With a population of 7.5 million people distributed over 600 square miles, London is an historic and cosmopolitan City with plenty of attractions to offer the eager tourist. The problem being with a City of this size, where do you start? How do you get to grips with a transport system extending over such a large area, and one whose tube map does not intuitively correspond to the layout of the City? Well, for £5.95 you could purchase an A-Z of London, and wonder aimlessly up and down a couple of the City's streets. I, however, have another suggestion. Spend £5 a little more constructively and take at least one of the Original London Walks. As a relatively new resident of London, I still find the City quite hard to visualise - with many areas being completely alien to me. For a long time I have been intending on familiarising myself more thoroughly with the some areas by taking a number of walks. Two years on and I still found myself in the same situation as the tourist. I simply had no idea where to start. So when invited to join a certain German opinionator, her colleague and twelve of their students on a couple of organised tours, I found it impossible to refuse. The two tours I joined were both organised by 'The Original London Walks' company, who were the first to establish walking tours in London during the 1960s, and whose guides boast an impressive range of credentials. Apart from the usual mix of actors, journalists etc, 'The Original London Walks' have three guides who have won 'The London Guide of the Year' and many who boast the impressive 'Blue Badge' accreditation. Unusually enough, walks are scheduled every day of the year; increasing the number for bank holidays, and only reducing the number on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. If you intend on visiting London with a group it may be more sensible for you to arrange a private tour as it will probably work out cheaper, and you wil
l be guaranteed that your tour will not be too full. On one of our particular tours this also enabled the Guide to tailor our tour specifically to the German students who might not have found some of the established tour's elements interesting or easy to understand. (Whilst for those not forced to use English by their responsible teachers, foreign language tours can be arranged.) Scheduled tours take around one and a half to two hours and depart promptly (with a period of around five minutes grace) - tending to use tube stations as meeting points, and with the Guide identifiable by the white 'Original London Walks' leaflet that they hold. Where more than one exit may cause confusion, this is clearly stated in their online programme (www.walks.com) or in their detailed leaflet. (Usefully they also detail the lines available at your destination station - no doubt of great help to the average tourist). This means that it is advisable to plan your travel arrangements carefully as it may result in missing a tour. The advise of the company is to allow around three minutes per tube station in order to arrive on time - this does seem a very generous estimation, but may be appropriate for those who do not know London very well. Our first Guide was Lesley, an Irish actress, who we met outside St Paul's station - Exit 2. The tour she was running for us that Sunday evening was: "Ghosts of the Old City At night the ancient City is deserted... and eerie. Exploring its shadowy back streets and dimly lit alleys we might be in a mediaeval citadel, in overpowering stone. The very street names - Aldersgate, Cloth Fair, Charterhouse, Threadneedle - take us far back. We're alone... or are we? For this is the hour when the She Wolf of France glides through the churchyard, the hour when the dark figure on Newgate wall rattles his chains, the hour when the Black Nun keeps her lonely vigil, and something inexpress
ibly evil lurks behind a tiny window. We're on their trail... or are they shadowing us?" Obviously a bright Summer's evening did not evoke the possible atmosphere that might be achieved during Winter, but this tour was still very interesting. The route took us through many small alleys around St Paul's, the Old Bailey, St Bartholomew's hospital and the old site of Newgate prison. Many of the stories surround that time in Britain's history where the world was a brutal and violent one. Where being hung, drawn, and quartered was the worst punishment you could undergo - not because of the pain and brutality of the act, but because it prevented your bodily resurrection and ascension into heaven. The stories told were brutal, often being tied up with a concept of justice which is diametrically different to our own. It is your choice whether to believe that these sightings are part of the human psyche or a manifestation of something sinister. Regardless the tour takes in some interesting places, and a part of London I don't think I would have considered looking at before. Meaning that I can now also boast that to have drunk in London's only Flemish pub which made our tour's final destination. Lesley's style as a Guide was one that very much fitted her position as an actress. Hers was a tour that obviously varied little. Although she did adapt her spiel slightly to her audience, it was very much a tour which was presented to us. She was very efficient in moving us from place to place, and was happy to explain any problematic words to the students. Our second Guide was Tom, a barrister, Examiner of the 'Blue Badge' Guide course (along with being a 'Blue Badge' Guide himself), a travel writer, and Chairman of the Guides Association. On this occasion he was to take us 'Behind Closed Doors', and met us outside Covent Garden Tube: "Behind Closed Doors Lets hea r it for the life-giving shock of a new experience. For the tonic of delightful discovery. For a walk that shakes you gently, like a sieve, and drops you into places of long ago... places that you probably wouldn't get into off your own bat. And into is the mot juste. Because this walk has cracked open some doors. We're going into these places. Into the room that Shakespeare may have frequented. Into the old Bank of England - it'll make you simply gasp with wonder. And, finally into the Royal Courts of Justice to watch a trial (when they're in session)." This outline is the tour that we could have taken, and illustrates a great deal about Tom's approach to taking a tour. As I have mentioned before, he understood that the group might not have found everything in this tour interesting and adapted it for us. We began (as per the original tour) by entering the Royal Opera House's Vilar Floral Hall and experienced wonderful the view from its balcony. Only recently accessible to the public, this included an exceptional opportunity to find yourself on the same level as Nelson - who stands an incredible six metres tall upon his column. The walk then took in such sites as: Bow Street where the first police station was located; the hotel whose turn of the century dining room was used as a model for the 'unsinkable' Titanic; the BBC World Service Building; Dickens' supposed 'Old Curiosity Shop' (like our Guide I remain sceptical); Lincoln's Inn Fields where barristers have studied and worked since the 16th century and where a section of painted plaster which dates from the Inn's earliest period remains strangely unprotected from prying fingers; and, finally the Royal Courts of Justice via an explanation of the gowns and wigs that could be seen inside the building, and were on display in a shop window. Tom's style was very much more interactive, leaving me with a stronger
memory of the t our itself and the general layout of the area. Tom often asked the students questions, and was prepared to infringe on people's personal space in order to make a relevant point. When giving information on a particular site he would often ask if people knew certain snippets of information or whether they had visited a related site. In my opinion, this made for a very different experience, and set Tom apart as a premier guide who more than maintained people's attention throughout its duration. That is not to say that I did not enjoy Lesley's tour, because I did - both tours gave me an insight into parts of London that I would probably not have thought to see and have encouraged me to browse through the website and leaflet for further tours that might be of interest. Among those listed, there are many that appear intriguing - such as the those that deal with the Beatles, theatrical history, the Victorian period and criminal events... ...go on, take a look, you might just find the part of London you've been searching for and have always missed... ________________________________________________ "Explorer Days" outside of London are also available. These costs £10, or £9 for concessions - plus the cost of travel and admissions (which often include a discount through the tour company). Current offers: Walkabout Cards: pay £1 extra for the card on your first tour and receive all tours within a month if you are a visitor, and three months if you are a resident, for £4 (or £9 for "Explorer Tours"). Some guides carry the company's CD-Rom of London, which includes 360 degree panorama's from certain sites, photographs and written information, and is available for £6. ************************************************* I know that this may not necessarily be the right place to put this - on this one occasion I felt like posting, and then
asking Katie to mov e it... sorry...