Category Archives: city walking

“The Boudicca Walk” of Epping Forest that never happened

Planned: The Boudicca Walk in Epping Forest, London/Essex

Walkers: E,E,N,L

Date & Distance: Saturday, 22.07.2017; 17.3K

The thing is that sometimes you get a completely another walk than you were planning for. You might read about a route with interesting historical connections (such as Queen Boudicca fighting the Romans), you might download a new and an interesting app, but when you can’t find the beginning of the trail for three times in a row, and then lose the first half of the trail another three times, it is time to accept the fact that it is not going to be one of those walks. Even when your friend has the patience to help you out with your lousy city map reading skills.

Yet!

This is how we ended up following random arrows and feeling – at least on my part – completely back in childhood again. This is one of the things I don’t like about these last decades – it feels like too many things have deadlines, or are recordable and trackable, dulling our sense for innate wanderlust.

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Towards the mirabelle tree.

Happy to lose the trail

Thanks to the moody weather and the trail that had no descriptions online, we actually ended up having a lovely walk through the part of the Epping Forest I had not fully explored yet. For example, a part that looked like a scene from The Predator.

We found a swing that swung you above the forest river and an effingly rich mirabelle tree which we properly foraged thanks to L’s backpack throwing skills. We saw a forest grove that looked like it belonged to a time without humans. And we found a pub with nice food and a coffee place with even nicer coffee. Who we did not find was Harris, the hawk, who had gone missing somewhere in the area (there were posters).

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England or Predator?

Next evening

I remember the next evening as well. There was a smell of freedom in the air. I went to a park close to my home just to smell it. The smell of “I have no responsibilities”. Sometimes, but only sometimes, it smells so so sweet. Even when you’ve just ran out, thinking how really, trully summers really are the most melancholy seasons.

But my home park was kind to me. I discovered/created a new game you can play totally alone. It helps when there are no kissing teenagers around, thinking god knows what of you.

So.

If you near anywhere swampy, you can start mapping out the zones of differently cool air that lingers around the area. I have experienced this twice, when growing up and now (still growing up) – the walls of cold air guiding you into invisible labyrinths. Now, how to build new type of walking experiences around invisible air walls… That’s a task for some other season.

When Barcelona stops being a city

 

I went for a walk in the Catalan countryside last week.

I saw cherries that were young but already sweet. I tasted them and felt happy.

I went for a walk in the Catalan countryside last week.

There was plenty of air to think, secret houses to find and a fresh breeze in the valley. There were Chinese dragon sculptures in the front yards, sand-coloured dogs licking my shins and strangers opening their homes. There was peace in the salad bowl, and an itinerary chosen for the rest of the 2017.

I went for a walk in the Catalan countryside last week. And I felt happy.

New river. Old course. Walking the LOOP, 2/24: Cockfosters to Enfield.

Name: London Outer Orbital Path

Walk: 2 of 24

Route: Cockfosters to Enfield Lock (section 17)

Date & Distance: Tuesday, 25.04.2017; 18.2 km

Fellow walkers: K. & M.

The second walk from our series was framed by field edges. (This is not even a pun. Framed by edges… Ah, never mind.) When our first walk was formed by bench and forking path descriptions, then this one was definitely all about following the fields. Which is not bad, you know. I can definitely think of a worst thing than walking next to a field on a cool yet sunny day!

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Section 17 took a bit of time, although it was not very long and did not feel very long either. Once again, we chose the sunniest day of the week and hit the road. Arriving at Cockfosters was strange. Strange in a way reaching a final destination on yet another tube line is. It did not take long for the car parks to end and greener parks to start. Also, it still had not rained in London by that time. It was getting close to 5 weeks.

There was a lot of green happening that day. A lot. Spring is getting properly ready to turn into summer soon. With the blue skies in the background, it was a lot like walking around in alternative versions to Windows’ desktop wallpapers. K. also knows that you can use a word meaning “greener than green” in Turkish in occasions just like this.

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It was a walking day which did not enwrap me (or possibly us three?) in anything impossibly magical, but gave us many small surprises that were sweet in their own everyday way:

  • little fresh oak leaves
  • ivy-smothered forest signs in Enfield
  • cherry blossoms on the grass (up to this point I had only seen them on pavement)
  • the Railway Inn of Enfield that plays opera and smells of old cigarettes
  • two women nailing “Missing: Rooney” posters on trees (Rooney was a parakeet, there was also a photo)
  • the sweetest sign post, saying “New river. (Old course.)”

