Yesterday, while our M.P.’s debated Theresa May’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement for the third time, I decided to put on my backpack and take another long walk.
My destination this time was Pole Hill in Chingford and an obelisk that was originally erected in the Georgian age to mark the direction of true north from Greenwich. In 2008, the local council – at the behest of a member of the T. E. Lawrence Society – added a plaque to the obelisk recording the fact that Lawrence had once owned land on the hill. I am very interested in the life and times of Lawrence so it was this that I went to Pole Hill to see.
I planned my route on Google Maps. From home to hill it gave me a journey of 8.3 miles, walkable in 2hrs 47 minutes. I intended to walk home again so a round trip of 16.6 miles seemed like an excellent venture – especially since 15 miles is probably going to be the type of distance that I will be walking every day on the Camino.
I set out somewhere after nine in the morning. The sun was in the sky and my spirits were high. I walked down Stoke Newington Church Street with its various trendy shops and then through Stamford Hill with its strong Orthodox Jewish community. Or are they Ultra Orthodox? I wondered this as I walked and couldn’t think of the answer. I’ve just looked on Google, and it suggests the latter.
Now, I don’t visit Stoke Newington very often, and I go to Stamford Hill even less, but I know the areas. I didn’t leave familiar territory, therefore, until I took a right hand turn on to Gladesmore Road. Minutes later, I was trotting along the edge of a park and then onto the path alongside the River Lea. I remained on this path until I arrived in Chingford.
Remembering how I had not stopped on my walk last week to Ilford, I made sure I did so along the River Lea and, importantly, drank some water.
Before then, however, I took a wrong turn. Not into the canal, fortunately! No, after passing the North Circular Road (the A406), I should have taken the right hand path when the canal path forked but forgot. I realised what I had done a minute or two later, and could easily have turned back but decided to keep going. I said above that 15 miles is the kind of distance I will be walking daily on the Camino but in truth I might well be required to walk much further, so let’s get experience of doing so with the backpack now.
This decision meant that I was now walking along the west side of the William Girling Reservoir instead of the east. It also meant that my walk to Pole Hill would now be 9.3 miles in length, taking 3 hrs 5 minutes.
The walk was a pretty straight forward one until I reached Pole Hill Road. It rose steepishly towards a dead end. I had intended to wait until I reached Woodberry Way, further up the road, but could see from Google Maps that there was a right hand turn on Pole Hill Road that would take me to Woodberry Way, which would lead me to the obelisk.
Unfortunately, I somehow missed the turn! I don’t know if I blinked and missed it or if it wasn’t there after all but I managed to walk right past it. A few moments later, I was at the top of Pole Hill Road, and my poor right leg, so quick to take offence, was telling me of its hurt feelings. Oh well, at least I got to go downhill again; that was much nicer.
I continued along the main road to Woodberry Way. At the top, I found Pole Hill. I had not looked at Google Maps properly and expected to see the obelisk there. It wasn’t, and looking at the map now it seemed to be on the other side of the hill. I thought to myself, perhaps I shall just go home now, and use the obelisk as an excuse to come back again another day but quickly dismissed that idea. I set off up the hill. There was a path leading across it at street level but I knew the obelisk was at the highest point, so up it was. And, hardly a minute later, there it was!
I sat down at the foot of the obelisk for another drink and to eat my sandwich. While there, a man came up to me and we started chatting. It turned out he had been researching his family background and had reason to believe that his father was taught by Vyvyan Richards.
T. E. Lawrence didn’t just own land on Pole Hill. After the Great War, he wanted to build a printing press there. His intention was to do this with Richards. Unfortunately, their project never happened. I hope this fellow can prove a connection between his family and Richards (who was a schoolmaster in the area). I told him that if he can, he should definitely let the T. E. Lawrence Society know.
While at the obelisk, I called C.; she is a saintly lady who instructed me prior to my reception into the Catholic Church in 1996. It was out first conversation for 18 or so months so it was great getting back in touch with her. I never come away from a conversation with C. without feeling greatly nourished.
The time came to leave the obelisk. I have a muscle at the top of my right thigh (groin area, I guess) that always feels very stiff for the first few steps. It soon starts to loosen up, and did so as I began my downhill path.
I didn’t go far – I wanted to stop at a local pub for a couple of beers to see what it would be like carrying my backpack afterwards. As it turned out, the two beers made no difference whatsoever. Unfortunately, my walk home was not without struggle as my right leg felt a bit sore for the whole journey. I managed this pain by taking Ibuprofen, which – probably because of the alcohol – seemed to make little difference – and by stopping to rest along the way.
Back at the pub, I drank my beer as the Brexit debate wound up on the TV in the background. Fortunately, the sound was turned down so I didn’t have to listen to our indecisive M.P.s natter on. Anyway, sadly for the Prime Minister her Withdrawal Agreement (W.A.) was voted down for a third tine so who knows what will happen now? I, personally, would like to throw those members of the Conversative European Research Group (E.R.G.) who refused to support her and the Labour M.P.s who, I read, support the W.A. but don’t want to be seen to do so, into the sea. If Brexit doesn’t happen they will both deserve their failure.
After finishing my beer, I set off again. Along the River Lea path, I met some bicyclists who were taking a rest. One of them is currently cycling round Britain, which sounds great fun. We had a super conversation about my walk and Camino.
I returned to Islington along the same route that I went to Pole Hill, which means that by the time I got back home, I had walked for at least 6 hrs 10 minutes and a total distance of 18.6 miles.
And once I got home, I rested. My leg started to recover straight away although as I write this blog post, I can still feel a little twinge. It doesn’t hurt, though, and won’t stop me going out shortly.
What did Pole Hill show me?
This: that even when my leg hurts, I can still walk. And that I can do so with a good heart; last night, when I reflected on the day, I was happy; I remembered what was good about it and not just what was bad. I’m really happy that I took that long route – nearly 20 miles! – as it shows what, despite everything, I am capable of. I’m not sure if I will do any long walks next week. I think I might just focus on stretching exercises.
Credit Where It’s Due
All the Photos: me!
John Henry Newman: The Oxford Oratory