The week I walked to work

Like many when the pandemic hit, my daily routine changed…

My partner and I were living and working from our rather compact one bed flat. In order to keep some sense of normality and sanity, I started to walk, and walk and walk. I couldn’t stop. It was freeing, it reminded me of the multiple hour walks when I was growing up, I lived just inside the M25 but over the road from fields as far as the eye could see. I’d leave the house planning on going for a short loop around the countryside instead, returning many hours later having missed lunch, ready to eat anything in sight but filled with endorphins.

Whilst I do love a countryside walk, the wildly rugged landscapes, big skies, snow-covered pines seen on Instagram, the space and solitude to walk, think, dream… In England, 82.9% of us live in urban areas (according to gov.uk) so for many a remote countryside walk is not a reality we can live up to on a daily basis. Pounding the streets on your doorstep, discovering hidden corners and uncovering history can be just as rewarding as a long hike through the wild countryside.

Adventures outside the M25. Left: North Cliffs Park, Cornwall, September 2021 | Centre: Peak District, July 2021 | Right: Mayne Island, Canada, Decmeber 2021

In early 2022, several months or a whole year after many companies had started to welcome employees back, our office began to open up. I decided that each time I went into the office I would aim to take a different route, breaking the dread of cramming on the jubilee line with carriages of maskless ’suits’. Fast forward a few weeks and I was planning to be in the office 5 days a week, for a workshop… I’d not been in for that many days in the previous two years!

The week before I’d mapped a load of routes, so each day depending on how far I wanted to walk and the type of scenery I wanted to explore I could chop and change…

Day 1

It was an early start at 5:15 am my alarm would go off at this time for most of the week, it was painfully early, as I have the luxury of nearly always working from home, and my usual alarm is 7 am.

As soon as I managed to pry my eyes open I checked the trains from my local station to Waterloo, nothing was running due to the (up to) 122mph winds thanks to Storm Eunice. Luckily living in London’s ‘zone 2’ I had lots of options!

I’d left the flat before 6 am, walking up the hill to East Putney tube station. I had originally planned to walk from Waterloo to Canary Wharf, now I was jumping on the district line I decided to get off at Tower Hill and pick up my walking route from there. I’d be able to get off and almost immediately hit the Thames path… or so I thought.

Large sections of the riverside path from Tower Hill to Canary Wharf are gated off, the gates are open from 8 am, I was there much too early. Whilst the historic streets of Wapping are full of wonderful architecture and amazing historic lettering and typography which spoke to my inner graphic designer it was a shame not to see a little more of the sunrise along the Thames.

My walk was not without river views, far from it, there were parks, pathways and most interestingly the Thames Stairways, stairs that lead from a road to the Thames. Historically they were used by ‘Watermen’ who taxied people across the Thames.

Left: Changing tubes at Earls Court | Centre: Soft morning skies from Hermitage Moorings | Right: Sunrise from Waterside Gardens
Left: View from the top of Ratcliff Cross Stairs | Centre: View from the ‘beach’ at Ratcliff Cross Stairs | Right: The last leg, approaching One Canada Square

These stairways perfectly framed historic riverside buildings on the opposite side of the Thames, with a sliver of sky and river above and below. My favourite was the Ratcliff Cross Stairs, a sandy and pebbled beach with swans, views of Canary Wharf and the Shard. It was peaceful and at 7:45 in the morning magical with the sun peeking through the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.

I would have loved to sit on the beach with the swans to see the sun move through the sky, alas, I had a workshop to get to. I pried myself away, the final part of the path was a bit of a battle, I was being pulled from side to side by the wind, almost being pushed over by it at one point!

Arriving at One Canada Square I felt a sense of achievement. I was able to get a walk-in before work, on a section on the Thames path I’d not explored before. Instead of a dreaded week of commuting to the office I’d made it into an adventure, I felt a sense of childlike glee!

On reflection… I should have taken a change of shoes and socks, my feet were rather clammy after a 4-mile walk and an entire day in the office.

Day 1 summary
Route: Tower Hill to Canary Wharf
Distance: 4.09 miles
Walking time: 1 hour, 9 mins

Day 2

With the trains back up and running I could start my walk from Waterloo! This was very different from my day one walk, I’d walk the south of the river, not the north as I had the previous day. I wandered through Southwark and Borough, admiring the old buildings and rolling my eyes at the mostly ill-considered boxy new builds. I joined the Thames Path at a point that I’d not explored before just north of Bermondsey tube station.

