I’ve always thought that the best way to see a place would be to have a local tour guide. Someone who had lived in that place long enough to know it’s history and some of it’s secrets, the best places to eat and the places to go that aren’t on every tourist’s to-do list. Unfortunately I no longer have a local brain to pick in London, but I do have Google, and that’s kind-of the same thing.
I always like to research a place before I visit it. I feel that I can’t properly appreciate where I am and get the most out of it without a bit of back-up knowledge. One day I was Google-ing “most photographic places in London”, and I found a blog that was talking about St Dunstan-in-the-East. I had never heard of such a place, but am the first to admit that I am hardly a connoisseur of what one should do in London.
The more I read about St Dunstan’s, the more intrigued I became. It was a Church of England parish church, originally built in 1100 and located on St Dunstan’s Hill, halfway between the Tower Bridge and London Bridge. Damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666, it was patched up and a steeple, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, was added. In 1817 the structure of the church proved so bad that it was taken down and rebuilt, opening again in 1821 with Wren’s steeple still intact. The church was severely damaged during the bombings of World War 2 in 1941. The steeple survived the impact, but of the rest of the building, only the north and south walls remained. It was decided not to rebuild St Dunstan’s, and in 1971 it was opened as a public garden, with a lawn and trees planted in the ruins.
The pictures that I found online were pretty, so I corralled my travelling buddies and off we went to visit St Dunstan’s. I was following my maps down a tiny little cobble-stoned alley. Behind me, I could hear Sophie dragging her feet and complaining about being abducted. I was a little stumped when we reached the mouth of the alley, and there, with absolutely no fanfare, surrounded by buildings on all sides, stood St Dunstan. It looked completely unremarkable, and I had a moment of embarrassment at making such a big deal of visiting it.
Luckily we decided to go inside. It was like the City around us just fell away completely and we were left standing in a breath-taking little oasis. As we walked around, I just kept thinking, “If these walls could talk…”. People sat around, eating lunch and enjoying each other’s company, but there was a reverence about the place, and you felt as though you should maybe whisper, almost like a library.
I wish that I had brought a book with me. It would have been so easy to stretch out in the warm grass and read a little, or take a nap. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that we made the effort to see this place. If you are going to London, put it on your to-do list. You can thank me later.