as the site of the Festival of Britain’s Exhibition of Live Architecture. Alongside is Chrisp Street Market, the first specially designed, covered and pedestrianised shopping centre in the UK with iconic bell tower by Frank Gibberd, from 2012 a Portas Pilot.

A further round of development took place in the 1960s and 1970s resulting in two ‘streets in the sky’ developments. First, the much written about Brownfield Estate, with fairly unobjectionable low rise punctuated by the cluster of Ernő Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower (again; 1967, 84m), accompanied by Carradale House and Glenkerry House, aka the rather more well behaved baby Balfron. Goldfinger and his family stayed in Balfron’s Flat 130 for a whole two months in 1968.

The decision to kick off redevelopment of this concrete monster was made as long ago as 2008, since when some flats have provided live-work accommodation for a posse of artists. Other tenants have gradually been ‘decanted’ elsewhere, with the block to be refurbished for sale on the open market. A certain amount of hooha was caused in October 2014 when the Goldfinger flat was done up Sixties style by the National Trust and opened to heritage fans for 10 days as part of Bow Arts’ Balfron Season. Still awaiting refurbishment it all felt pretty desolate with wind of Himalayan proportions – a major treat for concrete fans.

Nearby is the Smithsons’ Robin Hood Gardens (1972), “an urban solution to an impossible site” and perhaps rather too clever for its own good, due (again) to be pulled down soon – there were CPO notices hanging by the entrance. Expecting something on the scale of Sheffield’s Park Hill, the 214 flats actually felt full of potential, and rather more viable than the Balfron wind tunnel, but is seems it is not to be.

Fascinating round here, so close to 1990s Docklands and so clearly on the cusp of 2010s gentrification, with three hotspots on the London campaigns map and cycle superhighway CS3 passing through. More wandering took us to Bartlett Park with its eponymous Brookside style close, complete with two private land signs and a burnt out church.

As for the rest of the East End, despite having visited London countless times from birth and living there from 1987-93 I had no mental map at all, but can now vaguely place what were formerly merely names, known mainly from the Monopoly board, with any number of leads to follow up. Our final impression was the creeping approach of the City, with Commercial Street gradually crumbling away – our bus to the airport left from beside a hoarding surrounding the one remaining wall of the 1929 Fruit & Wool Exchange.

St Leonard's Road, Poplar

converted church and WW1 war memorial at St Leonard’s Road, Poplar

Our trip summed up: a reminder that humanity comes in lots of different shapes and sizes. People just getting on with their lives, without being channelled into an approved lifestyle. People meeting your eye and not looking away (and talking extremely loudly), creating interaction and even a sense of wellbeing. And trees make a city – everywhere should have a Tree Routes app.

Tidy uptight Copenhagen is in a different place on its gentrification journey, with hipsters largely confined to the city centre and few creatives spotted on Vestegnen thus far. Social housing has been rather better maintained than in the UK, and most new housing is going up on brownfield sites left by the collapse of the harbour and related industries, extending King Canute-like onto reclaimed land. But Amager looks like becoming the first front line, as Ørestad pushes its shiny face into the older neighbourhoods of Sundby and Tårnby (which at a pinch translates as Tower Hamlets), creating some awkward transitions.

And Denmark has a different sense of place, very much of the here and now, with style (aka design) winning over substance. Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that this focus on surface is because there are fewer layers left to unpeel? And that some of the attraction for expat Guardianistas and journos is just how these differences play out? Or is it all just another successful city branding strategy?

Reading: Brutalism:Online | Concretopia: John Grindrod’s book, blog & timeline | London’s: footpathstallest buildings | London Deco FlatsModernism in Metro-Land | Modernist BritainMunicipal Dreams | Museum of London: City & Docklands | Spitalfields Life | Walk London | Adrian Yekkes: East End Modernism & More Hampstead Modernism & London Art Deco part 1 | part 2 | part 3 | yet more. Also Homes of tomorrow, audio on Goldfinger’s “utopian drive to build for a better world”. 

Some East End walks: Alternative LondonBrick Lane and Spitalfields cultural trail | Jack the Ripper tours (at least 10) | The Missing Voice (Case Study B) (Whitechapel) | Memoryscape (inc Royal Docks, Victoria Park) | Soundmap (Brick Lane) | Tower Hamlets walks & trails | A walk through Spitalfields’ stories. See also Richard White’s social walk in QEOP (blog) in May 2015.

Finally, Nairn…two pub walks (London Review Bookshop | Caught by the River), plus Gillian Darley on the bus.

