The A4 used to begin in the identical place because the A3, at the Monument. Ten years in the past walking the first mile alongside the A4 would have taken me west along Cannon Avenue, spherical St Paul’s Cathedral, down Ludgate Hill and up Fleet Road. Writing about this journey may easily have crammed a blogging week all by itself. But that’s not the primary mile any more. Terrorist paranoia in the town of London has beheaded this particular mile from the route, forcing the A4 to retreat to the sting of the town beyond a miserable safety checkpoint cordon. And now the good West Highway starts someplace quite much less glamorous.
Highway begins: Holborn Circus
Six roads meet at Holborn Circus, which is now little more than a glorified roundabout surrounding a statue of Prince Albert trapped within the middle. The brand new route chosen for the A4 follows the most insignificant of those roads, that tiny street within the centre of the picture squeezed inbetween a department of Lloyds Financial institution to the left and the glass-fronted Sainsbury’s head office to the suitable. That is New Fetter Lane, which leads earlier than very lengthy to the equally quiet and slender Fetter Lane. On the junction of the two stands London’s only cross-eyed statue, a memorial to 18th century libertarian John Wilkes. Right here too are magnificent Gothic buildings which as soon as formed the general public Data Office however now house the King’s Faculty library. In case you personal a replica of Peter Ackroyd’s London – the Biography (especially if you’ve always been which means to get around to studying it) you then would possibly enjoy the centuries-outdated story of this historic backstreet in Chapter 22.
On the foot of Fetter Lane the A4 turns lastly turns right to hitch its authentic path alongside the western end of Fleet Street. Nonetheless world-renowned as London’s journalistic coronary heart, the press have long since moved out and the one papers you will find in Fleet Avenue these days are bought in a tiny newsagents. This finish of the street, nevertheless, has all the time discovered more favour with monetary and authorized practices. Right here you’ll discover Kid’s (Britain’s oldest bank, 1661), Hoare’s (London’s solely remaining independent bank) and a department of Coutts (the Queen’s financial institution), none of which (inexplicably) has a cashpoint exterior. A magic timbered portal on the south facet leads by way of to the Temple, the place the country’s prime legal minds scurry round a maze of ancient passages and courtyards looking for the proper argument. And opposite the entrance, standing guard in the midst of the road, stands the dragon that acts as a replacement for Temple Bar (about which I’ve already written far an excessive amount of). It could not look as impressive as its arched predecessor, however at least visitors can get past it.
After Temple Bar Fleet Road metamorphoses into the Strand, named after the foreshore of the River Thames which as soon as lapped nearer than it does today. Benjamin Disraeli described the Strand’s heady mix of palaces, resorts and playhouses as ‘perhaps the best avenue in Europe’, though much of the gloss has been lost since then. At the highest end of the road is the coffee house the place Thomas Twining established his first teashop, and also the Strand’s most well-known theatre – the Royal Courts of Justice. Subsequent, alongside Aldwych, the A4 passes three famous homes – Australia House (your portal to Down Beneath), Bush House (BBC global HQ) and the monumental Somerset House (as soon as residence to the general Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages but now extra well-known for its winter ice rink – closes Sunday).
Strand’s most well-recognized stretch leads from Aldwych right down to Trafalgar Sq. alongside a bustling boulevard packed by theatre-goers and vacationers. There’s a raised cobbled strip down the centre of the street that most pedestrians use as an elongated traffic island, however I took this path to finish my journey. This kept me away from the restaurants, the crimson phone packing containers and the resort foyers, and a safe distance from the cell phone outlets, the bewildered foreigners and the Starbucks clones. I prevented the demonstrations outside the Zimbabwean embassy, resisted the charms of Stanley Gibbons the stamp seller and bypassed the Savoy Hotel at the end of a tiny cul-de-sac (the one road within the UK the place traffic drives on the correct). However most of all I mourned the passing of the magnificent mansions that when lined this historic road.
Mile ends: Charing Cross
The end of my journey was additionally the ultimate resting place of Queen Eleanor of Castile. She died whereas on royal walkabout in Lincolnshire in 1290, and a grieving Edward I had a cross erected at each of the 12 locations the place his spouse’s coffin rested on the lengthy journey residence to London. Seven centuries later simply three Eleanor Crosses remain however alas the monument at Charing Cross is just not fairly certainly one of them, being merely a stone replica erected in 1863.
Ok, so the primary mile of the brand new A4 does look like no less than as fascinating as the unique. And the second mile’s even better, persevering with from Trafalgar Sq. to pass alongside Pall Mall and Piccadilly (which I’ve already spent a complete month writing about). Stone Island Velvet Hat In Black Of all the capital’s major trunk roads, it’s the A4 that gets off to the best start.