City Country

St. Dunstan’s -in-the-East with the ‘Walkie-Talkie’ building in the background

This family visit to London centered on an all day excursion to the original settlement. The famous square mile since deregulation in the 1980’s has since sprouted a gaggle of ‘iconic’ office buildings, each vying with the other to dominate and define the skyline. Threading between these glass and concrete monoliths are narrow ancient thoroughfares which give clues that help understand the city’s development as a global hub of finance and commerce.

We immersed ourselves in the well curated foundation story at the Museum of London. Lots of fascinating scale models recreating Londinium, and we finished with a look down at a fragment of city wall from that era still surviving, now defining a boundary of open space at the edge of the post war Barbican residential development. After lunch we made our way south along the course of the former Walbrook river – now a drainage tunnel beneath our feet – to its junction with Lower Thames Street. In following the wide highway east we diverted up little cobbled lanes, free of traffic, for a nose about. Discovered a fine Georgian vestry, now a private business address, with a flower filled formal garden bordered by mature plane trees hanging over its iron railings and brick walls. The three ancient city parish churches we came across provided respite, quiet reflective havens in the canyons of Mammon. Most poignant and blissfully redemptive was St Dunstan’s-in-the-East. Of Saxon foundation, built by St Dunstan in 950 AD, destroyed in the great fire of 1666 and rebuilt again as a Wren church. Today only the impressive tower from the last reincarnation of 1697 remains. Badly damaged by enemy bombing in the blitz it was formally re-dedicated as a garden and open space in 1967. Cool, calm and restorative; children playing, people sunbathing or sitting on the grass, in quiet conversation, picnicking, playing guitar, reading…

Later we double backed at the Tower of London, becoming part of the steady flow of visitors and office workers on the Thames Pathway. Stopped at one point to enjoy wide views across the sunlit river with its crisscrossing multi-decked boats full of tourists and commuters riding the high tide. The seats we sat on were comfortable wraparound wooden ones and the planting scheme behind us a softly verdant linear companion to a wide elevated section of walkway zig-zagging between institutional buildings.

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