The mystery of the arrows: a wild goose chase in three parts

November 16, 2016

For a while, I’ve been puzzled by a pair of arrows painted on the pavement outside Café G on Peckham Rye. One red, pointing South, and the other blue, pointing North. I don’t know how long they’ve been there, but I don’t think it’s been that long - I don’t remember seeing them until quite recently. I don’t know why they are there, or what they point to - my Googling skills have let me down on this one.

What could they be? Perhaps some kind of art project, or a magical mystery tour. Either way, I wanted to know where they led.

One Sunday morning, my daughter and I had been sitting in the park, having a picnic (even though it was a cold day in early November - she’s very insistent). As we were heading towards the playground, we saw another pair of arrows. We had no particular place to go, so we decided to try and solve the mystery. They led us out of the park into Nunhead, past the Ivy House (London’s first co-operatively owned pub, where once upon a time I’d filmed a music video with Lucky Soul). More recently, my daughter had been to a halloween disco there - parenthood changes many things in your life.

At one point we thought we’d lost the trail, but spotted the arrows again on the other side of the street, sending us up Nunhead Passage. It’s a narrow, graffiti-covered lane between the reservoir and the cemetery, that felt a little bit spooky to my daughter, even on a sunny morning. Whoever had created this mystery tour was certainly not picking the most glamorous locations.

Outside Nunhead Cemetery, we briefly lost the arrows again, but we did see an ancient cooker by the wall. Why was it there? Who knows. It felt more like a museum piece than something to be fly-tipped. When we picked up the trail again, my daughter and I felt more than ever like we were detectives trying to solve a mystery. It was so nice to be able to spend time together, out in the sunshine, away from screens, having a miniature adventure, without needing to spend any money, or use anything other than our feet, our eyes and our imaginations.

We lost the trail completely at Haberdasher’s Aske’s College, and decided to head for Hilly Fields. It’s another place with a Lucky Soul connection, but more importantly, it has a café and a playground.

It was definitely a day for the mysterious. As we came up the hill from Brockley, we saw an enormous procession of people in their Sunday best, chanting as they turned the corner. We stood and watched for a while. After every ten or so people, there was someone carrying a brightly coloured velvet parasol. Some of them carried yellow flags marking them as members of the Syrian Orthodox Church. Towards the back of the procession were a group of men in white church robes, some swinging censers. Who knew that Brockley is home to an obscure sect?

As we got closer to Hilly Fields, we heard what sounded like a marching drum band. We weren’t sure where the sound was coming from, but it seemed to be getting louder. We went a little way back down the street and waited for a while, and the sound seemed to ebb and flow. Were they coming closer to us or not? We couldn’t tell.

Who were these mystery drummers? Were they connected to the same procession we’d seen earlier? After a while, the drumming was still going, but it wasn’t getting any louder. It was getting cold, and we were reaching the limits of a 4-year-old’s patience with mystery (and a 40-year-old’s, for that matter), so we headed for the café.

A couple of days later, unable to sleep, and with the American election results coming in, I went for an early-morning run in the pouring rain, and decided to follow the arrows in the other direction. Heading up Peckham Rye, they went off towards what an estate agent would call Bellenden Village. In the darkness and the rain, I lost the arrows a few times, probably where they were submerged under piles of leaves. Finding the arrows again, I ended up on Blenheim Grove, close to the arches under Peckham Rye station. There are a few art studios there, so the idea of it all being an art project seemed fairly likely.

Not finding any more arrows, and getting tired of getting wetter, I gave up and went back home to commiserate with my wife about the news of Donald Trump’s likely victory. The next day, it didn’t seem coincidental when I saw this in my feed reader - an animation of the most unsatisfying things in the world.

The morning after I got round to drafting this post, I went for another insomniac run, and decided to try following the arrows again. I headed past Nunhead Cemetery and picked up the trail of the arrows again. Again I lost the trail at the top of the hill, but this time I guessed correctly that they would go across the caged railway footbridge. My tolerance for a wild goose chase is higher than that of a 4-year-old, especially when I’m out for a run, but at 5 AM, things seemed a little spookier than normal. As usual when I’m running, I was listening to a podcast. This time it was Short cuts, talking about going into the unknown at night. Appropriate in one way, perhaps, but as I hesitated to follow the arrow into a darkened Telegraph Hill Park, I wondered if hearing someone talk about the scariest moments was a good idea while running around in the dark on my own.

The trail of arrows finally ran out at the entrance to Copeland Park - it must have been some kind of art project, but I suppose I’ll probably never know the meaning of the red and blue arrows on the pavements of Peckham.

Because I’m a ludicrous geek, I put them into a Google map: