Wednesday, 25 February 2009

My Favourite London Walk No’s. 7 & 8

A post from London Walks Pen David on his Sunday sojourns in town and country. A tale of two cities? Almost. His Sunday morning soliloquy on The Heath, it should be pointed out, is effortlessly more decorous than old King Lear’s (illustrated, left), hopefully a little-less “blasted” (weather permitting) but is no less passionate for all that.

Here’s Himself (as they say in Ireland):

When you ‘summit’ on my Sunday morning Old Hampstead Village walk, part of the patter you'll hear runs along these lines:

‘Okay, as this old Whitestone mile marker tells us, we're only four miles from the centre of London. That's very central. Especially when you bear in mind that Greater London is something like 40 miles across! But it doesn't feel at all as though we're near the middle of a great metropolis. It feels like a country village.’

That kind of thing is what I like to call the ‘texture’ of London. It's one of the reasons I’m so smitten with London. In the American Midwest you can go for hundreds of miles in any direction and the texture is unaltered – nothing much changes. In London you go round the corner and the texture changes – you're in a different century, different place, different historical (or biographical or architectural or whatever) drama!

My Sunday segue – from airy, green, leafy, vista-y Hampstead on my morning walk to gnarled little alleyways on my afternoon one (Shakespeare's and Dickens' Old City) – is a case in point.

Vive la difference!

But there are also some astonishing ‘links’. On the afternoon Shakespeare's and Dickens' Old City walk one of the things I'll call your attention to is the shrapnel damage to the wall of St. Bart's Hospital. Look closely and you'll see it's mottled – pockmarked – with shrapnel damage from a bomb dropped a Zeppelin in the First World War…

Then in Hampstead – well, strictly speaking in the Vale of Health (Hampstead's village within a village) – there’s this. It's from a letter the novelist D. H. Lawrence wrote. He was living there at the time.

‘We saw the Zeppelin above us, just ahead, amid the gleaming of clouds... quite small, among a fragile incandescence of clouds. And underneath it were splashes of fire as the shells from earth burst...It seemed as if the cosmic order were gone, as if there had come a new order*... So it is the end – our world is gone, and we are like dust in the air.’

Quite a contrast to our Vale of Health of a Sunday morning – especially the two white swans on a pond!



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