WALK LONDON Jubilee Walkway The Camden Loop (2 miles)
They're all over the centre of the capital. They're scattered sporadically across pavements, squares and piazzas. They've been there for the last 30 years. They're the metal plaques of the Jubilee Walkway. You've probably seen them, but I bet you've never tried to follow them. Good, because you'd have failed utterly. There are no signposts, no indications of which way to go next, just a few silver circles underfoot. It's quite impossible to trace the route from one to another... unless you have a copy of the Jubilee Walkway leaflet. So, I got hold ofa leaflet.
It's 14 miles altogether around the Jubilee Walkway, from Buckingham Palace in the west to St Katharine's Dock in the east. The route runs both north and south of the river, and has been designed to connect the majority of London's key attractions. Most of the walkway was established to commemorate the Queen's Silver Jubilee, but I decided to follow a more recent "Golden" addition - the Camden Loop. I hoped it would be an exciting trek through the backstreets of Bloomsbury, from Holborn up to the Euston Road and back again. Alas, it didn't quite turn out to be exciting.
The Camden Loop breaks off from the main Jubilee Walkway beside a special plaque along Chancery Lane. This is the heart of legal London, surrounded by Inns of Court, solicitors chambers and shops that sell smart clothes for posh barristers. Look around you on the route northward and you'll probably spot some poor underpaid clerk wheeling a trolley of ribboned documents from one Georgian terrace to another. That'll be a highlight. The officially designated route manages to miss the more interesting half of Lamb's Conduit Street, preferring the "launderette & lavatory" end to the "boutique & bistro" end. It diverts around Coram's Fields - a much loved half-term haven for energetic kids and their frustrated parents. And it cuts through the Brunswick Centre - a residential glass ocean liner with a revamped shopping arcade at its heart.
Don't come this way expecting to walk through history. These are the genuine back streets of Bloomsbury, where residents live and shop and hang out in the local community centre. They share the area with several hotels, some aligned in elegant crescents, others crammed together in ugly terraces, but all desperately seeking to attract visitors arriving at nearby Kings Cross station. The walkway follows a seemingly random path through the backstreets, emerging briefly onto the Euston Road before plunging back into residential anonymity. British Library users should join the route here. Keep your eyes peeled and you might spot a blue plaque on a council-infill tower block, revealing that it was built in 1972 on the site of a centuries-old pub. OK, so maybe there is plenty of history here after all, just not the sort you were expecting.
At last, from Euston station southwards, the walk improves a bit. The route passes by, and through, the campus of the University of London. Ignore that, and concentrate instead on the series of leafy squares that follow. Gordon Square was once the hub of literature's bohemian Bloomsbury Group (Virginia woz ere). Woburn Square is rather smaller, and narrower, and most definitely more of an Oblong. The path skirts Russell Square, entered past the quaint green Cabman'sShelter in the northwestern corner, with a brief glimpse of the stark tower at Senate House along the way. And then, most unusually for a long distance foothpath, the route passes directly through a public building. When the British Museum is closed you'll have to find your own way, unsignposted, round from the back to the front entrance. But during opening hours you can walk directly through China, and Egypt, and any other ancient land that takes your fancy. Not even the Pennine Way can beat that.
After the Great Court's millennial glass triangles, the rest of the Camden Loop is somewhat of a disappointment. Streets of faux antique shops selling replica trinkets to tourists. A huge abandoned GPO sorting office whose sixth floor cracked panes are open to the sky. And the murderous thundering traffic of High Holborn and Kingsway. End of loop. It's been a two mile diversion to Euston and back, and for what? The direct route would have taken no more than 10 minutes, and passed the veritable delights of Lincoln's Inn Fields and the Sir John Soane's Museum. Next time I'll save my shoe leather and take the shortcut.