Walking around Roman London review
In honour of the new self-guided walks section on our site, I have been tasked with coming up with a brand-new route to stick on it. So that basically means I have to spend all day today walking around London in the freezing cold, for about a million miles, getting totally knackered and wearing out my already dodgy knees, so spare a thought for little ol' me if you decide to follow in my footsteps.
The idea of this walk is that we are going to be transported back in time to the year 200 AD, when the Romans first came to town and started building the wall. I have tried to include every little brick and bit of rock that still exists from Roman times, plus I've included a load of good sights and landmarks too, because no one wants to walk around looking at bricks all day.
Oh yeah... and before we start I need to tell you something. In order to get the most out of this walk you will need to dress up as a Roman (I'm serious). So that means hiring a toga and a pair of sandals from the fancy dress shop. If you can get hold of a slave to boss about as well, that will be perfect. I know it's not very PC these days to have a slave, but who cares -- let's live a little! It doesn't do them any harm does it. It's not like we are going to whip them. (That is optional.) There are also plenty of pizza places on the way round in case you feel like something Italian to eat.
Let's begin the day at Tower Hill train station. Right outside the front door is maybe the best bit of Roman masonry still standing in London -- a huge bit of the city wall that towers 10 metres above your head. They've also got a big statue of the Emperor Trajan there as well, pointing to the train station for some reason. Maybe he's giving the tourists directions. Look for the plaque on the wall which gives a little bit of info about how it was constructed.
It was at this point that I stopped for my first coffee break. I'd only been walking for ten minutes but that was enough for me -- it was teatime. I've got a thing about drinking posh coffees at those high street coffee shops at the moment -- the ones that take about ten minutes to make but end up costing you two weeks wages. There's a coffee shop on the corner of Philpot Lane if you want to follow in my footsteps. Ask for a medium Latte -- that's what I had. And sit in the seat by the door too, then you will have exactly the same experience as me. Remember to spill a bit of coffee on the table too, because that's what I did. Don't mop it up though. Just run out the door as fast as you can.
Tea break over, head up Philpot Lane and look up into the sky. Hopefully you should see one of London's newest skyscrapers towering above your head -- the 'Walkie Scorchie'. A few weeks after this was built it famously started melting all the cars in the road below, because the curved glass focused all the sun's rays into the street. So if it's sunny be extremely careful down here -- we don't want you bursting into flames (we won't be liable for that, by the way, so you can't sue us).
Cross over the road at the end of the lane and enter Leadenhall Market. If you've never been here before then trust me, you'll love it. It's like an old Dickensian Victorian market kind-of place, with fantastic ironwork and red and gold gildings (check out my previous review). Back in the old days this is where the Roman Basilica once stood, but nothing remains of it today. Not unless you include a shop that sells spaghetti.
We're not actually going to cross over the bridge, but it's worth a quick pop down here just for the river views. You'll see our old friend The Shard again, rising over the office blocks, and the big battleship HMS Belfast moored in front of Tower Bridge. This is probably the best spot to get a photo of Tower Bridge, but it always seems to be very windy on this bit of the river. I've actually witnessed some little skinny people getting blown over the edge into the water, and getting washed away into the sea (no I haven't). So hold onto your hat. (Or get your slave to hold it.)
Now double-back the way you come and turn left down Cannon Street. Now... I faced a little bit of a dilemma at this point, because no sane person would choose to walk down Cannon Street when King William Street leads to better things. But bear with me... there is something down Cannon Street that is worth a look. When you reach Cannon Street station look across to the other pavement. There should be a boring-looking grille on the wall (currently attached to WH Smiths). Have a look through that grille and you will see the famous London Stone. Now this might be Roman, or it might not. And it might be medieval, or it might not. Or it might just be a boring lump of rock. Nobody knows. But apparently this thing is even older than Bruce Forsyth. Some people think that it was the stone from which Arthur pulled Excalibur. Other people think that it was the meteor which wiped out the dinosaurs. But whatever it is, it's on display at WH Smiths.
Now turn right down Walbrook and head down the end. I took a little detour at this point, but you don't have to. It's not part of the walk. But if truth be told I was knackered and needed a little rest. So I popped into St. Stephen Walbrook church for a sit on their pews. It's quite a unique little church that is arranged in a circle. The altar is a big slab of rock in the middle, and then all the wooden school seats fan out around it. It was very peaceful and quiet when I went inside.
Head down Queen Victoria Street for some more bone-fide Roman remains -- the Temple of Mithras. Unfortunately I couldn't clap eyes on it today because there was loads of building work going on and it was all blocked off, but normally you can look over the wall and see what's left of the foundations. So I'll leave it in the tour for when the builders have stopped their faffing about. The actual temple itself (or what's left of it) is now on show at the Museum of London, where this tour will come to an end.
