In 1994 I took on a consulting gig that gave me my first chance to visit London. I flew over in June for a 4-month gig, based to the south of the City in a suburb called Whyteleafe, on the A22 close to the M25. The first weekend I had free, I jumped onto an early train into the City and stepped off at Blackfriars. I had never been to London before and yet I felt I knew it through things I had read – the London of Sherlock Holmes and of Rumpole of the Bailey; the London of the Blitz during the Second World War; and the London of finance as described in The Economist.
So off I set on a ramble. That walk had been building in me for 30 years, though I probably didn’t realize it then.
I remember being full of energy when I stepped off the train. I remember being within a whisker of getting wiped out by a bus because I looked left instead of right at a crosswalk. I remember being self-conscious as a tourist and dreading being called out as such.
London is my favourite walking city in the world. There is history, life, and energy on literally every corner. I think I could fetch up nearly anywhere within 10k of Trafalgar Square and have fun walking around. Since that day in 1994, I’ve had the chance to live in London and it just reinforced what I felt that day.
Upon arriving I walked from Blackfriars Station east into the City, I suppose on Cannon Street, towards Monument tube station and then back west towards St. Pauls Cathedral. I toured the cathedral and climbed into the dome for a view over the city. I walked west again from there into Westminster along Fleet Street and then the Strand. I chased the pigeons at Trafalgar, waved a salute to the maple leaf flag at Canada House, and stood next to St. Martins-in-the-Field church and wondered about the name since it’s nowhere near a field. I walked along the Mall and past Buckingham Palace and through Green Park to Hyde Park Corner and the Wellington Arch. I walked through Knightsbridge to Harrods. I walked from Harrods through Belgravia into Sloane Place, and then I walked on through Pimlico to Victoria Station to catch the train back to Whyteleafe.
Along the way, I stopped for a coffee and a bite in the City and discovered the joys of flapjacks. I stopped for a pint somewhere along Fleet Street and had a ploughmans’s lunch. I stopped at Harrods in the food hall and had oysters and a glass of Meurseault – which at the time, seemed to me to be the height of sophistication.
I’m sure I did more than 10k that day, and probably closer to 15k. I arrived around 9am and didn’t get back to Whyteleafe until after 8pm, utterly knackered and deeply in love with London. That walk is #1 on my list of all-time favourites, and if you said to me tomorrow, you have one walk left in your life, I’d say I’ll do that one again – from Blackfriars to Victoria. Samuel Johnson said that when you are tired of London, you are tired of life, and that’s London for me – a banquet from which I never want to stop feasting.