I have now lived in London for two and a half years. And like with anything in Life, that initial excitement has slowly faded and made way for a deeper understanding and contented friendship. Perhaps soured by the occasional grudge.
As the old saying goes. “If you are tired of London, you are tired of Life”. I’m certainly not tired of London just yet. There is still so much left to do and explore. There are also certain areas in London that no one could possibly grow tired off. One of these area is London’s Southbank. This area permanently fluctuates. It has changed so much over time. And it still alters its face every season. It has to be one of my favorite spots in London.
Old Father Thames is the longest and best-known river in England and has inspired many a writer and artist. The river is unmistakably at the Heart of London. The city and the river have mutually shaped each other over time. And so the city’s history is permanently linked to it’s river.
Context Travel invited me to participate in one their most popular city sightseeing tours. ” Tides of Time – A Riverside Stroll” is an introductory walk that follows the course of the river through the heart of London.
Founded by National Geographic writer Paul Bennett and designer Lani Bevacqua, Context Travel is a network of English-speaking scholars and professionals, including art historians, writers, architects and gastronomes, who organize and lead walking seminars in 35 world cities including: Florence, Rome, Venice, Paris, London, Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, New York, Istanbul, Athens, Amsterdam and Tokyo. Groups are led by a credentialed “docent” and limited to six people maximum. Walking seminars range from three hours to three days hours in length and begin at $85 USD per person.
The focus of the Tides of Time Riverside Stroll is to provide a general overview of London while walking along the Thames River. The walk begins at Tower Bridge and makes it’s way to the Parliament, about 2.5 miles. Royal palaces and modern government buildings illuminate the river’s role as a power base, old warehouses and wharfs illustrate the working river, and bridges tell the story of the development of areas previously divided by the river. Most of the walk follows the recently regenerated and pedestrianized South Bank, where we passed the rebuilt Shakespearean Globe Theatre, the ruins of a medieval palace, and the former Bankside Power Station, which has been transformed into London’s Tate Modern museum.
The invitation was for bloggers only and a charming American couple joined us on the tour. It is always interesting to see the city through someone else’s eyes. Especially those eyes that cast their look upon the city for the first time.
#1 : THE TOWER OF LONDON
We met up with Emily, our private Tour Guide, at the Tower of London. What a fitting start to this guided tour of London! The Tower of London is a historic castle, royal palace and fortress located on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. It has played a prominent role in English history. Yet it is stained by a very dark past. Founded towards the end of 1066, the Tower was has long been resented as a symbol of oppression. The Tower itself is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. Originally conceived as a grand palace and royal residence, the castle was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952.
The tower became particularly infamous in the 16th to 17th century, when many figures who had fallen into disgrace, such as Elizabeth I, were held within its walls. Despite its enduring reputation as a place of torture and death, only seven people were executed within the Tower. Executions were actually more commonly held on the notorious Tower Hill to the north of the castle, with 112 occurring there over a 400-year period. One of the most famous people to have been beheaded in Tower Hill has to be Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII’s second wife.
#2 : ALL HALLOWS BY THE TOWER
Right beside the Tower of London sits one of Emily’s favorite secret spots: All Hallows by the Tower Church. Founded in 675 it is one of the oldest churches in London. The church was built on the site of a former Roman building, traces of which have been discovered in the crypt of the church. It was expanded and rebuilt several times between the 11th and 15th centuries. In 1650 the church was badly damaged by an explosion. All Hallows was subsequently partially destroyed during the Blitz in World War II and thus required extensive reconstruction.Many portions of the old church survived the War however and have been sympathetically restored. All the walls from the 15th-century and a 7th-century Saxon arch doorway – made of recycled Roman tiles – survived.
The Undercroft Museum is located In the basement of the church. The museum focuses on the history of the church and the City of London. It’s exhibition includes portions of a Roman pavement and many other artifacts which were discovered below the church in 1926.
#3: St. Dunstan in the East
The best thing about London are it’s many hidden Gems. One of these has to be St Dunstan in the East. Founded in 1100 St Dunstan in the East was once a parish Church. The church was however severely damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666, patched up and then largely destroyed in the Second World War. The ruins were subsequently converted into a public garden.
Located in central London, St Dunstan in the East is a popular lunch spot with local office workers during the week. It tends to be a lot quieter on weekends. This atmospheric public garden is also a popular location for photographers and you might just happen upon a fashion shoot, as we did.
#4: Old vs. New
Although I have now lived in London for two and a half years, I still ind it astonishing how old and new architecture happily rub shoulders in this city. These days, the North Bank area around the Tower, Pudding Lane and London Bridge are filled with fashionable offices. However, around little corners, you can still find relics of London’s storied past.
