You can find the map for today’s 9.39-mile walk here. 19 days until the Congestion Zone Ends Party! Follow on Twitter for more updates.
This is it! This is the one! The one where I finish walking ALL of the streets in the northern part of the Congestion Zone. I can’t even tell you how excited I was when this happened. I squealed when I walked over Vauxhall Bridge and finally touched the southern side of the city. I couldn’t help it. I mean, the south? The south! How crazy is that?!
In walking time, it took me 53 days (138.5 walking hours) and over 305 miles to get here. In real-time though, it has been years. I started this quest as a very quiet and private thing in August of 2010. No one really knew about it apart from a few friends who were lucky/unlucky enough for me to drag them for miles and miles around London when they thought we were going to a café around the corner. I hung my maps in my room and slowly marked off streets as I found new ones, thinking about how cool it would be to see them all someday.
Well today is a pretty big some day. I haven’t seen them all (yet) but I have seen all of them in the north!!!
ALL of them.
That is ridiculous!! And just so exciting.
It’s hard to think of anything that was more exhilarating than the last steps of this walk, but as I did manage to cover almost 10 miles before that moment happened, it would be a shame not to mention any of the other things I saw.
Here’s a quick rundown of the things that weren’t Vauxhall Bridge today.
Most of what struck me today was architecture. I found a few spots that are really unique for London.
The most out-of-place building was Westminster Cathedral.
That’s Westminster Cathedral, not Westminster Abbey, as the poor tourists I helped out found out too late. I am not big into churches but this is really different from the regular churches I’ve seen. I mentioned on Day 52 that I recently visited Turkey, and when I walked into this building I felt like I was back.
It’s has that same feel of an old mosque converted into a church – everything seems kind of repurposed. Weirdly, it has actually always been a catholic church (one of the first built after the English Reformation and the first visited by a monarch since that little disagreement). And it is not just a Catholic church, it is the largest Catholic church in England and Wales and the mother church for both.
Architecturally, it might not be as gorgeous the Hagia Sofia and the other Turkish byzantine churches, but it’s got a similar vibe going on. It’s a mishmash of styles. It’s old and worn and yet looks weirdly unfinished in some parts. And it’s covered in beautiful marble slabs and intricate glass mosaics. When I walked outside, it was quite a shock to step into Victoria and not Istanbul.
This part of London is mainly residential, so I walked past a lot of housing developments. Ashley Gardens was definitely the prettiest of them all.
Apparently, Ashley Gardens is quite the address to have. It doesn’t take much to see that this place has got to be outrageously expensive to live in. I had associations with this building from when I was working at an NGO in London (one of our biggest donors lived here), so I figured it was full of wealthy people. According to one site I found, it’s not just wealth that resides here, it’s influence.
The site claims that if you live here you will often see the names and faces of your neighbours in the papers and on TV. People like “leading political figures, senior government officials, well-known musical and theatrical personalities, high-profile QCs and other professional people, chairmen of FTSE-100 companies, influential literary figures and journalists, high-ranking military officers, scientists and academics, and many more.”
For some stories about Ashley Gardens – from former residents like George Bernard Shaw and Thomas Hardy to the planning of D-Day – check out this page!
The Regular Folk
Not everyone can live in a place like Ashley Gardens. In some neighbourhoods I’ve seen, the options are best or worst, no in between. Around here, though, even the regular-people housing was really pleasant to explore.
There’s nothing quite as heartwarming as red-orange brick buildings on a sunny day. I don’t know if it’s the contrast of the brilliant blue behind them or the way the orange heats up, filling the air with warmth and colour. Whatever it is, I just love it.
After all this bright orange brick with white trim, you can imagine how much the buildings on Page Street stand out.
When I first turned the corner onto Page street, I was overwhelmed by these flats and how different they are from everything around it. I absolutely loved walking down this street with the patterns of these incredible checkered buildings surrounding me on all sides. I felt like I was in a chess game (and wasn’t losing for once).
A quick search online taught me that these were designed by Edwin Lutyens, a remarkably famous architect who not only built many an English country house but, apparently, a good portion of Delhi. So much so that New Delhi is often referred to (in architect circles, I assume) as Lutyens’ Delhi.
Londoners will know his work from the Cenotaph on Whitehall. You know, where the queen lays her wreath of poppies on Remembrance Day. If you’re not in London, you can see replicas of this famous monument in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Bermuda and Hong Kong.
Considering that he designed buildings and monuments thought of as quintessentially Indian, as well as country homes that are the very epitome of Englishness, I am quite impressed with the variety Lutyens is capable of. As the buildings of Page Street show, he is certainly not a typecast architect.
The most beautiful building of the day was definitely the Tate Britain. It is such a gorgeous building with loads of relaxing gardens around it and a view across the river from its front door.
As with so many of London’s great buildings, it still bears scars from WWII which you can see in the photo on the bottom right. Whenever I see these, I think of how lucky it is that the only damage is a few pock marks. It would have been a shame to lose such a beautiful building.
I must confess, I have never been into the Tate Britain. Not before this walk and not during it. I had no idea it was even on my path today. I know, I know. For shame! And I call myself a Londoner.
I was too eager to finish my walk today to spend another two hours at the museum but I am dying to go back. I am also pretty keen to do the Tate-to-Tate thing, spending a whole day in these two galleries with a relaxing boat ride on the Thames in between. That sounds pretty perfect.
For a quick break from the buildings, I stopped in St. John’s Gardens for lunch. Everyone was there, taking advantage of the stunning day with picnics and naps on the grass.
I was speaking with a friend who recently moved to China, and when I asked what she missed in London she waxed lyrical about our wonderful green spaces.
I don’t know if we really understand how much these places give us. They revive us and restore us. They give us a break from our busy day to enjoy a calm, natural space that is filled with human voices, rustling leaves and dripping fountains instead of car engines and jack hammers.
They are such an important part of London. It would be a much different, and much harsher place without them. No matter where you work or live, you have a park nearby. Use them. Enjoy them. Take advantage. They really are a trademark of our city and something we should wring every drop of enjoyment out of when we have the chance. Make the chance happen. You’ll be glad you did.
The River aka The Big Moment!
In one of these green spaces along the river, I saw my final destination, Vauxhall Bridge and the unknown land across the river: South London.
As a long-time North Londoner, I’ve heard the tales of the south – the bears, the cannibals, the tricksters of every sort lurking in the shadows. Looking across the river though, it all looks rather civilised, don’t you think?
I sat for a while enjoying the view and soaking in the realisation that I had just finished something pretty spectacular. I had FINALLY walked every street in the north of London. I can finally cross off every street. I know all of it. I have seen all of it. I have met its good and bad, its best and worst.
I did it.
When I decided to get moving and finish the day, I made my way to the bridge where I came across one of these signs and got really emotional.
At the beginning of my walks, these egged me to go on, motivating me with the idea that at one point I will have done it all. Now that I am actually near the end they are a bit too nostalgic. I get a little choked up every time.
I don’t know what might happen when I see one of these signs on my last walk. Things might get a little embarrassing. Oh well. Everyone needs to get snotty and teary eyed in public now and then, right?
Everyone needs to squeak with joy in public too. That’s what happened to me as I crossed the bridge for those last few steps of this walk.
I realised I was was about to begin an adventure in a place I have absolutely no idea about. In four years in London, I have been to the Southbank (a gazillion times), the Imperial War museum, and the Southwark/London Bridge area.
That’s it. The total of my southern exposure, as it were.
I have no idea what is over there.
And I can’t wait to find out.
See you next time!
19 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!