A walk through Covid deserted London

Friday 29 March 2021 – That London.

I went for a walk in the centre of lockdown London today. It was rather surreal, not quite 28 Days Later, as construction work continues, but at times it felt not far from it. There were so few people to be seen and even fewer cars on the roads.

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Big news first though. We have secured a place in managed isolation in New Zealand!

This is a prerequisite to book a flight to NZ, airlines will not allow a booking without a space and it is remarkably difficult to get one as there is a lot of competition from other Kiwis as they return home from all over the world. It’s like trying to get a ticket to a rare concert by your, and thousands of others, favourite band. There are few places, and there is high demand. As soon as vacancies are available there is a website pile-on and the web server almost grinds to a halt. It was a frustrating process and bad words were said, frequently.

I got there eventually and managed to book flights the following day without too much trouble. We fly Emirates, via Dubai and Kuala Lumpur and leave the UK on 29 July, then start our 14 days in a managed isolation hotel somewhere in NZ on 31 July. So, yay.

This was my second visit to London during March, Eleanor and I had spent most of a week there earlier in the month. On that visit I had a doctor and dentist appointment and Eleanor had a doctor visit as well, reasonable reasons for travel outside of our local area. This trip was an overnighter as I had my first Covid vaccination today.

I came up on the train after work on yesterday, my first train journey longer than six minutes duration in over a year. It was weird, but very enjoyable, a mostly empty carriage and everyone was wearing a mask. Train is my favorite mode of travel, and something I will miss when we are in NZ. I arrived at London Bridge just after 7pm, the weather was nice and I chose to walk to Liverpool St to take the overground to Walthamstow rather than take the tube.

After crossing London Bridge I walked down to the north side of the Thames to take a couple of photos of the Shard and the surrounding buildings. There were very few people about, it really did not feel like 7pm on a Thursday. Obviously all the bars and restaurants were closed, but still. It was eerily quiet; and it was only going to get quieter. These are hand held photos, so not the crispest.

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Crossing over Upper (or Lower) Thames I was surprised to see almost no cars, and I didn’t have to wait long to get a photo of an almost deserted street.

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Leadenhall Market was no better. This place would usually be absolutely rammed with city drinkers at 7:30 on a Thursday evening, all year round. It was deserted.

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I meant to get some food at London Bridge but decided to wait until I arrived at Liverpool St, though on arriving I found a train leaving for Walthamstow almost immediately, and with a 30 minute wait until the following I chose to take the one in front of me. They have upgraded the trains on the Chingford line since I last used it; these are much nicer than the old clunkers that travelled the line previosuly. I had a carriage to myself. I grabbed a take-away burger from the Collab in Walthamstow. As with the city, the streets of the ‘Stow were empty of everyone but uber eats and deliveroo riders, and what looked like some drug dealers on a corner.

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My vaccination appointment was at 9:30 am but I arrived early and was vaccinated early too. I was on the platform waiting for a train back to the city before the official appointment time. A highly efficient, friendly and pain free service. Well done the NHS! (and fuck the Tories!)

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I had a few hours until my train back to St Leonards from Victoria Station so I elected to get off the train from Walthamstow at Bethnal Green and walk from there; checking out Shoreditch street art and brutalist architecture on the way.

Sadly, there isn’t a lot of street art left in Shoreditch, gentrication and a lack of funds is more likely the cause than Covid, I am guessing a lot of the folk who drove the explosion of street art a few years back have moved on as well. There’s a lot of tagging, this was prevalent throughout the city which surprised me, councils had to cut budgets somewhere I guess. I didn’t take many photos of the street art, a lot of the old stuff has gone and the much of the newer stuff isn’t as good.

A very old Stik, and one of my favourite pieces ever.

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A new(ish) Dan Kitchener.

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I don’t know who these two are by, but I liked them.

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The ever prolific Alo – of whom I am a fan.

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I walked over to the Barbican Centre to take some photos of the fabulous brutalist buildings. Brutalism, of the building variety, isnot something I will see much of in NZ, particularly in Auckland. I love the Barbican, a place I could wander around for ages. It is huge and there is a lot to see, and it has a pretty good vibe. It is well visited by tourists and I imagine those who live here get a bit sick of people like me,  pointing their camera lenses at everything. Not that there were many tourists around today, anywhere.

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I walked over towards St Paul’s and took some photos of the very empty streets. I was genuinely shocked at how empty the city is as I thought a number of people had gone back to Covid safe offices. I heard tales of packed tube trains so I have no idea where those people go to, I don’t believe they are all construction workers or cafe staff. These photos were taken just before mid-day and there should have been some people heading out to buy lunch.

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Some of the food places were open, nowhere as many as normal, but enough. I grabbed a coffee and sat on the steps opposite a deserted St Pauls to drink it and pondered how London can be so quiet.

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I don’t think I have seen the Millennium Bridge almost empty, ever. I took a photo of the Tate Modern, one of the places in the UK I will miss the most when I am in Auckland.

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I came across a Jimmy C. painting outside Blackfriars Stattion, street art on the South Bank. Wow, things have changed in the last couple of years.

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Continuing on with my brutalist architecture theme I grabbed a photo of the block of flats on the riverside. I used to deliver here when I was a van driver for DHL in the 80s, I can’t imagine what a flat costs here now, it was a little run down here back then.

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I then spent 30 minutes walking around the National Theatre and Festival Hall; two of my favourite London buildings. I may come back here before we leave and take some more photos, though by that time we will have seen some Covid restrictions relaxed, so I suspect it will be busier.

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I could only walk aroud the outside as all the stairwells were closed.

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With my train departure drawing closer I started the walk towards Victoria Station. Walking along the South Bank where I stopped for lunch; it was almost as empty as the streets in the city, before crossing Westminster Bridge to the Houses of Parliament. There was more police than citizens here. I elected to take a slight detour to take a photo of the office, which I sent to my workmates to show them it was still there.

As I was walking back towards Victoria St it started to drizzle a little and then the sky just opened and dumped one of the heaviest downpours of rain I have experienced in the UK, luckily I managed to find shelter almost immediately and avoided getting drenched. it didn’t last more than a few short minutes.

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I arrived at the station mostly dry and with enough time to by a snack and a drink before getting on another mostly empty train back home. The station was very quiet too. Victoria Bus Station is nearby and a lot of the international buses terminate there, discharging their passengers into the train station for onward journeys, but not today. No or limited travels meant no tourists hanging about the station looking lost.

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I took a few photos out of the train window as we moved through the city and the countryside, with the aim of continuing the series of slightly blurry and monochrome photos I was working on before Covid derailed transport. It was a bit of a listless affair. When I was home I was surprised to find I had taken 135 photos over the course of the last 24 hours, Wow, that is a heck of a lot for me.

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I arrived back in St Leonards, and the sea, just as more rain arrived, though it continued eastward with the train and the walk up the hill to the flat was not too wet, just enough.

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I love London, but it was nice to get home.