This one got me thinking. Life, literature and philosophy are brimming with the idea of the opposite: old river, new course. You know, the idea that you can always turn a new page however tired or alienated you have become. There’s also the idea of the opposite of this opposite – old course, new river – meaning that some things get discovered over and over again throughout our lives, in different situations. But new river, old course, exactly in this order, contains something devastatingly romantic, if not even unforgiving. It seems to either hint (in the unforgiving version) that life has certain patterns or ways of influencing us which no one can escape, no matter which century we’re living in – or – that were there has once been life, there will be life again (the romantic version). What I don’t like about this sign, however, is how it seems to rob the one who is living (the new river) from any other options. In a way, it almost makes it not trust itself, without even giving it an option.

And this is also the reason why I finally need to take a month off work for the first time in my life. Because I am so tired that I get offended by forest signs.

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Walking the London LOOP. Walk 1 of 24, Petts Woods to Hayes.

Name: London Outer Orbital Path

Walk: 1 of 24

Route: Petts Woods to Hayes (section 3)

Date & Distance: Tuesday, 11.04.2017; 27.23 km

Fellow walkers: K.

London Loop is a 240-km signed walking route that is created for the incurably curious. In other words, it makes it very easy to walk around London.

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I believe in the magic of streets, paths and roads. A city always feels like home when you know you have many streets to choose from and many ways to get to a location. The trouble finds you when you start running out of streets. I was thinking about this exact thing when looking down from the parapet in Malta’s Mdina: with a tiny squint in your eye, you could almost imagine a slice of Istanbul petting the soft edges of your horizon. But what makes Istanbul Istanbul is the feeling and the knowledge of the Possible. The same pleasant tingling you get before job interviews, exams and first dates. And Malta lacked that feeling. The streets were counted.

K. and I got the idea to walk the London Loop by an accident. I know that in my case, it is a path of solace (among other things) and a path that I slowly start building into my Denali preparations. It keeps me sane when away from the mountains and hanging low in mood. And gives me time to spend with my friends.

The other meaning of the loop

On our first walk already managed to direct us through a tiny trickster point as well. There was a parting of roads and benches whence we choose our itinerary only to end up at the very beginning of the original path at least a kilometer away. I guess this is just one of the meanings for the loop. When retracing our steps we were greeted by an elderly couple at that same trickster point who had also been mislaid from their path (yet coming from the opposite direction).

If I was free to roam forever (and immortal), I’d start mapping all the trickster points in this world. Hopefully, such cartographers are already out there, poking at the crossroads of possibilities.

When England gets DRY –> Epping Forest (Chingford, 09.04.2017).

Life is out there,  and I celebrate it, quietly

The older I get, the more I like spring. With every year. It was the only season I never noticed in my 20s. In my 30s, springs come with a sense of relief.

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Entering the Epping Forest in Chingford.

On Sunday, 9th of April, me and my lover set our course to Epping Forest (of the Chingford area). We had been there once before and we both remembered it for its luscious magical properties. READ: tense green foliage with foxes jumping onto forest glades and butterflies circling the air. The last and only time we visited this area, we walked out of it mesmerised and refreshed.

For the record, I don’t know Epping Forest very well. So far, I’ve been to:

  • Epping Forest in Chingford
  • Epping Forest in Epping
  • Epping Forest near Whipps Cross
  • Epping Forest in Aldersbrook (across the Wanstead Flats in E7)

Of these forest areas, the Chingford one was the fairy tale one, the Epping one the muddy one, the Whipps Cross one the wormhole one (you can end up where you started while thinking you have just reached the other shore of the lake) and the Aldersbrook one the cultural looking one.

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Silent walking made impossible by all the leaves on the forest floor.

Choking on expectations

But this time, Epping Forest was different. That’s because the spring is uncommon. How? It has not rained for weeks. For WEEKS. In England. In Spring. In London. On top of that, on that particular Sunday, I was not walking with my mind really at peace, so my steps were not always in the present but also falling into past memories and expectations of the forest. I think it was the only time I have expected the forest to be something. To show me something. To give me something. (How funny and stupid is that?)

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Life pressing through forest shadows.

But forests teach you good lessons. When you go looking for foliage magic, you will end up inside the landscape of Arizona. When you go looking for foxes, you’ll barely spot a squirrel. When you want to find moist moss, you end up staring at cracks in the dead bark. What is this, spring of death?!

Relaxing into it

There was nothing left to do than to give into the half-lifeless state of it. And just like any good story or a well-built moral structure would suggest – as soon as we accepted the New Arizona, bits of life started revealing itself to us. We even found grass to sit on.