#5: Monument to the Great Fire of London
Before heading to the River we made a quick pit-stop at Sir Christopher Wren’s Monument to the Great Fire of London. It is more commonly known simply as the Monument. The Monument is comprised of a fluted Doric column built in Portland stone and topped with a gilded urn of fire. It serves to commemorates the Great Fire of London. The fire started on September 2, 1666 in Thomas Farriner’s bakery on Pudding Lane. It then spread rapidly and ultimately engulfed most of the city of London. The fire was only stopped three days later, by which time over 85% of inhabitants had lost their homes and the city was decimated.
#6: London Bridge
London Bridge must be one of the most famous bridges in the world. At least by name. London Bridge is commonly mistaken for Tower Bridge. Tower Bridge is a an iron bascule and suspension bridge that crosses the river a little further east. London Bridge on the other hand is a box girder bridge built from concrete and steel. This modern bridge replaced a 19th-century stone-arched bridge, which in turn superseded a 600-year-old medieval structure.
Interesting Fact: In 1967, the Common Council of the City of London decided to sell the bridge and began the search for a buyer. A year later, an american entrepreneur, falsely believing that London Bridge was Tower Bridge, bought the structure for $2,460,000. s the bridge was taken apart, each piece was meticulously numbered. The blocks were then shipped overseas through the Panama Canal to California and trucked from Long Beach to Arizona.
#7: Southwark Cathedral
Our next stop on this walking tour through London was Southwark Cathedral, located on the south bank of the River Thames close to London Bridge. The present building retains the basic form of the Gothic structure built between 1220 and 1420, although the nave is a late 19th-century reconstruction. Southwark Cathedral has been a place of Christian worship for more than 1,000 years. However it only became a Cathedral in 1905.
Immediately to it’s south is Borough Market, one of the largest and oldest food markets in London, and a great place to enjoy Lunch. You can visit the market on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10am to 5pm, Fridays from 10am to 6pm, and Saturdays from 8 am to 5 pm.
#8: The Golden Hinde II
A little further East you will find The Golden Hinde II. Captained by Sir Francis Drake, the Golden Hind was an English galleon and is best known for her circumnavigation of the globe between 1577 and 1580. The Golden Hinde II is a full-sized reconstruction of the famous ship. The Golden Hinde was originally named The Pelican. It was however renamed during the voyage in honour of the ship’s patron, Sir Christopher Hatton, whose coat of arms features a golden Hinde (Deer).
Golden Hinde II is open between 10.00am and 5:30pm daily for Self Guided Tours
#9: Winchester Palace
Right next to the Golden Hinde II are the remains of Winchester Palace, a twelfth-century palace which served as the London townhouse of the Bishops of Winchester. The Bishop of Winchester traditionally served as the king’s royal treasurer, performing the function of the modern Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was required to attend Parliament and frequented the Westminster Court and Tower of London. The palace was thus as his comfortable and high-status London residence.
The palace remained in use until the 17th century. It was subsequently divided into tenements and warehouses, but was mostly destroyed by fire in 1814. The remains of Winchester Palace are now managed by English Heritage and open to the public.
#10: The River Thames
Old Father Thames, England’s longest and best-known river, is at the heart of this Walk. The best way to enjoy and appreciate this city is from the banks of the Thames. After all the city is inextricably linked to it’s river. Without the tames, London wouldn’t exist, would never have been founded. The city’s most important buildings are almost all built along the river. Although London constantly changes and alters it’s face, one thing stays the same: the city’s relationship to the Thames. A riverside stroll will therefore inevitably cover hundreds of years of the city’s history and makes for a great orientation tour of London.
#11: Shakespear’s Globe
One of the most famous buildings along the the riverside has to be Shakespeare’s Globe. Built in 1599 the Globe Theatre is clearly associated with William Shakespeare – one of England’s most infamous play rights. It subsequently burnt down on the 29th of June 1613. A second Globe Theatre was built on the same site by June 1614 and Shakespeare’s Theatre re-opened after a 384 year hiatus.
A modern reconstruction of the Globe, named “Shakespeare’s Globe”, opened in 1997 approximately 230 m (750 feet) from the site of the original theatre. the location of the original Globe Theatre is still marked in the pavement. Founded by the pioneering American actor and director Sam Wanamaker, Shakespeare’s Globe is a unique international resource dedicated to the exploration of Shakespeare’s work and the playhouse for which he wrote, through the connected means of performance and education.
#12: The Tate Modern
Not far up river, what was once the Bankside Power Station has recently been converted into the Tate Modern, a modern art gallery – part of the Tate group (together with Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool, Tate St Ives and Tate Online). The museum houses the national collection of British art from 1900 to the present day and international modern and contemporary art. As is commonly the case in the UK, access to the museum is free and the Tate Modern makes for a brilliant family weekend outing. make sure to check out the epic Turbine Hall!
