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London in 4 Days - Day 2

London in 4 Days - Day 2


The reason the second day is a Tuesday is because we spent Monday in Belgium.  We took the Eurostar from London to Brussels in the morning and returned at night.  That day will be covered in a subsequent blog post.

One thing I forgot to note in Day 1's post is that most of the pubs on this 4 day itinerary are closed on Saturdays and Sundays.  The City Of London proper becomes a bit more deserted at the weekend with most workers retreating to the surrounding areas - be sure to check opening times while planning.

Our morning began at Speedy's Cafe - we had to get some Sherlock sightseeing in as well as a good fry-up before some epic sights and a few more pub visits.  Speedy's is famously located next to the fictional 221B Baker Street at 187 N. Gower Street.  Take a good look at the door to the left and realise that yes, they film the exterior shots for BBC Sherlock on location right here (the numbers on the door are replaced and the blue plaque covered over with a light fixture).

Outside Speedy's Cafe and BBC Sherlock's abode

 If you want to go inside Speedy's for breakfast you'll have to time your visit right - they are currently only open from 6am-3am Monday to Friday, close at 2pm on Saturday and are closed all day on Sundays.  Not only is Speedy's a must if you're a BBC Sherlock fan, it's also great for a low-cost proper English breakfast.  Popular with workers at the nearby Smithfield Market, you can get a decent fry-up along with an array of sandwiches and pasta - a real London cafe that came across its new-found fame by chance.

(An aside here:  If you street-view 187 N. Gower Street on Google Maps, you're in for a real treat - even if the interiors were filmed on a sound stage 150 miles away in Cardiff.  Unfortunately Mr. Holmes' boudoir is strictly off-limits.)

Next up we went to the 'real' 221B Baker Street to visit the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Both locations are less than 15 minutes away by tube - jump on the Metropolitan, Circle or Hammersmith Line at nearby Euston Square and get off at, well, Baker Street. Be sure to look out for the Sherlock Holmes statue located at the station's Marylebone entrance, and right next door you can visit wax-Benedict-Cumberbatch at Madame Tussaud's if you're so inclined.

The statue of Sherlock Holmes on Marylebone Street near Baker Street station

221B Baker Street as an address is a bit of a misnomer - the museum is technically located between 237 and 241 Baker Street, but the City Of London has allowed them to post 221B on the door above so that's what you'll see when you arrive.  The first thing you'll notice is how similar the door is to the one you just saw on Gower Street.  Baker Street is considerably busier, so it was just not possible to film the series on Baker Street so it was set on Gower instead.  The townhouses on both streets are very alike though, with Gower being the clear winner in atmosphere as Baker has become very commercialized and hectic.

The museum is a real treat - especially if you're a fan of the original books - you'll notice a lot of special touches that you can only truly appreciate if you have read them.  The photo opportunity in one of the chairs in front of his fireplace is unsurpassed, but don't knock anything over - our Sherlock was definitely a packrat.

Unfortunately Sherlock's head is considerably larger than mine...

Below is a gallery of the frontage and just some of the displays - you could spend a fair bit of time here if you had an encyclopedic knowledge of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's works, but for the average visitor you'll do well to enjoy about half an hour/45 minutes with a bit more time in the extensive shop on the ground floor.

Next we were off to the Churchill War Rooms - another quick 15 minute tube ride from Baker Street to Westminster on the Jubilee Line. Together with what was at the time the newly-opened Churchill museum, we really enjoyed looking around here and were amazed at the conditions under which the British orchestrated their ultimately victorious military maneuvers during World War II. If you have an interest in British history or particularly if you have any relatives who served, you really shouldn't miss this one.

Below is a selection of some of the scenes you can expect.  The museum was fantastic as well, small but perfectly formed but I took far less photos there and instead just took it all in.  I'd recommend at least an hour or two to get a good look at everything on offer here.  

Within a 5 minute walk from the War Rooms lies the splendour of Westminster Abbey. I probably wouldn't recommend trying to do the Sherlock museum, the Churchill War Rooms and Westminster Abbey all in the same day if you were visiting in the height of tourist season, but in mid-November it wasn't a problem at all and we found that we had ample time at each attraction without feeling rushed.  At the end of this series I'll give you a few tips about getting around London and how to choose where to be when.  

What is there to say about Westminster Abbey other than was the single most satisfying attraction I've been to in all of London with the Tower Of London being a close second.  Whether you're there for religion, history, architecture or a bit of all three, it is nothing less than spectacular and I strongly urge you to get in here for at least an hour.  You won't regret it.  

One thing that I loved about it is that photography is prohibited; it makes it a nice change from the endless stream of smartphones, selfie-sticks and cameras that you'll find prevalent at some of the other attractions.  For that reason I have only the photo below of the exterior, but believe me, what you see inside will remain in your memory for some time.  I'm writing this post almost three years later and I can still put myself in the choir hall.

