London Drum

Window Shopping: A Walk Down London’s Shopping Streets

Distance: Approx 2¼ miles Time required: 45 to 70 mins (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: Marble Arch End point: Carnaby Street What you will see: Oxford Street, Selfridges, Bond Street, Burlington Arcade, Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street, Hamley’s, Liberty

Craig’s review… The idea behind this walk is that I’m going to take you down five of London’s most well known shopping streets – Oxford Street, Regent Street, Bond Street, Piccadilly and Carnaby Street. You might want to bring your wallet because some of these shops are the most expensive in town.

I thought about starting this walk outside Harrods and taking you through Knightsbridge as well, but trust me – I’ve done it – and you don’t want to face a long walk up Park Lane with nothing to see. If you’re thinking that Park Lane is posh because it’s on the Monopoly board then you’re wrong – it’s a busy road with eight lanes of traffic. So I’ve decided to skip Harrods and start off by Marble Arch instead, in that little concrete square full of benches, blaring radios, protesters and pigeon sh*t. (Much better!)

It’s not exactly the biggest arch in the world. It’s not even the biggest arch in London. You could probably comfortably fit Marble Arch inside the empty part of the Arc de Triomphe – that’s how tiny it is.

But you don’t have to be tall to be impressive. I’m small, for example, and I’m impressive. Paul Daniels was small, and he was the greatest magician since Jesus. The problem with Marble Arch is that people expect too much of it. They want a big triumphal arch like the one in Rome, but all it was conceived to be was the front gate of Buckingham Palace.

It sounds hard to believe these days, but it was only in Queen Victoria’s day that they got around to building the entire front wing of Buckingham Palace.

Before that it was just three sides of an empty square, and Marble Arch was bang in the centre – the front gate. Once they built the front wing they had to find a new home for the gate so they stuck it at the tail end of Oxford Street… on the same spot where they slaughtered all the criminals.

A few hundred years ago they used to drag all of the condemned men up here on a cart from Newgate Prison and if you hunt around the traffic islands then you can see a circular plaque in the concrete that marks the exact location of the Tyburn Tree – their macabre nickname for the wooden gallows [see 1 on the map]. So that’s where we are standing right now… on the same spot where hundreds of low-lifes got killed. Let’s follow their final journey up Oxford Street and see how many more low-lifes we can spot.

Oxford Street is supposed to be the busiest shopping street in the country, but I don’t rate it very highly because it’s full of chain stores and high street shops. Apart from Selfridges at the Marble Arch end (one of the best shops in London) and maybe the flagship store of John Lewis, there isn’t much of interest. They’ve got a big branch of Debenhams and House of Fraser, and the Disney Store, I suppose, but then it’s just a succession of banks and mobile phone shops, chemists, electrical stores, fast-food restaurants, clothes shops, sports shops, and shoe shops. It’s not the kind of place where you’ll come to buy holiday gifts.

It can also get incredibly busy. You definitely don’t want to come here at Christmas – you can trust me on that. You get traffic jams on the pavement. You have to pick a lane of people to walk in, through swarms of shuffling shoppers bustling and barging and banging their bags as they try and shave a few seconds off their day. You’ll find bus stops every fifty feet with fifty thousand people crowding around them.

Once you’ve been here a few times you will start to notice a few regulars. One of the most obvious ones is the guy who stands on the corner of Oxford Circus shouting scripture at the shoppers. He has a big billboard of prayers by his feet and one of those big Cornetto-shaped megaphones so he can spread the word at fifty million decibels. Every day he claims that Jesus is coming, and every day he doesn’t come. He’s like a suitor waiting for his date. Sometimes you get a little parade of Christians walking up and down the street as well, singing songs and holding up a big plywood crucifix, handing out decorated flyers to everyone they meet. The Hare Krishnas are much more entertaining, because they float along in pastel robes slapping tambourines and smacking hand drums with their palms.

If you have a walk around Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square then you’ll find people doing caricatures and chalking pictures onto the pavement. Other people just stand there wearing a rubber mask of Prince Charles or Maggie Thatcher and hope that someone is dopey enough to pose for photos.

The silliest job of all is when a beggar paints himself from head to toe in slate grey, and then just stands there pretending to be a statue. What the hell is that all about? Gone are the days when beggars grabbed themselves a guitar and sang a song… now they just stand still for five hours pretending to be a block of concrete.

