London Drum

Seven Bridges: A Walk From Westminster To Tower Bridge

Distance: Approx 5 miles Time required: 1¾ to 2½ 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: Westminster Bridge End point: Butler’s Wharf What you will see: Houses of Parliament, London Aquarium, London Dungeon, London Eye, Royal Festival Hall, York Water Gate, National Theatre, Gabriel’s Wharf, Tate Modern, Globe Theatre, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Clink Prison Museum, Golden Hinde, Southwark Cathedral, Borough Market, The Monument, The Shard, HMS Belfast, City Hall, Tower of London, Tower Bridge

Craig’s review… I like bridges. If you want to cross a river then you’ve basically got five choices: you can swim (I can’t swim), fly (I can’t fly), jump (can’t jump), tunnel underneath the bedrock (too much hard work), or you can just walk over a bridge. That last one is definitely the easiest so that’s what we’re going to do on this tour: we’re going to walk over seven different bridges.

Did you used to play I-Spy as a kid? I thought we might march out into the centre of all the bridges and have a game of I-Spy, and see who can spot the most landmarks. I am guessing that it’s going to be me. Would you like to bet some money on it? Yeah come on, that’s sounds interesting… let’s have a wager on it.

How about a thousand pounds? No… make it a million pounds. If I win then you have to give me a million billion pounds, but if you win then I don’t have to give you anything at all. Agreed? You have five seconds to phone me up and say you disagree, otherwise I am assuming you are perfectly okay with that.

Five seconds later… okay, let’s begin! I have a good feeling about this. (I am already planning on how I am going to spend the money.)

Let’s start in the middle of Westminster Bridge. Have a stroll out there and take a photo of Big Ben and the London Eye. If you had 10p for every time somebody took a photo of those two from this spot then you’d be a millionaire. It’s probably the best place to snap a shot of Big Ben in the whole of London.

What else can we see? I’ll award you one point for each one you get. Here’s your first test: look towards the London Eye side and try and find the Royal Courts of Justice (which is hard). And Somerset House. If you can spot the tall brown tower at the Barbican then you’re a genius (you’ll have to be standing in the correct spot to see it). The tip of Cleopatra’s Needle is a nice test too. And how about the top of the Post Office Tower (or the BT Tower)? That’s very hard. Now spin around the other way and find Lambeth Palace.

One thing that I have noticed already is that you never get nice weather in the middle of a bridge. Even if it’s a sunny day the wind will still be howling and messing up your hair. Luckily my hair is already messed up, so it doesn’t matter.

Let’s head across the bridge to County Hall and then turn left down the river. Everyone calls the next bridge Waterloo Bridge because it’s the closest one to the station, but it’s actually called Hungerford Bridge [see 1 on the map] (Waterloo is the next one along). The white pointy poles are supposed to look like the masts of an ocean-going liner, and its superstructure and funnels are that big curved building at the end. I can kind of see what they were striving at… but only because somebody explained it to me. I would never have pictured it as an ocean-going liner otherwise.

There are actually two different walkways up onto Hungerford Bridge – one on either side of the railway line – and I want you to pick the furthest one. So you need to walk under the bridge and then climb the white stairs on the other side.

Look down onto the first concrete pylon as you walk to the centre of the bridge, and hopefully you will see a load of shoes and broken skateboards (the authorities periodically clear them off, so you might be unlucky). This is the skateboard graveyard, and it’s where the kids chuck all of their busted boards. You can just about see the skateboard park behind the Festival Pier (it’s that concrete underpass with graffiti on) [see 2 on the map].

I’m not going to give you any points for Cleopatra’s Needle this time because it’s far too easy. And the same goes for Somerset House and the Barbican. And if you can’t see St. Paul’s then you must be blind. (If you actually are blind then I apologise.) But how about the Royal Courts of Justice again? And St. Bride’s? St. Bride’s is the church with a steeple that looks like a wedding cake. The OXO Tower should be quite easy to spot – because it has a big huge OXO written on top of it. You can have a bonus point for the Old Bailey because that is extremely difficult. As you walk further along the bridge you should get your first good look at the Sky Garden and Shard, plus a tiny slice of the Gherkin (no points for those).

