Apart from going on a number of planned walks throughout 2016, towards the end of the year I managed to head on a number of more random jaunts out into a variety of places. Though the reel of photos I took has come back mixed in terms of quality, the walks were still interesting enough for me to want to write about them. Three in particular stood out and are detailed below.
Down The Lea Valley with Gary Budden
On the wettest day I had encountered since moving to London, I agreed to go on a walk with the writer, Gary Budden. Knowing East London well, he wanted to show me the many interesting things found in the Lea Valley and the landscape around London’s more subtle river. Unwisely dressed, I made my way to Tottenham Hale station, not far from where Gary’s publishing house office is at Influx Press. Getting off at the station and meeting him, I think the weather generally took us both by surprise with how consistently wet it was. We made our way through the puddles and under a bridge to the Lea tow path, avenued by warm looking canal boats. Though there would be obvious difficulties during the winter months living on such a boat, I still haven’t shaken off the feeling that I would quite like to live in such a way at some point during the next few years. We spotted Cormorants on the old iron work as we walked further down the route, finding many old remnants of an industrial past, and eventually coming to Springfield Park; a place I hadn’t been in since February when filming my Harold Pinter short in the park’s bandstand.
We wandered back onto the river’s path, the conversation veering between Robert Aickman and fascism as the pathway through Hackney became more and more wooded. We eventually found ourselves on the Hackney football pitches with the high-rise buildings of our destination, Stratford, lurking in the distance. I lose track in my mind whereabouts the filter marshes and the “Hackney Henge” were on our travels but they were visited too; places emptied by the weather but, with the huge increase in trendy pubs and bars along the path, undoubtedly busy in summer. Walking through another huge forest (littered with evidence of occult ceremonies) and under a daunting motor-bridge, we followed the path back along the Lea; bordered by more narrow-boats but also an increasingly antiseptic array of buildings and restaurants on show the nearer we got to Stratford and to the Olympic Park.
Eventually, after getting lost around the horrific maze of concrete that Stratford has been turned into, we ended our walk in the surreal Timber coffee bar in the Queen Elizabeth Park. This is where my last walk in the area (with John Rogers) began and it felt a fitting if surreal end; the bar is a timber lodge, adjoined by a crèche with expensive (albeit lovely) coffee, playing early noughties jazz fusion loudly on the speakers. Gary and I agreed to continue the Lea walk at a later date, planning to follow the river all of the way down from here right to the Lea Mouth as it enters the Thames.
A visit to Harold and James (Kensal Green)
One of the things I learned from my walk with Gary was that two of my favourite writers, Harold Pinter and J.G. Ballard, are buried within almost touching distance in the same graveyard: Kensal Green Cemetery. Having banned myself from the tube in order to try and save money, I opted to walk from Victoria to Kensal Green in order to visit their graves. It was a long walk, partly elongated by the sheer number of people out and about that day. It was a few weeks before Christmas and Hyde Park had been turned into a nightmare by the winter wonderland showcase; hoards of people queued to enter this horror-filled realm of candy-floss and amusement arcades. I wandered as quickly as possible through the park, eventually finding my way into Notting Hill. Having walked this area extensively for a while now, I opted to change my route and avoid Portobello Road for the time being. Instead I found Ladbroke Grove Road and walked all of the way along until the people died away and the graveyard came into sight.
There was another reason for visiting this cemetery; it’s where the graveyard sequences for the film version of John Osborne’s Look Back In Anger (1959) are filmed by Tony Richardson. I imagined Richard Burton laying flowers on a grave, the gasworks and canal just in view (though still in use when the film was shot). It took an age to find Pinter’s and Ballard’s graves as I had neglected to research fully whereabouts they were in the relatively large area of tombs. By sheer chance, I spotted Ballard and subsequently Pinter, sharing a few brief words with them and clearing the dead leaves off the latter’s grave. His is a horizontal stone on the ground rather than a standing grave and clearly accumulates debris with ease. I imagined the conversations that took place here at night, debating language, London and sex. Making my way back, I wanted to find another film location that had recently been a regular in my viewing and swerved back into Notting Hill for proper.
On Ladbroke Grove Road, I had spotted Ernő Goldfinger’s famous brutalist tower, recognising the streets as a haven for black power activism in the 1970s, showcased in films such as Pressure (1975) and Burning An Illusion (1981). I wandered into the now heavily gentrified area and was enamoured with the building. I’ve always had a soft spot for this area, its market (in spite of its tourist image) very much retaining that older, idiosyncratic character of London, full of hermits, collectors and knock-off sellers. One of my favourite stops on the road is the Vinyl Cafe; a regular haunt since my teens. I escaped the bustling market crowds and sat in the window, half reading Moby Dick.
I remember a girl catching my eye and beaming an impossibly happy smile towards me as my view lifted momentarily from my book. It took me by surprise and warmed the winter afternoon to an astonishingly embarrassing degree; had I really not experienced such a simple form of empathy in so long? I later told my friend how happy this moment had made me and she was pleasantly intrigued as to how a smile from someone attractive had the power to augment a day and mood. It was perfectly regular and normal to her. I felt oddly alien and remembered how isolated my work life had made me during these last few months, albeit in vain.
I went back up north for my father’s birthday (a month in advance) in November. I was equally up there to look after Falstaff, the cat that lives with my mother, but managed to find time to go on a short excursion to North Wales. In the town of Llangollen, a place I’ve visited more times than probably any other in the whole the United Kingdom (for a reason too embarrassing to convey here), a hill overlooks the town and has been a constant in my life. At the top of this hill, apart from excellent views out onto the valley beyond, lies a beautiful ruin of a fort. It’s rather like Weathertop from Lord Of The Rings though Llangollen is distinctly lacking in Nazgul. The day was windy and so we made our way up quickly, along the muddy path and up the steep incline of the hill. It’s rare to find this hill deserted and we met a variety of walkers on their various ways up and down.
On getting to the top, the breeze was making our cagoules produce a white noise effect, such was the constant rustling that it caused to the fabric. I wandered over to a particularly favourite part of the ruin to take in the view while my dad experimented with a lens on his camera. This view had meant a great deal to me when younger, even going so far as to carry a copy of it around school, peeking at it in between lessons as an escape. It became so crumpled in my pocket that the view virtually disintegrated but I remember the almost magical feeling of carrying such a landscape around inside my school blazer. We made our way back down the hill, trying not to slip over on the crumbling stone pathway at the hill’s top-most part. I wondered if Llangollen would one day be a ruin, visited in the same way by eager walkers on winter days; in some future emergency, when the banks of the river, already raging as was clear from the view from The Corn Mill that day, burst their banks and swept away the car parks and shops. There was a dipper bobbing up and down on one of the rocks near the restaurant, happy to be alive as it foraged for food around its own rocky island in the middle of the river.