Hello Sherlock, it has been a while. I give tours about you Sherlock, and COVID has put that all to bed. The tourists are far beyond our borders, our borders are closed. In this time, when it is so easy to get really down and feel hopeless, I am for a walk, a long walk, that begins with you. Baker Street is a charming Tube Stop, all old and slopey with Wooden staircases leading to different exits. Normally its bustling with tourists, crowded with tourists for this destination serves two, unique London favourites. Madam Tussauds, and the man himself – Sherlock Holmes.
I know him intimately and when lockdown fades, can take you to all tales and secrets, and even his ‘home’, at 221B Baker Street. You have no idea how many times I am stopped with enquiries to the home of Sherlock. Bless them.
Where most people recoil from the unpredictable, and gloomy November weather, I love the bracing sharpness that makes walking so much easier. Clouds of electric blue, dispersed with shots of gun metal gray, and then, the shards of light from a watery sun that turns the sodden leaves to nuggets of gold – the intensity of uncharacteristic seasons all bundled up together, is exhilarating. As is Regent’s Park, any time of the year.
Regent’s Park is one of the eight Royal Parks, named after the Prince Regent, or playboy prince, who later became King George IV. The park is one of my favourites and summer is all for rowing boats on the lake, ice-creams and the annual Open Air Theatre. Visit Queen Mary’s Rose Garden with over 12 000 roses bushes and be enchanted. I love it in the summer and picnics are a special thing, but it is at any time during the year, from the Spring Bulbs to the stark landscape of fallen leaves and red berries, much enjoyed by this fellow. As tame as the pigeons on the bridge railing, the Egyptian geese on the lakes and maybe not so tame, are the hedgehogs breeding here, and I am determined to see them. The park offers a criss cross of walkways, Outer and Inner Circle, sports activities and of course, much walking, and especially in this weather, much needed coffee.
In the lockdown, though I still explore and gather notes, one ‘interesting’ issue to arise, is the lack of bathroom facilities available. Coffee shops and cafés can now only serve from the doorway and toilets are out of bounds – do not even get me started on this, so irritating, but as a true guide always does, finding clean toilet facilities is an important part of the job. This time, not so much for my clients, but for me avec the cold weather and hot coffee. So I make notes of where I will be able to find the next toilets along the route (humbug but neccessaire.) The cafe at Regent’s Park is take away only, and no bathroom, so it was a short walk to the public loos – which have a tiny fee of 20p, payable by contactless card.
The walk was broken by a quick darting into St. John’s Lodge, in the Inner Circle. The garden is a hidden gem, a little muddy after the rain, but that’s my November thing – striding through muddy patches, hoping not to end up on butt and loving the whole being in nature thing – it’s different in the winter and fall – down and countrified in the city stuff.
The walk, for the loving and the fit, calls you up to Primrose Hill. The hill of Bridget Jones’ opening sequence and one of the best views over the skyline of London. For so many people there, it is always a peaceful place. We are back in the sunshine, and bless us, a touch of physical exercise and sunshine and the joggers strip down to crop tops and goosebumps. But collectively we stand, resigned at our situation, and looking forth, perhaps for a promise of better, before a silent homage to your struggle brother, to your mental health sister, and peel down the hill into smaller lives.
Bit of a turn here and right there and high street Primrose Hill sparkles in the light I mentioned. Some jewels are open, some in the box and the locals are clearly loyal to corners for conversations, their dogs either indifferent or grateful for the time to sniff. One of my favourite restaurant lives in this street – this is a posh area, the houses around the park, up to St. John’s Wood are envious inciting, but generally only for bankers and celebrities, one or two you may spot if you loiter enough.
I am moving from one extreme to the other. Chalk Farm wedged between Primrose verdant living and the edgy grittiness of Camden Town. This is true London style and why I could never be bored here. Camden may have changed and become more gentrified in the last decade, she still entices the quirky, the curious and the devoted. Small entrepreneurs who live their dream and discard the critics, supported by like and live from the punk to the pretty. They are all at home. Alleys of locked up loveliness, hidden from the light, but look up at the umbrellas, though a symbol of rain, also the happy dots of we can weather this; am trying to remain super positive in the loneliness of walking through the Stables. A few die hard food pop ups temp but the cold and the isolated makes them seem sad also. The winter of discontent is more pronounced this year. But delight, another toilet opportunity – this is really a tragic situation, and then, of course, to stumble or rather walk into the larger than life statue of Shaka Zulu in London. This Zulu King does not belong here, abandoned, for now, in an alley. He looks lost. I am also thinking, with the whole tear down the statue thing, this king sacrificed young virgins to his hearts content – is he still relevant? What say you?
The muddy shoes make much of these pathway along the Regent’s Canal. Puddle obstacles, saunters doing it too slowly but there is no hurry, what else are we going to do? The dampness of rain clings beneath the archways iced with graffiti, into the dark, out in the light, under the archway, another view in sight. Brilliant homes, tragic views of the London Zoo with Hyenas caged rather than on the Savannahs of Africa – cannot abide the awfulness of it, so look to the Mallards instead. A single barge comes put-putting down the canal, captain au fait with the instagram moment, no hurry. Barges line with plastic chairs tied, flower boxes in needs of paint. Winter peels away more than just the prettiness of the summer, yet it is the waiting room for spring and other things can make the days alive and strong.
It is a stunning walk this one, and for most satisfying, but if you think the canal walk goes all the way to the Paddington basin, it’s going to be an abrupt surprise. This is Edgeware area, there are council flats and bustling shops, the glamour and elegance of the canal much changed as you find your way back to something touristy and familiar. Let it not detract from the splendour, and you can always turn around and do it all again in the other direction.
The walk had plenty of coffee shop (and now she knows the toilet) stops, eateries and seateries along the way. Great exercise, history and culture, and a little bit of everything thrown in between.
It is a tough time, a really tough time, but I can still get out and discover the very best of London, continue to learn and plan for next year when you are all going to come and visit me!