Midtown magic in the heat

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For me, nothing beats wandering around London with the excuse of an organised walk on the horizon. The complexity and the surprises of London ensure that there is always something new to see or something previously ignored and noticed for the first time , or perhaps seen in a different way if viewed from a new angle. We walkers know that if you ever do a linear walk the walk back is a new and different experience. That might be obvious when looking at trees and fields but it is equally so with buildings and how they sit and jostle for prominence in city scapes.

So today I’m in familar territory starting and ending at my office in Tavistock Square , one of London’s prettiest squares, in my biased opinion. Bloomsbury’s first square as you head south from the Euston Road is squeezed between the universities to the west, the great communications hub of London to the north with the Euston Road and the three great rail terminals and to the south, the business end of this part of London, centered on Holborn, with its lawyers and accountants, and creative and service industries. Squeezed between the City to the East and the West End to the west this wedge of central London has it all and yet remains the least known part of Central London for many Londoners as well as for tourists.

I have three themes that I would like to include in this last MEWS walk of 2011. The first is to tell the story of the Russell family and the development of Bloomsbury through three of its squares. We could spend the whole time in Bloomsbury …a satisfying walk in many respects and loads to see and talk about. The British Museum , St. George’s Holborn and the Universities and thats before we start on Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Set!

The second theme is to have a look at what has been going on up at Kings Cross. Whilst I will certainly use the opportunity to continue my love affair with St. Pancrass Station and Gilbert Scott’s masterpiece, the Marriott Grand Hotel, I will also use the Station as a springboard to visit the Kings’ Cross Partnerships huge development taking shape behind the two stations. The University of the Arts is now open and a new road cuts through to the site. The whole area reeks with 19th century industrial history which is being moulded, usually brilliantly into what will be a whole new district by the developers Argent.

Most of all I want to explore the old Borough of Finsbury-well at least the western end- and so the third theme of the walk will be to take a look at Clerkenwell and Farringdon and those fascinating streets and buildings interwoven with stories from the last 500 years. London historians have long claimed Clerkenwell as London’s first suburb and the stories of the New River and Sadlers Wells vie with the ancient monestaries of St. Johns and St. Marys both of which have left their mark.

So I had a good long walk around this near 6 mile loop on what turned out to be the country’s hottest ever October day. And I was met with a good deal of summer cheer from a number of people whose sunny disposition was clearly affected by the unseaonable weather. At New River Head a young man playing with his two young children let me into the Nautilus Gardens normally not open to the public . I was able to see some of the 18th century buildings built by the New River Company when it was at its most influential and enjoyed the gardens for a good ten minutes. I snapped away getting some shots of buildings not seen before.

At the pub on the corner of Clerkenwell Green which was closed to the public because it had been hired privately for a function a very cheerful young lady allowed me to use the loo! Shortly afterwards I ducked into the excellent St. John’s Museum and took refuge in the 12th century crypt beautifully cool on a day when the shade temperature was nudging thirty degrees outside. Finally, on the way back to the Bloomsbury Squares I wandered into Grays Inn only to find the exits to Bedford Row and then at Theobalds Road were locked. I was just about to turn and retrace my steps and add at least another 20 minutes and three quarters of a mile to an already sweaty walk when the main doors mysteriously opened courtesy of, I presumed , a young Barrister driving his car into the Inn. I gave him a quick wave as I made my escape back into the main road.

The whole trip was finished off with a sandwich at my favourite Holborn sandwich bar, Onion, its tables full in the autumn sun at the entrance to the unique terracotta turrets and arches of Sicillian Avenue. On the way back one could not help but notice , hundreds of skimpily dressed Londoners basking in the sun in temperatures which would have been credible for cities in the Mediterranean this time of year. At Exmouth Market recently transformed by dozens of cafes and bars, hundreds of Londoners enjoyed this most unique blast of summer, spilling out on to the pavements and roadways. And everywhere in the south and east of England people enjoying this prolonged hot blast of summer just as Hampshire County Council was testing its’ snow gritting equipment and signs went up in Oxford Street announcing closures next weekend so the Christmas lights can be put in place! Well it is October and only 12 weeks to Christmas!

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