Today I was working from the British Library on my new book, The Geography of Names. In the third chapter, which is now almost complete, I analyse modern day rogation practices, including a description of beating the bounds from a pamphlet called Beating the Bounds of Camden. Having walked from Hampstead Heath to the British Library before, I though I could, this time, have lunch up at the park and do some reading once I'd arrived. As it turns out I ended up buying a book at Daunt Books along the way (I had discovered this great little bookstore right at the edge of the park a year or two ago the first time I did the walk, but in the other direction, coming down from Hampstead Heath after grabbing a coffee at the McDonald's at Hampstead tube station).
Armed with my lunch, Jones's Holy Wells of Wales (my reading material for the day, a book that is heavy on toponymic lore relating to, well, holy wells in Wales), London A-Z, lots of water and my notebook I started up St Pancras Way into Camden, walking past the St Pancras Church, where we are told the River Fleet used to run visibly across the land. It is now submerged beneath infrastructures, churches, train stations and the like. It is also very close to part of the Regents Canal at this point. I continued up to the Costa coffee where St Pancras Way meets the Regents Canal, and where once before when I was having a coffee there, a few months ago when I was doing a canal walk, a man borrowed my (mini) London A-Z to consult it. I felt like a real Londoner then. Today I was carrying my 'full-size' A-Z, in my hand so I didn't have to stop every time to pull it out of my bag when trying to figure out if I was on the right road.
Eventually things smoothed out once I got on to Highgate and eventually South End Road, where Daunt Books sits. At this point I went into the store for about 45 minutes, pre-lunch, and had a look around. At least five books presented themselves to me as either: essential, a must-read (now), or something I've been meaning to get for quite some time. The selection there is marvellous, bringing the word 'curated' to mind. You could probably pick up any book in the store, go home, read it, and be completely satisfied, the store is that good. I left without buying anything, feeling completely overwhelmed, planning in the back of my mind to come back but not really being honest about it yet. I was feeling (unrealistically) virtuous for having left without making a purchase (I've already reached my budget limit for the month, with three days left).
At this point it was lunch time so I walked just a bit up South End Road and broke out my Costa roasted chicken sandwich, smoky bacon crisps, orange, apple, and yogurt, and ploughed in for a bit. Then I walked uphill into a field with fireweed and looked out over the city, especially the cluster of buildings that includes the cheese grater, walkie-talkie, shard, and others. It was a wonderful stroll with a cool breeze and sunshine coming through fair-weather clouds at intervals. I found the boundary path and went along it for a while, all this time thinking about my Beating the Bounds of Camden pamphlet, and the writing I had just been doing on this area. I found that some of the things I had read were overlaying with my experience quite nicely, but I was wandering a bit too much for everything to line up perfectly. It was perfect in its way.
Daunt Books pulled me back down into its gravitational force and I ended up getting a paperback of Karl Ove Knausgard's My Struggle (reviewed in The Guardian) which I'd somehow heard about through another favourite author's review, namely that of Zadie Smith, whose novel N-W is, I believe, about the very area I'd been strolling through. If that's a bit of a stretch, it's not so much because it promises to be a great book, and if I really end up loving it, there are several more in the series to look forward to. After getting my literary fix, I was out the door again, now with a Daunt Books cloth sack, and hellbent on getting some reading done. Which I spent the rest of the day doing in the fabulous summer weather, soaking up the lore of the holy wells, their ritual, magic, boundaries, and names. By the end of the day I was back on my bicycle, having made this fabulous link up to Hampstead Heath by way of the tube from Heathrow Terminal 5, where I'd locked up my bicycle for the ride home.