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There is no moral to this sotry. Apart from not to expect things, from people or from nature.

Malta and me, March 2017.

Or, How Nothingness came out of the Blue. Twice.

I have considered my heart to be the copy of the world. Yes, I’m a romantic, and yes, I also actually hear how that sounds. Still. This means that every new place I visit carves its shape onto it.

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View from the Mdina wall.

Fine, my soul and mind are probably sold to the mountains, but my heart also rejoices in the sounds of the Gujarati streets, in the dust and colours of Marrakesh, or in trying to hold steady on a surfboard on the tiniest of ocean waves. I go for the scorching sun of the Delphi mountains and the alpine peaks of Madeira as much as I go for the winds of the Scottish Highlands. The damp streets of Venice in November make me want to get lost in them as much as the backstreets of Beyoğlu do in May.

All this means that nothing prepared me for Malta. I guess I did have expectations of sort. I came for the sun, to see layers of history (especially of the Arab and Spanish times), the streets with labyrinthine structures.

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Mdina.

I was totally ready to embrace the exotic and the new. The everything.

And yet?

There are two versions of Malta. Neither of them is more alternative than the other, neither of them more or less true, or more or less shaded by the wants of the imagination.

Version 1.

My Malta was a Necropolis. It was a place where everything worth seeing came from the past (either from decades or from millennia ago). It is grand to have a choice of UNESCO World Heritage Sites on such a small territory. It is eerie when there is nothing else.

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Ggantija megalithic temple complex from the Neolithic period.

My Malta was a Kingdom of Silence. It is an island without a seagull sound. And island without the murmur of people. Even when visiting the Citadel on the island of Gozo, some builders came up to us, apologising “We are going to make some sound now”. Not to mention that the old capital is actually called the Silent City. Funnily enough, the loudest sound we heard was just outside of Mdina. There was a dog howling in a way some ships howl when they have already been taken over by ghosts.

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Marsaxlokk luzzus.

My Malta was Un-living. Everything in here was old, empty or a car repairs shop. It was a place where most little businesses were closed, with the exception of the little run-down lottery houses that were open on every street. These gave the place an air of blind hope and desperation.

The locals told us how the other locals are against change. How they love the baroque. The old. The bygone.

In here, one needs to take a bus (to leave the capital) to find a food shop, any food shop, that is open.

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Rabat cats.

My Malta was a Caravan Chalet. Once, we passed a row of caravans huddled together under a long tin roof. We took this scene to be a retirement home for beach huts only used out of mercy for their bygone glory. However, browsing through AirBnB revealed that those huts are actually rented out to guests, still. In here, the past is alive by accident but does not always feel like a natural part of the present.

My Malta was a Slap in the Face. We ran between ferry terminals in heavy rain with me praying for my headache to cough up its final remnants. We were told that “For a woman, a stroke is a very embarrassing thing” without an addition “That was a horrible and a chauvinist thing to say”. We were played birthday music in a restaurant without having asked for it.

My Malta was an island of nothingness where my imagination stumbled into a crevasse without a rope.

Version 2.

My Malta was an island dotted with small green lizards and Barbary figs. In here, lemons and limes grow on trees, and when you rub them against your hand, they actually smell of what they are supposed to smell. (Citrus fruit on trees – every northerner’s Romantic Vision Number One!)

In Malta, there is a quiet quirkiness to everything. In buses, people lean against fire hydrants, making them activate a sudden stream of compressed nitrogen all across the bus. There are roosters having proper show-offs for the hens and rock formations shaped like turtles huddled hiding in the quiet Mediterranean spring.

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Xlendi bay.

In here, even if you can’t buy stamps with a card, strangers will use their cash to buy them for you. In Malta, if you squint your eyes just for a second, you can see scenes from Game of Thrones coming to life in front of your eyes. Sometimes, modern times and the bygone do touch hands. And even if you can’t swim yet, you can look through the water until your eyes meet the sea bed.

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Birgu vibes.

Life is silent in here. And no one longs for the additional layer of modernity.

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Gozo stillness.

Simple techniques for hunting for unstructured experiences in spaces you already know: London vs Tallinn

I shall now continue with listing all possible ways for gaining unstructured experiences of old and new spaces.

The following two ways are slightly inspired by dreams, and include a bit of luck. They are both, however, feasible ways for going on microadventures that have the ability to give you a completely new experience of a space you already know.

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London Wanstead Flats. October 2016.

