Thursday, 27 September 2012

Mayor of London Discovery Trails - Yellow Route

Pearly Mandeville

For me this was the most surprising of all the mascot trails as it was the part of London I knew least about.  The Yellow Trail started at Liverpool Street Station and toured the East End around Spitalfields and Brick Lane, coming back via Leadenhall Market and Lloyds of London.  It was the most mascot heavy route we had visited thus far, with 16 mascots to find in the 3.2km length of the route.

Lunch at Spitalfields Market

It took awhile to find the right way out of Liverpool Street Station.  This is a station I hadn’t been to for years and my last recollection was of a not very nice and rather dingy place in the 1980s.  It was anything but now, with a light and airy concourse and the old place looked like it had really been spruced up for the Olympics and Paralympic Games.  We were in Londonthis time for an evening trip to the Paralympics and the mascot trails were very much the hors d’oevres of the day.

Christ Church, Spitalfields
Once we had found our way out of the station we headed out along Bishopsgate.  It was lunchtime already and the suits from all the surrounding offices were starting to come out for their Friday lunch.  We decided to have some lunch before getting going too much and so when we had found the first of the mascots (Pearly Mandeville), our next priority was to find somewhere to sit down.  We dropped into Giraffe, a place we had seen before but not tried.  It was pretty good, with super quick service and a nice ambience.  The food was a strange mixture of stuff but they did us all proud!

Spice Wenlock
Spitalfields Market was a revelation.  I am sure this isn’t a well-kept secret but we loved taking a look around the market stalls and some of the stuff on offer was really interesting, even for a hardened non-shopper like me!  Around the market were three more mascots in quick succession; Victorian (a very colourful one that showed off some stylised architecture from that era), Spitalfields Market (done up to show some of the merchandise on offer) and finally a generic Wenlock (yawn).

Welcome to Brick Lane
After browsing some of the stalls and surrounding shops we headed on our way through the back streets to Brick Lane, the thoroughfare that has been immortalised in a book of the same name.  This is an area that was colonised by people from the sub-continent of Asia and we passed by Spicy Wenlock at one end of the street and then Sari Wenlock, two representations depicting the culture of this corner of London.

Dickens Wenlock
In fact as we wandered along the street we had slightly regretted the fact that we had already eaten, for the air was filled with some amazing smells of spice and chargrilling meat.  Some of the restaurants had a vast array of colourful looking sweets and nougats in the windows; all exquisitely and temptingly laid out.  It was all a bit different from the upmarket cake shops we had seen around Covent Garden and Picadilly on earlier routes, but equally mouth watering!

Punk Mandeville
A little further on from Sari Wenlock the advertised mascot had been changed.  It was billed as Graffiti Mandeville, but what we actually saw was Park Wenlock.  Apparently the original one had been vandalised, which was a great shame as the odd picture of it suggests that the original was far more interesting than the late replacement.

Paley Upon Pilars
We turned the corner from Brick Lane into Whitechapel High Street and it was like we were leaving one world and entering an entirely different one!  Gone were the tightly packed streets full of shops to be replaced by a huge main road with lorries, buses and taxis thundering up and down.  Apologetically Aldgate East Station had an entrance at this point too.

Cockney Wenlock
At the corner was the next Wenlock, the rather classical looking Dickens Wenlock, showing scenes from the Old Curiosity Shop, one of the famous novels from this most famous of Victorian novelists.  This mascot my vote as the classiest of all those we saw on all of the trails.

Fenchurch Street Station
Somehow on this trail we had managed to leave the confines of the City of London.  As we made our way to the next mascot (no.9 – have you been counting?), we passed the boundary post which welcomed our re-entry into the famous old city.  I don’t know if it was my imagination but the atmosphere definitely changed from a more working class feel to one of hard nosed commerce.  Certainly the buildings changed to very well appointed and classic places that presumably had once been associated with the nearby docks.  Many of course were now banks and other financial institutions rather than the headquarters of shipping companies.

Londinium Wenlock
We came to Punk Mandeville, a nod to the music movement that had its most famous exponents of the Sex Pistols from this area.  I wonder what Sid Vicious would make of a funny little mascot celebrating what he did.  Interestingly the mascot was a Mandeville rather than a Wenlock as billed – not sure what happened there?  I couldn’t help think that it was a little bizarre.  Along from Punk was Cockney, which tried to capture some of the attributes of this most famous group of Londoners.  Being a true Cockney requires a person to have been born within the sound of Bow Bells, and this was represented within the artwork.

