The funny thing about doing my regular weekend guided walks in London is that there's no knowing how much interest there'll be. Last weekend was a great example of this, as on Saturday morning I only had one person booked, but she decided not to come, as it was just her. On Saturday afternoon there were nine people, and on Sunday morning for the east London walk, there were seventeen, which I think was the biggest group of the year so far.
So, here are the Saturday afternoon group at Borough Market, which on Saturdays gets pretty busy with people descending on the 1000 year old food market, which began life on the old London Bridge and has occupied its current site since 1755.
The group on Sunday morning was a truly international affair, including people from Germany, New York, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Italy, South Africa, Boston and even the Lake District and Lichfield. Here they all are on Rivington Street in Shoreditch, which is festooned with artwork by street artists such as Ben Wilson, Banksy, Eine and Christiaan Nagel to name but a few.
However, there's far more to Shoreditch than just street art ... including Elizabethan theatre, Victorian power stations, Columbia Road flower market and of course the intriguing area of Spitalfields.
Talking of Spitalfields ... as I was ... I never actually did my weekend roundup from the previous week. The Sunday walk included Richard whose ancestors had all worked in Spitalfields market from the 1700's right up to his father, just a generation ago. He was able to add some fascinating insights to the walk.
The previous day, Saturday 15th Feb, I was joined by Annie & Peter who were back from Lancashire for their third walk with me, so was lovely to see them again. They were joined by Molly and Paul and I took the below photo just near Covent Garden. If you look closely at the street sign behind them, you might spot the work of French street artist Clet Abraham.
Special Award for completing 'The Trilogy' - Annie & Peter
Surname most likely to make you think of a device that generates an intense beam of monochromatic light by stimulated emission of photons from excited atoms or molecules - Laser (Jasmin)
Tallest - Rob
Best moustache - No winners
Song title for a name - Joeleen
If you stand on London Bridge and look east, you get a rather magnificent view of the iconic Tower Bridge directly in front, and the Tower of London to your left. However, it probably won't escape your attention that in front of you on the river Thames, next to the Norman Foster designed, glass buildings of More London to the south, is a war ship. This is the HMS Belfast and is in essence a floating museum, giving you the chance to see what life was like on a WWII war ship.
HMS Belfast is the Royal Navy's last surviving ship classed as a cruiser, and the largest preserved warship in Europe. Designed for speed, the ship was launched in 1938, shortly before the outbreak of WWII, but in November 1940 was struck by a German mine, breaking the ship's keel and was subsequently out of service for the next two years. She returned in 1942 with new anti-aircraft guns, advanced radars and thicker armour and supported the advance of British troops in to France on D-Day in 1944. At the end of WWII, the HMS Belfast served in the Korean war and was eventually decommissioned in 1963. She became a floating museum in the 1970's and has been part of the Imperial War Museum for the last 35 years.
Once on board the quarter deck, you're then free to explore the nine decks and discover what life was life on board the ship for sailors during WWII and throughout the 1950's. You're immediately thrown in to the thick of the action with the Gun Turret Experience which recreates moments from the Battle of North Cape in 1943, when the HMS Belfast was engaged in a battle with the German cruiser Scharnhorst. They even manage to make the whole turret shake which has no doubt given quite a few people a shock ... myself included.
It's probably best to navigate your way around using the map provided and I think my overall feeling after wandering around for a short while was just how massive the ship is, and how every single space has an allocated use, a bit like a giant puzzle that has been expertly assembled. It's also not dissimilar from wandering around a maze; the air thick with the smell of metal and brass as you pass the laundry, kitchen, post room, chapel, store rooms, dental surgery, infirmary and many other rooms which all played a part in the day to day running of the ship. Many of them are dressed with models to give you a better idea of what went on there.
