The London Marathon 2017

Mileage for Week Fifteen
Mon – 3.7 miles
Tue – 0 miles
Wed – 2 miles
Thu – 0 miles
Fri – 0 miles
Sat – 3.1 miles
Sun – 26.2 miles
Total – 35 miles

Get comfy, this is a long read.

The week leading into the Virgin Money London Marathon 2017 was a quiet one. In reality the training had ended a few weeks back and it was all about resting and not overdoing it.

Following a couple of runs in the early part of the week I rested until we got to London. We travelled from Wales by train on Friday, arriving in London late morning.

London Marathon Expo

Once we had lunch it was off to the Marathon Expo to collect my number. The process was simple. Take in your form and ID and the race pack is handed over. The Expo itself is very big. IG – Me and my number

I’m glad we went on the Friday, as we were tired from the journey and then adding in all the walking around the Expo. If that had been the Saturday, then it would have affected my legs for the race.

Once you have your number you walk around the corner into the Expo proper and straight into the ADIDAS branded shopping area. There is a lot of stuff on display and I bought myself a blue London Marathon t-shirt which was £30. I saw it at Silverstone Half where it was a bit cheaper but I’d left my cash in the car! IG – Blue London Marathon t-shirt

I liked the look of the marathon jacket but that was £55 and I thought better of it. I’ll check the shop website in a few weeks to see if they are any cheaper… I’m guessing not but I’ll look anyway.

The Expo is filled with exhibitors selling their running related wares, there are also many races represented, from short runs to long ones and even the virtual races that you may have seen on Facebook and other social media sites.

Personally, I ignored the majority, the only medals that took my eye were the Disney ones. They look great and the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon has been on my list since it began a few years ago.

Southwark parkrun

Sarah and I had planned some months ago that we would run a parkrun somewhere near the hotel. The easiest for us to get to was Southwark parkrun, which was 4 tube stops away on the Jubilee line.

The park itself is lovely. A large green space, trees, somewhere for kids to play safely and even a pond with various ducks and other bird life. There are also some very friendly squirrels who are clearly used to being fed by humans.

The course was three laps, which included a couple of tight-ish turns but nothing to major. The attendance on the day was a record of 475. Sarah and I ran around together in 32:23. A nice leg stretch for me. The day was heavily populated by parkrun tourists. I saw runners from all over the country and there were even a few international visitors.

We followed the run with a lovely sausage and bacon sandwich in the little café in the park.

This is of course Millwall FC territory, there was a Millwall FC mirror in the café and Danny Baker lived his early years a stones throw from the southern end of the park. Having visited London many times but only sticking to the tourist bits, you don’t get to hear a proper London accent. Well we did in the café.

IG – Sarah’s pics from parkrun

Virgin Money London Marathon 2017

I have wanted to run the London Marathon since I was a kid. I remember watching during the 1980’s and seeing Ingrid Kristiansen’s domination of the race all while wearing gloves. That’s an image that has stuck with me.

I first applied for the 2016 race but was unsuccessful in the ballot, undeterred I tried again and was accepted for this years race.

I’ve run plenty of Half Marathon’s and say that at the completion of those I wondered how on earth I would run double that distance. From my one experience I can confidently say that it is all down to the training. You can’t take any short cuts to marathon running. If you put in the time you will get the rewards.

I was in the Blue start and had to make my way to Blackheath station. Our hotel was close to Waterloo East station where the train would go through on the way to Blackheath. That meant I only had a few minutes walk before I was on the platform. The train arrived quickly and I think within 20 minutes I was at Blackheath with a lot of other runners full of nervous energy!

The train travel is free for all runners, which this part of the journey so much easier and stress free.

Once out of the station we were guided by volunteers (big thumbs up to every volunteer!!) around to the left and up the hill towards the park and passed the magnificent looking All Saints’ Church.

I had to show my number to get into the start area proper, easier said than done. I was wearing my running top with number, a long sleeved running top, another long sleeve that I might wear in the pen and a jumper! I lifted all the long sleeves to show that I was allowed in. Walking through there was a photographer who took a photo as I repeated my pulling up of jumpers. Not very flattering.

As I made my way forward there was another photographer (there were many walking around) as he got into position to take the photo, I put my hand up and asked him to wait. I then took every top off bar my running top to at least get one photo that proves I was there.

