Even a London walking tour guide like myself can see the benefits of sitting in a tube train and making your way from A-B, or in this case A-B-A as you go full circle on the aptly named Circle Line.
If you were to just sit on the train and do the loop it would take you just over an hour to pass through the 28 stations, which in itself can be an enjoyable way to spend the time, people watching, reading or even having a little snooze, safe from whatever the weather has to offer outside, but I’m proposing a full day out visiting each station and seeing something of it’s locality. There are links to help you get more information, and I’ve purposely left out all the major tourist attractions, as you can decide for yourself if you want to include them in this tour.
I’ve chosen High Street Kensington to start as it’s possibly in the area that most visitors to London may be staying.
Start 9:00 am High Street Kensington. After having breakfasted or just grabbed a coffee (there’s a very nice Ivy Brasserie or an Ole & Steen near the station) have a short stroll around St Mary Abbots Gardens. The public gardens are on the former churchyard of St Mary Abbots, Kensington Parish Church. There has been a church here since Norman times. St Mary’s Church was rebuilt in the early C18th and its churchyard extended in 1763, but the current church dates from 1868. The former churchyard opened as a public garden in 1953. Then enter the station and get yourself a Travelcard, you’ll need to look at the options to get the right one for your stay in London. Catch the first train from platform 1 in the direction of Gloucester Road.
Gloucester Road: Exit the station turning right onto Cromwell Road. Take the fourth left into Queens Gate keeping the Gothic splendour of the Natural History Museum on your right and proceed along the road until you reach Hyde Park. Turn right and walk along the edge of the park In front of you will be the Albert Memorial and on the other side of the road the Royal Albert Hall. Continue along the road until you reach the traffic lights and turn right into Exhibition Road. You’ll see a statue of the explorer of David Livingstone and a quaint old milestone set into the wall just before you turn right. As soon as you enter Exhibition Road you’ll pass another statue, this is to Ernest Shackleton the Polar explorer. Walk the length of Exhibition Road and then turn left onto Cromwell Road and walk past the frontage of the Victoria & Albert Museum to visit the London Oratory, an ornate 19th century Roman Catholic church. Retrace your steps back down Cromwell Road on the opposite side to the Victoria & Albert Museum and bear left into Thurloe Place, walking between Thurloe Square Gardens and the Yalta Memorial, continue along until you reach South Kensington Underground station.
Sloane Square: Exit the station into Sloane Square. The area is populated by high end retail outlets, but to get a flavour of when the area was known as Hans Town cross the square into Symonds Street and walk towards the Peter Jones store bearing right as you approach it. This will bring you into Cadogan Gardens and the area of Cadogan Square. Continue along Cadogan Gardens into Cadogan Square and follow it until you reach the end of the road at the junction with Pont Street. Turn right passing what was once the Cadogan Hotel the sight of Oscar Wilde’s arrest and then turn right back into Cadogan Square and walk back to the station.
Victoria: The area is always busy as it’s a transport hub with busses, mainline trains and the underground all situated together. At this point I’m going to do a bit of self promotion. Victoria borders the area of Pimlico, probably little explored by most tourist. I have written and recorded a short audio tour called “Pimlico, fairer than Florence“. The tour starts about a five minute walk from Victoria station and takes about an hour to complete. On your way back to the underground visit the small gardens directly to the north of the station. It features in an article I wrote called The Entente Cordial , about the area as a whole. You may also be thinking about something to eat by now. My go to restaurant in the area is il posto at 316a Vauxhall Bridge Rd, SW1V 1AA just to the east of Victoria station.
St Jame’s Park: You’ll emerge from the station into the building knowns as 55 Broadway. There’s some pictures of it’s interior on a blog post I wrote called On Broadway just before the building was sold to developers. Exit the building onto Petty France and head directly across the road into Queen Anne’s Gate . Follow the road and continue through the bollarded area until you reach the edge of St Jame’s Park. Enter the park through the gates in front of you. If you have time, take a stroll around this area of the park, but find your way back to this spot. When you return, or if you’re not walking in the park turn right and follow the path that runs parallel with the road. The road is called Birdcage Walk and takes it’s name from Royal Aviary which were located there in the reign of King James I in the early 1600s. Follow the path for about 150 yards cross the first vehicle access point and when you reach the second cross Birdcage Walk here. In front of you will be the entrance to a small alleyway called Cockpit Steps which leads towards a large white house. Follow the alleyway and climb the steps to emerge into Old Queens Street. Unsurprisingly the alley takes it’s name from leading to the site of one of London’s 17th century Cockpits. Follow Old Queen Street to its end passing the home of Richard Savage, Governor of the Tower of London in the 1700s. Turn right into Storey’s Gate and follow the road to it’s junction with Broad Sanctuary turning left and following the road towards Parliament Square. After about 100 yards turn left into the small road called Little Sanctuary, so called because prisoners in medieval times used to be able to seek sanctuary there. You are walking along the back of the Supreme Court, Britain’s highest court of appeal, just a few feet along the building on your right you will see a stone-framed doorway, this was the entrance to the long-demolished Tothill Fields Bridewell prison, dating back to 1618. It started off as a “house of correction”, enforcing employment on indolent poor people, but was eventually enlarged to become a full-blown prison. Continue along the road and bear right, continuing along to Parliament Square. Westminster underground station is on the far side of the square opposite the Houses of Parliament.
Embankment: Exit the station into Villiers Street and on your right you will see Victoria Embankment Gardens. Take a wander around, there’s more than enough statues to look at. Also is the strange sight of an archway and steps that don’t go anywhere. This is the York Watergate which stood in the grounds of York House and at one time lead down to the banks of the Thames. On the building of the embankment it was left high and quite literally dry. Walk the length of the gardens keeping the Thames on your right and when you get to the Arthur Sullivan statue exit the gardens on your left into Savoy Place. This is the rear entrance to the Savoy Hotel. Keeping it on your left walk the short distance to Savoy Buildings and climb the sets of steps until you emerge onto the Strand through a rather grandly embellished archway. Your route has taken you through the area of Savoy Palace. On your left is the famous Simpsons restaurant walk past and continue along the Strand passing the front of the Savoy Hotel. When you reach the pub called the Coal Hole turn left and enter Carting Lane. The lane is quite old although it doesn’t look it nowadays, but it shows up on a map of the late 1600s presumably a way to get goods down to a wharf situated on the Thames. Towards the end of the lane situated opposite of the rather shabby looking Savoy Hotel Goods Receiving Bay there stands a solitary old gas lamp. What makes this special is that it was the last remaining sewer gas destructor lamp, that was until a truck reversed into it, so lets call it a replica of the original. There’s a little plaque located just behind it. Exit the lane into Savoy Place turning right and follow the road until you reach the Art Deco splendor of the Adelphi building. The area known as Adelphi is a grid of roads with handsome buildings. To gain entrance to the area you will see a small entrance at the end of the Art Deco block that has a staircase leading up to the higher Robert Street. There are plenty of streets to explore and the derivation of some can be found in the Adelphi link.
Well I think that’s enough for one day. If you want to catch the circle line, go back towards the Thames and turn right to get back to Embankment underground station, or alternatively you can walk towards the Strand turn left and follow it towards Charing Cross mainline and underground station. I’ll see you next time, when we’ll visit more of the districts on the Circle Line.