I’ve been enjoying this surprising article about competitive walking in Georgian Britain, it was particularly interesting to me given that it takes place partly at Hare and Billet in Blackheath which has been the site of my own recent excursions 🙂
Incidentally the reason I took up walking in and around London was after re-reading Dickens’ Oliver Twist in my mid-twenties. I’d always taken the bus everywhere before that (living in Camberwell at the time meant the tube was less of an option anyway) and enjoyed reading about people walking through bits of London I passed on the bus. It just hadn’t really occurred to me that one might or could walk around London, or that it might be done for pleasure, or health benefits. The people in the book had to walk from necessity (couldn’t afford the alternatives) so it probably wasn’t much fun for them.
I would have been no good at Georgian competitive pedestrianism though. Because I’d regularly bussed and walked the journey from Camden to Charing Cross, and from Charing Cross to Camberwell I’d assumed it would be plain sailing to follow the 53 route back to Blackheath. So one hot Saturday afternoon a few years ago I set off from Camden and walked all the way to Deptford before thinking better of it. According to my GPS tracker I’d done 14 miles in about six hours, which is fairly feeble (and the distance can’t really be much more than 9 miles – though I was following the less direct bus route). By the time I arrived at Deptford Bridge I was more shuffling than walking. A 53 bus arrived and I realised I wouldn’t be able to get on to it as I could barely lift my feet up, then someone with crutches arrived (overtaking me) and the driver lowered the platform for them and I was able to shuffle on. I remember my hip joints squeaking as I walked up the stairs to my flat and I thought I’d never do that again, though by the next day I was perfectly fine. These days I tend to restrict myself to 40 minute walks though, can’t be too careful 😉
Walking in London is actually quite hard-going and it’s not that related to the distances. You’re constantly keeping out of others’ way and at very regular intervals you’re required to cross roads which breaks your pace a fair bit, not to mention the general background efforts at being ‘London alert’. And in my case especially, trying not to get lost (this is why I follow the bus routes).