There have been other posts here about how writing and walking work together for me. Having just submitted the latest novel (more about this elsewhere), what I really wanted was to embark on a new long walk. My main brain needs a spell in neutral while I plod along admiring the autumn colours in the hope that my subconscious might whir away on new ideas. The current long-term walking project is the Wales Coast Path (earlier post, and a new one to come soon) but I also needed something accessible to tackle in afternoon-length chunks over the next few weeks.
The ideal route turned out to be even closer at hand than I’d hoped and was quite a major surprise. I’ve lived in London and loved it for forty years, but I only discovered the Capital Ring this summer because we stumbled across a section of it on a Sunday afternoon outing. http://www.walklondon.org.uk/route.asp?R=1 The ring now forms a complete circle around London, 78 miles of linked paths along waterways and through neighbourhood parks, patches of ancient woodland and improbable nature reserves. We have done almost a third of it to date, and so far it’s been fascinatingly unexpected and off the beaten track. Who would have thought that the city’s isolated green oases and scrubby back ways actually join up to form a rural meander through layers of history and archaeology? There would be no reason to take a stroll through Plaistow or Woolwich, for example, unless you happen to live or work nearby, but these walks lead you through their cemeteries and alongside the football pitches and past local picnic spots. It’s like being given a glimpse into other people’s lives, as on those winter afternoons before the curtains are closed on lamplit front rooms.
My favourite bit so far has been the stretch from Hackney Wick to Royal Albert dock, across the water from London City Airport. It passes the Olympic Stadium and meanders over the Bow Back Rivers, and then there’s a long stretch laid on top of a huge sewage pipe known as the Northern Outfall Sewage Embankment, or NOSE. Some chuckling sewage engineer must really have enjoyed that one. The stats are: four 9-inch pipes carry the biggest flow of sewage in the country, 100 million gallons a day, to Beckton for treatment before discharge into the Thames.
Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s mid-19th century constructions are mostly still in use. This picture is not of a Victorian church or museum, but the Abbey Mills Pumping Station alongside the NOSE– known as ‘the Temple of Sewage’. It only closed down in 1997. A little further on, the four rather classy minarets mark the corners of the duct carrying the NOSE’s millions of gallons over the main road to Beckton.
I’d never have seen either this or the site of the Royal Albert lock–big enough to carry the liner Mauretania–without having embarked on a weird walk. No perfectly-formed new plot as yet, but it’s there somewhere…
Meanwhile, my beloved agent called to say he loves the new book. My demon inner voice always whispers, ‘Well he would say that, wouldn’t he?’
No word from the publishers as yet. They are all away schmoozing at the Frankfurt Book Fair this week, so the verdict is not imminent.