I thought I was prepared. I had read Gareth’s book, that strange and wonderful exploration of the Marshland, and I thought I was ready for anything. But nothing I had read could have prepared me. Not really. Not for the swarms of the hungry, the discombobulation, the excess. In the confusion, I almost bought a season ticket for West Ham. But then I found Gary, my guide out of the madness, and together we escaped Westfield, and all the while I wondered: Could the entrance to the Olympics really have been built to lead people through a shopping centre? What a stupid question.
We walked. Through the Olympic Park and beyond the warehouses and pop-up bars lining the Lea Navigation. We moved through the Wick Woodland, trying to appear unsuspicious to a pair of policewomen who appeared through the undergrowth. By the wide and epic expanse of the football fields we picked up the Old River, picking our way along an overgrown riverbank that felt miles away from urban life but of course it wasn’t, and we spied shipping containers on the other side of the bank through the trees.
All the while we talked, of walking and writing and of course of Gareth’s book. This was not the marshland of his imagination, of course it wasn’t, but it stirred the imagination nevertheless. We paused to photograph a pylon as the shouts of a goal sounded across the multitude of pitches, and then picked our way through the Middlesex Filter Beds in search of a beer. At the pub we toasted a grey heron, standing among the rubbish that had gathered where the river and navigation divide. A toast perhaps, to Whipple and Hazlehurst. A toast to a walk from the Queen Elizabeth Park to the Princess of Wales Pub. A toast to filter beds and football pitches, bramble-strewn pathways and a pile of shipping containers...
A toast to the Marshland.
By Paul Scraton
Marshland: Dreams and Nightmares on the Edge of London by Gareth E. Rees is available from Influx Press.