Leadenhall Market
At Aldgate was also a very odd sight in the shape of an antique looking timber frame of a house on stilts.  Apparently this is an art installation called Paleys Upon Pilars and is supposed to be a memorial to the cottage that stood on the top of the Aldgate in which the famous poet Geoffrey Chaucer lived.  Its height is supposed to signify the Dream Poems that he wrote while living here.  It was put here as one of the exhibits in the London Festival of Architecture and the good news is that it is due to be in place until the end of 2012 and not just its original three month stint.

Leadenhall Market Wenlock
From here we wandered down Fenchurch Streetand it was clear from the hustle and bustle on this Friday lunchtime that business was winding down for the week.  The buildings had certainly become bigger and the people in suits more numerous, suggesting that we were really heading into the heart of the financial district.  Peeping out from one of the side streets was Fenchurch Street Station, surely the most incognito of all the London Railway Termini and the only one that does not manage to get its own Tube Station.

Almost Unnoticed

 On the left hand side of our route was the enormous building officially called 30 St Mary Axe, but known to the rest of the world as the Gherkin Building.  The design of this place is remarkable and for a modern building I think it will get the same kind of attention in 100 years time as many Victorian buildings do now.  Against the blue skies and the puffy clouds it looked particularly good.

The Gherkin

Amidst all the hustle and bustle of this business district the Mayor’s Office had managed to find a small courtyard off Fenchurch Streetwhere they had placed the next mascot, Contemplative Mandeville.  It is hard to think of a more appropriate setting for such a theme!

Scary Sculpture

Perhaps the biggest and most welcome surprise was entering Leadenhall Market.  Firstly I had never heard of the market before and secondly it was the most wonderful Victorian architecture I had seen.  There was an amazing buzz about the place as everyone was enjoying their lunch hour, either by sitting and chatting in the open air cafes or browsing the wonderful looking stalls.  The two mascots here were very fitting – the first was Londinium, a mascot dressed as a Roman Soldier to recognise that this was the original part of Londonthat was founded in Roman times.  The second was Leadenhall Market Wenlock, possibly my favourite mascot of all the ones we found on any route.  It was decorated as a facsimile of the market itself and made for a very colourful statue.  I’m sure it sold for a lot of money – most went for around £10,000.  I would have to make do with pictures.

Bishopsgate Wenlock
We turned out of the market and headed around the Lloys of London building to find most appropriately Business Mandeville standing around the back.  Across the road was a pink Mandeville figure, which was supposed to be Splashy Mandeville.  Sadly for us the original had been changed but a new plaque had not been given.  I later found out that this one was called City Cycling Mandeville, although no explanation had been given as to why it was replaced.  Next to the mascot was a sculpture of a different kind – I’m not sure what it was but it looked like a rather sinister Guy Fawkes, its face stripped away to reveal the skull underneath.  We moved on quickly…

St Botolph's Church

After such a cluster of mascots it was surprising how far we had to walk to the last one on the trail – called Bishopsgate.  On the way we finally passed right underneath the Gherkin and also a number of building sites for some equally large glass fronted buildings in various stages of construction.  Walking around this part of London made me realise how much the city was changing now that the old buildings are being replaced by these shiny and gleaming towers.

Liverpool Street Station

Bishopsgate Wenlock didn’t disappoint.  It was outside St Botolph’s Church and showed a representation of one of the original gates to the City of London.  We were now practically outside Liverpool Street Station once again and finished with the Yellow Route.  I have to hand it to the planners of the route – it was possibly the most varied and certainly the most surprising of all the routes.  I hadn’t expected such great sights and atmosphere from this part of Londonbut it was really buzzing.  We enjoyed this one a lot!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Mayor of London Discovery Trails - Red Route

London Eye and County Hall

Our last expedition on our day of mascot hunting was the Red Route, probably the most straightforward to follow as it mostly followed the River Thames on both sides between Westminster and Lambeth Bridges, taking in the famous sights of the Palace of Westminster, The London Eye, Lambeth Palace and the old County Hall along the way.

Boudicca Statue
We emerged from the scrum at Westminster Tube Station and were met with the impressive sight of a statue of Boudicca, the infamous and tragic Queen of the Iceni Tribe, who stood up to the Romans after they betrayed her.  It was good to see such a prominent statue of her and she certainly got a lot of attention from passers-by.  We had to negotiate Westminster Bridge, possibly the busiest stretch of footway we had come across all day, and making Regent Street look quiet!  

