I was bored off my face today, and mildly hungover. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I was sure I didn’t want to stay here. And so I decided to go for another Random Walk through Central London.
The Northern Line was still out, thanks to “planned engineering works.” This is another of those meaningless mantras, like “adverse weather conditions” or “for your safety and security.” Do you get unplanned engineering works? Do a bunch of engineers meet up in a tunnel and say, “Well, as we’re here, let’s do some engineering works!” Enough. Anyway, these PEW necessitated a rail replacement bus trip, during which I was sat behind a loud woman attempting to order cocaine.
I was able to get the Tube from Stockwell, where you sure as hell don’t want to run for your train. As the “Smile! You’re On CCTV!” signs remind us, everyone’s a suspect. You want to misbehave, they’ll know about it. You bastard.
The original plan was to explore around Blackfriars, but I was informed at Embankment that it wasn’t possible to get to Blackfriars by Tube. And so instead I decided to walk along the Embankment, the pathway designed to cover a sewer, squeezing the tidal river into a narrower space than ever before.
The first sight of note was the PS Tattershall Castle. This was originally a ferry built for the London and North Eastern Railway, but since the 1980s has been a floating pub. It’s been extensively rebuilt, removing the engines, wheels and paddleboxes until it looks like an embarrassing parody of a paddle steamer. I’m not a fan.
Of course, it’s far from the only moored vessel serving a new purpose. One I rather like the styling of is the Wellington.
I’m told this used to be a destroyer. A little further up is the entrance to the City Proper, marked by a pair of heraldic dragons.
It always takes me by surprise how little of London is actually London. These days we tend to use the M25 as the London boundary (well, I do, anyway), but a few hundred years ago even Westminster would have been regarded as a separate place.
Pressing on, I came to Blackfriars Bridge, ironically. I decided to walk on, pausing to take a snap of the old station. A month from now, it’s due to be renovated. At one time, Blackfriars Station was located on the South Bank. Now it’s on the North Bank. The rebuild will compromise by setting the whole thing astride the river. The station could do with a rebuild – frankly it’s a dump, the sort of place where the architecture was an afterthought.
Soon I came to Queenhithe, last survivor of the City docks, dating back to the Saxon era. All that remains is a silted inlet, blocked off by an expensive office building. Well, that’s not entirely true – at low tide, the timbers of the old dock can clearly be made out.
Here and there you get little reminders of the industrial past of this place – detours round old building and quaysides, rusty hand cranes. At one point the walker is diverted away from the river on to London Wall, which, despite its ancient name, is one of the newer streets in the city. The pavement is rather fragmented here, motor traffic taking very definite priority.
Eventually I came to Tower Bridge, and decided to make this the end. Well, apart from a stroll around St Katherine Docks. I always feel rather out of place here. I think it’s something to do with the incredibly expensive yachts moored here. The route I took out of the docks led me to an area I didn’t recognise at all. Lots of narrow streets with claustrophobia-inducing tall buildings on either side. Difficult-to-negotiate streets, roads in all directions, pavements broken up and hidden. The dark and the rain made things even more difficult. Eventually I found Minories.
From there, it was a short walk to Aldgate station – marking the eastern boundary of the city. This is one of the many ends of the Metropolitan Line, the oldest of the Underground lines which, coincidentally, has the oldest trains on the network (47 this year).
I rode this line into Baker Street, the first station build on the Underground (Paul Merton: “What was the point of that, then?”). It’s a station of strange angles. It is decorated, inevitably, with tiles depicting Sherlock Holmes in silhouette, made unmistakeable by his deerstalker hat and calabash pipe (neither of which appear in the original stories). I rode the Bakerloo Line from Baker Street to Waterloo. Baker to Loo, if you will.
Then the overland train to Wimbledon. Again, rain and light and dark made the location indistinct – we could have been anywhere. I feel sure that in years to come, people will look back on our decade and say, “Seriously, what was the deal with all the blue lights?”