Headspace want to bring mindfulness to your daily commute, and hope you'll sign up for a 60-day free trial on their app. Personally I consider mindfulness to be a load of meaningless waffle, but I'm fortunate enough to have good mental health so I'm not target audience.
From TfL's point of view it's win/win. They want to increase active travel in the capital, so getting more people out and about helps nudge towards that target, and also Headspace will have paid them a decent-sized fee.
"Hi, and welcome to this Headspace walk, taking you from Camden Town to King's Cross via the towpath of Regent's Canal. A perfect opportunity to take a new route and experience a tranquil stroll along a scenic waterway. The walk we'll be doing is just shy of a mile. Our starting point is outside Camden Town tube exit, the exit to Kentish Town Road and London Zoo."
Immediately I had a problem. Camden Town station doesn't have an exit for Kentish Town Road and London Zoo, it has one exit for each, and in 1½ minutes time it'd be crucial that I was standing outside the right one. For now I just had to guess.
"Head there now and just find a quiet spot to stand for a moment."
The pavement outside Camden Town station is an impressively poor spot to find a quiet space. On my visit cars honked, trucks rattled, a busker played something unidentifiable on his guitar, a wheezing drunkard came and stood next to me, an e-scooter whizzed by and a street artist cheered when a passer-by threw some cash into her hat.
"It's not always easy to get away from the busy streets of the capital, but this famous canal offers an escape in and of itself, the kind of calmness we can savour. Same city, different route. A whole new experience."
As the introduction continued a chugger from the National Deaf Children's Society walked over to me and asked "Hey Sir, how are you doing there?", despite the fact I was wearing headphones. There was no calmness to savour here.
"Before we begin let's just take a moment to get centred physically so that during the walk we can get centred mentally. So first find a pocket of space and place your feet shoulder-width apart..."
I found a pocket of space beside a pile of cardboard boxes and food waste chucked out by a restaurant. Suddenly the commentary cut out, because I hadn't been touching my phone for over a minute so its autolock had kicked in. I had to log back in, discovered the audio track had now rewound to the beginning and tried to move it forwards to the appropriate time. This happened more than once. Eventually, by repeatedly touching to keep my screen awake, I managed to get past 2 minutes.
"Ready? So we're standing outside the station and directly in front of you there is a fork in the road. We're going to be taking the road on the right, Camden Road. Let's start to walk, crossing Kentish Town Road at the pedestrian crossing, then take Camden Road to head towards the canal."
My head was spinning from all the instructions, more focused on whether I was going the right way than mental relaxation. It was at this point that the audio cut out again, which I eventually deduced was because my phone had de-tethered from the station wi-fi and was now relying on 4G instead. Obviously if you download the Headspace app none of this pesky rebooting occurs, but the audio file on the webpage was proving woefully impractical.
"In syncing body and mind we bring our attention into the present moment which allows the mind to calm down a little bit, leaving us room to feel clearer, calmer and more content. This exercise is designed to help us step away from preoccupying thoughts and feelings, so that we can instead find and enjoy the spaciousness of mind that allows us to better connect with ourselves and the world around us."
The female voice continued with this verbiage for the next three minutes, urging me to employ a general focus on physical sensations as I tuned into the rhythm of my own body. As she dwelt on meditative feelings, I was forced to avoid a skateboard, step round a group of police officers chatting to some rough sleepers outside Sainsbury's and attempt to cross a four-lane road by watching carefully for the lights to change. Had I switched off fully, I might have been run over.
"By now you'll be likely approaching the bridge over Regent's Canal. After you've crossed the bridge keep on the left side of the road to take the steps, just before Costa Coffee. These will take you down onto the towpath. This is the part of the walk where you get to experience a little oasis in this capital city following a meandering waterway southeast."
I'd passed the steps to the canal before the commentary got to that point, proving how incredibly difficult it is to synchronise a podcast to a walk.
"When walking the canal notice the wildlife, the narrowboats, the reflections on the water, the layers of sounds, the people nearby. See how it makes you feel as you take it all in."
It took a while to spot some wildlife, but eventually I ticked off a butterfly and some pigeons. There were no narrowboats until further on. As for sounds, I got to listen to the dinging of a cyclist's bell trying to get past me, a conversation the two people behind me were having about Far East banking options and a dog owner yelling "Oscar" six times at his misbehaving hound.
"And notice any aromas, whatever the nose detects."
Cannabis, urine and a tray of falafel, since you ask.
"All this noticing allows us to check in with our senses, all part of syncing body and mind, increasing our awareness."
I was still questioning why on earth the soundtrack had started at the station and spent the first seven minutes on the busy streets of Camden, especially given it only had eight minutes left to run. At least the mindfulness aspect of the walk had some chance of working now there was an obvious towpath to follow.
"So let's experience a little bit of silence for a bit, for about 30 seconds or so. Just see how you get on. See if you can keep with that steady rhythm, the tension of the sensation of the feet against the ground."
A not insignificant proportion of the 15 minute running time turned out to be silence. Headspace are onto easy money here. The second silence was much longer than the first, and after a few minutes I got the suspicion that maybe the soundtrack had cut out again, which indeed it had and I had to de-absorb myself and faff around with my phone to get some voice back.
"So continuing on the towpath you will eventually follow on past St Pancras Lock. After another few minutes of walking you'll take the green steps on your left. Follow them up to Granary Square and the signs will direct you towards King's Cross station, bringing you to the end of this walk."
The commentary ended a full five minutes before I reached the end of the towpath section, because everyone walks at a different pace and because there is a limit to how much filler a scriptwriter can deliver. It would then be another five minutes walk to the station, by which time all feelings of inner calm were likely to have dissipated.
"Great job on taking some time for yourself today."
I felt duly patronised, and anything but mindful.
"And remember you can bring mindfulness to any walk you do, and you can take this new-found calm into the rest of your day."
The Headspace/TfL webpage includes four other soundtracks, one a similarly inappropriate walk from London Bridge to Waterloo and three that are location-non-specific. If mindfulness is something your day needs, these latter three might be more useful. But I'd query whether Headspace's downloadable archive of platitudes is something anybody genuinely requires, especially at £72 a year once the free trial runs out, because even I could have recorded something better than their mindless canalside commentary.