A street art walk around Brick Lane, London

Art galleries and kids tend not to mix that well. Combining priceless art works and contemplative visitors with exuberant kids certainly makes me a little uneasy. Fortunately we found that street art is a great alternative when we enjoyed a great day out spotting it in London.

Street art without permission is illegal, and I wouldn’t condone it in inappropriate places, but in the right context it can enhance an area and attract visitors. One such place where it works really well is in and around Brick Lane, London.

We decided to go on a family street art walk from Aldgate East tube station to Shoreditch Overground station. As well as art on Brick Lane you’ll find plenty on the streets either side of the main thoroughfare and around Shoreditch station. Although some pieces are relatively long lived, the nature of street art is that it changes constantly. We came across some new street art being created in a rather forlorn car park off Brick Lane.

Creating new street art
Creating new street art, just off Brick Lane

Most people will immediately think of Banksy when asked to name a street artist. Once you start your street art hunt you’ll realise just how many other artists there are. Two of our favourites were Jonesy and Stik. Stik paints simple stick like figures, whilst Jonesy creates brass sculptures as well as paintings with an environmental message.

There are various styles of street art, and we saw most types during our walk. This giant hedgehog is by Belgian artist, Roa, and adorns an entire wall. Whilst he is renowned for his large animal murals, other artists may specialise in stencils, wheatpaste or posters. Even yarn bombing is a type of street art and examples adorn lamp posts in our local village. Interestingly, this is technically as illegal as graffiti!

Giant hedgehog, Chance Street (ROA)
Giant hedgehog, Chance Street (ROA)

Brick Lane has an interesting history. As its name suggests it was originally a centre of brick and tile manufacturing. Over the years it has seen successive waves of immigrants, with two of the most notable groups being the French Huguenots in the 17th century and more recently the Bangladeshis. The Huguenots established weaving in the area, whilst the Bangladeshis have led to this area being called the curry capital of the UK.

We didn’t stop for a curry but we did pick up a cheap lunch in another Brick Lane institution, the Beigel Shop. This bakery vies with another a couple of doors down to sell the best salt beef bagel but being a vegetarian I’m not able to comment on who wins. My son certainly enjoyed his smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel though!

Beigel shop, Brick Lane
Beigel shop, Brick Lane

More info:

  • The nearest tube station is Aldgate East. Brick Lane is signposted and about a 5 minute walk from the tube.
  • Brick Lane is probably most famous for its Sunday market. I would suggest visiting on an alternative day if you’re street art spotting as the area gets incredibly crowded.
  • Give your kids a camera so they can snap the art they enjoy. My daughter took loads of photos!

On the beach with Antony Gormley

menlookingout
Antony Gormley “Another Place”, Crosby beach

Most people know Antony Gormley as the creator of the “Angel of the North”, but being a southerner I tend to associate him with a solitary statue on top of Exeter College in Oxford.

I was keen to see more of his work so on a recent trip to Liverpool our first port of call was Crosby Beach.  This is the site of “Another Place”, an installation which has been exhibited in Norway, Germany and Belgium but now has a permanent home at Crosby.

Antony Gormley statue
Antony Gormley statue

The kids were initially excited about visiting the beach but when I mentioned it was to see some statues, rather than to go paddling (it’s a non-bathing beach), it lost some of its appeal.  Never mind that it was a freezing cold day with a biting wind!

We took the train from Liverpool to Blundellsands and Crosby station.  From the station it’s a 5 minute walk down to the beach front.  I’d seen quite a few photos of the statues beforehand but even so I was suitably impressed on arrival.

There are 100 statues, along a 2 mile stretch of beach, facing out to sea.   They’re made from casts of the sculptors own body so are realistic to a level of detail which made the kids snigger (if you get where I’m coming from).

A few statues are sunk into the sand and that’s a warning you should heed – the mud is particularly sticky so don’t attempt to walk out to the statues away from those closest to the promenade.

joeandmanSome of the statues have been dressed or painted.  Others are covered in barnacles. Most have a liberal dosing of seagull poo. We visited at low tide so you can see the statues stretching out into the distance.  Every so often your eyes play tricks and you think it’s a real person out on the horizon.

We walked alongside the promenade until we reached the coastguard station, and then followed the signs to Hall Road station, the next stop along on the railway. It’s only as I write this that I realise our tickets were only valid to the stop we got off at. I’ve no idea if there is a price difference but best to check in advance if you plan to do a similar walk!

Kids view:

We liked seeing the statues stuck in the sand, although it would have been better if it was warm and sunny.  The statues must get really cold!

General info:

  • I wish we’d bought a pair of binoculars with us.  In addition to the furthest statues, there are plenty of birds and large container ships to look out for.
  • Wellies might also have been useful. Although the tide was out, and we didn’t venture far from the promenade, we still got wet feet visiting some of the statues.
  • The train takes about 20 minutes from the centre of Liverpool. You can also drive to Crosby and then follow the brown tourist signs to Antony Gormley’s Another Place.
  • There’s not much in the way of facilities en route apart from an ice cream van and a stall selling drinks and hot snacks in the car park at the lifeguard station.
  • The promenade runs alongside the beach and is fully accessible.

Costs:

  • The statues are free to visit.  The ice cream van was  rather pricey, but I guess it’s a captive market.