It was rather a dull day (well, it is the winter, after all) but we went for a little ramble along the Southbank.
In front of the Royal Festival Hall is a row of shops and cafes. We stopped off in Giraffe for a late breakfast. On the other side of the bridge (see below) is the big Ferris wheel called the London Eye which you can see to the right of the picture. What sort of view people were getting on a dull day like this, I don’t know. As it happens, I have never taken a turn on the London Eye. The thought of queueing for ages to be locked in a capsule with strangers for 30 minutes is not appealing. We did, however, visit the local branch of Foyles bookshop.
The Southbank Centre and Royal Festival Hall are beside the Hungerford Bridge. This is the second bridge here, the first being the 1845 suspension footbridge built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Then along came the South Eastern Railway Company to build Charing Cross Railway Station. They bought Brunel’s bridge and replaced it in 1864 with a wrought-iron railway bridge with a footbridge running alongside it on the downriver side (the side you see in the photo).
The footbridge lasted until the turn of the present century and I have walked across it many times for both business and pleasure. It often became rather crowded, especially during the tourist season, and so the dear old footbridge was demolished (though parts of it still remain, attached to the railway bridge, like islands, providing a refuge for gulls and pigeons) and a pair of footbridges, one on either side of the main bridge, opened in 2002, called, for want of a better name, the Golden Jubilee Bridges. Those sloping white poles you see in the photo provide support for their respective bridges.
The Southbank is a place to see curious and comical things, and nothing is more curious and comical than the set of objects produced by Danish artist Jeppe Hein. They are officially called Modified Social Benches and are obviously based, if loosely, on the concept of the conventional park bench. Each, however, is deformed in an individual way and can only marginally, if at all, serve as seating. Is it a piece of expensive nonsense or a clever and meaningful art project? We will each form our own opinion about that and this page might help you make up your mind.
The Thames is tidal at this point and the beaches expand and shrink as the water level sinks and rises. All sorts of interesting things turn up on the exposed mud and the wildlife is quick to claim its share. I watched these pigeons dancing back and forth as the wavelets came and went, revealing morsels for them to eat.
The area underneath the Hungerford Bridge is rather gloomy but at least provides shelter that is put to good use at various times during the year. The Southbank hosts several markets, some permanent like the famous Southbank Book Market and others more transitory like the Christmas market.
During the run-up to Christmas and the New Year the market is crowded as people peruse the displays of jewellery, ornaments, artworks and many other types of goods. Today it was less crowded and the stall keepers had time to read their newspapers or, perhaps, reflect on the ups and downs of the retail trade.
I had meant this to be a artistic rendering of the London Eye caught in the branches of the trees but it didn’t really work out. I also captured one of the Dolphin Lamps that adorn the Embankment and which are beautiful and interesting for their own sake.
The base of the lamp features two dolphins curling around the lamp and one another. These are not realistic dolphins but look rather like big fish or like the heraldic dolphins commonly seen in coats of arms. The lamps were installed on the then new Embankment in the 1860s and were among the first public lights to be powered by electricity. They were designed by George John Vulliamy, who became superintending architect to the Metropolitan Board of Works in 1861. He derived his inspiration from artifacts he had seen in Italy. He could be proud that his lamps continue in use and are well loved a century and a half later.
We now walked upriver towards Westminster Bridge, passing the London Eye, the Sea Life Aquarium and County Hall. It was abominably crowded, making me quite grumpy and so I didn’t take any photos.
We wanted to go onto Westminster Bridge but access is on the upstream side and so it is necessary first to pass under the bridge. The path leads through this unprepossessing-looking tunnel. The notice welcomes cyclists, something that I consider a bad idea as I think it wrong to mix pedestrians and cyclists. Experience on tow paths and other places where both are allowed convinces me that they need to be kept apart.
Wild creatures started infiltrating towns as soon as there were towns for them to infiltrate but there seems to have been an increase in the wildlife population of towns and cities in modern times. Perhaps this is because city expansion is destroying natural habitats so that there is no option but to move into built-up areas. Also, humans are so messy that they leave plenty of food lying around for wildlife to eat. Pigeons were always the archetypal town birds but in recent decades, herring gulls have moved into towns and cities in large numbers and more recently still, I think to have seen increasing numbers of black-headed gulls. Smaller and less aggressive than herring gulls, they are expert and acrobatic flyers and can even hover when facing into the wind. This one seemed quite at home and watched me with interest as I took his photo. As it is winter, his chocolate-brown head feathers have yet to reappear but his red legs and the smudges behind the eyes show what species he belongs to.
My last photo of the ramble was this rather touristy shot of what is probably the most famous clock in the world. Part of the Palace of Westminster, the clock tower has inescapably come to be known by the name of the great bell that sounds the hours, Big Ben. Pedants grumble at you for calling the clock Big Ben but they’ll just have to lump it.
Sadly, the chimes of Big Ben are to fall silent and will remain so for several months as essential repairs are carried out to the tower. We will of course manage in the meantime but a resumption of Big Ben’s triumphant peals will be awaited with anticipation!