You can find the map for most of today’s 5.35-mile walk here. The rest is here because I was silly and didn’t turn my tracker on right away. Oops. 117 days until the Congestion Zone Ends Party! Follow on Twitter for more updates.
I’m going to be honest with you. I didn’t really like today’s walk very much. Some of it was quite pretty but a lot of it was really dodgy and for the first time on a walk (or in my years in London) I actually felt afraid of being alone on the streets.
It takes a lot to scare me. I have always felt very much at home everywhere in London. I’m quite used to walking down dark alleys by myself without a second thought, and I’ve spent a lot of time strolling alone through the streets at 3am without feeling worried. I’m always cautious, of course, but I’ve never felt threatened.
Today I was back in Fitzrovia and I disliked it even more than the first time. It’s a shame too because I really wanted to have a revelation about the place. I wanted to find out that last time was a fluke and that I just happened to walk down the only dodgy streets in the area. I wanted to be charmed by the parts I hadn’t expected and convinced there is a lot more to it than I realised. That didn’t happen.
With the exception of a couple of respectably enjoyable blocks of Great Titchfield Street, this area is pretty rubbish. The streets that aren’t dodgy are boring. Really really boring. There’s nothing happening on them at all. I was here on a beautiful Sunday around 2pm which is normally when any other neighbourhood is absolutely brimming with people out for walks or meeting friends for roasts. Despite being one of the most residential areas I’ve been in though, it was pretty evident everyone who left their house also left the neighbourhood.
Between Great Portland Street and Tottenham Court Road, there’s not a lot happening. There’s no green space or public meeting areas to speak of; the cafes and pubs are all squished together onto one or two blocks that seem to contain all the social life. Granted, Regent’s Park (my favourite in London) is about 10 minutes away so that’s a good option to go to, but still, you’d hope there’d be something around your house where people in your community can interact.
Photos aren’t always that great at giving the feel of a place, but here’s a shot of the streets around here to show you just how nothing is going on here. It’s not that it’s hideous (this bit, at least). It’s just really boring. The buildings themselves are plain and the streets are absolutely deserted.
On Day 27, Cleveland Street was the one I disliked most and it was there today that I had a run-in with a big, jumpy skinhead type guy who obviously gets a rush out of intimidating unaccompanied women wandering into his territory. That street has now sunk even lower in my rankings and the streets just to the west of it made me feel more uncomfortable than I can ever remember feeling in London. My goal, as you know, is to walk down every street but this was the closest I have been to writing off one or two. I did manage to get to all of them but it involved some asshole-avoidance and quick manoeuvring. It wasn’t my favourite experience.
Again, a photo won’t give you a feel for it, you would have to just experience it, but since you should spend your time in a better place, here is a little glimpse of the streets so you can feel like you’ve been there and never have to go back.
The Upper Crust
After I calmed down a little, I walked around the corner and was suddenly in a completely different world. Great Portland Street, the western boundary of Fitzrovia, acts as a magical curtain dividing two unbelievably different neighbourhoods. It was the most dramatic shift I have seen to date.
Great Portland Street itself is lovely. It is full of cute little cafes with people dining al fresco (it was such perfect weather) and hip boutique shops I will never be rich enough to shop in. Everything to the west of here is pretty too. I’m getting close to Marylebone now, one of my old stomping grounds and favourite areas which is exciting.
After the rough areas I saw though, the perfect brickwork, beautiful pubs and fancy cars made these pretty parts feel really fake. I wanted to stop and ask the people sipping their cappuccinos if they knew the nature of the run down, poverty-stricken places less than a minute walk away. I can hardly imagine they do. They just hop in their mustangs and go about life completely oblivious to this blatant disparity.
Is anything good?
After the incident with that guy and the mind trip of going from destitution to riches, I wasn’t in the mood to be amazed by London. I was frustrated with the inequality and the purposeful blindness of the wealthy to the city’s problems. I wanted to go home. I felt jaded.
It may have been my mindset, but I struggled to find places worth mentioning or recommending but there were a couple I would say are worth a visit if you are passing through.
~ Fishies ~
For having such a sea-centric past, you don’t see many fish in London. Other than the official Aquarium, the only place I remember seeing them before is in the huge aquarium at Heron Tower (it fills the whole back wall of the lobby).
Fish were a big part of my childhood (and I have a very fish-nerdy boyfriend), so seeing them always makes me smile. The Aquatic Design Centre on Great Titchfield Street was a pleasant surprise and one of the busiest places I saw all day. It’s not just a pet shop where you choose your goldfish and go home with it in a tiny plastic bag. This place designs and installs custom aquariums for movie sets, commercials and the odd Shakespearean production.
Fish are a pain in the ass to take photos of (they insist on constantly moving), but I got a few for you.
~ Brunch ~
I read reviews a few weeks ago about the Riding House Cafe and the “best hangover brunch” statement stayed in my memory. I am happy to report that when I walked past and peeked in the windows today, it looks like it might actually live up to that expectation. I only looked at the menu and the inside for a minute, I didn’t actually eat there, so I can’t say for sure. but it looks very promising. I think more research needs to be done.
~ TV ~
Perhaps the most famous place I saw today is the BBC Broadcasting House on Portland Place. This is their main UK studio. It’s where the magic happens.
About this time last year, they opened the building up for guided tours which I have heard are really worth going to. I’ve also heard the cafe is great because you can watch them recording TV and radio shows while you sip tea. I didn’t have time to wander through but I will go explore it more on the next walk, I think.
Well, that’s about it for today. All in all, not my favourite walk of all time. It might have been a little different were it not for that asshole dude, but he obviously lives there so our interaction gave me a real insight into this part of the city. I do prefer the pretty days where I don’t feel like I might get beaten up, of course, but days like these remind me how complex London is and how much is going on below the surface (or just around the corner) from places that sparkle with glitz and glam.
See you next time
You can find the map for today’s most of today’s 5.35-mile walk here. The rest is here because I was silly and didn’t turn my tracker on right away. Oops.
117 days until the Congestion Zone Ends Party! Follow on Twitter for more updates.