In accordance with my firm principles of vacillation, indecision and procrastination I eschew any sort of proper planning and spend the morning chatting on the internet, idly trying to decide whether to set off today or not.  Then I have lunch and watch Football Focus.  Then back to chat a bit more.
Eventually though there is simply nothing for it. I either have to set off walking or else do the washing up.
It has been a brutally cold end to February and though March has just started it is not much warmer. Worse it is dull so doesn't promise much light wise for photography. But it isn’t raining and I have to work next Saturday.  So with this surge of positivity I sling an A to Z into the day sack and set off.

Through the door I see a bus off to the bus garage which is further down the street.

Around the corner, this used to be the bus –drivers pub, called The Drum and Monkey, but now it is another gastro-pub, bizarrely re-named the Oak and Pastor. 

The first part of this walk is my walk to work for the last 12 years. In fact I plan to take a short detour to where I work so that I have a photographic record for care workers to annoy me with when I get dementia.


The first place of interest is the Cat’s Protection League headquarters, or rather their secret lair. This is where they hatch their plans to cut the bollocks off all the male cats in the world. What do they stroke while they cackle and plot?  Small crocodiles probably, but there is a black dog who lives there which you have to admit is pretty suspicious.

About ten years ago it got the most incredible make-over, due apparently to them being left enormous quantities of cash by cat-mad old ladies.  One of their neighbours said they spent a million pounds on it.

A little further and, even more unexpectedly we come across the mystic Temple of Shao Lin where “grasshoppers” learn Kung Fu.  You thought it was perched on some mist wreathed mountain in the heart of China, didn’t you?  Yeah, me too. But actually it is in Tufnell Park by the railway line.  When we had the riots, they closed it up, which I thought was funny.  Surely kung fu monks could deal with a few hoodies on the rampage?

Tufnell Park junction itself and here I turn off down Burleigh Road, past the school I pass at least twice every working day, and then into Ingestre Road.

Where Ingestre Road dog legs round to the left there is a railway footbridge. Two actually. And this pipe. I have been vaguely wondering if that is the subterranean River Fleet for the last 12 years. Might just be a sewer I suppose.

Now we are on the Ingestre Road Estate. Not a very salubrious looking housing development due to it being designed by raving petrol-headed lunatics, largely for the convenience of cars. But, despite the awful, dominating garages it is OK with a strong community.

Up the ramp and across the little square.  Being designed for people rather than the car-cyborgs this is the most successful bit of the estate, with a residential home for older people facing the community centre where I work across the square.

Then it is down steps to the yawning void of another giant garage tall enough for double decker buses.

To exit the estate by foot you can go down Little Green Street, which is often described as Dickensian for obvious reasons (I cannot think of anything else).  Cobbled with bow windows this is part of the oldest part of Kentish Town along with some buildings over the road and, a little further up, the elegant Georgian Grove Terrace, the oldest houses of which date from 1780. I would tell you a story about Grove Terrace and the Baader Meinhoff Gang,  dew my troot warn’t so dry (obscure News from Dumpton reference).

So on down Highgate Road. This used to be called Green Street (thus Little Green Street).  At the bottom is The Forum, a well known music venue.

 The Bull and Gate next door is famous for its gigs too, 

Graffiti artists have helpfully kept this handy Kentish Town sign painted for many years. It helps prevent people getting lost I expect.
By now I needed the toilet. Yeah, I know, I should have gone before I set off. But I didn’t. So I try the MacDonalds but there is a queue. I think there might be a kid’s party at first and then I realise that it is divorced dad’s Saturday. The stereotype is justified it seems.

So I carry on.  Past Blustons which is a favourite shop amongst some of the older ladies on the project I work for.  I used to take one lady out in a wheelchair from time to time and we would always go and look at the flowery frocks.  She didn't ever want to buy one, just to look at them and you can see why.  Alone of all the shops in Kentish Town High Street Blustons looks as if it has not changed in 50 years.  Even the dresses in the window look like they belong in the 1950s.

Anyway, I nip up Gaisford street and Bartholomew Villas to the Health Centre to use the toilets.  Of course it is closed.  When they revamped this a few years back there was a lot of hype about how these local medical centres would replace hospital services.  But it is shut at weekends!  Brilliant.
To be honest I was cynical already.  We had a client two doors away who fell and cut his head open (ironically an occupational therapist has come to look at how to make his house safer for falls and he was showing her around!) and so I nipped into the health centre to see if a doctor could come or we could bring him across. It was only a little cut but they could do absolutely nothing, no doctor or nurse was available, so we had to get an ambulance, and he was taken off, away from his 97 year old wife, to hospital where he was kept for days. Remember this story next time they try to justify closing a hospital or A&E near you on the grounds that they are building a spiffy new neighbourhood health centre in the area.  And remember these closed gates on a Saturday afternoon.

Fuming I resume my walk. Past Cash Converters which, if you look at the photo you will see is one of the lost tube stations of London.