Union Jack Mandeville
 Our first mascot was another Union Jack one, directly outside the old County Hall.  County Hall seems to have taken on a new purpose now that it is no longer the fiefdom of Ken Livingstone and the Greater London Council, who used to occupy the buildings.  After abolition of the Council in 1986 County Hall has become a tourist attraction in its own right, housing a Sea Life Centre, a number of food outlets and the ticket office for the London Eye, situated at the far corner from where we were.

Big Ben View

Our route took us in a big loop around County Hall, where we found another plain mascot at the rear, to the far corner where we got to see the London Eye up close and personal.  The queues for riding on the Eye were enormous as usual.  The original intention of the Eye being a temporary structure seems preposterous now, but when first built for the Millennium that was the plan.  It is now supposedly the most visited paid-for attraction in the UK and judging by the crowds I have seen every time I have been I can well believe it.

Big Ben Wenlock

After shuffling our way through the crowds we found the next mascot, not with an Eye theme as you might think given its location, but a nod to the view across to Big Ben.  This statue was preposterously popular and trying to get pictures of it proved very difficult as children were propelled towards it so their parents could grab that all-important picture.  Little did the rest know that we were now half way through spotting them all!

Fish Lamps

We wandered down the front of County Hall and I found some of the architectural detail of the building most interesting, even though it was difficult to see exactly what it was in some cases as some of the pieces were quite a long way away.  We decided to take a rest for a bit as the crowds were getting to us a bit.  A drink and a sit down to recharge our batteries really did the trick and we set off once again after a few minutes break.  Outside the cafĂ© was the next mascot, Underwater Wenlock, recognising its position near to the Sea Life Centre.  Our route then took us along the River Thames embankment, underneath Westminster Bridge.  Once we had cleared the bridge the crowds dissipated quickly and the onward route was much more pleasurable as a result.

Speaker Wenlock

For my money the walk on the south bank overlooking the Houses of Parliament is probably the best stretch of the River Thames Embankment through London.  The views of the Palace of Westminster and the clock tower containing Big Ben are fantastic and the tree lined walkway is classy.  I was also fascinated by the design of the lights along the river wall - they seemed to depict some kind of sea creature although I couldn't what kind of fish they were supposed to be?  Out on the river there was also much going on, with the Clippers plying their trade, while one of the World War II amphibious vehicles that provide what have become popular tours were trying to keep out of their way!

Thames Craft

The mascots along the riverbank were spaced at regular intervals, the first being Speaker Mandeville.  The Speaker is of course effectively the chairperson of the House of Commons, keeping the sometimes rowdy MPs in check during their Parliamentary debates.  It was interesting to see that this was the role that was celebrated rather than the Prime Minister, but then I guess that is more to do with the more ceremonial dress adopted by the Speaker that sets him or her apart from the crowd.

Lambeth Palace

The next mascot was less obvious, being another Tourist.  The Mandeville mascot though seemed to pay homage to traditional buildings rather than a camera wielding version as at Covent Garden.  The mascots along this part of the trail were exclusive to look at though – no crowds around them as we had witnessed earlier.  Behind the wall on the other side of our path was the large expanse of the St Thomas’ Hospital complex and this was celebrated with the next mascot, a Wenlock dressed up as a doctor.

Palace of Westminster

Just beyond the Doctor was a memorial to the Special Operations Executive.  I had never heard of this before but apparently it was a British organisation set up in World War II to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis Powers and to aid local resistance movements.  Needless to say it was top secret and full of extremely brave people.  London seems to be full of these memorials to pieces of history that I know nothing about and this is one of the reasons why a walk around the Capital is so fascinating!

A-Z Wenlock
By now I think we were all feeling a bit of mascot fatigue and we were rather displeased to have to cross the very busy Lambeth Palace Road to find the next mascot, Lambeth Palace Mandeville, outside the gate of the famous old Palace.  This is of course the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leading cleric of the Church of England.  Apparently at the rear of the Palace are some wonderful gardens although there wasn’t time for us to check them out this time.  We had instead to make do with seeing Garden Wenlock, the tribute to the gardens stationed at the end of Lambeth Bridge.  As Thames bridges go, this seemed to be quite a quiet one and was in stark contrast to the hoards we had to endure on the next bridge downstream earlier on the trail.

