“Not to find one’s way in a city may well be uninteresting and banal. It requires ignorance, nothing more. But to lose oneself in a city – as one loses oneself in a forest – that calls for quite a different schooling”
When I first moved to London, I was lost, pushed to the peripheries where accommodation was cheaper. In Streatham. Helplessly trying to replicate my small-town life, which was all I knew, I hung around the park, the pubs, the supermarket. Then I moved, improbably, to Kensington. In a flat in a crumbling wedding cake terrace behind the Royal Albert Hall, I shared the street with embassies, fly-by-night businesses and a guy upstairs who played Barry Manilow’s Copa Cabana on loop. It was then that I got living in the centre of a big city: watching the people who left the offices at 8am on Mondays after finishing their cleaning shifts; and the people who left the wedding-cake apartments in 4x4s every Friday, never returning again until Monday morning. The streets looked like the set of an abandoned Roman epic. From my basement flat I could see a tank-like yard where nobody ever went; there seemed to be no way into it.
It was about this time I began walking through London. I crossed and re-crossed the city, each walk tangling with another, each line across my map scoring deeper into the page, erasing other lines, tearing holes in the paper. I made them real, the Monopoly names: Angel to King’s Cross; Mayfair to Piccadilly; Oxford Circus to Marble Arch.
I don’t necessarily like to walk in the better-known parts of London and when I’m walking I’m as interested in the everyday as the extraordinary, perhaps more so. One of my favourite things to do is to avoid the main thoroughfares and take the backstreets which can lead you into a zigzag of connecting streets and alleys, some of which lead to dead ends. If this happens to you, just go with it. You’re not in a hurry and who knows what you will discover. It’s all part of the fun.
Walking aimlessly can also have more serious aims: there’s no better place to work something out, whether it’s a love affair or a mathematical problem. So click the links below to check out my recommended walks in London: