|The Bear of London|
At Covent Garden I handed over from the Year of the Bus Westminster Trail to the Paddington Christmas Trail. This was set up less formally than the bus trail and almost immediately I had some trouble finding the elusive bears. There were two housed at Covent Garden but I didn’t find it for some time as it was largely hidden by all the Christmas shopping crowds. The other was more prominent and attracting a good deal of attention from passing kids as it was stationed outside the Royal Opera House.
|Leicester Square Bear|
Having started the trail I headed off towards Leicester Square via Charing Cross and Trafalgar Square. I found the next Paddington not too far from where I had seen one of the buses. While I shaped up to take a picture I was approached by a triumphalist ‘spotter’ who had ticked this one off as the last one he needed to find. Just to rub it in he told me that he had also seen all the buses too. Nothing like an encounter like that to make your own efforts seem rather worthless…
|Paddington the Explorer|
Leicester Square proved to be rather frustrating as the Paddington stationed there was in the middle of the Square, which was locked off until later in the day because the funfair in the green area was not yet open to the public. I had to view the Paddington from afar (called Blush and sponsored by Nicole Kidman) and make do with that. I did have more luck with the one along the road at Picadilly Circus, which was Paddington the Explorer and a rather more expected design than the rainbow affair I had seen earlier.
By now lunchtime was upon us and the crowds were really building up. I struggled to make very good speed down Picadilly and was relieved when I was able to disappear into the same shopping arcade that we had walked up during the London 2012 mascot trails. It looked extremely good decked out in Christmas decorations but I didn’t like to look at the prices in the shops as I imagine they were rather eye-watering.
The next bear wasn’t too easy to find – I think I need to rely less on maps for some of these trails and think about the Apps that go with these trails. They seem to work for people rather better, although I am a bit of a luddite when it comes to mobile technology. Thread Bear was a rather fun design though – looked like it was based on cross stitch. I was rather pleased to see that the next bear was in Berkeley Square – this really is a smashing part of London. The gardens in the middle seem to be very serene and the buildings all around look so grand. Somehow the square seemed more regal in the winter without all the leaves on the trees that we had seen on our last visit back in 2012. The Paddington here stood proudly on the grille of a Rolls Royce. It seemed rather upstaged though by the astonishing piece of art installed further down the square - the fabulously colourful 'The Sun' by Dale Chihuly.
It was about this point that I realised that this was quite a long trail, especially as the distances between Paddingtons was quite long. As I headed towards Bond Street I cross the substantial works of Crossrail, the massive new engineering project that will link the rail network east to west across London. It made me wonder how much of the substructure of London is devoid of any works whatsoever? Underneath the city must be a honeycomb of tunnels and engineering features almost as dense as what you find at ground level. It must be enormously complicated finding clear paths for the tunnels to run.
Any notion that I had seen busy London thus far was soon scotched when I entered Oxford Street. This was a teeming mass of humanity, all frantically trying to get their Christmas presents and shopping arranged. Only one more day remained after this one and I could sense the feeling of tension in the air. It seemed slightly ludicrous that I was here looking for Paddington Bear sculptures, but I was rather caught up in the atmosphere. I especially enjoyed the window displays of Selfridges – they were all especially festive and original. Despite the crowds sights like these made me think it was worthwhile coming to the Capital for a Christmas walk. I spotted A gold Paddington in the window among a display of what else, marmalade!
Further along Oxford Street were two other bears, one called Sparkles and another called Bear Humbug, sponsored by Ant and Dec no less. The latter was stationed by a very jaunty steel band belting out ‘Little Donkey’ Caribbean style – it was all slightly odd but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. I chucked some change in the tin after waiting for them to finish. They weren’t the only musicians along the street, there were plenty of others at respectful distances from each other and all doing Christmas singing in various styles. The black gospel choir outside Bond Street station were my other favourites.
Just past Oxford Circus and I was able to leave the madness of Oxford Street behind, disappearing down the back streets of Soho. I passed by the London Palladium – funnily enough that is the first time I have ever done that! Just along from there was Parka Paddington, a rather classic looking design that seemed to be ignored by all who passed by. Seems strange that some commanded a huge amount of attention while others didn’t.
My way back to Picadilly Circus took me through Carnaby Street, still full of the sorts of shops that made this street famous in the 1960s although I suspect these days less trendy and more ruthlessly designed to remove money from the pocket. The atmosphere in Carnaby Street seemed a lot less intense than back at Oxford Street and I liked it for that reason alone. The Christmas decorations were rather eye-catching too as the street was decorated with hundreds of lightbulbs hanging down across the street. I was rather disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see them lit up…
The final Paddington on this trail was parked along a side street near Picadilly Circus and depicted a scene from the Amazon. The Bear was called Bearodiversity – a rather appropriate title I thought. Now back at Picadilly Circus I decided to head to another part of London for the next Paddington Bear Trail around Paddington station itself – seemed an appropriate thing to do and got me away from all the crowds that I had experienced on this walk.
I did find the Paddington Bear mascots rather more difficult to find than the buses – the trail suffered from not being properly mapped and in that respect it was like the Gromit and Clyde trails that we had recently followed in Bristol and Glasgow. I have to say that these trails are far better when properly arranged and take in the best aspects of the cities in which they are based. The Paddington Trail didn’t seem particularly well devised I have to say…