15 miles section walk, 13 miles circular. October, overcast. Solo with silly dog.
I’ll level with you. I don’t care for this walk. Not because it is boring, it isn’t, this is a visitor trail which takes you past London’s most iconic sites, and you will love it. But I walk in town a lot and I’ve walked most of its route a hundred times before and when you’re as jaded as I am you want secret places and snickets.
I’m not going to tell you the route and all the sights on the Jubilee Walkway, there are maps and leaflets for that, instead I’ll tell you about a few things off and on the path. It’ll be much more interesting, trust me. There are plenty of text links to fall down a rabbit hole.
Genuinely couldn’t find the start. Apparently there’s a board in Leicester Square but I couldn’t see one. Leicester Square is horrible anyway, I’ve no idea why it is considered a tourist attraction. Start at the National Gallery is my advice.
You pass several art galleries, note the major London galleries are free to visit, except for special exhibitions. Use the toilets in places like this and for gods sake don’t spend a pound using pay toilets on the Southbank when you can go in the Southbank Centre for nothing. In St. Martin in the Field, the church to the right of the picture above, there are free lunchtime classical music concerts too. (Several places do this in London such as Piccadilly and Waterloo.) There’s also a very cool café in the crypt. Just up the road there’s an underground street called Little Compton Street you can see through a grille on a traffic island. We’re going to get nowhere at this rate.
If you’re a fan of royalty you’ll love the early section but I’ll just point out while everyone is staring at Buck Palace, you walk right past the King’s real house on the Mall, Clarence House. See where the armed guards and mounted police are standing? He lives in there. You can see his back door. He hates Buckingham Palace.
St James’ is a nice park, spies used to swap stolen dossiers here in the cold war. I don’t know why they did it there, possibly because it’s handy for GCHQ which operated secretly out of an ugly looking building round the corner. 500 years before that it was swamp and was regularly flooded by the River Tyburn, one of London’s now hidden rivers. And down to Westminster…
See the clockface of Big Ben? (The Elizabeth tower if you wish to be pedantic), I once watched for an hour as the chimes were silenced, the face went dark, and the hands began spinning round. It happens twice a year when the clocks change. It’s a very odd experience, you’ll be the only person who notices. Tourists take photos of each other, entirely oblivious to the hands moving. Ask me why I didn’t take a video. Because where’s the fun in that?
Over the river you are now walking the Thames Path national trail. It’s one of my favourite paths, I’ve walked all 185 miles of it and it is terrific, right down to the dribble in a boggy field near Kemble, Gloucestershire. I adore the Thames, here is an image of it as a baby. You can hop from one side to the other.
Keep an eye out for the war memorial to the Special Operations Executive, featuring Violette Szabo. Such a bizarre clandestine organisation. A more recent memorial is the covid wall. Be prepared to wipe your eyes, the messages are heartbreaking. And on…
Stop to watch at Southbank’s skateboard park. They keep trying to get rid of it so they can build more franchise shops and cafés, but fortunately Londoners know what is important and we keep objecting. I once spent a night sleeping on the roof of the Southbank, in a beached ship called the Roi de Belges. One of my most memorable nights.
I get distracted once again here and decide to go mudlarking for a while as the tide is going out. This happens regularly. I’ve found a few interesting things over the years including a flint handaxe. If you want to have a go, please bear in mind you now need a permit to mudlark from the Port of London Authority. And back on land…
Bankside is a fabulous area to spend time in, plus you get to visit Borough Market for the best market food in town. Walk in Shakespeare’s footsteps when Bankside was a place of ill repute and look for the original Globe theatre (theatres were in the seedy part of town, on the south bank), the bear pits (surviving as Bear Gardens), the inns the actors drank in (The George, Southwark, and The Anchor), the Clink prison and the Palace of the Bishop of Winchester. Sex workers were known as Winchester geese as they worked the brothels licensed and taxed by the landlord, guess who, the Bishop of Winchester. When they died however they couldn’t be buried on consecrated ground, so if it is open visit Crossbones Graveyard where there is a memorial to them. And over the bridge…
A few years ago I went to a concert in the bascule chambers under Tower Bridge. The chamber is where the bridge lifting mechanism swings into, an extraordinary space and the concert incorporated the sounds of the bridge. In winter you can sometimes get a Behind The Scenes Tower Bridge tour, tickets sell out fast, but don’t confuse it with the visitor experience as that’s apparently not great. Over the bridge you enter the city and get your first look at the London Wall dating from 200CE.
You can climb up the monument to the great fire of London. It’s only a fiver and the view is pretty good from up there. It is 62 metres high, the exact distance from where the fire began on Pudding Lane. You are now in the heart of the city of London, and you are in Dickens country. It’s a stones throw to the George and Vulture, the most likely place where Ebeneezer Scrooge ate that Christmas Eve.
There’s a ton of fascinating history in the City of London, too much to include here. Look for walks by Footprints of London or London Walks which have the best walking guides. I’ve used both in the past and both were brilliant.
You’re now in the area of the Inns of Court, I recommend ducking in when you can and gates are unlocked. I used to recommend the Temple Church, a ‘royal peculiar’ which has an amazing history but they have begun charging people to get in, so I no longer do. I don’t believe you should charge for churches, I don’t think god would approve, particularly one which is governed by that wealthiest of institutions, the crown. Feeling literary?…
The Bloomsbury and University area is busy and bookish, you’ll feel brainier just walking through, with a few nice cafés around including the Quaker Meeting House. The Wellcome Gallery is also a must. It’s free and it’s fabulous. St. Pancras Church, a monstrous looking edifice often has some awesome arcane exhibitions in the crypt. I’ve seen some very creepy looking things down there, so look it up if you are a fan of the weird.
On the home stretch, visit the British Museum, another free stop. I was a member for years and my favourite rooms are 1, 10, 41, 56 and the members room café if you must know. Favourite object? Easy, the Franks Casket.
Back to the start via Covent Garden, to get some shopping in. It’s the only place I will voluntarily go shopping. By the way the finest coffee shop in the land is also here. I don’t know why but The Poetry Café is ‘temporarily closed’ and has been for months. As you are now reading this in the future, which is another place, could you check if it has opened again? If it has let me know and we can meet there.
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Other walks in London
The Jubilee Walkway is here and has a dreadful website, so you can also access the maps here which gives the walk in stages. The GPX can be downloaded here. There are too many sights to list on a blog post so I hope I have given you a sense of what to expect, and honestly I would do a part that you like the look of and enjoy getting distracted by the things that you discover along the way. London isn’t meant to be a route march.
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