I went down onto another sandy and pebbly beach, littered with bricks and colourful sea glass. I passed two historic pubs, The Angel, and The Mayflower too, which claims to be the oldest pub on the Thames.

Left: Pakeman House | Centre: Busy crossroads, crossing Borough High Street | Right: Laundrette on Abbey Street, Bermondsey
Left: Pebbily and sandy beach, just off of Thames path | Centre: Mayflower pub, oldest pub on the Thames | Right: Ramp down to the ‘Hilton’ ferry

The streets and the stairways to the south of the river were much wider, less wonky as a result felt less magical and mysterious. I definitely prefer the Thames path on the north of the river in this part of London.

The highlight, without doubt, was taking the ‘Hilton’ ferry (aka Uber Boat). This ferry opened up so many more walking routes, it runs every 10 mins between Hilton based on the south side of the river to Canary Wharf on the north. It only takes a few mins, and costs an eye-watering £4.80, over £1 a minute, but so worth it! It is such a relaxing way to finish up a walk and prepare you for the day ahead.

Day 2 summary
Route: Waterloo to Canary Wharf
Distance: 6.57 miles
Walking time: 1 hour, 42 mins

Day 3

On day three I mixed it up a little, instead of walking from a station to Canary Wharf over central and east London, I took the train, then tube to Canary Wharf and set off on the Thames Path around the Isle of Dogs.

I really do enjoy walking the Thames Path, I’ve explored the path between Richmond and the city more times than I can count, but this section was a first for me.

The Isle of Dogs path the quiet, I passed only a handful of people on my loop. It was calm, sometimes industrial but always surrounded by beautiful light.

In a former life (aka pre-pandemic, it feels like a lifetime ago) I spent more time than I should have staring out of the window at skyscrapers, near and far. Walking around the isle I was reminded of the history, there is so so much that happened here before these metal and glass towers soared high into the sky. The first written mention of the Isle of Dogs was in 1520, it would be a short 470 years till One Canada Square rose from these same grounds.

Left: Morning rays peak through the builds across Sir John McDougal Gardens | Centre: ‘The Space’, formerly a Presbyterian church on Westferry Road | Right: Thames Path heading south around the Isle
Left: The Ferry House pub, circa 1722 | Centre: Not so secluded beach, off of Ferry Street | Right: O2 & North Greenwich peninsula from Canary Wharf

From the Thames Path, there were views across the river to the Cutty Sark, The Old Royal Naval college, I passed The Ferry House, ‘the oldest pub on the island, circa 1722’ but the highlight was a secluded beach (not nearly as romantic or remote in reality). The light hit it perfectly, there were vines hanging overhead, trees growing out of the surrounding buildings and not a footprint in the sand… well until I stomped my way across it.

As I approached the end of my walk, I passed the newly torn O2 arena (Storm Eunice), accidentally wandered onto an active building site… I wound my way through the perfectly paved streets back to One Canada Square to start my day.

Day 3 summary
Route: Isle of Dogs loop (Thames Path)
Distance: 5 miles
Walking time: 1 hour, 22 mins

Day 4

The only day I did the walk after work because it was raining cats and dogs in the morning, I’d taken the decision on the evening before that I’d walk after work, so for the first time that week, I had a lie-in (I was also going home via the pub so didn't want to get up toooo early)!

Whilst I missed walking and seeing the sunrise I got to see the stunning sunset as I walked west, from Canary Wharf towards Waterloo. My day one route took me through the same part of London, to explore new areas I kept off the Thames Path for the first section of the walk and instead took the sleepy side streets and canal paths. Areas that I’d previously explored when working in Wapping, and since forgotten about… (walked before I used Strava) it was lovely re-discovering these streets and paths.

I had planned to complete some of the Thames Path I’d not yet walked just to the south of Tower Bridge, but the wind was chilling, and the pub was calling.

Left: Shadwell Old Basin looking back on Canary Wharf | Centre: Along Ornamental Canal, the colours in the canal reminded me of van Gogh’s Starry Night | Right: Tower Bridge illuminated after sunset
Left: Stairway to Tower Bridge | Centre: Under the arches (South Eastern Mainline) | Right: View to the City from Southbank

After crossing the river I went inland for a bit, walking along the streets that hugged the South Eastern mainline (the train tracks that lead to London Bridge). I prepared myself for the cold winds, made my way to Bankside, a stop at the pub (colleague leaving drinks) then a very quick and familiar route along Southbank to Waterloo station.

