15 October 2016

walk the shopping streets

No shopping on this tour!

These streets attract millions of visitors each year, and are among the UK's most popular and iconic shopping districts. You need a sixth sense to negotiate them, dodging the crowds with their brown paper bags, shopping bag roulette perhaps? The famous streets of Oxford and Regents offer far more than just shopping, as we are about to discover. Having started these walking challenges (Walk the Circle Line & Walk the South Bank), I was looking to try something a little different, and this is what we've come up with. So as the video below clearly shows, Sketches is going to Walk the Shopping Streets. The walking tour with a little bit more. The little bit more being a treasure hunt that you can complete, more of that in a moment.

The Route and the Treasure Hunt 

This walk takes you down Oxford Street, onto Regents Street, back to Oxford street, onto Regents Street again and then for the final stretch back up Oxford street to the finish. Oh, you can also do a detour down Bond Street and at various other stages have the opportunity to head off to interesting spots, if you desire. Although there is no set pattern, by following the route outlined will help with getting the clues for the treasure hunt. So before we get down to details, what about this treasure hunt. 

At the end of the article are ten cryptic clues to various places, street names or buildings along the route. You need to find them and take the first letter of each answer, which will in turn give you an anagram. Unravel the anagram and this is your final destination. The first person(s) to tweet Sketches (@gavdah) a selfie at the final place will get a signed original drawing from an upcoming post. So good luck, most of all enjoy the walk and have fun!

Stage 1: Oxford Street (West) to Regents Street (South)

This walk starts at the top end of Oxford street (West), on the Southern side, at the junction with Park Lane. I really hope you're still with me? Our journey begins opposite the (currently being refurbished,) The Cumberland. We're standing on the opposite corner face it, next to a tacky souvenir shop. Behind me is Park Lane, to the left side Hyde Park. In front of me is the start of our walk. We're heading down Oxford street towards Bond Street station. Strictly speaking Bond Street isn't actually part of the tour. However, for as long as I can remember, I've always thought the top end of Oxford Street as it is, was in fact Bond Street, but it isn't. There is a New and Old Bond Street but not a Bond Street.  So the Bond street I thought existed is in fact Oxford Street! I do hope that's all clear? 

From an aesthetic viewpoint the buildings aren't that interesting. At the top end the Primark shop dominates, and you'll be avoiding brown paper bagged shoppers as you walk pass. Bag dodging is going to be part and parcel of this walk. 

oxford street
The grand building of Selfridges

It is worth looking to your right as you walk down the street, the side roads lead into the Mayfair district and there are some quant looking pubs that are not too far off the beaten track. You'll soon pass the famous department store Selfridges. It sits rather awkwardly amongst the more modern buildings. We're on the opposite side, so for the moment no stopping for a look around, just a quick picture.

As you continue down you pass Bond Street station and will finally arrive at the road that is New Bond Street, which leads into Old Bond Street. I've never been down it, so took a quick detour and realised why. It's the street of the top end labels, Gucci etc. Security guards standing outside, checking to see whether you look like the right type of clientele. Which I'm clearly not! So if you have the money this is for you. If you don't have the money, its still a more interesting street than Oxford Street, so well worth the detour. You could also do a bit of spot the sports car whilst you're at it! Once back on track it's not long before you reach the central crossing that cuts the two streets in half. End of stage 1. 

Stage 2: Regents Street (South) to Oxford Street (East)

Its at this point you are at the London's version of the famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo. Not as large, not as busy, but nevertheless its modelled on the original and you can enjoy standing at its centre for a brief moment. The timer on the lights will let you know whether you're about to get squashed by a bus! Back to the walk. We're heading down Regents Street towards Piccadilly for this stage. If you can take your eyes away from the shops, then Regents Street is a far more aesthetic street than Oxford. Grand buildings aplenty, the final stretch before Piccadilly with its beautifully curved building that sweeps into the distance is a highlight. Once at the Eros statue and the Piccadilly TV screen you know its time to head back up Regents street. 

Regents Street - looking towards Piccadilly
The side you've just walked down isn't perhaps the most interesting but the fun and interest improves once you start heading back up. Hidden behind the upward section of the road you'll find Carnaby Street. Famous from the swinging 60's and the explosion in fashion, art and culture. If you have time there is a quainter street running parallel, its called Kingly Street (see picture below), although slightly ruined by the facades of the restaurants and shops it still has a old world look and feel. You can also continue through to the arch of Liberty department store, and avoid the crowds that throng the outside of Hamleys toy shop on Regents Street. Especially with Christmas around the corner. Ah the chaos! It's not long before we're back at the Shibuya style crossing. Hopefully you've got the five answers so far? Any ideas of the final destination yet?

