Walking In London
The best way to get to know London is to walk around it. Take in some of the big hitting sights in your Top Ten London guide book by all means, but make some time to walk around the neighborhoods that have made London the fabulous, vibrant, eclectic city it is today.
This two mile stroll takes you from the mid 17th Century to today, taking in plenty of historic events and ground breaking innovations in fashion, music and lifestyle. The King’s Road is often at the creative center of the universe, it’s just not always clear what the universe will turn out to be.
Make life easy on yourself and arrive at the start of our walk on the Tube. Take the Circle Line (the yellow one) to Sloane Square, between Victoria Station and South Ken. I’ll walk you down the road, and if your feet get sore at any point hop on the Number 11 bus back up the road to the tube station (or stay on it, it’ll take you back to Westminster, Covent Garden or the City and if you go upstairs you’ll get a cheap driving tour along the Thames).
Why The King’s Road?
Why is the King’s Road called The King’s Road? It’s easy really. King Charles II (the last King Charles, we’re expecting King Charles III some time soon) had the road built for his personal use. A kind of express lane just for him to get between London and Kew, a nicer, more countrified place to live than the smelly diseased filled city in the mid 17th Century.
It probably helped that he had his mistress, Nell Gwynn, living half way along the road so could stop in for, ahem, tea and crumpet, on the trip. He did let his pals use the road, but they needed a special token to show they had the right to use it. The King’s Road remained for the private use of Royals and their flunkies until 1850.
Today you can walk down the King’s Road without the explicit permission of the Queen, which has rather increased the retail potential of the area, even if it has pushed down the exclusivity.
Stepping out of Sloane Square tube station, you’ll find yourself standing, unsurprisingly, in Sloane Square. This is the spiritual home of the Sloane Rangers, the young adult offspring of seriously rich English people. Perhaps the most famous member of the set was Diana, Princess of Wales, whist she was “simply” Lady Diana Spencer.
Look out for people dressed in curiously countrified clothing such as riding boots and Hermes head scarves or Barbour jackets. They’d like you to know that this is just their London neighborhood, and that home is a country estate. Watch out too for “Chelsea Tractors”, absurdly large and impractical SUVs that clog up the narrow Chelsea streets.
Fancy living here? Check out the real estate prices. This is a high rent end of town.
Looking back into the Square you’ll see the Royal Court Theatre, one of London’s more interesting theaters as it focuses on new works by unknown playwrights. Don’t Look Back In Anger opened here in the 1950’s to outrage, setting the scene for the rebellious times ahead. The Rocky Horror Show also opened here, to an audience of just 63 people, before becoming a global phenomenon.
Get tickets for the current production, although I can’t tell you if it will be a flop or a classic.
A Walk On The Wilde Side
Fans of Oscar Wilde can take a couple of detours off the King’s Road to visit a couple of key Oscar Wilde sites. The first starts right on Sloane Square. Instead of heading down the King’s Road head north instead up Sloane Street to the site of the old Cadogan Hotel where Oscar Wilde was arrested for Gross Indecency.
Unfortunately at the time of writing the hotel is closed for a complete rebuild so you’ll just have to take a look and stroll back. The newCadogan Belmond opens in 2016, so you’ll be able to stop in for tea, but check the menu first, I suspect they’ll be setting their own tradition of gross indecency in their pricing.
The second detour is further down the road, past the Saatchi Gallery. Take a left and head south, through the warren of townhouses to 34 Tite Street where Oscar Wilde lived. It’s a longer detour, maybe an extra mile, but it’s a nice stroll through residential London and the eagle eyed amongst you will also spot the house Mark Twain lived at whilst in London. Just look out for the blue plaques.
Heading west along the King’s Road you’ll have all sorts of opportunities to shop. Peter Jones is the department store of choice, part of the much beloved John Lewis chain, but there’s lots of world famous fashion names as well as neat little boutiques catering to the “Yummy Mummy” set of well healed mothers who walk along with their outsized strollers.
The King’s Road is known for great furniture, so as well as the famous Heal’s store you’ll see plenty of little designer places catering to the interior designers looking out for the perfect object. The Venn Diagram of yummy mummies and interior designers shows a pretty big intersection, and plenty of the well preserved blondes you’ll see on the King’s Road will have an interior design or stylist business that’s entirely bankrolled by either a husband in the City or parents with inherited cash.
This can work in your favor. Take your design cues from what’s hip and happening, then create those looks at home without the huge price tags. Take a phone snap or two to capture the mood. Lots of the independent coffee shops, cafes and bakeries are similarly funded so you can stop for coffee and artisan baked organic cake in delightful surroundings which are beautifully designed without any of that pesky need to be profitable.
You will see signs to Chelsea Farmer’s Market. Do think this through. There are no farms in Chelsea, there are no farms near Chelsea. Chelsea Farmer’s Market is not a good place to shop.