I realised on Saturday that it would be my last chance in 2014 to take a Winter walk through London since I’m off to New York this coming Saturday and working a full day means the sun has gone down by the time I go home. So I set out walking with the great dome of St. Paul’s in mind as my destination, thinking about swooping through the South Bank Christmas market, a stop in Tate Modern and a slow crawl over Millennium Bridge to see if I could spot any of Ben Wilson’s chewing gum art.
Armed with a cup of tea, I headed down King’s Road, cutting over toward the river with a detour to the tiny market of Pimlico set up in the square on Pimlico Road. It smelled of orange and cinnamon wreaths and great big hunks of French cheese. Festive music added to the atmosphere from the man playing an accordion on the side. There were piles of brussel sprouts still on their stalks, artisan pretzel sticks and a stack of stollen for Christmas. I actually have never eaten stollen so I didn’t know exactly what it was since it’s not such a tradition in the States. (If you need enlightening like I did, it’s a fruitcake, often with marzipan, covered in some sort of icing sugar.)
This is one of my favourite market finds in London. I love all of the big markets, the famous ones, of course. But there’s something a bit special about places like this and Duke of York on King’s Road and Maltby Street Market near London Bridge. There’s a great little community spirit about them. Everyone seems to know everyone else. They’re not huge, and you can’t find everything, but you can definitely pick up the basics and a few treats while supporting the vendors rather than the supermarket chains. I think I spend about 80% of my monthly income in Waitrose so it’s nice to shop at these places on the weekends.
There’s a flower stand on the corner of the market in Pimlico that I always find to be so picturesque. Farm eggs were piled up in blue cartons on one table and on another, fresh fish laid out on another. There were bottles of organic apple juice and wooden stands heaped with green veggies.
The sky was bright blue, one of those unusual days in London. In the sun, it almost felt like Spring despite being the middle of December. I left the market and wandered up toward the embankment. On the way, I stopped at the top of Elizabeth Street for a view of the complex system of train tracks snaking out of Victoria station.
I turned down a bright back alleyway I’d never been down before, the sun blinding my view. There were clouds of steam visible in the Winter chill, coming out of vents the whole way down. The whole area is a mass of council flats. I crossed Grovesnor Road that runs along the Thames, walked on until I got to Pimlico Gardens and then followed the Thames Path, which is nicer, quieter, away from the traffic.
I watched the ducks dive into the murky water, waddle through puddles on the bank where the tide had receded. The trees were nearly bare. Moss grew along the top of the wall, the dolphin lamp posts rusted from the wet weather. The buildings on the opposite side reflected in the river, colours shimmering against the surface, inverting the buildings deep into the Thames.
I crossed at Vauxhall Bridge, a red and yellow construction that takes forever to walk across, but from here you can see the London Eye, Big Ben and the Shard in plain view. I remember many years ago watching the New Year’s fireworks from here. Across the bridge, the MI6 – the secret intelligence service – stands menacingly. Before I crossed, I thought I had never been here before, but then I remembered the path the duck boats take into and out of the river and the half crescent benches in front of the building where I once shared a supermarket pizza with a friend at the end of a night out, many many years ago.
Once you walk a bit further, of course, you hit the tourists, so I’ll leave it here for now and share the second half of the walk in a second post.
Stay tuned for part 2, from Westminster to St. Paul’s soon!