I had planned on an easy and short day, even though I had also planned on taking day trips with train rides up to two hours, each way, if I traveled in the dark to make the most of the light at my destination. Today worked out as a non-plan plan to see things on my list, wander around, and somehow head north towards the Thames, descending nearly 300 feet in elevation. I’d walk about 13 miles and travel just as far on the trains.
I stopped at The Guava Kitchen for a vegan no-eggs Benedict (should’ve tried the charcoal toast) and got my order to-go because I didn’t want to sit in what felt like a clinic and then feel guilty when I remove my mandatory-indoors mask, shoving food and flu into my face, when I wasn’t even hungry yet. Not far from their entrance is a wall with a Theatrical Transformation by Artmongers that encourages those passing by to have their picture taken in a painted Egyptian sarcophagus or blowing into Horniman’s horn. I’ll do neither without remote and tripod or bothering a stranger for a picture that I won’t like anyway — either the way they took it or the way I look in it.
The Horniman Museum has been built and extended multiple times. The original home was opened to the public in 1891, replaced with the 1901 building with a Doulting Stone facade. The 1911 extension used the same stone and similar design features to compliment the first. The 1996 eco-building used wood from sustainably managed forests with no mention if the grass roof was fair trade. The last addition in 2002, with a new designer, was able to use the same stone quarry from Somerset — one with a history built into the Roman times.
I would normally go inside to see the treasures within, but the year of covid has also been the year of smelly sanitizer for hands, seats, surfaces, and such along with having thermometer guns pointed at my forehead and hands. I’ve been offered more gloves and plastic bags and containers than I can stand (pre-covid as well). Caleb and I have been using cloth bags for a decade now or trying to carry it all in our hands when we used to forget our bags in the car. This year has been terrible for the over production of plastic wrap to cover the plastic containers with the plastic cutlery and the disposable menus for fear of germs, but what about phones, toilets, and doors, etc.
Anyway, that is one of the many reasons I chose to remain outdoors for a majority of this trip and make the most of my time amongst nature before it is again off limits with the possibility of a fine if caught. Will this be the way for the wealthy to enjoy the serenity without the throngs of mediocre onlookers clogging the view if you only have to pay for close contact with rangers, guards, police, or other staff that still have a job in a decreasing workforce or will they soon too be limited to their four walls, bandwidth, bookshelves, and fenced yards.
The gardens are a dizzying array of packed planting and simplicity, of spring growth and autumn death, with pops of color and animals sprinkled throughout. As the rain starts, I find a tiny overhead ledge to hide under while I unpack my paper bag and appreciate the thin, small wooden fork inside so that I may eat my yellow tofu on bread (as exciting as it sounds) and know that some things just can’t be substituted, like non-pork bacon, sugar-free chocolate syrup, and yolk-less eggs (unless baking).
I get to see my first Racka Sheep, with black appendages and a gray body, a variation bred by Hungarians for centuries that’s now exported to the UK, US, and France for wool, meat, and milk. His friends seem to be of the un-horned beige variety. On the other side of his fence is an animal of a different sort — a little girl exploring paths of all types as her slightly older brother tries to capture her and bring her back to dad. I’m grateful for both our paces, as we find ways to experience joy at contrasting speeds. I’ll watch a dog crap behind a tree, so the owner can pretend she didn’t see it, before I exit the park and follow the Green Chain Walk.
Part of Section 11, now to my south is the Sydenham Hill Wood that is a piece of the remaining Great North Wood, home to over 200 species of plants, rare fungi, and a bat roost. The railway was closed in 1954 following the Palace fire and villas were demolished so the woods could grow and become the Trust’s first nature reserve in 1982. The Walk is one of many footways the city has established to get people out amongst the greenery and history of the surrounding boroughs; this one covering 50 miles south of the river and east of downtown.
Neighborhoods here have more dog walking rules than just, “no dog fouling” such as how many one walker can have at a time and what percentage of them must be on a lead. There’s also a special designated mini-curb area that shows drivers where they’re allowed to park up on the sidewalk, still giving plenty of room for cars on the street and mums with prams, short for perambulator (a formal British version of ‘one who walks’).
I walk through Camberwell Old Cemetery, as do mourners, joggers, elderly couples, and dog owners. I think it’s a great use of the space, though no matter how wealthy these people were when they passed some have since been forgotten in the passing of time but you wouldn’t know it. There’s a nice contrast of the old gray, moss-covered stones, some crumbling, next to the modern shiny black stones with gold engravings. The graves make me think of fish tanks with their layer of colored chippings that offer a more pleasing design with less maintenance.
There are plenty of graves with fake flowers which help to add a touch of color to the crosses, hearts, and angels overlooking the remains of loved ones; if the headstone hasn’t fallen over. Something new, for me, was the fresh flowers placed in letter-shaped floral foam to spell out nicknames, relationship status, etc. as a longer lasting way to stand out, but no grave does this better than Veronica Josephine O’ Brien’s, who must’ve been an awesome person who passed in ’97 and is now remembered amongst her stones of white with gold engravings in a sea of blue chippings.
