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Summer routes

July 2, 2011

Since moving to London in November I’ve been making a regular fixture of running into the Square Mile, crossing London Bridge and Tower Bridge and heading back home for a neat 13.5-mile tempo session. However, with summer indisputably underway, this route has increasingly involved running in the road past crowded bars and weaving through dense crowds of tourists.

Time for a change, then, since few things are less conducive to trying to keep a pace than waiting at traffic lights and getting swamped by people trying to take photos of Embankment. In exploring the area, I’ve found a few paths here and there that were away from the tourist trails and traffic, and thought I could join them up into a nice route.

And so last weekend I set off for Tottenham Hale – an inauspicious start for a scenic run – and took the Lee Valley towards the Thames. The path along the river takes in an uninterrupted five miles before you hit the 2012 Olympics site. At which point you’re forced out into an industrial estate, but following a few signs brings you out at Victoria Park. I’d never been to Victoria Park before, but I knew that Regent’s Canal marks one of the park’s boundaries and would give me a clear footpath as far as Islington.

Not quite sure where I was getting off the canal path since I decided not to wait until the canal goes into a tunnel and the path ends, I eventually gathered my bearings and headed through Islington for Finsbury Park, and back along the roads from there to home.

All in all, a neat and nice 14.1 miles. So, the following day I decided to incorporate some elements of this route into my run home from work. I didn’t bother measuring the path, but thought it would probably come out as around 9 miles.

So, setting off from Holborn, I made my way to Euston Road and hung a right until I reached Islington where Regent’s Canal emerges from the tunnel and the towpath starts. The roads and pavements were busier than the previous day, but that’s Monday rush hour for you.

Turning off the path at Victoria Park I was feeling the heat of the day. It was humid, nudging over the 30°C mark and the weather forecast had been threatening thunder storms. Clouds were building on the horizon, but the sun was still beating down. Through Victoria Park I took a gate that looked like the one I’d taken the previous day and spent a while trying to find the same industrial estate.

No luck. I figured I’d come out too early, so headed parallel to the park to try to join up with the path I wanted. Eventually I found something that looked promising, found myself in an industrial estate and followed the Capital Ring signposts to make my way towards the Olympic site. I found a bridge over some water, and only one way to go on the footpath since the other side was shut for the development, and headed in the direction of home.

A little while later, something struck me as not quite right. I’d come to an intersection that I didn’t remember and the signposts seemed to be pointing either towards Little Venice or Victoria Park. And Victoria Park seemed a whole lot closer than it should be. I saw a map on the road and ran up to get my bearings. I didn’t recognise the area, but something was niggling at the back of my mind. Then I had one of those moments of realisation, like when you’ve been looking at something unfamiliar only to realise you know it, but it’s up side down. I was at Victoria Park. Instead of running along the Lee towpath, I’d cut back on myself along Regent’s Canal.

Disheartened and parched, I headed back to try to find the path again. This time I went further along, found another path that looked like the one I was looking for and followed it through another part of the same industrial estate. Coming out on the river with signs towards Walthamstow I started to feel relieved. Only to find that the path back was closed.

Back into the estate I went, this time picking up a litre of water from a local shop, which I finished much quicker than I’d expected. Eventually, after a fairly unpromising stretch along dusty roads, I found the path I’d originally been looking for and was finally on the Lee Navigation Path. All that remained was to get home via Springfield Park.

By the time I got  home I’d covered 16.5 miles (somewhat more than the original 9 I’d expected) and was desperate for a drink and some food.

So, the lesson to take away from this? London’s big, parts of it look quite samey, and my sense of direction is rubbish.

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