You know sometimes you just think you’ll write a 10 minute blog post and then 2 hours later…..
If some one had told me 6 months ago that I would be living in a 1830’s house in a village with a raging plague outside and the best chance I’d have of acquiring fresh meat would be to break curfew and sneak into the woods to gather firewood and hunt a deer I’d have thought you were totally bonkers. Even if we forget the deer and keep the others then I still wouldn’t have believed you.
Aside from the awful deaths and in my own personal case, lack of money, I have had far worse periods of life. I remember my Grandad told me that even though fighting in WW2 was obviously a total nightmare, he was given the chance to experience things he would never normally get to do such as travel to the Pyramids or Rome. To play the Cathedral organ at Basra and to give him his once chance to visit the resting place of his own father (https://stephenliddell.co.uk/2017/01/25/remembering-my-great-grandad-ernest-heard-who-died-100-years-ago-today-in-amarah-iraq/). He’d have been the first to say h’d have preferred to spend 6 years back at home safe and sound though.
I kind of feel the same way. There’s really very little aspect of 21st Century life that I take part in or am missing. Due to being blind in one eye I have such sensitive hearing and this is the first time living near London in m life where there are no planes or car to over power my senses and I can sit in the garden and listen to ants climbing over blades of grass or tiny spots of pollen falling on the undergrowth when a bee is too greedy and overloads itself.
One of the reasons I bought this tiny but intensely characterful old house is because it is surrounded by fields, farms and woodland in almost every direction just a few minutes walk from where I live. We’re not allowed out except for trips to get shopping or medical facilities or a daily walk or jog. Being at High Risk, I shouldn’t go near anyone and really should stay indoors but since I moved on January 31st I have only ever really been out once so in a way I have already had self-isolation period before anyone else knew it was a thing.
As I couldn’t book my first trip away for 6 or 7 years in February due to being pushed under the train and the upcoming apocalypse, my bucket list of places to see before I die has been much reduced to about 2 or 3 locations and all within a walk of where I live.
I was missing my friends, not just the ones that talk back but the places I have spent the last 7 years of my life walking round every day. The elegant literary squares of Bloomsbury; the iconic buildings of Westminster; the grotty alleys of the East-End and the maze of wonky streets and massive towers around the City.
So I decided on the first nice day of spring to head off to a new viewpoint which had only been open to the public for a few years having once been the private property of a heavyweight boxing champion! If the virus is going to get me then there was just one last thing I had to do, bag me my new view of the big smoke.
London is largely at sea-level so many of the most famous and beautiful places are on hills. Hampstead Heath, Alexandra Palace, Harrow-On–The Hill, Primrose Hill but I live way above all of them at over 500 feet or around 150metres. From my bedroom window looking through a narrow gap between buildings nearby, I can see 20 miles and there is another gap looking north but I haven’t worked out what I’m looking at year. It’s a bit easier with London though as its rather hard to miss! However between me and the viewpoint facing south as a 2 mile walk mostly through woods and that’s where I headed. I’d never be safer from the virus than on the first serious day of the lockdown when all those pesky people with their good immune systems and thoughtless coughs and sneezes were safely behind doors!
It was strange going out after all this time. Not the fact that there was no-one else out as I always go to work before the world wakes up but it was just strange to be outdoors. I savoured everything. The wind, the sunlight, the sounds and smells. The feeling of the different surfaces underfoot, it was all so…. forbidden!
I only met 2 or 3 people on my walk there. The first was a young lady who no doubt mirrored the “You’re not supposed to be out, you’re contaminated’ look. Due to a break in the parked cars she was naturally able to get onto the road to walk before I could. Then a mile or so later I met two joggers and this time I walked in the road. Right in the centre of the old main road to London.
Normally this road would be busy even though it is no longer the main road to London. Centuries ago these woods were full of highwaymen, possibly even Dick Turpin himself. The few people who lived where I live were known for their bad behaviour and it being a dangerous place to pass through. I live in a little place called Bushey Heath; it must surely be here or similarly named places that gave birth to the term ‘Heathen’. You can also see it is indeed quite Bushey!
At last I was able to leave the road and disappear into the woods. There is a reputed burial site of the legendary Queen Boudicca in here; it must be said she has more than one reputed burial site… a little bit like how John The Baptist has so many heads scattered around the place I guess.
When finally I reached the open space I must confess I uttered a swear word! I’d been waiting to see this view for years and combined with being house bound mostly sine Christmas and the whole ‘we’re all going to die’ thing.
London is such an immense city and is both far too large geographically and covering too large a period historically for it to be a stereotypically beautiful view in a uniform sort of way that Edinburgh, Bath or even Paris and Rome could be said to be. Even being able to see 40 miles ahead and perhaps 60 miles from left to right, I couldn’t see anywhere near all of London.
Though lower than me and 10-12 miles away from me, Hampstead Heath rendered St Pauls invisible but I could see lots of my other hangouts. A mix of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, a big arch which after 10 minutes I realised was the London Eye, the BT Tower in Bloomsbury, The Shard at the south end of London Bridge, the Gherkin, the Deathstar, Canary Wharf and the Docklands way over to the east and right ahead of me the Crystal Palace transmitter and the South Downs which are pretty much exactly on the other side of London.
I could see the light glinting off still running tube trains in the distance; I could hear some construction work still going on at Wembley all of 5 or 6 miles away. Aside from that it was just me and nature. I wonder how many of the millions of people below had ever seen their city like this. What the old British tribes led by people like Queen Boudicca must have thought when they saw the invading Romans far below or the city being ravaged by fire or as with Churchill watching how the aerial defences were coping from his nearby vantage point in WW2. All were national disasters just like this one. There must surely have been someone who hid away from The Plague near this very spot and thought to themselves that they’d rather be here safe in the woods than down there.
The easiest thing to make out on the photo above is the top third of The Shard on the left, the tallest building in Europe. To the right of it you can see a cluster of some of the tall buildings in the City of London with the tall narrow tower in the centre being the BT Tower in Bloomsbury. A little to the right of this is roughly Westminster and in the flesh you can make out the famous buildings. You can see some of the new developments in Vauxhall and Victoria too.
What I find interesting is you can see the undulations of what this part of North London must have looked like, the various hills and valleys that reach down to the Thames… all would have been covered in forest just a few centuries ago. You can more easily imagine the lost and hidden rivers and how all those stops on the Underground would once have been isolated villages and given that this photo really only shows half of London on the North-South Axis, just how big the city is and how it really does sit in a very wide valley capped by the hills I live on on the north and the South Downs on the other side. That’s why it gets the fog and more surprisingly, partially the arid climate.
Perhaps only locals will appreciate this but just to the left of the crane you can see some of the tallest towers of Canary Wharf poking up behind the hill. They are a lengthy tube ride or most of a days walk away from Westminster and yet both very much Central London.
I sat in the cold late winters sun like a lizard warming up and admiring the incredible view for which these photos do it in no way any justice whatsoever.
After a while a 74 year old lady scrambled up the hill in front of me with her dog and we chatted from a very healthy distance for 15 minutes. She didn’t want to get the virus b
ut told me if she did, she didn’t care too much as she was 74. She looked very good for 74 so I guess climbing this 500 foot hill 6 days a week wasn’t doing her any harm. Her dog made me laugh as it stood their content the whole time we talked and just when she headed off, it discovered a smell and she was pulling at it for nearly a minute before it was ready to leave. How typical we both laughed.
It’s these sort of interactions that people who drive everywhere have no idea about and as Grandad would have said prove that even this horrible virus has its plus points.