B_Tour Belgrade

Quick look at B_Tour Belgrade (Facebook), from the team which brought you B_Tour Berlin and ran from 26-28 September:

The festival examines current needs of urban life and how artistic strategies can be used as a tool to explore possible answers to these needs…The tours deal with civil participation in public space, urban life and its socio-historical context. They are led either by the artists in person or the artists’ narrations in the form of audio tours, instruction guides/texts or maps.

12 tours by international and local artists, plus two talks, on local cultural urban initiatives and their artistic practices, and on the politics of public space and the idea of a participatory city.

Tours of particular interest:

  • Audio walk: Savamala – the story of an elderly resident of Savamala who retells its history through the memories of his childhood, comparing its past with its present and inviting the listener to think about its future; see Spuren Suche
  • B-B – Berlin and Belgrade, “two cities that have much in common but are yet so different. The tour will take you through two cities at once: one visited ‘live’ and the other presented interactively through visual and audio material, showing some surprising similarities and highlighting the transformations taking place. Can we feel one city while walking through another?”; see vid for some nice overlays, esp at the Reichstag (at around 0:45)
  • B-mapping – audio tour of the everyday, created from the stories, experiences, ideas and dreams of anyone who has a connection to Belgrade; see also have you ever been to Belgrade? and the JIAC B-mapping Belgrade project
  • I’m a stranger – “on the one hand the city is a site of meetings and exchanges, criss-crossing networks of personal routes and private maps; on the other it is an environment where one can easily get lost among the boundless number of strangers; this tour allows participants a double experience and a dual role: first as a map-maker, recording their own path; then as a map-reader, following a stranger’s route and seeing the city through their eyes”
  • Reversed cartography: from online map to the streets of Vracar – the participants of the Days of Remembrance workshop who made the Vracar map will come out of their virtual presence to tell their stories in person (also seen at Living Maps April)
  • Temporary viewing platforms – visiting places that offer a wide or interesting view; usually not accessible to the public, such as private apartments and public buildings with limited access, flat rooftops and open terraces, seeing the same landscape from different angles; takes place in two peripheral residential areas
  • The better the coffee the longer the queue – mapping the effects of the Belgrade Waterfront redevelopment project on the Savamala area and its historic coffee shops, as well as Belgrade’s culture in general; “through history Savamala embodied a specific spirit, not only as a border area between two empires (Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman), but also a place of great importance for a growing Belgrade”
  • Die Wohnung – Bauhaus in Belgrade?

Lots of audio, and history, to ponder. See also the Belgrade Sound Map.

Bern: walking city

Update, 2016: In praise of the tram – it’s time to follow the Swiss model, which has led to Zurich having “the lowest modal share of car transport of almost any global city of comparable size”.

We recently spent eight days in Switzerland. Being fans of the whistle stop tour the original plan was to visit a city in each of the three major language regions, but our itinerary kept shrinking and in the end we only visited the German speaking part of the country, spending time in Bern, Basel, Zürich and Luzern.

Our journey started on New Year’s Eve with the overnight train from Copenhagen to Basel. The fireworks were already starting in Hvidovre as we left, having delivered the beagles to the safer haven of Roskilde. After sustenance of a sort at CPH station we boarded our two person sleeper – more private than a couchette, but a little claustrophobic. My partner chooses to retire early, which left me perched on the lower bunk looking out at the fireworks at midnight in Hamburg and beyond.

As a German graduate there’s something magical for me in travelling the length of Germany through the night. I was awake at Frankfurt, where I studied, and we had breakfast in Freiburg, travelling through the Schwarzwald and over the border to Basel. We then hopped on a train to Bern, arriving there around an hour later.

In common with Scotland both 1st and 2nd January (Berchtoldstag) are public holidays in the German speaking part of Switzerland. This meant limited shopping opportunities, however the slick modern station, like many in Germany, had a wealth of shops and supermarkets of the everyday variety so this was not really an issue. With a branch of ace vegan buffet restaurant Tibits just outside the station we were well set. Our hotel was a little way out of town but it was easy to take a tram outside the station. On the second evening we walked back, getting more of the feel of the suburbs. All in all, despite it being a holiday period, the impression we got was of a lively well functioning city.

Bern’s centre, a UNESCO World Heritage site, includes 6km of arcades, the largest in Europe. The weather was clement, but I can imagine that it wouldn’t really be an issue to get around when cold or snowing. There were plenty of reasons to be out and about – for example the small park behind the cathedral was historic, not an artificial construction, and included a mini-library. All over the city there were people simply sitting and reading, no longer warding off TB, but probably old habits die hard. As it stays lighter longer there’s more of an impetus to sit out, plus glimpses of the Berner Oberland, the Eiger and the Jungfrau, don’t really hurt.

All around town were yellow Walk your city style signs with the walking time to particular locations. Turns out that these are standard Swiss hiking signs – perhaps Walk your city got some inspiration from Switzerland. There were also cycling signs and a city bike depot, but these did not seem over-used.

