After breakfast at our hotel in Kensington, we took the District Line to East Putney with the intention of taking a stroll along the Thames Path towards Barnes. However, our plans were dashed as it started to pour with rain just as we left the underground station. Instead, we decided a morning’s shopping was more appropriate so we wandered along Putney High Street, popping in and out of stores trying to avoid the torrential rain as much as possible.
After a bite to eat we took the train to Waterloo station. Do remember that Oyster cards can also be used on National rail services in London at no extra charge. Waterloo is London’s busiest station but like all other stations up and down the country at the moment it was practically deserted as we walked through the concourse.
Fortunately, the rain showers had eased so rather than a riverside walk in Putney we strolled along the South Bank from Waterloo to Westminster. The London Eye is the main attraction along the embankment and on a clear day it provides spectacular views of the city. This giant Ferris wheel takes around 30 minutes to complete a rotation and was the world’s tallest when it was constructed in 1999.
Despite the weather being overcast I never fail to be impressed with the views across the river to the Palace of Westminster and of Big Ben, the great bell in the Elizabeth Tower. The tower has been covered by scaffolding for three years due to major renovations but it was pleasing to at least be able to see part of it visible once again. Parliament is home to the House of Commons and House of Lords. Tours of the Houses of Parliament are offered each Saturday and most weekdays during parliamentary recesses but are temporarily suspended.
Our walk took us across Westminster Bridge passing Westminster Abbey on our left and then onto Parliament Street which continues as far as the Cenotaph from where it changes its name to Whitehall. The name of this road comes from the Palace of Whitehall which occupied most of the area in the 16th and 17th centuries. Banqueting House is now the only surviving part of the palace. Alongside the Cenotaph is the memorial to the Women of World War II which was unveiled by the Queen in 2005.
We had now reached Downing Street and were able to peer through the railings at the end of the road to get a glimpse of the Christmas tree outside of No. 10, the Prime Minister’s residence.
A few steps further and we had arrived at Horse Guards Parade. With few people around, it was the perfect opportunity to photo the guards on horseback. We then wandered through the archway into the large parade ground where the Trooping of the Colour takes place.
From there, it was just a short walk to the eastern entrance of St. James Park, the oldest of London’s parks. It is surrounded by some of the capital’s famous landmarks yet remains a haven of tranquillity.
The park contains a small nature reserve known as Duck Island which is home to the park’s bird collection. Next to the nature reserve stands the picturesque Duck Island Cottage, a small lodge serving as the offices of the London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust.
Pelicans were first introduced to the park in 1664 as a gift from the Russian Ambassador. As recent as last year, three pelicans arrived as a gift from Prague Zoo and joined a colony of three others in the park. The pelicans are free to roam but rarely stray far from the lakeside.
Leaving the park, we took the underground from nearby St. James Park station along the District & Circle Line to Sloane Square, an affluent district in the Royal London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. This is one of my favourite places in central London for shopping and is easily walkable from Knightsbridge.
Do take care when leaving the station as the road crossing gives the impression of a pedestrian walkway. It is in fact a shared surface intended for both pedestrians and vehicles but as both the pavement and road are built to the same level pedestrians often don’t realise and walk out onto approaching traffic. A few steps from the station lies the Duke of York Square built on the former site of the Duke of York’s army barracks. The square is of a contemporary design and surrounded by more than 30 high end stores.
In one corner stands an absolutely wonderful grocery store called Partridges. The shop is one of just a handful of family grocers remaining in central London. It has the esteem of being grocer to Her Majesty the Queen, having held a Royal Warrant since 1994. The shop contains a bar/cafe and holds a popular open-air fine food market in the square each Saturday.
At the heart of the square lies the Saatchi Gallery which was opened in 1985 by Charles Saatchi the co-founder with his brother Maurice of Saatchi & Saatchi, the world’s largest advertising agency at that time. The gallery is housed in a large neo-classical building and offers free admission.
Running alongside the Duke of York Square is the Kings Road which stretches through Chelsea and Fulham in west London. It became famous in the 1980’s when the ‘Sloane Ranger’ effortless yet sophisticated style emerged. Diana, Princess of Wales was considered the archetypal Sloane Ranger and many followed her example.
Lining both sides of the Kings Road are a wide collection of shops catering for all tastes from designer brands to Boots and Marks & Spencer. Near the underground station are two of my favourites, one is the department store Peter Jones, part of the John Lewis partnership and the other, just across the road is a branch of Boden, filled with lots of lovely dresses in natural fibres and attractive prints.
As darkness fell, our short break in London also came to an end and it was time for us to make our way back to Kings Cross station for the journey home. London may be quite different without its usual hustle and bustle but it’s still a wonderful city to be enjoyed at any time and the perfect pre-Christmas treat for us.
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