Travels: London: Saturday 11th Mar. 2000

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Highlights

Ruskin, Turner & the Pre-Raphaelites exhibition; Thameslink trains; around the City.

Main purpose: visit the exhibition; go to CAMRA HQ Open Day in St Albans; if time, visit City pubs recommended in the Good Beer Guide.


The journey was largely planned via the Railtrack timetable Web site, which on the whole gives accurate info, though as I found it can give some odd (though feasible) routes.

With a Railtrack One-Day Travelcard (15.30) I set off at 08:47 (actually off about 3 mins. late), arriving at Kings Cross about 09:41. I took a Victoria Line train (after a 1-minute wait) to Pimlico. As one emerges at ground level at the
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entrance (in Bessborough St.) nearest Tate Britain, behind and to the left is a curious structure: it seems to be an air conditioning plant about 7m tall with strange sculpture around its base.

I went round the Ruskin exhibition, taking 70 mins. The exhibition opened on the 8th and the ticket selling operation was still shaky, with equipment not working well. The fee was 6.50 but if I'd remembered my National Art Collections Fund membership card it would have been 4.50.

The exhibition was stunning, laid out according to Ruskin's life and with a representative selection of his own works alongside Turner, Holman Hunt and "all that crowd". It was a moving & vivid account, putting his life in context.

On the way back along Millbank I again noticed the high-security building on that side of the road: no markings but plenty of CCTV etc. Later I learned this is probably the Army Medical Corps. Across the river the newish Secret Intelligence Service HQ was prominent in the bright sunshine - it was a very warm day though the sun wasn't out all the time.

I had a 1-minute wait for a Victoria Line train to Euston, arriving at 11:55, and then used coins in a ticket machine but spotted it would have accepted notes. I caught the 12:01 to Watford Junction (12:25) and then had to go to an obscure little platform some way from the main station (platform 11) for a Silverlink train to St Albans Abbey. The journey of six stops lasted 12:45 - 13:03 along a little east-west branch line. Abbey turned out to be a tiny, unmanned station at the foot of the hill to the south-west of the Abbey.
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Following the excellent instructions provided by CAMRA HQ, I caught a service 4 bus (service 5 would also have done) to Safeway, opposite CAMRA HQ, for 95p. It ran through the heart of the city, where a market was in progress.

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The main station, St Albans City, is a short walk north of HQ and I caught the 15:34 Thameslink train for 6 to Blackfriars.
[Now knowing this, I should have gone this way to St Albans. The Web timetable probably gave the other route based on Euston as starting point, which is OK for solely Railtrack-based trains.]
This is part of the excellent Thameslink service between Bedford & Brighton, stopping at useful places in central London and filling gaps in the Tube service.

The last part of the day was intended to be a quick tour round Good Beer Guide pubs in the City but once I started walking around, the eerie emptyness reminded me I'd visited the City some years ago on a Sunday and seen how empty it was. Until I got near the station I probably saw no more than ten pedestrians.

I failed to make a note of the next stage at the time but I think I caught the Tube to Monument.
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I wanted to compare notes with my memory from c1970 when I went up the many stairs of the Monument to the viewing platform, as part of a rare family outing to a tourist attraction. [Past Monument to Hogshead] I was staggered at how close tall modern buildings seem to be to it, greatly reducing its impact from a distance. For instance on the south-west corner there's a modern Hogshead pub at ground-floor level and probably offices above.

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I walked up Gracechurch Street looking for Ship Tavern Passage and found it some way up on the east side. The Ship was closed, causing me to remember that's normal for weekends in the City. It has a dress code: no jeans or trainers. Some trendy spots in the City have a reverse dress code: no suits.
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Carrying on up Gracechurch Street, I found Leadenhall Market and inside the Lamb Tavern (closed) - all very Victorian. Even the newsagents was closed. I walked through to Lime Street and Lloyd's of London - very impressive (I'm a big fan of Richard Rogers' work.)


I love the old churches in the area and take pictures of any that seem worthy. [St Katherine Cree Guild Church] I then came across one that's almost crowded out by surrounding buildings and the Greene King pub behind it in particular - St Katherine Cree Guild Church.

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Onwards up Aldgate and past St Botolph without Aldgate and the closed Hoop and Grapes.

I tried to catch a Metropolitan Line train from Aldgate (no one on duty at the barriers) at 16:45, as it seemed to be quicker than a Circle Line one, but the train didn't move and a Circle Line one arrived so I dashed across the platform and left at 16:52, arriving at Liverpool St. at 17:00.


This was my first real chance to see the station area since its revamp in the late 1980s/early 1990s. As my Kodak DC200 digital camera batteries had been low since I arrived back in London, I had been trying to buy more and at last found an open shop (Boots) in the Broadgate shopping complex to the west of the station - unusual for a Saturday anywhere after 17:00. The bus stop of my earlier journey is above the complex.
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There's an International Cheese Shop, a Boots, WH Smiths and many other shops, many of which were open. [Broadgate sculpture] I wandered on westwards through to Broadgate proper and a pedestrian square with a curious modern sculpture and sat down to change batteries.
[The sculpture is Fulcrum by Richard Serra, 1987, and consists of rusted steel plates.]

I could hear loud music to the north and went to investigate, finding the skating rink in full swing. It's very much on the model of New York's Rockerfeller Centre. The area is surrounded by offices for heavyweight financial outfits such as Lehmann Bros. and Warburgs. [Broadgate rink]


Next I went the other way to the east side of the station and the Bishopsgate area, finding a Tesco Metro store and buying some snacks. I could also have bought them at Boots and WH Smiths - a 1990s innovation. This would have been my first chance to use my Tesco Clubcard, acquired in May 1999 when Tesco Direct online shopping was launched in central Cambridge, but I'd left it at home thinking I wouldn't need it. Another reason for going in was to see what it was like, since a Metro is supposed to be opening in Cambridge on the gas works site.
[Whilst waiting at Liverpool Street it occurred to me that some people might like the following service: big TV screens showing a variety of TV channels, with the audio available via mobile phones.
Idea Copyright 2000 Ian Kitching]

I caught the 17:48 (actually departed 17:55) which stopped at all the main stations, and was due to arrive at 19:07. The train halted at 18:20 due to a points failure at Cheshunt. At 18:52 we moved off to Bishops Stortford and had to change to another service. The service for 19:22 at Cambridge was cancelled and we had to go to a different platform and catch the 19:01, arriving at 19:34.

In retrospect
[ALE 296: Industry Watch]
it occurred to me that I'd seen a lot of All Bar One, JD Wetherspoon, Hogshead, Young's and Sam Smith's pubs, showing the power of the pub chains and the state of the pubs industry.


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