London Walks - 1
A walk beside the River Thames
This dramatic walk allows you to view the very heart of London. Almost every step of the way reveals much of its fascinating history. It also takes in many superb modern changes that will thrill later generations as much as they do today.
Take the Jubilee line extension to Westminster Station. The line opened in 1999. It comes west from Stratford, travelling along the south side of the River Thames, an area where there has never been a ‘cross-country’ route before. It takes you through Docklands, by Canary Wharf, and to the site of the Olympic Village.
All stations on the line have been designed by different architects – Westminster by Sir Michael Hopkins. Notice as you alight at Westminster the transparent ceiling to floor anti-crush barrier behind which the trains run. Ascend two long escalators from where you can see the ‘guts’ of the station.
1 Leave by the exit marked ‘Westminster Pier’ and come out at some grand steps that take you up to Westminster Bridge. At the end of the bridge (careful as you cross that you do not trip over the massed groups of tourist taking photos of themselves with big Ben in the background!) descend steps, on the left, to walk in front of old County Hall and the London Aquarium. Go on past the almost imperceptibly moving Millennium Wheel full of visitors, with many more waiting to get on. Across the river is the first of the many fabulous views to enchant you as you walk.
2 Towards Hungerford Bridge, the walkway is shaded by a fine avenue of London plane trees. Notice the cable-stayed pedestrian bridges either side of the railway bridge which were designed by architects Lifschutz Davidson. They were opened in 2002 and named the Golden Jubilee Bridges to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II accession.
3 Then go on past the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and towards the National Film Theatre, all magnificently refurbished. Pass, if you can manage to, the open air book market close by. Just before the film theatre, climb steps onto Waterloo Bridge and look south to see the London Imax Cinema, the splendid 3-D cinema sited on what was once a really seedy roundabout.
4 Retrace your steps to go under Waterloo Bridge and pass the Royal National Theatre. Note the recent statue of Sir Laurence Olivier (1907-1989). The great actor is frozen in an act from Hamlet.
5 Turn right into Gabriel’s wharf, an area of unusual shops around an open area, with tables for diners set about it. Pass the original façade of the Oxo factory, where homes have been built, with its famous tower above. At the foot of the building are lively shops.
6 The walkway continues below a 1970s office building. Here there are no shops or cafes to bring life to this small stretch of the riverside. Dawdle below Blackfriars Bridge and enjoy the tiled walls with inset dated images of its history.
7 As you emerge from under the bridge, look left to see a row of fine pillars striding across the Thames between the road bridge and the railway bridge. Construction of a new Blackfriars Station has only just begun which will see the columns supporting tracks and platforms once more.
8 Then you reach the Tate Modern situated in the old Bankside Power Station. Walk right to enter the free museum. The height, depth and width of the building is astonishing until you remember that the great entrance hall once housed the huge turbines that powered the area.
9 Go up on the several escalators and then by lift to enjoy the magnificent and rather vertiginous view of the city. There are seats on each floor, some looking into the turbine hall and others looking across the Thames. Each floor has excellent facilities - and there are some good pictures to view as well! These are organised by subject, such as landscape or portrait schools of art, cubism or expressionism.
10 Return to the embankment to see the Millennium Bridge. It appears narrow and flimsy but is well supported by some huge concrete piles. At its far side steps rise up towards St Paul’s Cathedral. What a wonderful stroll this makes, short though it is, between the Cathedral and the Tate Modern.
11 Go on to pass the Globe Theatre, with its thatched roof and then head on for Southwark Bridge and past the Financial Times offices. Look for Canon Street Station across the river. Ahead you can glimpse Tower Bridge and Canary Wharf, with new buildings on either side.
12 Pass the Anchor pub and go on below the railway bridge for Canon Street. Follow the way among the dockland warehouses to The Clink, the prison museum. Pass remnants of Winchester Palace and on to stand by the Golden Hind, Sir Francis Drake’s ship, in which he circumnavigated the globe.
13 Turn right to visit Southwark Cathedral, which has been beautifully restored outside and has a new visitor centre. Then go on to walk under a railway bridge to visit the farmers’ market. As the trains rattle overhead visitors shop with evident delight. Return, keeping to the left of the lovely cathedral.
14 Continue on the walkway, passing under London Bridge. Turn sharp left just before St Olaf House, also on your left, and rejoin the river walkway, then enjoy the fabulous view of Tower Bridge, with HMS Belfast just before it. Over on the otherside of the river stands the Tower of London. Go on to Hayes Wharf, now filled in. Once it was a quay used by tea clippers in the 19th century. Pause here for a long look.
15 After walking on you come to City Hall, the dramatic and very unusual home of London’s mayor and the London Assembly. Its partially glazed façade enables visitors to look in on the debating chamber.
16 Stroll on below Tower Bridge into Butlers Wharf area and the point of return. There are many excellent restaurants here. Return along the walkway to take Curlew Street and then Tooley Street to pick up the Jubilee Line at London Bridge Station to return you to Westminster.