Saturday, 15 June 2013

Stealing a march on the city

6.30am on Saturday and our daughter has piled into our bed and is busy making it clear there'll be no more sleep until bedtime. A good excuse to stick two 5kg iron plates in a rucksack and head out into the uncommon Saturday morning tranquility of central London for a training walk. My intention is to get out on three mornings a week for at least an hour each time, to get some regular, weighted miles under my feet. Today had another purpose: to try out my new trail shoes - North Face Hedgehogs with a Gore-tex lining - which I'll use for the lowland sections at the beginning and end of the Tay watershed.

The walk this morning was a bit of a stroll really. I'll be upping the pace and intensity as I progress, but London was looking fine on a bright and breezy day, and photos had to be taken. A good excuse to try out a new wide-angle lens as well.

Looking upstream from Tower Bridge to HMS Belfast and London Bridge

Wherever you are in London, the Shard is never far away. The South Bank has come a long way from the days of docks and tanneries.

A modernist mountain range: The Shard towers above the foothills of City Hall and More London
I love the Thames. It's a living vein of wildness through the heart of London. The tides surge upstream and back with silent power, and a fresh wind channels in from the distant North Sea bringing news of a wild world outside the city. Looking downstream from Tower Bridge the skies are often big and wide, hinting at the expanse of the estuary that lies beyond, the creeks and islands, sand banks, mudflats and salt marshes of Essex and Kent. This morning the tide was on its way in. Below Tower Bridge a cormorant paused, then dived beneath the roiling silty water.

Looking downstream from London Bridge
The Shard was at its glorious sky-reflecting best. It is apparently still largely empty, whilst new developments a stone's throw away in the City of London have quickly filled up with new corporate tenants. This fellow needn't have been in such a hurry to move in. Perhaps the old leery cachet still attaches to the South Bank - the place where London went to indulge its dark side: drunkenness, bear baiting, prostitution, and Shakespeare. A few shiny buildings might not be enough to dispel the shadows of the past.

Crossing back into Southwark I wandered home through the backstreets of SE1. Stallholders were setting up in Borough Market. To the west of Borough High Street and running parallel with it is a very old lane, Red Cross Way, which shows up on maps of the area dating back several hundred years. Near the north end of the road is the site of the Cross Bones Graveyard, a pauper's burial ground and especially a burial ground for the 'single women' of the parish - i.e. prostitutes. Currently owned by Transport for London, the site is well known locally and there's a lively campaign to have part of it turned into a memorial garden. You can sign a petition if you want. If you stumble upon Red Cross Way you can't miss the Cross Bones - it's well marked as the picture below shows.
The site of the Cross Bones Graveyard in Southwark

Still belonging to TfL, not much more than waste ground at the moment.

Notice how geese feature in the shrine. The Bishops of Winchester owned much of the land in Bankside. The remains of their residence, Winchester House, are on Clink Street close to the river, and a little road called Winchester Walk runs behind Borough Market. The bishops licensed the prostitutes to work on their patch. The prostitutes were known as the 'Winchester Geese'. This short film featuring local playwright and historian John Constable tells the story.

The Geese are long gone but the pigeons are still with us. This gang lives around St George the Martyr church on Borough High Street. 

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