The Queen and the Dragon

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(…and following some literary heroes into their favourite drinking holes… )

This sounds like fairytale or a Dickens novel… I know... but it refers to an extraordinary and archaic little factoid about London, and the City of London. For you see…. London is in fact two cities, or a city within a city. We’ll get to Charles Dickens and his drinking habits later on.

Historically the central part of London was divided between the City of Westminster and the City of London. Westminster is where the politicians and monarch reigned (except you know when Cromwell beheaded King Charles I), and the City was (and still is) the financial district… a law unto itself.

The border between Royal and Political London and Financial London is marked by this statue just in front of the Royal Courts of Justice and Temple Bar.

The silver Dragon clutching the flag of Saint George is the City of London's emblem. You can spot it on all the lamp posts and bollards on the City side of the statue… replacing the golden W that you find on the lamp posts in the political and royal City of Westminster. On ceremonial visits the monarch stops here to receive permission from the Lord Mayor of London to enter... he then presents her with a pearl encrusted sword, as a token of loyalty to the soverign, first gifted to the City by Elizabeth I.

The legend: This is perhaps why the dragon stands above the Monarch on the statue.... which you’ll see is Queen Victoria.

Getting There

Walking:

From the epicenter of London that is Trafalgar Square, after marveling at Nelson’s Coloumn and popping in to gawp at the exquisite works of art on display, for free, in the National Gallery, you can saunter up the Strand, with all the theatres and pubs of the West End to your left. The Strand then becomes Fleet Street. The statue sits between the Royal Courts of Justice and Twinings Tea Shop.

The Strand is so called because it actually used to be where the water of the Thames reached – the word means “beach” in German. The water level is now many meters further down thanks to walls and barriers built up over the years. You’ll notice many of the side-alleys-off-the-side alleys around here are called “Watergate”. (Meaning the water level, not er.. you know.. Nixon).

The nearest train station is Charing Cross. You can also get on the Tube: the District line stops at Temple and Embankment.

Some refreshing and unique pit-stops

Close by the “border” statue you have the hub of London at your fingertips. Just to the north you have the theatres of the West End and Covent Garden. But there also are four of my favourite places to go in London that are just a little bit out of the way.

Drink where Dickens drank; “slurp” Tea in the same shop as Earl Grey; sip prosecco in the shadow of a princely mansion and imbibe the beer of Dr Johnson… Somerset House, Gordon’s Wine Bar, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and old Tom’s Twinings Tea Shop!

Tea

Twinings is the oldest continually used logo in the world – and the outside of their tea shop is now a listed monument. Perching on top of it are two characters from the tea plantations of China. Twinings really brought tea to England. Tom Twining even invented the popular Earl Grey – and each successive Earl Grey now signs off the brew, every generation! It has become a landmark of London and indeed British history – and is a fabulous place to visit for the history lover and tea connoisseur. The shop feels like an olde worlde Victorian sweet shop lined with jars filled with teas to sniff and try, and has been open for business for over 300 years. At the back of the shop is a mini museum with the original Royal warrant, and a contemporary tea bar where you can stop in to try some of their exotic teas or have one of your favourite brews. You can also book a Twinings masterclass – a surprisingly excellent fun thing to do whilst in London! Where you also learn how to “slurp” not sip your tea. The group I went along with gave our Tea Ambassador who led the presentation and tea tasting a standing ovation at the end of her passionate oration!

Wine

If you wanted something a little stronger, then my favourite place for a refreshing glass of wine is Gordon’s Wine Bar. London’s oldest wine bar, it is situated on Watergate Street, just off Villiers Street. The legend is that it was the inspiration for The Leaky Couldron pub in Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books! It retains its Victorian features, including the plumbing, and has a wonderfully atmospheric interior – a cavelike space decorated in all sorts of old Royal memorabilia and press cuttings. Many legends of British history have imbibed here, including Charles Dickens who worked at a shoe factory that has since become Embankment station just a 2 minute walk away. Gordon’s also takes up the whole of Watergate street with its green umbrellas and tables for sitting outside. They also have a wonderful cheese and meat counter and provide Sunday Roasts as well. Well worth a visit! And the wine lists are always excellent.

Prosecco

Given my love of Rome, its no wonder that I have fallen in love with the glorious piazza within the walls of the majestic Somerset House. In the winter they turn the quadrangle into an ice rink, but in the spring and summer it is a wonderful place to sit outside and enjoy the spectacular building and view of the River Thames. It houses many bars and restaurants as well as the Courtauld Gallery famous for its collection of the Impressionists. Come here for an early evening prosecco on a weekday to enjoy this wonderful place almost to yourself!

Beer

The Brits are famed for their beer consumption and if it’s a real ale you want, with a dash of historic charm then you must try out Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese at 145 Fleet Street – one of the oldest pubs in London and an old favourite of literary figures such as Dickens, P.G Wodehouse and even Dr Johnson. It has been a drinking establishment since 1538, although it was rebuilt after the Great Fire of London in 1666. (Which makes it brand new then…). Famous for its rather gloomy, fire-lit and higgledy-piggledy interior this is a lovely spot to stop off in and warm up!