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Strolling Through the Rich History of Old London

November 16, 1986|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

LONDON — There's a new renaissance in this city of history that has been reborn so many times since the temple for Roman soldiers was built here nearly 2,000 years ago.

It's a chapter of today and tomorrow being written by visitors who stroll the sidewalks and ramble through parks where their footsteps rustle in the leaves of late autumn.

Eager to encourage walkabouts, the British Tourist Authority calls the attention of visitors to a book by guide expert Katie Lucas titled "Walkabout." BTA has also participated in the 1986 publication of "Wimpy Walks," a free guide booklet with maps and photographs illustrating 11 theme walks around London. The walks have such intriguing themes as "In Search of Sherlock Holmes," "Royal London," "Theatreland and the South Bank," "The Heart of the City."

Blazing Own Trails

My wife Elfriede and I have been blazing our own walkabout trails simply by taking off down a tempting street during the course of following a suggested theme walk.

We started off one afternoon from our hotel in Mayfair for a walkabout in the legendary heart of fashionable London. Later from Piccadilly we turned up Bolton Street, where Fanny Burney lived at No. 11 in 1818 when she met Walter Scott.

Bolton led us into Curzon Street, where Disraeli lived at No. 19. Then we found ourselves walking past fashionable town houses, clubs, restaurants. The Champagne Exchange, offering a chance to choose and sip from among 42 different champagnes, is diagonally across the White Elephant Club.

South Audley Street, named for Hugh Audley who owned the property in the 17th Century, turned us toward Grosvenor Square just before we reached Hyde Park. This is another high-fashion street with shops of rare antiques and carpets that are each a work of art. South Audley also led us into an understanding of what Londoners mean when they speak of this part of their city as "Best of Both Worlds."

Military Memorial

The two worlds are England and the United States. On the front of Grosvenor Chapel along South Audley Street, one of London's most beautiful small churches, is a memorial to American military men and women who worshiped here during World War II.

Out of the autumn mist in Grosvenor Square rose the bronze memorial statue of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, standing bareheaded as he so often did when he spoke to troops during World War II. Crossing the park through a rustle of fallen leaves, we came to No. 20 Grosvenor Square and the building that served as headquarters for Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower from 1942 to 1944.

In 1785 John Adams, first American ambassador to Britain and later the second President of the United States, lived at No. 9 Grosvenor Square. The American Embassy is on the west end of the square.

Trafalgar Square

In her "London Walkabout" guidebook, Katie Lucas starts off her suggested walks at Trafalgar Square beneath Lord Nelson on his 167-foot fluted Corinthian column. She suggests preparing for this walkabout with a view from the simulated poop deck of Nelson's man-of-war on the north of the square, looking "down Whitehall to Big Ben, which dominates the skyline at Westminster." A walk down Whitehall should be timed for the 10 a.m. Changing of the Horse Guards.

Anne Boleyn, Oliver Cromwell, Sir Walter Raleigh and so many others out of the pages of English history shared this walkabout down Whitehall. So does No. 10 Downing St., now official residence of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, the most important ecclesiastical monument in England, are just ahead.

One of the pubs Katie Lucas recommends for lunch in this area is the 200-year-old Two Chairmen in Tothill Street.

Theme Walk No. 1 of Wimpy Walks will lead you on a successful search for Sherlock Holmes from the lodgings Doyle wrote that he shared with Dr. Watson on Baker Street to the pub near the hotel where their creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, wrote of crimes that were resolved by the master sleuth.

In Bloomsbury, the Woburn Walk of bow-fronted shops will bring to life your dream of Dickens' London. You can retrace the master storyteller's life from Borough High Street in Southwark, where his father was imprisoned, to the home on Doughty Street, now his museum, where he created "Pickwick Papers," "Nicholas Nickleby" and "Oliver Twist."

For help in planning your own London walkabouts, contact the British Tourist Authority, 612 S. Flower St., Los Angeles 90017, phone (213) 623-8196.

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