Scanning the blurb of Childs Hill author Nick Papadimitriou’s debut book Scarp, phrases like ‘vast storehouse of regional memory’ and ‘the poetry of the overlooked’ jump out at you. The accompanying press release goes even further: what on earth is ‘deep topography’?
So what exactly is this book of Nick’s, Scarp? “I don’t know that I can tell you!” admits the writer, walker and ‘deep topographer’.
“There are elements of memoir and social history in there as well as walking and nature. I wanted to write something that shows that we live where we live and there are weird angles and facets to it that we’re not aware of.”
So that’s nice and clear, then. And what of this 'Scarp' of the title?
“It’s the escarpment that runs across the northern edge of London,” Nick explains, “from just south of Harefield in the west to Little Amwell, near Hertford, in the east.”
The book features a series of long, reflective walks that, apparently, celebrate the poetry in the landscape and the past beneath our feet.
“My interest in it is that it’s culturally invisible,” says Nick. “I’m trying to create an emotional connection with the landscape. It’s quasi-mystical. I wanted the landscape to speak for itself, although it’s actually me speaking for it. But there are these profound immensities on our doorstep and we screen out the power of the world and the electrical charge you can get from a direct encounter with it. People go on Google Maps to look at places without actually going out to look at them, but for me it’s a visionary landscape.”
The opening walk takes you from Borehamwood, through Elstree and on down to Edgware by way of the grimly named Suicide Corner on the A41, while the Edgwarebury walk goes... well, it goes off on an anecdotal and historical tangent actually, but there’s quite a lot about Edgwarebury in there.
And the Southgate walk sets out from Golders Green and goes northwards through Finchley and Whetstone and on to Barnet, through Monken Hadley and on to Cockfosters, emerging in Chase Side in Enfield.
“The Stanmore-Edgwarebury apex is the easiest of them all for me to reach,” says Nick, “so those are the places I’ve visited most often. They’re also where I get the strongest sense of where I knew several years ago turning into a place I didn’t know, turning from suburbia into the rural. It’s a very dramatic area, very remote – I know people who are scared of walking their dogs there. Edgware and Edgwarebury have had a fair number of murders, which always adds a slightly sinister air to a place!
"I like the way the north London suburbs lap up against the southern rim of Scarp and the hills rise up over the rooftops. It’s most dramatic, and where they most strongly come into conflict. I know north London so well but there are always surprises, new landscapes.”
Scarp is out now from Sceptre and available from bookshops and Amazon. Details: www.hodder.co.uk/sceptre.aspx