Despite a last minute hitch with the organiser incapacitated and unable to attend, the London Red, Urban Story walk hiked it through housing and industrial estates from Waltham Cross to Shadwell yesterday, following a line through some of the city's most deprived areas, as classified and colour coded by London Profiler.
For sure this is a different perspective on London walking, shunning green spaces, tourist attractions and convenient rest stops but a trail through swathes of urban housing elicits interesting insights. No matter how shabby or smart the real estate and whether or not they're owned or let, people's pride and personality in their residences catch your eye. The personalised numberplates, variously blooming front gardens, choice of exotic palm, gnome or gate guardian (lions are popular, but one chose kitty cats) distinguishes a home from an unloved house whether in Broxbourne or Tower Hamlets.
This 5 borough urban hike paced rapidly through eerily quiet streets on a surprisingly warm day. Apart from posties and bin men there were few folks about. We were eyed curiously by those we met - is not everyday a team of 3 walkers in hiking boots, bearing maps and compass marches past your front door - but headed them off with bright smiles, however few were received in reply.
Between Waltham Cross and the A406, bar the odd red London bus, we could have been passing through any large town's residential outskirts. Inside the North Circular the sense of dense populations coexisting became more real as we pushed towards the city - pleasant leafy town house streets patched together by sprawling estates of hugely different character. Hitting Whitechapel Road we were swiftly reminded we were in the City, battling through busy crowds to duck further down back streets, finally winding up at Shadwell DLR station by around 3pm. Footsore and sunburnt, rehydrating in a Watney Shopping Centre pub, the verdict was that it had been an absorbing alternative trail through a vertical slice of London, from outside in, and the stories and snippets of lives walked past will linger on.
Huge thanks to Andrew for navigating, to Andy for accompanying us and to Daniel for inviting us - hope we get to meet you next time. You can follow more photos at this Flickrstream. Find out about the forthcoming Urban Earth London walks - in 3 stages, west to east - at the Urban Earth social network. These walks are free to join, just sign up at the ning.