Go down the first set of stairs on the right (don’t keep walking because you’ll get lost), and then turn left straight through Embankment train station. Trust me… I know where I’m going. We’re going on a little detour because I need a sit down. When you come out of the other side of Embankment station you should see the entrance to a park on your right.

It’s called Victoria Embankment Gardens and they’ve got a little cafe in there where you can have a rest. Don’t go in the first entrance though… walk straight past the black telephone box and into the second entrance, because I want to show you something first…

Standing in the corner of the park is a very ornate stone gateway called the York Water Gate [see 3 on the map]. What do you think that is? There used to be a load of mansions lining the Strand in front of us, including a big lost beauty called York House, and this was where they stepped down into the water to catch their boat. So look across to where the river is now… and then back to where it was before – it’s moved back a hundred feet! The Victorians bricked it all up 150 years ago so they could build some sewers.

This park looks quite nice during the day, but when the lights are out all the flowers are painted grey (I am guessing that you are doing this walk during the day, but it’s early evening for me). It’s just an empty park filled with silent pigeons tapping at the fag butts on the floor. By day the office workers come in here for a picnic, and by night they come in for a p*ss. You just get a steady stream of kids walking through to the trains, and a few bookwormy-types sitting on the benches reading their copies of the Evening Standard. The only noise you can hear is the traffic and the screeching wheels of the trains as they clatter into Charing Cross station.

One thing that I have noticed is that they don’t bother to light up the statues at night. What looks quite grand during the daylight hours just become gloomy lumps of rock in the evening. No one wants to remember the great and good at night. So they just sit there sulking until the sun comes up. If that is what happens to our heroes, then what hope is there for the rest of us? I don’t deserve a statue anyway, so it doesn’t really apply to me. I don’t even deserve a grave.

Let’s get out of here quick. Carry on walking to the end of the park and find your way up onto Waterloo Bridge. Pick the pavement side that’s closest to St. Paul’s.

Waterloo Bridge is not exactly the prettiest bridge in town. It’s like a big arm of concrete dropped on the river. They’ve taken a straight stretch of water and dropped a concrete wall on top. The best thing that I can say about it is this: it does its job (in the same way that a wrecking ball does its job).

But it’s not the bridge that we’ve come to see anyway – it’s the view. The view from the centre of this bridge is one of the most celebrated in London. The Kinks wrote a song about it, and Claude Monet painted a picture of the distant chimneys coughing up clouds of grey paint. If you’ve never seen an image of his picture then let me describe it to you: it’s brown. The bridge is brown, the water is brown, the sky is brown and even the blue is brown.

If you want to know what it feels like to be a crisp packet in the wind then stand in the middle of this bridge in the evening. Open your mouth and let the wind barrel in – you won’t be able to speak for three weeks until your throat thaws out. As I’m writing this there are blown-over road signs, rows of orange cones weighted down by sandbags, and a big blue tarpaulin caught up in the railings and having a fit as it tries to break free. There are four lanes of thundering buses and cars and fifty faces coming at me from the Strand, all looking over their shoulders to see if their bus is coming up behind. Shall we wait for the bus, or walk to Waterloo? – that is the dilemma they are facing. One poor guy doesn’t care… he is just waiting patiently for a gap to open up in the crowd so he can photograph his missus leaning against the parapet – good luck with that, mate. That’s like waiting for the sea to stop moving to take a picture of a fish. His lady’s hair is going crazy in the gale and she looks like Medusa in the morning. I bet you 10p the moment she sees that photo she’s going to delete it off his phone. No woman allows a photo like that to exist for longer than ten seconds, whilst the bloke doesn’t understand what she’s fussing about: he thinks she’s pretty whatever the weather.

