London. Take a Walk on the South Side.

Last week’s visit to London forced me to revise my negative preconceptions about that city. Since my first visit in 1985, I’ve avoided London, only passing through for a night or two on the way to somewhere else.

Westminster and Big Ben. London.

And so during a recent long walk along in Southwark, I experienced a travel epiphany, a moment of sheer delight in the surrounding environment. Walking along the south bank of the Thames, from Westminster Bridge to the Tate Modern, familiar landmarks, symbols of power and Britishness came into relief: Big Ben, Westminster, St Paul’s and London Bridge  rose up into the dreary slated sky, a theme park view of London’s icons seen from a safe distance, or perhaps like an old hand coloured etching from times past.

Bridges of London, from Southwark

We descended the steps from the bridge to the river and walked beyond the amusements of South Bank, busy with tourists eager to experience the theatrical world of dungeons, petty thieves and London’s colourful past. Further along, passed McDonald’s, fish and chipperies and the gigantic ferris wheel, the promenade turns into a series of lanes and dark underground passes, bridge tunnels, old churches, remnants of mediaeval lanes, parks, gothic churches interspersed with new modern housing developments.

Bridges of London

The walk has evolved over the last 30 years as this southern bank has become revitalised and gentrified. Once home to London’s poor, prostitutes and thieves, it retains some of that appealing grunge.

London Buskers under bridges.

Further along looms the striking building dedicated to Modern Art, the Tate Modern. A monolithic brick structure, Mussolini- esque and unadorned, the Tate Modern was once an electric company. Now beautifully restored, the building is a fitting space for the art it houses.

Tate Modern. Bad pic.
Dali’s Lobster Telephone 1936. For Chris Warner.
Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’. The other one is housed at NGV, Melbourne. For Oliver Morgan.

After a few hours in the Tate, the nearby Borough market revealed its cosmopolitan culinary charms. Very busy on a full market day, the market is full of youthful vitality. French cheeses and saucissons, moules mariniere, calamari fritti, Malaysian goat curry, dishes from regional India, Seafood Paella and borek, and the very British pork pie shop, compete for the lunchtime pound. A world of food temptation and well worth a visit.

 

At the start of this journey, the tide of the Thames was out. By the time we left, it was lapping forcefully at the sides of the banks. As we headed back to the North, I felt pleased about the day. But, like the tide, the jury is out. I think my view of London will always fluctuate. It will depend on the day, the company and the walk taken.

Low tide on the Thames
Low tide on the Thames. Muddy banks full of old terracotta shards.

Good songs for the journey.

Werewolves of London. Warren Zevon

I’m in London Still The Waifs

London Calling. The Clash

 

53 thoughts on “London. Take a Walk on the South Side.”

  1. You have hit the nail on the head with different impressions of the same place. I haven’t been to London for 30 years and wasn’t enamoured by it last time I was there. Compounded by the fact there was a garbage strike on in London and I had morning sickness. Still I have heard London is now a different city from someone who travels there a lot of the years. I think your post supports that idea. Louise

    Liked by 1 person

  2. From Hong Kong to London! Glad you are enjoying your stay in London. When we are there, I try to explore a different area each time. It is a wonderful quirky place – sometimes good, sometimes bad. That said, I didn’t always like the city and avoided it like the plague.

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    1. Yes, many say they once didn’t like it but now do. I used to find the place very inward looking and mean. People seemed dissatisfied or had missed out on fun, or the smell of old worlde cooking was always hanging in the air, old frying batter, bacon, baked beans. Now the place is alive, and I can only put this down to one thing- migration and the European union. Shame about Brexit.

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  3. Then we must have been there the same week! We used to go often to London when we were young…loved art, plays and musicals. Hardly walked the streets. You have some great shots and your musings are just lovely.
    This time I went for Kew Gardens while the son and daughter visited friends. Three lovely days. Thank you for posting!

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  4. My roots (4gens) are very firmly planted in what was formerly known as Lambeth, now Southbank, as well as Southwark, in fact my Dad was born in a street demolished by the blitz where the Concert Hall now stands. I palpably felt a connection with SW1. I never tire of walking the old streets that remain, visiting the churches and generally following the trail of my ancestors. London sings to my soul, I swear genetic memory exists

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    1. I think your’e right Sandra, though picking which gene pool is always the question for many 4th and 5th gen Australians who have a few strands in the mix. Mr T has an ancester from around the same spot as yours, though he doesn’t feel that pull: his Cornish and Scottish forebears get in the way. My lot come from Ireland, Glasgow and around Newcastle. The genetic memory for me works on my Irish side- a maternal line. I can here them speak all around me when I’m there, and having written this, I am now wondering why I’m not visiting this time. We were only a wee ferry ride away when in Wales. Oh well, Skye will be nice.

