I know you’ve scarcely had time to settle into the swing of life on the roadside, but I’d like you to join me now for the first in my mini-blog-within-a-blog series.
You’re familiar with the concept of a walking bus? Usually employed as a more healthy and environmentally-friendly way of getting children to school, they collect ‘passengers’ along a pre-arranged route from A to B. Allow me to introduce you to the concept of the walking camper van. We all know that walking is one of the best ways to get to know a city – even your own city. So I’ve decided to make mini-walking road-trips from my office in Kentish Town to my flat by Lambeth Bridge a regular activity. (Look, it should be pretty much a straight line.)
And you’re all coming with me!
So, let’s do a quick checklist first: portable music-playing device with appropriate playlist? (I suggest ‘Waterloo Sunset’, ‘Lambeth Walk’ and ‘Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner’ as essentials). Bottle of water? Appropriate footwear? No, me neither.
Never mind, let’s go.
If you wish to disembark the camper van at any time, please ring the bell. (Yes, there’s a bell in my camper van. It’s imaginary – I can have anything I like in it.) Oh and ditch your A-Z – or, in this day and age, switch off your smartphone’s GPS – please. Part of the fun is getting lost and, after all, would I ever steer you wrong?
Stop 1) York Way
Our starting point is the corner of Leighton Road and Torriano Avenue in one of the more picturesque corners of Kentish Town. All we need to do is to go straight down Torriano Avenue, crossing over Camden Road and continuing straight down Camden Park Road until we reach York Way.
Now, there’s no getting around it, York Way is not pretty. See?
But, hey, getting to know a city also involves seeing it’s ugly side. And York Way – once an important route between Grays Inn and High Barnet – is not entirely without it’s charms. Well, maybe ‘charms’ is overstating it, but there’s the disused York Road Tube station – a stop on the Great Northern, Brompton and Piccadilly Railway line (now abbreviated to the catchier Piccadilly line) between 1906 and 1918.
Then a few minutes later we pass Regent’s Canal on the right, with barges lined up and people drinking cans in the rare July sunshine. And look, over there – that pinhead on the horizon is the BT Tower.
So you see, civilisation is not so far away.
And another definite perk of travelling along York Way is that we won’t encounter many other tourists wandering around here.
Stop 2) King’s Cross Station
Now, this is more like it, eh? Bustling King’s Cross has been a transport hub since the mid-nineteenth century, but with the transfer of the Eurostar terminus here to St Pancras from Waterloo in 2007 (as a south Londoner, I’m still smarting at the insult), and the ongoing restoration and development of the station, we can expect even bigger things. Or, at least, disruption for commuters for years to come. Hurrah!
In the meantime, feel free to alight here for an array of trendy bars and cafés. Otherwise, let’s hurry past this class of French students having their packed lunch . . . at 7 p.m. and this young couple who for some reason are descending the stairs with one pair of crutches between them. Hmmm.
Over the road, we’ll take a left onto Judd Street.
Stop 3) Bloomsbury
Things are on the up and up. Bloomsbury might not be as aesthetically pleasing as it was when first developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but it still conjures an air of dusty academia, literary genius and tortured inspiration. We’ll carry on down Judd Street as it turns into Hunter Street and then Grenville. Disembark and take a left here for the wonderful and moving Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square, which tells the story of the hospital that was once London’s first home for abandoned children. If that all sounds a bit depressing, the museum also has a lovely airy café overlooking the roller-blading youths out on the square.
Continuing up along Grenville, and passing the pretty Colonnade on our right, we then turn right up Guildford Street, through narrow Queen Anne’s, then right onto Great Ormond Street, site of the famous children’s hospital to which J. M. Barrie left his royalty earnings from
Stop 4) Covent Garden/Holborn
And here we are on Shaftesbury Avenue. Fine, fine, we may have taken a wrong turning around about Theobald’s Road, but I promise this will be good. We’ll keep going this way until we hit Charing Cross Road, filled with second-hand book shops and more than enough tourists to make up for the lack on York Way a thousand times over. The camper van is going to have to seriously slow down here, but do feel free to alight for the theatre district. Or maybe you want to pop up to Chinatown for a bit of dinner?
We’ll continue down to the Embankment and cross over the Hungerford/Golden Jubilee Bridges. Along the way, a pair of young Indian men ask us for directions (but strangely don’t seem to want a lift), which is a sure sign we look like we know where we’re going. Which we do – we’re on the home stretch now. Pausing briefly to admire the view in either direction along the river, we arrive on the South Bank.
Stop 5) The South Bank – Albert Embankment
Again, it’s going to be slow-going for the camper van along this stretch, as we turn right along the riverfront. Tourists mill around watching the myriad street performers, queuing for the Eye and spilling out of the Aquarium. You’re welcome to disembark here and join the throng.
Otherwise, we’ll push on through to Westminster Bridge. If you fancy a close-up visit to Parliament, hop off here and cross the bridge. Otherwise, we’ll go through the underpass and wallow in the peace and quiet on the other side. I don’t know what happens to all the tourists at this point, but from here all we have to contend with are the couples smooching against a backdrop of Big Ben, and the occasional jogger. Bliss!
6) Final destination: Lambeth Palace
Here we are! Lovely Lambeth Palace, the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, with its charming garden museum, is our final stop. Or, at least, where we empty the camper van. (I’m not sure we’re quite ready for me to invite you back to my flat). But Vauxhall is a stroll to the south, Waterloo an amble to the north, and the Tamesis Dock is the perfect pub-on-a-boat in which to put your feet up and aim paper airplanes at Dave, Nick, and the rest of their cronies in Parliament over pints and nachos.
Thank you for travelling on the walking camper van. We would like to wish you a pleasant onward journey and look forward to seeing you again very soon.