A Straight Line Walk Across London

by Paul K Lyons

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Brighton Cross

Kip Fenn
A novel about
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1 - From a footbridge above the M25 past a hidden mere to Rockshaw Road

I'm on a footbridge above the M25. Because the sun is relatively low, it casts a shadow of the cross-hatch pattern of the bridge's side onto the grassy bank on the north side. And my silhouette is there too - proof that I'm here, embarking on a bizarre journey to cross London as close as I can to the 300 easting.

I'm about a third of a mile away from the 300 easting, but it's the nearest crossing point over the M25. Slightly further west is the A23, and half a mile east of the 300 easting is the M23.

According to some estimates an estimated 200,000 vehicles a day make use of the M25. Standing here, about 50ft above the ten lanes of motorway, watching the myriad vehicles shooting out from underneath me with a huge roar, speeding fast, and then slowing down as they disappear into the distance, I'm going to assume that this is an average bit of the M25 and make my own rough and ready calculation. I look east, where my view is not impeded by signs (constructions as big as this footbridge) and estimate a distance of around 35 yards, or one-twentieth of a mile. On average (during this 10 minutes - it's about 10am on Thursday morning), I'd guess there are five vehicles present at any given moment. Scaling up, this means there are about 100 vehicles on every mile of tarmac, and, since there are 117 miles of the M25, this would make 11,700 vehicles on the motorway at one time. I'm going to assume further that this average holds good for about 18 hours a day (and I'm going to ignore the other six hours) and that each vehicle spends about one hour on the motorway. Therefore, multiplying 11,700 by 18 gives me a rough, a very rough, estimate - 210,600. When I think back to the many times that I've spent driving on the M25, the traffic density is usually a lot heavier than it is below me now, which leads me to speculate that 200,000 vehicles might be a gross under-estimation.

The Ordnance Survey map tells me that Heronswood Mere is not far away, but I can't see it from here, and even if I could, the motorway bustle and noise is so dominant that I've no real interest in looking around at the countryside scenery. I imagine I'd have the same feeling if I were crossing any of the other 33 (give or take a couple) footbridges across the M25. This lack of interest in views, in thinking, in living even, might not be a problem if I were simply crossing the footbridge leading to, say, Lyne Sewage Works; but, what if I were crossing the footbridge that leads to Ladywalk Wood, or the one from Liberty Rise to Liberty Lane, or the one that keeps to the line of Pebble Lane, the old Roman road.

I must get away from this noise before I lose all will to live. The path takes me past some old oaks, one of which appears to have been split through the middle and burnt, as though it has suffered from being only yards away from the traffic, and then up a muddy path with a tall wooden fence on my right. The fence goes on too long, and I become curious as to what's behind it. I look for a flaw in the wooden planks, a hole to peer through, but the wood appears to be remarkably free of knots. Eventually, I grab hold of the fence top and haul myself up for a peek. There's a rolling lawn, and a few trees, and a pond - Heronswood Mere.

The muddy path and high fence bring me to Rockshaw Road, which, geographically speaking, is like a very thin slice of ham between two great chunky and unpalatable slices of motorway bread, the M25 a few hundred yards south and the M23, running east-west for a section, a few hundred yards north. There are some grand-looking houses on Rockshaw Road, including the one called Oakwood that owns the tall fence. It has a similar fence at the front, but this one is broken and falling down - not very grand at all. In the drive, there is an armoured jeep! Further along, perhaps exactly on the 300 easting is the largest of the houses; it has a mock Tudor frontage and is split into several dwellings.

In fact, at this point, I'm on the North Down's Way, a long distance footpath that can take you 150 miles from Farnham on the Surrey/Hampshire border to Dover on the Kent coast. But, from here on westward, the poor North Downs Way, having been tainted by an association with the M25, is hardly able to escape motorway country again. Less than a mile on, it crosses the M23, sticking close by the M25 until crossing it again so as to follow the M26. After crossing the M20, it heads northeast, apparently with one purpose, to touch the M2 before heading back to the M20 and follow it southeast through the Kent Downs to Folkestone and Dover. Lest I am painting too blue a picture of the North Downs Way, I hasten to support the official description: 'The North Downs Way takes the traveller through a rich tapestry of heritage and history. Much of the Downs are covered with rich woodland and rare chalk grasslands, which give rise to a rich diversity of flora and fauna. There are nature reserves, rare plants and butterflies - but wherever you find yourself on the Downs there will always be a new discovery or breathtaking view awaiting you around the corner.'

 A Straight Line Walk Across London - along the 300 easting

by Paul K Lyons
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