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  5. It seems many of your readers have a love/hate relationship re the streets of London – “with yesterday’s papers telling yesterdays news”. But Francesca, your images are so beautifully reminiscent of the late 80s when I lived there. It was the time of punk, miners’ strike, Thatcherism and my first white Christmas. It’s my pre-Christmas experience I wish to share. We were relocated up to Chester and as good old Aussie hospitality would have it – I volunteered to have Xmas lunch at my place for the ex-pats. And as British tradition would have it – I decided a roast turkey and veg was well in order. I’d never cooked a turkey before but how hard could it be? I ordered the biggest one I could with the local butcher a week in advance and he advised me it would be a fresh bird but must be collected by 4pm on the eve of Yuletide. And as with all citizens of the world (who indulge in this celebration) nothing goes to plan except for those wanting to shut shop! I arrived at said butcher at 3.50pm only to be informed that said turkey had been sold by mistake. After much heated discussion it was decided that I settle for the frozen option. That said he loaded the 20lb bird into a few layers of plastic bags. I was laden with other shopping but thankful for my Xmas promise to the ex-pats. It was freezing outside – snow, ice, slush and quite dark. I was huddled under a bus shelter with equally suffering folk and was so grateful to hear the bus arrive. Just upon entering the bus the plastic bag gave under the weight of the bird, dropped onto the footpath and went skidding down the street in all its frozen glory attempting to bowl over last-minute shoppers. With regionally accented shouts of “Bloody Nora” – “Jesus, Mary and Fecking Joseph” – “Ooo aye by gum” and myself in a tis the bird was “arrested” by a flummoxed copper on the next corner wishing to expouse the dangers of UFO’s. Finally made it home – ran a hot bath and immersed the bird to thaw. 4.00am saw me on my fifth or so eggnog fistfully shoving whatever was at hand into the cavity. 5.00am saw me place the bird outside to keep cool (what was I thinking) 10am shock and horror to find bird had reverted back to its solid state. 2pm saw all 10 of us eating a surprisingly unaffected turkey with all the trimmings. Congratulations from all the diners and them none the wiser that food-poisoning could have been the order of the day. But it snowed and snowed and snowed.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oh Peter, another wondrous tale of your travels. You know you have a mini following on my blog. Hahha. I’ll read this one out to Mr T later, and try to do it in flamboyant style befitting the yarn

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          1. So pleased to say that I’ve never seen a Harry Potter film that all happened while I was living in China and totally missed the hype. Added to the list is not EVER have I had a McDonalds – what the relevance is, I’m sure you’ll discover it in York and let me know.

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  6. Since I first stepped on a London street in the 1960a it has always been and always will be my favourite city in the world . . . thank you so much for these fabulous photos. I have but few as when there I seem to live in the theatres and concert halls and art galleries . . . . nearly moved to the Channel Islands in the 80s to be closer ere the tragedy of a marital breakdown . . .

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    1. I bet you had a ball floating about London in the 60s. From all accounts of that era, it was alive and the epicentre of culture. I can almost see you- laughing, young, soaking it all in.

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      1. Oh yes – and won the lottery there: had to go pay our respects at the Estonian Embassy [the British never acknowledged the Russian annexation!] , the Ambassador’s wife ‘adopted’ me – they has been there since 1934 and were greatly respected: can you imagine all the doors which opened! But even later I never ever changed my mind . . . my daughters first came with us at ages 5 and 7 much later and fell in love just the same . . . .

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        1. Whoopssss. Melton Mowbray is not in Wales, Mr T reminded me. Of course it isn’t. Melton Mowbray has consonants, Welsh words don’t. Though I knew you were born over in those strange dark lands Chris, despite your English seat(s).

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  7. Dear Francesca.

    Lobby says thank you for finding an English relative of his. Or should that be Spanish? And his owner thanks you for the reminder of the pork pies from his (getting larger) ancestral seat in Melton Mowbray.

    Keep on enjoying the epic voyage, and that goes for your mad mate too.

    Ciao

    Chris

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Regards to Lobby. Maybe he could have a battery shoved up his innards so he can do a repeat performance in honour of Dali?

      As for your ancestral seat ( not your growing one) we loved Wales so much- so wild and beautiful. It’s now on the list for a longer stay. xx

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  8. I did the same walk back in February. I hadn’t really spent much time on that side of the river and I enjoyed checking out more of this city. In regards to London itself, I could not love London more! I fell in love with the city back in November 2010 and I am gearing up for my 5th visit this coming November. It’s a long way to go from Australia but totally worth it in my eyes 🙂

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  9. The London I see in Hollywood movies and the London you blog post are so different. Of course I love yours most for it oozes the earthy charm the city has. Has read many stories of London as a child from the writers who had spent a part of their educational experience in the city. It was a big thing back then in colonial India. Thanks for the write up.

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    1. Back in the day, many felt it essential to have that London experience in early adulthood. This was also the case for many Australians too- not so much in education but culturally. I’m glad you enjoyed my earthy shots.

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  10. Hey Miss .. I just love these photos. I feel like I have just been there .. a great city steeped in history and loaded with life. Borough market is a fav of mine. We didn’t get there this time. Hope you are having a wonderful holiday 😃

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