London walks: Row, row your boat gently up the Thames: Michael Leapman traces the race for Doggett's Coat and Badge from London Bridge to Chelsea

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
One of London's least-known annual events is the race for Doggett's Coat and Badge, to be held next Tuesday at 6.15pm. In 1716 the actor Thomas

Doggett instituted this prize for oarsmen, who row the five miles from London Bridge to Chelsea in about three-quarters of an hour.

It will take you longer to walk it, but with a route that passes through the historic heart of London it is worth the effort. You pass or cross nine bridges - of which only the first was there in Doggett's day.

It is a linear walk between Tube stations, so leave the car at home. From London Bridge station, cross Borough High Street and head briefly towards the bridge, then turn left down steps signposted to Glaziers' Hall. Just ahead of you, Southwark Cathedral is worth exploring for its medieval monuments, and from the piazza outside you can climb a few steps for a good river view, with St Paul's looming on the left.

Continue west along Clink Street beneath the magnificent rose window - all that remains of the former palace of the Bishops of Winchester - and the Clink Museum. This tells the bawdy history of the Clink prison and the brothels that used to line the river bank in the 17th century.

After passing under the railway bridge you get to the Anchor - one of the few genuinely old riverside pubs on the route. A tunnel takes you beneath the approach to Southwark Bridge and soon you see the reconstructed Globe

Theatre taking shape on your left, close to the site it occupied in Shakespeare's time.

Passing Cardinal's Wharf, and the house where Wren is supposed to have watched St Paul's being built, you come to the massive Bankside power station, soon to be a branch of the Tate Gallery.

Walk under Blackfriars railway bridge and then up to the road alongside the Daily Express building. Cross to the modern pub named after the Doggett's Coat and Badge race, then walk across Blackfriars Bridge, with its fine views in both directions, and down to the embankment on the north side.

Head towards Waterloo Bridge, passing Temple Tube station (notice the evocative, well-restored green cabmen's shelter) and the back of Somerset House, with views across the river to the South Bank arts complex. Beyond the bridge is Cleopatra's Needle, dating from 1500 BC.

Almost level with it, for a change from the river view, go into Embankment Gardens at the back of the Savoy Hotel, and enjoy the colourful

summer bedding. At the far north-west corner is the Watergate, built in 1626 as the

river entrance to the long-demolished York House. This shows how wide the river was before it was embanked in the last century.

Pass the bandstand and leave the park on Villiers Street. Turn right briefly, then left into a small shopping precinct labelled 'The Arches', beneath Terry Farrell's extravagant modern cloaking for Charing Cross station. Take the escalator on to Hungerford Bridge and one of the few footpaths that runs alongside a railway bridge.

At the end of the bridge turn away from the Festival Hall to head south - the river runs north-south at this point - alongside Jubilee Gardens, partly screened off for works on the Jubilee Line extension. Pass between the river and County Hall (under conversion into a luxury hotel) and climb up to cross the Westminster Bridge approach, continuing on the footpath beside St Thomas's Hospital.

Just before Lambeth Bridge you can enjoy the classic view of Barry's Houses of Parliament. Press on past the bridge, although you will have to leave the riverside to pass in front of Alembic House, where Lord Archer lives, and the new green and cream headquarters for MI6 - again by Terry Farrell. Cross the footbridge, then turn right and walk over Vauxhall Bridge. Steps at the north side lead to a brief river walk behind modern flats, where you can look back and see the statues on the bridge's piers: it is the only one in London that has them. Soon you are forced back on to the road, almost opposite

Dolphin Square.

Continue to Chelsea Bridge, with the view of the decaying Battersea power

station opposite, and note the golden galleons on the bridge itself. The oarsmen have a few hundred yards to go until the finish of the race at Cadogan Pier, but you may have had enough, so turn up Chelsea Bridge Road for Sloane Square.

Fact file

Distance: Five miles

Time: Less than three hours; add time for sightseeing.

Public Transport: Start: London Bridge (Northern Line). End: Sloane Square (District and Circle Lines).

(Photograph omitted)