It was a chilly day, so all the jumpers went straight back on. What I hadn’t taken to London were trousers, big mistake. There was at least 90 minutes before the race would start and I was getting cold. Plus I didn’t want to walk around for too long. I sat on the grass and removed a long sleeve and draped that over my legs.

During this time the big screen was showing various bits of marathon related news, and before long the wheelchairs, para-athletes and the elite women were setting off at their allotted times.

I’d used the urinals once and was now wandering around to get my legs moving. I found a spot where I could still see the big screen and was in amongst a small group where it was warmer than sitting alone on the grass. I spotted a woman called Sophie who I thought I recognised from Instagram but I had weak signal and couldn’t check my feed. Later I was able to confirm that Sophie was indeed on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/runningonfullblog) and has since written about her day here (http://runningonfullblog.com/).

After another trip to the urinals (nervous and cold is not a good combination) I wandered down the length of the start area to see what was around. There was a changing room tent, somewhere to get a hot drink and at the bottom was the championship area where the fast runners were.

To my delight there were more urinals! One last stop before deciding when to put my bag on the truck. As it was chilly I was going to keep one long sleeve on and then ditch it once I got going. As I stood in front of the trucks there were only a few runners covered up, so I decided to go for it and only wear my t-shirt. A good decision as the sun broke through the clouds minutes after, it was forecast to be a chilly day but the weather gods had other ideas.

Bag handed in, sunglasses on and I was stood in Blue start Zone 9. The last zone!

My watch was playing up, it would keep restarting itself, not something I needed on this day of all days! Instead of having the time showing, I put the watch into run mode. The downside to that is I didn’t know what the time was and I didn’t want to keep getting my ‘phone out.

Maybe it was sentient? I had planned a while back that my watch, which I have been using since just after I started running, would be replaced with a newer model after the marathon. Sarah said that I should have bought the new watch before the marathon but even though I’m rarely sentimental, I wanted to stick with the watch that has seen me go from jogging down the canal towpath, to parkruns, to 10ks, to half marathons, to training for and completing a marathon.

We started to drift forward little by little. I thought we were just being bunched up ready for the start. I quickly checked the time and it was already 10:06, the leaders would have already run over a mile.

As always happens when I’m at an organised event, I needed a wee! I knew there were toilets about 600m after the start and then periodically along the course. However as we all moved forward there was a gap in the barriers and lots of men and women were dashing for the nearest urinal or loo. I dashed off too, better to go before the clock starts running.

IG – Blue start

Something I didn’t like as we all moved forward was the throwing of bin bags or tops or whatever a person was wearing to stay warm. I was in the middle of the throng so was safe, but if you were left or right you were in danger of being hit in the head. I saw too many selfish people throwing stuff and hitting people. It’s not rocket science. Move over and dispose of it safely or ask the person next to you to pass it on.

Wow 1600 words and I haven’t crossed the start line yet. As I sit here and type, I don’t think the next bit (the marathon) will take that long as it was just running, so keep with me.

I approached the start line and actually got a bit emotional. A lump in my throat if you will. I was starting the London Marathon! I quickly put those thoughts out of my mind and concentrated on what was to come. I crossed the line at 10:15.

The three Royals who started the race were apparently waving at the runners, I know this because I saw it on TV, on the day I didn’t even see them. As I went over the start line, they would have been standing on my left, in fact I could have probably reached out and touched them, but I was looking to the right and the stand where all the noise was coming from. That’s where I thought they would be.

At this time Sarah and Lesley were just about in position in Bermondsey somewhere between 11 and 12 miles.

Sarah text me at 10:16 “At post. Your Left. Where the crowd thins out.”

I replied “Ok, just started, 4 mins run!”

I knew that by the time I got to them, where the crowd thins out would be full of people! Sarah had made a sign for me and they also had balloons for me to look out for but that was nearly 2 hours ahead.

Mile Splits
1 – 10:10
2 – 9:58
3 – 9:20
4 – 9:12
5 – 9:34
6 – 9:19
7 – 9:27

When I run I don’t really take particular notice of what’s going on around me. I notice the other runners and if they are about to get in my way but not the stuff that’s around me. What I’m getting at, is that this bit is going to be pretty bland!

Going into the race I knew there were landmarks: Cutty Sark at 6 and a bit, Tower Bridge at about halfway, Canary Warf at 18, Big Ben with a mile to go. Other than that I wasn’t really looking out for anything, I was just running!

Early on I passed a lady runner wearing a helicopter, later I would see a chap also wearing a helicopter.

