Big day in Little Venice

Our exploration of this crowded city continued yesterday and took us to an area in the west of the city, known as Little Venice. In glorious late summer sunshine, we walked along the edge of this junction of two canals and marvelled again at a hidden treasure presented to us by the Big Smoke.

Little Venice, the junction of Regent's Canal and the Grand Union Canal

We travelled along the Bakerloo line as far as Warwick Avenue – yes, the very title of a song by Welsh singer, Duffy – and followed the finger boards to Little Venice in south Maida Vale. According to Wikipedia, the area is believed to have been so named by the English poet, Robert Browning, who lived in the area from 1862 to 1887. Browning’s Pool (pictured above), the junction of Regent’s Canal and the Paddington arm of the Grand Union Canal, bears further testimony to the influence of the poet in this area.

Many lovely houseboats line the length of the canal

We walked along the perimeter of the junction’s triangle, originally known as Paddington Broadwater when the junction was created in the 1810s, and enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch in Rembrandt Gardens. Artists’ studios on the east side of Browning’s Pool were demolished and replaced by this small park in 1975, so named to commemorate the 700thanniversary of the founding of Amsterdam, the ‘Venice of the North’.

These two older gentlemen enjoyed the late summer sunshine so much they had a little snooze in it!

Apart from having been home to Browning, Little Venice has been home to short-story writer Katherine Mansfield, playwright Christopher Fry, novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard and Icelandic singer Bjork.  It is also home to the Canal Cafe Theatre, the Puppet Theatre Barge and the Waterside Cafe.

The Waterside Cafe - we had an ice-cream here!

After our picnic lunch, we took the waterbus – a long boat – from Little Venice, eastwards around Regent’s Park, and on to our final destination of Camden Town. A delightful crew of a Scotsman and an Englishman instructed us in the health and safety guidelines for climbing safely into the boat, and then assured us that any marriages officiated by the captain on the 50 minute journey would only last for the duration of the journey. Just as well; the narrow seats were well uncomfortable.

Our boat ride along the canal took us through the Maida Vale tunnel, a 250 metre long tunnel built in 1812. Architecture that ranged from the majestic to the common lined the canal as we wove our way past the London Zoo through to the heaving market town of Camden.

Waterbuses go up and down the canal at regular intervals. A great idea for special occasions, as this 'hen do' indicates!

Another outstanding day in this beautiful city of surprises.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Advertisements

Let’s not forget to remember

The more I get to know London, the less I realise I know of this city heaving and overcrowded with history. And the more I get to know the city, the more I love living here for now.

My New York blogging buddy, jacquelin, told me about Postman’s Park, just behind St Paul’s. I met up with my husband one sunshine-filled lunch time last week, and we walked across the London Millennium Footbridge over the Thames, towards St Paul’s Cathedral – a sight that still takes my breath away – and we walked around the massive and awe-inspiring church to this little spot:

Postman's Park, in the City of London

This little spot is interestingly one of the biggest parks in the City of London. It was built in 1880 on the site of a churchyard and burial ground of St Botolph’s Aldergate. Named as it is because it stands on the former site of the General Post Office where postmen often sat to eat their lunch, Postmans Park is also home to a sheltered wall commemorating, as something of a protest against the upper class, ordinary people who lost their lives heroically trying to save others. G F Watts, the painter (1817 – 1904), came up with the idea and he commissioned Doulton to create the hand-lettered tiles to honour the otherwise unheralded and unnamed heroes.

So quaint and so special

In a similar vein, one of my colleagues showed me this little site just down the road from our office. Known as Cross Bones, this is an unconsecrated burial site, going back to medieval times, for “single women” and paupers. (“Single women” was a euphemism for prostitutes, known in the area as “Winchester Geese” because they were licenced by the Bishop of Winchester to work within the Southwark area known as the Liberty of the Clink.)

According to Wikipedia, the Liberty of the Clink lay outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, and as a result became known for its brothels and theatres, bull and bear-baiting. The age of the graveyard is not known: John Stow (1525 – 1605) wrote about it in A Survey of London in 1598, and by 1769 it had become a paupers’ cemetery for the poor of St Saviour’s parish. It is believed that about 15,000 people are buried there.

Cross Bones, with the Shard - Europe's tallest building-to-be - in the background

When the London Underground planned the construction of its Jubilee Line through the area, between 1991 and 1998, archaeologists found this overcrowded graveyard with bodies piled on top of one another. Test showed the deaths to have been caused by anything from smallpox to TB, Paget’s disease, osteoarthritis and Vitamin D deficiency.

The find captured the attention of local community members who created an informal group – Friends of Cross Bones – to campaign for a permanent memorial garden on the site, which has also become the site of annual Halloween festivals – held every year since 1998 – marked by processions, songs and candles.

A permanent, living memorial marked by ribbons and flowers and poems

My, how the times have changed. Or have they?

Sunshine signing off for today!

London In Perspective

I adore this city that I currently call home.  It is huge, terrifying, impersonal, beastly, cold, heaving and aloof. And I do battle with it for all the same reasons. But heck, London does historical and iconical (is there such a word?) in ways that take my breath away. Walk with me.

Feeling the way I did over the weekend, we decided to continue our “exploring London” adventure: St James’ Park was next on our list.  A ten minute tube ride took us into Westminster, and as we emerged from the tube station, we stared into the face of London. We see this face often, usually from the other (south) side of the Thames, but it was so exciting to feel so close to the beating heart of this compelling city.