Bern is home to the Zentrum Paul Klee, of taking a line for a walk fame, and the city fathers haven’t shirked on building on this connection (see article auf deutsch | video). 54 Wege zu Klee signs connect streets and landmarks to Klee and his works, leading you onward:

(pics from the Wege zu Klee Facebook page)

Three routes around the city and beyond (see trail maps for Zentrum Paul Klee circular walk | station to ZPK), plus street names further underline aspects of walking:

With many Klees currently on show at Tate Modern the main exhibition at the ZPK was on Klee’s life and work, making the man himself come alive. Of particular note was the letter signed by the Bauhaus professorial team after Paul went AWOL – it was easy to picture Walter Gropius going round getting everyone to sign it. A second exhibition with paintings from the collection of Frankfurter Hanne Becker included lots of highlights for Expressionism fans.

Klee update, July: clearly a fan, three sections in Philip Hensher’s new novel, The Emperor Waltz, are set in the Bauhaus, and he wrote a lengthy piece around the Tate exhibition as well as a nice entry in the Guardian’s my hero series: “Somewhere in the afterlife, I am going to accompany [Klee’s] violin in the Brahms G major sonata.”

More Bernese walks and related:

Update: several holidays later I’m forced to concede that planned photo essays on Basel and Zurich aren’t going to happen. Both cities were great sources of inspiration – Basel for its border town position in a triangle between France and Germany and multiple railway stations, the Rhine, its stress on walking the city and trams creating life even on a Sunday…we went on two guided walks, at the Vitra Design Museum across the border in Germany and at Rudolf Steiner’s unique Goetheanum in the nearby village of Dornach.

Zurich, jockeying with Copenhagen in the liveable city lists, was more elusive. Stand-outs were our first James Joyce Museum, Umsicht, an urban development exhibition we found by chance in the university, and Zurich West, with the house which refuses to give way to shiny new things. Need to go back!

Simon Armitage walks home

photo credit: Guardian

In 2010 Simon Armitage took a walk down the Pennine Way and wrote a book about it, Walking home. Like his earlier book, All points north (1999), it’s laugh out loud funny in a very British way – self deprecation to the max.

Reviews: Amazon (with both sides of the argument) | Goodreads | Google Books (long excerpt) | Guardian 1 & 2 (extract) | LibraryThing

The walk is described as a ‘troubadour journey’ – Simon walked without a penny in his pocket, stopping along the way to give poetry readings in village halls, churches, pubs and living rooms for bed and board. So, yet another walking challenge or project. Entertainingly, at one point he is in danger of bumping into Seamus Heaney, also undertaking a walking project at the same time. And. as I discovered when looking at his website, in 2013 he’s writing the follow-up – Walking away, a journey from Minehead in Somerset along the north coast of the South West Coast Path to Land’s End and beyond…which rather spoils it for me. There are sateliite events, two articles in the Guardian (1 & 2) and everything. It’s not quite Ed and Will’s Walk around Britain.

For a taste of Simon’s deadpan style listen to his #rambings episode, part of the Stuart Maconie season on city skylines. The lads take a ramble on Marsden Moor near Saddleworth, aka Posh Oldham.

Saddleworth is a bit schizophrenic, having been part of Yorkshire until 1974. The moors are the lungs of the north. Simon talks about how the logic of a walk keeps you going, you are in competition with it and have to win. It’s mentally hard work, a different sort of challenge from other stresses such as deadlines. Walking pace mimics a heartbeat, and also the iambic pentameter, say some…walking is a process not a product. The Pennines are the spine of England, with a drop on one side to the North Sea and on the other to the Irish Sea, with views on this walk of Jodrell Bank and Beetham Tower at the end of Deansgate, the fourth tallest residential building in Europe. Fab.

The Bath Beat and four more skyline walks

Ramblings 17, hosted by ‘passionate hiker’ Stuart Maconie in early 2011, was a series of six city skyline walks aimed at making the most of short winter days. Do spring and autumn offer deeper sensory experiences, with more changes of colour?

Bath Skyline followed the National Trust’s Bath Skyline Walk, their most popular download with 9K a year, it’s even got its own Twitter account (@NTBathSkyline). See the route overview, with non-zoomable map.

Bath, like Rome and a few other places, is built on seven hills, but is now known for its hen nights. Stuart’s walk (6 mile circular, on a ridge) was in the company of the Bath Beat walking group: specialised equipment rating probably around 3. The walk took in a number of POIs (scroll!), such as the university, Solsbury Hill, the British Bobsleigh Track, Sham Castle and Smallcombe (hamlet, 5 mins from central Bath), ending up on Bathwick Hill with views inter alia of Bath Abbey, Kelston Tower House and Pulteney Bridge (one of four bridges in the world with shops across its full span on both sides).

