A beautiful afternoon, one of the first of summer, and appointment in Mark Lane to give blood. From my new office location in Bankside this called for a walk across the City of London almost completely from west to east, with a few quick pauses along the way. The alternative, the District Line, was too traumatic to even contemplate.
London is well-discovered in this fashion: walk your route, and dart in to somewhere that catches your eye. The churches of the City of London are especially rewarding in this respect. Within the Square Mile you’re only ever steps from one. They don’t take long to have a nose around. With the exception of St Bartholomew-the-Great they don’t charge an admission, though donations are generally requested and always well received. (Do try to leave something. For less than the price of a pint you can help the upkeep of these wonderful treasure chests of London history.)
The northern Thames Path is less instantly rewarding than the southern track, but in some ways it is more interesting. Walking east from Blackfriars Bridge you pass under bridges and through buildings, weaving to and fro with the river, past the remnants of the ancient street and wharf layout now dominated by hulks of office buildings.
In the late afternoon quiet it feels very peaceful, a few steps from the roar of Thames Street, lower and upper. But detour you do, because, you know, and I popped up at London Bridge and paced along Lower Thames Street.
The shining sun and knowledge that I was close to St Dunstan-in-the-east led to a northward turn. I have history with this churchyard, marvelling more than once on its capacity to transform a day’s mood. It is a peaceful, beautiful place; spiritual, graceful and special. I went to check it was still there, still the same. It was, and was wonderful.
I walked on, looking for Mark Lane, my destination. All Hallows by the Tower caught my eye, and with a few minutes to spare I strolled in.
In here is not only the jaw-dropping Roman pavement I’d come to see, but fragments of Roman, Saxon and medieval masonry, plaques and sculpture.The sanctuary has some lovely medieval brasses to gawp at in wonder. The Crypt Museum gives way to a small chapel with an altar from Château Pèlerin, a crusader castle on the coast of modern-day Israel. The Templars lugged it all the way home, 800 years ago. It probably came across old London Bridge and ended up here after an incredible journey. If you come you’ll probably have the city’s oldest church all to yourself.
The clock ticked on and I was in danger of slipping into tardiness. This is never acceptable and should not even be possible. The church of St Olave Hart Street was close enough to being on my way to tarry on the way through: here Samuel Pepys worshipped and was buried. Should you need more reason, the church survived the Great Fire. It is small and charming, and full of Londonish busts and statues of former city grandees, including Pepys himself. He is remembered by a Victorian bust. Pepys liked busts.
On then to my appointment, then some work calls in view of the lonely tower of All Hallows Staining, then back through streets now seething with late homeward-bound commuters to home.
Some days you never want to leave, nor to come to an end. Lucky man, he who explore the city in May sunshine.