About IsobelTouristGuide

I am a London Registered Blue Badge Guide, and passionate about London; world's greatest city - not that I'm biased of course!

Keeping It Local:

Some businesses and even some private homes have already been decked with fairy lights, trees and tinsel, but next weekend, the first in December marks the kick-off for festive fun and retail.

If, like me, your idea of hell is a crowded shopping centre or overheated department store there are artists’ studios in both Camberwell, SE5, and Walworth, SE17, open next weekend. And I’m sorry to tell you you’ve missed it, but today there was a sale of locally produced honey at Lettsom Gardens with the best lucky dip ever – everyone was a winner.

Back to next weekend. On Saturday I’m leading a guided walk around Walworth, my home patch.

The walk begins outside Kennington tube at 10.45, and ends outside opposite the Open Studios outside a café where dogs are welcome. It costs just £10pp and there’s no need to book in advance. Continue reading

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The Borough Group

Think of groups of artists linked to neighbourhoods. Give yourself a minute or two.

OK, what have you come up with?

The Rive Gauche, maybe; Montmartre, perhaps; Bloomsbury, quite likely; the Elephant and Castle, almost certainly not. Yet in the mid C20 the Borough Group was a collective of artists in the Elephant and Castle area. So why Borough Group, not Elephant Group you may be wondering. Well, I can’t be one hundred percent sure, but an educated guess would be that it was because they were centred at the Borough Road Polytechnic, now London South Bank University, and there was also a gang of violent hoodlums who modelled themselves closely on Chicago mobsters know as the Elephant Gang. You would not want to get the two confused. It could be nasty. Continue reading

Cutting It

Tomorrow morning is due to be sunny; the heavens be praised.

I shall be leading a walk around The Cut starting at 10.45 outside Southwark tube.

The Cut is pretty couth these days, but George Sala, a nineteenth century journalist saw it differently. He said the gin shops, leviathan, ghastly in their newness, richness of decoration were the only things new. Everything else was secondhand. The women were slovenly, you could hear the howling of beaten children and kicked dogs; the tenements were vile and rotten. There was a smell of escaped gas, deceased cats, ancient fish, unwashed soddened, unkempt, feckless humanity.
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A Day Trip to Ipswich

One of the great things about being in London is how easily you can visit other parts of the country for the day. The train for Ipswich leaves from Liverpool Street station and the journey time is around an hour and a half.

It’s one of those places I have driven through but never stopped at. Famous for being the birthplace of Thomas Wolsey,the butcher’s son who rose to be one of the richest most powerful men in the land before he fell from grace when he could not procure a divorce for Henry VIII from his wife Catherine of Aragon.

The city is full of references to him, cardinal this and that, Wolsey this and that. A fine statue near the site of the house where he was born.

Wolsey Room in the Town Hall

The Most Famous Son

The Art Gallery

A Humble Man

Sculpture with cat

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Roll Up! Roll Up! for Elefest 2017 Tomorrow, 2nd September

What

I am delighted to announce that I shall be leading my guided tour, Walking the Elephant, around the Elephant and Castle tomorrow afternoon as part of this year’s Elefest. After a two year gap, Elefest is back with a whoop and the promise of good weather. Rob has dusted off the logos, printed the flyers and recruited musicians, storytellers, dancers and disc spinners to celebrate the Elephant.

Where

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Why Walk?

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

Pretty Chickens

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

Next stop, Colchester

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.

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