The plan was hatched at the New Year Dartmoor gathering, and it was simple: the London contingent would meet at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) for a look at the Enduring Eye exhibition of Frank Hurley’s photographs from the ill-fated Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, led by Shackleton. And there may be a few beers after too. It needed something else, though and it wasn’t until a day or two before that I remembered my file of London statues, and more specifically that there was a whole set of statues of explorers. The big question, though, was would they be distributed sensibly.
Research revealed that not only were there sufficient statues to make a walk viable, there were also not too many that I’d have to whittle them down to a subset. Best of all was their placement – seemingly in an almost direct line between Fenchurch Street, my London terminus station, and the RGS. It couldn’t be better. Plans were quickly enhanced with an earlier start and an open invitation to the other members of the team to join me for the epic Trans-City Expedition.
Just like Shackleton’s trip, some difficulties were experienced getting to the start point for the crossing. Various trains were late or cancelled, and Rich seemed to be enjoying his ride on the tube so much he took an overly circuitous route just so he could experience as many trains as possible.
Paul had dressed for the extreme temperatures of the frozen wasteland and turned up complete with his winter Paramo and a hat. Finding London perversely colder than home, the sense of his garb was immediately apparent. With me risking frostbite, we set off to recover Rich from the back of the station, and then returned so he could get a picture of the front. This is someone who dearly loves all things train.
We set off in “Ernest”, the huskies whisking our sleds briskly across the barren and deserted wasteland that is the City at the weekend. Juvenile laughs were directed at numerous structures appearing in the towering ice ridges around them – most of them phallic. Ahead loomed a ship – No. 1 Poultry, designed to look a bit like one. Just after it we came to our first statue cache.
Captain John Smith contributed two key things to civilisation – the first was the establishment of the colony of Virginia in the early 1600s. His second was allegedly being saved by Pocahontas, and thereby providing Disney with an idea for a film 400 years later.
The longest stretch of the crossing now lay ahead of us. St Paul’s, Fleet Street and the Strand brought us to Trafalgar Square. We ducked under Admiralty Arch to begin a run of 3 explorers who never returned from their travels. First up was Captain Cook, clubbed to death by the natives in Hawaii.
Only a little way further on in Waterloo Place we arrived in proper polar territory. On the left was John Franklin, leader of an ill-fated expedition to find the North West Passage. Like Shackleton’s party, his lot also ended up abandoning their ship, but they were less fortunate, succumbing to starvation, hypothermia and reputedly cannibalism. At this point, with Rich professing to be a bit peckish, I started to watch my back and only keep him where I could see him.
Just across the street is Robert Falcon Scott, and we all know what happened to him:
At the end of the Mall, Paul felt the need to “check-in” to Liz’s house and take pictures. Maybe he was trying to get a flag for our expedition, like Shackleton got from George V (the flag was in the exhibition too). Behind the palace though, we cut through Belgravia and Embassy-ville. Flags hung from buildings, and made it easy to locate the next two statues. First, opposite the green and red of Portugal was Prince Henry the Navigator.
Just around the corner, the red and yellow of Spain betrayed the hiding place of Columbus.
Now, with time pressing and already late for our rendezvous with Jim, we headed straight for the RGS, where conveniently the final 3 statues are located:
Shackleton himself is on the Exhibition Road side.
Livingstone is on the Kensington Gore side.
Meeting Jim, we headed inside the exhibition, which is well worth a visit. Especially as it’s free.