I was prepared for the early miles to be slower than my target pace of 9:00 min/mile, what I wasn’t prepared for was for all the miles to be slower than my target pace! Not once did I get up to speed.

This was due to the amount of people running. I would speed up and the be confronted by a wall of runners and nowhere to go.

One of the highlights of this run for me is the Cutty Sark. I’ve seen it so many times over the years and have visited it as a tourist but this was clearly the first time I’ve run around it. To commemorate that I took a little bit of very shaky runner cam footage as I went around.

From there I kept going knowing that I would see Sarah in about an hours time.

Mile Splits
8 – 9:15
9 – 9:37
10 – 9:22
11 – 9:26
12 – 9:34
13 – 9:19
14 – 9:20

As you can see the splits remained pretty much constant. Again it was due to the volume of people running and there being no space. The miles were falling away though, I was feeling good despite the pace annoyance. It was getting much warmer and I was taking on my Cliff Bloks and water as scheduled. We had planned in advance that Sarah and Lesley would have a full bottle ready for me. I always carry a water belt with me, I like having a drink and knowing I can have one, not wait for a water station.

I just about finished my drink as I ran into Bermondsey. I’d looked on YouTube and Google Streetview to see what the area looked like, to make sure I would recognise it. I must say here that even though I’ve watched the marathon for years, it all looks different when you are running.

I passed the tube station and started scanning the crowds on my left. It seemed here, as in other sections of the course, that there were no barriers and the crowds had spilled onto the road, leaving a much more constricted space for runners. Crowds are great but stay on the paths please.

I couldn’t see Sarah or Lesley but kept on looking when I heard a shout of “Gary” I don’t know who it was but I looked and saw them both. I just about dived across to them, nearly taking out a runner in the process.

Sarah got some quick photos, I said my goal of 4 hours was probably not going to happen and Lesley said it didn’t matter, finishing was the goal. Which is quite correct. Even though we had planned to swap bottles, I was about to run off without it, despite Lesley saying several times to swap the bottle! A runners daze is what I’m putting it down to. Bottle finally swapped, a quick good bye and I was off again.

The next landmark was of course Tower Bridge. Which I forgot all about. I was still trying to find gaps in order to make up some time when we turned left. I remember thinking “what’s next” and there was Tower Bridge.

I’ve walked over the bridge previously and done tour where you can go up and across the thing at the top (forgotten it’s name) but running over it was great fun. The crowds had been loud so far but they were outdone the crowds here. Both sides were shouting and encouraging every runner.

There was a TV camera at the end which I waved at but having watched all the live coverage, I didn’t see myself.

Halfway and we were all headed to the Isle of Dogs. There is a section between Tower Bridge and Isle of Dogs where you can see the runners coming back from Canary Wharf on the other side of the road.

We are at 14 or so miles, they are around 22 miles. Some of them were flying passed. I saw James Cracknell (finish time 2:43:12) here and knew it would be some time before I too was on that side of the road.

Mile Splits
15 – 9:03
16 – 10:05
17 – 9:17
18 – 9:17
19 – 9:47
20 – 9:24
21 – 9:37

I distinctly remember looking at my watch and it being 15.5 miles and thinking that this was okay. I wasn’t in any trouble. The legs were great, the chest was great and I was just running. It didn’t feel hard. That’s the training.

I remember somewhere here (it was in the 16th mile, I just checked Google maps) that we could see the river Thames. Yes I know we’ve run alongside it and gone over it but I think this was the first time I’d seen it. Usually there were people or buildings in the way.

We went through some tunnels around here too. I think two? Maybe three, I can’t remember. I know why watch lost GPS and the Strava map is bit squiggly in this area.

I don’t know why mile 16 is slower than the others, I’ve looked at the route and can’t remember anything specific.

I still was feeling good. I was warm and getting tired but overall I was okay. Had there been an opportunity to speed up on any other day I would have taken it at this point. On this day though I was content to stay at the pace I was running and not risk hurting myself.

There were many people along the route being cared for by volunteers, officials and St John’s Ambulance. Some looked in a bad way, thankfully there have been no reports of fatalities.

I certainly didn’t want to join them, the pace I was doing was frustrating but I would run the marathon.

Mile Splits
22 – 9:41
23 – 9:52
24 – 10:02
25 – 9:50
26 – 9:49
0.5 – 9:29 – My watch was ahead all the way along.

The last 5 and a bit miles were tough. A battle of mind over legs!

