London Walking Tours    with Joanna Moncrieff

Undiscovered (for me) London

I have had a stressful week in preparation for a practice walk around Little Venice/Paddington Basin which took place yesterday. All our previous practice walks have taken place in areas of London that I know well (ie the West End generally) but although I have been to Little Venice a couple of times on canal trips to and from Camden I can’t say I really know it.

It was Little Venice pool that confused me. I just couldn’t get my bearings with it. I even managed to spend 30 minutes walking up and down the wrong arm of the canal wondering where Edgware Road had gone to! I was worried that on the walk the person doing the stop before me would be somewhere I didn’t know and I wouldn’t be able to find my next stop! Over the last week I visited LV 3 times (including 2.5 hours after work on Friday) and by yesterday was just about confident not to get lost.

Last Saturday it was the annual Canal Cavalcade which is really worth seeing. Hundreds of narrowboats converge on the pool and you can get a feeling as to how the area was back in the 19th Century when it was a hive of activity with the barges delivering coal, hay, wood and even live sheep. Pickfords the removal company had their own fleet of boats at 2 speeds. One for normal deliveries and one for urgent or perishable goods. They couldn’t have been that urgent though as top speed was 3 to 3.5 miles an hour. Wedgewood and Dalton also used the canal to deliver their pottery. There was unbelievably a 90% breakage rate by road. By canal it was down to less than 50%. The canal’s heyday didn’t last long though with the arrival of the railways.

4 of my class colleagues joined me on a free walk entitled “Little Venice Waterside Walk”. It was interesting but most of the content had already been covered in class. I also couldn’t help but notice when the unqualified guide did something wrong such as turn away from us when talking or start talking before we all got there. I suppose this is going to happen every time I go on a walk now but it must mean I’m learning!

Bank Holiday Monday I needed to go back there again as still hadn’t figured out where I was going to stand for my 2 stops (Little Venice – Canal life and architecture and Bridges Railways and Heathrow Express). My brother A, was playing trumpet in one of his bands The BBJC Dance Band (who play 40s dance music) at the new amphitheatre at Sheldon Square (just along from LV) so that seemed a good reason to visit too. http://www.myspace.com/bbjcdanceband

After watching A unfortunately under cover as it was raining I then went on another free guided walk entiled “Big Changes in Paddington” with John, a qualified City of Westminster guide (what I hope to be at the end of my course). He was very good. This walk was around the new development at Paddington Basin and it will be fantastic when it is finished. If you get off the tube at Edgware Road, cross over to the new Hilton Metropole and then just walk around the corner you will be completely surprised to find the end of the Grand Union Canal. I have never seen the end of a canal before.

Part of the new development will be a new landscaped area, Merchant Square which will include shops, restaurants etc. http://www.merchantsquare.co.uk/main/index.php

John’s walk started at the Hilton and we then walked along the canal crossing 3 of the new bridges. We saw the new development including buildings by Terry Farrell and Richard Rogers but we also saw some of what was left of the old Paddington. This was very interesting. A previous church on the site of the current St Mary’s Church at Paddington Green is where Hogarth got married. The actress Sarah Siddons is commemorated by a statue on Paddington Green. Unfortunately she is facing the very busy main road and I feel the statue should be moved to a more peaceful spot. If you ignore the roar of the traffic and the ugly flyover you can almost imagine what Paddington used to be like when it was a village on the outskirts of London. This was all new to me.

Back to Monday’s walk – John had arranged that the new Rolling Bridge would open for us. This was an amazing sight. The bridge curls up on itself completely silently and gracefully and ends up as a sculpture that rather looks like a hamster’s wheel.

http://www.heatherwick.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=19&Itemid=7

Our practice walk yesterday went well although I had a few problems on my stop because they were noisly cleaning one of the bridges and I couldn’t immediately think of an alternative place to stand. However I now know to have a “reserve” stop and won’t make that mistake again.

After the walk we adjourned to a local pub. This pub, the Royal Exchange, is definitely going in my list of good pubs for future pub crawls (although I know of no others around that area). Having been unemployed and on a strict budget recently I was really suprised by the good food at very cheap prices. A ham and cheese melt with “proper” ham and not too much cheese in “proper” bread was £3. Pie with veg and potatoes was £5.50. Very good value. Will definitely go there again if I’m exploring more.

http://www.westminster.gov.uk/environment/landandpremises/parksandopenspaces/paddington-green.cfm (Sarah Siddons & Paddington Green)

http://www.beerintheevening.com/pubs/s/89/892/Royal_Exchange/Paddington

http://www.inpaddington.co.uk/walks/default.aspx (Free walks in Paddington/Little Venice) Incidentally my tutor, Lucy, is doing one of these walks although she hasn’t told us which one!

Now onto my next lot of research for a walk on Thursday – Belgravia – another area I know little about.

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