Thanks to those nice people at the RMT, London is once again a walking city. The travelling population has taken to the streets, abandoning the subways in favour of a swift Spring stroll. Many central thoroughfares are teeming with people taking advantage of the sunshine and a chance to see the sights. I felt compelled to join the perambulating masses in their overground joy, so took a six mile hike from the Euston Road to home. Strike out, why don't you, and join an RMT walk today.
It's an exciting day to be at Euston, to be sure. There are people everywhere, tonight gushing in rather than spilling out. And there are buses everywhere, many of them not moving because another of the buses is immediately in front. One of these buses is going to my house, but it's not moving, and it's full, so surely a walk would be a better idea.
The Euston Road is heaving, as befits a historic thoroughfare. Some careful dodging helps keep my walk on track as a merry band of ramblers stride towards me. Some are deep in conversation, but others seem less happy, tugging suitcases up the gentle hill from the British Library. The gothic towers of St Pancras are an early highlight, sidelit in the late afternoon sun. And then another human surge throngs Kings Cross Square, around the new Giraffe Kiosk, where earlier several members of the RMT were handing out walking leaflets. It seems many have stopped to take their advice.
Continuing straight ahead on Pentonville Road, the path ascends out of the valley of the River Fleet. My walking pace is faster than a bus, I decide, but those on two wheels are definitely nipping by faster. Some are more than confident, whereas others are wobbly first timers taking advantage of the RMT's generosity. It takes some time to cross the Great North Road at the Angel, where the flood of bikes seems at its height, and the whiff of exhaust fume particulates is strong. I remember a bike shop here by the hotel - it's gone, and a fresh façade of brick shields yet another infill of brightly lit offices.
Shortly I pass the home of the Crafts Council in their classical pillared HQ. The string of new buildings shooting up further down the City Road is perhaps less welcome. These soaring apartment towers have names like Lexicon and Caravaggio, this particular pair overlooking the end of the City Basin, and are the latest penthouse hideaways for foreign investors. Another nearing completion is called The Eagle, named after the old pub immortalised in Pop Goes The Weasel. It's proper monolithic, rising like a tower of Mordor opposite the Moorfields Eye Hospital, but that's the way the money goes.
How hipster is Shoreditch these days? My walk takes me from the tech hub at Silicon Roundabout into the heart of bleeding-edge cool, past an even greater number of cyclists than before. Most of the lunchier pop-ups have packed away, but a number of parked-up scooters remain, and the backstreets are brimming with infeasible numbers of men with lumberjack beards. They're not walking home, they're hanging around for a craft beer, along with several less stereotypical folk going nowhere fast.
Crossing Brick Lane the buzz dribbles on, down a street of impossibly hip barbers, coffee shops and ukulele dealers. Even the piled-up binbags sit beneath a graffitied three-eyed cat clutching an ice cream cone, such is the artistic gentrification now nudging into the E2 postcode. But the magic fades, or more likely reality returns, past a pub where the Kray Brothers drank, a linen workshop and a 125 year old boxing club. Nobody here is walking the RMT walk, the entire concept of commuting is an irrelevance.
Stepped back from Roman Road, the estates of Bethnal Green are typical of the high density heart of Tower Hamlets. Low-rise blocks intermingle with the occasional terrace of low-brow townhouses. Kids kick footballs against garage walls while a bunch of parents look down from a balcony with beer cans in hand. Through a Victorian arch lies Meath Gardens, formerly a private cemetery, now a large open greenspace surrounded by 21st century flats. I suspect I look conspicuous walking through, the only one not pausing to gossip, play or exercise a dog.
From the footbridge over the Regent's Canal the spires of Canary Wharf are clearly seen, if locally irrelevant. Mile End Park is looking lush, with a speckling of bluebells amid the long grass along the lawn's edge. I duck along the towpath to meander back towards the Mile End Road, where a cavalcade of out-of-town buses is transporting those who've chosen not to walk today. And I confess, I could have caught a Routemaster plying route 205 about four miles back, but where's the challenge in that? The delights of a proper RMT walk, fully embraced, reveal a side of the city those underground never see.