As I went through mile 22 and 23, where I had seen James Cracknell earlier, there were still runners, walkers and rhino’s still coming through on the other side of the road. I must admit feeling a little sorry for them, as I was in the last section and they had nearly a half marathon still to do.

It was somewhere between 23 and 24 mile that I walked for about 30 seconds. I was feeling the distance a little by that stage, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be under 4 hours and I just wanted to compose my self. I think it might have been at the top of a slight incline? I can’t really remember. I finished off my water bottle, got my head sorted and a volunteer at the side looked me dead in the eye and said “c’mon Gary, you’ve got this, you’re nearly finished” that gave me that little shove I needed to push on.

Several times during Friday and Saturday, Sarah, Lesley and I had crossed the Golden Jubilee Bridge, which looks down onto the Embankment and the 25 mile marker.

That turned out to be a mental disadvantage. Going through 24 miles to that marker seemed to take an age! I could see the bridge coming but it never seemed to get any closer. The split time tells us that it took me 9:50 to get there, if it had said 15:00 I couldn’t have disagreed.

Once passed that marker, and boy was I glad to get passed it, I could see Big Ben, oh ok, the Elizabeth Tower and the clock face said it was 14:20 and I knew I had about a mile to go.

By this time I was very salty on my face. I get that on really long runs, the white salt streaks. I grabbed a water bottle, took a sip and then poured some on my face and tried to rub off all the salt. Yes, at this point I was thinking of looking presentable for the finish line picture!! As Sarah can confirm, I didn’t do a very good job of cleaning myself up and was still all streaky at the end.

Turning right at Big Ben and it was a final plod down Birdcage Walk before that now iconic double right hander onto the Mall. It was pretty cool rounding that last bend and seeing the finish in front of me.

I saw there were photographers on the sides getting pictures, so I made sure to go left and leave a gap between me and the runner in front, in order to get a photo on the Mall. Which I did, there are a few with Buckingham Palace in the background.

As I rounded the final bend the big screen was showing the Royals handing out medals, the announcer said he wasn’t going to say which part of the finish they were standing at. If you aren’t aware, London has a finish gantry spanning the road, with three points you can run through. I headed for the middle one.

As I went through and did my double fist pump, I could see the Royals on my left. Their queue was massive. I wasn’t in any mood for hanging about, I wanted the medal and some water.

IG – Video of me crossing the line

So I kept moving and was given my medal and congratulated by a volunteer (I’m saying volunteer all the time, I expect they all are). From that it was the souvenir photo. I look very dazed in mine.

The process just keeps you moving along. Next up was the heavy goody bag, I checked my t-shirt was the size and as I shuffled onwards there was a results board which I grabbed a photo of as a reminder. More shuffling and a chap quite obviously used to dealing with tired runners said to me “Gary, go to your right for you bag” and I just replied “okay” and kept up my shuffle towards my bag.

The bag retrieval process is much like the Silverstone Half which I have written about before. As I shuffled along the path, a spotter called out my number and without breaking stride the bag was placed in my hand. Awesome.

Still shuffling! I made my way to Horseguards, eating what I could find in the bag and drinking water.

We had prearranged to meet at the letter G on Horseguards so I headed towards it, thankfully it was on the left of the parade square so I didn’t have to walk too far.

Sarah spotted me and came bounding over to give me a hug, I think my first word were “don’t squeeze to hard”. I look absolutely shattered in the photos.

Some of the other words out of my mouth immediately upon finishing were “I’m never doing that again” “I’ve done it now, I don’t need to do it again” “I was going to do an ultra, but I’m not”

We three made our way to the hotel, on the way Lesley bought me a McDonalds. Not something I eat very often, in fact it’s only when I’m at running events with Andrew that I eat McDonalds. I just needed something easy to eat and that fit the bill.

We once again got to the Golden Jubilee bridge and saw runners still making their way towards the last mile and a bit. I took some photos and a video, as I’ve run there now.

Back in the hotel room and after a delightful refreshing shower, I checked the progress made by those I was tracking on the London Marathon app and saw that most had finished in times they were expecting, so that’s really good.

IG – T-shirt and medal  IG – Showing off my medal the following day

Positives

I’m typing this on the 28th, so I’ve had many days to reflect on the run.

This was the largest attended run and the longest distance run I’ve been part of.

The organisation is excellent right from the beginning with updates, social media, emails, the magazine when you get in is very useful, the information provided is clear and concise. The Expo was brilliant, the train travel, the guides to the starting area, the baggage trucks and all the volunteers were wonderful.

