London Drum

A Walk Through The City Of London (The Square Mile)

Distance: Approx 4½ miles Time required: 1½ to 2¼ hours (based on a leisurely 20-30 mins per mile, but you should add on more time if you want to stop at any of the places) Starting point: Royal Exchange End point: St. Paul’s Cathedral What you will see: Mansion House, The Monument, St. Magnus-the-Martyr, The Shard, HMS Belfast, City Hall, Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Katharine Docks, Leadenhall Market, Lloyd’s Building, Gherkin, St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, Bank of England, St. Mary-le-Bow, Guildhall, Guildhall Art Gallery, Roman wall, Postman’s Park, Temple Bar

Craig’s review… You’re going to need to pay attention for this walk because this is the big one. This is the City of London, and we’re going to have to do a lot of twisting and turning. So I will warn you right now that there is a slight possibility of you getting lost. That is why I strongly suggest that you bring a compass, some spare jumpers, a tent, and a sleeping bag with you for this walk, just in case you have to spend the night sleeping rough. I also recommend bringing a box of matches (to light a fire), a ball of twine (to repair your snapped shoelaces), and a gun (to shoot hoodlums).

Now that we’re ready to go, let’s head for the benches outside the Royal Exchange. I always like to start my walks with a sit down. If it was up to me then I would quite happily sit here all day because it’s one of the best scenes in The City, but I’m guessing that you’d like to make a move, so as soon as the first pigeon lands on the pavement that is the signal to start.

Can you see the grand facade of Mansion House, directly opposite the Royal Exchange? That’s where the Lord Mayor of London lives (think of Dick Whittington – he was probably our most famous Mayor). They’re only allowed to live there for twelve months, though, and then they get booted out so somebody else can have a go. (If only we had the same rule for our Prime Ministers!) Go past the lefthand side of that stubby-nosed church, St. Mary Woolnoth, and you’ll get your first little taste of what the City must have looked like before the Germans bombed it [see 1 on the map]. We will be walking down far better-looking roads than Lombard, but it does at least give you an inkling of the buildings we lost.

When you reach the modern horror of Gracechurch Street, look right, and you will see Christopher Wren’s Monument with a golden urn on top. He built that to mark the start of the Great Fire of London, which began a short distance from its base.

Cross over the road and walk towards The Monument. As you’re approaching it keep an eye out for a big black and gold clock across the road – that’s where we’re heading next [see 2 on the map]. It’s a church called St. Magnus the Martyr, and it used to sit on the approach road to the old London Bridge. Do yourself a favour and read my review of the church – you might like to step inside for five minutes and enjoy their big model of the bridge. And yes… I know exactly what you’re thinking: a boring model of a bridge? But this was no ordinary bridge. So just do as you’re told and go inside the church!

Now we’re going to walk along the river for a stretch, so head around the back end of the church and follow the signs towards the ‘Thames Path’. When you get there you’ll see the modern-day London Bridge on your right (it doesn’t quite compare with the old one, does it?) and Tower Bridge on your left. The directions from here are easy… just keep walking towards Tower Bridge, snapping photos as you go.

You can get some decent pictures of the World War II battle cruiser HMS Belfast across the river as well, and the helmet-shaped City Hall, where the Mayor of London works. Don’t confuse him with the Lord Mayor of London who lives in Mansion House – they are two different people. The Mayor of London does all the real work, but the Lord Mayor gets the fanciest house!

Once you get past the blue railings you’ll have to head inland for a short distance, but carry on walking in the direction of Tower Bridge until you come to the Tower of London. Now, you have two choices here… you can either swim across the dry moat and scale the curtain wall, but then you risk getting shot down by the medieval archers, or you can just rejoin the river by walking through those big black iron gates [see 3 on the map]. I suggest the second one. Have a good look at the towers and the wall as you’re walking round, because you can peer down into the famous Traitor’s Gate and see where all the prisoners were boated in to their deaths.

