Writer and illustrator Alice Stevenson, in her new book Ways to Walk in London, explores the capital on foot and includes her walks along our own Barbican Highwalks. Kate West traces her footsteps.
London-based Alice Stevenson is an illustrator, designer and educator who has created designs and illustrations for numerous brands and companies – from Volvo to Vogue, Tesco to Kellogg’s, Crabtree & Evelyn, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Hugo Boss.
Alice does not drive, nor does she cycle or jog. She walks. Often for miles. For the last few years, she has been exploring London on foot, criss-crossing the city on dozens of walks like an urban rambler. In her newly-published book Ways to Walk in London, Alice Stevenson writes about these walks and adds her own beautiful illustrations to her words. Some of her walks are short but others are impressively long and always her artist’s eye is open to observe the details she sees around her. The walks take her both above and below ground, along canal towpaths, through parks, beside waterways and abandoned railway lines.
Her book gives an off-beat and off-track view of the capital, it is the sort walking guide that takes you to places that regular guides would not, focussing on the unusual and pointing out the less obvious sights. That is what makes it an excellent walking companion for people who are very familiar with London as much as it serves to guide those who know very little about the city.
Alice’s basic London Map
There are walks through Hyde Park and Regent’s Park, from Canary Wharf to Greenwich via the Isle of Dogs, Forest Hill to Dulwich and Teddington Lock to Richmond. Although many of London’s most famous streets like Sloane Street and Portobello Road are part of the routes, there are also many less well-known backstreets traversed. Alice also displays a predilection, one I share, for walking around cemeteries – she visits both Kensal Green Cemetery and Brompton Cemetery and also St Thomas’s Graveyard in Hackney.
Churchyard illustration from the book
Stevenson’s growing love for London as she racks up the miles on her walks is apparent in her writing but it is in her illustrations that the city is really brought to life. In both black and white and colour she evokes the sights of London in deceptively simple strokes of her pen – the antlers of Richmond Park’s stags, graffiti on a wall, the streetlights and silhouettes on a night walk in Upper Street.
Walks in the Barbican
In the chapter Pedway, Alice explores our part of the City of London and walks the highwalks of the Barbican. She seems to enjoy the elevated perspective, ‘it gives a quiet sense of adventure,’ she writes, ‘transporting you to a unique realm. Peering out as I walk along at second floor height, concrete rows of Gilbert House with their flower-covered balconies are ahead of me, and the medieval St Giles’ Cripplegate is down and to my right.’
The Pedway chapter ends with Alice walking past the Museum of London and down to Postman’s Park on St Martin’s-le-Grand. Several other walks in the book are local to our area including one of Lincoln’s Inn and there’s a great local pub crawl that takes in the Charles Lamb on Quick Street, moving on to the Island Queen in Noel Road before ending up at the Rosemary Branch in de Beauvoir Town.
As she walks London’s pavements, pathways and indeed our own beloved highwalks, Alice shows that the act of walking can be therapeutic in and of itself. The metronomic rhythm of walking acting as a form of meditation. In one chapter Alice describes how her London walks helped heal her broken heart in the wake of a relationship ending.
Ways to Walk in London is a wonderfully inspiring read, a small neat hardback that fits in your pocket or comfortably in the hand, easy to carry with you. Going for some local walks with Alice’s book as a guide has encouraged me to take the earphones out, stop checking for emails and texts, leave the phone in my pocket and look around me.
Ways to Walk in London: Hidden Places and New Perspectives
by Alice Stevenson
Published by September Publishing