Along the route there were very few places without spectators. They did a brilliant job of encouraging everyone along the route. Stick your name on your front and you are guaranteed to hear it a lot!! I’m at a loss as to why some runners were wearing headphones, you don’t need headphones at these large events, the crowd are great at motivating you to keep moving.

There was one point, I don’t know where it was but we went under a flyover and there were drummers on the right hand side and screaming spectators on the left. The cacophony of noise and bass from the drums couldn’t fail to inspire you to do your best.

The medal is fantastic, the best medal I’ve had so far. The t-shirt puzzled me initially, as it looks like an ice-cream until It was pointed out that the ice-cream part is actually 26.2 with the river Thames being the sauce and runner shaped sprinkles.

Everyone I’ve shown the medal too has been impressed by it.

Negatives

Personally I think the race is too big. If like me you think you can run it under 4 hours, you might struggle depending on which zone you are placed in. It was clear from the outset that I wasn’t getting under 4 and I eventually accepted that.

I’m not sure what London can do though. Staggered starts is an option but unlikely due to the times that are run in London. The cut off is 18:15, so maybe those expecting times of 6-8 hours could be set off later. 11am perhaps?  Thereby making it possible to waves to be sent off every 10 minutes perhaps? That would spread the runners out across the course. Boston does waves but would it work in London?

What next?

Despite that negativity, I ran the London Marathon. I’m extremely pleased to have crossed the famous finish line. I’m not putting myself in the ballot again for next year. I may in the future as I’ll go into it with the experience of being there before.

You remember I said “I’m never doing that again”? Well that was my thought until I woke up on Tuesday morning and thought to myself, I know I can go under 4 hours, I’m confident of that. I was researching marathons later that morning and found the Chester Marathon, held in October with around 10,000 runners, a lot less than the 40,000 at London. I’ve not committed myself just yet though.

Before that I have the following lined up:

May & June  – Brecon Athletic Club – Llanfrynach 3-4-5 mile series
June 25th – Swansea Half
August 6th – Brecon 10
August 27th – Severn Bridge Half
September 24th – Swansea 10K

London – Day Three

Monday 20 February

Another day of blue skies and sunshine. I really did pick a good weekend to visit London.

This being my last day, I packed my bag; triple checked that I’d not left anything behind before depositing it in the left luggage area in the hotel. My plan was to come back this way later on to re-visit the BFI shop, collect my bag and then head for Paddington. My train was due to leave at 15:45 so I had a rough itinerary for the day.

The first destination was Westminster Abbey. Virtually re-tracing my steps of the previous evening, I headed through Waterloo Station possibly amongst more people than live in Brecon! Along the embankment, before heading over Westminster Bridge.

As I was out early the Abbey was not yet open, it was due to open at 9:30, and I got over Westminster Bridge at about 8:45. Having a rough idea where I was, I knew that St. James’s Park was close by. It sits in a rather busy area, but as you go through, the trees lessen the traffic noise and whilst you don’t completely forget where you are, it does feel quite peaceful. I sat on a bench near the entrance to the park and watched the commuter’s speed walking through to their destinations.

There are quite a large number of birds in the park, I couldn’t begin to name them, some I don’t think I’ve seen before. In the middle of the park is a bridge, from which you can see Buckingham Palace.

Still having time to spare, I went and had a better look at Buckingham Palace, on the way through the park, I could see a woman taking a picture and as I got closer I could see why. I was very surprised to see three pelicans in the middle of London, but they looked quite at home. I’ve since had a look on the internet, and it seems there have been pelicans in London since 1664.

Buckingham Palace look rather splendid in the sunshine as did the Queen Victoria statue.

As the time was now getting towards 9:30, I made my way back towards the Abbey via Birdcage Walk, passing Wellington Barracks. Although I’d ‘gone’ before I came out of the hotel, I was now in need of some facilities!! I saw a sign for both the Abbey and a WC, following it brought me to a zebra crossing near to the west door of the Abbey but more importantly another sign for the WC pointing in the direction I had just come from! As I wasn’t in a desperate need to go and it was nearly 9:30 I headed for the Abbey entrance…and then the world got a tiny bit smaller.

I was at the zebra crossing, in front of me where the obligatory Japanese tourists who stopped in the middle of the crossing to photograph the Abbey, I zigzagged through them, turned left, looked up and who should be heading for me but a colleague who recently left Brecon to work in London. To say we were both rather shocked and surprised to see each other is an understatement. He was on his way to a meeting, so after a quick chat we said our goodbyes and went in opposite directions. Amazing that in all those people, I was able to bump into someone I knew.

