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! Whether you are looking for a guided tour of the main sites, or something more off the beaten track, I shall be happy to take you around London, and even further afield. You can bespeak a tour, or join me on the public tours I lead, often with an organisation called London Walks. Please feel free to contact me if you want to ask about any tours. If you have enjoyed a tour, I should eb very grateful if you would add a comment to my endorsements page. Thank-you

‘Most London walking tours suck’????

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.

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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. Continue reading

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West Norwood Cemetery

Being a professional Tourist Guide is a licence to be nosy. A licence to stop and stare. We are in storytellers; not tellers of untruths, but tellers of tales of real people, real places and real objects. I’m a trained journalist as well as a Tourist Guide, so it’s second nature to look at something and wonder what the story is behind it.

At the weekend I made a long overdue visit to West Norwood Cemetery, one of the original Magnificent Seven, nothing to do with Clint Eastwood et al, but seven large private cemeteries in London established in the 19th century to alleviate overcrowding in existing parish burial grounds.

West Norwood Cemetary


I visited on a whim, so didn’t have any information with me, nothing about the famous and infamous dead or where their graves were, but with forty acres to explore on a bright cold morning I was happy to wander. Up by the crematorium and chapel I recognised this name, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

If you have ever done my guided tour of the Elephant and Castle, you’ll have heard me talk about Spurgeon, the baptist preacher who took London by storm when he was still in his 20s. Somewhat inappropriately he was often referred to as the Pope of Newington Butts, his influence was so strong. His sermons were translated into several languages, published and widely read, and the Metropolitan Tabernacle that was his church is still at the heart of the Elephant, though damaged by bombing in the Second World War. Haddon died in Menton, France while on holiday, but his body was brought back to London where 60,000 people filed past his casket in the Tabernacle. He was buried at Norwood Cemetery on February 11 1892. Continue reading

Darkest Hour

This film, now showing in cinemas around the UK, tells the story of Winston Churchill’s opening months as Leader of the House in the Second World War. It tells a familiar tale, but also raises other issues – Churchill’s support for Edward VIII’s marriage to Wallis Simpson for one.

It reminds us that Churchill was not the steady pair of hands we have learned to regard him as with hindsight, but a risky bet at a time when the stakes could not be higher. History is played with, facts are ignored or contradicted as happens when the film maker wants to make a good story.

But on the whole, the facts do survive fairly intact. Churchill’s alcohol consumption, which is pretty prodigious, is addressed in the opening frames. His unorthodox orthodoxy, the contradictions and contrariety of his character become abundantly clear. Continue reading

Day Trip from London

I bow to no one in my belief that London is one of the greatest cities in the world. I never intended to stay here. I came meaning to leave after four years. That was long ago. How do you leave a city that is endlessly fascinating, that is the definition of multicultural, where there is so much to do, to see?
This weekend we have been enjoying Lumière London organised by the amazing Artichoke, it gets people onto the streets in the coldest part of the year to enjoy wondrous illuminations. It’s free, so a great leveller. Old and young, monied and hard up can all enjoy the fun.

With events like these I fall in love with London all over again. Not that it stops me visiting ng other parts of the UK. Belfast is a favourite destination, and I am lucky that as my mother came from Co Derry I have family and friends in Northern Ireland it is a second home.

However, I wouldn’t do a day trip to Belfast from London. I’ll leave that fro the business travellers. But there are many other wonderful places you can visit from London. This year i have enjoyed two day trips. The first was to Leigh-on-Sea on the Essex coast. I have been there before and really enjoyed it. This visit confirmed my impressions.

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Happy 2018! Travel Safely, Visit Well

A New Year. A fresh start. A new opportunity. So what will you do? Have you made your resolutions?

I’m going to continue my 2017 pattern of day trips to places in the UK. They have been fabulous. Without a doubt Coventry was the highlight. I went there twice, and I urge any of you who have not been to add it to your list pronto.

I’d love to take people around that amazing city, so if you want an enthusiastic guide get in touch. Sheffield is on the list for 2018, and I’d like to visit Lincoln and Nottingham, but I’m not sure they are achievable in a day trip from London.

One destination on my list that is definitely not achievable in a day is New Zealand. I have quite a few clients from New Zealand and I was supposed to be a New Zealander but my parents decided not to emigrate. Visiting other countries helps join the dots, make sense of our connections and shared history as well as our differences. Continue reading

C is for Christmas and Coventry!!

I have been away and it was while I was away that the news came through that Coventry has been awarded City of Culture 2021, weyhey!! And yes I did do a jig round the room.

2017 is when I fell in love with Coventry. In 2016 I read The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss which immediately became my book of the year. In the novel one of the protagonists, Adam, is researching the history of the cathedral. Like most people I know that Coventry cathedral was bombed in the blitz, that the new cathedral was designed by Basil Spence, and was controversial.

It was that novel that sent me to Coventry. Twice. I loved it. Coventry is a wonderful city. It is vibrant, friendly, make that very friendly, diverse, the new cathedral is astounding – reading The Tidal Zone is a great way to prepare for the building – there are depictions of elephants all over the shop, every corner you turn reveals something of interest and wonder.

George Eliot moved to Coventry and her novel Middlemarch – a must read in any language – is set in a fictional town based on Coventry.

Then there’s Lady Godiva, endless people connected with the industrial revolution, Angela Brazil, John Hewitt and Philip Larkin, but if you are still unconvinced, watch Nativity directed by the very wonderful Debbie Isitt

Let me know if you want a tour.

Well done Coventry, you deserve it.

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

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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