Day 4 summary
Route: Canary Wharf to Waterloo
Distance: 7.9 miles
Walking time: 1 hour, 48 mins

Day 5

Well… I had to end the week with the BIG walk! Home (Wandsworth) to work, about 11 miles. A walk like this pre-2020 I would have thought was ridiculously long, how much has changed over two years that I now squeeze a walk like this in before work (mind slightly blown)!

I do enjoy the walks that start at my front door, no waiting around or reliance on busses, trains or boats to get me to the start line.

To get out of Wandsworth I took a road that I’d walked many times before the A3, it’s direct, fairly polluted, but helped me to cover a few miles in a short time. I did get to dip into Clapham Common which was much more enjoyable, I witnessed the more of the destruction from Storm Eunice earlier in the week, many trees had been toppled. The ombre sky and sunrise through the bare branches made to early start worth it.

I then wound my way through the side streets of Clapham, it was peaceful I admired the beauty of the rows of Victorian houses and the brutalist esque tower blocks in equal measure.

Left: Ombre sky over Clapham Common | Centre: Aother toppled tree, after Stom Eunice | Right: Made me smile, side of a house on Landor Road
Left: Concrete checkerboard building on Old Kent Road | Centre: Long shadows along Greenland dock | Right: On the Hilton ferry to Canary Wharf

My next big green space after the common was Burgess Park. It’s the first time I’d explored, walking along an arrow-straight path, I wondered if it used to be a train line? After a quick google, I discovered it was The Grand Surrey Canal. Partway through the park, I saw a police car parked across the path, a shiver went down my spine, as I got closer I saw something that looked like a body bag. My mind instantly went to Sarah Everard, it was almost a year to the day, since the news broke… as a woman who walks solo a lot is something that I think about a little too often.

Bermondsey went by quickly, I walked the paths of Greenland Dock and meandered through Russian Dock Woodland, which was lovely, then it was a bit of a race to get to the Hilton ferry, luckily it was there waiting! I made it to One Canada Square with 20 mins to spare, enough time to change and to waffle down a second breakfast!

Day 5 summary
Route: Home (Wandsworth) to Canary Wharf
Distance: 11.01 miles
Walking time: 2 hours, 27 mins

The week I walked to work, a short reel. See more photos from walking to work adventures.

So, what next? I’m unlikely to be in the office for 5 days in a row again anytime soon, but I continue to walk every day, I try and get a quick 1 mile walk around the park before work, and a longer walk in after work on most days (if it’s not raining sideways or too hot).

My next big goal is to walk all of the roads in Wandsworth. According to City Strides, I’ve walked 37% of the borough. That’s 599 of 1,607 streets, only 1,008 to go…!

It took me a good 6 or so months to get comfortable with walking these distances as part of my daily routine. I started small with a mile or so a day, round the quiet roads near the flat, and worked my way up from there.

Start small, be realistic, set yourself a goal. Don’t compare yourself to what others are achieving and enjoy being outdoors! You’d be amazed at the difference a 10 or 15 min walk will make to your day. Get exploring!

So… next time you go to the office will you work in a walk?

Me, walking to from home to Paddington Station to get to Heathrow (pre haircut!), September 2021

--

--

--

The product development and engineering teams behind Reach plc's award-winning news websites and digital products

Recommended from Medium

A Guide to Luang Prabang: 12 Things to do

Move to another country they said, it will be fun they said.

Rest, Joy and Discovery in the stunning town of Ronda

Week-Long Trip to Peinan Elementary — Day 2

Gdansk, Poland’s Baltic gem

My Favourite Travel Destination

My Time In South Korea

My Big Life in 240 Square Feet

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Jessica Squires

Jessica Squires

Lead UX Designer, dyslexic, explorer & occasional article writer…

More from Medium

5 memorable moments from an inspirational day in LA

How to poop in a WAG bag

5 Must-Read Books on Decluttering and Organising your Home

Dungeons & Dragons Saved My Life, Here’s How

Line art of the author’s Dungeons and Dragons forest gnome named Elly sitting next to her pet raccoon named Boo.