Much water, many bridges.

  1. London Bridge to Vauxhall: it’s been a while.

Lockdown, not lockdown, lockdown again, not lockdown again.

And then one day I was in the V&A Museum gift shop in front of this – a replica of an 1889 map of the River Thames.

The Oarsman’s and Angler’s Map of the River Thames from its source to London Bridge. 1889. James Reynolds & Sons.

A light bulb moment. Why not walk the Thames?

Which way? Upstream or downstream? Easy. London is endlessly fascinating and exciting, but I – a fully paid up provincial – also find it tiring, noisy and dirty. Starting in the city and walking my way out of it had to be the answer. And where to begin? The official trail has several starts, earlier and later points, subsequent extensions and the like, but I liked the simplicity of setting out from London Bridge. It’s where the old map begins, and there’s the Shard on the doorstep as a landmark against which I could measure my progress for the first few miles.

The Shard. Quite tall.

I am going to need all the encouragement I can find. Despite dog walks, my strength and stamina has dwindled away to the point where even five miles seems like an arduous trek.

A couple of weeks later I was back in London, ready for the off. I’d planned three days of walking with a museum visit booked for the afternoon I arrived. Not going to name the place as I was underwhelmed by it but it had achieved its purpose in preventing an old church being demolished. Just look at the glorious stained glass that would have been lost if that had happened. So maybe one and a half cheers.

Stained glass and maps – could there be a more perfect combination?

The directions advised taking the Tube to Vauxhall and walking from there. Turns out that Vauxhall is on the river (country mouse, like I said) and Lambeth is a mile or so downstream. I was going to inadvertently start the walk before I meant to. Add on a few more miles after the museum to get me to London Bridge and I’d be doing the whole first stretch backwards.

Might as well.

So I emerged into the daylight at Vauxhall, skirted the MI6 building and then was soon onto a long settled waterside walk with the Houses of Parliament coming into view across the river and the splendid former London Fire Brigade HQ building on my side.

Glorious friezes on the 1930s LFB building. It’s mermen fighting the fire in the bottom plaque. No, me neither.
Plus a few more prosaic illustrations for those who prefer firefighters in trousers.

Next up, the International Maritime Organisation – no slouches themselves when it comes to architectural adornments.

Would have loved to have known what that design brief was – We’re thinking that something a little bit decorative on the front would be nice – maybe a ship or something?

Then it was the museum and the very nice woman on the desk suggested I begin my visit with a trip up the tower for the view. (Look, they were lovely people, ok? It’s just that the permanent exhibition I found a bit thin. And the temporary display on the life and work of a big name showed her to have been a not particularly likeable person. In my reading of her life story. As presented.)

Anyway, the view from the top was indeed worth the climb. Make that two and a half cheers for the Museum.

Lambeth Palace just below, Palace of Westminster across the water.

Heading onwards, on a quiet patch of grass between the path and the road I came upon this unexpected monument to the quiet heroism of the SOE.

That these acts of courage took place years before I was born in no way reduces their extraordinarily selfless sacrifice but there is an element of tidiness in this commemoration. We know how the story ended.

But when it came to the next memorial, an unofficial ephemeral one painted on a wall opposite Westminster, my reaction was more visceral.

The only element of tidiness here is that all refer to the same two years. And we don’t know how the story ends. 

Have a look at Wall of love: the incredible story behind the national Covid memorial | Coronavirus | The Guardian and National Covid Memorial Wall – Wikipedia

The stretch of river bank from Westminster Bridge to Southwark is not my favourite. I think of it as crass and busy and grubby and somehow smelling sickly sweet. But today it was good to see people out on an early summer evening, watching the street performers,

going out and meeting up and living what we remember as a normal life.

I paused to take a photo of the river.

It’s a beautiful view, isn’t it? remarked a young woman passing by

It certainly is.