Kingly Street - just off Carnaby Street

Stage 3: Oxford Street (East) to Regents Street (North)

We're back at the crossing. Time to head down the southern side of Oxford street toward Centre Point and Tottenham Court Road. In all honesty there isn't that much of interest to be found down this side, in fact its a little bit of a mess. Due in part to the Crossrail building works. Not even the buildings hold much architectural beauty, apart from the grand building featured below. The streets heading off down this section are the gateway into the Soho district, a place offering an abundance of cafes, restaurants, theatres and the odd record shop. So apart from gathering the clues for the treasure hunt, its best to reach Centre Point as quickly as possible and head back down towards Regents Street. Before we do here's an interesting fact for you to ponder as you walk this uninteresting section. 

* 180 million people visit Oxford Street every year (source: news)

That's a lot of shopping bags, a lot of people! I just wonder how they managed to calculate that figure? If you know please comment below, would love to know. 

Oxford Streets most stunning building? I'll let you decide

Coffee at the BBC

Once back at the central crossing, yes we're there again! Its time to head up the northern side of Regents Street. Looking up the street your eyes will be drawn to All Souls Church and Broadcasting House, home of the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation). It's worth a quick stop off here too. There is a Cafe Nero outside the entrance which looks into The One studio (a popular magazine programme that's on every week night on BBC 1). So why not sit outside and do a little celebrity spotting as you sip your latte. For the record, did I see anyone famous when I sat there with my latte? Well yes, sort of.  I saw an ageing ex-Radio 1 DJ, a young Radio 1 DJ and a newsreader, oh and a women wearing a cardboard dress, with slogans written all over it with blue tinted hair! 

board casting house
Broadcasting House - Home to the BBC
With latte drunk, and enough celebrity spotting for one day. It's time to head back towards that crossing again, and the final leg of our walk, oh and the final clues for the treasure hunt. 

Stage 4: Regents Street (North) to Oxford Street (West)

The final stage takes you back down Regents Street and again onto Oxford Street, heading toward Selfridges. Again as you battle the bags of rushing shoppers and commuters, there are plenty of great places to explore just off the beaten track. One such place is St Christopher's Place; restaurants and cafes make up this small square that has a continental feel about it. It's hidden away off Oxford Street and is well worth a stop off for a cup of tea or a smaller bite to eat. Before here there is one point of interest. The sculpture that's on the side of the John Lewis building. It's not especially pretty, in fact it looks oddly out of place really, but does at least grab your attention as you walk by. I digress. 

'Good Afternoon your Majesty' - at the entrance to St Christopher's Place
Not long after St Christopher's Place you come to one of London great shopping stores. It's finally your chance to visit Selfridges. You could probably spend the rest of your holiday or day wondering through the various departments. So I'll leave that to you. Walk up the hill a little further and you've reached the end of the walk. Arriving back at the beginning. Perhaps a little weary? Perhaps a little lighter in pocket? Perhaps with all the answers to the challenge below? What you have done is walk the major shopping streets of London, taken in the excesses of commercialism from the traditional high street branches to the exclusive and witnessed the central part of London in full flight. So what about the treasure hunt.

The Treasure Hunt

To add a bit of fun to the walk we've created a little treasure hunt, crack the clues and the jumbled anagram to reveal a famous place, museum, monument or shop? Take a selfie with the place and tweet it to @gavdah to win an original piece of framed artwork from an upcoming story that will be published here on Sketches. The answers will be published in a later post. So it just leaves me to wish you luck! 

Walk the Shopping Streets

So that was the walk the shopping street tour. If you can resist the shops, then I hope this walk gives you an insight into one of the busiest districts of London. You've joined the 180 million! These are interesting streets in their own right, not just streets of shops with familiar names. They offer so much more. I also hope that you will try the challenge. Remember the first person to send the picture of the anagram will win a signed original drawing from our upcoming Arnold story posts. 

Thanks for reading, your comments are always appreciated. So it just leaves me to wish you happy shopping and happy treasure hunting!


1 October 2016

building dens

I am no Bear Grylls, lets get that clear straight right away. I love the outdoors, the bracing wind, getting down and dirty with nature and all that it can throw at us. Which in the UK is mostly rain! I'm not though, like many, into the extreme lifestyle of living in The Amazon or another unforgiving corner of the globe, surviving on next to nothing. Although if a visit to the Amazon was offered I'd certainly take it. Autumn is that wonderful season where we can head out and explore the local area knowing that we can also go back home to a warm bed and a nice cup of pumpkin soup or a cinnamon flavoured hot chocolate. So it's goodbye September and hello to October

Autumn has finally blown the summer excesses away and is now well and truly in full swing, well it certainly is in the UK. Although the ocassional warm day rears its head, the change is for all to see. The trees are starting to undergo their annual colour show, Halloween decorations and, whisper it, Christmas goods are on the shelves. Autumn is such a great season to explore the countryside and try out things that will add fun and joy to a weekend. So why not try a bit of Den-building? 