Points of personal interest, aka even more curious facts corner:

  • Bath dogs home is one of the first UK dogs’ homes, opened in 1937, and pioneer of the no destruct policy (currently houses 130 dogs)
  • mention of Street Pastors, never heard of these before I came across Natteravnene in Denmark
  • industrial heritage – the walk passed Bathampton Rocks, a limestone quarry, with deserted tramways used for transporting stone downhill to the Kennet and Avon Canal (mid 1700s)
  • Ralph Allen – bcame a postmaster at the age of 19, wanted the view of a castle from his home at Prior Park so built Sham Castle, a one wall facade complete with drawbridge and portcullis

Updates: several cities have spawned their own specialist publishers – the Akeman Press list includes a guide to Bath with 15 walks and another with 11 literary walks. Plus Bill Aitchison has covered the walk on his Bath tour of tours.

The other episodes in the series:

  • Belfast – the perspective from the Belfast Hills, where you can’t see the murals or the peace walls, but on a clear day can see Galloway
  • Lancaster – traversed by both Robert the Bruce and Bonnie Prince Charlie, plus hosts the Taj Mahal of the North
  • The Garth, outside Cardiff, offered up the story of The Englishman who went up a hill but came down a mountain (plus 2008 re-run)
  • The Lickey Hills – overlooking Birmingham and its five hills, one of which doesn’t really make it…the flat middle of England, no higher point between Beacon Hill and the Urals (that’s some viewshed); a train sponsored by Cadbury for the benefit of its workers used to run to the top; perfect for a Sunday constitutional or to get inner city types into the countryside – all very Living Streets and why not? “walking is still not really viewed as a valid form of physical activity”

I’ll cover the Manchester episode with Simon Armitage elsewhere here.

Ramblings 23: walk for self improvement

Ramblings 23 looked at walks for self improvement:

The Walking Book Group 

Clare joins Emily’s Walking Book Club for their monthly meeting on Hampstead Heath, all very north London. Described as a gentle stroll for around an hour, 15 people (14 women, one man) aged 35-65 attended. The man walked at the front.

From the group walk point of view, having a book to discuss meant there was no need for awkward small talk. From the book club POV, it felt more relaxed than a ‘sitting down’ club at someone’s house, which can be quite competitive, particularly regarding cakes.

People drifted into smaller groups to chat, meaning that everyone had a voice, rather than one voice dominating. It was relaxed, both in terms of the discussion and the route of the walk – walking breaks down barriers and makes people more confident.

Found some nice things on Emily’s blog:

Similar walking book clubs have been set up in Edinburgh (stop it; can’t trace mind) and Exmoor. Now then, wonder if the north CPH book club could be tempted? And can I – my main problem with book clubs is that they never discuss anything I want to read. Should I maybe try a three circle Venn diagram with Dogenhagen? That would be just me, you see.

Back on Hampstead Heath, a 2010 #ramblings with the Harrow Road walkers included comments on the views from different vantage points around London and seeing things from a different angle. As well as a splendid metaphor, this reminded me of my brother’s comment about “the queer folk” who live round the back of Arthur’s Seat. It’s just not right…

Walking for spiritual renewal

Clare undertakes some mindful walking, staying in the moment and dipping into the body…we can’t stop thinking, thoughts pop up but don’t follow them (stop endlessly pursuing the same thoughts) – concentrate on each footfall instead. A calming and soothing way to walk.

Walking has a soothing quality, it engages both body and mind. You don’t have to look into your companion’s eyes (so it’s a good way to impart bad news) and provides natural breaks. A walk around the block can be enough to give yourself space and relieve stress. But we need to learn to trust silence, which doesn’t come naturally to most.

Some sports also give you the chance to concentrate on the body – see not walking but…

Walking with friends

Clare and two friends do a two hour circular walk, around six miles – enough to get your heart rate up and muscles working, but not enough to hurt. It’s a nice thing to do together and a good thing to slow down.

They don’t use maps but rely on Google (search: walk from…not sure what this means, didn’t work for me; phone thing?).

Toyah Wilcox, David Sedaris

Six miles (again) with Toyah and her dodgy hip, followed by a litter pick with David Sedaris.

Barefoot walker

On a February day when the “sky has no colour, sort of grey” Clare walks barefoot with Michael Weltike. Barefoot walking, known as ‘earthing’, helps him to feel centred and connected with the earth. We look up rather than down when we are walking, and are hence not in direct contact with the earth and its electromagnetic benefits. The energy exchange of walking barefoot can be harmonising and balancing. Michael also takes dew baths.

See Barefoot Ramblings for more.