Hot on Sherlock Holmes's trail

Mark Campbell sniffs out the London haunts of Conan Doyle's legendary sleuth
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The Independent Travel

One of the most famous literary addresses in London is 221b Baker Street. There's only one problem – the cosy rooms of amateur detective Sherlock Holmes and his friend, John H Watson, don't actually exist.

The "real" 221b, subsumed by the head office of the Abbey National, is not a worthy place of veneration. However, down the street in the Sherlock Holmes Museum (020-7935 8866; www.sherlock-holmes.co.uk), you'll find a mock 221b frontage and a frighteningly accurate rendition of the dark and cluttered Victorian interior of Conan Doyle's stories.

But for every fictitious address in the Canon (the official term for the four novels and 56 short stories featuring Holmes and Watson), you'll find plenty of bona fide locations in the capital. To begin with, turn the corner into Wigmore Street and you pass the post office that Holmes magically deduced Watson had visited in The Sign of Four (1890).

From there, it's a short walk to Oxford Street, as mentioned in The Red-Headed League (1891), a story that also has Holmes visiting St James's Hall, Piccadilly, for "a good deal of German music". Demolished in 1905, this was once London's premier concert hall. And at Piccadilly Circus was the bustling Criterion Bar in which Watson bumped into his old mate Stamford in A Study in Scarlet (1887).

Walk south down Regent Street to Pall Mall, and you'll see where the fictitious Diogenes Club was supposed to be situated, a place that contained "the most unsociable and unclubbable men in town", according to The Greek Interpreter (1893). Its founder member was, of course, Holmes's brother, Mycroft.

Here, you're only a stone's throw from the Thames, and it was along this stretch of water that Holmes pursued villainous Jonathan Small in an unfeasibly exciting boat chase in The Sign of Four. Beginning at Westminster Stairs, a landing-stage by the Houses of Parliament, the detective and his quarry eventually ended up miles downriver at "the melancholy Plumstead Marshes". (As I write, I can just see the latter area from my window, now coruscated with hundreds of new houses – it probably looks more melancholy now than ever...)

From Whitehall, cut through Great Scotland Yard (home of the Metropolitan Police until 1890) and you'll find yourself standing opposite the magnet for fans from across the world – the Sherlock Holmes Pub (020 7930 2644; www.sherlockholmespub.homestead.com) in Northumberland Avenue. Built on the site of the old Northumberland Hotel – in which Sir Henry Baskerville stayed in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901-02) – the cavernous interior is filled with bric-a-brac from every Holmes adventure. And if you venture upstairs to the restaurant, you'll find the interior of another 221b Baker Street, this time a Festival of Britain display bought by Whitbread & Co in 1957. The Holmes mannequin may be on the cadaverous side, but you can't fault the Victorian detail.

Close to the pub once stood Nevill's Turkish Bath, its entrance now forming part of the wall of the bank in Craven Passage. It was here, in the upper- floor drying room, on 3 September 1902, that Holmes and Watson first discussed The Illustrious Client (1924). Walk up Craven Street, turn right, and you'll be outside Charing Cross Station. Built in 1864 by John Hawkshaw, this is where the two colleagues boarded a train for The Abbey Grange (1904). Further along is the elegant Simpson's-in-the-Strand (020-7836 9112), a restaurant that Holmes repaired to after his draining exertions as The Dying Detective (1913).

Now go up Bow Street and you'll pass the Magistrates' Court (0845 6008889) in whose cells languished The Man With The Twisted Lip (1891). Turn right at Great Queen Street, cross Kingsway and walk through Lincoln's Inn Fields. There, you'll find the eccentric Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons (020-7869 6560; www.rcseng.ac.uk), where Dr Mortimer spent a day of "pure amusement" in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Once you've successfully navigated Holborn Circus, you can finish your tour where it all started – St Bartholomew's Hospital, West Smithfield. It was in the bowels of this Victorian edifice that the first meeting took place between war invalid and amateur sleuth, as described in A Study in Scarlet. "I've found it!" was Holmes's first utterance. And the rest, as they say, is history – or rather, fiction.

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