7 April 2013

The Grey Soul of London (extended version)

This was my third time exploring The Grey Soul of London, and for a good reason. It's an excellent walk that takes in exploration, history, architecture, pubs and a whole host of stories.

Bringing all those nice things together was the walk's guide and inventor, Robert Kingham.

This was the third version of the walk that I had been on. I did the original Museum of London version two years ago then last year he did a shortened route for LIKE and this year it was a longer route to include the Barbican who promoted the event.

The other change was that it was held on a Sunday afternoon which mean that it was light (good news) and that some of the pubs en route were closed (bad news). Luckily it was quite a long route with several pubs along the way and we managed to find one at the start and then two others to provide rest stops.

The other good news is that unlike last year it was not raining and the combination of the lack of rain and something approaching sunlight meant that I could take far more photographs than before.

We started behind Sadler's Wells, at the fairly dreadful Shakespeare's Head, where we heard the first of many stories about bring water to London.

The walk was very much in two halves. We began by taking in the urban mess that is Finsbury, a mess made by the tight coupling of residences, industrial properties, offices, shops and restaurants. It is a vibrant area with lots of good tales to tell but relatively few interesting buildings to tell them.

This part of the walk included Exmouth Market, Coldbath Square and Warner Street and we saw things like an angel, Finsbury Town Hall, an Italinate church, an organ manufacturer, the Mount Pleasant Sorting Office and the train station that serves it.

This part of the tour ended at the much appreciated Pakenham Arms that not only looked like a pub should look these days but served a choice of good beers too. From there we headed north, vaguely towards Kings Cross, and in to another world. A world of classic Georgian houses in quiet neat squares.

The first of these was Granville Square which we approached via Riceyman Steps, popularised by Arnold Bennett's 1923 novel of the same name.

From there we ventured to Percy Circus where Lenin once lived.

Robert did his best to confuse us after that and we changed direction regularly and took little paths that ran between streets and that can only be discovered, and used, by walking.

Some of the more distinctive buildings came in and out of view proving that we were, to some extent, going round in squares as we were led to the home of one story after another. Water featured again and we were shown a reservoir and a pumping station hiding amongst the houses.

There were schools and churches too giving evidence to the genteel nature of the area that the developers had in mind when they build it.

Among the unusual buildings that we saw was this block of flats built for policeman, made all the remarkable because their designer also designed teh Tardis, though he thought he was designing a Police Box.

This might be in Amwell Street (another water reference) though I was utterly lost at that time so that is not much more than a guess.

I only know that we visited Amwell Street as that is where we made our last pub stop at FilthyMacNasty’s. Another good pub and another welcome break as the walk headed in to its fourth hour (it was billed to last three).

Not long after we found ourselves back in one of the squares, LLoyd Square possibly, where the original tour ended but this was the extended version and we moved on towards Barbican.

This took us through parts of Clerkenwell that I knew a little of from my time working at Charteris (office just south of Smithfield Market) and from attending LIKE meetings at a pub on Clerkenwell Green.

The area is full of imposing brick buildings from when merchants were king. Now the bankers rule and they prefer glass and steel.

Clerkenwell, like a lot of Central London, has become more fashionable (i.e. expensive) in the last twenty years or so and there was even talk of renaming the rather industrial sounding Farringdon. That's not a bad idea.

Our final foray was in to the Barbican. I love this place.

When I worked for Charteris I often had to walk to a client in Finsbury Square and that was a welcome excuse to walk through Barbican.

There are many routes through and several levels to choose from, which only makes the exploration even more fun.

Barbican is dominated by its towers and fifty years on they still look magnificent.

And that was it, four and a half hours after it started our walk had come to an end. I was tired and delighted.

It was a fantastic afternoon that skilfully mixed the multiple joys of walking, London, exploration, architecture and good pubs.

Robert has moved on from the Grey Soul and this year will be doing The Thin Veil of London instead. You can be sure that I'll be going on that.

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