Now this is a proper London walk. We take in ‘olde’ London, new shiny London, industrial London, latte sipping beard and tats London. Some history, food, great buildings, bridges, boozers. I’m calling this my Southwark Shuffle (for no other reason beyond it’s in Southwark and who doesn’t like alliteration?).
I return to this walk time and again. It’s vibrant area and so the landscape changes in subtle or huge ways at what seems to be an increasing pace. That didn’t always seem to be the case.
Back in the mid 90’s I was doing a Masters degree in property. I may have mentioned this fact before but formative experiences are the most vivid in retrospect. I had a term paper to write where the brief was to work up a development on the South Bank of the Thames. I suggested a mixed leisure and office development in Blackfriars overlooking the river. My professor shook his head at this and said I was talking bollocks, and like some late night pre Uber taxi driver, told me no one wants to go south of the river. Idiot. But who was right mate? Me or him? Yes, Me. That’s who.
But - old scores aside - let’s look at my path for this walk shall we?
Now; not every walk has to lurch from pub to pub but it’s rude not to suggest a couple of stopping places along the way. And this walk has great pubs, historic pubs; pubs the conjure the past with each passing pint. We’ll get to that but first, we must have a starting point. And, in this case, it’s also our ending point as this is - wait for it - a circular walk!
So, we start at the extensively refurbished London Bridge Station. Guy’s Hospital tower used to be the tallest kid on the block but now, the Shard muscles itself over all it surveys. This redevelopment has kicked off a spate of similar, smaller, innovative designed buildings throughout the area. As far as I can see, the casualties to make way for this frenzy of new build have been crap 50’s and 60’s concrete office blocks. Good.
Walk straight down from the station onto that historic thoroughfare into London, Borough High Street. Opposite is Southwark Cathedral and Brough Market - we’ll get to those later - but for now, you need to turn left heading south. About quarter of mile down the road is one of London’s hidden gems, the galleried ex-coaching in, The George (pictured opposite).
It nestles in a little side street off the main road. This part of London is full of alleyways and passages and it’s possible to cross the space time continuum back to Tudor times. I was shown this pub by a lady friend many years ago. Thanks! Its worth this little diversion from our main walk for a picture and maybe a pint (though if you’re drinking this early into the walk it’s all going to get messy. Best to come back here later.)
And so with a swift shimmy northwards, we get onto Southwark Street going east-west. About 20 years ago I used to walk to walk down this very street every day so it’s nostalgic but getting less so. It has changed from then to now. This is a street that is, in many respects, unlovely - there are no great landmarks gracing it, the buildings were warehouses and industrial units and now, it hosts increasingly bizarre glass office towers and residential units.
You can still spot some ex-warehouses of Victorian vintage on the street. See the examples in the picture to the left. Now converted to cafes and flats, you can still make out where the pulleys used to haul up goods.
One interesting building is the grade 2 listed ex Mernier chocolate factory which is now a theatre and art gallery of the same name. It’s kind of a stunted, fatter version of the Flat Iron building in New York. It’s probably the best of the old buildings on the Street. You can grab a drink there apparently - I’m guessing some wanky free trade coffee served by a ‘barista’ with a beard. Joy!
Newer, larger and experimental glass buildings are springing up all around Southwark Street but their appearance is welcome; they replaced dreadful post war concrete boxes that defined cheap and seemed designed to crush the spirit for those walking without and those working within. At least the new buildings are vibrant and quirky.
And so we get to Blackfriars Road. Here, the area between the bridge and Southwark Jubilee Line underground station is festooned with new buildings, loads of restaurants, take aways and pubs. It didn’t used to be that way. As I’ve hinted, I worked in property in the mid-90’s. I acquired a building on Blackfriars Road for a large multinational company. In my business case, I took several photos of the area including the then unfinished Southwark Jubilee Line station. Take a look at the pictures below - the top one I took 20 years ago and the second one is the same view in 2018. Interestingly enough the view doesn’t seem to have changed that much (beyond a new skyscraper in the background on the left).
A quick drink in the reassuringly dreadful Prince William Henry and then back up Blackfriars Road towards the river. We’re going to walk along the Thames path for a while back towards London Bridge. This stretch of the walkway is pretty historic with many attractions - views across the water to the ever expanding number of towers in the City, St Paul’s Cathedral, London Bridge, The Millennium Bridge, The Cutty Sark, The Golden Hind, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, The Tate Modern. There’s almost too much to see, too much to absorb. One way you might digest your surroundings is in the ancient pub, The Anchor, overlooking the Thames. Apparently Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of London from here. Before the pub burnt down the next year.
So onto Southwark Cathedral and Borough Market. Was it two years ago when those pieces of shit went on a rampage here? Unbelievable. But I’m glad the market is as great and trendy and crowded as normal. Plenty of places to get snacky food around here - hotdogs for me, thank you. And then we’re on Borough High Street again and walking back to London Bridge station for the tube or train that takes us to our next adventure.
Yeah, the ending was slightly rushed. I’ve been writing this article - seemingly - for months. Once discipline has gone, can it ever come back?
Anyway, more regular content starting next week and probably more London Walks. My next one is London Victoria to the Haymarket. Must do it again and take some pictures. But this Southwark Shuffle is a great walk for me. Is it me just talking about my past? Dunno. Try it.