Westminster Playground
The remaining mascots on the trail were all in the gardens of the Palace of Westminster.  This is the place where we always see our politicians being interviewed so it was funny to see the place in a different context!  The first one we came to was that iconic tool of every taxi driver, the A-Z map.  I can remember my Dad having one of these as a kid and being bewildered by the number of roads on every page.  It seemed unfathomable to me that so many people could live in London and even now as an adult with experience of hundreds of trips to the Capital, I can only just about find my way round.  I guess even in these days of Satnavs and smartphones the humble A-Z still has its navigational place?

Household Cavalry Wenlock

When we entered the park we passed a rather lame looking playground.  I assume the politicians don't play here otherwise I am sure that the facilities would be far better!  The last mascots on the trail were much to be expected.  We had Victorian, Household Cavalry and Westminster Abbey mascots in various parts of the park.  Most of the tourists though were at the Palace end of the park looking at statues of some of the famous people on show.  The Rodin statue of the Burghers of Calais was particularly popular, although personally I liked the Buxton Memorial to the abolition of slavery better.

Buxton Memorial

This was the end of the trail and due to the linear nature of it, realistically we had to close the loop and return once again to Westminster station.  The Red Route seemed to celebrate governance of Britain, taking in the seats of Government and the Church en route.  It was a straightforward trail to navigate, which was welcome after the more convoluted trails that we had completed earlier. It had been a long and tiring day but we managed to see 39 mascots in total across the three routes.  A pretty good effort we thought and despite the kids being very tired they were still asking whether there was time to see more?  Not today, but we had planned a last trip to walk the remaining two routes on another day. 

Richard the Lionheart

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Mayor of London Discovery Trails - Purple Route

Red Bus Wenlock
Having completed the Pink Route on the Mayor’s Discovery Trails we were all eager to see more straight away and so we made the short journey from Covent Garden to Piccadilly Circus to begin the Purple Trail.  The official blurb for this one was "Piccadilly and Oxford Street are the stars of this trail which offers views of the city’s grand architecture and historical squares" and on paper at least it looked like quite a varied route.

Nutty Taxi
Our first Wenlock was immediately outside Piccadilly Circus Station and across the road from Eros, the famous statue at the heart of the square.  We didn’t bother to go and look as it was thronged with people as usual.  Instead we waited patiently to get our picture by the almost equally popular Red Bus Wenlock, perhaps my favourite of the day so far.

Window Shopping
Having bagged the first of the trail so quickly, we set off eagerly down Piccadilly in search of the second.  It soon became clear that Piccadilly is no ordinary shopping street.  All the shops sell only high end and luxury items – even the bakers shops sold macaroons that could only be obtained by those with sizable wallets.  Nearly £2 for a smidgeon of a cake is not what I am used to paying!  Nevertheless we enjoyed window shopping immensely as we walked down to the next mascot on the trail.

Gemstones Wenlock
Gemstones Wenlock probably adequately described the tone of the shopping opportunities along the way and this was quite a brightly coloured Wenlock, with a pattern that was supposed to resemble the various jewels on offer in stores all along the road.  The mascot wasn’t the only gem along here though – we also passed the beautiful buildings of the Royal Academy and the Queen’s Grocer, Fortnum and Mason.  The latter looked a lot of fun with a jaunty looking musical score decoration across the front.

Burlington Arcade
We continued along Piccadilly, sticking our nose into a shopping arcade that was quite interesting looking.  It was tempting to have continued right to the end but was sadly the wrong direction so we continued onward to opposite the Ritz Hotel, where we had to turn right and find the next Wenlock, this one a Queen’s Guardsman, complete with bearskin hat.  Surprisingly we had this one to ourselves, allowing us time to inspect at our leisure.

Queen's Guard Wenlock
Further on we were pleased to find a green space, the first we had encountered on trails for some time, in the shape of Berkeley Square.  The Square was dominated by some very attractive plane trees, so it was perhaps no surprise to see that one of the mascots in the square was named after the trees.  The other though was quite confusing – the plinth and guide said it was called Tyger Tyger Mandeville but the decoration depicted butterflies.  I suspected a  change had been made and a web search suggested that the original one might have been damaged?  I did find one picture in its original colours, but much was being obscured by a repair man.  The replacement artwork was still beautifully done, even if a different theme.

Afternoon Tea Wenlock
We crossed the road from the park and headed around the corner into Mount Street, where we found the next one - a plain Wenlock.  Perhaps a little dull after all the highly decorated ones, but it did fit its surroundings quite well.  We had entered a part of London awash with buildings dedicated to various diplomatic missions from different countries.  Many of the buildings looked very well appointed and expensive to maintain.  The streetscape was absolutely immaculate, with not a spot of grime, let alone litter!  We were now in the heart of Mayfair, the most expensive neighbourhood on a Monopoly board and easy to see why!

