Olympic fever grips Great Britain – but truth be told, here in windy London it’s Sunday morning and everyone’s yawning. First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Where can Games-goers in need of a few hours’ escape find a decent walk in varied surroundings that’s only a hop, skip and jump away from Olympic Park? Opting for the bustle of markets and the open atmosphere of London’s waterways, we set off in search of breakfast at a market stall, a chat with the animals in the city farm and some quality idling by canal and river.
A bracing wind blows as we leave Liverpool Street Station. The huge blankness of the city’s plate-glass canyons is given a human face by the busker on the forecourt steps, who causes an eddy in the tide of heedless passers-by as he belts out a hoary old Quo number. We mosey round the earring and shawl stalls in the covered shed of Old Spitalfields Market to a gentle blur of reggae, buying nothing, slowly waking up.
On a Sunday you can smell Brick Lane long before you get there – curry, chilli, salsa, roasting beef and goat. The street market assaults the eyeballs with titfers and tomatoes, fish and fascinators, bread and chairs, sandwiches, socks and sun-specs in more colours than the good Lord ever made. A young girl stands, passionately and wildly singing ‘St James’s Infirmary’. How the staff at Beigel Bake pack so much salt beef into their fresh bagels is a minor miracle, but it makes the kind of breakfast you know is going to last you till sundown.
Beyond in the city farm I have a great old time hanging over the palings with a stick, scratching the scurfy back of a Tamworth Ginger sow. ‘Eee-eee,’ says the lady, ‘eee, don’t stop.’ Her friend lies spark-out on a pile of straw, a giant slab of blubber in a fuzz of red hair.
Regent’s Canal’s towpath takes us lazily towards the Thames in company with tinies in pushchairs, runners, strollers and dogs mad to get into the swim. Water tumbles over weirs and spurts with a sleepy hiss through rotted lock-gates. Among the towers of Tower Hamlets lie the waterside cottages of Hackney Village, all white-painted windowsills and cascades of aubretia. A pair of swans harvests reeds for a mid-canal nest off Mile End Park.
Approaching the river, the colossi of Canary Wharf and the space-rocket nose of the Gherkin rise pale and ghostly. There is the smack of tidal waves, a stiffening of the breeze and a tang of the sea. It’s wonderful to swap the stillness of the canal for the salty vigour of the Thames, to push upriver into the wind towards the cosmopolitan heart of the city once again, and to recall that never-to-be-forgotten Diamond Jubilee armada of boats filling Old Father Thames from shore to shore.
Start & finish: Liverpool Street Station
Getting there: Central, Circle, Hammersmith, Metropolitan tubes
Walk (8 miles, easy, OS Explorer 173, London A-Z pp 40-2, 54-6. NB – Online map, more walks: christophersomerville.co.uk):
Liverpool Street Station – Bishopsgate – Brushfield Street – Old Spitalfields Market. Commercial Street – Hanbury Street – Brick Lane. Bethnal Green Road – Squirries Street – Warner Place – Hackney Road. City Farm – Haggerston Park – Audrey Street – Goldsmith Row. Regent’s Canal to Limehouse Basin. Thames Path to St Katharine Docks. Mansell Street – Whitechapel High Street – Commercial Road – Old Spitalfields Market – Liverpool Street.
Food: Beigel Bake, Brick Lane (0207-729-0616) – salt beef, cream cheese, fish: you name it, it’s here in a fresh-baked bagel
More info: Old Spitalfields Market www.visitspitalfields.com; Brick Lane Market www.visitbricklane.org; Regent’s Canal http://www.bertuchi.co.uk/regentscanal.php; Thames Path www.walklondon.org.uk
www.ramblers.org.uk www.satmap.com www.LogMyTrip.co.uk