You can find the map for today’s 6.02 mile walk here. 133 days until the Congestion Zone Party! Follow on Twitter for more updates.
Today was beautiful in every way. The buildings were stunning, the streets were full of happy people and the sun was out in full force (now a regular occurrence). It was so warm, in fact, that I even abandoned my coat and walked around in *gasp* short sleeves!
There’s something magical about this time of year in London. Everyone is just so happy to be able to get out and enjoy the fresh air and gardens. Until now, the majority of people I’ve seen on the streets have been office workers taking their smoke breaks. Now with the change of season everyone is out. People linger outside chatting and take their lunch break as a picnic in the square. The streets are really starting to come alive!
You can see why this neighbourhood is aesthetically appealing. The brick buildings were really stunning with the sun turning them all orange. It seemed like every street had something on it that made me stop and appreciate how beautiful London can be (quite different from Day 27 just across the street).
A few places reminded me just how easy it is to miss things that are right in front of you.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Tottenham Court Road. It’s a mix of electronic shops, furniture stores and high street retailers, none of which really appeal to me. I have been on this street about a million times and never saw anything I thought was worth calling “beautiful” or even particularly interesting. But when I was walking toward it instead of down it I saw that it does actually have some really beautiful buildings.
Take for instance #68. Back in the late 1800’s, the building was used by J&J Goddard, a supplier of harmonium and American organ reeds. It’s so ornate and colourful it’s hard to believe I’ve never “seen” it before. These days, the street level is full of standard cookie cutter shops (with a little Scientology thrown in). It’s easy to see how you can walk right past the Ryman, Le Pain Quotidien and Holland & Barrett without being at all curious about what’s above.
Then there’s the Rising Sun pub, also on Tottenham Court Road, which I walked past twice without looking up at. The architecture is absolutely brilliant.
Back on Day 4 I made it a rule to pay attention to the ugly places like back alleys and service entrances because they are just as much a part of London as these pretty bits. I broke that rule today when I was taking a photo of a gorgeous building on North Crescent. Minerva House (the building on the left) was built in 1912 as the headquarters of the Minerva Motor Company, a luxury car manufacturer. These cars were the shit. They could go both forward and backward, had steering wheels and reached a shocking 25 miles an hour!
In my attempt to get the best shot of this pretty place though, I tried to cut out the unsightly structure next to it without taking a minute to see if it might be noteworthy on its own. Turns out I missed something interesting. The ugly place is the Eisenhower Centre, inside of which most of the D-Day invasion was planned. I’m not a huge historian (particularly anything military) so the part I find more exciting is that the lifts of this structure took high-ranking officers (including Eisenhower) down into secret tunnels and bunkers that linked with Goodge Street Station. I love a good hidden tunnel.
As usual, it wasn’t just the outsides of buildings that I found interesting today. I also found a couple of great gems to share with you.
This next spot might just be the most interesting one I’ve found so far. On my walks, I am constantly switching between London’s past and present. Everywhere I go, I look for indications of what happened there before and try to take in the scene of what’s happening now. I also see a lot of construction going on and wonder what things will look like when it’s finished (if that’s ever possible). It’s a lot to take in, but these layers of time are what make London endlessly fascinating. Today, my mind blew up when I actually got to see the London of the future.
The Building Centre on Store Street is one of the coolest places a London nerd could go. Inside is a scale model of London with every building represented. They don’t just include the ones that are there today, they incorporate everything that has been approved for construction or submitted for approval. That means you can actually get a bird’s eye view of London the way it will look. Exciting, isn’t it?!
If you are at all interested in the architecture of London (or just architecture in general), you should definitely visit this place. The Building Centre exists for everyone interested in the built environment to participate in lectures and events or even put up their own exhibition. It’s a collaboration that allows designers and manufacturers to get feedback from each other while developing new ideas and it’s remarkably fascinating.
One of the current exhibits, Kiosk, challenges designers to develop a new style of water kiosk. London has very few water fountains and, as a result, is swimming in used plastic bottles. I love the idea that someone is trying to reintroduce public water spots and clean up the city in the process. I also love that I may have seen new London structures in the making when I wandered through the exhibition.
The second gem I wanted to share with you is a bit of a cheat. I didn’t really get to go inside today nor have I been in before, but two of my most reputable London resources personally recommended it and I trust their taste.
The Grant Museum of Zoology is part of the UCL campus and sits on the corner of University and Gower Streets. It holds a collection of a 67,000 specimens and, from what I gather from those who have been there, it’s a little bit like walking into a mad scientist’s lab; heads float in jars on the shelves and skeletons peek out of every corner. There’s even a whole jar crammed with a bunch of moles (not the kind from your face, but even that might not be too weird for this place).
NB: Because I couldn’t get in myself, I am relying on the visuals from this post at unfounddoor.com.
It’s kind of gross, isn’t it? Gross in that way that makes you want to see more though, right? If it’s all a bit too much for you to handle, don’t worry. There are loads of pubs just around the corner where you can drink it off.
The last thing worth mentioning from this area is its surplus of really great pubs.
If I ever have to leave London, the pubs are probably what I’ll miss most. It’s not even drinking, really (there’s only so much you can do). It’s the social stuff, the food and the feeling of lazing around a friend’s house with a crisp pint sweating on the table next to you (ok, maybe it is a little about the drinking).
I love going to pubs for Friday nights out, Saturday brunches with friends and big fat Sunday roasts. I love chatting with strangers, enjoying the aroma of beer-soaked wooden floors, and hunting down toilets hidden in tiny closets down a maze of stairs. Sigh. I just love them.
While today’s walk was mostly in Bloomsbury, I did cover a few streets remaining from Day 27 and they were absolutely rammed with great old pubs.
There’s the Fitzroy Tavern, after which the neighbourhood was named, and the Jack Horner, which sits on the corner. Then there’s the beautiful Rising Sun I mentioned earlier and the perfectly Tudor Wheatsheaf. But I think my favourite has to be the Newman Arms, which George Orwell clearly loved because it features in his classic 1984. If you see it in person you will understand why. I mean, how could you not love a place who’s menu is painted on the walls of Pie & Mash Passage outside?
This is definitely the place I’d recommend ending a long walk (and is the place I’ll end this long post).
See you next time!
133 days until the Congestion Zone Party! Follow on Twitter for more updates.