Travels: London: Monday 2nd October 2000

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Highlights

Flight on the BA London Eye; walking tour around the Inns of Court and Fleet Street.


I happened to wake up at 06:45, leaving me plenty of time to pack. I watched some of the new format BBC Breakfast show, including Isobel Lang presenting the weather forecast from just upriver of the Eye, outside County Hall. The local news segment mentioned that Monument and Bank stations were closed for fire checks (later amended to Monument only). This might have affected me later.

I left my luggage with the concierge and grabbed a quick coffee and orange juice in Johnson's, then headed off via Villiers Street and Embankment Station. I timed the walk from the station across Hungerford Bridge to the Eye as my plans required getting from the Eye at 11:00 to Temple station at 11:30. Would the walk leave me enough time for the Tube part of that journey? I walked at a comfortable pace and it took 8.5 minutes. I was conscious of this being a repeat of my first trip.

It was now 09:12 and the area around the London Eye was very quiet. I settled down at one of the tables outside the Costa Coffee (Whitbread) stand to wait for the official opening to the public at 10:30. I'd allowed plenty of time in case I needed to suss out alternative quick routes, such as via Waterloo station. Also I half-hoped I could board early. There was a very strong, cold wind with patches of blue sky.

First boarding was at 09:35, a few minutes after the Eye started moving. A large group got on right away and another one about 10 minutes later. I soon gathered that if you had a valid boarding pass, even for a while later, they were letting people on if there was room, so I actually started up the ramp at 09:57. This solved my travel problem! I'd have an extra half-hour.

The boarding pass was checked by an attendant at the entrance to the winding up-ramp and there's a set of ticket-operated turnstiles nearer the point of boarding, like the Tube ones. There's a final set to actually board, designed to separate people into clumps of three or so and smooth the process of stepping onto the moving pods. It was no trouble at all, provided you're paying attention.

They weren't pushing the souvenir photo side of the operation - perhaps as people didn't have long enough on the ramp.

The view was excellent and it was fascinating to see how one's perspective changed as one got higher and higher. 1 Canada Square ("Canary Wharf tower") was hidden behind the Shell Centre tower till we got high enough and then we could just see part of the Dome beyond that. My ears popped near the top. One never senses motion as it's so smooth and slow. I was glad I'd specially invested in the new lightweight ZoomPC binoculars from Olympus, with zoom up to x30.

As we "landed" there was a long queue for tickets outside the ticket hall. It was now 10:31 and there were crowds milling about.

As I had plenty of time, I strolled over to Waterloo Station and bought some choc. bars for sustinence later and spare batteries for my camera. Adam Raphael, the journalist, was trundling luggage across the vast circulation space away from the trains, looking somewhat travel-weary.
[Adam Raphael is particularly famous for testifying at The Star v. Jeffrey Archer libel trial and for writing about the Lloyd's of London troubles of the 1980s-1990s.]
Another "celebrity" face there was Austin Mitchell, MP for Great Grimsby and broadcaster, coming up from the Tube station.

The District Line journey to Temple station took 6 minutes, arriving at 11:05, 25 minutes early for the walk.
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Dr Johnson, Journalists and Justice - Historic Fleet Street

by Stepping Out walks. Cost: 5.00 less 50p as I booked via the Internet.

The guide duly appeared just after 11:30, held up by Tube problems near where she lives, in Wimbledon - we had an instant bond there. I was the only taker for the tour. The title had just been updated from Historic Fleet Street and the emphasis on Legal London increased.

We walked eastwards through the part of Victoria Gardens opposite the station and emerged opposite Astor House. Cue a general point about the Embankment and Strand area. Over hundreds of years great families had established river-front properties between the power centres of the City and the royal palaces around Westminster, river travel being the norm. Meanwhile the Strand developed as the main road between the areas.

