Some geezer called Samuel Johnson I think said ‘he who is tired of London is tired of life’. Or something like that anyway. And whilst I have little time for over-generalisations I will certainly never tire of visiting London. The theatre, shopping, fine dining, attractions – all just a bus ride away, and also activities you need increasingly deep pockets for, but there's plenty to do that’s free too. Wonderful parks and museums and some great walks amongst truly wonderful architecture.
Since we took up caravanning we’ve been many times thanks to the Caravan Club site at Crystal Palace. The number 3 bus stop is just a few minutes from the site and will take you into central London. Eventually. I was excited at the chance to have another mooch around the nations capital from our current location and on Friday we did just that. There are a variety of ways to get in, depending on your preferences and these are helpfully detailed on the site leaflet, so how did we get on?
There was a moment of minor panic when I checked the caravan folder the night before – I’d left the Oyster Cards at home – probably sitting on my desk.They’d joined the unusually short list of stuff we’d left behind, including that caravanning essential, black nail varnish. Oh the tragedy. Anyway, a quick check revealed that we could register our contactless debit cards to use instead so potential disaster was averted.
We decided to go in by bus, taking the number 217 to Turnpike Lane Station. The nearest stop was just the other side of the A10 – no doubt walkable by many but we decided to take the car. Just a couple of minutes walk from the stop was a side road that looked a safe – and free – place to park the car. McDonalds was nearby too, so that was breakfast sorted.
There is an underground station at Turnpike Lane served by the Piccadilly line which will take you into central London via Kings Cross and all the way to Heathrow, but we’d decided to take another bus – the number 29 – so we could have a look around Camden. It’s a while since we’ve been. Ever since I first visited many years ago I’ve loved the alternative vibe, although these days bland chain store garb and London bus fridge magnets are slowly replacing the leather, fishnet and PVC, at least in the high street.
The murals above the shops though remain and they are worth a look.
Just to the north of the Regent’s Canal – alongside which you can walk to London Zoo – is the Stables Market. A fantastic mix of outlets and stalls located - as the name suggests in the former stables of Pickfords, whose horses were engaged in pulling wagons and barges along their respective routes. In the 1920’s over 400 horses were stabled here.
Somehow I managed to avoid opening the wallet - although there was plenty that took my eye – until we paused for coffee before hopping back on the bus. The coffee was delicious but the accompanying choc chip cookie was overpriced and – if it shared the same expiry date as it’s former neighbours on the counter – out of date too.
The number 29’s destination was Trafalgar Square and to be quite honest we could have walked most of it quicker, but time wasn’t an issue – preserving the feet was. Trev was in entirely unsuitable trainers where I of course was wearing much more sensible bunion crushing winklepickers. Anyway, we’ve been past many times on the bus but it’s ages since we’ve actually stopped and walked around – in my case, since I was kid. So a long while then….
There were the usual street artists doing their best to get the tourists to lighten their wallets and some were pretty good too.
With the light starting to fade everywhere was starting to look more festive, not least Covent Garden which is where we sauntered to next. We had hoped to catch up with friend and fellow caravanner Amanda but rather loose plans and an extended office party sadly put paid to that. Nevertheless it was well worth a visit and we’ll get to catch up another time.
No visit to London would be complete at Christmas without a visit to Oxford Street to see the lights, so that was next on the list, meandering up through Soho past a few landmarks on the way. John Lewis, House of Fraser and Debenhams all had some stunning displays, but by now it was getting harder to find a space on the pavement such were the crowds. It was time to head back.
With no maps – you know them odd paper things – and any of the apps on the phone being completely useless without my reading glasses which were sitting back in the ‘van – a little guesswork was required as to how to get back from where we came from. Luckily my instincts proved to be correct – we hopped on a bus heading east towards Tottenham Court Road and then swapped to the 29 for the journey north.
As the bus made it’s slow journey back I reflected on our day, on London and life in general. As I said before, I love London, yes it can be noisy, expensive and at times un-friendly but it’s not unique in those respects. I’m looking forward to coming back soon and seeing a bit more. Today’s visit was unashamedly touristy, but so what, it’s certainly worth seeing.
The pub nearest to the site - the Pied Bull – was the the recipient of our custom for a quick but sadly rather forgettable feed. Still, it had been a good day.
So, with the word count climbing it’s time to call a halt to Part 3. Look out for the next part soon from Theobald’s Park as we check out the local area.
As usual, some links: