The Queen's Walk, from Shakespeare to Boudica, London
London, though vast, is an immensely walkable city & I can happily walk its streets all day. Nietzsche wrote "All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking" so on a cloudy summer’s day during a solo trip to London I spent a lovely afternoon strolling the south embankment alongside the Thames. I start by crossing London Bridge into Southwark. Even though many bridges cross the Thames now, this site is immensely historic as it was the only crossing into London from the Roman times through to 1729.
Coming off the bridge along Borough High Street takes me into Borough Markets. There has been trade here for a 1,000 years & the market's layout reflects its rich history. It’s a warren of passageways and open spaces providing plenty of food & an always bustling atmosphere. It’s also the perfect place to support local traders & so I grab some drinks & snacks to enjoy along my way.
Finding my way out via Cathedral Street brings me to Southwark Cathedral. This Cathedral site has been a place of Christian worship for more than 1,000 years. Some fragments of the 12th-century survive though the church in its present form dates to between 1220 and 1420, making it the first Gothic church in London. Visitors are welcome & you are invited to attend a service if one is scheduled. William Shakespeare is the most famous resident of the parish of St Saviour’s, which is now Southwark Cathedral, as was his brother Edmond who has a ledger stone in the cathedral choir. The Bard himself is memorialised within the church with a stained-glass window above a statue of him of him in repose featuring the Globe Theatre in the background.
Heading now towards the Thames I pass the Golden Hinde, a scale replica of an English galleon best known for her privateering circumnavigation of the globe between 1577 and 1580, captained by Sir Francis Drake.
Turning left into Clink Street I am delighted to find the remains of Winchester Palace. This 12th century palace served as the London townhouse of the Bishops of Winchester. These are said to be the remains of the great hall with one wall showing the Rose Window and underneath the traditional arrangement of three doors from a passage to the buttery, pantry and kitchen. It is believed that the great hall was built in about 1136 & I stay to ponder not only the history but the evolution of society that has occurred right here in this city.
The other end of Clink St has a colourful mural of Shakespeare that was painted by an Australian artist in 2016 to commemorate 400 years since his death. This spot is just meters from the site of the Bankside playhouses where the Bard worked.
Under the Southwark Bridge & I am at Shakespeare’s Globe, the reconstructed Elizabethan playhouse so knowingly associated with William Shakespeare. Opened in 1997 it has now become an iconic part of the Thames waterfront. You can enjoy a guided tour of the theatre or, better yet, if you want to experience how Shakespeare's plays were first performed there is nowhere else in the world to compare with the Globe. If the weather is set fair, and you are prepared to stand, get tickets in "the yard" where you can "Boo" the villain and "Hooray" the hero without fear of ridicule for just £5. Its rollicking good fun for The Play, after all, is the thing!
The Swan Restaurant adjacent to the Globe serves great food with spectacular views of the Thames & St Pauls Cathedral. Perhaps a bit pricier than a tourist might like, well this tourist in particular, however it’s a great experience to add to your travels as we did on a previous visit.
With the sun glistening on the water & views across the river to St Pauls, its enticing to walk across the Millennium Bridge however I continue on past the Tate Modern. This non-descript brown building is the former Bankside Power Station & houses Britain's national gallery of international modern art and the national collection of British art from 1900 to the present day. The view from the Tate Modern rooftop restaurant is said to be one of the finest in London.
The opening of Gabriel’s Wharf in 1988 signalled the ‘rebirth’ of the South Bank, an area that has been completely redeveloped and it is now is a pleasant riverside location with a handful of restaurants and shops. This section also heralds the introduction to the Arts area of the Thames. Here you will find the London Studios, where numerous television shows are recorded, & the National Theatre. You don’t need to be inside the National Theatre to see some truly spectacular things. Peer into their Sherling High-Level Walkway – an amazing walkway from which you can see all of the backstage action from the working studios where their props are produced. As one of the largest factories in central London, you’ll find hundreds of skilled craftspeople, practitioners and artists working together to produce world-class theatre. Its free so just walk in. The area in front of the theatre is often used for free entertainment (plays, poetry reading, etc.) in the Summer.
I feel a cloudy day become cooler as I pass under Waterloo bridge via the pedestrian tunnel to arrive at the Southbank Centre. This is a complex of artistic venues including the Royal Festival Hall, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Hayward Gallery and is Europe’s largest centre for the arts, attracting more than three million visitors annually.
I continue to walk west alongside the river passing by Jubilee Gardens. These gardens were created in 1977 to mark the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II & they are filled with families at play. The park is the perfect place to get some of the best shots of the Coca-Cola London Eye, which stands directly before it. Erected in 1999 it is easily identifiable & with over 3.75 million visitors annually it is the most popular paid tourist attraction in the UK. From the top of the London Eye you can see up to 25 miles away and, on a clear day, you can make out Windsor Castle. Interestingly the London Eye’s 32 capsules represent the 32 boroughs of London. Premium priced for a tourist budget you can get skip the line tickets for extra costs however I found going later in the day saw the dreaded queues almost gone. I also thought the view was better from the dome of St Pauls Cathedral with the price more reasonable than that of the Eye. This section on the bank is by far the busiest to experience & there is always an assortment of street performers entertaining the many people who flock to this recognizable spot of London.
Though the path continues, I head up & over the always congested Westminster Bridge. I am heading to one of my favourite statues in London & most likely the one no-one really sees. Situated on a corner opposite Big Ben's famous tower stands “Boudiccan Rebellion”, the statue of Queen Boudicca & her two daughters. The front of the plinth reads BOADICEA/ (BOUDICCA)/ QUEEN OF THE ICENI/ WHO DIED A.D. 61/ AFTER LEADING HER PEOPLE/ AGAINST THE ROMAN INVADER. Boudicca is one of Britain’s greatest heroines, a freedom fighter who united different tribes in a Celtic revolt rebelling against the Roman government. Her rebellion was the only viable challenge to the supremacy of the Romans who exercised a distinct influence over Britain and its heritage. She died shortly after its failure and was said to have poisoned herself. I admire her as a warrior woman who had the ability to lead & unite, in hope of defending her people against the invasion of her homeland. Down the steps past the statue sees me in Westminster station ready to journey onward.
This 3.5km route follows paved paths on the riverside which are usually bustling with visitors from around the world. Its been a perfect place to people watch in the cloudy sunshine of a summer’s day.