Some months ago I picked up a copy of Time Out, the now free listings magazine. Flipping through the pages, I found these startling words by James Manning:
“Most London walking tours suck. You’d be hard pressed to find many that stray off well-trodden patches such as the West End, Camden Town and Brick Lane, or any that show a new side of the city to people who live there.”
I can only assume James has been looking in the wrong places. I lead walks all over London, places not mentioned in the guide books, places in south London North Londoners have probably never visited, and it’s local people who tend to be the most surprised at what is on their doorstep. Here’s a little taste of things you might see or hear about on my tours.
As I’ve said before, being a guide is a licence to be nosy, and going on a guided walk is a licence to stop and stare. Apparently James doesn’t want to feel like a tourist, and mysteriously thinks no one else wants to feel like one either. There are so many things in this short piece that feel off key. You can read it all here if you want to see what I mean.
Tourist is not a pejorative term, being a tourist is enjoyable. It’s about visiting places and finding out about them, seeing the things everyone has heard of and seeing out the hidden corners, the unexpected, the everyday and the surprising – which can sometimes be the same thing. At its best, being a tourist is about finding wonder in places both familiar and foreign.
James doesn’t seem to like tourist guides either, people like me who have studied to attain our qualifications, who constantly update our knowledge and research our tours. This dismissive attitude towards experts is something we have seen globally over recent years. It’s weird. At the moment someone is retiling my kitchen. I’m employing him because he’s trained, he knows what he’s doing, he can problem solve and draws on a wealth of experience.
So it is with Blue Badge Guides. We guide in so many places, with so many people from all over the world, we’re skilled, we can join the dots, respond to what an individual or a group wants. I develop and research walks that no one else is doing, finding the stories behind an area I experience wonder and feel excitement, things I want to pass onto others.
Of course James’ experience may have been coloured by going on a tour with some of the many unqualified guides in the capital, people who often offer a ‘free’ tour, but make it clear that a tip is expected. Some are, I’m sure, doing a good job, but from snippets I’ve overheard from others as I’ve passed by, I wouldn’t go on a ‘free’ tour in London or anywhere else. In similar vein, I’ll stick with my skilled tiler, it costs more to employ him but his work merits the price.