Tag Archives: st james’s park

Seeing the Sights

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Karen asked if I could help her and her husband plot a route around London to see the sights. I went one better and provided a fully illustrated guide to every major site in London that was completely walk-able. With no idea how long it would take to walk, or even if it was all that feasible, they set off with it. Fortunately, it worked, and they were able to see everything they wanted.

As such, I provide the same route here for anyone who wants to see as much of London as possible in one day. I’ve posted a walk before, but this one has more of a goal. All you have to do is start at London Bridge station…

Head up above ground and under the Shard, and go down St Thomas Street or London Bridge Street. Go towards Borough Market, which looks like a strange sort of greenhouse. Pass through the market, heading towards the Thames. You will pass Southwark Cathedral and then arrive at the Golden Hinde. Go down Clink Street and you’ll emerge on the side of the Thames again, between a Nando’s and a pub called The Anchor.

Millennium Bridge

Walk under Southwark Bridge, and opposite Bankside Pier is Shakespeare’s Globe, the only thatched building that’s been allowed in London since the Great Fire in 1666. Next is the Millennium Bridge, famously destroyed by Death Eaters but now back in one piece. This is in front of the Tate Modern. On the other side of the bridge you will see St Paul’s Cathedral, but don’t go there yet, I’m factoring it in for later.

Go under Blackfriars Bridge and you’ll pass The Coat and Badge pub. Keep on walking past the National Theatre and then past the next two bridges (the Thames has over two hundred bridges, as well as twenty-seven tunnels, six ferries and a cable car) and you’ll come to the London Eye. The Jubilee Gardens are nice here. At Westminster Bridge, cross over the Thames at last! This should have taken about an hour so far, not counting time to stop for photos.

Here you will pass Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster where the government are busy messing up the country. Just past this, you’ll see Parliamentary Square which is full of statues of famous politicians. On your left is Westminster Abbey.

This next bit has been a bit trickier to try and fit in without going back on yourself, so I think this works as the most sensible method. Turn right before Parliamentary Square and you should be on Whitehall. Up here on the left is the entrance to Downing Street. There’s also usually some guardsmen up here too looking very severe. Walk the length of Whitehall and then you’ll reach Trafalgar Square at the end. Don’t cross over to it yet, you’ll be coming back.

The Mall, towards Buckingham Palace

Turn into the next street on the left, under Admiralty Arch, and go down The Mall – it’s the street painted red. Follow this right down and (you’ll have seen what’s at the end) you will be outside Buckingham Palace. Alternatively, you can walk through St James’s Park on your left to the same destination once through the arch.

With Buckingham Palace behind you, on the left is Green Park. Walk through here until you reach Piccadilly, and then turn right. You should pass Green Park Station. On this road you will pass The Ritz, Fortnum & Mason (grocers to the Royal family), my favourite bookshops; Hatchard’s and the flagship Waterstone’s store, and you will emerge into Piccadilly Circus. Keep going through Coventry Street and you’ll find yourself in Leicester Square, home to cinemas, restaurants and M&M’s World.

Carry on through Leicester Square and then turn right into Charing Cross Road. Keep on down this road and you will come out at Trafalgar Square. When you’re done here, your next stop is St Paul’s, but there are two options.

ONE: Go to Charing Cross tube station, get the Bakerloo line to Oxford Circus and change to the Central line to St Paul’s. This will take about ten minutes.

TWO: Walk along Duncannon Street and then into the Strand, the curve of Aldwych, down Fleet Street, and Ludgate Hill. This will take about half an hour, but takes in the Royal Courts of Justice, as well as Ye Olde Chesire Cheese, one of London’s oldest pubs.

Either method you choose, you’ll arrive at St Paul’s Cathedral. Opposite this is the geometrically angular new shopping centre One New Change, which is fairly unremarkable but there are gorgeous views from the cocktail bar on the roof, which you can get into without having to buy anything.

I promise, you’re nearly done, just a few more things to show you.

The Monument

If now facing towards the river (you should be able to see Millennium Bridge and the Tate Modern on the other side of the river), turn left into Cannon Street. At the end, turn riverwards down into King William Street then into Monument Street to see Monument, built to acknowledge the Great Fire of London. You can climb it, but it’s narrow and tough on the legs. Out of Monument Street, you’ll come to Lower Thames Street and keep going left. After another fifteen minutes or so, you reach the Tower of London.

Go down to the riverside, then cross Tower Bridge. Turn right off the end here and you’ll pass City Hall (Boris’s office) and now you’re on the home stretch back to London Bridge! Walk along this side of the river and you’ll pass HMS Belfast, and at the end of this run, you’re back at London Bridge station.

Ta-dah!

Once you’ve gone full circle, you should have seen every major tourist spot in central London. There’s still some debate about how long this takes – Karen veered off at one point, and I’ve not added up the different sections (writers, infamously, cannot do maths) – but my only advice would be to wear comfortable shoes. This is a long walk but hopefully it’s worth it.

If you feel inspired to try this walk for yourself, please let me know by commenting and tell me how it worked for you and what you particularly liked along the route. I hope this will provide a crash course in London for many of you.

