London – Day Two

Sunday 19th February

A bright sunny but cold start to the day. I Tube’d it over to London Bridge as I intended to walk from there to the Tower of London, taking in some sights along the way. Just outside the station on the right is ‘The London Dungeons’ if anyone wants to go.

I wasn’t heading for the dungeons so instead went left towards Southwark Cathedral, the site of which has been a place of worship for over 1,000 years. It’s featured in a few films and even a Doctor Who episode, but it was only as a landmark that made me head for it.

Around the corner from the Cathedral is The Golden Hind which is docked in St Mary Overie Dock. This is not the original ship as that rotted away before being broken up in the 1700s, this one of two replicas of the original ship that circumnavigated the globe. This replica has itself also circumnavigated the globe. As I was there early it wasn’t open but it is possible for a price to have a look around. The other replica has been docked at Brixham since the 1960’s.

Also in this area is The Clink, which is now a museum that sits on the site of a notorious prison. The prison was owned by the Bishop of Winchester, who also had a Palace right next door, the remains of one wall of his Great Hall are still there today.

From a lot of places in London it is possible to see Shard London Bridge, a building currently under construction near; you’ve guessed it London Bridge. The building should be open in the summer of this year and will stand at 1,017 feet tall! There will be an observation platform on floor 72 if you’re feeling brave.

Crossing London Bridge gives some great views of Tower Bridge, I didn’t know at this point but I would be getting a much closer view later in the day.

On the North side of London Bridge is the area where the Great Fire of London started in 1666. I made my way through a couple of streets to the Monument which was erected to remember the tragedy. It is possible to climb the spiral staircase inside to the viewing platform two hundred or so feet above the street. It was due to open about 10 minutes after I got there but I don’t think I would have been brave enough to go up!

The Monument is 202 feet tall, and 202 feet away is Pudding Lane where the fire started. The street now is just an innocuous street between some buildings. Who knows what London would look like now, if that fire hadn’t started.

From Pudding Lane I went along Eastcheap towards the Tower of London. I’d been the Tower once before, I can’t remember exactly when but I would have been a teenager. The area outside the Tower has been completely re-modernised, with ticket booths, shops and visitor information areas. That didn’t stop the many tourists and me aimlessly walking around as we waited for someone to open up and let us buy tickets. Queues gradually formed in front of the booths and with less than 5 minutes before the Tower was due to open, so did the booths. The sun was really bright and was coming over the Tower so I couldn’t get a decent photo of the building, I did get this slightly bright one of the many animal sculptures that are dotted around the grounds. These sculptures represent the animals that would have once been housed here in the menagerie before they were moved west to Regents Park to create London Zoo.

Once inside I had a quick look around before getting back to the entrance in time for the first Yeoman Warder guided tour. Our guide was Bob.

Bob was great, a very funny chap. I know that to be a Warder you have to have served for at least 22 years in the Armed Forces, and once you are accepted into the ranks, that you have to learn all the history of the Tower and the spiel that is delivered to the paying public, and Bob delivered the spiel perfectly. We didn’t walk as far as I had expected I’m not sure what I expected really but the wealth of history that is told is more than enough to give a feel and flavour of life and death at the Tower. If you ever go, then make the effort to go on the tour. Our tour finished at about 1130, on the way around I’d planned to go and get something to eat (to beat the lunchtime rush) and then go and see the Crown Jewels, at the end of the tour Bob said to go to the Jewels early before the queues, so on his advice I did just that. Erm, well it’s good to be able to say “I’ve seen the Crown Jewels”, but I don’t know, they look wonderful, very shiny but they are just objects aren’t they?

From there I did go and get lunch, the food was really nice and not horrifically expensive. As I’d only seen the bits on the tour, I went and looked around the rest of the Tower; there is a great wall walk, which takes in many of the defensive towers each with their own displays on various aspects of the history of the Tower. As I neared the end of the walk I could see the queue for the Jewels and Bob was quite right, the queue was massive, I was quite glad that I’d gone earlier.

During the wall walk I tried to get a photo of Tower Bridge but the sun was always shining!

I saved the best to last, and finished my tour with The White Tower which is The Tower in The Tower of London. This displays the armour and weaponry from hundreds of years of British history; including sets of armour worn by or made for many Kings of England. There are even a couple of suits of armour made for children.

I’m really glad I decided to go to The Tower, its well worth the entry fee, the Yeoman Warder tour was a particular highlight, along with The White Tower.