A short walk takes me down to the canal where I have a choice. There is a toilet in Camden Town, one of the last working municipal toilets in this spiral arm of the galaxy, but I really want to walk along the Regent’s Canal for a bit. I decide to risk it and set off down the tow-path.  I pass a canal boat which is having trouble getting through the lock, due to the boat people not having opened the gates properly. I consider climbing round the fence to open it further for them but decide that it is more constructive to point, laugh and take photographs.

And then I am at Camden Lock.
 Camden Lock on a Saturday? Am I insane? Well I do have this great plan to build a housing estate entirely for cars.
Seriously, Camden Lock at the weekend is a horror fit only for foriegn teenage language students.  I have successfully avoided this for at least a decade.

Fortunately the crush is not too bad.
 I cross the road and plunge into the market. The bit by what used to be Dingwalls has turned into a food market with stalls from everywhere imaginable from Poland to Brazil.
I dive into a bar and use the facilities and now I am ready to set off again.

 Back on the tow-path I am soon getting away from the crowds. I pass the fabulous Pirate Castle (a water sports centre really).

And then a jolly busker playing under a bridge.

The walk is very pleasant here except for the jealousy the houses opposite, with their nice gardens and little landings with boats always provokes. This was my walk to work once when I worked at London Zoo.  In the mornings I could hear the gibbons whooping all the way from Camden Lock.  On the walk back I could hear the junkies gibbering and winos whooping.  There are no drinking schools or drug dealers to be seen today though.  Which is very strange.

The canal turns a corner and I come to the first Regent’s Park bridge.  Just beyond it to the right is a dull looking building.  I climb up t the road to take a picture of its even more anonymous front. This is the Zoo Social Club. When I worked here for a summer I only strayed in this a few times but every time I got preposterously drunk.
It was a mad place. Partly it was that the zoo was one of the last places on Earth to pay you weekly in cash in a little manila envelope (in 1999). Then there was the fact that there was nowhere to eat handy. You had to go to Camden Town and back again. Plus the beer was cheap. So every time I went in the idea was to have a quick Budvar and then go and eat in Camden. And what actually happened was that I found myself falling out of this bland door at about midnight almost too drunk to crawl.
It wasn't just me. It was the dynamics of the club. It was truly crazy in there. May still be for all I know.

I carry on looking through the railings at the canal banks within the zoo with a critical eye. They were very neglected when I worked there and I had suggested ways to develop them for conservation. Finally some work seems to have been carried out.

At the other end I get up to the road and cross the canal on a bridge which takes me into Regent’s Park.  I walk along the side of the zoo, though there is nothing more exciting to see than a couple of camels.

On the other side there are endless sports fields and I watch the nearest game of football for a while. One guy gets booked and doesn't like it. 
As I continue the ref blows full time and they start packing up but one guy stays to argue with the ref about the booking.

The sun is starting to set behind the Regent’s Park Mosque.  I can tell that the light is doing odd things to the camera lens and wish I had brought the hood, but keep on snapping away.

Past the zoo down the Broad walk, the elegant Nash Terraces are glinting in the evening sun.  I pass a big crowd of people who have obviously been playing rugby.  Quite a lot of them are women and they go trudging off as I pass, which is odd because I passed a bunch of women rugby players on the first day of my previous long walk, on the Heath extension, and have never come across any since that day three years or so ago.

Odd but it feels oddly appropriate

The path meets Chester Road which joins the Inner and Outer Circle and I realise I am very near the secret garden.  I cannot resist a quick detour.
I could tell you where the Secret Garden is but then I would have to kill you so you will have to try to guess for yourselves.  I make the short walk to it and, it being a winter day, find that I have it to myself.

There is more information (and summer photos) here:

There is a statue that has been put here since my last visit. commemorating a woman who "shared the secret of this garden."

But as I approach the seats at one end a movement catches my eye and a gorgeous peacock wanders by.
This is a bonus. There were no peacocks here last time I visited.  This sculpture is new too.
I wait, hoping that the peacock will give me a better shot. There is a commotion behind the seat where a broken fence divides the secret garden from greenhouses. I see lots of woodpigeons which is wierd because there is so much kerfuffle.

The peacock poses for me but the commotion continues behind.At last a figure emerges, an elderly lady who is obviously putting bird food out everywhere, she carefully lays more on the back of the wooden seat.
The secret peacock feeder of the secret garden. What could be better!

I rejoin the main path and am now walking through a bit of Regent’s Park that is new to me. There is a fine fountain that looks fabulous in the evening sunlight.

At last I leave the park, crossing Marylebone Road and, after Park Crescent, start down Portland Place, passing a lone protester against the Chinese Government’s treatment of the Falun Gong.

At the bottom Portland Place is Broadcasting House.  This has had a massive make-over since I was last here, a huge new wing added to the original Art Deco edifice.  I used to work here too, many, many years ago. Not at the BBC but at Westminster Polytechnic (now University) in Riding House Street, where students learned to use TV cameras amongst other things.

Oxford Circus is crowded as ever, though, like Camden Lock, not as bad as it can be. Early March seems to be a good choice for this walk through London.

I go down Argyll Street,  pausing to admire the woodcarving on Liberty’s fa├žade.

