You can find the map for today’s 5.98 mile walk here. 31 days until the Congestion Zone Ends Party! Follow on Twitter for more updates.
Today reminded me a little of Day 22. The first half of the walk was really boring. There were big, grey buildings and lots of statues and things that I am sure I am supposed to be excited about and interested in, but I am just not.
I need life around me. I like streets with weird shops, busy restaurants, hidden squares, colour and curiosity. I was not feeling any of that in the beginning of the walk.
I was immensely bored.
By the end, though, I found a part of London I absolutely loved. I can’t believe I haven’t spent more time there. Not sure how that happened. But I will be going back again when I want to show someone new territory (aka my parents when they come to visit for the Congestion Zone Ends party in a little over a month!).
Hopefully you will get a chance to wander through here and love it as much as I did.
St. James is what Mayfair wants to be but just can’t pull off. Mayfair is nouveau riche; people who need to have the world see how well-off they are, that their bling is from Cartier and that their house is a fortress because there is just so much worth protecting inside.
The people in St. James don’t have to try. They know they have money. They are used to wealth and sophistication. It’s who they are, a way of life, not a façade they put on when they want to be “seen”. They respect wealth and appreciate the civilised traditions it entails.
St. James is also unabashedly masculine. No fancy purse shops here. This is the place for straight razors and cufflinks, cigars and rifles.
And you want to know what?
I absolutely love that.
I love a man in a perfectly tailored suit ,wearing brand-new, well-coordinated cufflinks. I love a man lathering up his face for a shave. And I love a man tying his tie before work in the morning.
There are some things that are just wonderfully male and I am glad to see that they have a home here and are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.
Perhaps it is no accident that St. James has developed this sophisticated, yet un-entitled, masculine air. Beau Brummell, a gentleman and fashion trendsetter, lived just around the corner and he is credited with making St. James the respectable, distinguished place it is (I’ll ignore all the whoring and appreciate the rest of the package).
Brummell was a highly respected figure, gaining the admiration of London elites like Lord Byron, who said that of the two men he admired most – Beau Brummell and Napoleon Bonaparte – he would rather have been the dandy than the emperor.
The statue of him on Jermyn Street bears his motto:
To be truly elegant, one should not be noticed.
He is credited with creating the style of men’s fashion that has carried on since his time: a perfectly tailored suit, full-length trousers, a crisp shirt and a well knotted cravat or tie. This was a major shift from the knee-length trousers and overly ornate fashions in style before he came along.
Thank you, Beau Brummell, for making our men look dashing and manly, not fancier than women.
Funny, isn’t it, that he was the one labelled as a dandy, wearing a suit and tie, when everyone else looked like this?
Maybe it is because he claims it took him five hours to dress. Maybe it is because he required £800 a year for dress (the equivalent of £103,000 today). Or maybe it is because he insisted on his boots being polished with champagne.
We will never know.
Not only are the men around here well put together, the whole area is just beautiful. That is to say that the good parts are beautiful. So to help you avoid the places I didn’t like, I would recommend anything between Regent Street and Green Park on East and West, and Piccadilly and Pall Mall on the North and South. Inside of that square there are loads of great little alleys, hidden courts and big, open roads lined with ornate brick buildings.
Pickering Place, for example, is very well-hidden. You would only see this on foot and only if you are looking closely. It’s a TINY little alley leading to a cute courtyard and is also the former home of the Texas Legation (something similar to an embassy), where the representatives of the Republic of Texas stayed on their official, diplomatic visits.
It’s so small it isn’t even on Google maps.
Consider it a challenge to find it if you are in the area.
For the pleasure of those who like to shop out of the rain, St. James also has several arcades full of high-quality specialty stores. These are not the types of places I would ever shop, but there is something really enjoyable about strolling through them and peeking into the windows. It just feels sophisticated.
Another good place for browsing is the Piccadilly Market in the courtyard of St. James church just off Piccadilly. The wares are not all that unique (though there are a few really great vendors!) and it doesn’t entirely manage to stay away from tourist tack, but it is a really cute space and a relaxing part of London right next to one of the busiest areas. There’s also a really nice garden in the back where you can enjoy lunch under the trees.
For more al fresco dining, there is St. James Square. In terms of the architecture around it, it isn’t the most beautiful square around. But it is respectably large with ample benches and tons of grassy spots to picnic on. Thanks to all the galleries around it (there are loads here too!), the square also hosts a lot of outdoor displays that give you new things to see whenever you are around.
Last but not least, in the northwest corner of the square is the London Library, the world’s largest independent lending library. One day I’ll be able to afford a membership and I can write these posts from the book-scented interior of this distinguished institution.
Until then, Caffe Nero will have to do.
When I am parked at the cafe next time, I will tell you all about the parts of London everyone wants to see along with some new places that made me very happy to find.
See you soon!
31 days until the Congestion Zone Ends Party! Follow on Twitter for more updates.
Quick update from the future: now that this project is finished, I’m off on another adventure! Keep in touch on my new blog at Three Miles an Hour. See you there!