Monday, 24 September 2012

Mayor of London Discovery Trails - Red Route

London Eye and County Hall

Our last expedition on our day of mascot hunting was the Red Route, probably the most straightforward to follow as it mostly followed the River Thames on both sides between Westminster and Lambeth Bridges, taking in the famous sights of the Palace of Westminster, The London Eye, Lambeth Palace and the old County Hall along the way.

Boudicca Statue
We emerged from the scrum at Westminster Tube Station and were met with the impressive sight of a statue of Boudicca, the infamous and tragic Queen of the Iceni Tribe, who stood up to the Romans after they betrayed her.  It was good to see such a prominent statue of her and she certainly got a lot of attention from passers-by.  We had to negotiate Westminster Bridge, possibly the busiest stretch of footway we had come across all day, and making Regent Street look quiet!  

Union Jack Mandeville
 Our first mascot was another Union Jack one, directly outside the old County Hall.  County Hall seems to have taken on a new purpose now that it is no longer the fiefdom of Ken Livingstone and the Greater London Council, who used to occupy the buildings.  After abolition of the Council in 1986 County Hall has become a tourist attraction in its own right, housing a Sea Life Centre, a number of food outlets and the ticket office for the London Eye, situated at the far corner from where we were.

Big Ben View

Our route took us in a big loop around County Hall, where we found another plain mascot at the rear, to the far corner where we got to see the London Eye up close and personal.  The queues for riding on the Eye were enormous as usual.  The original intention of the Eye being a temporary structure seems preposterous now, but when first built for the Millennium that was the plan.  It is now supposedly the most visited paid-for attraction in the UK and judging by the crowds I have seen every time I have been I can well believe it.

Big Ben Wenlock

After shuffling our way through the crowds we found the next mascot, not with an Eye theme as you might think given its location, but a nod to the view across to Big Ben.  This statue was preposterously popular and trying to get pictures of it proved very difficult as children were propelled towards it so their parents could grab that all-important picture.  Little did the rest know that we were now half way through spotting them all!

Fish Lamps

We wandered down the front of County Hall and I found some of the architectural detail of the building most interesting, even though it was difficult to see exactly what it was in some cases as some of the pieces were quite a long way away.  We decided to take a rest for a bit as the crowds were getting to us a bit.  A drink and a sit down to recharge our batteries really did the trick and we set off once again after a few minutes break.  Outside the cafĂ© was the next mascot, Underwater Wenlock, recognising its position near to the Sea Life Centre.  Our route then took us along the River Thames embankment, underneath Westminster Bridge.  Once we had cleared the bridge the crowds dissipated quickly and the onward route was much more pleasurable as a result.

Speaker Wenlock

For my money the walk on the south bank overlooking the Houses of Parliament is probably the best stretch of the River Thames Embankment through London.  The views of the Palace of Westminster and the clock tower containing Big Ben are fantastic and the tree lined walkway is classy.  I was also fascinated by the design of the lights along the river wall - they seemed to depict some kind of sea creature although I couldn't what kind of fish they were supposed to be?  Out on the river there was also much going on, with the Clippers plying their trade, while one of the World War II amphibious vehicles that provide what have become popular tours were trying to keep out of their way!

Thames Craft

The mascots along the riverbank were spaced at regular intervals, the first being Speaker Mandeville.  The Speaker is of course effectively the chairperson of the House of Commons, keeping the sometimes rowdy MPs in check during their Parliamentary debates.  It was interesting to see that this was the role that was celebrated rather than the Prime Minister, but then I guess that is more to do with the more ceremonial dress adopted by the Speaker that sets him or her apart from the crowd.

Lambeth Palace

The next mascot was less obvious, being another Tourist.  The Mandeville mascot though seemed to pay homage to traditional buildings rather than a camera wielding version as at Covent Garden.  The mascots along this part of the trail were exclusive to look at though – no crowds around them as we had witnessed earlier.  Behind the wall on the other side of our path was the large expanse of the St Thomas’ Hospital complex and this was celebrated with the next mascot, a Wenlock dressed up as a doctor.

Palace of Westminster

Just beyond the Doctor was a memorial to the Special Operations Executive.  I had never heard of this before but apparently it was a British organisation set up in World War II to conduct espionage, sabotage and reconnaissance in occupied Europe against the Axis Powers and to aid local resistance movements.  Needless to say it was top secret and full of extremely brave people.  London seems to be full of these memorials to pieces of history that I know nothing about and this is one of the reasons why a walk around the Capital is so fascinating!

A-Z Wenlock
By now I think we were all feeling a bit of mascot fatigue and we were rather displeased to have to cross the very busy Lambeth Palace Road to find the next mascot, Lambeth Palace Mandeville, outside the gate of the famous old Palace.  This is of course the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the leading cleric of the Church of England.  Apparently at the rear of the Palace are some wonderful gardens although there wasn’t time for us to check them out this time.  We had instead to make do with seeing Garden Wenlock, the tribute to the gardens stationed at the end of Lambeth Bridge.  As Thames bridges go, this seemed to be quite a quiet one and was in stark contrast to the hoards we had to endure on the next bridge downstream earlier on the trail.

Westminster Playground
The remaining mascots on the trail were all in the gardens of the Palace of Westminster.  This is the place where we always see our politicians being interviewed so it was funny to see the place in a different context!  The first one we came to was that iconic tool of every taxi driver, the A-Z map.  I can remember my Dad having one of these as a kid and being bewildered by the number of roads on every page.  It seemed unfathomable to me that so many people could live in London and even now as an adult with experience of hundreds of trips to the Capital, I can only just about find my way round.  I guess even in these days of Satnavs and smartphones the humble A-Z still has its navigational place?

Household Cavalry Wenlock

When we entered the park we passed a rather lame looking playground.  I assume the politicians don't play here otherwise I am sure that the facilities would be far better!  The last mascots on the trail were much to be expected.  We had Victorian, Household Cavalry and Westminster Abbey mascots in various parts of the park.  Most of the tourists though were at the Palace end of the park looking at statues of some of the famous people on show.  The Rodin statue of the Burghers of Calais was particularly popular, although personally I liked the Buxton Memorial to the abolition of slavery better.

Buxton Memorial

This was the end of the trail and due to the linear nature of it, realistically we had to close the loop and return once again to Westminster station.  The Red Route seemed to celebrate governance of Britain, taking in the seats of Government and the Church en route.  It was a straightforward trail to navigate, which was welcome after the more convoluted trails that we had completed earlier. It had been a long and tiring day but we managed to see 39 mascots in total across the three routes.  A pretty good effort we thought and despite the kids being very tired they were still asking whether there was time to see more?  Not today, but we had planned a last trip to walk the remaining two routes on another day. 

Richard the Lionheart


  1. Hi Paul

    You are certainly seeing London with your Discovery Trail walks. Your mention of the SOE reminded me of this story, which you may find interesting. Whether it's true or not I wouldn't like to say.


    1. That's amazing Bill! Thanks for bringing this story to my attention. Fascinating stuff