You can find the map for today’s 5.74 mile walk here. 10 days until the Congestion Zone Ends Party! Follow on Twitter for more updates.
After three days of walking in the south, I can safely say that it is mostly houses around here. There’s not a whole lot for a visitor to get into in these parts. The things that aren’t flats are warehouses, company headquarters, storage facilities, educational institutions, community centres for the people who live here…but not much to report on in terms of things to visit.
I can say definitely say though that I could see the benefits of living in some of these places – not just the pretty spots either. The idea of the south overall is actually quite appealing (sorry about that, Northerners). When I am walking around here I feel so far from the chaos of the city. It’s so calm and quiet. Even the high street chains aren’t as prevalent.
Let me take that back.
The high street chains don’t exist.
On a normal walk, unless I find an outstanding place for lunch, I eat at Prêt and end the day at a Nero for a tea and a Skype date. Don’t judge. I have my reasons. Mainly the new Passion Pop smoothie and reliable internet.
On my first day in the south though, I did a quick search for a Prêt for lunch and there aren’t any – any at all – between Vauxhall Bridge and Waterloo. That’s basically half of the congestion zone on the south side. That’s crazy. These things are like the plague everywhere else. Don’t believe me? Look at this map.
If you have ever been to Trafalgar square you’ll know you can see three Prêts simultaneously. They are all about high traffic areas and this place just isn’t their market. Nero is the same. Here’s their footprint in the congestion zone.
In fact, all this searching for big chains around here made me go for the big one, the Mac Daddy, if you will. If anyone would be here it would be McDonalds, right? They are successful everywhere, aren’t they?
Oh wait. Maybe not.
Apart from having to figure out what I would have for lunch if I couldn’t have a superfood salad, I really enjoyed the lack of high street chains. It’s so refreshing. The neighbourhood doesn’t have the look-how-not-high-street-we-are atmosphere other places have either. The cafes and things here aren’t high brown and boasty about being independent, or organic, or gluten-free. They are just normal. They are regular people running cafes that are used by regular working folk having a regular full English and a regular tea.
It’s like you’re not in London at all.
And yet, you are so close to the Eye you can almost see it moving from here. In Elephant & Castle you are two stops from London Bridge and Waterloo Stations. You could get anywhere in central London in half an hour (if you are a Northern Line optimist) and to any major national rail line in about 20 minutes. You could live as if you aren’t in London but be essentially in the heart of it all.
I totally see why there are so many developments going up here. I am talking about a ridiculous amount of construction. It’s like everyone forgot there was this whole other side of the city to live in and they are all just now starting to figure it out at the same time. (There is that little problem that thousands of people already knew about this area and have lived here for generations, but I already voiced my concerns about that on Day 54).
It seems like such an opportune time for South London. There is a strong community culture, a lack of high street homogeneity, a lot of space to work with (big roads, large pavements) and money pouring in.
I want to be optimistic and imagine it 10 years from now, a thriving community full of independent shops, cultural hubs, theatres, skate parks, street markets and large displays of outdoor art. It’s totally doable. I hope it goes that way because it would be a shame to see this part of the city turn into another part of the City.
When it does finally turn into one of London’s cooler spots, I will definitely be back to walk all the streets again.
Things to Do Here
I remember when I was walking in Covent Garden or Soho and I felt so overwhelmed trying to pay attention to everything, to see what all the shops were and keep track of all that was going on. It’s much more relaxing to wander around here without all that chaos and the places I do find really stand out.
Here are my top picks of things to do around here:
- Meditate before your tea break
The Jamyang Buddhist Centre popped up out of nowhere on my walk. I really wasn’t expecting it at all. What a pleasant surprise too. Apart from being immensely relaxing and calming, it has a mix of things to take advantage of:
- a library with Buddhist reading materials that’s open to the public for browsing
- a meditation room for anyone who is passing by and needs a little reboot
- an adorable café with Monmouth coffee, a great selection of tea and homemade cakes
- and a gorgeous, relaxing garden with both covered and uncovered seating so you can still enjoy it on a rainy day
This video gives a good feel for the rooms the centre has and tells a bit about how they use the facilities as a hired venue for every kind of meeting imaginable. I definitely recommend stopping by if you are in the area.
Yak for life!
- Eat a mulberry in the park with a stranger.
West Square is a small little green space in one of the nicer residential areas I found today. I looked up a little history and it was nice to see a tie in with one of my previous walks. I love it when that happens.
The Imperial War Museum around the corner used to be the Bethlehem Royal Hospital and this square used to house many of the hospital’s staff. I found two previous sites of the hospital on Day 8 so this completes the trifecta, it would seem.
Not knowing any of this at the time though, I enjoyed the space a lot because of the big, fat, juicy mulberries I ate. I didn’t know they would be ripe already but I saw a lady pick one and eat it, so I started chatting with her about it. She showed me where all the good ones were hiding and we enjoyed a free-for-all berry feast together. We walked away laughing at the red stains all over our hands afterward.
- Nap outside on the grounds of the Imperial War Museum.
The Imperial War Museum is currently closed (though reopening any minute) for renovation but that doesn’t stop the grounds from being exceptionally inviting. Actually, I am really not keen on military history at all so the park is really where it would be at either way.
Most people seemed to be taking a nap here when I walked through. I think it was the post-lunch laze about that I made it just in time for. Here is a photo of the main entrance so you can get a taste for the landscaping. The grounds are split into several areas ranging from big sprawling lawns to small quiet rose gardens. It’s a good place to know about if you enjoy a good picnic (speaking of picnics, you should come to mine!).
- Take a moment to enjoy a well-organised phone box.
If you recall from way back on Day 43, I have always been curious about the messy guts inside phone boxes. The technician I met that day was whining about what a mess the wires are and how much time it takes to figure out what he’s doing.
Today I walked past a box and did a double take. Really. It was a thing of beauty. I had to take a photo to show you the difference. The technician working on this one was even more excited about it than I was.
Here’s a side by side comparison of the two for you.
It’s moments like that when I think I might spend a little too much time on the streets. Oh well. I won’t have many new streets to go down soon! Only 9 posts left and 4 walks to go. Can I do it? Yes I can!
See you next time!
10 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!