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Thursday 29 September 2011

A Love Letter to SE1

I'd love to say that I'm writing about my favourite place in London because I'm happy, but as the excellent blogger Blonde M recently said, one doesn't usually write because you're happy.

Truth be told, ladies and gents, I'm pretty sad.

Last night was my last in London's gorgeous, glittering, ridiculous postcode of SE1. It's home to the Oxo Tower, roast lunches par excellence at Roast and the Royal Oak, cocktails with the best views in London, sleazy bars, dodgy bus routes and amazing food. I've lived, loved, and faffed around here since ditching east London in 2008, and while it may not seem that long, I've packed an awful lot into my time here and woken up to London and living more than anywhere else.

After five addresses and more than enough landlords, I'm moving to Camberwell. That's really it for living in Borough, Waterloo, London Bridge and the Old Kent Road.

SE1 is an embrace of magical places, and total dross. They kiss each other affectionately, like unruly families at Christmas: the beautiful, terrifying Imperial War Museum, and then the Clink, a museum next to Vinopolis that is doomed to smell of shit but manages to be cheerily aware of this fact and quietly ignore it. For every rubbish bar, there are three insanely boutique ones offering artisan drinks and food.

You get the best walk in winter, when it snows: from Tower Bridge along Potters Field Park, with the vast array of snowmen built by excitable Australians, to snow angels and mulled wine at the Tate Modern. Burgess Park, just off Trafalgar Avenue on the Old Kent Road, is another stunning place for a really blustery, snowy walk.

At any time of year, you're half-guaranteed a good book, and definitely a good nose, around the book fair by the BFI. And those glittering blue and white lights that line the trees along the South Bank? The best place for a first kiss in London.

The second best, I think, would be the swimming pool in the Waterloo underpass. Walk from the station to the IMAX, taking in the Sue Hubbard poem Eurydice (the most beautiful poem in or about London? Yes.) and then follow the blue lights towards the National Theatre. It's not a swimming pool, but it's what I call it. The view from Waterloo Bridge now - that's just 100% potted wow right there.

I love pottering around the back streets of Waterloo, through the '40s glamour of Roupell Street along arty Union Street and up to Borough. SE1 has an embarrassment of good food that doesn't require you to spend an hour walking very slowly behind every hungry person in London at Borough Market! The Slow Food market down at the Royal Festival Hall is just epic, and when the Udderbelly comes to the South Bank in the summer, it makes an already vibrant area feel like being at an amazing birthday party.

If you're feeling ridiculously flush, or wooing someone glamorous, go to La Barca, just where Waterloo Road meets Lower Marsh, for five star treatment and food to kill for. If you want to feel flush without as much cash, drink cocktails at Baltic on Blackfriars Road and treat yourselves to their excellent food afterwards. If you're feeling seriously flush, you'll do all your grocery shopping at Greensmiths on Lower Marsh, and take all your beautiful pictures to Philips Framing to be trussed up wonderfully.

Prowl down to José on Bermondsey Street (one of Vogue's four most fabulous London streets) for tapas and gossip, and drink in The Garrison and The Woolpack on the way. Smell the roses in summer in the Leathermarket Gardens, and when the cherry blossoms kick in in May, walk around the park just behind St Mary Magdalene church.
Even my bus is a good one - take the RV1 from its start at Tower Bridge and it'll take you through London Bridge, the Oxo Tower, the Royal Festival Hall and all the way to Covent Garden.

I'll be back to visit, I know I will. I have an army of friends who live there. But that will involve a walk and a bus. I've got to fall in love with somewhere new now and think fondly back to all the rambling bits of SE1.

Let's just turn to The Cure's Just Like Heaven. I think of it when I read love letters. But arguably, there's little better love letter to an area you adore, to the one that you feel is yours, than this.


  1. Oh I love this - I too had to leave SE1 once, and I've never stopped loving it. *woeful sigh* I even spent 2 years living in a random flat on Union Street, and worked in an office 30 seconds down the road. For a while it was my little universe. SE1, how I love thee!

  2. There's a not little part of my heart left in Borough Market and the surrounding shops.

    And the Old School Yard, obviously.

  3. You brought back some happy memories- I had a lovely time when I lived in Borough.

    However would like to say that even if it's a bit rougher around the edges, Camberwell is also very nice. And the buses from there to SE1 are incredibly quick. My favourite place in Camberwell is The Bear pub.

  4. Hurray for lovely memories of SE1, and onto more new fun experiences in SE5. I'm very excited about The Bear, Naomi, it's only about 10 minutes from my flat and looks lovely. As does The Crooked Well. Mmm...

  5. I live round here too and agree with you on everything! So many lovely things to see and do, and somehow there's always more...


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