I find One Tree Hill, with way more trees, that has nothing to do with the nine-season drama series based on half-brothers in North Carolina. The Oak of Honor at the summit is the third to hold this title for rumors of Queen Elizabeth I, last of the Tudors, resting under the original in 1602, the second having been stricken down by lightning in 1888, and the current tree planted to commemorate the opening of the park to the public in 1905 after passing through royal ownership, having a history with the Napoleonic Wars and the East India Company, and almost being turned into a golf course which would’ve denied the public from the modern panoramic view of downtown as seen through the woods from 90 meters above sea level.
Also seen through the trees is St. Augustine’s Church which stands out on the park map but wasn’t designated a number like the Stag Beetle Stump and Owl Boxes that encourage wildlife to thrive in the overgrown park that was designated a Local Nature Reserve in 2007. The windows come with three stages of protection — fitted bars for carrier pigeons to work through, but with wire over them fit for a clew (a group of worms resembling a ball of yarn — don’t see the likeness), with medieval bars over that for impaling chickens and rabbits.
There’s a bit of rain that follows me to the Camberwell New Cemetery with a royal imposing entrance that keeps me walking through a neighborhood as the skies clear. I take a peek at a townhouse under construction before arriving at Nunhead Station where I will walk up to the platform twice, after exiting the station, in hopes that its lack of connections will have changed. If I’d have known sooner, I’d have gone to Nunhead Cemetery, one of the Magnificent Seven in London, originally known as All Saints’ Cemetery that was consecrated in 1840.
Without this knowledge, I decide to trek to Brockley Station with more direct route options. I cross the street and this man who had just come out of an off-license store asks if the film in my camera is too fancy for him. I tell him it’s not so he asks me to take his picture and I offer to open his cider after hearing him struggle with the tab. He thanks me and offers kind advice in return, “Before you cuss at someone think about the ways you could improve. Don’t think you’re better than them. It’ll help you keep your teeth.”
Approaching the entrance to what sounds like a mispronunciation of broccoli I notice a sign — humped zebra crossing. In British English, it means the crosswalk also contains a speed hump for cars. In American English, it means this is where zebras cross the road after sex. I love the similarities and disconnects in our languages and it helps highlight the disparities in the historic Sanskrit, Aramaic, Latin, etc. based ways to express ourselves in written and spoken manners that have continued to branch and merge as this large world continues to trade with some and destroy other ethnicities.
Heavy clouds linger above the train to London Bridge Station but it’s all white skies upon arrival and a screen that warns: Customer Information — Please be aware that mobile phone thieves operate in this area. This leaves me wondering how many banks have been robbed this year, especially with masks now being compulsory. The FBI keeps some interesting stats, such as type of bank, day and time, bank location (main office, rural, in-store), robbery location (counter, armored vehicle, safe), weapons involved, hostages taken/injured, and security devices used. Their daily average for 2018 was eight per day, down from the 10.5 per day in 2017.
I don’t know about you but that seems like a lot, and that’s not all. The ASU Center for Problem-Oriented Policing says that only two out of 100 robberies in the US are of banks, which means there were 392 other cases of theft in some form in 2018. In England, their lowest count since 2002 was 144 per day, so given that they appear more peaceful in many country indexes for crime and safety, their robbers must be more polite and less violent. I can understand the logic in that as I’m more willing to part with things and my time when people use manners.
Into Borough Market to look for Scotchtails, a restaurant that serves a veggie version of the popular Scotch egg. I’ll give the not finding them up to multiple reasons: the market is twice the size I thought; the food truck, according to their last review written in February, is hard to find; and with covid their days and hours have been changing so they might not have been at the market that day. I’ll gladly settle for a mushroom pate sample from one stand and donuts: pumpkin spice cinnamon and sea-salted caramel honeycomb from Bread Ahead bakery and baking school.
I’ll walk a short loop of the city to include a nice view from Southwark Bridge before coming upon the ruins of Winchester Palace with a door that led to the buttery (wine cellar), pantry, and kitchen. It was built in the 12th century with two courtyards, a prison, brewhouse, butchery, tennis court, bowling alley, and pleasure gardens. The palace was divided into tenements and warehouses in the 17th century and the ruins discovered 200 years later following a fire, but wouldn’t be revealed until the 1980s when the area was redeveloped.
At some point on my smooshed circular route I had passed the Southwark Cathedral, a 900-year old landmark, that was a church until 1905 and retains some of its Gothic structure with a 19th century nave reconstruction. History is great, which is why I bring this up. It’s been almost five years now since I walked this same street with Caleb and we paused to take in this beauty, of which I seemed not to take one photo of on this day and the older ones have been retired to a hard drive that is currently in storage. I felt like he was with me in that moment and appreciate our time together and look forward to a million more seconds of the extraordinary amid the mundane.
I walk through the Borough Market again but am not feeling hungry enough to buy anything. The train ride back to my room was simple and quick. It bothers me that it took days for me to notice, but I scrape someone’s dried boogie off the wall that I could’ve leaned against while sitting in bed. I’ll also sweep to reduce the amount of dirt and hair that gets stuck to my feet so I don’t bring them to bed with me.