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.

14 thoughts on “Much water, many bridges.

    • Only this message received alas. Can only apologise for the site’s inertia. Think it needs the dust blowing off if.

      Yes, thank you. I’m hoping it’ll be an interesting project. Lots of things to see and pretty accessible so far. No idea how long it will take me. If asked I say that I’m aiming for Oxford by the end of the year. Have no idea how far that is so I hope that’s not the next question.

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  1. Thanks for this vicarious walk, much appreciated as I’m getting a bit weary of my local possibilities — and given that the UK is going to keep requiring Canadians (yes, even vaccinated ones!) to quarantine on landing — but Americans can stroll right in, so much for the Commonwealth! (I know you didn’t do this 😉 — it’s unlikely we’ll be walking in London ourselves any time soon. This is a project I very much admire and I hope you keep posting about it.

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    • Thank you so much for your encouragement, Frances. I do hope you both get over here before too long and – if it helps – I apologise for our shabby treatment of your nationals… Not that I have any clout in these matters.

      But in the meantime, while you walk vicariously with me, I’ll join you in your kayak for a virtual paddle.

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  2. So lovely to check my email this morning and to find this blog post, you’ve been missed. As someone who lives amongst (and loves) the trees and coastline of the Pacific Northwest but finds the urban possibilities downright limited, I am looking forward to reading about your further perambulations along the Thames.

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  3. This was like a breath of fresh air! When i lived in London (over 20 years ago) my sanity was saved by the Thames. I loved walking along stretches of it, especially in Greenwich where we lived for a year or so. It’s a fascinating place. I also enjoyed it’s tidal nature – I could walk on the gravelly banks and find old bits that had once been the cargo of ships. I also loved your images of the Covid Memorial.

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    • Thank you so much, Emma. I am finding it so interesting to see all these parts of London that I’ve only heard of. I think that when I get to the end I may well go back to London Bridge and walk the downstream bit, through Greenwich and beyond. But that’s for another year…

      Hope you’re settling into your new home and recovering from the Big Move.

      Liked by 2 people

      • It’s a long process, Ceri. We have so much to do (this house has been empty for 18 months due to pandemic) and stuff keeps breaking. I remember the walk down to the Thames Barrage is worth doing as well.

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  4. Hey Ceri,
    great to have you blogging again. Why, you might even prove a blogging inspiration to someone or other.
    This (above) is very much my old stomping ground. I worked next to Lambeth Palace – in a lovely old, now demolished, 1930’s building but sadly with no ship crashing out of its front – for five years in the 80s. I used to eat my sandwiches in the churchyard sometimes, next to Bligh’s tomb or wander across to the Tate or Westminster Abbey. Anyway, I’m blathering on about happy reminiscences. Power to your knees and have a special well done, for walking the first bit backwards. D

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    • David, how lovely to hear from you and what kind words from someone who’s writing I so admire. How is the course and all else going? We need an update please.

      It’s been really interesting hearing from people who have known in the past the bits of London I’m walking through. Excellent choice of churchyard for your sandwiches though. Think that I read that the church was closed in the seventies so you must have had it all to yourself. Very peaceful spot. Shame about your Thirties building though. Ceri

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