9 February 2012

Between the Tower and the Bridge

It is quite a short walk from Tower Bridge to London Bridge along the south side of the Thames but there is much to see along the way.

Getting off the bus that arrives north-bound along Tower Bridge Road the eye is immediately drawn to nearly complete Shard.

This is visible from most of London but usually the lower sections are hidden by building that were once thought of as tall but here there is only Old London between you and the Shard which makes most of it visible.

Sadly all this extra visibility does is confirm just how bland the Shard is and its impressive height does little to overcome the disappointment of this.

Tower Bridge could hardly be more different.

It gets none of its immense charm from its height. Instead it relies almost completely on Victorian Neo-Gothic decoration.

You have to zoom in to the picture to see it in all its glory with extravagant decoration everywhere as if the building is scared of leaving any part unadorned.

A blank wall calls for a small window, a curvaceous lintel, a balcony, a pillar or an alcove.

Either side of the tower its function is revealed in the metal that keeps the road from the water.

And just to make sure that you notice the wires somebody has kindly painted them Manchester City blue.

I think that I would have gone for black myself but at least the light blue has the advantage of being distinctive. Maybe yellow would work.

For most of Central London the river this is a sleeping giant, even crossing it on the nearby Millennium Bridge has no hint of menace, but the Thames grows wider and more violent passing the bridge as it tries to scare away the frail wooden boats that used to gather in the busy docks there.

The swell is noticeable and suddenly the boat that looked so big when moored upstream looks frail and hopelessly outclassed. Surprisingly it calls the river's bluff and survives.

The modernisation, gentrification and yuppification, of much of the south bank has produced a profusion of individualistic mixed-use buildings housing open-plan offices, trendy shops, trendier restaurants and expensive flats.

Among these is the Hays Galleria which has a large inner courtyard with two distinctive features.

One is the moving scrap-metal statue in the centre that always reminds me of Sir Killalot from Robot Wars.

The other is the roof. I like roofs, especially ones like this so it gets the nod here ahead of the statue.

The building bends slightly to the left as it approaches the river and the roof flows with it.

As you would expect, the galleria has a collection of cafes to feed the office workers and tourists giving you plenty of opportunity to sit under the shelter of the roof to enjoy it the more and to try and work out just what the status is meant to be.

Braver people can try one of the open-air courtyards.

Admiral's Court has a very (mainland) European feel to it. The buildings that surround the square are of a human scale and there is a work of art in the middle.

The water provides movement and vitality that sharpens the sense of calmness and peace in the figures.

Of course there are cafes and seats too making this a place to pause rather than rush through.

And the best feature is the total lack of cars that blight so much of Britain.

Returning to the Thames Path and looking across the river the history of London is there before you.

On the left is the Tower of London, which for almost a thousand year has been the reluctant home for would-be kings and princes.

On the right is the Gherkin which displaced the Nat West Tower as the City's iconic building in 2004.

In-between the buildings are a mixture of shapes, sizes and ages.

The newer ones look the more shocking but I suspect that is just because of their newness and that this will soon pass and they will become as familiar and as accepted as their neighbours.

Another part of old London lies all but hidden near to London Bridge Station.

Southwark Cathedral can also claim a history of a thousand years though the current building is much more recent having been completed only six hundred years ago.

The city has grown closer to the Cathedral over the years and it is now closely surrounded by buildings, roads and railways. Whatever peace it once brought to the community is long gone.

One of the culprits for the surrounding bustle is Borough Market which is busy bringing artisan food to trendy twenty-somethings.

But the food is of little interest me (OK, so the cheeses were tempting, and some of the pies) and my eyes turn away from the stalls and look naturally upward towards the splendid Vict5orian roof. 

The stretch between the two bridges is only around 500m, which you can walk in 5 minutes if you are mindful to do so, yet it manages to encapsulate the history and variety that makes London such a great city to walk through.

1 comment:

  1. Great pics Matthew. I was down in Broken Wharf on Thursday for a meeting. I'm quite unfamiliar with this area but I loved it. Somehow it feels more like 'real London' with history seeping out of every turn of the street corner.


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