What happened when Mr Fletche and I escaped to the big smoke for the weekend? Did we get to do all those things on our Alternative London To-Do List? Spoiler Alert: we ticked 9/10 off the list 😀
We stayed in this AirB&B out in East London so all of our journeys started from here. Our nearest tube station (Mile End) was on the Central, District, and Hammersmith & City Lines; and we were five minutes away from the No 8 bus route, which took us all the way to Tottenham Court Road in Central London.
After an unplanned wander around South Hackney trying to find somewhere for a sandwich, we find ourselves on the Regents Canal towpath walking south towards Limehouse Basin. Once we reach the basin, we decide to carry on our walk westwards along the Thames Path, the seemingly monolithic buildings of Canary Wharf glistening behind us. It’s almost a surprise when we cross the footbridge at St Katharine’s docks, and there in front of us is Tower Bridge. We’ve walked all the way into central London, clocking up 6 miles so far on our “stroll”.
We pass under the bridge, and continue over riverside cobbled streets to the Tower Of London. It’s been some time since we a) had a drink, b) had a wee, and c) sat down so we peel off towards Tower Hill and towards a much welcome Wetherspoons (don’t judge us, we wanted cheap food and drink…). Two gins and a curry later we’re ready to carry on walking. We lose the river again before emerging riverside at London Bridge. We walk past the Oyster Shed which is heaving with champagne-swiggers and be-suited City folk. We continue on, under Southwark Bridge, past the now non-wobbly Millenium Bridge, beyond Blackfriars Bridge. We stroll along the wide, tree-lined Embankment, with familar South Bank landmarks appearing across the river – the Tate Modern, the Oxo Tower, the This Morning studios… More bridges, Waterloo and the Hungerford footbridge. The London Eye is in sight, and finally the Houses of Parliament. Westminster Station is our final destination, and we gratefully descend underground, to emerge a short time later back in Mile End.
Already we’re regretting yesterday’s mammoth hike. But we’ve got a full day ahead of us, so I apply plasters, and we head out to Knightsbridge; this time sensibly using the tube from Mile End to South Kensington. We stop for a quick breakfast at Patisserie Valerie on Brompton Road (we were looking for a cute little indie cafe for breakfast for they didn’t seem to exist in this neck of the woods). We spend a couple of hours wandering around the V&A museum – we missed out on booking advance tickets for the Pink Floyd exhibition, thinking we could pick them up on the day, but I underestimated the popularity of the band. As usual, Mr Fletche and I spent an inordinate amount of time taking the mickey out of various exhibits. The Chewbacca stained glass window is still my favourite.
From the V&A, it’s another tube ride eastwards to One New Change in order to kill two birds off the to-do list with one stone – views of St Paul’s from above and a rooftop cocktail. The spectacular views are free of charge. The cocktails sadly are not so we linger over our £11 Aperol Spritz as long as we dare.
From One New Change, we head over to the South Bank via the now non-wobbly Millennium Bridge. I’m sure it was more fun when it wobbled. We have a 16:15 appointment with the Sky Garden to keep, but we have plenty of time. Mr Fletche and I share an Iberian Charcuterie board with hand-cut chips and a couple of beers at Studio 6 at Gabriel’s Wharf. We could remain on the sunny terrace all afternoon but time is ticking and we need to work out how to get back to Monument station.
It’s a further walk to Waterloo tube station than we think. Time is running out. Finally we’re joining the end of the queue outside the walkie-talkie building at 16:15 exactly, hoping we’re not too late. It’s another 15 minutes before we get to the front of the queue anyway, and no-one seems too bothered, simply advising that our hour starts from now. We pass the security checks and finally we’re ascending to the 35th Floor Sky Garden. It’s absolutely worth the planning ahead though; it’s a beautiful setting with a 360 degree panorama, lovely and cool in the hot weather and once again, completely free of charge. You don’t have to have an overpriced drink, but we once again pay in excess of £20 for two drinks. We’re there for just over our allotted hour, but no-one seems to be keeping check.
Plans to climb Monument are put on hold, simply because we’re exhausted. We get the tube back to Mile End and plan our night ahead. Except there’s not much of a plan except “get bus to Shoreditch”. Which we do. Shoreditch is intimidatingly cool, even for Mr Fletche and I. We wander this way and that, with no real idea of where to find the best and most famous street art, and we feel under-hip for some of the trendy bars. We should have probably done a daytime recce before plunging in at night. We do find the Commercial Tavern, a Victorian pub on the corner of Wheler & Commercial Streets – revellers are spilling out on the pavement outside but the pub inside is relatively quiet and the drinks are reasonably-priced for London. We go in search of food, and after a small detour (“is that the Gherkin ahead?) we find BLOCK. You know I love my street food. The choices are limited to burger, Mexican or pizza, but the food is freshly cooked and great quality. We’re given a pager for when our food is ready but we’re not entirely convinced that ours is working as it flashes with lacklustre intermittently. We return to the Commercial Tavern for one last drink before getting the bus home – for the hip and trendy, the night is just starting.
