A hen party nailed it. Enforced listening to fifteen twenty-something women singing Bohemian Rhapsody at un-rhapsodic volume not fifty yards away from our bedroom was not making us happy; the fifth rendition at 5am broke our will to live … there.
I can’t stand this, I wailed. Giving up on sleep, my laptop opened access to a new rental. All the promise invested in our Brick Lane home had given way to despair, for the house was surrounded by student digs and short-term lets. Airnnb, the nuisance neighbour was right next door, host to noisy gatherings and corporate bonding sessions. Our peaceful and neighbourly Bethnal Green life was shattered.
At 5:15am precisely the property search engine delivered a four-bedroom detached bungalow in Hackney Wick. But that’s very far away, said BB. Far away from what? I asked. We agreed to a visit and less than a month later, moved into our island of peace and privacy. Courtesy of the creative BB, our huge back garden is evolving into a mini Eden Project. Serenaded by swifts, parakeets and blackbirds, the beds burst with tiger nuts, cucamelon, herbs, peas galore and a whole lot more; inside, our belongings have settled in seamless fashion and the place is Very Much Home. Were it ours to buy, it would be refurbished into The Bunker, a glamorous example of 1960s domestic modernism.
Approaching our third year here, we have thus far woefully failed to explore our locale. For scooting into WC1 daily five days a week, weekends are devoted to rest and domesticity, all of which I welcome: rest for obvious reasons, cooking for pure pleasure and ironing for its meditative qualities. Two weeks into lockdown however, the neglected bicycle adorning the hall penetrated my thinking … maybe now is the time to press it into service?
The adventures began. Starting with historic and beautiful Victoria Park, I discovered its ponds and fountains, cafes and playgrounds, acres of green grass and vibrant colourful flora. Peddling happily around these Viccy byways, I noticed signs for the Olympic Park … and computed that this vast sporty playground – closer still to The Bunker- called for attention.
Waking early the following day and with clear skies above I mounted the trusty steed, left the house and turned right onto Eastway; from there, over the Lea Navigation bridge (or one of them) and right again cruising onto the towpath. Empty of all but the occasional fellow cyclist and sprinter, I made my way in no great rush taking time to enjoy the houseboats and barges that line these waterways. The craft are mostly much loved and cared for with brightly painted hulls, carefully decorated names and lively roof gardens. Illustrative and pretty they inspire the imagination, sparking stories about who lives within, what they do there and where they are going next.
Rounding a generous bend, I turn left up a gravel slope and onto Copper Box Arena lane, which leads directly into the Queen Elizabeth Park. Through the gate, on both sides a carpet of green rolls ahead interrupted only by miniature meadows bursting with flowers and grasses that dance to the gentle breeze. On I ride, over one side or other of the Knights Bridge where I pause to look up and down the River Lea, which meanders round gentle curves of lush greenery; above the water a plethora of ducks and herons play whilst below swim fish of myriad shapes and sizes.
This route leads past the now deserted Timber Lodge café towards the Velodrome, a graceful arena with raised circumference around which I circle two, three even four times, my eyes drawn to the views; here the skyline of a distant but distinct Canary Wharf, there an almost hidden B&Q and tiny cars on the faintly growling A12 … elsewhere just greenery, trees, waterways and colourful flags marking the next bridge that leads to the fields of Hackney Marshes.
Velo-circles complete I freewheel downwards past the tall, bright Olympic circles, over another bridge and into the fields, host to a multitude of goalposts which, outside of lockdown are almost permanently colonized by children, teenage and adult teams practicing moves and manoeuvers, watched by friends, family and total strangers simply interested in local life.
Curving to the left of the fields I swoop past East Marsh to cross the River Lea again; instead of forging ahead into Hackney Marshes proper I swing the other way, with the Lea to my right and woodland to the left. It is here that birdsong overwhelms the air; tiny feathered things dart all around. Punctuating the route on either side are wooden bars and blocks, exercising spots for those wanting a more rigorous workout. Dense paths to the right lead down to the waterway and on an afternoon outing I can spy families picnicking peacefully on the riverside, almost invisible to prying eyes. Just now a powerful scent of elderflower permeates the path; magpies flash across my line of vision, their cracked cries warning victims of prey of their approach.
Arriving at a tiny junction, another bridge to the right could take me towards the wetlands and bird sanctuary but I veer left, smooth fields calling me to stop, lie, look at the sky and breath into slow stretches whilst inhaling the impossibly clean air and sweet scent of grass beneath my hands, thanking nature for putting me here, now. Yesterday morning at this very spot I was completely alone, save for a handful of distant, sociable crows greeting each other with enthusiasm.
Back on the bike, I arrive again at the Lea Navigation canal. The first barge I see belongs to talented family friend The Blues Musician; the second smaller vessel is The Veg Boat – in a more sociable hour one can stop and buy the freshest fruit and vegetables displayed on deck. Too early for these boat-dwellers to be up and about, my route follows the decorative moored barges with fancy names that call to their past but perhaps bear little relation to the present. Barge-life is by all accounts a happy one for the aura along the tow-path is a gentle one, with owners aboard that look up and smile hello.
I struggle my way up the steep slope to the road, over the bridge and turn immediately left into our low-rise pedestrianised estate, navigating the maze of walkways to The Bunker, just seconds away.
And so ends my ride through our beautiful environs of bridges, towpaths and watery byways, the hot weather and holiday aura giving a handsome new moniker:
Hello, Costa del Wick.
© Giovanna Forte 2020