The Streets of London at Christmas
The New Year may now be upon us, but the festive Christmas decorations of London dazzle on for a while longer…..
For the first time in a few years, I had found myself in central London for the sole purpose of ‘having a look around’.
This time, it was a little more organised than usual. I’d been invited by Kathryn from Travel with Kat, to join her on a guided walking tour of London and the Christmas Lights with walking tour specialists PlanetPass.
Arrival & Rendevous
I hopped off the tube at Bond Street, at the core of the hive of shoppers. It was approaching dusk on this mid-December Friday afternoon as I manoeuvered my way to our meeting point, getting a pre-dark preview of some of the decorations.
Our rendezvous point was at the bijou and unassuming little corner pub, the Angel in the Fields. A crafty ale, downed near the crackling fire warmed us up and got us into the festive mood. It’s a snug of a watering hole, with fine pub grub upstairs (best book in advance though, as space is very limited).
We were joined by fellow writer Laura from Passport Collective and her partner before greeting our guide Anna Maria at the appointed time and setting off. Our route was structured but flexible, covering the essential Christmas lights of the city centre but allowing the occasional detour or spot of spontaneity.
Here are some of my highlights from the tour:
Musical Legacy in Brook Street
In the late 1960s, rock star Jimi Hendrix rented a flat (No. 23) in Brook Street, during a period of hectic press and media work, in addition to concerts and TV appearances. It’s still the only officially recognised Hendrix residence in existence.
Over 200 years previously, No. 25 next door had been occupied by renowned baroque composer George Frideric Handel (he of Water Music fame). Handel remained in residence for many years, as opposed to Hendrix’s few fleeting months, but this dual musical legacy can now be celebrated by visiting the Handel House Museum, within the apartment block itself.
In 2014 the Handel House Trust was awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to restore the Hendrix Flat permanently, as well as creating a new studio space and improving visitor facilities. The Flat opened to the public on Wednesday 10 February 2016.
A Nostalgic Return
Strolling through Burlington Arcade, I was reminded of when I once worked for the British Astronomical Association at nearby Burlington House. I’d visit the Arcade during my lunch break and wonder how the other half lived.
Things haven’t really changed here, nor at Piccadilly Arcade. There’s unabashed luxury a-plenty, oozing in all its forms from behind the glass frontage of each outlet, and the uniformed guards, or Beadles, continue to patrol and add that appealing Olde Worlde touch.
Decadent Window Shopping
The creativity and skill of London’s window display designers is as impressive as ever. There are cute teddy bears, resplendently attired mannequins and delicious delicatessen displays, and when it comes to displaying decadence, Fortnum and Mason are the masters.
This year, their lavish, winged hampers, suspended against the dark backdrop, spoke of extravagance that most of us can only imagine.
But their most intriguing offering was the series of slightly eerie pseudo-fairytale scenes and accompanying rhymes, all with a Christmas theme, of course.
The Wolf and the Sheep: Spreading cheer to all, except those trying to sleep, together in harmony, sang a Wolf and six Sheep
Above Left: The Chef and the Lobster – The Chef had the Lobster laughing until he was red in the face. The party, now at boiling point, you could hear from outer space.
Above Right: The Turkey and the Butcher – They’d never have thought, a team so well matched, sharing their first Christmas, with all limbs still attached.
Above First: The Polar Bear and the Penguin – Though they were poles apart, they’d never forget a friend overseas, a simple gesture that brings us together in times such as these.
Above Second: The Bull and the China – And from the usually rambunctious Bull, we heard barely a shout. as he whispered Merry Christmas and shook hands with his spout.
Above Third: The Early Bird and the Night Owl – ‘Twas the night before Christmas, but the morning of too. For Night Owl and Early Bird, there was just one thing to do.
Above Fourth: The Boy and the Brussels Sprouts – Boing, boing, boing went the boy, and his ex-nemesis, riding his trusty new steed like a green, leafy Pegasus.
My favourite of all the window displays was, ironically, the simplest and least expensive of all. A gathering of brightly lit baubles each cheekily displaying a message of retail temptation.
Doubly ironic is the fact that I didn’t note the name of the company, as I suddenly realised I was keeping the rest of the party waiting, and hurried to catch up!
London Lights at Christmas
Of course, the main reason we were there: the classic Christmas Lights of cosmopolitan, historic, buzzing London Town.
There are glitterballs and giant baubles; mercurial figures glistening above us; sparkling bowl-shaped structures; crystalline pillars and the classic winged Angels of Regent Street. It must be an incredible feat of engineering to set it all up (and to take it all down again), and yes, it must cost a pretty packet and all, but what the heck – it’s London and it’s Christmas, and I for one love it all.
Carnaby Street & Kingley Hall
I love that Carnaby Street retains the flavour of its ‘Swinging London’ heyday. Echoes of the psychedelic 60s resonate via the neon peacenik signs hanging high above us, but the crowds on the street remind us that we’re in a 2016 pre-Christmas retail flurry.
Just off Carnaby Street, we find an inner world of gastronomic delights in the shape of Kingly Court. It’s a lively complex of eateries laid out across 3 levels, all surrounding an open courtyard. We’ve run out of time tonight, so this is one to come back and explore.
Maybe it’s because I’m not a Londoner anymore, but I find myself wanting to come back sooner rather than later.
PlanetPass In Summary:
PlanetPass is a London tours mobile app which enables you to book from a selection of private walking tours with very little notice. Prices start from £53 for up to 6 people for 45mins. For more information, visit their website here.
The tour was meant to be 2hrs long but was extended due to our endless photo pit-stops. Anna Maria was gracious and accommodating throughout, but most of all I loved her obvious enthusiasm for, and love of London. It never once felt as if she was quoting from a pre-learnt script and she took genuine interest in our own previous experiences of the city. I’ve been on many a guided tour in the UK and overseas and this was undoubtedly one of the more relaxed and sincerely conducted ones.
For Kathryn’s review and stunning photographs, see her post on The Christmas Lights of London.
Disclosure: My participation in the walking tour was by personal invitation and no payment or other benefit in kind has been received. All opinions are my own.