Urban Walking or Urban Hiking is a trend which has spread over here from the States. The idea is that you abandon your car, bus, train or even bicycle and go out for a walk in the city. Obviously, those of us who are Urban Photographers have been doing this for years but any trend which gets people out of cars and walking is good.
A few years ago a friend gave me a book full of London walks which included places like the Regents Canal and the River Lea in East London. It was full of suggestions of things to see and places to stop for a snack. Very useful it was too. The last time I did a proper bicycle trip, I went around the Trent Valley starting off at Gordon Hill in Enfield and was pleasantly pleased to run across a walking couple who had the same book. They were able to point out things I had missed on my ride.
Walking the streets gives us a connection to our urban environment and is particularly useful in these times where we are becoming more isolated from our neighbours. In the part of North London where I live the streets are changing rapidly and by walking them I am able to see how it is changing. Shops open up and then disappear. Buildings are pulled down and become student accommodation. Small shops are amalgamated into bright airy supermarkets.The population is slowly changing and this is evidenced from who is sitting in the new hipster cafés and bars – it is becoming gentrified. I read this morning that the largest Jewish community is moving out to Canvey Island as it is now expensive to live here. That is a decision which will affect the look of the streets if the kosher shops and bakeries follow them.
If the town planners would get out of their cars and come out of their offices to walk the streets they might have a greater understanding of the layout of this urban jungle. A recent housing development sported a mock direction sign showing the distances to different local services and amenities. The distances and timings they gave were based on paper plans. Anyone who has walked the streets knows that in reality these places are not quite so easily accessible by car. However, if you walk down the small path skirting the waste ground and then along by the terraced houses built for the family of the railway construction workers you can be in the centre in around 15 minutes. The walk, by the way, is much pleasanter than the car journey. On the way, you will see apple trees, imaginative gardens, blackberry bushes and meet your neighbours.
I recently did an urban walk with a friend. We started out at Kings Cross and went in search of a pub. We strolled along the Regents Canal and ended up in a very nice Victorian pub which still had it’s original fireplace and stained glass windows. We bought a drink, had a friendly chat with the landlady and sat enjoying the summer sun in the yard. Then, we continued walking until Camden Market. We had a look at a second-hand bookshop and moved on. Eventually, we arrived at Primrose Hill. I remembered a pub I had seen at the corner of England’s Lane. We asked directions and we directed to a bus stop. Since the bus stop was on the route we followed the directions. A road sign directed us to Belsize Park and we had a lovely walk up to it and a stroll around the streets looking at the restaurants and pubs on the way. Eventually we came across a delightful tapas bar where we stopped for supper. It was a lovely day and a lovely way to see the city. The tapas bar was a big hit and a wonderful “find.”
It was a delightful way to connect with the city once again and I strongly urge people to walk their streets to get to know them.