1. Wait for the fog

Lesson learned from the fogs that took hold of East London’s Wanstead Flats in October and December 2016.

A proper fog can change your surroundings within 3 minutes. (Yes, there is a post on London fog already but it deals with different nuances.) Apart from being the most existential of all natural phenomena, the fog can also make things look crazily similar to something from one’s childhood. And this skill is a mystery to me. Surely, my childhood was not spent in some never-talked-about Soviet fog. #alternativefacts

Fair point, though. In my case, the childhood reference is definitely  linked to “Hedgehog in the Fog”. It is a legendary cartoon by Yuriy Norshteyn (1975) that gets deeper with every time you watch it. Give it a try. But not when already feeling existential.

When wandering around in the fog, creatures from the cartoon can actually come to life. True story! (Yes, fine, someone placed a hedgehog doll there just for me. Yes, fine, someone who waited for the fog to arrive for a year. <3) But even if you won’t deliberately go after exorcising cartoon characters to life, the fog will introduce another world into your own.

Even if you think it strange to head out (well, you can’t really see much), then even just a short walk can quite accidentally lead you to a moment or into a scene where other type of powers seem to govern the place. And that is actually pretty amazing. And valuable.

2. Visit the wildest place of your childhood

Lesson learned from visiting the Pääsküla bog of Tallinn in December 2016.

If you happened to grow up in a bog or next to a forest, this will be easy. But if you had a place where your parents took you twice a year but which stands out the most from your early years, it is also worth the effort to visit that.

Preferrably, choose a place you have not visited for 5, 10, or 15 years. Go when you have time. Go alone.

Notice how the reality and the memory start mixing. There’s also a high chance that you have dreamt about that place so much throughout your grown-up life. At least this is what I felt when I visited my childhood kingdom – the Pääsküla bog (located in the wetlands nature reserve in the capital of Estonia). (And no, there was no nature reserve there when I was growing up.)

Walking on the streets felt like crossing the border into a dream. But entering a forest from a path which I had not used for 15 (!) years turned the entire space into a living dream. I found an apple tree that I had forgotten. It was still holding on to its winter apples, transforming them all into natural Christmas decorations.

Walking further, I noticed more paths I had not used for more than a decade. But I left them alone for now. It feels magical just to know that they are there, waiting for a visit in the future.

Apparently, that forest is more deeply engrained into my mind than I ever knew. While walking (well, making my way through) thin larches and winter bushes, I suddenly stopped dead by feeling an presence of emptiness. “There used to be a tree here”, said the quick thought entering my head. Soon, I was already scooping half-frozen leaves off the ground to test my sanity. I passed the test. The tree stump was indeed there. Who knew that forests engrained their spatial maps so softly into our memories.

But there was also a moment of disbelief. What surprised me was the visible lack of new paths and the shrunken number of the existing ones. Also, it was a sunny weekend day and barely a child could be seen. I had not ventured far at all, so maybe the children were hidden deeper in the forest. But they weren’t also around houses. Everything was empty. All these areas used to be THE place of life and adventure for 20 years of my life. A place of sickeningly high tree houses, bog rafts, map drawing, bridge counting, island living and for all types of hunting and orienteering games. But now? (Ok, I sound old, right?)

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My favourite the place for playing “home” in the early 1990s. Tallinn 2016.

Walking on the borders of semi-realities always assures me of one thing: every type of travel is possible. You see tree roots that have found their way out of the ground more briskly, yet they are the same ones you used to play under when far away from your current height. Some of the paths feel almost too strange, some you recognise but are bitter-sweetly intimidated of. Your forest has become a stranger. Not an inhospitable one, but a stranger nonetheless. And yet. And yet, and yet. You feel like it would welcome you back.

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The forest of the bygone. Tallinn, Estonia 2016.

And then you notice something else, and all the worlds become alive within each other. The sharp creek banks remind you of the careful measuring it took to jump over them, of the frog spawning locations you kept secret from the others, of the greyish Elven thickets you found your way through, of the creek suddenly becoming a sandy-bedded one, and  of the sedge tufts that you used for stepping stones when getting to the other side of the bog. Estonians are actually so fond of their sedge tufts that there’s even a famous children’s book dedicated to them. A children’s book and a theme park.

This is the thing with revisiting your childhood kingdoms. It opens up a way to change your understanding of time. Everything feels intensily possible. Once again. Although, even these words do the experience no justice.

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The road I have walked the most in my life, so far. Pääsküla bog. Tallinn 2016.