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Whenever my boyfriend and I go for a day trip to London, he nervously asks whether we will be walking around or whether I will let him on a bus or tube. Using my own two feet is always my preference when exploring the city. I blame my parents as they used to take my sister and I for day-long walks from Paddington Station to the Tower, and we never went the most direct route. I ended up tired, but also able to appreciate how much history and atmosphere you miss out on if you rush by in a car. So my partner made a brave choice of gift when he bought me a book called "Walking London" by Andrew Duncan.
WHAT THE BOOK COVERS
The book subtitle says it offers 30 original walks in and around London. In fact only one walk is centred outside greater London - a walk around Windsor. This suits me as I have other guides to the home counties in general and I just wanted routes in the capital itself. I did wonder how original any walk around tourist friendly parts of London could be. When you are joining the dots between historic buildings in the same parts of the capital there's bound to be some overlap with other guides. However, it is the description of the routes, and the choice of the interesting facts given along the way that make the book distinctive. The author is an historian who has guided walks for many years so he clearly has an idea of how to keep the interest of his audience. The walks have been chosen to take in the most visually appealing areas which also happen to be historically interesting. Most are therefore in the most visited parts of the city - such as Westminister, Chelsea, and Covent Garden. If you live in london, and want walks that cover areas more off the beaten track so to speak, or in suburban areas, this may not be the book for you.
IS THE BOOK EASY TO USE?
The walks are between 2 and 6 miles long, and come with a guide as to how long they may take. The author says the timings are based on his fairly quick walking pace, and don't allow time for stopping. I walk quickly too, but often stop to look at a bulding or nose in a shop window. Even so, I felt that the timings given are usually generous, and we finished all of our trips ahead of schedule.
Alll of the walks both start and finish at a tube station which is handy. The route description is very detailed and comes with a basic street map on the opposite page. I have never had a difficulty finding my way using this boook. When I went on my first walk, I took my A-Z with me just in case but I didn't need it. Mixed in with route infomation are lots of nuggets of interesting information, and buildings and architectural details to keep an eye out for along the way. I own a lot of books about the city, and have read still more. Therefore I had read about many of the places before, but I remember how fascinating I found much of the information when it was new to me. There was still fresh new facts to be found amongst the pages. For example, knowing that I was walking down a street that was a centre of a single cholera outbreak that killed 10,000 people in Victorian times certainly brought home to me the scale of the horror.
Also included are a few suggestion as to where to get refreshments on route. These are more general suggestions as to where you will find a good selection of eateries rather than a recommendation of a single establishment. This doesn't matter to me as experience has shown that many cafes and bars come and go and the book could date quickly if it tried to keep up. As it is, the routes are quite timeless.
HOW I HAVE USED THE BOOK
The walks are indexed under length, theme eg parks or royalty, and area. This makes picking one quite easy as it would otherwise be hard to know which to choose first. I have done 12 over the last year, sometimes more than one per day, as none are very long. My favourite has been a route centred on Bloomsbury, which I have visited less than other areas. I enjoyed exploring such an interesting part of London with the books help. It took me down streets that would be easy to walk past as they look at first glance like many others. Doing so would have allowed me to miss out on seeing some lovely parts of the city. The Westminister walk was popular with my one of my friends who had never visited the area before as it undoubtedly takes you through some of London's most beautiful and famous parts.
I find it is helpful to read the walks through a few times before you leave home so you are primed to look out for the places mentioned along route. Otherwise you could have your nose in the book reading the next direction, leading to you missing out on the sights! At least the book stays open on the page you want it to, which makes it easy to manage. Considering the number of walks inside, it is also a reasonable size and weight for carrying around for a day.
There are some full page photographs, one for each walk. They are good quality, and at first I wished that there were more. Then I felt that including others would spread each walk over too many pages and therefore make the book unwieldy.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK?
I would. The walks are clear and properly explained. They take you through some of the most attracive parts of London, and leave you more knowledgeable than when you started. I have enjoyed using the book and there is still a couple of routes I am keen to try. For this reason I think it is book I will get more than one years use of. I also think £10.99 is good value for such a useful book, as I have looked at many that retail for more but contain less information.
Walking London was first published in 1991. I have the most recent 2010 edition which is the seventh. From looking at details of older editions on Amazon, I don't think the walks themselves have changed but I may be wrong. The individual walk details have certainly been updated since the first publication though as I noticed a reference to the 2002 Bali bombing memorial for example.
£10.99, with new copies on Amazon for £7.69 at the time of writing.
Published by New Holland, Paberback, 256 pages.
[This review also appears under my user name on Ciao.]