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. Continue reading
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
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.
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
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.
arches, St Botolph’s Abbey
St Botolph’s abbey
Romanesque, St Botolph’s abbey
Ruins, St Botolph’s abbey
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.
My, hasn’t the summer flown by!
I’ve had a holiday in Ireland, visiting family and catching up with friends.I was staying near the Sperrins, the lanscape dominated by Slieve Gallion which long ago I climbed during the hillwalking festival.
We went to the Titanic Exhibition which was excellent. I shall gladly go back and see it again.
The Hampton Court Flower Show is on this week. Alas, I do not have a ticket, but I shared the train there from waterloo with eager horticulturalists, and the return journey with same, only this time carrying an array of plants. The station was so busy they had laid on live music to entertain us.
There were of course also plants at the station, displayed in the wheelbarrows that over the past few years have become planters of choice for public spaces.
Wheelbarrow planter at the railway station
I don’t get to work at Hampton Court anywhere near as often as I should like. It’s a brilliant day out and there’s so much to do and to see. You can travel there by train, by boat, or a mixture of the two, and the setting, by the river, is to die for.
On the river
You can visit much of the surrounding gardens for free, and they are both formal and wonderful.
Harwich was a delight. Our arrival teas, coffees and cake were taken in the Swan, the second oldest building in the town, complete with C15 wall painting and evidence of an active local crafts scene.
We were in Mayflower territory. Christopher Jones, captain of that ship lived in a house just a few doors down from the Swan.
Christopher Jones’ House
I’m doing a bit of homework for the tours I do fairly regularly to Salisbury, reading The Spire by William Golding. It’s very good, both the story and the way it is written. I’m two thirds of the way through, so not sure how it will end. I hope to finish it before I am back in Salisbury on Tuesday.
I am rather fond of Salisbury, so I was glad to meet someone at the start of last week who came with me a couple of weeks ago. She approached me smiling, and said how much she had enjoyed the day.
That sort of feedback always pleases.
Salisbury Cathedral’s spire is very famous. It pierces the sky above the town. Currently in the cloisters and in the churchyard around the cathedral there are sculptures by Sophie Ryder.
This one is my favourite:
Dog and hare having a conversation sitting on a horse
The explanation says the dog and hare are having a coversation while sitting on the horse and the horse is listening intently. Sophie Ryder uses animal figures, or often human bodies with animal heads, to explore the relationships we have with each other. That is a pretty important theme anywhere, but particularly in a Christian church. Continue reading