The other overriding sensation I had, was how much I would have hated to have been living on the ship during war time. Admittedly, I'm not exactly military material anyway, but none-the-less, it is pretty claustrophobic now, with the tiny corridors, climbing up and down very steep ladders and ample opportunity to bang your head. Then you have to imagine actually being on the rough seas with those huge guns (which have a 12 mile trajectory) pounding and close to 1000 sailors all running around a compact floating metal village. As you make your way around you can listen to an audio guide which gives you a bit more depth to what you're actually seeing, peppered with commentary from sailors who did actually live on HMS Belfast. I seem to recall that one such narrator, as I was descending in to the boiler room at the bottom of the ship, described the sensation as something like "stepping in to the bowels of hell". Both the Boiler Room and Engine Room wouldn't have looked out of place in Ridley Scott's Alien film. Aside from lots of pipes, there's also an abundance of dials, and no doubt, someone somewhere knows what they were all for.
It's actually quite a good feeling to head back upstairs and get a bit of fresh air on the deck before exploring the Operations Room, Admirals Bridge and Admiral's and Captain's Sea Cabins, as well as being afforded a rather great view of the city.
All in all, you can while away quite a few hours on the ship, but is perhaps not recommended for those with mobility issues as there are a lot of small, steep steps and cramped spaces. It costs £15.50 per adult, but is an ideal visit for families as children under 16 go free. Also, if you're visiting London and have pre purchased the London Pass, then HMS Belfast is one of the attractions included with that, so you can walk straight in. Even if you don't have a particular interest in the Navy, it's a fascinating insight in to life on board a WWII war ship and quite literally, a unique experience.
If you are under the impression, that I only do my regular 'pay what you want' weekend walks around London, then I should perhaps correct that assumption. During the week I also do what I call 'Private Walks' which can pretty much take any shape or form. I often split them up in to either half day or full days walks for which I suggest a fee, although at the end of the day, I just like showing people around London so even if you just have a spare hour and a half then we can usually sort something out.
The 'Private Walks' could be for families, couples or people traveling on their own. I can accommodate work outings, birthdays and holiday makers, first time visitors to London looking to get acquainted with the city and see the 'sights' or people already familiar with the metropolis who are perhaps keen to explore an area they don't know too well. Here are some of these tailor made walks around London that I did in January.
First up we have the Dingeman's who were visiting from Holland. We did a walk around Westminster, and you can see them standing outside the iconic 'Big Ben' and Houses of Parliament. On the right is Beth, Paula and Matt who were visiting from Canada. We predominantly did a tour of Borough and Bankside and I took the photo of them inside the rather splendid Southwark cathedral.
Pall from Iceland contacted me about doing a walk around east London, soaking in its mixture of migrant history and street art, a by product of the areas more recent trendification (which I don't think is a word) and subsequent gentrification. This in itself is something that has been in the UK press recently as this change; the influx of media types, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, clubs and hipsters is to apparently be echoed in the long running and popular television soap opera 'Eastenders', bringing it in to the 21st century. I took the photo of Pall and his family in front of one of street artist Jimmy C's portraits.
During the month I also did two birthday walks. The first was in central London for the extended Robertson clan who ranged in age from I think about 15 months to 70. I dropped them off at St Paul's cathedral, where they had a table booked nearby for the birthday lunch. The second was for Helen and friends celebrating her 40th birthday. They were staying near Aldgate in east London, so I met them down there and explored around the fascinating area of Spitalfields, Shoreditch and Hoxton.
The other week I did an all day extravaganza tour of London with Yong Hao who was visiting from Singapore. I met him in Green Park and we spent the morning around Westminster, which included some of the main London 'sights' like Buckingham Palace, St James's Palace, Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament and Trafalgar Square. We then took the Underground to the Tower of London and worked our way back through the City to St Paul's and beyond, through Fleet Street and Lincoln's Inn. We found time to pop in to see the Roman Amphitheatre situated beneath Guildhall Art Gallery and a trip up to the top of the Monument which gives great views across London ... where I took his photo.
Finally, two quite different walks. The first with the rather excellent Ellen and Sandy from Canada, who had lived in London in the 1970's and explored around east London with me. they're standing in front of one of French street artist Clet Abraham's altered street signs (the no entry sign actually says 'freedom'). And ... last but not least, we have Christine and her son, over for a couple of weeks from the States in the lovely Whitehall Gardens, just next to the Thames in Westminster.
So ... if you're in London and would like me to show you around, then please get in touch. There's a lot to see in London, a lot to explore and hopefully you'll have fun along the way too.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.