IT would be churlish, before turning to today’s walk, not to mention the spontaneous outpouring of sympathy that greeted my recent brief aside that a mild leg disorder had curbed my regular peregrinations.
It would also be invidious to pinpoint any single well-wisher. But the caller who took the trouble to reverse the charges from France perhaps spoke for you all when he encouraged me to “stop malingering and get off your arse and give us some more walks!”
Apparently he finds the column occasionally informative, even amusing. But mostly he welcomes it as a gentle soporific at bedtime after a hard day of housebound liaising with work colleagues on TikTok.
So here goes, although I fear the promised Rotherhithe tour proved a limp too far and will still have to await another day.
In the meantime, I made it as far as Bermondsey Spa. Now, before you start fantasising about nipping down for an exfoliation, hot yoga or ayurvedic salt scrub, I should point out that this one shut down in 1805.
Established just 35 years earlier by the still life painter Thomas Keyse, it was a place for a nice cup of tea and maybe a bit of music and fireworks on a Saturday night rather than bodily pamperping. A mineral spring had been found nearby, spouting near the River Neckinger, so why not call it a spa?
Spa Road survives, leading to Bermondsey Spa Gardens, built on the site of Keyse’s tea garden and bordered on one side by the old Bermondsey Town Hall, now converted into (drum roll) luxury flats!
There was a Spa Road Station until 1915, London’s first railway terminus on the London and Greenwich line, which opened in 1836. The legacy of the line, which still operates, is probably the longest stretch of railway arches anywhere in London. If you’re a fan, it’s arch heaven.
Over the last decade, the scrap merchants and car repairmen who mainly occupied the arches have gradually made way for upmarket food stores, wine bars, bijoux gin distilleries and micro-breweries.
The trend was started by a handful of disgruntled traders from the more famous Borough Market who gravitated to Maltby Street, a few hundred yards west of the Spa.
Around the same time, in 2000, the local Southwark Council decided to transform “a neglected corner of south London” in a £140m deal with private developers.
According to the planners: “With the neglected community at the heart of this urban renewal, we focused on creating a strong sense of place and providing the existing and new residents with the better quality connections, streets and homes they so deserved.”
Who writes this shit?
A bunch of new housing developments went up, appealing to those young professionals who like to live next to railway lines, or to buy-to-letters who live somewhere else anyway.
It could be said though that the market that grew organically from Maltby Street to encompass the arches and light industrial estates at the Spa have done more to regenerate the neighbourhood than any master plan.
There’s been that inevitable trend to prepared “artesanal” food over raw ingredients that’s the curse of London markets, Borough included. But it’s still a lively spot at the weekend and has been crowned with the accolade “hidden gem” by the travel sites.
Naturally, it has attracted some of the wrong sort. I was enjoying a mid-walk glass outside the area’s best wine bar one day, when a designer beard approached. He discreetly reached into his tweed jacket pocket for a pot of pommade to wax his moustache before entering. Whatever happened to south London, I inwardly wailed.
The old faded low-rise council blocks have survived much of this innovation. The area has one of the highest concentrations of social housing in London and some of its poorest residents.
But you rarely see the locals cross narrow Druid Street to pick up their cavalo nero at the railway arches. There have been some grumbles of discontent about the newcomers but it hasn’t turned nasty – yet.
Of course, many of their predecessors sold up under right-to-buy and moved out to Bromley or to Addington. There they pass their dotage swapping reminiscences on social media about how fings ain’t what they used to be in the new Bermondsey.