England Grand Tour (2021): Day 9: And so to London

We hit the jackpot with this morning’s breakfast, which was at The Coffee Shop in tiny Sherfield on Loddon. The venue turned out to be a lovely, welcoming place attached to the village post office, and the food and coffee were good too – a great way to start the day! We then returned to Tylney Hall for showers and packing, before taking our trusty Citroën back to Heathrow Terminal 5, via the M3 and the M25. After completing the formalities, we had another coffee at the terminal and then proceeded to our next hotel on TfL Rail and the Central Line.

We checked in for three nights at the Hilton London Kensington, a hotel we had both stayed at before. After briefly settling into our latest room, we went down to the lobby bar to enjoy a refreshing beer, thereby making a start on our rather generous supply of ‘free drink’ vouchers that had been allocated at check-in.

Around 3pm, we went for a stroll through nearby Westfield London, West London’s mega-shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush / White City. We were both appalled at the low levels of ‘Covid compliance’ among the hordes of Saturday-afternoon shoppers. A particular point of interest in the centre was Japan Centre Ichiba, said to be the largest Japanese food hall in Europe. Returning to the hotel, we encountered a crazy ‘3-in-1’ protest march consisting of “freedom fighters” (a.k.a. anti-maskers), pro-Palestinian/anti-Israelis, and a third group that neither Bruce nor I can recall. Later, it transpired that we had left Westfield just in time, as the demonstrators had invaded it.

A little later, we went for an early-evening foray into Central London. The short journey on the Central Line proved to be a terrible experience: the train was absolutely packed, with a massive anti-masker presence. On arrival at Oxford Circus, hordes of (literally) bare-faced people deliberately swept along the platform in the wrong direction, yelling their belief in freedom to do exactly as they please. Welcome to London, 2021!

A walk through Soho and Chinatown revealed the entire area to be absolutely rammed with people. There appeared to be no chance at all of getting a table, whether inside or out, but we eventually managed to grab an outside one at Browns in St Martin’s Lane. Having earlier seen the Japanese offerings at Westfield London, we finally made for the Japan Centre in Panton Street and bought food to go. We caught a 94 bus from Charles II Street all the way back to our hotel. Due to a recent gap in the service, it also became far too crowded, given the circumstances of an ongoing pandemic.

The day ended with another very pleasant in-room picnic with our purchased supplies. It felt great to be back in London again, tempered by a degree of concern over some quite astonishing displays of ‘Covid bad behaviour’.