I exited through the group entrance on the South Wall as this was right by the river and I spied an empty bench. Once again I tried to get a picture of Tower Bridge, and it was then that I spotted a sign for the Tower Bridge Exhibition.

So I went up onto the bridge passed the delightfully named ‘Dead Man’s Hole’, which is where corpses used to (and maybe still do) wash up! The exhibition is in the two towers of the bridge, which is first accessed via a lift and you then walk between the two towers using the two horizontal walkways. These walkways give a little history of the bridge, other bridges around the world and there are also some really good photos of life on and around the river over the past 100 or so years.

There are also some great photo opportunities as the walkways are 140 feet above the river below.

On leaving the bridge it’s possible to visit the engine rooms, which I did but it’s not really necessary, unless you’re into that kind of thing – which I’m not.

I finally got a nice, glare from the sun free shot of the bridge too.

Now back on the South side of the river I wanted a cup of tea somewhere indoors, but it being a cold day everyone else seemed to have the same idea, as I ventured onwards passing lots of full cafes, I found myself back at the tube station. So I went to Oxford Street, I knew the Palladium was near by (if you come out of the tube station turn right and then right again) and I wanted to have a look at it – not the best picture but the street isn’t massive, so I couldn’t go back far enough!

Turning right at the bottom brings you to Great Marlborough Street which has this great clock at the entrance to Kingly Street.

I was still gasping for a cuppa and a sit down, so I went back up onto Oxford Street in the attempt to find somewhere, in the distance I could see a John Lewis, and they usually have a posh café. So I finally got to rest my weary legs with a cuppa and a piece of carrot cake, all for the cheap as chips price of £6! Well it was a complete waiter/waitress service, I think they even had a licensed bar in there too.

Tea and cake finished, I was back on the move; there were a couple of shops of the DVD / Film memorabilia variety that I wanted to check out. The first was Fopp on Earlham Road, which was a fair walk along Oxford Street to Earlham Road via Tottenham Court Road.

Near the intersection of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road is the Dominion Theatre where ‘We Will Rock You’ has been playing for 10 years.  A massive statue of Freddie stands over the entrance. (Not my picture)

From Tottenham Court Road it was a few minutes to the corner of Earlham Road and Fopp, a few purchases made I went to the next shop, ‘The Cinema Store’. I’d passed this yesterday evening, it’s close to The Ivy & Mousetrap and across from Stringfellows. Nick, my previous boss, likes this shop very much so I had to go in and have a look. It was a bit like a Forbidden Planet if you’ve ever been in one, just a tad more expensive.

My legs still a bit tired I wanted to find another place to sit down! As I was nearing Trafalgar Square I went into the National Gallery and spent a lovely quiet half hour sitting on one of the large leather chesterfield sofas looking at the Haywain by John Constable, which I think could possibly be my favourite painting.

The building in the picture still exists although the trees have all gone and it’s a bit more overgrown. I would like to visit it one day.

In the evening I was going to the cinema at the British Film Institute (BFI), so I went back to the hotel to freshen up and relax for an hour of so before heading back out. The BFI was just a short walk from my hotel and the cinema I was in, NFT 1, was amazing. A really good space with the comfiest cinema seats I’ve ever sat in. I overheard the chap sat behind me say that the only cinema seats comfier were in screen 1 at the Curzon Mayfair; I’ve no way to corroborate that but may have to find out for myself one day.

The film we’d all come to see was Casablanca.

The audience were great, laughing at all the right bits, staying quiet for the moodier scenes, no talking, no mobiles lighting up, no noisy popcorn or other sweets – cinema heaven!

Going into the cinema I was still a bit tired, I’m really not used to all this walking! But on exiting the screening I had a second perhaps even a third wind and was ready to walk some more. I made a beeline for the London Eye, I don’t like heights but the thought of seeing London at night seemed give me the confidence to give it a go, unfortunately for me it had just closed…somewhere down inside I was secretly relieved.

Along the Embankment from the Eye are the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, I’d not taken the opportunity to get a photo of Big Ben last night, so was going to have a go now. My new point and click camera couldn’t really get a decent photo it being a bit too dark. However the best of my attempts are below.

From Big Ben I walked up Whitehall, onto the Strand and then up into Covent Garden. The streets were rather empty, it was a Sunday in February after all. From Covent Garden I went to Leicester Square and the onwards towards Piccadilly. Unfortunately the time that I arrived wasn’t the best, as most things had already started; cinema, theatre, the comedy store. So I called it a night and headed for the tube, hotel and bed!

Approx miles walked Day One – 7
Approx miles walked Day Two – 8

Day one of my trip to London