The exterior of the incredible Westminster Abbey

One thing a lot of people may not realise is that Westminster Abbey is not only a place of worship - it is also the final resting place of many historic figures.  Incredibly, there are over 3300 people memorialised or buried at the Abbey, including revered royals, politicians, poets, authors, actors and scientists - below is just a small list.

  • Queen Elizabeth I
  • Mary Queen Of Scots
  • Edward I
  • William III
  • Charles Darwin
  • Sir Isaac Newton
  • Both William Pitts
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • Robert Browning
  • Geoffrey Chaucer
  • Charles Dickens
  • Alfred Tennyson
  • Laurence Olivier

In addition, memorial services were held at the Abbey for other incredible names.  Even though they are buried elsewhere, memorial plaques exist for the likes of:

  • William Shakespeare
  • Noel Coward
  • Sir Francis Drake
  • Diana, Princess Of Wales
  • The Brontë sisters
  • WH Auden
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Sir Winston Churchill

While you're in awe of your visit, spare a thought for poor King Harold the I, who was exhumed from his spot in the Abbey, beheaded, and thrown into a marsh in June of 1040.  And if you want to pay him a visit, he was reburied a couple miles away at St Clement Danes - in fact you'll pass that church in a bit you follow the rest of today's itinerary.

After exiting the Abbey head along the West side of Parliament Square to get a peek at the magnificent stonework on the Supreme Court building.  Take a left at the statue of George Canning down Great George Street  and then a right on Horse Guards Road for a nice quiet walk beside St James's Park and the Horse Guard's Building.  You'll pass by another guard house at the back of 10 Downing Street as well as see the site of the Horse Guard's Parade to your right.  Continue until you meet The Mall again, turning right and passing Trafalgar Square on your left, heading straight down The Strand on the opposite side of the roundabout.  There are plenty of quick service restaurants along The Strand but if you carry on for about 15 minutes you'll come to the first pub on today's itinerary.

After passing St Clement Danes (wave to Harold I) be sure to take in the impressive Victorian Gothic facade of The Royal Courts Of Justice on the opposite side of the street.  Just past it you will come across one of the famous Boundary Dragons (this one known as the Temple Bar dragon), signifying that you are leaving the City Of Westminster and now entering the City Of London proper.  There are 13 dragons and 10 locations where the dragons exist - some have 'double dragons' - one on each side of the roadway.  Perhaps a Boundary Dragon pub crawl is in order for the next trip?

Immediately following the Temple Bar dragon you'll come to our first pub of the day, The Old Bank Of England.  The interior is stunning - it was formerly the Law Courts branch of the Bank of England and the magnificent ceiling and high gallery will have you in awe.  It's also a Fuller's pub which is not only known for their great beer (brewed along the Thames in Chiswick since 1845), but also their incredible pies.  I won't give away the story but this site was famous for some other pies too - today's are a bit more palatable though!  

After a great pie, continue your stroll in the same direction toward the spire of St. Paul's on what is now known as Fleet Street.  Once renowned as the centre of British print media, most publishing has now been relocated to the Wapping area of East London.  You'll pass by the famed Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub but we won't stop here today - we are on to an even more spectacular locale for our next pint.  Just before the Punch Tavern, turn right onto Bride Lane and then left into Bride Court - you'll get a glimpse of the hidden Christopher Wren designed St Bride's Church, popping out on New Bridge Street, and turning right to continue to the next pub.  Cross over the busy New Bridge Street as soon as you can (it's probably best to do so at Bridewell Place) and continue to the blink-and-you'll-miss-it triangular brick building on your left just before Blackfriar Station.  The green mosaic signage identifies it as The Blackfriar.

Built in 1875 and remodeled in the early 20th century, the interior of this pub is a beautiful example of Arts & Crafts architecture.  Settle in front of the fireplace for a pint or sit at the bar and gaze at the copper reliefs, but don't miss a peek inside the marble barrel-vaulted dining room.  It's dark and atmospheric and a bit hard to get a picture, but below are a few I managed to grab.  To say the interior is spectacular is an understatement.

After The Blackfriar, head back north up to the Clerkenwell area, ideally via Black Friars Lane behind the pub, up Old Bailey and Giltspur Street.  You'll pass many more interesting buildings than you would walking down the drabness of Farringdon Street, and you'll pass by the notable St Bartholomew's Hospital, founded in 1123.  In addition to being the oldest hospital in Britain occupying its original site and still providing medical services, it may look a bit familiar to you Sherlock fans.  This was the building from which Sherlock jumped in the final episode in Series 2 "The Reichenbach Fall".  Remember seeing the building where the rooftop shots were filmed on yesterday's itinerary?  Well, this is where the ground shots were filmed, including the eerie spot on the pavement below your feet where Martin Freeman acted the hell out of his grief for his 'dead' friend Sherlock (I still tear up when I see it).  To your left is the ambulance hut that kept John Watson from viewing however it was that he managed to fake it - we still have no idea!