But anyway… Oxford Street… that is what I was supposed to be talking about before I got totally sidetracked. So what was I saying again? Oh yeah… check out Selfridges if you want, but then hot-foot it down to Bond Street tube station and turn right into New Bond Street [see 2 on the map]. It will be a blessed relief to get off Oxford Street. But don’t just charge down the first street after the station because it’s actually another couple of turnings further on.

Let’s clear up another bit of confusion before we go, because you might still be wandering around Oxford Street wondering whether New Bond Street is Bond Street. In my world New Bond Street and Old Bond Street (which it magically turns into, halfway down) are the same thing – it’s all Bond Street. I have yet to meet a single person who ever uses the words Old and New to describe Bond Street. Not even the postmen use them (well actually, they probably do). But I don’t. And therefore you don’t either. I am teaching you my bad habits. There is no such thing as New Bond Street – I don’t care what the sign says.

Bond Street is much more sedate, primarily because no one can afford to shop down here. They’re the kind of shops that have black-suited bodyguards behind bulletproof glass wearing earpieces and mirrored shades, and if you’re lucky then you might witness one of those exciting motorbike smash-and-grab raids that you sometimes see on the news. This is where you’ll find all the high-end jewellers and auction houses like Bonhams, Sotheby’s, Cartier and Rolex. If you’ve got a lady friend then you might like to dust those moths off your wallet and surprise her with a gift. And I’m not talking about a toffee Kit Kat from Tesco’s either. How about a diamond ring from Tiffany’s? The only problem with these shops is that they don’t have any price tags in the windows – a sure sign that they are expensive.

When you reach Burlington Gardens turn left down there so you’re looking at the back end of the Royal Academy Of Arts, and then turn right into Burlington Arcade [see 3 on the map]. You can buy another gift for your missus down here (she sure is lucky today), and you can stock up on some bowler hats and monocles and cravats if you’re running low. After that you will find yourself in Piccadilly.

This is where you’ll find Fortnum & Mason, which is the poshest food shop in London after Harrods (it’s also where the palace gets its groceries from). If you happen to be here just before the hour then it’s worth sticking around to see the clock put on a bit of a show – it’s that big green thing out the front. I think a couple of wooden soldiers come bounding out bashing and smacking some drums, but I’m always too lazy to wait for it so it could be anything.

The only other shops down Piccadilly that I like are Hatchards and the flagship store of Waterstones [see 4 on the map]. You might like to pop inside the courtyard of the Royal Academy of Arts as well because that’s quite nice (you saw the back end of it earlier, so you may as well complete the pair).

Keep walking down Piccadilly and you’ll eventually come to the neon lights at Piccadilly Circus. There’s nothing that we can buy your missus around here, unless she wants a new pair of sports shoes from Lillywhites.

Now find the curved facade of Regent Street and head up there. This place is like a halfway house between Oxford Street and Bond Street – it still has a lot of high street stores like Gap and Next, but it also has a sprinkling of expensive stuff like Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger. Hamley’s is the shop that everyone wants to see – the biggest toy store in London. So break out your wallet again and let’s get your girlfriend another present – get her some Star Wars stuff or some LEGO, she’ll like that. She’ll probably like that more than the jewellery.

Keep walking all the way down to Oxford Circus and see if that religious guy is standing on the corner spouting out his mumbo-jumbo. Let’s just stand here for five minutes and see if Jesus turns up (he didn’t for me, but maybe you’ll have better luck) [see 5 on the map]. Then take a right turn into Oxford Street and another very quick right into Argyll Street. You should see the Tudor-beamed shop front of Liberty dead ahead. Apparently they made the facade from the beams of an old warship, hence the golden warship on the roof. Once you get down to the end of the street and see the full stretch of it, then you might agree with me that it’s the prettiest shop in London.

To the lefthand side of Liberty is our final stop – Carnaby Street. The clothes shops down here are terrible but it’s such a tourist hotspot you’ll want to see it anyway. It’s the kind of place that sells sequins for your shoes. If you follow fashion then maybe you can pick up a few bits and bobs to wear for the next six months, before you have to chuck them out again when a posh skinny bird decides she likes blue.

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