Rivers (don’t) run straight

Churchill showed less respect for General de Gaulle, for the station Churchill chose to leave London for this final journey, was Waterloo, a reminder to his Gallic partner just who had really won both wars . . . . . . . . . .

Exclusively for Patrons, here is List 9: Run 137 the next ‘run’ from my travelogue Pootling around London: Manor House to Gibson Square, again I hope you find it both amusing and informative.

Thank You again for your support.


Ormonde Gate SW3 to Leman Street E1

It’s one of those rare autumnal mornings; a cloudless sky, heavy dew has settled on the playing fields of Burton Court and the surrounding London plane trees are starting to shed their large leathery leaves, which will prove a headache for Chelsea Council as they cannot be composted and need to be incinerated.

Ahead is the Wren masterpiece, the Royal Hospital Chelsea, inside the Chelsea Pensioners will be in the ‘mess’ enjoying a hearty breakfast. I’m reminded that the design is said to be have been inspired by Hotel des Invalides constructed to serve a similar purpose by King Louis XIV and the sun is just rising behind is baroque frontage.

I’m expecting an easy ride along the north bank of the Thames. Now it is a common misapprehension is that The River runs in a straight line from east to west, so surely this run from a point close to The River to another riverside destination four miles downstream will be just a picturesque drive along the Embankment?

To disprove the old adage of Knowledge schools, that one should always cross The River by the nearest bridge, I’m taken, not along the Embankment, but through Pimlico and onward across Westminster Bridge.

I would later discover that this river crossing now in the shadow of the Victorian Gothic Palace of Westminster was once where Samuel Johnson’s biographer, James Boswell writing in his diary, used the bridge for an altogether different purpose:

Tuesday 10 May 1763 At the bottom of the Haymarket I picked up a strong, jolly young damsel, and taking her under the arm I conducted her to Westminster Bridge, and then in armour complete did I engage her upon this noble edifice. The whim of doing it there with the Thames rolling below us amused me much.

No hanging about with a jolly young damsel for me, it’s a quick glance at the watery depths and skirting around the back of Waterloo Station, past the Old Vic Theatre and crossing the Thames a second time by Southwark Bridge before joining the northern boundary of The River.

When I arrive at Leman Street I find it dissects Royal Mint Street once the home of, well, the Royalist Mint. When coins were literally worth their weight in gold, the edges would be `clipped` and the precious clips melted down and sold. To show chivalry was alive and kicking in Elizabethan England, while male felons accused of clipping were hung, drawn and quartered, the ladies were merely burnt at the stake.

Winston Churchill who died almost to the day 418 years later at least had a sense of humour. His coffin was taken by boat past the London docks and famously, unscripted, the derricks were lowered as a mark of respect. Winston showed less respect for his wartime French ally – General de Gaulle, for the station Churchill chose to leave London was not Paddington for his final journey to Bladon near his ancestral home, but Waterloo, a reminder to his Gallic partner just who had really won both wars.

They may not have the romantic names as Italy’s Rialto or Ponte Vecchio, but for a sheer number of ways one may cross The River, London beats any European city. According to Chris Roberts in his seminal work on the capital`s bridges – Cross River Traffic – in the brackish tidal reach of the Thames between Teddington Lock and the QEII Bridge at Dartford there are twenty-eight crossings. If you factor in those crossings within the M25 the total becomes an astonishing forty-two. The Thames has the only station with entrances on both sides of The River, and technically Blackfriars could also be a footbridge as the platforms span the Thames. In addition, the Emirates cable car, which is mostly empty, provides another alternative to traversing The River.

Rising in the Cotswolds, the Thames makes a 214 mile trip to the sea collecting water as it goes from 3,728 miles of tributaries. At Teddington Lock, the limit of tidal flow, 1,143 million gallons passes over the weir every day.So how can a simple cabbie remember all those crossings within the 6-mile radius of Charing Cross, which spans from the Blackwall Tunnel to Barnes Bridge?

Mnemonics is the answer
Fortuitously three adjacent bridges upriver from Chelsea Bridge have as their initials CAB, but for the best aide de memoir it has to be: `be aware cloudy very liquid water has washed beneath many spanning lengths today’; taking in Battersea, Albert, Chelsea, Vauxhall, Lambeth, Westminster, Hungerford, Waterloo, Blackfriars, Millennium, Southwark, London and Tower Bridges.

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