London’s famous river Fleet rises in the salubrious climes of Hampstead ponds and deposits itself in the Thames at Blackfriars. Having once been a progenitor of numerous wells and springs, the river lost its way and course when appropriated by the building of the railways, whilst early industrial London polluted it beyond forbearance. Bricked in and over, it flows as a subterranean system which exerts a fascination for many of us who still follow in its wake.
To begin at the beginning would have meant a 7 mile walk but we started where the Fleet runs besides Old St Pancras churchyard. In by-gone days it had the habit of flooding the graves and raising the dead before Judgement day but the Midland railway eventually put paid to that, and the river was covered and left to hurtle below ground, down St Pancras Road, towards Kings Cross station.
Passing under the ticket office, it crosses the arterial junction of Caledonian Road and wends its way beneath the twenties Scala cinema, preserved in all but reputation.
Chad was the patron saint of wells and the river’s beneficial upsurges gave this road its name. Intersecting half way along, the Fleet runs beneath the Metropolitan line, making its way from the almost deserted side streets to the main thoroughfare of King’s Cross road.
It’s a relief to turn off this fumy wasteland before too long, following closely to the river alongside a main postal sorting office. Cold Bath Fields prison once stood here supplied by the dubious waters of the Fleet beneath but out of its ashes in Phoenix road, the tongue-in cheek Mount Pleasant was born. I doubt that the postal workers see it in such utopian terms though!
Quite suddenly the quiet of these back streets was broken, for in Clerkenwell’s ‘little Italy’ the annual festival of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Warner street was in full swing. After stopping at one of the many food stalls, we crossed Farringdon road to take a cherry-pie break, seated on an ancient cattle trough. From here the drovers’ animals would make their way down Cowcross lane into Smithfield meat market but turning the other way is the oversite development of Farringdon station and the continuing route of the Fleet.
Re-crossing Farringdon road, the river once ran through the slums and rookeries that supplied Dickens with a den for Fagin. Although cleansed of its historic reputation, the backstreets of Saffron Lane still carry the air of menace . And then its up and along Farringdon road again, in a headlong rush for the Thames, with barely a nod to St Paul’s, at the crossing of Ludgate circus.
But even at its terminus the Fleet remains hidden, for only at low tide does its conjoining with London’s great river, become visible.
strolling along with Jo and others for her regular Monday walk