We headed for Grosvenor Square on the next block and were amused to see the Canadian and US Embassies face each other across the square, neighbours here in London as well as in North America!  The centre of Grosvenor Square was thronged with people and overseen by the very impressive statue of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, surely one the most famous of America's Presidents.
Boris Bikes
Grosvenor Square had two mascots on the eastern corners.  We saw Afternoon Tea Wenlock first and then Cycling Mandeville, rather fittingly stationed by one of the cycle racks contained the so-called 'Boris Bikes'.  These are designed for short term hire - a scheme that deserves some more investigation by me I think!  Might be a good way to have a look around some more of London in the future.

Roosevelt Statue
The onward route was slightly convoluted but did give us the opportunity to take a look at Bond Street, a very different kind of shopping street to Picadilly, with more everyday shops than its more illustrious neighbour.  It was only a brief flirtation for us though as we headed down South Molton Street.  This was a pleasant surprise - a pedestrianised shopping street with some individual looking shops.  The girls were attracted to a young woman who was blowing bubbles outside a cosmetic shop - she blew them some extra big ones to chase!

Blowing Bubbles
The two mascots in South Molton Street were a lot of fun.  Mandeville had morphed into a shopper, complete with many bags of shopping while further along the road Wenlock was struggling with many dogs to walk!  The sun had come out again from behind the dark clouds and showed them off at their best.  Shoppers looked at them rather bemused as they passed – we were alone in taking an interest in the mascots.  At the end of the street was a freshly painted phone box and it was only at this point that I realised that all the traditional red telephone boxes in town had had a makeover – they all looked resplendent in their new coats!

Shopper Mandeville
We turned left at the end of the street and continued window shopping as we wandered along to the next mascot in Hanover Square.  Alongside the square were some major works going on for the Crossrail Project; major new rail infrastructure under construction that will massively increase capacity on the railways coming in from the east and west of London as well as provide some new direct routes, notably between City and Heathrow Airports.  The mascot in Hanover Square was appropriately called Builder and was a Mandeville dressed up in a pretty authentic looking rail worker’s outfit.

Resplendent Phone Box
The relative peace and quiet of Hanover Square was soon swapped for the madness of Regent Street.  Twenty years ago on a Sunday this street would have been quiet and all the shops closed but today it was alive with people ‘leisure shopping’.  Regent Street itself always looks grand but this year it has taken on extra importance as it hosts all the flags for the participating nations in the Olympics and Paralympics.  The whole street looked absolutely fantastic with flags strung between the shops across the road the whole way down.
Builder Mandeville

We took the opportunity ourselves to take a break from the walk so that the kids could spend some time looking around Hamleys, one of the biggest toy shops in the World and a place that I still like browsing around!  We spent nearly an hour checking out everything and particularly loved the Lego models of the Royal Family on the top floor!

Regency Street Flags
Back outside we crossed the road and found Groovy Wenlock, a celebration of the Swinging Sixties and nearby Carnaby Street.  It was a phenomenally popular mascot and we struggled to get a shot of it, in contrast to those a couple further back on the trail.  The walk down Regent Street was a bit of a trial to be honest, with many of the shops being completely off limits to look at on account of the enormous crowds hemmed in on the pavements.  The Ferrari shop in particular was extremely popular, although I suspect that the Formula One Car on show in the main entrance wasn’t actually for sale!

The Royal Family

We eventually worked our way through the crowds to the part of Regent Street that sweeps around to Piccadilly Circus.  To me the architecture of these buildings is amazing – they look so grand, especially the way they curve around with the road.  The last mascot was here, Linen Hall Mandeville, a celebration of traditional outfitting in this corner of London.

Groovy Wenlock
From here it was a short walk back to Piccadilly Circus to be reunited with Red Bus Wenlock once again.  This route was one for the architecture fans and perhaps the best collection of mascots that we had seen thus far.  They were certainly a varied bunch, celebrating transport and culture in this part of the West End.  The contrast between the quiet parts of Mayfair and the busy shopping streets of Piccadilly and Regent Street was quite marked and we saw some more parts of London that we would not otherwise dreamed of going to.  Having completed this one we still had enough left in the tank for one last trail and so from here we headed to the Red Route.

South End of Regency Street