Unknown City of London.
When I have an appointment in London I always make a day of it, wandering around London and discovering things that I didn’t know about.
So where should I aim for, I wondered as my train pulled into London Bridge Station.
And suddenly I knew where I was heading, as I spotted the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in between the buildings.
Crossing London Bridge – and pausing to admire the view in both directions – I turned left towards the Cathedral. It was a hot, humid, crowded day, and walking was like climbing up a hill through thick mud!
At last I gave in, and went into The Sugarloaf for a cold drink and something to eat.
The Sugarloaf is one of the Nicholsons pubs.
See my article ‘London Bridge is Sprawling Round’ to read about Nicholson.
There was writing on the wall about a Roman stone, but when I asked the barman about it, he’d never even read it and knew nothing about it!
How long have you worked here? I asked him.
Nine months, he replied.
I asked another barman about it. He was more alive and enthusiastic.
There had been a large Roman stone down the road for centuries, but it had recently been moved to a museum due to the road works going on.
He said that, like me, he loved walking around, exploring London on his days off. Then he suggested that I must visit Ye Olde Watling, near the Cathedral, which is one of the oldest pubs in London. It’s also another Nicholsons pub.
I carried on walking to St Paul’s, but when I got there, I looked at the crowds of tourists and suddenly changed my mind and decided to save my visit for another day. But where should I go instead?
While I thought about it, I had to sit down for a while, in a shady park area opposite the Cathedral, and I spent some time people watching; always an interesting occupation.
It was good to see free water fountains everywhere. London’s not known for its generosity. It’s always been a money-making capital city.
Next to the small park was a City Information Centre, so I went in. A very friendly, enthusiastic lady knew just what I was looking for, and gave me a free map and drew her suggested route on it.
The City of London was destroyed in 1666, and again in WW2, although St Paul’s survived.
Read my article, Circling the Gherkin.
So the area around St Paul’s is all modern.
I walked to the right of the Cathedral, then straight ahead, past the glass shopping mall. Then I turned right and walked along Cheapside, which was the route that every monarch took to their coronation, until James ll.
On the right is St Mary le Bow, probably London’s most famous church. It is said that to be a true Cockney, you must have been born within the sound of the Bow Bells of London.
Apparently, the bells could be heard six miles East, five miles North, four miles West and three South.
I was born in Lambeth, so if the wind was blowing in the right direction, and if my mum had stopped yelling and cursing me (she never stopped cursing me) she might have faintly heard the Bells as I entered the world, which would make me a Cockney! I like to think so, and I’m going to start to learn Cockney Rhyming Slang just in case. Do you Adam and Eve me?!
While I was inside the church, the bells rang, so could I be a Born Again Cockney?
Just past the Church, on the right, is Bow Lane, which, although destroyed in the Great Fire, is still in the original layout, with cobbled pavements and little alleyways branching off it.
It was originally part of an old Roman road which ran all the way from Dover.
Then I saw directly In front of me, Ye Olde Watling!
I entered and spoke to the assistant manager, Claudia, who is Portuguese, professional, and very helpful.
She showed me round, breaking off to serve customers.
Upstairs is where Sir Christopher Wren sat and drew sketches for the new Cathedral.
The pub was built in 1634, destroyed in the Great Fire, rebuilt in 1668, restored in 1901, destroyed again in WW2 and rebuilt and restored again in 1947!
A lot of the beams were from old ships, and are all misshapen.
Then Claudia took me downstairs and into the Ladies’ loos. She unlocked a door marked Private, and there was one of the most amazing sights that I’ve ever seen.
It’s a tiny boiler room, and one of the walls is possibly the only surviving part of old pre-fire London!
At the bottom is a fireplace, and above it, on each side, are two undamaged wooden friezes.
The pub was obviously on a lower level before the Fire. I suppose that there was so much rubble after the Fire that London’s level rose higher.
I’ve seen a lot of amazing sights in other countries with my job, but I will never forget looking at that bit of old London. If only it could talk, it would have so much to tell us!
How did it manage to survive unscorched when the whole of the City of London was on fire? Maybe the pub collapsed on top of it and protected it.
Reluctantly I dragged myself away. The pub was very busy and Claudia had work to do.
At the bottom of the road and back to modern London, I turned right and walked along until I was opposite St Paul’s, turning left towards the Thames. Then I walked across the Millenium Bridge.
It was opened in 2000 and was the first new bridge across the Thames for over 100 years.
To the left is Tower Bridge and the Shard in the distance, and the colourful green and yellow Southwark Bridge with Borough Market next to it, and ahead is the Tate Gallery and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
I looked behind me and had a clear, unspoilt view of St Paul’s Cathedral. Then I carried on to the end and turned left towards Borough Market and London Bridge Station.
It’s lovely walking along beside the Thames. London’s modern and old buildings cleverly harmonise together, blending the past and the future.
There’s a large selection of places to stop and eat or drink.
Again people watching is great fun. Everyone’s so happy!
My favourite person of the day was the Poet for Hire, Pay what you like. He clattered away on an old blue portable typewriter, composing instant poems and he was very popular.
What a great idea! He deserves his success.
I sat down for a while beside the river. A gentle breeze was blowing; a welcome relief to the hot, muggy air.
A beggar came up and politely asked if I could spare some money towards a bed in a hostel for the night.
He had a rollup cigarette in his hand, and he was probably in his late 30s and perfectly healthy.
So he got a money-less lecture from me about doing something with his life. He said that London’s expensive, so I suggested he move out of London.
He probably gets a dozen lectures a day, but you never know……
It was past five and every pub, bar and restaurant was heaving with after-work drinkers. It was a great atmosphere.
I went to catch a train on the Underground to Baker Street. The first train was packed, but another one came along in two minutes.
As I was early for my dinner date, and it was still hot I went in a pub for an orange and lemonade. £3.99! I told you London could be expensive. I’d expect to pay under £2 in Sussex, where I live.
But I must admit, it did go down well!