I decided to try out my new boots for real, so this morning walked from home in East London to visit a client in Pentonville Prison, a distance of 6.5 miles (it’s actually about 6, but I got lost at the end in the wilds of Islington).
The route includes everything I dislike about walking in London – lots of traffic, no parks, dirty streets, unforgiving pavement and tarmac, a wide variety of unpleasant smells from drains, rubbish etc, and that peculiar black urban dust which covers your pores and gets up your nose. Plus it was going to end at HMP Pentonville, which is one of my least favourite prisons in the country (yes, I spend a fair bit of time in prison for professional reasons, and yes, it is possible to prefer some prisons to others). Unlike other walks, there isn’t really a more pleasant option which doesn’t involve a lengthy diversion. So I was really dreading it, and only the thought of how much easier the first few weeks of LEJOG will be if I am a bit fitter (and lighter) spurred me on.
In the event it was not so bad. There were spring flowers everywhere – daffodils, narcissi, buttercups, camellias, scylla, cherry blossom – and every garden that I passed smelled beautifully like spring. People were making the most of the sunshine and sipping small coffees at tables on the pavement; I passed a Sloaney blonde woman in a sharp suit musing over an assortment of strangely-shaped vegetables and a tired looking student in a purple sweatshirt with ‘I Love London’ in red across her chest. There was movement and variety everywhere. Perhaps best of all, Londoners’ innate incuriosity meant that nobody stared too much at me, a tall woman dressed in a black suit and hiking boots, striding along sweating profusely in the spring sunshine and checking her watch every twenty minutes. I arrived (even with my unplanned detour) 10 minutes early, filled with love for my city, and felt disproportionately pleased with myself. Then the prison gates malfunctioned so nobody could get in or out – but that’s another story.
The boots (new Lowa Renegade GTX – why do the names of men’s hiking boots always sound like petrol or a sports car? are women’s boots the same?) were very comfortable, albeit my feet got extremely hot. I think I need to find some cooler socks for this summer.