In January it will be 20 years since I moved into the tiniest studio flat in Earls Court with all my worldly possessions. I was 21, knew no-one and had only ever lived in small towns or the countryside before.
From the very first day I knew London was my place, despite I’m sure everyone in my life thinking it wouldn’t last. Is 20 years long enough to call myself a Londoner now, even if just on an adopted level? It’s certainly the place that I think we’ll be calling home for at least the next 20 years, if not forever.
These last 18 months have been a strange time. People are leaving cities in droves, no longer tied to a daily presence in the office and lured to the coast or the countryside, more space and a smaller mortgage or rental. It’s easy to have your head turned when the world looks very different.
After all, if one of the reasons we were so determined to buy a house with a short journey time to the center was to indulge in restaurants/theatres/galleries and all of that shut down, was there a point to staying here? Did we really need or want to stay in London?
At the end of the first lockdown in June last year, I was desperate to make sure central London still existed, as if despite surviving wars and plagues and wars, the global pandemic could have reduced it to a ghost town. I went in early one Sunday morning and it was very reminiscent of the opening scenes in 28 Days Later, hotels closed, streets deserted and it was a very sobering reminder of the impact of what we have all been through.
Thankfully it does feel like life is starting to recover. We’ve been out for dinner again in town, will celebrate our wedding anniversary there next week and have a couple of theatre adventures booked. It goes to show that you can’t keep a good city down.
I took another little early trip in yesterday morning with the promise of a sunny start to the day after weeks of on/off rain and grey. I love walking London, still even after 20 years finding new streets to explore, noticing things for the first time, although when a city ebbs and flows as much as this one does, nothing stays the same for too long.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned through all of this, it’s to never take things for granted again. Don’t moan that the trains aren’t running, just find a different route. Don’t say you can’t be bothered, or that it takes up too much time. How lucky are we to have (hopefully) made it through and out the other side? Go out for that dinner, or to meet that friend. Stop and watch the river, the dogs playing on the low tide beach.
And if you want my recommended walk, start from London Bridge and walk the few minutes to the river. From here, head east and you can follow the river along all its meandering route, picking up refreshments from Borough Market in the foot of Southwark Cathedral, past the Globe and the Tate Modern, with St Pauls Cathedral just across the river.
Head on past the Oxo Tower to the concrete behemoths of the National Theatre and Royal Festival Hall before walking over Embankment Bridge and then up into town. From here you could go to Covent Garden, St James Park or Soho. London really is one of the most walkable cities considering it’s population and there’s just so much to see. Trying to comprehend that people were walking those same streets 1000 years ago is something I’ll never get my head around.
So this is my love letter to London. 20 years and counting. There’s nowhere greater on Earth.