I came to London in 2006 and wanted to visit the Abbey but I just never got around to doing it. So I made sure that this time I did. The wealth of history is just overwhelming if you try and think about it. Taking for example, the people who are buried here; A huge number of Kings and Queens of England & Scotland – Henry V / Elizabeth I / Mary Queen of Scots / Charles II / plus many more, and then there are the people who have shaped history – Geoffrey Chaucer / Ben Johnson / Sir Isaac Newton / Handel / Charles Dickens / Tennyson / Rudyard Kipling / Laurence Olivier / again there are many more. Then there are the events that have taken place here – the recent wedding of William and Katherine, the funeral of the Queen Mother, the Coronation of Elizabeth II and the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales to name a few.

There is a free audio guide narrated by Jeremy Irons to help you around the Abbey, this was a good tour but didn’t mention everything that was around you. Of course a comprehensive tour would take days but for example, coming out of King Henry VII chapel, I could see the tomb of King Henry V, one of England’s greatest kings but there was no mention of it on the tour.

The Abbey staff were very helpful, in one ‘rooms’ where there are several tombs, a guide told me and the other visitors all about each person who was interred there; it was very interesting. The husband of one of the women interred there had been beheaded at The Tower. Somehow she had been lucky and had made it to the Abbey! Walking around the Abbey took about 90 minutes and like The Tower of London, was well worth the visit.

I still had a couple of places to tick off before leaving London, so a short tube journey later I was in South Kensington, home to the Natural History & Science museums. First though I wanted to get a picture of the Albert Memorial, as I was slowly running out of time I had to make do with a couple of long shots from the other side of the road.

After a swift coffee in the Albert Hall it was onwards to the Natural History Museum. On the way I passed the Royal College of Music where I could hear through an open window, a budding singer, perhaps even opera singer going through her scales, she sounded very good. A whistle stop tour of the museum followed; I missed out large chunks as I mainly wanted to see the dinosaurs. The museum was packed with people, lots of school groups from foreign shores. I got a few snaps of the various dinosaurs, including the animatronic T-Rex. I had a quick scan through some of the other exhibits but will come back again to see the rest of the museum and the exhibition that runs until September which is all about the fateful trip of Captain Scott.

There was just enough time for two more destinations before heading to Paddington…the first was Harrods. I left the Natural History Museum with the intention of going straight to Waterloo, collecting my bag before getting some lunch and then the train. I still had over an hour; I’d got through the museum quicker than expected. So I walked from the museum up Brompton Road and into Knightsbridge. On the way I went past the V&A. I’ve not been in the V&A before, so I may visit next time around. Harrods was busy. Busy with tourists picking things up, balking at the price and then putting them down again!

I went through the main door on the corner which opens into the bag section; the only price I saw read £1,750. This struck me as rather expensive for a bag! Again with time pressing I didn’t visit the whole shop and instead concentrated my time in the food hall, specifically the chocolate part. After 20 minutes of wandering around trying to find the best bargain (needle & haystack come to mind) I spent £20 on 3 items, and I didn’t even get a signature green bag, the food hall bags are white.

With my time in London now all but up, I took the Tube over to Waterloo, bought some DVD’s at the BFI, collected my bag and tube’d it to Paddington with minutes to spare. I thoroughly enjoyed my weekend in London and I’m planning another for a weekend in April after Easter. It will depend on what is being shown at the BFI, the programme is out in a few weeks and I can make my mind up then. I would like to see another show, perhaps Phantom.

If anyone has any ideas as to what places; museums, galleries, attractions etc, I should visit, then please let me know.

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

London – Day One

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Saturday 18th February 2012

My 3 day weekend in London started early when my alarm went of at half 4 this morning. Why so early? Well I wanted to get a whole day in London, so that meant the first train out of Abergavenny, which left at 06:07, I got into Paddington just after 8:30. My hotel is in Waterloo so I got on the Tube and 20 minutes later I was in the lobby.

I dropped my bag off and started walking toward the Embankment. Tomorrow I’m going to the BFI to see Casablanca, and I wanted to see where the entrance was, that found I continued down the Embankment on Queens Walk towards St. Paul’s Cathedral.

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Some Londoner’s are rather energetic and they like to run down by the river, I saw about 30 in my 20 minute stroll.