After years of wrangling and increasing use of Water Closets, the Great Stink of 1858 finally prodded people into action as regards sanitation. The Stink persuaded the Government to let the only-recently-formed Metropolitan Board of Works get on and solve the problem. The modern Embankment was built, narrowing the river and speeding the flow. Sir Joseph Bazalgette designed major sewers underneath, intercepting the ancient ones flowing into the Thames, and taking the sewage downriver. At this time the majority of drinking water was taken from the Thames, so this was crucial to public health.

The ancient properties of magnates were gradually sold on as they moved elsewhere but are still reflected in the names, such as Somerset House, Devereux House, Essex Street and Arundel Street.

We walked through into Middle Temple, past the Temple Garden where according to Shakespeare the original red & white roses of the War of the Roses were plucked, and on to the Hall. The tour has permission to go in there before noon and unsurprisingly it's just like the medieval halls at Oxbridge. The top table is The Bar (as in "called to...").

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We carried on along alleyways past The George pub and the rear of the Twining Tea Shop/Museum and emerged in The Strand. To our left was the striking St Clement Danes church and opposite was the Royal Courts of Justice, so often seen behind TV reporters. The church name shows that this was a Danish (Viking) area. Whenever a pre-Conquest church is dedicated to St Clement (as in Cambridge) it's likely that Vikings were involved. Aldwych - old town - refers to the post-Roman settlement, which would have been the focus of Viking attacks. This led to the re-occupation of the Roman town to the east.

We walked past Temple Bar, where ever since King William I's settlement with the City of London, kings must get permission from the City before proceeding into it. The street then becomes Fleet Street. We went up narrow stairs into Prince Henry's Room, maintained open to the public by the Corporation. It's really a modern office but has a display of old records. Only one wall is genuine Jacobean panelling. Another building we went into is now a Lloyd's bank but over 100 years ago it was Palsgrave, the first restaurant to have air conditioning - apparently produced by a team of ladies operating fans. The decor is stunning.

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Across the road is St Dunstan in the West, featuring a clock by Thomas Harries of 1671 and reckoned to be the first to have a minute hand. The church is now used by the Romanian Orthodox Church. Nearby there's also the only contemporary statue of Queen Elizabeth I.

Next we crossed Fleet Street again and into the Inner Temple complex, past the chambers displaying "Rumpole of the Bailey" as an occupant, to the Temple Church, which was open (it has somewhat restricted opening hours). The Knights Templar often built churches to reflect the Holy Sephulchre in Jerusalem with a circular west end (there's also one in Cambridge - the Round Church) and with a splendid Norman/Early English west entrance. After the Templars were suppressed in 1312 by the machinations of the King of France, their New Temple property here was seized by King Edward II. Lawyers eventually took over the site from the Crown on condition they kept up the church.

We carried on along the north side of Fleet Street, up Red Lion Court and round past Dr Johnson's House. There are a lot of modern legal offices around there now. We went back towards Fleet Street and went into Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and its basement. It's a vast, rambling place with dozens of rooms, odd steps and stairs. It's operated by Sam Smith's and the only handpump I saw had the dull Old Brewery Bitter.

We crossed to St Bride's Church and went down to the Crypt Museum, where the tour ended at 13:30. The crypt has a lot of displays - from Roman times to this century. I plan to return another time.

***

I was tired by now and fancied making my way back towards the hotel, so I went from Blackfriars via Tube to Temple and thence to the Porterhouse, where I had another Oyster Stout and a Porterhouse burger (9.00).

I collected my luggage from the hotel and a porter flagged down a taxi for me. By 15:05 I was on board a train which was due off at 15:15. There was a slight hold-up due to a fire/security alert, in the form of the platform tannoy repeatedly sounding ten beeps and then "will Inspector Sands please report to the London end of platform 8".

Afterthoughts

It occurred to me that this weekend I'd only seen one Micro Skate Scooter - carried by a Japanese girl via a shoulder strap. According to the Evening Standard I bought, that was the summer craze and now for the autumn it's Street Flyers. They're a reworking of rollerboots, this time with small, low-profile wheels which can tuck away.

A couple of weeks later, the parent group of Fish!Diners, BGR, announced plans to expand the chain across the country and rename to Fish plc.


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