White rabbits..there, that's got that out of the way. let March commence.
One of the aspects I most enjoy about my trips to London is the walking.
People think because we live in the country we must be in walking heaven, well yes, 'tis true I certainly am, and I am not complaining. I get out almost every day, across the fields, along the lanes or down to the River Tamar and yesterday was glorious...
...even tempting to think Spring might be springing, but many a slip 'twixt first warm day and first swallow in the nest. It must be National Hedge Cutting Week or something too because I dodged four of these...
but it has to be said for all the mess they make they do smarten the lane up a bit, and good to get it all done before the birds start nesting, the wild flowers start appearing and the crops are sown.
But I love city walking too.
Charles Dickens apparently walked at a steady pace of about four miles per hour which I have worked out I can do if I get a move on, but it's a fair old lick, I'm not sure I could keep it up for too long, but no need because you can do it all from your armchair with this little treasure.
Dickens’s London, published by Armchair Traveller at the bookHaus, is a really special little book, sturdy and clothbound, mapping walks around the city that take in some of the locations and the sights and sounds of both Dickens’s life and his writing including novels, letters and journalism.
As Peter Clark states quite clearly, whilst much of Dickens’s London is to be found in his fiction, and is therefore not ‘reportage or documentation’, and whilst many of the original buildings have long gone, it is down to Dickens’s descriptive powers that those boundaries between fiction and fact readily blur. Dickens himself would take friends to the places where incidents in his novels had taken place, so we can hardly be blamed for wanting to do likewise and I am a complete sucker for any literary connections to a landscape or a place. And because Dickens knew London so well, as Peter Clark also suggests, ‘there is rarely any ambiguity about locating sites he had in his mind when he was writing…’
I doubt any of us who have read the novels would have too much trouble conjuring up the vision of narrow, squalid streets or to imagine The Strand for what it originally was in pre-Embankment days … a beach, or to envisage what is now Victoria Embankment Gardens as an area that was regularly flooded. I only need to stare at the Thames to think of Our Mutual Friend and Gaffer Hexham and his daughter Lizzie pulling a corpse out of the ‘deadly sewer’.
Peter Clark suggests taking whole days to cover each walk, and Number Two – From Lincoln’s Inn Fields to the Mansion House would seem to be the best one for a Bleak House moment. The book offers general rather than detailed maps so you might need an A-Z to hand, but there is written commentary, what to look out for, what still remains, what has been lost along with the history of the buildings and pointers to tucked-away places that I would certainly have missed … the little chapel at Lincoln’s Inn for example. Women used to abandon their babies here and, though they were all taken in and cared for, they were all called Lincoln, which can only have been confusing. This is the sort of book to stop off and read up (and aloud if you have a walking companion) at various coffee, lunch and tea stops along the way and would make for some really interesting London days.
There are walks around the first suburbs too, Camden Town, Chelsea, Greenwich, Highgate, Hampstead and Limehouse and I have walked some of those. Chelsea always fascinating for its blue plaques along Tite Street, and Cheyne Row for Carlyle’s House at number 24, (which Carlyle rented for £35 per annum) and number 4 Cheyne Walk, the house in which George Eliot died, but I had no idea that Chelsea was actually a fishing village in the 1830s. Very separate from London, considered to be ‘in the country’, a place to get away from it all for some peace and quiet and St Luke’s Church, Chelsea the venue for Charles’s marriage to Catherine Hogarth on April 2nd 1836.
So to date I have lived up to the publishers name and been an armchair traveller with this little book, but it is compact enough to tuck in the rucksack and that is where it may well be on future London visits.