Further down the Embankment is Tate Modern, I didn’t have time to go in and only got this dodgy photo of the tower.

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I crossed over the Millennium Bridge getting a long shot of Tower Bridge, which I’m hoping to get closer to tomorrow when I visit The Tower of London. It was very windy this morning, the wind was howling down the river which made me a little uncomfortable on the bridge. As you cross the bridge there is a great view of St.Paul’s Cathedral (which is why the bridge was put there of course) so I snapped a few pics.

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I was surprised to see the tents belonging to the ‘Occupy London’ protestors outside the Cathedral, I quite wrongly thought that they had all been cleared away. I’ve not read about their cause enough to know who’s right and who’s wrong but their actions did annoy me, more about that in a moment. The picture below is taken from the steps of St. Paul’s, there are more tents going around the side to the right. Paternoster Square which is behind the tents has all but been closed off, there are lots of metal barriers, perhaps 5 or 6 deep to prevent the tent city or maybe it’s more a village now, getting any bigger.

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My reason for walking to this part of London was my first proper destination of the day; The Museum of London. Before I get to that let me say why the ‘Occupy’ protestors annoyed me; I’d planned to visit ‘Postman’s Park‘ which is just over the road from the museum. It’s a small park which used to be where several cemeteries, which served the local Churches, joined together. The reason I wanted to visit was to see George Frederic Watts’s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice, a memorial to ordinary people who died saving the lives of others and who might otherwise have been forgotten. I had read all about the memorials when i was planning my trip, however I was unable to get in as it’s been closed due to the actions of ‘Occupy’ Protestors just down the road. I had to make do with this glimpse through the railings of the gate.

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I’m sure I’ve been to the Museum of London before, I have a vague recollection of going as a child with Mum & Dad.

I went this time because I’d read about and then saw a TV report about an exhibition of Charles Dickens’ London. £8 to get in but it was worth it, lots of memorabilia from his time, the desk where he wrote some of his famous books, costumes from the plays of his books and examples of his early drafts. I could barely read his writing, makes me think my handwriting isn’t so bad! At the end there is a film with a voiceover reading a passage from some of his writings; I didn’t see the start but it’s about one of his many walks around London. It’s a clever piece as it shows that not much has changed in the 140 years since he died. A lot of the buildings are the same (a lot of Dickensian London has gone but a lot remains), we still have poor people, we still have drunken behaviour and London’s streets are still alive with the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Following the exhibition I went around the Museum proper, it’s free to get in if you want to go. The museum follows life in London before London was even founded. The early part of the Museum has lots of animal and human remains that have been found on various digs in and around the city. The story then moves through the Romans, Medieval, Great Fire and so on until it reaches the London of today. An interesting place, a couple of cafes to have a breather and did I mention it was free!

One planned activity down, one to go! I had time to spare so after a quick sandwich, I Tube’d it over to Leicester Square. The square is one giant building site, it was the same on my previous visit in September. There is going to be a new exciting space “Your Leicester Square” as the wraparound hoardings proudly proclaim. I didn’t expect the whole square to be off limits so instead of heading directly to Piccadilly Circus, I found myself making an circuitous route by way of double backing on myself but keeping parallel to Leicester Square, if only I’d put on my GPS and I could have seen what an odd route it was. Anyway I eventually made it to Eros and had a well earned sit down.

I’m sure if you sit at Eros for long enough, you will appear in hundreds of photos. I only managed to get this terribly lit one, oh well we all know what he looks Iike.

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Just a metaphorical ‘stones throw’ away from the noise of Piccadilly is St. James’s Square where WPC Yvonne Fletcher was killed in 1984. This is the second time I’ve gone to the marker, I can only think its because of two things; I remember it happening (I was 8) and I know where it is. There’s lots more hidden history in London’s streets, you just have to know where to look.

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From St. James’s Square I went to Savile Row, for two reasons; The Beatles and clothes I can’t afford. The Beatles had their Apple Corp headquarters at 3 Savile Row and played their famous rooftop concert here. The second is the clothes, I’m no fashionista but a sharp suit is a sharp suit, and there’s a lot of them walking around this street. I’m never going to be able to afford to shop here but theres nothing to stop me looking, in fact on one side of the street you are able to peer into the basements where the tailors are hard at work.

You may notice a distinct lack of photos! The streets were small, crowded and I was a bit self conscious about standing out as a tourist, which I probably do anyway – I think I’m the only person I’ve seen in walking shoes!!

