London: Desperately seeking Sherlock

The Sherlock Holmes Museum, '221b Baker Street, London
The Sherlock Holmes Museum, '221b Baker Street, London
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On the streets of London, Sarah Freeman goes in search of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective.

I miss Sherlock Holmes. Ok, I miss Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective. I know that Jeremy Brett and Basil Rathbone were supposed to have been pretty good, but until the Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss reboot Holmes had always seemed a bit pompous, a bit too much of a know-it-all.

The modern-day Sherlock and Watson

The modern-day Sherlock and Watson

Then came Cumberbatch and that coat. Ever since I’ve reckoned that me and Sherlock would get on pretty well. I’ve even imagined the nights out we’d have. Over a few drinks in one of those snug Victorian London boozers he’d tell me how he knows that I have innate distrust of cyclists and the smell of pancakes and lemon makes me instantly nauseous just from the speck of mud on my shoe and the way I part my hair. In return, I would listen adoringly and pay the bill.

Who knows how long it will be before Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are back? However, if it’s not next week, it will be too long, which is why I found myself in London’s Baker Street, a desperate addict in need of a Sherlock hit.

It’s not the most obvious part of London to base yourself for the weekend. It’s not a Camden or a Shoreditch, but a five minute walk from the tube are the bars, cafes and restaurants of Marylebone High Street. We’re staying at No. Ten Manchester Street, which organises themed Sherlock weekends, where for the price of the room you also get a box set of the series and a free entry to the Sherlock Holmes Museum. The hotel also has its own cigar room and all-weather terrace which means smokers don’t have to huddle on the street outside. Sherlock would have approved.

The shops around Baker Street are filled with Sherlock souvenirs; the character Arthur Conan Doyle created is big business round here and we should have probably realised that the week of half-term wasn’t necessarily the best time to visit the museum. The queue was enormous.

The museum says it’s at 221b Baker Street, there’s even a blue plaque. Except it’s not. It’s actually at 237. It turns out that there was some wranglings a few years ago with the occupiers of 221. The museum went ahead and put up its own sign and it has stayed like that ever since.

The house has been designed to look much how it would have done in Victorian times with various rooms done out as Holmes’ study and Watson’s bedroom. You can also pose with deerstalker and pipe as Sherlock.

And that, well, that’s it. There’s a problem with a museum dedicated to an entirely fictional character in that there’s not an awful lot to say. However, you’d have thought that with some of the proceeds from the souvenir shop next door, they could have invested in the exhibits and replaced some of the now dated looking mannequins representing characters from The Hound of the Baskervilles and A Study in Scarlet.

The best part of the museum is the collection of letters which fans have written to Sherlock, some clearly intent on doing away with Watson and moving in with Holmes and Mrs Hudson.

We eked out our visit to half an hour, but you could probably see the museum in less than half that. At £8 for adults and £5, it’s hard not to feel duped.

Much better value for money is London Walks’ Following in the Footsteps of Sherlock Holmes. The two hour walk is led by a Holmes expert and sets off from the Embankment where for a while Conan Doyle lived on the same street which had once been home to Samuel Pepys. The walk is part a history of Conan Doyle, part a history of The Strand Magazine where the Sherlock stories were first published and part a tour round some of the locations which appear in the book.

Best of all it diverts down the kind of side streets you’d never normally wander that, while they have nothing to do with Holmes directly, give a sense of the London Conan Doyle discovered when he arrived there in the late 19th century.

The tour ends at the Sherlock Holmes pub. Renamed from The Northumberland Arms in the 1950s, the pub is stuffed full of Holmes artefacts, and the stuffed and mounted head of the Hound of the Baskervilles. It’s less tacky than it sounds, but if you are wanting authentic modern day Sherlock you need to head to Speedy’s cafe in Camden.

The sandwich bar has become a bit of a Mecca for fans of the series who now jostle with the regulars over coffee. On the wall are a few pictures of the owner with the cast and crew, but fame doesn’t seem to have changed the place.

I keep hoping Cumberbatch will 
sweep in all pale and interesting 
looking. He doesn’t, but I’ve got the box set to see me through until the next time.