Autumn has arrived 
Building Dens
Head to any woodland area and I'm sure you'll see an array of dens, large and small. Old fallen branches propped up on the sides of trees. You might go over and have a quick peek, impressed with whoever had built it. The fact is that they are great fun to build. So why not give it a go yourself. 

Take the kids out or go with your friends, head to your nearest wood or forest, find a good tree as your base, look for a bundle of fallen branches and away you go. Stack them to create a tipi style hut, gather up some smaller branches to compliment the larger ones being used as the main structure. Before you know it you'll have a den of your own in no time at all. Then you can sit in it and admire your handy work. From researching some experts suggest to keep them small. I'd say it's really down to the space you have and the amount of time on your hands. Most of all though, have fun! Because it is fun. 

The making of a den
Why Build Dens?
Den-building was exactly what we did last weekend with M & K. Firstly up at Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire (a mecca for dens), and then the following day in our local wood. Both places had a number of dens already built, some large and some small. We had great fun building ours, finding the branches, constructing it and running around the woods. We created our own little place that will hopefully still be there when we next return. So why build a den?

Here's some reasons why it should be a top Autumn activity, whatever your age. 

* Den-building, according to research suggests that it is particularly important for children's healthy development. It allows them to express their independence and sense of self

* Den-building teaches people about the natural environment, problem solving, team work, creativity and leadership. So it doesn't matter what age you are, den-building  is for everyone.

Make your dens large or small
autumn activities
Fun for all - young and old
Get Those Wellies On!
So if you ever needed an excuse to be a kid again, then surely building a den is the perfect one. It's a free activity and gets you outdoors. Go with a few friends and why not take a picnic? Take your work mates out for a bit of bonding? You could even sleep in it, if you're allowed (best to check with the place where you're building it!) Autumn should be about enjoying those final few days before the hard winter sets in. Den-building gives you that opportunity to enhance a walk or try something new. 

Happy Building! 

17 September 2016

walk the south bank

Without a doubt, London is a perfect city to explore on foot. If you want proof of that then the first in our London walking challenges, see Walk the Circle Line, illustrated that point perfectly. For the second walking challenge I decided to tackle one of the busiest tourist stretches of the Capital, taking in some of the cities most iconic sites, sounds and smells. Although shorter in distance, around 9 miles (14km). Although at one point it didn't feel like it! The walk nevertheless should be put on any hardy travellers itinerary to the big city. So Sketches gives you, Walk the South Bank.

Houses of Parliament from the South Bank

The Route

There is no better way to understand and feel a city than walking it. London as we stated at the beginning is a great city to explore by foot.  How else can you really see what goes on, the sheer amount of different activities available, the people and the vast range of sites. This second challenge was to take us along the Embankment and onto Greenwich. Using the Thames Path or for some of it at least and Cycle Route 4 as our route. Again no need for maps with this challenge as its well signposted. A word of warning before setting off on this one! You will either spend a fortune on attractions, food and drink. Or if you are happy just to visit the free attractions and perhaps stop off in a cafe, then its a very cheap way to see the city. Also you could spend a whole week if you take in everything, so be selective.

Our starting point in the Vauxhall region by the Thames 

Vauxhall to the London Eye

I could have picked any number of bridges or landmarks along the Thames as the starting point. Battersea Power Station a short walk away from where I started would make for a perfect starting point. I decided upon Vauxhall (on the Victoria Line), as time wasn't on my side. I started late again! Also it looked the closest to the river, according to the tube map anyway! When you step out of the station you are greeted with a familiar site, especially if you have watched recent James Bond films. The home of MI5 rises towards the skyline on your right. Look to the left and you have high rise luxury apartments, offering fantastic views across London. Oh to be able to afford one of them. The Thames path is a few meters away, so in hindsight I chose well. So it was onwards towards the London Eye. Across the river you'll see a number of key attractions. The Tate Britain gallery and of course The Houses of Parliament. Being on the south side offers you some fantastic photo opportunities of these famous buildings. So make the most of it and snap away. Just along from the start is the base for The Duck Tours, another great way to explore the capital in a more unique way. So much choice! 

Take the London Duck Tour - opposite the Tate Britain
The pathway is safe, wide and when it rains (which it briefly did on this trip) offers shelter. At one point in one of the tunnels it was like a meeting of the United Nations! All friendly and shows the sheer diversity of the people that live and visit the capital. There are outside cafes and a floating restaurant, so you won't get hungry, but I didn't have time to stop on this occasion. As you walk this part of the walk, look out for the old rowing boats that are now seats! They are on the opposite side of the road (to your right). Looks a little odd but is a nice feature and again a good photo moment. As you walk towards the London Eye, the crowds steadily increases. So from the relatively calm of the beginning, we were about to start the dodging of groups and slightly lost tourists. Heading into one of my favourite parts of London. 

