Today was ridiculously long. The area looked small on my map, but out-and-back trips across six bridges added a lot of footsteps without marking much off the page. I’m not ashamed to say that this walk totally kicked my ass. The exceptionally mediocre lunch I ate at the 9-mile mark was one of the best meals I have had in a while, mostly because I sat for an hour and didn’t move a muscle (the cider might have helped too). I was absolutely knackered by the time I got back to my bike.
But, despite the distance and fatigue, if there was any day to spend with the river I love so much, it was this one. The sky looked like this ALL day long.
Crossing all these bridges felt like I was physically knitting together my experiences in the north and south, and the scale of this project once again started to become more clear to me: I have walked a long way!
I started today’s walk at the north end of Southwark Bridge, where I ended Day 3 after climbing the Monument for some great views of the City.
Next I crossed Millennium Bridge, which is known for its view of St. Paul’s, the building of the day on Day 5.
And on the Hungerford/Golden Jubilee bridges (my last ones!), I thought about stopping to sit in Victoria Embankment Gardens for a quick break like I did on Day 50, but changed my mind when I realised I had walked nearly 6 miles and hadn’t actually started my “walk” yet.
So for the $64,000 question: which is my favourite bridge?
It’s a hard call, but I have to go with…wait for it….you can do it…just hold in there….drumroll please…..Waterloo Bridge!
While the Hungerford/Golden Jubilee pedestrian bridges are really incredible (the views of the Eye and Parliament in particular are absolute perfection), there is a railway between the two sides, so you can’t take in the 360-degree view at once. Standing on Waterloo Bridge though, you have an unimpeded view of all the best bits of London. It’s fabulous.
The Kinks were definitely right on this one.
I know I am writing this having finished all the walks, but I can still clearly remember the mix of emotions I felt as all the pieces of this puzzle started connecting and I realised that I only had two bridges and five walks left before the whole thing would be over. The length of this walk was an easy thing to bear compared with the emotional fortitude it took not to vacillate too wildly between exhilaration at the accomplishment and total despondency about it ending soon.
Despite some pangs of sadness, I was able to hold it together while I got in some good time with the river. It was definitely the star of the show today.
For those who don’t know, the Thames is a tidal river and there’s a pretty big difference between high and low tides. Because my walk today was so long, I got to see both. Here’s a little comparison.
If you hit it at low tide, you can walk down to the shore and see the city from a cool new perspective. I spent some time on the “beach” near Gabriel’s Wharf watching what everyone was up to. There was a lot going on.
One guy was working on a watercolour painting of the north bank, some other folks were drawing messages in the sand to text to friends, one guy was playing the Austrian bagpipes (click here to hear what they sound like), and a fair few people were mudlarking (looking for hidden treasures in the rocks and mud).
Mudlarking is a big pastime in London and sometimes people find amazing things. A friend recently told me the area I was in today was a Roman shipping port and is full of all kinds of good stuff if you dig around. I wish I could say I found a long-lost treasure, but I only found a worn down bone. I am telling myself it is human so it seems more interesting.
The Southbank has always been one of my favourite places in London. I love that it is always bustling with people taking life slowly and enjoying their amble along the river. And because the riverfront is run by the Southbank Centre, it’s always full of fun and laughter and creativity.
On today’s walk, it was even more happy since the Festival of Love was on and everything was covered in bright fluorescent ribbon and banners reminding us of all the ways we can love the world, others and ourselves.
According to the the Festival of Love’s site, ancient Greeks had over 30 words to describe the different shades, meanings and circumstances of love. They chose 7 of the most powerful words as the focus for the festival. Because it made me happy to read the words and their descriptions, and because they are a little hard to see in the photo, I wanted to write them out for you too. Consider it me sharing the love.
- Agape: the love of humanity
- Ludus: flirting, playful affection
- Philia: shared experience
- Eros: romantic and erotic love
- Pragma: love which endures
- Storge: family love
- Philautia: self-respect
This preview into the subject made me want to read up on all the rest of the Greek words! Festival of Love events are still running until August 31st, so check out the schedule here and go get yourself loved up.
Speaking of love, I felt quite a lot of it at my Congestion Zone Ends party a couple of weeks ago, and the south bank now holds great new memories for me as place where I celebrated finishing the project.
It was a wonderful day out full of friends and family from far and near, and it ended with a brilliant ride on the London Eye where I got to see all the places I had walked from a bird’s-eye view. More on that event and the end of the project in a post to come, though! Here’s a photo I took on today’s walk in eager anticipation of the big day.
The Other Stuff
Today was full of great things to tell you about, but I fear it will become a novel if I say too much about them. So here are a few quick peeks at things I liked, along with some other unexpected tie-ins to previous walks.
When I was in EC1, finding painted phone boxes became a fun game for me (although the obsession with peeking into them came later). The pepper one I found today was a great addition to the collection.
On Day 57, I ran into William Blake (again) and spent some time admiring the mosaics inspired by his poetry. Those pieces were made by Soutbank Mosaics, and today I found their makers in the church yard of St. John’s Waterloo (the same place I came across the National Theatre performance the day before).
All these links within links within links made me feel like I was in Inception. In fact, looking into Southbank Mosaic’s site, I recognise SO many of their pieces from previous walks. They do some good stuff! If you like mosaics and walks, here is a link to a trail that will show you some of their work. Based on my experience in the area, it looks like a great walk!
Before I go, I wanted to point out a couple of places that do a good job of hiding themselves if you aren’t looking closely. Bernie Spain Gardens (pictured above) is a calm, quiet place for a picnic that’s just a few steps south of the busy riverbank. It’s also my go-to spot for the Thames festival parade (assuming the route stays the same). If you go early, you can get a spot right up by the action.
And just to the west of that park is Gabriel’s Wharf, a small area crowded with loads of restaurants, shops and outdoor seating that no one seems to know about.
And we’re done!
That was a long one!
Like I said, I was shattered by the end of it. All in all though, there are worse ways you can spend your day.
As I left the river walk to get back to my bike, I passed a TFL sign that politely suggested everyone walks at least 20 minutes a day to improve their health (even My Little Ponies seem to be reaping the rewards).
With a final time of 5.5 hours, I was glad to know I got ahead of the game by 15.5 days. With the deadline looming, though, I only got a one day break before I was out again to explore some more streets on Day 61.
I’ll tell you what I found there next time we chat!
See you then!
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!