Thursday 3 December 2020

London Embankment Running Route

Click here for route map

Length 10.7 km (6.6 mi), terrain: flat and easy (gain 48 meters), some steps and loud intersections

One of my favorite places to be in London is along the Thames. The river is the city's streaming heartblood, flowing by as a constant witness to all the great events, people and places that grace its shores. 

View of the Shard with a Thames-side pub crowd

So, for me at least, there is nothing like taking a run along the riverside trails along both banks of the Thames. The embankments are lined with monuments, theaters, wharves, pubs, museums and almost everything that contributes to London's rich culture. And the network of bridges lets you switch from side to side at regular intervals. 

Along the Thames

This running route will explore the city center, passing a lot of the tourist spots that make London such a world-class destination. We'll start out in front of the Houses of Parliament, next to Westminster Cathedral, then cross the river to follow the south bank, past the London Eye, the Waterloo venues of the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and the National Theatre, head past the Oxo Tower, the Tate Modern Art Museum with the Millenium Bridge, the recreated Globe Theatre, the replica of the Golden Hinde exporation ship, Southwark Cathedral and City Hall before crossing the legendary Tower Bridge.

Then, running home on the north side of the river, we'll loop through the marina in the old St. Catherine's Docks basins, and return to Westminster by way of the Tower, Custom House, passing St. Paul's Cathedral and Temple Gardens, running through graceful Embankment Park and then back to the start.

There are lots of other sights along the way: this is truly a run to remember, full of Victorian charm. The only downside is that there can be -- and probably will be -- big crowds of walkers in different sections. But 90% of the way will be stress-free, so I think it's well worth it. Otherwise, just slow to a walk when needed, and go with the flow and do a bit of people-watching. 

Oliver Cromwell statue at Parliament

So if you're ready to go, get yourself to Parliament Square, with the statue of Winston Churchill looming cantankerously above, and the main entrance to Parliament across the street. The Big Ben clock tower is right there, and Westminster Cathedral is off to the south, with the undulating Gothic facade of the Lady Chapel facing Parliament (and inside it's even more amazing, with an intricate laticework of stone artistry up in the vaulted ceilings).

Once you can tear yourself away from this fascinating spot, head past Big Ben and across Westminster Bridge to southern London on the other side of the river. We are already beginning some of the great riverside views which will accompany us for the whole run: Parliament itself reflected in the flowing water and the County Hall and the London Eye wheel across the way. Run on either side of the bridge, whatever looks more interesting to you. 

Running towards the London Eye

At the other side, take the steps down to the riverside trail and head northwards right at the riverside. You're now passing the County Hall building, which nowadays houses the aquarium and a lot of tourist attractions. We're following the Queen's Walk.

Now you run under the supports for the Eye, which barely moves in its half-hourly rotations.

And then, at the 1-kilometer-mark, you run beneath the Hungerford railroad bridge, with its modern footbridges added to each side, which connect people to Charing Cross on the other side.

The three theaters now come up as we approach Waterloo Bridge. They offer caf├ęs, free afternoon entertainment in the lobbies and rooftop dining in non-corona times, and are worth coming back for a visit. Various food stands and pubs dot the trail around the square at Gabriel's Wharf

At Gabriel's Wharf

At the 2-kilometer-mark, the Oxo Tower will be visible coming up on the right: it's gone through a few incarnations, first as a power station, then as the Oxo beef-bouillon factory, and now it's a mixed-use place with stores, restaurants, a hotel and flats.

You should also be able to see the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral coming up in the distance across the river. Then you head under the Blackfriars car-bridge and then the railroad bridge.

Now comes the looming edifice of the Tate Modern Museum on the right, with its huge wall of dark bricks. It's another ex-power plant. The modernistic Millennium footbridge connects the Tate to the cathedral on the other side, making both much more accessible to walkers. Nice idea! 

Millennium Bridge, looking towards Tate

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre comes up right after that, with its Elizabethan theater architecture.

Now come a couple of more bridges: Southwark and Cannon Street railway bridge at the 3-km-mark. The trail leaves the river for a few blocks at the Anchor pub, along the narrow lane of Clink Street before you come to the replica of the Golden Hinde. The tiny ship, commanded by Sir Francis Drake, was the first English ship to circumnavigate the world, while raiding Spanish shipping along the way. The resulting treasure was brought back to England, starting the long process of Britain wresting control of the world's seas.

You now continue away from the river for a short way as you circle around the back side of Southwark Cathedral, a beautiful old church from the inside. Right behind it, at the railway viaduct, is one of my favorite markets: Borough Market, with lots of gourmet food to be found, of every variety. I used to work in the area, and it was a great place for lunch, open 6 days a week. And a few pubs line the back side to add a good English ale to the menu.

