Before we'd even started our last TADS walk of 2016 I'd decreed that it'd been our best year of walking ever - and it had been. Despite the shitstorm of Brexit and Trump. Despite the deaths of Bowie, Prince, and Leonard Cohen. Despite the endless lurch towards right wing idiocy. Despite everything we had each other and we had these Saturdays to live for.
In St Albans we'd learnt what a lustrum was. In Henley-on-Thames we'd gazed out at the expansive blue of the Thames. We'd seen animals more accustomed to the African savannah in Woburn Safari Park. The South Downs Way was so good, and so wet, we spread it out over two days. The same thing applied to our visit to Royal Tunbridge Wells. I can't say, in all honesty, we were ending the season in style but we were ending the season traditionally. Walking round one of London's less glamorous areas in the drizzle. That's how we roll. In the November rain at least.
I was up bright and early and I took the Overground to Dalston Junction and walked to Hackney Central. Pam and Kathy were on good time but Shep, Adam, and Teresa were suffering, in Shep's oft-repeated word, a major 'ballache' on the train. Adam was winding Shep up with the idea that I was sinking a Kronenbourg in the pub as they sat outside West Byfleet. If he'd said Doom Bar Shep may have exploded.
For some reason Kathy was lugging around a complimentary candle from John Lewis so we took a pew in Oslo and once we'd all gathered our baggage and thoughts we began the walk proper. It's worth noting here that only Pam and Teresa took alcohol (in the form of rather delicious looking glasses of red wine) at this juncture.
We headed down Mare Street past the Hackney Empire (where I'd once seen Danny Baker present a variety show) and the Ocean (now a 'Spoons but once the site of fondly remembered Calexico and Asian Dub Foundation gigs). The town hall looked spiffing - even in the rain - and we cut a right, not the one the book recommended, and headed into London Fields.
London Fields is famous for its heated lido but today that wasn't an option. Broadway Market was bustling. Full of tasty goodies. Pie'n'mash in Cooke's was considered and then rejected because we were running to a tight schedule. Pity. We must do another trip one day but if you think Charles Bukowski runs a tight ship then you haven't met me.
It was after Broadway Market we picked up the water. Slipping on to the Regent's Canal (a branch of the mighty Grand Union) we got an eye full of gasholders and we loved it. Well, I did. Narrowboats were rendered with loving care and paint and named after mums, daughters, and lovers. They always get me.
The canal weaved it's way through luxury flats, oddball art fantasia, Mosul inspired pumpkins, bridges, and tunnels. Coots, moorhens, and Canada geese came out to play. We all came out to cruise about in Itchycoo Park. Itchycoo Park, of course, being Victoria, Vicky, Park where some of us had attended Field Day, ran 5k races, and got generally leathered in the past.
It seemed odd to see canalside cottages that looked like they belonged in the marginalia of the home counties rather than the urban dystopia of Hackney. But it felt right. The artworks, as we moved further East, got weirder, odder, and more pretentious. It wasn't long before the London, once Olympic, stadium came into sight. Pam and I had taken a guided walk here in the summer and knew a little of the area. I'd revised the history of the walk using this here blog and bored my fellow walkers with facts I'd genned up on. They're lucky I didn't fill them in with details of Pedro Obiang's transfer from Sampdoria.
It was here the Hertford Union, which had been the Regent's earlier, turned into the River Lee Navigation. Neither a river nor a canal but in some ways both and clearly less gentrified than where we'd come from. It was a long stretch and the drizzle and grey continued. Relentless. The umpteen football pitches of Hackney Marshes sat, spookily, unused, in the dank fog. The changing rooms looked a likely setting for a ghost story.
From there we headed into Walthamstow Marshes. Through subways seemingly architecturally designed for mugging and, past the sewage treatment plant, into the 'Stow itself. The market spread on for an infinity. Luckily they weren't taking it down. The atonal clang of dismantled market stalls creates, in my head, a noise akin to the torture of chipmunks. I don't like that.
We, and by we I mean BOOK, had earmarked The Nag's Head in Walthamstow Village for a jar but the walkers were wet, tired, and, in some cases, pissed off. So we chose a closer option. The Victoria. Victoria had seen better days but wasn't without charm. Discreet and seedy but somehow just right. On entry I half expected some stripper to be strutting her stuff on the green baize as men popped pound coins in to a pint pot. In reality the baize saw pool only. A man sat on his own and watched Wales play Argentina in the rugby. My round of six drinks was about £20 and they all went down pretty sharpish.
We took the Victoria line to Finsbury Park, swapped to Piccadilly to Leicester Square, and met Rob, Damon, Darren, Cheryl, and Stocksy in the Tom Cribb before visiting Woodlands Indian Veg for a curry. Shep never got his bangla and I, for some weird reason, had a cheddar cheese'n'jalpeno dosa which wasn't very Indian at all.
The crack was good and it was going to get better. The vast majority of us were off to the theatre but that's a whole different blog. We only had a little time to reflect on the TADS walking season and my reflection was that it'd been a bright bright light in a year full of shite. It'll be a pity to leave it until March but I, for one, cannot wait to start again. I thank everyone who's joined us on these walks for making a dark world a lighter place.