LONDON31 July 2018
WALK: Paddington to St. Johns Wood
A bustling transport hub is neighbour to quiet, treelined streets filled with immaculate stucco-fronted villas and some pop-star friendly locations in this two mile walk around some of London's most salubrious neighbourhoods.
Paddington, once a down at heel neighbourhood with a rather unsavoury reputation, has upped its game in recent years having been extensively remodelled and gentrified. We are starting at Paddington station on the northern edge of the district. We're not stopping here so make your way to the exit marked Little Venice / Sheldon Square.
Immediately in front of you is the Regents Canal - in fact this is the start of an 8 mile circuitous route east to Limehouse (to the west, the canal becomes the Grand Union reaching as far as Birmingham).
Turning left you soon pass under a road bridge where you will see a a statue of the UK's favourite bear, Paddington clad in a rather fetching blue velvet. This was one of 50 Paddington statues that sprung up in 2014 to tie in with the film of the same name, each uniquely decorated by artists and celebrities.
The statues were originally dotted throughout central London forming the tourist friendly Paddington Trail walk. The statues were later auctioned off for charity and this is one of four purchased by a local landlord for permanent display in the area, now forming part of the shorter, Pawprint Trail.
Next to Paddington is an art installation, Messages from an Unseen World, celebrating the scientist Alan Turing (born here in 1912). Panel display excerpts from an Alan Turing inspired poem by Nick Drake, each excerpt morphing into another in a Matrix style animation.
Around the corner from here is Sheldon Square, glass fronted office towers with the usual suspects of chain eateries below. Fake grassy terraces form seating areas for bored office workers.
Back along the canal and passing under a couple of bridges brings us to the start of Little Venice (main picture above) at the junction of three canals.
Little Venice is within touching distance of Paddington station but there could hardly be more of a contrast between the bustling platforms and the quaint waterway with pretty barges and treelined streets of cream coloured stucco villas. If you fancy a trip along the waterway, here's your starting point. Otherwise cross the blue bridge and then turn left into Blomfield Road noting the Warwick Castle pub discreetly tucked away in Warwick Place.
Turn right into Clifton Villas and take a look down pretty terraces of Bristol Street on the left. At the roundabout next to Warwick Avenue station, you'll see one of only 13 surviving cabmen's shelters - a green shed-like structure still dispensing hot food and drinks to cabbies (and only cabbies!). Turn left into Warrington Crescent and you'll see a blue plaque on the side of number two revealing Alan Turing's birth place.
Cult TV fans may like to know that in a rare outing away from their Hertfordshire base, the 60s Avengers episode Take Me To Your Leader was largely filmed around these streets and in neighbouring Maida Vale.
After the blue plaque, immediately turn left into Formosa Street where you'll find a nice selection of independent shops, including an old-style hardware store and a French restaurant inexplicably covered in pink and red plastic flowers. Also of note is the Prince Alfred pub opposite which has retained its traditional dark wood and mirror finishes.
Walking up Castellain Road we have to cross Sutherland Avenue. Notice how wide this is for a suburban residential street - parking either side PLUS two rows down either side! This is typical of the area and quite untypical of London or indeed the UK generally.
Continuing up Castellain we reach another group in independent shops and restaurants - turn right here in Lauderdale Road. Note the immaculately kept red brick mansion blocks in this quiet tree lined road yet handy for the tube at Maida Vale just 4 minutes away.
At the end turn left back into Sutherland Avenue and continue up the hill crossing two main roads including Maida Vale itself, and also the border - into NW8, St Johns Wood.
At the top of the hill turn left into Grove End Road which quickly turns into Abbey Road - yes that one, and the famous crossing is just ahead. You can't miss it, as it will be thronged with tourists doing "the walk" and taking photos, much to the annoyance of local drivers no doubt.
The whole road and crossing was dug up and resurfaced in summer 2018 so it should be looking spick and span! There were rumours that some people were taking chunks of the old surface to sell on eBay but I didn't see any evidence of this.
If you keep to the left hand side and pass the crossing, you will be outside the Abbey Road studios where the white walls at the front are covered with Beatles related graffiti from fans. The studios actively encourage it but be warned that your words of wisdom will soon be lost due to the regular repainting.
Take the next left into Hill Road and then right into Nugent Terrace. Go past the Beatles themed café, cross Abercorn Place and into Violet Hill where the antique shop on the right is always playing Beatles tunes. At the end of this short road is a pleasant park, Violet Hill Park where Beatlemania seems to have passed it by (there are toilets here if you are in need).
Leave the park by the same gate and on the left is a row of shops. The last one has steps leading down to a basement. This is the basement where Madonna no less, would visit her personal trainer in her gym on a regular basis - each entry and exit accompanied by a crowd of adoring fans. I'm sure the neighbours were pleased when Madonna eventually decided to have a gym built in her house!
Walk past here down Abbey Gardens and at the end, cross Abbey Road and (almost) straight ahead into Langford Place.
On the left is the "helmeted house" as Sir John Betjeman called it in his classic 1973 Metroland documentary, once owned by a controversial clergyman whose congregation declared him to be Christ. More recent owners include the equally controversial Charles Saatchi and Vanessa Feltz, though not at the same time I would add.
Continue down this road, turn right into Loudoun and then first left to reach St. Johns Wood station and an Art Deco ending. Fancy some cricket? Lords is moments away, just turn right down Wellington road outside the station and follow the loudspeakers …