I hiked 18km to work this morning, crossing London NW to SE. Caught dawn on the river.
Been working in Canary Wharf this month, surrounded by the wet stuff and in sight of the docks. History and wild just under the shiny corporate surface. It gets me thinking. I give my days to my office aircon, but for the price of a coffee I could unlock enough hours to follow the water in the old way.
I leave my house in West Hampstead at 04:44, because that’s poetic and also because I promised to be at my desk by 08:15. It’s 2 days past the full moon and she stays high. A biting clear night, and I’m easy as I push familiar ground.
At 04:56 I hear the first birdsong, but it’s an insomniac, all out of whack. The second call comes from a pair of robins at 05:12. Still dark.
I’m not a nervous city dweller, but in a nod to being a lone female I resist the temptation of a nighttime stroll through the parks. I waver at pretty Primrose Hill but turn back and skirt the edges – keep common sense. Foxes playing chase at 05:19. I pass Regents Park and here I do feel exposed; unheard and unheeded. Pick up the pace, tuck blonde hair under my collar. The very first hint of lightening sky on the horizon, 05:30.
With relief I hit the main artery, Euston Road already alive with commuters, and the deserted dark roads of north London are behind me. I melt into streets that know me, passing my old student halls at 05:45. Sip scalding jasmine green tea from my Thermos.
05:50 into Soho – far from the first time, but rarely from this end of the night. Sky showing a first deep blue as I hit Covent Garden, hospitality waking to the day. Chairs scraping, aprons tying, a waft of something baked. Then at 06:12 I wind round the back of the Savoy onto the Embankment, and from now I’ll follow the river.
As I find the water, the first pre-dawn rainbow in the East sends me scrambling up a bulwark to snap photos, grinning like a child. Pause as I figure out how to get back down, fingers numb.
Walk on to Blackfriars, where the river drops away behind roadworks and places not made for people, and here I have to defy Google to stay on the banks and not be sucked up towards the City. Oh, metaphors.
I’m vindicated by the realisation that the Thames Path is long and true to its companion, and I can walk it almost all the way.
Past all the sights – Tower Bridge, the Tower’s turrets, HMS Belfast – I and a few morning joggers, plus the odd requisite Japanese tourist, even at 7am.
Google and private residence signs try to turn me away at Wapping, but I hop a small fence and am suddenly rewarded with a fireball sunrise. It catches me unawares, and I laugh out loud with the surprise of it, red over grey green blue at 07:24.
I wore trainers, and I’m limping now from pressure on my achilles. But I’m only just bang on time, so I push the pace hard to afford myself short photo and thermos breaks. It’s worth it. Ducking down algae-grown apartment steps brings me onto stretches of sandy beach, fresh green seaweed around my Nikes, for all the world a seaside morning.
It makes me laugh again, the incongruity – standing in this silent private wilderness, waves lapping, watching the sun rise over my shiny city target. 07:33. More jasmine tea and I press on fast. Past docks and cranes, warehouses and shipping containers, where the developments are fewer and old London closer. The history of river trade and industry still raw and near.
Fresh lemon light spreads through the haze, and suit-trainer combos form their own tide towards the city, matching my stride. A little less disheveled and windswept, and not obviously limping.
But my mind is brimming with the full moon, the foxes’ wild dash, fire over water and the clink of metal on the docks, the breeze on the foreshore in a rose tint dawn, sand under my feet. And when I hit the Wharf, first I hit the actual wharf, and briefly it still feels a maritime creature. I’m 4 minutes from work when corporate London finally closes around me, and I walk into aircon and stillness and coffee.
And all day I can’t shed the wild I was in out there.