And then Carnaby Street which is a strange empty rumour of a street – the fancy name plate arching over it only serving to underline that it has not been in any way special for at least three decades (probably more like five)
At the bottom we are getting into Soho though.  Broadwick Street is interesting for The John Snow which commemorates the doctor who discovered how Cholera was transmitted.
He was not believed and stopped an outbreak in its tracks by removing the handle from the Broad Street (as it was then) pump.  There is a replica pump now to commemorate him though the original was nearer the pub.

From Broadwick Street I turn into Wardour Street and then to Old Compton Street. This is the heart of Soho. Old Compton Street the gay heart and it is busy. I pass the Admiral Duncan which was blown up by maniac homophobe and racist neo-nazi David Copeland in 1999, killing two and maiming many more.

I am suddenly curious to see if the Sunset Strip club is still trading.  Back in the 90s I had a girlfriend who worked there and have fond memories of waiting for her to finish her shifts on the tiny theatre like space there.

It is still going but has had a major makeover,  being lurid and purple now and has had a bar added.

The Sunset was one of a trio of licensed strip clubs in Soho in a system that always struck me as being particularly bonkers back in the days when clip joints used to spring up in cellars as fast as they were closed.  You paid to get in and then could stay and watch as many shows as you wanted. Elderly men would spend the day in there (one guy always used to take chocolate to give the girls, rewarding the strip shows he liked by more expensive confectionery  My girlfriend used to be quite miffed if she only came back with a bar of Cadburys dairy milk!).  But stray into a clip joint, indistinguishable from the licensed places to the uninitiated and you would be charged £50 for drinks for a girl sitting at your table and then get frog marched to a cash machine by thugs.
There was no way for the uninitiated out of town punter to distinguish the Sunset and the Windmill from the much more common clip joints where they would rob you blind.

A friend of mine was bemoaning the death of old and sleazy Soho recently, and it is true that it has lost something of its excitement and its old reprehensible charm.  But there is plenty that it is better off without, I think.

I go back South down Frith Street,  remembering a New Year’s Eve spent here in a trendy cafe-bar. Back into Old Compton Street and across Cambridge Circus.

At Seven Dials I make another  detour, nipping down  St Martin’s Lane to take a quick pic of The Salisbury. This is a fine, traditional Victorian London Pub which I recommend to anyone looking for a drink in the West End.  But my pilgrimage is for family history reasons. This used to be The Coach and Horses which was the pub bought by Ben Caunt, champion boxer of England  in the 1840s after he retired.  Big Ben Caunt was a relative (a cousin of my great great grandmother) and may well have been who Big Ben was named after as he called time in stentorian tones.  Tragically a fire at the pub killed his son and daughter.  It was rebuilt and renamed but I believe parts of the original building are preserved inside.

I retrace my steps as far as the next junction and turn into Long Acre. Here is my first destination for today,  Standfords Map shop.  Shop does not really do it justice though. Stanfords the mecca of maps.   I came here many times during my last walk. Indeed it became something of a ritual before each stage,  to buy the OS Explorer maps I needed.  So I thought it would be only right to make a pilgrimage to the map mecca as I go through London.

And I am rewarded! There is a buy one, get one half price offer on OS maps! Hallelujah! I buy four which ought to at least get me on my way.

I slip out of the back and make my way, via a narrow passageway, to The Strand.

Here is the next point of pilgrimage. The cross at Charing Cross. This is the traditional spot for the centre of London, where a Victorian monument marks (somewhere near) the site of the last "Eleanor Cross." (a series of 12 crosses erected to mark the nightly resting places of Eleanor of Castile by her husband Edward I as her body was brought back to London from Lincoln).

  I had thought of starting my walk to Stornoway from here but as it was from my house to my mum’s, I didn't.  Still there is a feeling of completeness to this.

I take a quick pick and then go down the Strand to Trafalgar Square, passing an ebullient anti Mugabe protest, the protesters singing and dancing enthusiastically.

There is a little band in Trafalgar Square.  This is a rally for Pakistani Christians, though to call it a rally is in truth, being kind. The audience is very thin indeed.

Through the Admiralty Arch I can see the Mall.  The sun is behind Buckingham Palace and I rather wish I was here first thing in the morning.  My feet are getting tired as I pass the ICA.

Last time I was there was to see Dragon Ladies by Marisa Carr (now Carninsky), a show about strippers by three women who worked at the Sunset. It was great but strange with arty ICA types in the audience alongside punters from the Sunset Strip who had come the short way from Soho to support the strippers.

Last time I was here I got kettled in Parliament Square during the anti student fee protests. I nipped up behind Horse Guards Parade and some confused policemen let me into the square just before they sealed it up completely.

 I don’t go down behind horse guards this time though though but slip into St James Park.

On the bridge across the lake I stop to take some photos of Buckingham Palace. Aware that the setting sun behind the palace, though it makes for lovely sky and reflections is going to make the palace dark.

There is probably a setting for that on my clever camera. I got this one to replace the one I frazzled by shooting in the rain on Cross Fell on my Stornoway walk about two years ago.  I really will have to read the manual for it, one of these days!


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