#13: The Oxo Tower
The Oxo tower is a quirky building on the south bank of the Thames. It features a prominent tower that brandishes the Oxo Logo. Built towards the end of the 19th century, the building was originally intended as a power station to supply electricity to the Royal Mail post office. In the 1920s it was acquired by the Liebig Extract of Meat Company – manufacturers of Oxo beef stock cubes. Much of the original power station was demolished and rebuilt largely with an Art Deco design, but the river facing facade was retained and extended.
Interesting fact: Liebig wanted to include illuminated signs advertising the name of their product in the redesign of the building. At the time, Skyline advertising was banned along Southbank and permission for the advertisements was therefore refused. “Coincidentally” the tower was subsequently built with four sets of three vertically-aligned windows, each of which just happened to be in the shapes of a circle, a cross and a circle.
#14: The National Theatre
The National Theatre is located no far beyond the Oxo Tower. The Theatre was built in 1963 and designed by the architects Sir Denys Lasdun and Peter Softley and the structural engineers Flint & Neill. The theatre is often cited as an archetype of Brutalist architecture in England. The building is controversial among Londoners. Some love it, others hate it.
Right beside the National Theatre, the Southbank Book Market makes for an interesting and quirky addition to the attractions along the riverside bank. The book market offers a very eclectic selection of books and historical memorabilia.
#15: The Southbank Center
The Southbank Centre is a complex of artistic venues in London, England on the South Bank of the River Thames. Another example of British Brutalist Architecture, the he Hayward Gallery was built by Higgs and Hill and opened on the 9th July 1968. The Hayward hosts three/four major temporary modern or contemporary exhibitions each year but does not house any permanent collections. No one can dispute the fact that the Southbank Center is an incredibly active space.
A distinctive feature of the Southbank Centre is it’s skateboard park. The undercroft of the foyer building has been popular with skateboarders since the early 70’s and it is widely acknowledged to be London’s most distinctive and popular skateboarding area. The area is used by skateboarders, BMXers, graffiti artists, taggers, photographers,buskers, and performance artists, among others. In 2003 the architects Feilden Clegg Bradley proposed to move the skatepark to a new location as part of a redevelopment scheme for the Southbank Centre. The endeavour was received with opposition and an unlikely alliance of the National Theatre, English Heritage and the skateboarding community stopped the development in it’s tracks.
#16: The London Eye
Since it’s initial inauguration in 2000, the London Eye has been a distinctive feature and Icon of London. Also known as the Millennium Wheel, the London Eye is a giant Ferris wheel that spans 135m (443 feet). The wheel’s 32 ovoidal passenger capsules represent London’s 23 boroughs and each capsule can hold up to 25 passengers. Passengers are allowed to walk around inside the capsule, to enjoy a panoramic view of London. The wheel rotates at 26 cm per second. Thus one full revolution takes about 30 minutes. The rotation rate is slow enough to allow passengers to walk on and off the moving capsules at ground level. The wheel will however stop to allow disabled or elderly passengers time to embark and disembark safely
TIDES OF TIME – A RIVERSIDE STROLL WITH CONTEXT TRAVEL
WHEN: Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday- starts at 10:00am and last around 2 ½ hours
COST: £70 per person for a small group (which is never more than six people); £250 for a fully private tour
LOCATION: The meeting point for the tour is near the Tower of London. The nearest underground stop is Tower Hill (on the Circle and District Lines) or Tower Gateway DLR station. The tour will end near the London Eye, which is close to the Waterloo underground (on the Bakerloo, Jubilee, Northern and Waterloo & City lines).
WHAT TO PACK: While this Riverside Stroll is not strenuous, comfortable shoes can be very helpful. The tour runs rain or shine, so be sure to bring a rain jacket or umbrella. Context Travel requests no umbrellas. You might also want to bring along your camera. There are a lot of amazing Photos to be taken.
CONTEXT TRAVEL: The company focuses on very small group tours that are led by Masters and Ph.D. credentialed docents, providing both overview tours as well as intense topical immersion.
EXTRA TIP: After the tour, walk across the Golden Jubilee Bridge, hang a right onto Embankment Place and follow it around the curve to the left, which is Villiers Street. At the first alley on the right, go down the steps into Gordon’s Wine Bar. Gordon’s serves wines by the glass and bottle, along with cheeses and other edible delights in a candle-lit, cave-like space. It can be mobbed with people, but is well worth it!
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If you are planning a trip to London, you might want to consider buying one of the following guidebooks. All of these books are ones that we used ourselves on our trip and that I highly recommend.
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