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South of the river

January 7, 2014

A friend, recently returned from a six-week trek along a pilgrimage route in Spain, recently commented on the satisfaction of setting off in the morning, walking to a landmark on the horizon and going beyond before the day is through.
In other news, I’ve been playing a bit of Grand Theft Auto V over the Christmas holidays. In one section, having blown up a crystal meth factory, smuggled some weapons over the border and massacred a family I made my way over the mountains, pausing briefly to survey Los Santos below, before heading to the city to cause rambunctious chaos.
So anyway, I was inspired to plot a nice long Sunday run.
There’s not much you can see on the horizon of a flat city from a point of little elevation. However, from certain angles or vantage points you can see key landmarks, and so from the Lea Valley, there are points at which the towers of Canary Wharf swing into view.
At Hackney marshes, the towers battle for prominence over the Olympic Park, Westfield and various other tower blocks. But you get further down the valley, where the footpath crosses the Lea and switches over to the Limehouse Cut, the turrets of Canary Wharf loom over the locks and warehouses and jumbled housing blocks.
And then you’re running along a wobbly gangway and hugging the warehouse-lined stretch of water and thinking ‘Can I smell flapjack’ before finally bursting out into the marina of Limehouse Basin.
Hanging a left to play tag with the Thames Path (impossible to follow exactly, but easy to follow broadly – losing and rejoining at random) and head out into the Isle of Dogs. Between buildings, Canary Wharf is now to the left, vanishing regularly behind residential buildings. And following the road round, eventually coming out at Island Gardens, with the Wharf definitively behind me.
Feeling I may have misjudged the distance, but taking it easy and bracing myself for the long haul, I ducked into the Greenwich foot tunnel, racing through the weirdly distorted echoes of over-excited children, until I emerged into the brightness and busyness of Greenwich on a Sunday.
I cut through the crowds, made for the park and headed up to the Observatory for the summit of my run. Now – I feel I need to explain myself here – long distance running deprives the brain of oxygen and what feels like a stroke of genius at the time just turns out to be the burblings of an idiot. In Grand Theft Auto V your character can take photos on his mobile phone – including selfies – so you can capture moments of particular mayhem for posterity with the kind of cheesy inane grin you so frequently see on social media.
And so, with the inevitability of life imitating art imitating life, I present to you the selfie of shame.


Yeah, happy face.
Anyway, with my dignity truly in tatters, I decided it was time to make an exit. Rather than run back up the Lea Valley, I decided to make my way to Liverpool Street to catch the train back home. Which was probably just as well because, as I realised as I checked my watch as the route had been just over 20 miles – not the 14 I’d planned. Oops.
I should probably have just car-jacked someone.

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