Last year London held a Walk To Work Day. This year the UK is holding a Walk To Work Week. The idea's the same. Make a one-off trip to work on foot - either the whole journey or more of it than usual - then pledge to fit more walking into your working day in the future. It'll be good for your health, it'll be good for your waistline, and it'll be better than being crammed on a train or stuck in a bus or jammed in a car. Ignore how cold and wet you might get. Ignore all the extra time it'll take. Just concentrate on the benefits. And get walking.
So yesterday I walked to work. All the way to work. It meant waking up an hour earlier than usual to arrive at the normal time, but that was a small price to pay for keeping off the tube. It was a gorgeous day, and I'd have the sun behind me all the way, so I risked going coatless in the early morning chill. Good choice, as it turned out. Porridge gulped and shoes laced, I set off along Bow Road on my way towards the City. Five miles to go. Best foot forward.
East End pavements are quiet at half past six in the morning. The Tower Hamlets hose-down squad take this opportunity to water-blast the litterbins along the Mile End Road. A few early commuters aim for the tube. London's invisible army of overnight cleaners heads home to bed. Whitechapel Market slowly emerges from the back of a fleet of unbranded vans. A handful of bench-bound blokes quaff silently from 2-litre green bottles - because it's never too early in the day for the first glug of White Lightning. It'll get rowdier later.
All along my walk I was teased and tempted by every tube station I passed. I could have been down there a few feet below the roadway, taking the easy route to work, but I resisted. My time-consuming journey reminded me how the advent of public transport transformed London. Two centuries ago I'd not have wanted to live five miles from work, I'd have lived much closer. London small. Anything to avoid a three hour daily pedestrian commute. And now the city's workers can all live much further out, so we do. London big. Which makes walking to work a occasional lunatic activity.
Cross into the City proper and the narrow streets thicken. It's an early start for many, stepping blearily from the suburbs and filing dutifully towards their desks. On the way they pause to pick up a coffee - there was no time for breakfast at home - and mmmm that smells nice, go on, a lightly-greased croissant too. The sun fails to penetrate the shadowy canyons between the high blocks and skyscrapers, and everywhere a swarm of dark suits and black jackets scuttles on.
I reached my desk about an hour and a half after setting out. I wasn't knackered, I wasn't panting, and I wasn't visibly sweaty. Pity really, because it would have been nice if at least one of my fellow colleagues had noticed and asked me why I was flushed and grinning. Instead my ambulatory saintliness went unheeded. But I'm glad I gave the healthy option a try, because it'd been a fascinating journey across a very varied cross section of London. And maybe that's why, stepping out of the office into the afternoon sunlight eight hours later, I decided to walk all the way home too.