Walk underneath Tower Bridge and keep hugging the river. You need to really hug the river here – turning right past Starbucks, and then right again, down the little steps and past that round dolphin fountain. If you stare up at Tower Bridge then you should be able to see the glass floors in the top walkway. If you hang around long enough then you might even see the glass floors splinter and crack, followed by some poor tourists plummeting to their deaths on the roadway below. That will teach them to walk across a glass floor.

Keep hugging the river until you can go no further (after that big sundial sculpture), and then follow the walkway into St. Katharine Docks [see 4 on the map].

There’s a lovely pub called the Dickens Inn here, where you might like to stop for a rest. I don’t know about you, but I definitely need a rest. Have a stroll over there anyway, and then go over the little bridge to the shops. Halfway along that parade of shops is a walk-through into the next marina. Follow the marina walkway back towards Tower Bridge Road. I warned you that this walk was a bit complicated! Luckily it’s not half as difficult on the ground as it sounds on paper, so you should be fine.

Get up onto the main road and cross over to the Tower of London again. We’re going to walk around the rest of the curtain wall now, on a little path that runs around the moat (I don’t mean the path by the side of the main road – peer over the edge and you’ll see a path that runs above the moat). Imagine what it must have been like when that moat was full of stinking sewage! We can thank the Duke of Wellington for draining that out. Forget the Battle of Waterloo. Forget his two terms as Prime Minister – cleaning out all the cr*p out of the moat is what I best remember him for.

You’ll probably have to resort to looking at a map now, otherwise you really will get lost. You need to find Philpot Lane. Cross over to Trinity Square Gardens and turn left down Byward Street (past that green-spired church). Keep going along Great Tower Street. Philpot Lane is one of the roads on the right [see 5 on the map]. It’s quite a distance down the road, so don’t turn around too early. When you enter it you should see the Walkie Scorchie skyscraper towering up above your head.

If you’ve already tried my Roman walk then you will know exactly what’s coming next, so cross over Fenchurch Street into Lime Street, and then into Lime Street Passage, and enter the fantastic Leadenhall Market.

They don’t build places like this anymore – just look at it! This place is too good to house a lot of pubs and sandwich shops, but that’s exactly what it’s for – we like to spoil our shoppers in London. You might like to stop for something to eat in here. When you’re done, you need to go right at the Lamb Tavern and then left (to rejoin Lime Street). Remember to look up into the sky as you go, so you can see the industrial shapes of the Lloyd’s Building – one of the few modern buildings that I actually like. Another one that I admire is straight ahead of you – the Gherkin – which dwarfs the tiny little Andrew Undershaft church beneath it. When you reach the Gherkin remember to turn around 180 degrees for the best view of Lloyd’s [see 6 on the map]. This whole area is the heart of the financial city, but my god is it windy! The skyscrapers funnel the winter wind into club hammers and icy spears which pinch into your skin – even on a sunny day it’s still freezing.

When you get level with the Gherkin you’ll see another little church on your left – St. Helen’s Bishopsgate. It’s rather nice inside, and you might want to have a quick look (if only to get out of the wind). But walk alongside it anyway, and then cross over the road towards that very tall brown skyscraper (Tower 42). Don’t ask me what happened to all the other 41 towers, because I haven’t got a clue. Maybe the first 41 fell down. We need to pass it on the lefthand side.

The entrance into Threadneedle Street looks fantastic. In fact this little section of street, plus Throgmorton Street coming up, are two of my favourite places in the entire City. You might get a bit lost before you find Throgmorton Street, though, so pay attention. Head down Threadneedle Street and keep going past the Royal Exchange. You probably can’t recognise the Royal Exchange when walking down its side, but its actually that building on your left – but hopefully you will remember the front of Mansion House, which you can see in the distance. We are going to turn right into Bartholomew Lane long before we get there, though, because I want to show you Throgmorton Street. Unfortunately that means we’re going to have to do a little loop the loop and double back on ourselves, but I think it’s worth it.

