When I become Prime Minister, I am going to appoint His Majesty Minister of Fun. He is a genius at dreaming up miraculous expeditions that put a big smile on my face for days, and are always kind to the planet.
Saturday morning on a cold, clear, sunlit winter day: His Majesty grabs my hand and we race excitedly over London Bridge – our scarves swirling in the breeze – onwards to The City of London. We are going to climb three hundred and eleven spiral steps to the very top of The Monument, the tallest, freestanding Doric column in the whole world.
This is Sir Christopher Wren’s confident homage to the rebirth of London after the Great Fire of 1666 and is his slim, perfectly conceived masterpiece, after St Paul’s stately, English Baroque pre-eminence.
Wow! This is the 17th century version of the London Eye; it’s also a lot more fun, and a fraction of the price. Climb to the top and you emerge into a state of the art viewing platform that resembles an eagle’s eyrie. Imagine 360-degree panoramic views over the most exciting city in the world. Even better, you can stay as long as you like, there is no time limit.
London dazzles in the clear winter light, the best time to visit The Monument, when you can see for miles, and there are fewer tourists. For a moment, you can imagine what it is like to be a bird soaring high above London’s landmarks. Allow yourself to be hypnotized by the svelte Thames clippers as they glide serenely up and down the river under a toy-sized Tower Bridge. Gaze over to the stately dome of St Paul’s, encroached by 21st century cranes, and marvel at the youthful Gherkin peaking out from the tangle of higgledy-piggledy concrete and glass that is the Lloyds building. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Suddenly, London seems smaller, more intimate, but not diminished.
Wren designed and constructed The Monument between 1671-1677, as the city rose out of the ashes, assisted by his great friend and colleague Dr Robert Hooke, the mathematician and astronomer, who included a laboratory for his experiments within the base of the column.
Wren and Hooke conceived The Monument in the grand antique style, as a colossal Doric column, topped with a gilded drum and flaming copper orb to symbolise the Great Fire that raged for almost five days and consumed or destroyed thousands of houses and hundreds of streets in its path. The Monument is 202 feet high – the exact distance between its very location and the site in Pudding Lane where the fire began.
Go and visit soon! Views are better on a clear, cold winter day than in summer, when heat haze obscures the horizon. Celebrate the extraordinary craftsmanship of the men who built and designed this three hundred year old exclamation mark; and one of the great, hidden jewels of our city.
Junction of Monument Street and Fish Street Hill (visible from the north side of London Bridge)
Open daily: 9.30am – 5.30pm. (last admission 5.00pm)
Admission: Adults £3, Concessions £2, Child £1
Bus: 17, 521, 21, 43, 133, 141, 48, 149 (all routes through London Bridge).
Underground: Monument (District & Circle line), or London Bridge (Jubilee and Northern lines)
Train: London Bridge, Fenchurch Street, or Tower Gateway (DLR)