This Other London: a journey into the capital’s lesser known landmarks
It’s cheaper than ever to travel abroad – but, as John Rogers’s new book suggests, you can explore exotic sights right here within the M25
Wed Aug 21 2013
Travel, for most Londoners, means heading abroad – or at least as far as the Cotswolds. But ‘This Other London’, a guidebook to the corners of the capital that don’t usually appear in guidebooks, is a passport to places (almost) as exotic as the jungles of Thailand or the pampas of South America. ‘I spent two years bunkered down on Bondi Beach,’ says author John Rogers, ‘but longed for windswept, collars-up London evenings, and to feel millennia of history squelching beneath wet pavements.’ Rogers is a filmmaker and writer, described by mate and collaborator Russell Brand in the book’s introduction as a ‘tangle-haired shrub shaman’. With stout boots firmly laced, he undertakes ten slow expeditions across the capital, ignoring the much-trampled trails of the city centre and throwing light on underappreciated landmarks such as Erith Pier on the Thames (once a fashionable spot for daytripping Victorians), Hounslow Heath (dubbed the most dangerous place in Britain due to its popularity among eighteenth century highwaymen) and Welsh Harp reservoir, where locals complained about East Enders partaking in ‘the sunbathing craze’ in the 1960s. He visits Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket’ set in Beckton and remembers the 1977 Battle of Lewisham when National Front marchers fought anti-racism campaigners; he sniffs out Merlin’s cave in Islington and seeks the ‘lost Elysium’ in Ealing. In his company, London becomes an unexplored realm of endless possibility – capable even of inducing a sort of profundity: ‘At a certain point, he writes, ‘as the knee joints start to groan, you can enter a state of disembodied reverie, particularly with the aid of a can of Stella slurped on the move.’ So leave the Oyster card at home and set out in your walking shoes with Rogers as a companion – and be prepared to see London in a whole new way.
‘This Other London: Adventures in the Overlooked City’ by John Rogers is published by HarperCollins on Sep 12 at £12.99. Click here to buy a copy.
Rambling on – five more great books about walking and discovering
‘London Orbital’ by Iain Sinclair
Striking out of familiar territory, the Hackney sage Iain Sinclair turned an epic circumnavigation of the endless M25 into a widescreen walking study of an interzone usually only glimpsed from a car window.
‘The Rings of Saturn’ by WG Sebald
Until his untimely death in 2001, ‘Max’ Sebald was quietly inventing a new form of literature. This 1995 account of a series of walks along the East Anglian coastline merges history, geography, memory and philosophy to create something more mood than story – nostalgic, melancholy and wondrous.
‘Walk the Lines’ by Mark Mason
Sometimes it takes only a new perspective to see things in a different way, and Mark Mason’s commute-on-foot is just that. His book takes the familiar London tube map above ground, tracing its routes line by line through the streets.
‘The Old Ways’ by Robert Macfarlane
Few understand the links between writing, walking and landscape like Robert Macfarlane. Following Roman ways, sleeping under hedges, sailing ancient sea routes and hiking paths of resistance through occupied Palestine, the writer rejoices in the inescapable human connection with topography.
‘Scarp’ by Nick Papadimitriou
The defiantly eccentric Nick Papadimitriou drew on a lifetime of wandering, observing and recording for this uncategorisable journey through London’s edgelands. The Middlesex Tertiary Escarpment becomes a living presence above the northern boroughs in this extraordinary, poetic and often profound book.
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