The best view of London?

London Eye to Tower Bridge 

This next stage could conceivably take you hours to walk! Actually if you visited everything, days! This is the section that will give you the most distractions. Theatres, restaurants, galleries, pubs, you name it, its along this stretch. Within a few meters of the London Eye you will be bombarded with all sorts of attractions. At the time I was walking this stretch of London there was a fairground and comedy area, bars and much more besides. If its not there when you visit, don't worry, during the Winter months there will be plenty of themed bars to keep you occupied. There is always something going on. After the Festival Hall and the BFI cinemas and museum you head into a treelined boulevard, its romantic and relaxing at the same time, and you'll see many people enjoying this little bit of London bliss. The National Theatre sits behind this area, so within such a short distance your night time entertainment is certainly sorted. On this occasion there was a free concert area. Live bands perform and during the evening there was a broadcast of a play (not a new one but a recording of a play that was on at the National Theatre a few years back). On this evening it was starring James Corden. Thats the beauty of the South Bank. There is so much going on for all ages. Most of it free! 

Can't beat a traditional fairground ride
As you make your way along the South Bank, the choice of places to eat and explore are numerous. You pass iconic buildings, OXO tower being one. As you stroll along the banks, you'll hear buskers, see the working river and enjoy the sites across on the North Side, St Pauls Cathedral for instance. It's not long after the boulevard of trees that you'll reach The Tate Modern and Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, within a stones throw of each other. If my memory serves me well there was a street performer, standing still dressed as Yoda! It maybe just me, but I personally prefer a busker sing to standing watching someone, standing there! Depending on your schedule and the day of the week you'll also have Borough Market to distract you (some great local and international food being served up), the Clink Museum, Southwark Cathedral and a little further along The HMS Belfast. There really are so many top attractions that I've no doubt missed out a few. A need to mention the shed featured below!

Is it a shed or a hut? Visit the Anchor Pub and you can decide

A special note, don't just look at the attractions, there are other sites to see. A shed! Well technically its probably not a shed, but it's outside The Anchors pub and in my mind its a shed! This is a famous pub dating back to Shakespearean times, so well worth a stop off. Also just around the corner was some fantastic graffiti. I know that its not to everyones taste but when done well it adds to a place. Gives it a splash of colour. You pass city hall and there in front of you stands Tower Bridge. London's most famous bridge. Photo opportunities aplenty here.

Make sure to look at the gap in the middle!

Tower Bridge to Greenwich

The final stretch of the walk, was in fact the longest part and perhaps the least interesting part. Although there are plenty of hidden gems to be found. It's just that they aren't as well known. Think the end goal here. Greenwich is a fabulous place to explore and you're only a few miles away from it now. What is interesting to observe on this stretch is the converted warehouses that are now fabulously expensive apartments. Its great that these areas have been rejuvenated and some of the places must be wonderful to live in. Before mixing it with the rich, why not mix it with the ultra rich in St Katherine's Dock. You'll have to cross Tower Bridge to do so. This is a great place to have a nosey at the super rich. Yachts of all shapes and sizes can be found moored there, alongside cafes and shops. It makes for a nice distraction but time as always was against us and at the time I was unsure just how far the walk would be! 

So this stretch requires you to weave your way through nooks and alleyways. Across bridges and around wharfs. So although this part doesn't have the major sites of the first part, it makes up for it with its quirky details. Old cranes have become features in the re-developments. Sculptures and small museums are dotted along the route. Traditional pubs and cafes provide rest. All the time the Thames is beside you, and across the way the Canary Wharf and the business district. Sometimes the signs on this section do seem to just disappear, but a little intuition and luck and you'll be on the right path again. So although a little weary, the sails of the Cutty Sark come into view. Greenwich is a day trip in itself, for today it was just the finishing point and some refreshments. 

The re-imagining of the South side

Walk the South Bank

So what a journey. You really do get to see the great features of London, all done at your own pace. This was a 9 mile / 5 hour walk, that could conceivably take 24 hours! Or even a week if you visited all the attractions this route offers. Whilst dodging cyclists and cursing at the never-ending final stretch, you get a real view of the city and what it offers. Finishing with the majestic view of Greenwich and the Cutty Sark. Walking the South Bank is always a pleasure and never fails to disappoint. Whether its all or some of it you decide to tackle, you'll have experienced the very best that London can offer. 

So thank you for reading our latest challenge, I hope that it has inspired you. If so please let me know about your adventures along this stretch of the river. Thanks as always and keep a look out for the next challenge! 



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