Saturday 10th November 2012
For Christmas 2011, Emma and I were bought tickets for the London Duck Tours Amazing Amphibious Adventure. And, since the tickets were shortly to expire, we had booked our places on the 11:30 Tour. So, we were up bright and early to catch the 09:30 train to Westminster, where we then walked across Westminster Bridge and found a place on York Road to get a bacon sandwich and coffee. We then went into the Duck Tours Booking Office, where we left Erin’s buggy, before heading across the road to the Duck Stop on Chicheley Street. Exactly on time our ‘Duck’ began its Tour, with Sam at the wheel and Ali as our Tour Guide.
Leaving Chicheley Street we turned right onto York Road, where Ali pointed out the abundance of cast-iron and steel lampposts on London’s streets, so unless we wanted to stop at St. Thomas’ Hospital we should keep our hands and heads inside the ‘Duck’ at all times. We were then instructed in the rules of the Duck Tour:
If you see another Duck Tour vehicle, you MUST flap your arms and make noises like a duck.
End of the rules.
We then crossed Westminster Bridge, all the time waving at the ‘tourists’ who were bemused by our WWII bright yellow and blue ‘Duck’ on wheels, but who still smiled and took photos. A quick trip around Parliament Square and we headed up Whitehall, passed Downing Street and Horse Guards and up to Trafalgar Square, where we were told some quite interesting facts (some of which were new, even to me) about Nelson and his Column. From here we were drove onto Cockspur Street and then Pall Mall, where we passed many Gentlemen’s Clubs and St. James’ Palace and the Club where John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich ‘invented’ the sandwich. (Although for centuries people had placed meats between slices of bread and called them simply, “bread and meat” or “bread and cheese”.) From here we turned left onto Piccadilly, passing the Ritz Hotel and Green Park. At this point Ali gave us two different stories as to why Green Park is so green;
1. King Charles II and his wife were out walking in Upper St. James’ Park (as it was known), when she said to the King, “You should pick the most beautiful flower in this park and it give to the most beautiful woman you know.” So, King Charles II looked around and found the most beautiful flower he could and gave it to a passing maid. The Queen was so incensed by this that, on her arrival back at the Palace, she demanded the gardeners remove all the flowers and flowerbeds and never plant another flower in the park… Ever! And, to this day, there are still no formal flowerbeds in Green Park.
2. The Green Park was originally a swampy burial ground for the lepers from nearby St. James’s Hospital and, with so much leprosy in such a small place, the gardeners refused to plant flowers for fear of catching the disease.
I prefer story number one.
We then passed the Wellington Arch with the massive Quadriga, before heading along Grosvenor Place and on to Buckingham Palace Road. Because it is illegal for commercial vehicles, HGV’s or buses to pass along The Mall, we turned onto Buckingham Gate and then onto Petty France. As we approached Wellington Barracks, we could see a bored looking sentry, so we all waved like maniacs and he snapped to attention, stood proud and saluted us with a big grin. From here we headed South towards Westminster Abbey Church and Parliament Square, where we headed along Abingdon Street and onto Millbank, where we passed the Headquarters of M.I. 5, before crossing the River Thames via Vauxhall Bridge. With the S.I.S. Building to our left, (also known as 85 Albert Embankment, M.I.6 Headquarters, Babylon-on-Thames, Legoland and T.S.A.R. by the occupants of M.I.5 (Those Shits Across the River)), we turned on to the Albert Embankment. Right next door to the S.I.S. building is a ramp that leads into the River Thames and it was here Sam, our driver, got out and was replaced by a seafaring driver. Minutes later, after Ali had pointed out the lifejackets and escape routes (which was anyway off of the sinking Duck) our Pilot took us into the brackish water of the River Thames with such wild abandon that I wondered what he had done in his younger life; Getaway driver sprung to mind. Within seconds the brown water of the River Thames was inches from coming through the ‘windows’ of the ‘Duck’. (There were many screams from many of the women onboard but, I hasten to add, NOT from Erin or Emma.) Steering East we headed towards Westminster Bridge and a close-up view of the Houses of Parliament. After about 20 minutes, on the River we headed back to the ramp to continue our journey, via road. On exiting the River, our Pilot removed himself from the ‘Duck’ to be replaced by Sam, who seemed happier now that he had a warm mug of coffee inside him. We followed the Albert Embankment passed the London Fire Brigade Headquarters, the International Maritime Organization, Lambeth Palace, St. Thomas’ Hospital and the Florence Nightingale Museum before heading down York Road and onto Belvedere Road, where we passed the Shell Building and got a great view of the London eye, before turning onto Chicheley Street, where our adventure ended. On exiting our ‘Duck’, who was named Elizabeth, we were greeted by Ali, with cap-in-hand, accepting any denominations of beer tokens. Because he had been so interesting, knowledgeable and amusing, we happily obliged.
If you have never been on a London Duck Tour Amazing Amphibious Adventure, you are seriously missing out, and I would urge you to book a seat at your earliest convenience.
Purchase tickets from – www.londonducktours.co.uk
or call their booking hotline on – 020 7928 3132
or visit the booking office – 55 York Road, London, SE1 7PY
Pre-booking is highly recommended!