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Travel: The London Bridge Hotel, Southwark

IN contrast to London’s theatreland, the history of Southwark stretches back beyond Roman times.

Yet today, the mix of old and new at this ancient site is remarkable, and a brilliant base to explore it from is the London Bridge Hotel, an independently owned, four-star property, situated in the new London Bridge Quarter - one of the most dynamic new developments in the English capital.

The Edwardian-style, red brick hotel built in 1915 sits across the busy main street from Southwark Cathedral - begun in 1215 - and in the shadow of The Shard, London’s newest landmark and Europe’s tallest building, finished in 2012.

Head south and the popular Borough Market is a brief stroll away. Turn right and before crossing London Bridge you can walk along the embankment. West takes you to nearby Vinopolis, the complete wine experience, and Shakespeare’s rebuilt Globe Theatre.

Head east and you can cross Tower Bridge, lured by the central iconic White Tower, to the Tower of London, founded by William the Conqueror.

We’re here because despite living in one of the world’s finest cities, it does me good to appreciate what we have in Edinburgh by contrasting it with other places. It’s great fun to be a tourist in London at the weekend and I’ve always loved the City and its environs.

The train is the best way to get here, and if money’s not too tight to mention, a first class upgrade is well worth the extra.

Apart from the more spacious seating and picture-window views, the price includes a regular and attentive at-seat service of hot and cold food, as well as complimentary drinks, including stronger ones on Fridays (but not on the way back on Sunday).

Arriving on a Friday evening at King’s Cross, the vast crowds help you remember why you wouldn’t want to live there.

After buying an Oyster card for Underground travel we discover someone has been taken ill and the Northern Line is closed. Cue more queueing.

After a detour and minor confusion because the street is closed to traffic for building work, we check in to discover London Bridge Hotel has a stylish, contemporary interior, a friendly and efficient service and a rather nice Quarter Bar and lounge.

A restorative G&T sets us up for the first port of call on what we have designated a gastronomic weekend.

St John on St John Street, Farringdon, a brief stroll from Smithfield Market, where a plaque marks the execution site of William Wallace, is well known as Fergus Henderson’s homage to all things meaty. The unpretentious, former Victorian smokehouse is as busy as ever.

Drinks and dishes of cuttlefish, herring, snails, pork and cheese with wine prove inspired choices for £134.

Back in our compact but comfortable rooms with everything a person could need, we plan our Saturday strategy.

It begins with breakfast at the Wolseley in Piccadilly, a stone’s throw from the Royal Academy and Fortnum & Mason, where the grand, chandeliered interiors and exquisite service will impress you mightily, as well as the surprisingly affordable food.

The late Lucien Freud loved it so much he visited every day, and when he died in 2011 they placed a black cloth on his favourite table (it was in the centre, by the way).

All of which sets us up for a detour to Westminster, where, because it is Saturday, my MP is not at home and able to arrange a free visit, so instead I’ve booked a 75-minute guided tour of Westminster Hall and the Houses of Lords and Commons (£15, book online).

A particularly informative guide makes it an entertaining and educational experience, as does the comedic Beefeater at our next port of call, the Tower of London (entry fee £21).

Dinner that night is at swish and stylish Scott’s seafood restaurant in Mount Street, Mayfield, a few doors down from the Connaught, where the most wonderful oysters and halibut will set you back a tidy sum if you go for both bottles of French wine.

Hotel breakfast is a struggle next morning, but only because I’m still full. But I walk it off on a visit to the magical atmospheric and historic former Spitalfields home of Dennis Severs in Folgate Street, where from 12-4pm on Sunday you can step back in time to the 18th century for the price of £10.

Then it’s back to my friends at Kings Cross, and those tasty East Coast pork and apricot sandwiches . . .

• London Bridge Hotel, 8-18 London Bridge Street, Londson SE1 9SG. Call 020-7855 2200, www.londonbridgehotel.com. Room rates at weekend are £99 per night. Breakfast is £10 if booked online, or £16.95p standard.

• St John, 26 St John Street EC1. Reservations on 020 3301 8069, www.stjohngroup.uk.com

www.visitlondon.com

www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon

www.parliament.uk

www.scotts-restaurant.com

www.dennissevershouse.co.uk

 

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