With my wandering complete it was time for the big event…

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On entering the theatre and seeing the stage, I thought it looked much smaller than I had expected. My initial worries were unfounded, the stage is big enough and all of it is used to maximum effect.

My only other exposure to Les Mis has been a very good school production by Brecon High, the 25th Anniversary concert which isn’t acted and the soundtrack which I’ve listened to a few times; ‘Do You Hear The People Sing’ is usually floating in my head most days, it’s just so catchy! I’m glad I had that exposure though, as I remember having a little trouble initially following who was who back in Brecon. Jean Valjean being in rags one moment and then he’s a well dressed man, should be easy to spot, but I wasn’t that sharp. The same could be said for the teenager in front of me who was also confused but this time at a much higher ticket price! Several times she leaned towards her Mum and had to be guided as to who was who. There’s a particular scene towards the end where our hero shows clemency to a character, but then seems (with a loud bang) to change his mind, She turned her head and asked “is he dead?”…if you’ve seen the show dear reader then only you will know.

I couldn’t help comparing the lead to Alfie Boe. He appears in the 25th Anniversary concert and is perhaps the most famous of the most recent Jean Valjeans among non theatre goers. I have his version of the songs on my iPod, and while the new chap is very good I didn’t think he was quite as good as Alfie, I just wish I’d seen the show with him in it.

I remember when watching the school production that it seemed they had skimped on the sets. There are several scenes that take place at a house, which was only represented by a set of gates. I had to take back my silent scorn, as out of the darkness on stage in London appeared a set of gates to represent the house! Well done Brecon High for so magically capturing the London stage show!!

A brilliant production and one I would definitely see again, although I will wait until the lead actor changes, so that I might see a different take on 24601 Jean Valjean. (if you’ve seen it, you just sang that in your head didn’t you)

So theatre done, fed and watered I made my way back to the hotel. I’d checked the map whilst in Pizza Hut and noticed that ‘The Ivy’ restaurant, famous for its celebrity clientele was close by, so I went to see if I could see anyone famous. It was only a short walk from where I was but there were no paps and no famous people, it was a bit early perhaps. The windows are made up with coloured glass tiles so you can’t even see in, it was only then that I noticed ‘normal’ people going in! Was this the right place? I looked it up when I was back at the hotel, and yes it was the right place and yes ‘normal’ people can go in, the celebs have a not so secret entrance via a flower shop around the corner. The normals have the ground floor to themselves, the celebs get the three floors above.

When walking in London you come across things you don’t expect (well I do), nothing alarming, although I did nearly trip over a sleeping homeless person within 20 minutes of stepping foot in the capital. What I mean is that things (buildings, shops etc) aren’t always where I expect them to be or they aren’t as far apart as I expect them to be, London despite its size isn’t that big if you stick to the touristy bits. Just across the road from The Ivy is a theatre, nothing special there, I was in Theatreland after all but it’s one I’d like to visit at some point.

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…and just around the corner from the theatre is ‘Stringfellows’ it wasn’t open though. It was only half 6 but I’d had a long day so I continued to make my way towards home, I headed for Trafalgar Square thinking it would be nice to see Nelson all lit up, but he was all in darkness which surprised me, so I got a picture of the Olympic countdown clock instead.

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Then I made a mistake, tiredness perhaps but instead of going down Northumberland Avenue, I went down Whitehall and away from the bridge that would take me to the hotel.

All was not lost though because I think I saw a famous person! How exciting, well it would be if I’d had the courage to speak! The man in question was Warren Clarke famed for playing Andy Dalziel in ‘Dalziel and Pascoe’. The ‘man’ was standing outside a theatre, and looked a lot like Mr Clarke, I’m fairly sure it was him as in the very theatre he was outside of, Warren Clarke is starring in a play as Winston Churchill. As I walked down the road I could see his picture jutting out from the side of the building, then my eyes were drawn to the ‘man’, I looked at him, then did a double take and we stared at each other as I walked past, me in disbelief, him perhaps hoping I didn’t call him Dalziel! I got about 30 feet down the road and turned around just to check and he was staring right back at me, perhaps now annoyed that I hadn’t recognised him! I’ll never know.

Two final pictures, the London Eye all lit up which looked better than I’ve captured it here and the Cenotaph. I was going to get a picture of Big Ben but I got to the underground entrance first and saved my legs by going one stop back to Waterloo.

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If you’ve read all that, then well done!

Approx. miles walked – 7