It’s been so hot and dry in London for over 2 months that my regular walks with Dog have been curtailed. He’s not been happy.
Wednesday was different. Clouds had rolled in, a breeze had been evident and a front was somewhere over the horizon.
‘Shall we go for a long one?’
It doesn’t take much, you know.
I’d read about an organised walk which, sadly is fixed for a Saturday when I’m away which starts at Putney and follows the Thames eastwards crossing every bridge until they run out at Tower Bridge (Oh all right, there’s the QE Bridge in Dartford but that’s not for pedestrians, leaving aside it’s several miles away).
This bridge zigzag in 25 kilometres and had a lot to recommend it.
’So,’ I asked having explained the plan, ‘that Ok?’
‘You have water?’
That’s alright then.
London’s bridges span (ha!) many generations. Those not built in the period 1950 – 1990 (these are concrete lumps with little adornment) have a lot to recommend them especially in the way of the street lighting.
The Victorians, Edwardians and early Georgians understood the importance of twiddly bits. When did we lose the urge to adorn?
The Thames is tidal all the length of this walk. On a few occasions with the tide being out I saw people on the little beaches that appear.
In one case a retriever was gambolling in the water. I hope its owner knows about the quantity of sewerage that gets released into the river, pending the completion of the new mega sewer currently being drilled beneath our feet. It’s an odd thought, that – 90 metres down below me an enormous tunnel is being drilled the length of the section I was walking.
Mundane and super modern separated by the distance of a football pitch. Glad you can’t feel it.
The rhythms of such a walk are upset by three things, broadly speaking. One is the need to cross roads, while London’s traffic grinds its way hither and yon. Two is other people most noticeably when we reached Lambeth Bridge just before The Houses of Parliament as tourists were out in force. These groups pretty much disappeared at Southwark bridge only to pop back at the Southbank by HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge.
Three, statues. London must be the plinth capital, surely.
Every corner there seems to be some one whose past is still celebrated in stone or bronze. Thomas More stands -sits- like an extra from a film, overlooking Embankment Gardens near to a water fountain memorialising an obscure judge who presided over the huddle masses of what used to be Madras.
There are three footbridges over the Thames. The first lies alongside the tube line the comes out from Putney running a neat parallel to Putney Bridge itself (see piccy above). It’s an old iron rattly thing that has served its purpose for many years – not pretty not classy just effective.
The second is the grandly named Millennium Bridge which opened to much fanfare in 2000, wobbled disconcertingly because of the circa 200,000 people or some such who wanted to use it all at once and was closed for 2 years while the designing engineers scratched their beards, added a load more ballast that made it look like state-of-the-art gubbins and reopened to no fanfare whatsoever. The concept was a slim construction which you would barely see; the result was this clunky compromise of tubes and wiring.
The third, also planned for the Millennium sits alongside Hungerford Bridge, another railway line, this one into Charing Cross Station. This replaced an ugly walkway, infamous for the poor tramp tossed over the parapet by drunken thugs and being, reputedly, the longest single urinal in Europe. It is simple, elegant and arrived on time. Why is it that we cock up the ones with the most publicity? Or is it that the cock ups get the most publicity? I know what I prefer.
If you did a poll of people’s preferences, asking which bridge is their fav, you’d end up – probably – with Albert Bridge winning. It’s dainty with a sort of Disney charm but that’s to damn it, I suppose. I like it, sure…
Lovers of concrete would tick Waterloo’s box, while Chelsea Bridge has probably the most iconic lights and is the grandest.
Me, I think I prefer Vauxhall. It’s more bridge that design statement but the buttresses are adorned by caryatids – more statues – which is a ludicrous indulgence for something whose utility lies in going across it, not looking at it. These statues were the result of artistic pressure to give the bridge ‘meaning’ and two men, Alfred Drury and Frederick Pomeroy were commissioned, each to design four statues to sit on the up and down stream buttresses respectively. Variously they represent Pottery, Science, Agriculture and so on. But critics then as today weren’t happy. Siting them so they sat below parapet level, it was said, meant the only people capable of enjoying them were the ferrymen and lighters who plied their trade on the river. Or the old bloke and his dog out for a walk. Not intellectual enough for the audience.
Its easy to be seduced into thinking that a riverside walk is on the level and, yes, mostly it is.
But bridges, especially ones designed to let boats go beneath have to be raised. There are slopes and steps which, by the end of the day. begin to pall. Why, I pondered did I follow the route proposed for the organised walk where each bridge was crossed?
Dog felt much the same. We were both tired – we’d not done this sort of distance for a couple of months – and we skipped crossing Tower Bridge at the end. I don’t think anyone noticed.