diamond geezer

 Monday, September 07, 2020

Walking has always been good for you, and in 2020 especially so. Indeed within central London, with tube ridership reticent at best, walking may well be your best option. But could you avoid busy pavements by following a quirkier more characterful backstreet instead? Perhaps Footways are the way to go.
"Central London Footways, previously the Central London Walking Network, is a network of quiet and interesting streets for walking in central London. It has been curated by London Living Streets to connect major places with appealing and accessible streets. The places include mainline train stations, popular destinations and green spaces. It prompts Londoners and visitors to choose walking as the most enjoyable, efficient and healthy option."
The Footways network skips Oxford Street in favour of Soho, avoids Euston Road by taking Gower Place and prefers Hatton Garden to Farringdon Road. It's not necessarily the way to go if you're in a hurry, but as part of a general wander might well direct you towards intriguing parts of central London you've not explored before.



London Living Streets, who've been pounding pavements to decide what's in and what's out, hope their Footways network will eventually become a web of walk-friendly streets with broader pavements and better street furniture. I suspect that may be an optimistic view. But for now Footways exist solely as a map of streets you might like to follow, initially online. Head to footways.london and you can scoot round a digital map or wait a couple of weeks and you can hold a proper map in your hands. TfL helped to provide seed funding, Urban Good have curated a printed version, and anyone who pays £2.95 postage by 6pm on Wednesday will be able to pre-order a physical copy.

I decided to go out and try to use the current Google map to follow a Footway into town. Normally I'd walk straight down the Whitechapel Road and enter the City at Aldgate, but the Footways map instead nudged me off the main drag just past the market... up the alleyway where the temporary entrance to Whitechapel station is. It got much better after that.



On crossing Vallance Road a choice of Footway awaits. One forks left along Old Montague Street, the road 'one back' from the A11 hence a much less crowded path. The other forks to the right of the tower block and that's Hanbury Street, another great choice for walking but this time heading for Spitalfields. As you can see from the proliferation of No Entry signs in the photo you're unlikely to be knocked flying by a vehicle round here, indeed the first stretch of Hanbury Street is properly pedestrianised. I forked right.



I'm not unfamiliar with Hanbury Street, but it was good to be reminded it exists. Sights of delightful minor interest include a striking GLC lozenge, an arts centre the Duchess of York opened in 1935 and the varied architecture of the Chicksands Estate. How much nicer to be pondering the names of council blocks in peace than endlessly stepping out of the way of folk on the main road.

As Brick Lane approaches the road gets much narrower, funnelling up the side of a Banglatown cash and carry. The shops here are a true borderline mix of traditional trades interspersed with artsy boutiques and failed fusion restaurants. A tailor's workshop was visible up one alleyway, just beyond the prone form of a body in a bulging sleeping bag. It's worth pointing out that Footways predate the pandemic so social distancing wasn't a key driver, but traffic calming and a one-way system are helping to keep this narrow street relatively pedestrian friendly.



Suddenly I was in the thick of tourist-friendly Spitalfields, creeping up the side of the Sunday Upmarket past an unnecessary number of coffee shops. But the Footway suddenly wanted me to bear off, and I had trouble deducing where because white roads on a light grey Google map aren't easy to trace. Up Corbet Place, seriously? But this historic dogleg has a cobbled pavement and Hong Kong Phooey graffiti, plus it bypasses 50m of Commercial Street, so that was a win.



Folgate Street is next, which means following a delightful Georgian throwback rather than entering the busy slipstream of Spitalfields Market. I found a Stepney Borough Council manhole in the cobbles. I avoided a blazing row taking place on a very expensive doorstep. I passed the timewarp marvel that is Dennis Severs' House. And I noted with sadness the wanton destruction of Norton Folgate, bar a single pub marooned on a street corner, as British Land do their damnedest to transform 336,000 sq ft of grimy historical fabric into office-led identikit stacks.



The Footway slips across the A10 almost without noticing, taking Worship Street to skirt the northern edge of Liverpool Street station. At first it's investment banks and newbuild towers with pretentious hostelries underneath. Then a brief smidgeon of old Shoreditch survives, a run of half a dozen bay-windowed shops with steps to the door, one or two of which might still be in business. Worship Street gets somewhat blander after that, more a succession of anonymous lowrise office buildings, but still very much not the normal route to town.



The Footway network now branches off in all directions, indeed has been branching most of the way. Perhaps take Bunhill Fields as a shortcut to the Barbican and Smithfield, maybe head over to St Paul's or (as I did) meander back south through the City. I did start getting a bit lost at this point, a Google map with white roads on a light grey background being somewhat impractical for travellers on foot. This is where the printed version will come up trumps because that's a proper map, assuming anyone can still be bothered to carry one of those any more.

I'm unconvinced that Footways create a practical everyday network for getting around central London. Most of the routes wiggle too much to be easily memorable, and streets chosen for their character don't necessarily link together well. But if your objective is exploration rather than speed, and so long as you're in possession of some kind of map, walking the quirky backstreet route is invariably a winner.


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream