Walking with Andy Heddon on 19 June 2010


Drifting Around Exeter

I am walking with my younger brother, Andy. We both moved to Exeter in 1998. I left in 2005 but Andy stayed. Andy frames his walk as being about randomness and chance, things just happening, without forward planning. It is, he proposes, something of a reflection on his life. There’s a less personal history to this sort of walking too perhaps, in the perambulations of the nineteenth-century flâneurs, an undirected strolling that nevertheless allows for attention to the surrounding environment.

Our walk, though, begins with clear intentions and a definite plan, as Andy wants to head to the Double Locks pub. We start at Cathedral Green. Sponsored teddy bears with parachutes are being thrown from the top of a fire engine’s ladder, raising funds for charity. At Fore Street, we pass by the print shop where Andy has worked for the past 9 years. A large design that he’s made covers an entire pane of glass – blue sky, green grass. There’s a van parked outside The Mint pub, a British Bulldog standing proudly erect atop its roof. The black door at 142 Fore Street hides a warren of houses, one of which Andy used to live in. A little further down, on the other side, 126 Fore Street, where he lives now – a top floor flat with stunning views. A little further down again, and the flat where he lived only a few months ago. It is clear that Andy has a fondness for Fore Street.

From here, we turn left onto West Street, passing a book shop called Drystones (a knowing nod, Andy reckons, to that chain street bookshop). There are three bookshops in this one area: a book exchange; an independent bookshop; and the Book Cycle – where you leave a donation for any book you want. Opposite the Book Cycle is the House that Moved – a Tudor building that was literally moved from one location in the city and rebuilt here.

On the other side of the busy dual carriageway, we gaze down onto a moss-planted roof and old water mill wheels. England flags hang from windows, telling of World Cup aspirations (though hopes are being rapidly dashed). We’re soon onto Exeter Quay, crossing the River Exe in Butt’s Ferry, a hand operated cable ferry. Opposite, is Bar Venezia, where Andy used to work. New buildings have appeared since I was last here, and more old warehouses have been brought into commission, filled with antiques and junk. At the side of the Exe, we spy some romantic graffiti: ‘Wait 4 me my love, your sweetheart’.

This is a path I used to saunter frequently. The sun is warm and bright and it smells of summer. Bees buzz busily in the tall grasses and wild flowers . The river carries canoeists, paddling alone or in pairs. At the Double Locks, Andy stands in the entrance, holding what he calls his ‘catalogue pose’ for the camera.

The Double Locks is where my students had a graduation gathering. It’s where I had my own wee leaving do too. At the canal side tables, Andy treats me to a Farm’s cider. It must be an acquired taste because it tastes like I imagine horse hoof oil to taste, or cow’s piss. Despite my best efforts, I can’t drink it. We catch the 2pm ferry back along the river. Andy knows the ferryman, Rich. In fact, Andy knows a lot of people in Exeter. Exeter is the place where he’s made deep roots.

Back on terra firma, we walk up the remarkable Stepcote Hill, a mediaeval cobble-stoned, steep stepped street. This takes us too near to Andy’s flat for him to resist popping home for a cup of tea (as if all that sitting, drinking cider and taking a ferry back up the river was thirsty work!) Then we walk back to Cathedral Green, to the open-air shopping mall erected since my departure. The new and the old rub up alongside each other – the old city wall next to the glass walls of high street shops; Egypt Lane etched in glass, which leads to Wagamama’s noodle restaurant. The Blue Boy statue has survived all the development though, still standing sentry.

Leaving the sterile newness of the shopping mall, we head into the markedly different ambience of Sidwell Street. The abandoned Debenhams now seems powerfully iconic. From Sidwell Street we make our way along Well Street, past the forlorn St. James Football park and then to Rosewood Terrace, a quiet, narrow street  packed with tiny two-up, two-downs. Number 3 is the house that Andy and I shared when we first moved here. Andy, with a broken collar bone and pelvis, slept downstairs.

Back along Sidwell Street – the Primary School has been demolished and rebuilt and a rather creepy collection of wicker people dance in the playground. Close by, a new Mosque is nearly completed. Then down Queen’s Crescent, onto Longbrook Street. The removal firm/storage unit has disappeared, replaced by Longbrook Salon and Isca Loft apartments. But 60 Howell Road looks exactly as it did 5 years ago – the door and window ledges the same blue I painted them, only a little more faded. This is the first house I owned, a single room on each of its three floors. I loved the sanctuary it provided in the centre of the city.

Andy’s at a bit of a loss as to where to go next, so we drift back on to Exeter High Street, packed with weekend shoppers. A visit to Sainsbury’s is, I am assured, still part of the walk. It also  handily functions as an opportunity for Andy to buy the ingredients for his dinner. I suspect this last stop is much more purposeful than the flâneurs would have liked. All day, though, I have been drifting through the seven years I spent here, my legs falling into old patterns and carrying me – almost without thinking – to former homes and significant places.

2 Responses to “Walking with Andy Heddon on 19 June 2010”

  1. Caz Says:

    Fancy checking out Wolverhampton and the surrounding countryside? I have a pair of walking boots. X

  2. Caz Says:

    P.S. My first comment should have been my first thought. Which was “this is pretty much every visit I have with Andy, anywhere he goes”. He just starts walking and whether he’s been there before or not, he tells you “I can’t tell you where we’re going. It’s a surprise” or “we’ll just see what we find”. You’re supposed to fall in live with a man just like your dad but I didn’t have one so I fell in love with a man
    just like my brother 🙂 x

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