I have been contacted by an Urban Studies student called George who has asked my opinion and thoughts on a number of issues around walking.
Now as a Blue Badge Guide, I guide on foot, on a coach, I lead tours of galleries and heritage sites, and walks all over London.
I enjoy all of it, but walking tours have a special place n my heart, and it was partly due to my long established habit of walking around London’s neighbourhoods that I trained as a guide in the first place.
George is particularly interested to know my thoughts in relation to one particular walk that I have developed: the Elephant and Castle.
As it happens, I shall be leading this walk on Saturday 2nd September at 2pm as part of this year’s Elefest.
The Elephant has changed enormously since since I first started to explore it nearly four decades ago when I moved into a flat nearby, just down the road in Walworth. I remember the feeling of surprise and shock to find prefab homes in the shadow of what must have been London’s most uninviting hotel, the London Park. Much later when I read of that building’s history I learned to respect it and even felt sorry when it was pulled down.
You see far more on two wheels than you do on four, but walking puts you in touch with your environment in a much more immediate way. Partly it’s to do with the speed. You notice the plants in people’s gardens, the style of curtains affected by people in different neighbourhoods, the potholes in the roads, the litter on the pavements; the new front door. You acquire a more intimate understanding than your wheeled peers.
The more you walk the same streets the more you learn their nuances. You see the subtle changes that come with the year’s seasons; the telltale signs of new investment; the pubs that have been turned into flats; the new market stall holders; the graffiti; the corner shops that close; the bars that open; the elderly person who suddenly is no longer about; the young boys doing wheelies on their bikes as they transition to adolescence. You are a witness. Continue reading
I found my camera.
Here are the hens at the end of our walk.
Okay, it’s out of context and not appropriate to joy and jollity, but unfortunately I can’t think of a Shakespeare quotation about happy hens.
On Saturday afternoon I had a private walk booked. I knew nothing about the clients until a day or so in advance: a hen party.
So, if you were about to get married and decided that your hen party should be a guided walk, what would be the subject of that walk?
I put the question to my morning group who were coming on a tour of very lovely Kennington, my Princes and Paupers walk. Jack the Ripper? suggested one, which earned him a surprised stare from myself. Serial killing of women as entertainment always strikes me as macabre, doubly or quadruply so for a hen party. Continue reading
A novel might have taken me to Coventry, but by a strange symmetry it was after visiting Colchester I began reading a novel that mentions, even features, some of the places I saw in the original capital of Roman Britain.
I had unfortunately sprained my ankle just a few days beforehand, so my explorations were not quite as extensive as I should have liked. Still it gives me a good excuse to return.
I have visited many other parts of Essex, and even celebrated a birthday in and around Wivenhoe a few years ago when friends joined me for an easy eight mile walk which started, middled and ended at the pub.
Colchester boasts an impressive castle, a ruined abbey, and an astounding building that is home to the Museum of Modern Art.Continue reading
Although I am a London Blue Badge Guide, I do get to leave the capital and even guide in other cities and towns.
I should love to add Coventry to that list. Everyone knows how Coventry was devastated in the Second World War, how the day after the bombing that destroyed the cathedral the decision was taken to rebuild.
Stephen Humphrey, who was for many years archivist in the London Borough of Southwark, has died.
As a local historian and ambassador for Southwark’s many textured history, Stephen had no rival. He was immensely knowledgeable, immensely generous with that knowledge, and always a fascinating conversationalist.
I met Stephen some thirty years ago when one of my aunts wanted to research the family tree. Our path very quickly took us to the Local Studies Library in Borough High Street, where Stephen offered advice and showed us how to search the archives.
When I became a Blue Badge Tourist Guide our paths continued to cross, and I came to know him better. I appreciated more his understated style and enjoyed his seemingly endless stock of stories. He continued to give me the benefit of his professional advice, as he did so many others.
The hole he leaves in Southwark’s fabric is enormous. He was a gentleman and a scholar; an unassuming figure who supported and helped many many individuals and groups in the area.
I am very proud to have known Stephen. I shall miss both his erudition and his gentle humour. My life was richer for knowing him.
A book of condolence is available to sign at the John Harvard Library in Borough High Street should you wish to leave a message.
I’ll be leading the Walworth Old and New walk Saturday 3rd December, meeting outside Kennington tube station at 10.45am.
From the Saxons to the present day, Walworth has had many incarnations.
Famous as the birthplace of Charlie Chaplin, Walworth has belonged to a court jester, temporarily housed St Thomas’ Hospital, seen the first giraffes in a public collection in the United Kingdom, been the force behind achieving age related pensions, and has been mentioned in literature from Charles Dickens to Muriel Spark. Continue reading
I’m going to be having a bit of break from guiding people around this wonderful city as tomoorow I am heading for Australia.
I’ll be back in December, and getting back into harness leading the Walworth walk on Saturday 3rd December at 10.45 from outside Kennington tube, and getting into the festive season at the artists’ open studios.Continue reading
Well actually I don’t know yet. But I soon shall. It’ll be announced at a dinner held at the Guildhall, the seat of City government, slap bang in the middle of the Square Mile; site of trials, executions, and the awarding of the Man Booker Prize.Continue reading