ON a chilly Friday morning I stand in the looming shadow of London's multi-columned, 17th-century St Paul's Cathedral. This is where the city's most famous detective - who not everyone regards as fictional - will run amok this December when the movie Sherlock Holmes returns the fiddle-playing super sleuth to the spotlight.
Created by Arthur Conan Doyle more than 120 years ago, Holmes remains the world's favourite private investigator. And despite his questionable claims to existence, legions of fans flock to London to soak up his back story. On a recent visit, I wield my virtual magnifying glass and set off in search of the great man.
In what looks to be an action-packed movie, starring Robert Downey Jr (as Holmes) and Jude Law (as Dr Watson), the exterior of St Paul's will appear decked in late-Victorian street finery, with shiny carriages trundling past. The landmark's preserved interior was not used, however; the filmmakers substituted a nearby church, St Bartholomew the Great, which has had a long career as a movie stand-in for less-accessible sites.
Tucked along a hidden Smithfield passageway (the perfect place for a fog-bound encounter), this church is even older than St Paul's and has appeared in movies as diverse as The Other Boleyn Girl and Four Weddings and a Funeral.
In Sherlock Holmes it serves as the crypt of St Paul's, and during a quiet moment on my visit I chat with twinkle-eyed verger Phil Stewart about the recent shoot.
"There were 30 or 40 crew members here for three days and they had to clear away all the pews," Stewart tells me.
"Law and Downey had their own trailers and Law was always on his phone in the courtyard between takes. [The director] Guy Ritchie was very nice and he was often practising on his guitar when they weren't shooting."
A Holmes pilgrimage spot
Sherlock Holmes was also filmed on location in other parts of Britain, including Manchester Town Hall, Liverpool Docks and Chatham Historic Dockyard in Kent.
I hop on the Underground to Baker Street Station. A Holmes pilgrimage spot - even the station's wall tiles are patterned with pipe-wielding silhouettes - I join the throng outside photographing a towering statue of the detective in contemplative pose.
Unveiled by the Sherlock Holmes Society of London in 1999, it's a not-too-subtle clue that this is the heart of Sherlockville.
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