I’ve got a theory why bridges are always cold and windy… it’s because half of the air is channelled underneath and the rest is shot across the top – it acts like a giant airplane wing. You have to walk at 45 degrees with your trouser legs pressed out behind you like a flat flag in a hurricane. I actually had my tie smack me in the face once – the wind grabbed hold of it and poked me in the eye. It was quite painful!

Assuming that you’ve made it to the centre of the bridge, stare out into the water towards St. Paul’s Cathedral. That is the view we’ve come to see. That is the money shot. What you’re supposed to be looking at is the dome of St. Paul’s rising up above the rooftops.

Do you remember that famous shot of St. Paul’s in the Blitz, surrounded by searchlights and smoke? That shot could easily have been taken from here (although I believe it was taken in Fleet Street). It’s one of London’s ‘protected views’ and they’ve reserved a slice of sky especially for the dome. But he’s got a few egos encroaching on his space these days – the city skyscrapers are creeping closer and closer and sooner or later they will be tapping on his shoulder.

You can have a bonus point if you can spot the top of The Monument from here, because that is not easy (look for the golden urn). That’s where the Great Fire of London started. If you didn’t manage to spot the Old Bailey last time then have another go now, because it’s still quite a challenge. Now spin around towards Big Ben and try and find the top of Westminster Abbey.

Take the first stairs set of stairs and then have a nice stroll along the river. We’re not going to bother crossing Blackfriars Bridge because the train station across the top totally blocks the view. They’ve got a little train station cafe just past the arch though, which I sometimes like to stop at if you fancy a break.

A short distance further on is the Tate Modern art gallery, and a thin little bridge by Norman Foster that was built especially for the Millennium [see 4 on the map].

The Millennium Bridge is also called the Wobbly Bridge because when they first opened it up in the year 2000 it started wobbling alarmingly. Have you ever seen that clip of an American bridge shaking itself to pieces when the wind caught hold of it? Well, it was exactly like that. Apparently it had something to do with the resonance of everyone’s feet as they marched along in unison. Everybody thought that it was great fun and it briefly became the most popular bridge in town – we were all goose stepping along like a Nazi army whilst the bridge was wobbling beneath us. But then of course they shut it down and fixed it, and ruined our fun. You’d have to weigh about ten tonnes to make it wobble now.

If you have a lady on your arm then you might like to earn a few Brownie points by bringing along a padlock. Have a look at the metal railings halfway across, and you will likely find some padlocks snapped on them – the same kind that you might use to chain up your shed.

What the hell are they doing there, I hear you ask? Well, they have been put there by dopey young lovers out on a date. They snap them shut and chuck the key into the river, to symbolise the unbreakable bond between them. Unfortunately the authorities don’t seem to be quite as romantic, because every now and then they come along and hacksaw them all off. I wonder if their love was so easily conquered?

Romance is overrated anyway. Just look at what happened to all the famous lovers in history: Romeo and Juliet (poisoned); Bonnie and Clyde (shot); Torvill and Dean (split up); Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (chopped her head off); Hitler and Eva Braun (shot in the face and set on fire); The Krankies (I rest my case).

But anyway… let’s get back to our game of I-Spy. What can we see from the centre of this bridge? First of all… can you spot St. Paul’s Cathedral? (It’s not easy – it might take you a while.) You’ll get your first good look at the Globe and Tower Bridge from here too. You can probably spot the turret of HMS Belfast in front of Tower Bridge. But that’s about it really… we’ve already seen all of the other stuff.

The river path runs out at this point so we’re going to have to march inland for five minutes, so how about getting a close up of the cathedral? Just walk straight towards it and then turn right down Cannon Street. We can rejoin Southwark Bridge at Queen Street [see 5 on the map]. (I don’t mean Queen Victoria Street – I mean Queen Street. If you can find Queen Street without getting lost then you’re doing very well.)