After that bit of excitement, walk around to the front of St. Paul's and say a few prayers. I prayed for a wee and some food, so I went into the Crypt and had a nose around the gift-shop. They've got a little restaurant and some toilets down there too, so this is the perfect place for a break. Don't enter the cathedral through the front door though -- you'll find the entrance round to the side.
Walk through the pleasant St. Paul's Churchyard until you come to Cheapside, then check out St. Mary-le-Bow church halfway down. I actually went inside here but you don't have to (I needed another sit down you see -- dodgy knees playing up again). There was a nice smell of incense floating about when I went, and the priest was pottering about doing a little bit of a tidy. Tidying up the chairs he was, and straightening up the cloth on his altar. The place was full of wooden school chairs again — what is it with the wooden chairs in churches? It makes me think of being back at school with the teacher at the front. But I suppose that's how it's supposed to be in here -- people listening to the God guy at the front. Listening to the lesson. There is actually one famous thing about St. Mary-le-Bow church which I must tell you before I forget... If you are born within the sound of its bells then you are a true cokney. That is what they say anyway.
Keep walking down Cheapside and take a left down King Street. Straight ahead you will see the medieval Guildhall, where the Lord Mayor holds all his meetings. Off to the right is the Guildhall Art Gallery. Not very Roman, you might think. But wait! What is this big grey ring that I spy on the forecourt? Well that is none other than the original site of the London's Roman amphitheatre! How about that then? You weren't expecting that, were you.
The tour gets a lot more interesting from this point on, because there's stacks more wall to come -- really big bits of Roman masonry. Take a stroll up Gresham Street and whip round to the right at Noble Street. If you travelled back in time 2,000 years then you would now be entering the Roman fort. It's just a load of boring old offices now though, but down the side of the street is what remains of the outer wall. Unfortunately it doesn't look very old because it's all been built over with bricks, but the foundations are still big and rocky like you would expect them to be. I think the Germans bombed this bit of London in the 1940s, and uncovered everything that you can see. So that is something that we can thank Hitler for at least -- so you see, he wasn't all bad. At least he did a bit of archaeology for us.
You are now entering the Barbican, and the stairs should be signposted 'Barbican Centre', 'Museum of London' and 'Barbican Highwalk' -- we want the Barbican Highwalk. Now be careful around here, because it's notoriously easy to get lost in this place — if you don't lose your way at least once then you will be doing very well indeed. It's like a big concrete maze of high walks that goes up and down and round and round in circles. Someone actually got lost in here once and staggered out five years later. They had to send a search party in, which also got lost. Then they sent Ranulph Fiennes in, and he got lost as well. That is how easy it is to get lost in here. So you might want to take a packed-lunch and some bottled water with you, just in case.
Once you are on the highwalk keep going past the little shops and turn left into 'Alban Highwalk' and then 'The Postern'. Resist the temptation to go down 'Wallside', and keep going to the stairs at the end of 'The Postern'. This will take you down to the ground level again, and plop you right in front of St. Giles Cripplegate church. If you do a lap of the church then you will see the other side of that circular tower that we saw earlier, standing proud behind the moat. There is also another huge chunk of Roman wall along the water's edge -- the last bit on our tour.
Now all that remains for us to do is to get out alive again, and not get lost. Can you remember the way back? If you can't then that's unlucky because I can't be bothered to give you directions, ha ha. You should have dropped some breadcrumbs! Now you are going to be stuck in here for days and will probably die of hunger. Ah well. (We are not liable for that, by the way. So you can't sue us.)
Guest – Your site is THE BEST about London! I have been to MANY site & yours is the most thorough & interesting. It is a ONE STOP SHOPPING site for anyone who wants to visit London! Thanks, Maggie in Ohio, USA
Guest – Thank-you for this very interesting and well-described self-guided walk. We will have to visit London again, as we got caught up in interesting bits and distractions along the way, and ran out of time just at the best part at Noble Street We think we spotted you that day, conducting, perhaps a private tour for a small group of people and you were gathered at the glass plaques at the Nobel Street section (if, by chance it was, it was on July 8, 2018.) I thought for moment that I should snap a pic, but my daughter rolled her eyes at me and said that that would be weird, haha, and we did need to hurry off to meet up with some friends. The London Stone must still be on temporary display at the Museum of London, as we wandered down Cannon Street and it wasn't there. Thanks, again, from Ottawa, Canada.
Admin – Thanks for that, I'm glad you liked it. i should probably get around to updating it because you're right — the London Stone is in the Museum of London now. And the Temple of Mithras has been enclosed inside another building — the London Mithraeum. And I would probably include that piece of Roman pavement inside All Hallows by the Tower as well. Plus the Billingsgate Roman House. I feel a bit guilty now — you've missed out loads of the best stuff!
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