London’s Wild Heart

I’m not a native Londoner. I live in the heart of Sussex, in a small town crowded on all sides by farmland, open countryside and expansive forests. As such, one would believe that there is a lot more wildlife to be seen in my neck of the woods than in London. One wouldn’t necessarily be right.

While I’ve always noticed that there seems to be a distinct lack of dogs and cats in London, there is wildlife in abundance. Before London was there, of course, it was just wild land and forest, so we’ve encroached on the natives who haven’t all been so keen to leave. Some of them even perhaps seem to prefer the city. Oh sure, the majority of these animals are squirrels, mice, rats and pigeons, and even the most eager of tourists would have to be hard-pushed to find any of those particularly exciting to see.

But did you know that there are pelicans in London? Deer? Parrots? Flamingos? Well, there are. But how did all of this come about?

deerLet’s start with the deer, since that’s probably the one I mentioned that most people do know about. The current herds of red deer and fallow deer are likely descended from those installed by Charles I in the 17th century. When a plague was threatening London, he moved his court out to Richmond and decided that he wanted to do some hunting. Today there are over six hundred deer living in the park, all of them completely wild and free to roam. They came to the public eye a few years ago when, in a viral video, a dog walker was left helpless when his Labrador decided to give chase. (I’ve included the link for the three people who haven’t seen the video.)

I’ve spent a lot of time in Richmond Park and the deer are astonishingly beautiful. I’d advise you don’t try and get too close. The fallow deer are more likely to flee, but the red deer are prone to standing their ground. And if it’s the breeding season then anything goes and I’d stay away altogether.

The deer are culled twice a year, simply because they have no predators and if left to breed indefinitely, there would be too many for the park to sustain. If you really want to see deer but Richmond Park is too difficult to get to for you, there are deer in Bushy Park too, again both red and fallow deer.

Speaking of Richmond Park though, this is where you’ll find parrots. Granted, the maritime climate of Britain doesn’t seem appropriate for these birds better suited to tropical forests, but nonetheless a population lives here, known to some as the Kingston, or Twickenham, parakeets. They are rose-ringed parakeets to be specific and they’ve been here since – well, that’s just it. No one can really agree on when or how they arrived, because they’re definitely not native.

The first recorded sighting of a parakeet was in 1855, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that their population exploded and they became a common sight in south London, although their territory seems to be spreading ever more northwards. How they got there is a mystery. Some say that they escaped from the film set in the 1950s. Others prefer the theory that they escaped from an aviary during the 1987 hurricane. Another theory posits that Jimi Hendrix released a pair in Carnaby Street in the sixties. Not only can we not agree on how they got there, but no one knows how many there are either. Estimates range from 6,000 to 50,000.

PelicanMoving to a different park, St James’s Park specifically, we find another strange bird that looks out of place in the city of London, but has now become so accepted that most Londoners simply don’t question it anymore. Yes, these are the pelicans of Duck Island. Their population has grown and dipped over the years, ever since they arrived in 1664, as a present from the Russian ambassador. They’re hugely sociable, but that doesn’t mean they’re always pleasant, and some of them have a nasty habit of eating the pigeons. Again, there’s a video, but watch at your own risk.

The pelicans seem to live a semi-wild state, as while they hunt for their own fish and, apparently, pigeon, they are also fed every day by the park’s wildlife officer, who also deals with the other exotic birds of the lake.

If you’re of a certain age, you will remember that Trafalgar Square used to be absolutely heaving with pigeons. Less so these days, mostly because it was becoming a health hazard, but there are still some about and the rest seem to have scattered to elsewhere in the city. But another reason that the population dropped was that birds of prey were introduced to scare the smaller birds away. Because of this, even the densely packed city of London is home to several hawks and falcons. Peregrine falcons have been known to nest here, and are often seen around the Tate Modern, St Paul’s and the Barbican, so keep your eyes peeled to the skies and you may catch the sight of one.

I knew about all of these before I started my research but I had no idea that the city also hosts flamingos, right there in Kensington. While people are at ground level shopping their way through the department stores, one hundred feet above them are the Kensington Roof Gardens, a peaceful spot that’s been there for eighty years and seems to be one of London’s best kept secrets. In one of its three themed gardens you’ll find flamingos, which just seems a tad insane. But, then again, I didn’t know that a building in Kensington has seventy full-sized trees on its roof, so I guess it’s all relative.

mozzieTo finish off, let’s descend below the surface and find an animal that’s far less beautiful or cute and turn our attention to the London Underground mosquito. Although mosquitos are probably not massively associated with Britain, much like the other animals we’ve discussed here, they have been living in the tube network for long enough that they have become their own species, resistant to the cold and not fussy about what they bite. They pestered Londoners sleeping down here during the Blitz and spread disease. Even more interesting is that different tube lines have different subspecies of the critter. They’re not unique to London though – pretty much any underground network you can name has them, although how they’ve spread from one to the other is a little unclear. However it’s done, they are one of the most recently evolved species on the planet.

So next time you’re in London and want to see something a little more exotic, hunt down one of these curious creatures (though maybe not the mosquito), and be reminded again that this is a city that always has another surprise tucked up its sleeve.