diamond geezer

 Monday, April 19, 2021

If you've explored all your local area can offer and are in need of exciting new horizons, I'm pleased to say a thrillingly unfamiliar neighbourhood has opened up south of the Thames. It's called Bermondsey (Ber-Mun-Sea... the 'd' is silent) and visitors from North London are not only welcome, they'll find much to inspire and surprise.

Bermondsey has been lurking unseen to the southeast of Tower Bridge for at least the last year, possibly longer. Legend has it that the area has medieval roots and considerable industrial heritage, but today it's the modern aesthetic that really hits home. With so much to explore and engage, Bermondsey makes an ideal day trip for North Londoners nudging out of social hibernation.

The area defined as Bermondsey is somewhat nebulous but easily reached from familiar haunts north of the river. Simply cross Tower Bridge, head down the steps towards Shad Thames and keep going past all those slightly posh restaurants, you'll be there sooner than you think. Some say the dividing line is St Saviour's Dock, the mouth of the former Neckinger river, whose footbridge has an emergency panic button should you ever find yourself trapped after hours.

One of the most exciting things about Bermondsey is that you can see North London from the foreshore, silently suggesting it's been there all this time tantalisingly out of reach. Better still the waterfront at Wapping is perfectly illuminated by direct sunlight whereas looking the other way for the last twelve months has always meant squinting into the glare.

King Edward III liked Bermondsey so much that he built a manor house here, unquestionably one of the top attractions for history buffs hereabouts. There's much to enjoy on site including a large green lawn beside a row of council houses, the vague footprint of three ashlar walls and an information panel outlining everything you can't see here any more. Then when your two minutes exploring the ruins are finished it's simplicity itself to pop into The Angel pub opposite for evocative liquid refreshment (regulations permitting).

If your own local park has become overfamiliar over the last year don't worry, Bermondsey has another. That's Southwark Park, a proper recreational space with ornamental lake, tennis courts and a lot of grass. Take a stroll along promenades overhung by plane trees, bag up after your dog by the flowerbeds or rock up with a set of weights and grunt through a workout in the bandstand.

Bermondsey was once important enough to have its own town hall, an imposing classical building since turned into lovely flats. It was also once trendsetting enough to have its own spa and pleasure gardens based around a spring bursting forth from the aforementioned lost river. Various streets and greenspaces retain the name, including the bright and blossomy Bermondsey Spa Gardens, but healing waters are no longer available.

Food and drink is at the heart of what Bermondsey has to offer, especially the artisan producers who flog their wares from arches underneath the railway viaduct. There's no better climax to a visit than downing a bottle of fruity spirits, grabbing a £4 sweet potato and goats cheese Scotch Egg or swallowing a tiny traybake kneaded by local thumbs. Just be warned that South Londoners already know all about Bermondsey's bijou refreshment cluster, not to mention who does the best noodles, so expect to queue.

Bermondsey High Street is generally acknowledged to be the place to hang out, not least for its art gallery and other cultural capital, but mainly because a lot of places sell a decent coffee. Do not be tempted to divert off to Bermondsey Square, an early 21st century attempt to create a vibrant outdoor destination alongside a boutique cinema, because it's mainly dead and even the icosahedra are peeling.

Bermondsey's iconic industrial heritage has long been celebrated by turning several former factories into premier places to live. The Biscuit Factory where Peek Freans held court is obviously the greatest of these, if nothing else for being the birthplace of the Bourbon and the Garibaldi. Living in the Alaska Factory must be more problematic for residents with a conscience because this is where Victorians used to turn seals into coats.

Making your way to Bermondsey needn't cost an arm and a leg, despite the presence of the River Thames blocking all direct access. The Jubilee line extension introduced a station on buzzing Jamaica Road, ideally connected for daytrippers from Stratford and the Isle of Dogs. Alternatively if you're lucky enough to have a car a tunnel was specially opened in 1908 connecting Limehouse to the eastern fringe. Walking through the tunnel is permitted but ill-advised for choking reasons, which is one reason Bermondsey remains unknown to so many north of the river.

Bermondsey really does have it all, so push your boundaries and make your way to pastures new to enjoy a completely different park, a completely different selection of hot beverages and a whole maze of alternative backstreets to walk around. You may develop a faint sense of déjà vu which makes you think you've been before, back when you went to other places regularly, but right now expect the sense of novelty to prove overwhelming.

Also coming soon, an exciting guide for South Londoners to the exciting neighbourhood they call Stepney.

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