On Sunday 1st February, despite portents of snow, 15 game walkers gathered at Camden Tube station at a lie in defying 9am just for the fun of following in bygone footsteps and completing the Patterson Challenge. With equipment ranging from solid walking boots and ski jackets to pumps and hoodies, we branded everyone with a Londonist badge and set off down Parkway with only a vague inkling of the insane, frustrating, surprising and exhaustingly fun trek ahead of us.
Several things became clear early on. Patterson did not have an A-Z. Him and his uncle did plenty of tourist trail back tracking and going round in circles at annoying points (i.e. when you’re really keen to get across London Bridge and sit – aah – on the boat rather than detour up Lower Thames Street to see Custom House and come back again). He also had a very selective memory when it came to writing his diary of sights seen. Regents Street and Duke of York Steps get name-checked but Eros in Piccadilly? Walked right past it. Fish Street Hill is marched down yet the unmissable Monument omitted. Something we saw which he didn’t? The Household Cavalry on parade. Woo.
While much of the route is intact 150 years on there are some notable differences to the experience. By Westminster Bridge we were reminded that Bazalgette didn’t construct our embankment sewers till the 1870s. Hence, Patterson’s loitering by the Thames would have been unctuously stinky. Whereas our main irritants were crowds of tourists and persistent traffic breaking our stride we suspect our Victorian tourist had to be more robustly tolerant to contend with the smell. Fortunately, he and Uncle were able to seek refuge inside both Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s for free. Unless we were prepared to sit through Sunday service at both it would have cost us £21 a head. Reassuringly, though, some things never change. At Greenwich in the Painted Hall a storytelling, historical Pensioner gave us the exact same spiel Patterson had back then – how Thornhill the painter lay on his back for 40 years to complete the magnificent ceiling, and promptly died.
Diverging from the planned and original route just the once, we took the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and followed the Thames Path all the way round the Isle of Dogs to rejoin Patterson’s trail at Wapping. He had gone on from Greenwich to visit Deptford Docks and even paid to look round them – an indication of his interest considering he refrained from paying out for Hansom Cabs at any point in his very long day. We couldn’t have taken the Thames Tunnel even if we wanted to since it now houses the currently shut East London Line. Fittingly, our alternative path meant we passed the launch site of Brunel’s Great Eastern which had taken to the river just about a year before Patterson’s visit.
All in all it was an epic stroll and in the final analysis we covered around 15 pedestrian miles over 8 hours (with half an hour for lunch) and took the best Thames Clipper ever (warm, with comfy seats and a loo). We also bathed in glorious Thameside sun and were hotly pursued by an apocalyptic snow blizzard which swept magnificently from the Isle of Dogs, first engulfing Canary Wharf and then us at Wapping. This was followed by snow… snow which didn’t stop for over 24 hours. You know the rest. Quite an adventure. Three cheers for the hardy 8 who made it all the way: go Team Patterson! Londonist salutes you. And we’ve another challenge up our collective sleeve for you soon.
See more pictures of the Patterson Walk in our special Flickr pool. Big thanks to Andrew, Paul, Brett, Conrad, Amanda, Lauren, John, Pete, Ben, Anna, Phil, Sue and Lottie for being game walking companions and for Amanda, Conrad, Brett and Pete for sharing their photos. Thanks to to Dave for interpreting our Twittering and Ross for joining in at the last leg.
You want to walk the walk? Download our notes and Patterson’s here.