Let's visit the locations that lie seven miles north, east, south and west from the statue of Charles I in Trafalgar Square. It's not the most thrilling of quartets, but it still beats what eight miles'll have to offer. [1 mile], [2 miles], [3 miles], [4 miles], [5 miles], [6 miles], [map]
SEVEN MILES NORTH: Bounds Green Road, N11 (junction with Warwick Road)
It turns out there is a green in Bounds Green, and here it is, marked by a green sign saying Welcome To The Green. A narrow grassy stripe tapers towards the North Circular, at this end broadening slightly to encompass a cluster of wooden exercise equipment and a retired couple on a bench. He's reading something weighty, she's reading about Heroic Failure. The pub on the corner is The Ranelagh, a free house since 1899, brightened by a rim of lush flowers tumbling over the claret woodwork. The chef's idea of fish and chips is "ale-battered cod with triple-cooked chips and tartare sauce", plus "posh mushy peas" on the side as an optional extra. At the adjacent Sunrise Cafe it's "egg, bacon, tomato, sausage, fried slice and tea" all-in for a fiver. Outside Sonjig's off licence two men from Shutters Ltd have climbed stepladders to wrestle with some improperly-descended metalwork, while the shop assistant brushes fallen detritus towards the kerb.
By my calculations the precise seven mile point is outside the bus shelter opposite, where the 221 pulls up after its brief descent from the tube station. Illuminated posters advertise 7 Up and Muller Light. The bench rattles. Here is where the big houses stop and a sequence of flats intervenes, behind a raised public lawn that would otherwise have been front gardens. The block behind the bus stop is called Warwick Court, which is odd because so is the block on the other side of the road, which is odd because that road isn't Warwick Road it's Passmore Gardens. Its residents held a street party on Sunday, the only trace of which is a permission notice tied to a lamppost. Just beyond is Scout Park, an eight acre compound offering plenty of space for camping cubs, opened in 1928 on the site of a pottery and now offering opportunities for archery, air rifle shooting and climbing. I bet more than one of you has slept here overnight.
SEVEN MILES EAST: ExCel (in the car park, eastern side)
Here we are again Along The Dock Edge, indeed I dropped by on Saturday as part of Anna Gibb's London Festival of Architecture walk. The interior of the ExCel exhibition centre can be pretty desolate during non-conferences, but that's nothing compared to the car park out the back. Its sprawling rectangular grid lies empty behind a lowered barrier, occupied solely by birdlife and the occasional wandering pedestrian. It seems ridiculous that so large a chunk of prime development land lies fallow, but vehicles must be catered for, and at £20 a time (when operational) it's a nice little earner. Mothballed in one corner is a squat black prefab marked with the Avengers logo, this a Marvel "multi-room experience" for die-hard fans packed with suits, screens and props in cases. It closed months back, godawful TripAdvisor reviews perhaps to blame, and awaits transfer to fleece the population of Cardiff.
Look carefully to see a rail embedded in the concrete a few yards back from the water, this a remnant of the tracks once used by dockside cranes. A shorter parallel rail has been preserved slightly further along. In the water are a quartet of paddleboarders, the most athletic of whom has just slipped and soaked himself, to the amusement of his gawkier companions. Three rowers walk past from the direction of the London Regatta Centre, bantering about that time they caught crabs. A bottle of Ribena floats by. A car alarm blares. Every few minutes a DLR train weaves along a viaduct between the Aloft, Premier Inn and Doubletree hotels. Meanwhile across the dock the entire Silvertown Quays lot remains vacant, long pencilled in for intensive mixed use development, but to date home only to a few abandoned 2012 entertainment pavilions.
SEVEN MILES SOUTH: Northborough Road, SW16 (Norbury/Pollards Hill)
Northborough Road breaks off from the main road by Norbury's Wetherspoons and dives deep into Edwardian suburbia. The estate agent on the corner appears to have the monopoly on house sales and flat rentals further up. Initially they're quite terracy, with front gardens barely large enough to hold Croydon's full complement of three bins. Then a few gabled properties intrude, then it gets quite mixed, but always stitched together with no direct rear access. The house numbers are my favourite feature, each embedded in the wall as separate digits on glazed tiles, one brick's length from the edge of the porch. The precise location we're looking for is in the high hundreds, by the stinkpipe, right on the brow of the hill.
The view to the west is remarkably lowrise, with Merton Civic Centre the sole tower along a woody skyline. Lined up to the east are the Crystal Palace TV mast, a church spire and the former WindsorHouse office block. A learner from the Polka Driving School ascends the road with caution, slowing for each hump, trailing a procession of vehicles behind her. The council streetsweeper smiles by, earbuds drooping, although he has yet to reach the fox-ripped bag spilling takeaway trays across the pavement. A family emerges from behind a high hedge in their Eid finest before piling into an estate and driving off to celebrate. Two recycling sacks have been left on a damp pillow at the end of Norton Gardens. A blackbird sings.
SEVEN MILES WEST: Ealing Common, W5 (Gunnersbury Avenue, aka North Circular Road)
When you think of the North Circular you think of a drear dual carriageway, but here in Ealing it's a narrow tree-lined avenue. No planner ever dared encroach upon the common, or deprive the villas along Gunnersbury Avenue of their front gardens. These have highly decorated gables crafted with overlapping terracotta tiles, and intricate arched porches that plead with you to come inside. The two houses guarding the entrance to Crosslands Avenue even have turrets. They're built on the site of Ealing Common Farm, and the estate beyond used to be its orchard. Today's residents perch pots of pansies on their gateposts, and drape hosepipes across their front lawns to refresh their rosebushes, and park their Mini Countrymans beside their BMWs, and live out an idyllic Thirties suburban dream as if in a quiet corner of Chorleywood but in zone 3.
The corner of the common that abuts the North Circular is closed to all traffic but bicycles. One bright orange steed has been left propped up beneath a sycamore, this one of the Chinese-funded Mobike fleet that still attempts to eke out a dockless living across Ealing. The common bristles with rich vegetation, grassy stalks and scattered wildflowers. Follow the sandy track to a bench where you can watch the delivery lorries go by, or spy the tower of the local parish church, or flop back with a podcast and a wrap. Close scrutiny of the horse chestnuts reveals clusters of tiny spiked green cases preparing autumn's conker harvest. Beyond the treeline the Eid In The Park festival is getting underway. Best not rush ahead to eight miles too soon.