Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Sloane Square to World's End - The Kings Road

Rise from Sloane Square Tube Station into Sloane Square, the home of the Royal Court Theatre and the Sloane Ranger. This busy square is in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and has an air of respectability about it with Tiffany, Hugo Boss and Gieves & Hawkes all having a presence.

From here we begin our walk along the Kings Road. The road is no longer the centre of the fashion world as it may once have been in the 60’s. Like most high streets it now has the same old familiar global brands, which lack the interest or appeal of individual designer boutiques or stores.

First stop is Duke of York Square the home to the Saatchi Gallery. Homage to one mans wealth and purchasing power. As a gallery it works really well. Unfortunately the art feels as though it has been hovered up into a collection rather than hand picked for quality. Despite this there is always something of interest to see and it’s free, so why not.

The Kings Road has a sense of faded glory but the streets off the busy road still remain very desirable. James Bond lived ‘off the Kings Road’ cared for by May his Scottish housekeeper. I have now reluctantly come to terms with the fact that James Bond is a fictional character but like to think that one of the houses really is home to a secret agent, having breakfast of “two cups of very strong black coffee, brewed in an American Chemex, an egg boiled for exactly three and a third minutes and served in a dark blue egg cup with two thick slices of whole wheat toast and butter”.

Heading west you will come to the former home of Russian ballet dancer Princess Serafina Astafieva. She lived in what was previously known as the Pheasantry but is now a Pizza Express. The place starts to become more eye-catching on passing Chelsea Town Hall with a number of interesting furniture shops and the Bluebird Restaurant.
At the end of this stroll is the World’s End, named after a local pub. It is famous for the 60’s counter culture boutique Granny Takes a Trip. In the 70’s the shop was owned by Vivienne Westwood and become the birthplace of British punk.
Map of Sloane Square to World's End
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Sunday, 8 March 2009

Millennium Wheel to London Bridge - The South Bank

This pedestrian route is one of the most popular places in London to ‘stroll’. There are many places on interest along this route, some of them world famous. I will avoid writing about these and concentrate on some of the less celebrated places that I feel are as important and add to the vibrant atmosphere of the South Bank.

Walk east from the Millennium Wheel, keeping the River Thames to your left, away from County Hall, The Houses of Parliament and the huge Shell complex. Under Hungerford Bridge onto the South Bank Centre. Here you will find The Hayward Gallery, National Film Theatre, Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, an overabundance of skate boarders and many places to eat and drink. There is always something happening at the South Bank. Of particular interest is the South Bank Book Market, which is under Waterloo Bridge.

There is also a fine view of Victoria Embankment, on the north side of the Thames that includes Temple and the spires of Wren churches. Unfortunately it also includes many cranes as the numerous developments being built can give London the look and feel of a construction site. It can look as though London is not yet finished.

On past the National Theatre until you come to Gabriel’s Wharf and the Oxo Tower, which have both been successfully renovated by Coin Street Community Builders. The Oxo Tower takes its name from the glass windows in the tower. Designed in the 1920’s by architect Albert Moore, he designed the tower to incorporate the brand name 'Oxo' into the towers window to get around the ban on sky advertising.

Then you arrive at the Tate Modern, Millennium Bridge and the Globe, which are world renown and don’t need me to describe how spectacular they are. Sandwiched between the Globe Theatre and the monolithic Tate is a 17th century house named Cardinal’s Wharf. This was thought to be the lodgings of Sir Christopher Wren in 1670’s and 1680’s while supervising the building of St Paul’s Cathedral on the opposite side of the Thames. It is now thought to be the site of the long demolished Cardinal’s Hatte a well known brothel as the area was a notorious red light district. I assume that Wren, surrounded by bear and bull baiting pits, dingy taverns and gambling dens only had eyes for his masterpiece rising above the London sky line.

Continuing east you pass the Anchor pub, Vinopolis, the Clinic Street Prison Museum and a replica of the Golden Hinde. You will then be in sight of the glorious gothic masterpiece that is Southwark Cathedral dating back to 1106. Any other city in the world would not allow such a work of art to be squeezed between modern office blocks, a railway line and the Borough fruit and veg market. But maybe that’s what makes London so special. These things are to be discovered not promoted.

This brings you nicely to London Bridge Station and access to the underground system.

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Sunday, 1 March 2009

Imprial War Museum to Millenium Wheel

This is a very short walk but there are places of interest to see on the way. Arrive at Lambeth North Tube Station and follow the sign posts to the Imperial War Museum on Lambeth Road. Here you can also see the former home of William Bligh (1754 – 1817) the captain of the “Bounty”.

The museum contains various machines for killing people along with a replica of “Little Boy” the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Why anyone would want to see such a thing is beyond me but its there if you feel the need.

Opposite the museum, in St Georges Road, is St George’s Cathedral, a relatively modern building having been rebuilt in 1958 due to bomb damage caused during the Second World War. The original building, opened in 1848, was the site of the first Catholic Cathedral to be built after the Reformation. At 131 St Georges Road is the former home of George Myers – “Master Builder” who worked with Pugin the architect of the original Cathedral.

Further on along Westminster Bridge Road is an imposing tower block of luxury apartments now known as 100 Westminster Road. This was originally called Century House and from 1966 until 1995 was the home of MI6. That’s a secret. Don’t tell anyone.

Continue walking past Lambeth North Tube Station and turn right into Lower Marsh. Here you will find a proper street market selling loads of things you don’t want but at only a pound can not resist. Turn left into the tunnel that is Leake Street to the site of the once infamous Can Festival. All the original ‘Art’ work has now been sprayed over as it seems more important for street ‘artists’ to write their own name on walls rather than create something original. Despite this it’s still worth a look.

Emerge from the darkness of Leake Street to the impressive sight of the Millennium Wheel. Londoners originally thought that the 435ft ferris wheel would be an eye sore, being the forth tallest structure in London, towering over Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament it would ruin the London skyline. As Londoners gathered to see the structure raised in two stages by the worlds largest craine it soon became clear that the wheel would become a London icon, similar to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
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