Turn right into Throgmorton Street. Once you’ve passed the first little bit (which is a total modern-day disaster) you’ll hit seven buildings on the left which are the best stretch of shop fronts I’ve ever seen [see 7 on the map]. This is how I imagine London was in yesteryear – before the builders and the bombs demolished it. How atmospheric are those buildings? Remember to look up, to get the best of them. You probably think that I’m being totally daft, but if those buildings ever get knocked down then I think I’ll burst into tears.

Turn right at the end and get back onto Threadneedle Street again, and then carry on down to Mansion House. This time we’re going to bear right down Queen Victoria Street, and head towards St. Paul’s Cathedral (don’t go down Poultry by mistake!). You might want to close your eyes as you walk down here because it contains some of the worst examples of modern architecture in the entire world. (Not just in London, but in the entire world!) Remember to open them again when you get to Watling Street, because you need to head up there to see some nice little Dickensian shops. You’ll find them up Bow Street on the right [see 8 on the map].

I love this little lane. I love the quick turn into Bow Churchyard as well. Unfortunately you’ll wander into the modern world at the end of there, so walk right down Cheapside, and keep an eye out for King Street on the left. Let’s see if we can find some Ye Olde London again. Luckily we don’t have to go very far, because at the end of King Street is the medieval facade of the Guildhall.

Do you remember seeing the Lord Mayor’s house earlier on? Well, this is where he works. This is where he holds all of his City meetings with the Aldermen. You can actually go inside and see the fine interior for free, if you like, but you might want to save that for another day so you can visit the Guildhall Art Gallery at the same time (have a read of my separate reviews, just to whet your appetite).

Enter the Guildhall courtyard and head left. There’s a little pedestrian path just past the car barriers into Gresham Street. Keep going up there and turn right into Noble Street. Two thousand years ago you would have been standing in the corner of our Roman fort. This is where they erected all the barracks, so this whole area would have been full of sleepy Italians, catching some zzz’s after a hard day’s work beating up the Britons.

Adolf Hitler kindly exposed some of the fort’s walls during the war, and that’s what you can see right now, sitting in a pit by the side of the road. (They’ve been heavily built over by modern masonry, but there’s still plenty on show at the base.)

Turn left towards the Museum of London and follow the road around to the left. Then cross over the road and walk through those black iron railings into Postman’s Park. Technically it’s the churchyard of St. Botolph’s, but everyone calls it Postman’s Park. Don’t ask me why because I haven’t got a clue – maybe it’s where the postmen dump all our letters when they’re too lazy to deliver them. If you enjoy laughing at other people’s misfortune then you are absolutely going to love this place, because on the back wall of a wooden veranda you’ll find a lot of ceramic plaques honouring those who gave up their lives to save others. Some of them are quite sad, but a lot of them are quite amusing. My favourite is the lady who burned to death whilst testing out a fire-proof coat.

Now turn left at the other end of the park and you should see a thin slither of St. Paul’s Cathedral up ahead. But before you cross over the main road, turn right –straight through the garden of that ruined church – and then cross over the road further away from the Cathedral [see 9 on the map]. You want to approach St. Paul’s through the righthand side of Paternoster Square (make sure you get this bit right, because the approach is not nearly as impressive otherwise). I actually think that this is far and away the best way to approach the Cathedral. Most people will come straight up Ludgate Hill, but the view is easily superior from here.

We’re nearly at the end now, but I just want to give you one final treat before we finish. Head through the Temple Bar gateway and pass in front of the Cathedral steps. Then turn right up Ludgate Hill and find the entrance to Creed Lane on the left (it’s only a very short distance). 95% of Londoners will never have come down here, but there’s some very nice stuff off Ludgate Hill if you take the time to look. Keep going down Burgon Street and turn left at the end. If you look diagonally to the right at the end of that, then you should see a very well-hidden sliver of St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe church [see 10 on the map].

Follow the tiny little path that runs around its lefthand side, turn left again, and then left into Addle Hill. I know it’s a bit complicated but you’ll forgive me when you see the decorations up ahead. How surprising are they? They look like they belong in Florence. If you follow the next road to the right then you’ll be back on the front steps of St. Paul’s.

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