Sherlock died in this very spot, people!  You can pinpoint the exact spot as it lies within a rectangle framed by smaller bricks, right before the red phone box.

Turn left directly after the ambulance hut and follow the circular park to your right.  In front of you lies a long building with arched bricked-in windows - this is the famous Smithfield Market.  There has been a livestock market on this site since the 12th Century, as well as a cloth fair and the execution site of none other than Sir William Wallace of Scotland in 1305 (there is a plaque commemorating this along the wall of Bart's Hospital on the other side of the circle if you want to see it).  Follow the building until you can turn left and walk through it down Grand Avenue - not only is this a great shortcut, you'll miss some fantastic painted iron gates if you go all the way around!  

Smithfield gates - a hidden must see!

Now walk north up St John's Street, veering left onto St John's Lane - I'm taking you down here for a couple of reasons.  At the end of St John's Lane you'll get a view of the incredible Docwra Gate, the entrance to the Clerkenwell Priory of the Monastic Order of the Knights Hospitallers of St John Of Jerusalem - more easily recognised as the foundation of the St John's Ambulance society.   Even though the gate and surrounding building is now a largely Victorian-era restoration, it is still worth a look as it is quite castle-like in its appearance.

For a bit of lower-brow history, look to your right before passing under the gate and locate an arch over a passageway known as "Passing Alley".  It probably smells a bit nicer these days depending, but the A was once an I, so you can guess what it's famous for.

Immediately after walking under the arch of Docwra Gate, turn left down St John's Square and keep walking through to St John's Path - I love these secret little London shortcuts!  When you emerge you'll be on Britton Street, and to your immediate left is the Jerusalem Tavern - our next pub.

The Jerusalem is a tiny pub, but it is the finely curated beer selection which is the draw here.  This is the only pub in London which has the often fruit-laden beers from St Peter's Brewery in Suffolk on offer.  The building is of early 18th century stock but has only been a pub since the 90s, it is very cozy especially in winter and if the sun puts on its hat you are more than welcome to stand outside the door and enjoy your pint if it's too crowded.  We luckily managed to get a spot near the fireplace on this dreary November day, and after a quick pint we were off to what proved to be one of the highlights of the trip - a special nightly event at the Tower Of London.

It takes just under half an hour door to door on the Circle Line from nearby Farringdon to Tower Hill to get to the Tower Of London, with about 15 minutes of walking (10 mins between the Tower Hill stop and the Tower itself but the night view is mesmerizing). Alternatively you can take the Metropolitan Line to Aldgate and walk a bit further to the Tower - this route takes a half hour as well with about 20 mins of walking so catch whichever one comes to Farringdon first.

Every night at exactly 9:53pm, a special ceremony to lock the gates of the Tower Of London has been taking place for over 700 years.  The Ceremony Of The Keys is your only opportunity to visit the Tower Of London after nightfall; the Tower is closed to tourists in the evenings as it serves as the real-life residence of nearly 40 Yeoman Warders (colloquially known as "Beefeaters") and their families .  

'Halt, who comes there?' 
The Yeoman Warder replies, 'The keys.' 
'Whose keys?' 
'Queen Elizabeth's keys.'
 'Pass then, all's well.'

As you walk down Tower Hill the imposing floodlit facade of the White Tower is in full view behind its giant rag-stone walls, you'll only be admitted at precisely 9:30pm when holding a special ticket that you've likely had for many months.  The ceremony is very formal and silence is demanded - I found it very stirring that you can come here between these walls smack in the centre of busy London yet still manage to hear a pin drop while it all takes place.  There's a bit of waiting before it starts and it's all over by 10:05, but it's definitely worth the time, and you can still get another pint in before last call!

Visiting in November afforded us the opportunity to see the Tower grounds under full darkness - if we were there in the height of summer I'd bet it wouldn't be quite as atmospheric.  There is no photography allowed during the ceremony so I don't have any pictures, but it was such a memorable event that I can still see it in my mind - definitely worth doing and one of the highlights of not only this but any trip I've taken to England!

If you want to attend the Ceremony Of The Keys and your trip is in the early planning stages, stop reading this right now and see if there's still availability online.  When we applied back in early April 2014 for a November 2014 trip we still had to write a letter (after obtaining return UK postage to Canada which was good fun) and wait for the response.  It was old school yet elegant - being able to book online is a convenience but also a curse as it makes it easier for everyone to book in, not just you.  Tickets are available 12 months out and as I write this there is one ticket available 5 months from now for one night in mid-December, and all dates for this month next year are also nearly booked.

That concludes Day 2 - tomorrow we return to the Tower Of London during daylight, visit the Tower Bridge, take a little trip on the Thames, get a bit of musical history in and shockingly, visit a couple more pubs.

London in 4 days - Day 1

London in 4 days - Day 1