This is what we saw first:

The London Eye on the South Bank of the River Thames

The London Eye, now known as the EDF Energy London Eye (can you cope?), opened in March 2000 as a “metaphor for the end of the 20th century and time turning into the new millennium”.  It was designed by husband and wife architect team, David Marks and Julia Barfield, and took seven years to build. About 3.5 million visitors pay (around £18 per adult, £10 per child) to go up in the Eye each year, and it is said that from the 135 metre height of its revolution, you can see up to 40 kilometres in all directions. We went up it in July 2000, and it was pretty awesome, even from the safety of the bench in the middle of the pod (I have a thing about heights!).

And looking the other way, this is what we saw:

Big Ben, at the north end of the Palace of Westminster

Big Ben is the largest four-faced chiming clock in the world, with each dial being just less than 50 square metres.  There is a special light above the clock faces that, when illuminated, lets the public know that parliament is in session. The clock ticked for the first time in May 1859 and has rarely stopped. I was interested to hear in the media recently that Big Ben was losing time; it might conceivably have lost one second. I wonder how many people used that fact for being late for a meeting?

We walked down Birdcage Walk, and found ourselves in St James’ Park. We saw a few glimpses of spring, with some cherry blossom trees showing a hint of bloom. The London wildlife enjoyed the attention of Park visitors, and many posed obligingly for the camera (animals, that is, not visitors):

Our first view of St James' Park
Pelicans enjoying the attention
A local celebrity: Black Swan had its London premiere recently
This guy is used to the paparazzi
This guy was a show-off. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Pffffft.

This was another reminder that we were in London:

Signs of the times

At the far end of the Park, we caught a glimpse of an amazing crib: Buckingham Palace.

Buckingham Palace: the official London residence of the British monarch

When the Queen is in residence, the Royal Standard flies on the flagpole on top of the Palace, otherwise the Union Flag flies in its place. The raising and lowering of the correct flag is the job of a flag serjeant. I’m not sure you can see in the photo, but the Union Flag is flapping the breeze; I think that’s why we weren’t invited for tea.

So, back towards the River, passing this en route:

Got to love London

We bought ourselves some sandwiches and sat on a bench next to the River, with this view, to have some lunch:

The view from our bench

We had fun after lunch taking photos of each other with the London Eye in the background. If we got the angle and the zoom just right, the London Eye looked like a perfect halo around our saintly heads. We giggled like children as we took the photos, and kept grabbing the camera from each other to try something new.

We walked back across the River, and had one last glimpse of this before we caught a bus home from Waterloo:

View from the Golden Jubilee Bridge over the River Thames

Ah, this day was good for my soul. It reminded me of why we chose to come here, and the awesome and scary adventure that is London. Perspective is a fine thing.

Sunshine signing off for today!

Walking Through History

I have walked through a couple of centuries of history during the past week. Venturing along some cobbled walkways that featured in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and sipping wine in the Devil’s Tavern, I feel well and truly steeped in years gone by. Oh, if walls could talk.

Now, if I were a brilliant writer in the league of my friend, Kate Shrewsday,  I would recreate some of the history I walked through and keep you rapt throughout the journey. Sadly I’m not, so I will describe my experience of the places, share some photos with you and leave you to follow the links to find out more.  This city is truly amazing.

Last week, I went with a friend to a gorgeous little tea shop in Shad Thames, called the Tea Pod. To get there, we walked from our homes to the south side of the River Thames and walked through an area known as Butler’s Wharf and through to an ancient, cobbled walkway known as Shad Thames.

I didn’t have my camera with me, so on Sunday my husband and I retraced those steps so I could capture the image that took my breath away, as we rounded Butler’s Wharf. It is the image that reminds me that – and why – I live in London; this awful, compelling, fearsome, exciting, culturally-rich, historically-steeped, embracing, cold and infuriatingly beautiful city that I currently call home:

We walked along the edge of the Thames before taking a left turn at the Design Museum, which brought us to this, the beginning of the walkway known as Shad Thames:

Despite the modern shop fronts and the ever present sight of a Starbucks at the end of the lane, you can imagine little urchin pickpockets running around, helping themselves to the spoils of the rich. In the delightful Tea Pod, there is a sign that cautions patrons to beware of ill-motivated people who lurk the streets and help themselves to others’ property. Or words to that effect. While I know they don’t mean tax-collectors, they could just as well have written: “Beware of pickpockets. This is Oliver Twist country.”

The Shad Thames ends at this point:

This is the view of Tower Bridge if you were to drive or walk across it:

Walking back south along the river, we came across this community of barges, which I understand is the natural habitat of several local celebrities. We watched for a while, but none of them emerged from their hide-aways. I did, however, dream a little and imagine the romantic life of a boat-dweller in the city. Pretty cold, but I can’t imagine a more authentic view anywhere else in London:

You don’t need to worry with public transport, or walking:

On Friday night, we went to a public house that is known to be the oldest riverside pub in the UK. The Prospect of Whitby, on the banks of the River Thames in Wapping (almost exactly opposite the area we live in), dates back to 1520. Looking at it from our side of the river, you can see that it has defied development and modern architecture; the contemporary buildings on either side, with their straight lines (up and down like a s**thouse door, to quote a famous author) accentuate the wobbly, off-centre facade that characterises this ancient pub:

Known originally as The Devil’s Tavern, it developed a reputation as a meeting place for villains and smugglers, cut-throats and “footpads” (thieves that prey on victims while they walk). The hanging post stands ominously on the beach in front of the pub as a stark reminder of the public end that such criminals met some centuries before:

The interior of the pub is warm and cosy, and it is filled with nooks and crannies, broad walls and dark wood surfaces everywhere: 

An upstairs wall bears a wooden plaque, bedecked with the names of monarchs who have reigned on this island since the pub has been open; such history leaves me breathless.

So I’ve added a few more digits to my pedometer over the past week, I’ve walked in the steps of smugglers, villains, pickpockets and kings, and I’ve thankfully not been accosted by footpads or cut-throats. My fascination with this ancient, modern city never wanes.

Sunshine signing off for today!