Now you run up the stairs and cross the busy A3 road at London Bridge, where the soaring knife's edge of the Shard building dominates the skyline. Run towards the bridge, then run down the stairs at the water's edge to the right to continue at the riverside.

Finally back along the water, the skyscrapers of the City of London glitter across the river. In 200 meters, I like to take a quick detour into the Hays Galleria, an ex-wharf where ships once pulled into a tidal-free basin to load and unload. There is a cool, weirdly whimsical sculpture group in the middle of the hall, the Steampunk statue. I'm always fascinated by the strangely British maritime characters.

Then continue running past the HMS Belfast cruiser, an impressive World War II beast, with the medieval Tower of London fortress across the river. We're now passing modern office buildings and the globe-shaped City Hall on the right side, a favorite hangout for all the office workers in the neighborhood.  

The Tower Bridge

And now we've finally reached it: the halfway point, time to cross the river at the iconic Tower Bridge, maybe the most photogenic bridge in the world.

Cross under the bridge and go up the steps to get onto the east side of the bridge, heading across the water. Take a close look at this gem of Victorian engineering, with its Gothic towers hiding the drawbridge-raising machinery, and iron links suspending the bridge below. 

Girl with Mermaid fountain

When on the other side, take the steps down to the ground level and we'll take a short detour to the east, past the Tower Hotel and the Girl and Mermaid fountain to take a quick tour of St. Catherine's Docks. This old dockyard has been restored into a modern marina, but still has its Victorian buildings and boat-locks. It's a quiet, relaxed oasis in the middle of this big city, at the 5-km-mark. 

At St. Catherines

Just circle the first of the 3 basins by running around the right side, past the Dickens Inn and all its flowers, then take the narrow foot bridge, run past the yachts to the Starbucks in the round temple, then head back out to the Tower Bridge the same way that you came in.

Running westwards, head under the Tower Bridge as we pass right by the waterside stone walls of the Tower, another relaxing spot. 

Gate at the Tower

Luckily, the modern buildings just past the Tower have included new foot-trails along the water, so a detour away from the river is no longer necessary here.

We'll soon pass the tree-lined grandeur of the old Custom House, and continue under London Bridge. The next section of the trail passes some waterside pubs, and if you're there in the early evening, they're full of business-people from the City, drinking a few pints with their colleagues after work. 

At Custom House

After passing under Southwark Bridge, you'll have to detour away from the water for the last time, as the path goes around the old harbor at Queenhithe. The quay goes back to Roman and Saxon days, although it just looks like a mudflat now. At low tide, people search the muck for treasures and flotsam. 

People treasure-seeking at Queenhithe

The trail rejoins the river at Paul's Walk, near St. Paul's Cathedral. You'll run under the Millennium footbridge again. 

At Paul's Walk

Back at Blackfriars Bridge, we're at the 8-km-mark. The section ahead is my favorite part of the route. Although we are now up at street-level for busy Victoria Embankment Road, there is a riverside promenade with the winding-fish streetlamps and with monuments and historic ships docked up for the rest of the way.

We'll pass the interesting legal complex in the Temple Gardens across the street, where jurists still (occasionally) run around in their powdered wigs.  

Along Victoria Embankment

Just before Waterloo Bridge, at 9 kilometers, we pass the stone elegance of Somerset House, originally built to bring a variety of Royal Navy offices under one roof, the first dedicated military office building in the world.

When we get to the Egyptian obelisk, Cleopatra's Needle, let's backtrack a few meters to leave the river for a short bit, crossing the street into Embankment Park. This charming slice of greenery has everything you need in a city park all packed into one compact space: monuments, flower beds, benches full of relaxing office workers, the ancient York Watergate, once the bishop's way down to the river from his palace.  

In Embankment Park

Behind the gate, you'll pass the outside seating for Gordon's Wine Bar, a fascinating old bar located in a vaulted-ceiling cellar.

At the west end of the park run right into the entrance to Embankment Tube Station (crowded!) and out the other side to cross Victoria Embankment Road again and to continue westwards under Hungerford Bridge and towards Big Ben.

We'll pass Scotland Yard at the 10-km-mark, and then other government buildings and more war monuments and historic ships.

At the Thames Clipper dock (I recommend you take them to Greenwich sometime!) the steps take you back up to Westminster Bridge, with Parliament and Big Ben right in front of you. Now just run back out to the square to your right and you've finished this amazing run!

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