Today’s the day we planned to walk. On top of the 15ish miles walked the last couple of days. I double up on the plasters and grit my teeth. Our host Adam has recommended that we stop at Broadway Market for our breakfast on the way so 25 minutes later we find ourselves deviating from Regents Canal into South Hackney. It’s a street lined with independent shops, bars and cafes, and on Saturday’s there is a fantastic market with arts & crafts, vintage clothing, fresh produce and some of the most amazing sounding and smelling street food. It’s breakfast time so we go for the most suitable option, a sausage bap for me and egg and bacon for Mr Fletche.
It’s back onto the canal for the next part of the walk. We share our space with dog walkers, joggers and many many cyclists. Our scenery changes from urban canal to leafy waterway and back again. Eventually the Islington tunnel blocks our towpath route so we follow the somewhat sporadic pavement markings through the city streets of Angel until we find the canal again.
It gets a bit industrial and gritty again, then we come to St Pancras Lock, with the gothic spires of the station reaching into the sky behind. This is where we find the surprisingly calm oasis of Gasholder Park – yes, a small circular lush green lawn inside a cast iron frame. Amazing recycling of a structure which once sat on the opposite bank of the canal. Two neighbouring gas holders are being turned into amazing looking apartments.
We carry on our walk and we’re starting to flag now. 30 minutes walk later and the hordes of people tell us we’re at Camden Lock before the signs do. We stop for a quick drink at The Ice Wharf. In search of street food, we find that KERB Camden has taken residency in Camden Market’s West Yard – and this is quite possibly the best street food market I’ve seen with around 30 stalls selling delicious food from around the world. I have a hankering for Japanese soul food so grab a Chicken Katsu Curry & Rice from Yu Kyu, whilst Mr Fletche went for Tibetan dumplings (if anyone knows the name of the stall selling these please let me know!). Camden Market has more people than I’ve seen in the whole of London so far so we wave goodbye without even taking a detour to the Amy Winehouse statue and carry on our journey.
It’s another 15 minutes or so when we see the signs for Primrose Hill – this was another one of those things I wanted to tick off the to-do list so we take the detour and climb to the summit for some pretty outstanding views of the city. We have a well-deserved ice-cream on the way. If we had a blanket and a picnic I’d have called it a day there and then but we don’t so we pick our way through the sunbathing and relaxing peeps back to the canal.
We then pass through a narrowboat community, with some quirky but cute little “garden” set ups landside. I enviously watch those that sensibly got the waterbus from Camden to Little Venice. Finally, we’re on the final stretch. Which seems to last FOREVER. Eventually – YES, WE’VE MADE IT! Except Little Venice is a bit of a disappointment after 8.5 miles of walking. A quick celebratory drink at The Warwick Castle and we shuffle our way to Warwick Avenue tube station (cue Duffy…)
It probably would have been a good idea to grab a bottle of wine or two, order a Deliveroo and spend the evening chilling on our balcony, but no. We’re back out on our new favourite bus, the no 8, and this time we take the whole journey all the way to Tottenham Court Road. This it turns out is nowhere near the Thames, our intended destination. Cue a frustrating walk across the West End – an area we have tried to avoid in our alternative itinerary due to the thousands and thousands of people. All Mr Fletche wants is a few nighttime shots by the river, and all I want is to sit down. My feet have finally reached breaking point. Eventually we make it over to the South Bank, and with any lack of original thought we head back to Studio 6, scene of yesterday’s lunch for a delicious dinner. Post dinner, there’s a bit more walking along the South Bank towards the London Eye before finally at crossing Westminster.
At this point is would have been sensible to call it a night and get the tube from Westminster back to our apartment. But I decide that I’d rather walk this end to the bus stop, and have a short walk the other end, rather than catch the handy tube we’re right next to but have to trudge across Mile End Park at the other end. So we retrace our steps all the way back through the West End where we then struggle to find our bus stop in the maze of one-way streets. Eventually we manage to find the correct bus stop somewhere in Holborn. We’ve walked another 4.5 mile tonight. 4 mile of which were totally unnecessary.
Our coach leaves from Victoria at 2pm ish, so we have time this morning to have a leisurely breakfast at the Pavilion Cafe in nearby Victoria Park. This is how I envision Sunday mornings living the London life. The park is a surprisingly large and beautiful oasis in the middle of Tower Hamlets, with a lake, tennis courts, and an almost Central Park-esque wide tree-lined avenue. And the Pavilion is a perfect place to enjoy a full English (all organic produce) or the ubiquitous smashed avocado on sourdough. They also do an interesting line in fresh juices – who’d have thought apple and beetroot juice was a thing?
Post-breakfast we take the D6 bus to Broadway Market, where there isn’t in fact a market on a Sunday, so we get the bus back. Which just leaves us time to pack up our belongings, and begin the hot, sweaty and painful trek back to Victoria Coach Station. Which incidentally appears to be nowhere near Victoria Tube Station.
So there you have it. London is exhausting. Even with a fully loaded Oyster card burning in our pockets we managed to walk a mammoth 31 miles – that’s 50km! – in 72 hours. But apart from climbing the Monument we did everything we set out to do!
So what should we do next time… an alternative alternative? Let me know your suggestions and recommendations!