Walk the Commute

As we emerge from lockdown, do we risk catching the dreaded virus using public transport or find another form of getting around? Much is being made of the opportunity lockdown offers to increase cycling. But, however much the benefits for ‘cycling and walking’ are uttered in the same breath, riding a bike does not suit all. Walking, of course, has one advantage over cycling: apart from good shoes, it requires no financial outlay on special equipment. Walking too is physically good for us, counting towards the WHO’s recommended 150 minutes of weekly moderate-intensity exercise. In walking, we use almost every muscle in the body: leg muscles to initiate and control movement; core muscles to stabilise the body.  Walking for extended periods of time with low impact offers minimal risk of injury.

Getting to places on foot is a reliable form of transport. Working in Croydon, I knew I could walk from my Hackney home to the platform at London Bridge in 55 minutes exactly! How long would the bus take? Yes, it was a long walk, but it cleared the head in the morning, gave me time on my own to think, get familiar with the local area, be intrigued by its history and architecture, notice it changing and make memories: never will I forget the first time my commute by Shanks’s pony took me through the striped, circular splendour of the Boundary Estate.

Walking from Hackney to London is nothing new. As a young man in 1715, Dudley Ryder, future Solicitor General in Robert Walpole’s government, used to walk to and from his home in Homerton to London more than once per day. In the 1850s, if they did not take the daily omnibus from The Swan next door, the men of the Neilson family, West India merchants, would often walk to the City from their house, now the site of Summit Estate opposite Clapton Common.

According to a report brought out in 1855, 400,000 people (14% of Londoners at the time) walked to the City daily. The number far exceeded every other means of travel into London; this was before there was the Underground or trams. This figure was unearthed by David Harrison of Living Streets, founded 91 years ago as The Pedestrian Association, to represent the rights of pedestrians and promote road safety. With the launch in September of Central London Footways, Living Streets is prompting Londoners to return to walking as the most enjoyable, efficient and healthy option for getting around our city. Central London Footways is a network of quiet and interesting streets for walking, laid out in a map created by Urban Good. If you look at the Footways map you will see that a number of routes are suggested through Hoxton, Shoreditch, Haggerston and De Beauvoir.  Maybe with time, Living Streets will produce supplements covering the rest of Hackney as well as other surrounding boroughs.

Images: Sean Gubbins

Due to current social distancing guidance, Walk Hackney’s walks have been suspended until further notice. Please check for resumption at walkhackney.co.uk.