Underground, overground: Exploring London on foot

Word on the Water Regent's Canal King's Cross barge

I’m a Londoner by birth, although I’ve now spent more than half my life outside the capital. But it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve really started to explore the city above street level.

Like many native Londoners, I get my bearings via the Underground map. Travelling from Queensway to Bayswater? Easy. Take the Central line, one stop to Notting Hill Gate. Then change to either the Circle or District lines, one stop to Bayswater.

Over the past couple of years, though, I’ve taken to walking rather than automatically taking the tube everywhere. Sometimes walking can even be quicker. Queensway to Bayswater on foot? Turn the corner, amble down Queensway for a couple of minutes and there you are, considerably faster than the Underground.

Walking is more scenic too. I travelled to London for work twice last week and took the opportunity to walk as much as I could – about 13km, all told. Okay, King’s Cross to Paddington isn’t exactly the Yorkshire Dales. But I also strolled along a section of Regent’s Canal, a 14km stretch that extends from Maida Vale eastwards towards the Thames. Easily missed from street level, it’s a surprisingly peaceful walk, weaving underneath a succession of busy roads. I passed office workers out for some fresh air, the book-selling barge Word on the Water and people reading on the stepped, artificial grass bank at Granary Square. Lovely.

Granary Square King's Cross

A couple of days later, with an hour to spare ahead of a meeting, I wandered along the South Bank. I’ve been doing this for years and it’s probably my favourite London walk. Between Westminster Bridge and London Bridge, a three-mile stroll takes you past the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre, St Paul’s and Southwark Cathedrals, the Tate Modern, the Globe and the Golden Hinde replica. Not to mention the Southbank Centre Book Market tucked under Waterloo Bridge and the adjacent skate park.

There’s always a lovely buzz along the river. On Thursday lunchtime there was a mix of suits and tourists, as well as a couple of school parties. It made for a convivial walk.

I’ve lost count of how many photos I’ve taken along this walk over the years. On this occasion, I had set out with the specific aim of capturing some unusual images of London bridges. With the aid of my recently acquired Lensball, I managed some novel shots of Golden Jubilee, Millennium and Tower Bridges. Mission accomplished.

Beyond the tourist attractions that everyone knows, London has many hidden corners that are constantly evolving. Even along the South Bank – a walk I must have done 50 times – there is always something new or different to see each visit. There’s a whole vista of opportunities to explore if you step up and out of the Underground. London is a much more interesting city above ground.

What are your favourite walks, whether in London or elsewhere?


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