The music began to reach me as I got into the fifth mile of the 15 and my legs were just starting to feel the strain. I’d sensed something was up from the straggle of hazy, underdressed young people up ahead, picking a hopeful path through the demolition landscape to the east of the canal just before I passed beneath the North Circular. The sun was up, but the day was not yet warm and all the moored narrow boats were still. My day had hardly begun but theirs was winding down from the all-nighter before. I ran on and as the music grew louder I began to scan the landscape for the source.
Heading north on River Lea towpath – the towpath of the Lee Navigation, to give it its inconsistently official name – takes you on a pastoral big city path past high hedgerows and regeneration spaces, from the Olympic Park, through the Springfield Marina, past rowers, walkers, ducks, geese, cyclists, vast hidden reservoirs, fishermen and Hasidim, all the way to Enfield and then, if you are up to it, the Essex fringe beyond. Mostly it is tranquil for doing your pain barrier trial, especially when out first thing. But not on this fresh, clear post-dawn summer morning.
Bigger and bigger the music became: deep trance rhythms, I believe of the chillgressive kind (and here I show I my age). I never run with headphones, and so I was all ears. My footfall dropped into tempo and my stride became less laboured as I moved on to the sylvan stretch between the oily stench that collects beneath the road bridge and the sleepy Alfie’s Lock, so near to Edmonton and yet so far.
The music was now huge, towering, almost palpable, its pulse shaking the trees. Where was it coming from? I’d thought at first it might be from a narrow boat or an associated casual encampment of the sorts of fellow Londoners who give you smug, condescending looks as you plod past and make you want to stop, smile fondly at them and say: “Mind-expanding drugs? Wow. Never heard of those.”
But no. This systemised heartbeat sound was much too vast. And yet it left no visual clues. All I could tell was that it was filling the skies from somewhere across the water, from a base behind a wall of greenery. Had a spaced-out spaceship landed there? The rhythm fell away, the music’s elements dissolved and then, from its root, an even heavier throb emerged. I picked up my pace as I pressed on towards Ponders End Lock, the music fading as I covered the yards.
When I got to the Lock I could no longer hear it, but when I laboured back it was still weaving its bleeps and ambient waves, albeit by then a bit more quietly. Another troupe of revellers were in my path. One of them, a young woman, carried a giant pink teddy bear. I grinned and she grinned back. Maybe I was tripping too.