I always think that this is quite an interesting little bridge to walk across, but hardly anybody uses it. The view towards Tower Bridge is largely blocked off by the Cannon Street rail bridge, but you can see a little wharf to the left where they offload crates onto big barges. Can you find the spire of Southwark Cathedral to the right? And the old Anchor pub with red windows? Let’s have a walk down there and see it from close-up because Samuel Pepys and Dr Johnson were supposed to have drunk in there, but it doesn’t look old enough to me [see 6 on the map]. I’m sure they must have rebuilt the outside at some stage, because the bricks look far too new.

Keep walking underneath the dark arch until you get to a replica of Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde moored up in a dry dock. This little stretch of the river is quite atmospheric so I’m going to treat you to a little detour – it’s probably time for another cup of tea anyway (we haven’t had one for fifteen minutes). Turn right at the Golden Hinde, past Southwark Cathedral, and then head towards the green ironwork around Borough Market.

This place is so much more than a market, and it sells some very nice food and drink for lunch. Unfortunately it’s also a crazy maze of pathways, so the odds of me giving you directions through it are zero. So just have a wander around and we’ll meet up again on the corner of Stoney Street (by the Southwark Tavern pub). You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the Shard towering up ahead [see 7 on the map]. If you follow the busy road round the corner then you’ll end up on top of London Bridge.

This is a great bridge for photos (we’re coming up to the best stretch of the walk now). How about that view of Tower Bridge? You can get your first good look at the Tower of London as well. If you peer up at the City skyscrapers then you might be able to spot some palm trees at the top of the Sky Garden.

If you still want to play I-Spy then spin around and spot the London Eye. You’ll find the stairs down to the riverside in front of Adelaide House (keep your eyes open, because they’re very easy to miss). At the time of writing the riverside path is blocked off by building work, so you might have to go up and around via Lower Thames Street instead. But make sure that you are back on the river before Old Billingsgate Market (there’s a turning just after St. Magnus-the-Martyr church).

This is another great view. I absolutely love this view – standing on the forecourt in front of Billingsgate Fish Market [see 8 on the map]. Luckily they don’t sell fish in there anymore or you’d be driven away by the stink. Take a few pics of Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast and have a good look at the Shard. Have you been up the top of it yet? The viewing deck starts just below the fractured glass at the summit, and they’ve got an open-air section where you’ll be attacked by the wind (don’t go up there if you’re wearing a wig).

I find it hard to decide which is the better view of Tower Bridge… it’s either this one, or the one from Butler’s Wharf. We’ll be coming to that one later so you can decide for yourself (I think it’s the other one at Butler’s Wharf).

Walk alongside the light blue railings and follow Lower Thames Street all the way to the Tower of London. Then you can head through that big black iron gate and rejoin the river (the one with the three lamplights on top). Don’t worry… you don’t need a ticket to enter this bit, even though it says “Entrance” on the gate (the real entrance is underneath the stone tower).

This is another very fine view of Tower Bridge, but I wish they would pull up the cobbles because it’s killing my knees! Keep your eyes open for Traitor’s Gate about halfway along the curtain wall, and take a few piccies of the White Tower behind – if you can’t be bothered to go inside the Tower then this is the next best thing.

Bridge number seven coming up… we’re nearly there!… the stairs are just past the arch on the lefthand side, and you need to switch over to the Tower of London side once you’re on top so you’re staring back down the river. You can tick off loads of London landmarks from up here – Tate Modern, St. Paul’s, The Shard, The Monument, Gherkin and Sky Garden, HMS Belfast and the Post Office Tower, City Hall and… that’s about it. Look at how far we’ve walked!

As you’re passing along Tower Bridge remember to stare up at the walkways above your head, because you should be able to see some nutters walking across the glass floor. Someone had the genius idea of replacing a perfectly decent bit of iron floor with a delicate pane of glass, and now you are encouraged to walk across it for fun. I don’t see what’s so fun about the sound of cracking glass and then plummeting to your death on the roadway below, but each to his own I suppose.

Take the next stairs down and stroll along to Butler’s Wharf. You might be tempted to turn left towards the river but keep walking until you see a sign for Curlew Street. If you turn left there then you’ll be treated to a fantastic view of Tower Bridge [see 9 on the map].

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