Since I began Bowl Of Chalk London walking tours five and a half years ago I have continued to offer three set walks each weekend which operate on a 'pay what you want' basis. Each walk generally lasts about 2.5 / 3 hours. They are as follows:
Saturday morning - Trafalgar Square to St Paul's cathedral.
This walk begins in the tourist hot spot of Trafalgar Square, taking in the square itself, Nelson's Column and the National Gallery building. Although we don't venture around the 'sights' of Westminster, Big Ben is visible at the bottom of Whitehall. After visiting the statue of Charles I next to the official centre of London, we have of late, passed Benjamin Franklin's House, threaded our way through Victoria Embankment Gardens and up in to the bustling Covent Garden and St Paul's, the Actors' church. From here we make our way around Aldwych, passing the church of St Clement Danes and the Royal Courts of Justice, in to the City of London via Fleet Street. We usually veer off through the maze of alleyways that brings us to Dr Johnson's House, the famous statue of his beloved cat, Hodge and past the famous Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub. Back on Fleet Street, we pass the church of St Bride's, and up towards St Paul's cathedral.
Saturday Afternoon - St Paul's to Monument (via Bankside & Borough)
This walk begins by St Paul's cathedral, through the churchyard and on to the Millennium Bridge, taking us over the River Thames towards the Tate Modern on the south side. Here we pass by Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, the site of the original Elizabethan Theatre which opened on Bankside in 1599, and along to the usually heaving Borough Market. We usually pop in to the 17th century George Inn on Borough High Street before heading up on to London Bridge, which offers a great view of the iconic Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and the H.M.S Belfast before finishing at the Monument, commemorating the Great Fire of London, 1666.
Sunday - East London
The Sunday walk is very street art heavy, but does include historical elements. We often begin near Old Street, including Bunhill Fields Cemetery, where the likes of Daniel Defoe, William Blake and John Bunyan are buried. We pass the Wesleyan Chapel on City Road before heading in towards Shoreditch, which although is now a plethora of cafes, boutique shops and clubs, was in the 19th century, the centre of London's furniture trade. We usually stop off at Arnold Circus, the UK's first ever council estate, then bypassing the incredibly busy Brick Lane make our way towards Spitalfields with its fascinating Huguenot, Jewish and Bangladeshi heritage. Obviously the street art changes pretty regularly, but I tend (as with all my tours) to talk about things that interest me, and street art is no different. I'll undoubtedly point out and talk about Banksy, Ben Wilson (the chewing gum man), Christiaan Nagel, Bambi, Roa, Jimmy C and Thierry Noir ... amongst others.
If you're in London one weekend and think that one of these walks might appeal (or fit in with your schedule) then please send me a message via the contact form. You won't actually know where we're meeting until I send you all the details confirming the walk and how many places you'd like to book. I do this so I can keep an eye on numbers. Please don't try just turning up. You'll see from the photos that it could be just you, two people, four, eight or more. Unless someone books loads of people at once, it probably won't be that big a group.
Please check the dates on the website homepage to make sure the walk you'd like to join is running, as although it is pretty continuous, there are occasional changes.
There's a festival on in London at the moment, encouraging Londoners to explore their own city. It's called Find Your London, and began last Friday (18th March) and runs up until the end of the Easter weekend (28th March), offering a host of activities, talks, walks, cycle trails and treasure hunts to get people out of the house and explore the capital.
My own London walking tours are part of Find Your London, so last weekend I welcomed a plethora of people who already live in London, and those visiting to join me on my regular London wanders. Here are the Saturday morning group on the walk that took us from Trafalgar Square, through Covent Garden to Fleet Street, finishing at St Paul's cathedral.
When I began my London walks I just offered the three 'pay what you want' weekend walks and for the first year, it was pretty much solely Londoners who came, beginning with three people who saw a poster I'd stuck up in a bike shop in Old Street. The idea of offering walks to people who already lived in London was met with a certain amount of scepticism, as those who live and work here often don't consider the city to hold any secrets, to provide them with anything of interest or be worth exploring at all. How wrong they are. The perception is that if you live somewhere, then you know it. It's your city. If those same people were to take a weekend break to say Prague, they'd probably choose to go on a guided walk, perhaps with the wonderful team at The Naked Tour Guide. They'd very possibly know more about Prague in two hours than they do their own city.
Many Londoners tend to map their city by the London Underground; a series of connected dots on a map, often without knowing what is above them or what it looks like. They go to their nearest Underground station, disappear underground for half an hour, pop out by their office and have no idea what is in between. I was doing a walk once, and we were standing by The Monument, Christopher Wren's monument to the Great Fire of London, marking where the fire began in 1666. It was erected in the 1670s, about 186 years before the first Underground line was dug. Not surprisingly, the underground station next to it is called ... Monument. A Londoner in the group said "What a coincidence ... there's a big Monument by Monument Station". Last year TFL produced a new London Underground map, marked with walking times between stations as a for a number of them, it's actually quicker to walk than take the tube. I've had many people on walks amazed that we were able to walk to point A to point B in a matter of minutes, a journey which they'd previously only completed (in a much longer time) by tube.
As well as British people, the groups last weekend included many people from France, Brazil, Spain, Russia, Bulgaria, Germany and a number of other countries. They weren't all on holiday, but people living and working in London, and using the walks as a way of discovering new places and learning about their adopted city's history. There are six days of the Find Your London Festival left, and you can browse the activities on their website either by date, type of activity or simply what kind of mood you're in; active, curious, playful, relaxed or inspired. My own walks are fully booked for the coming weekend, but I do them every weekend; two central London walks on Saturdays and a walk around east London (which includes a great deal of street art) on Sundays. If you're reading this, have missed the walks this coming weekend, but would like to join one of the weekend 'pay what you want' walks in the future, then you'd be most welcome. The current dates are are listed on the homepage of this website. This was the group last Sunday as we passed through Arnold Circus in Shoreditch.
So ... why not get out, get exploring and ... Find Your London.
I'm a little bit late rounding up some of the private walks did in May, which are, just to remind you, walks that I do (usually during the week) for couples, families, groups and wot not. They're all tailor made walks, taking people around places they have told me they'd like to visit, things they'd like to see or hear about. Depending on where people are staying I often go and pick them up from their hotel, or we sort out a meeting point. So, to give you an idea, here are a few I did in May.
So ... starting with the top left. Bernadette & David came on one of my regular weekend walks ages ago, and asked me to do one for just them and their friends. They requested a walk around east London, as it wasn't an area they were too familiar with although one of them had worked there years ago, so was able to offer some of his own unique insights. They're sitting in Arnold Circus by-the-way, which was the first Council Estate in the UK, built in the 1890s. Next up, we have Jeff and his family visiting from the States outside St Paul's cathedral. Bottom left was one of the quickest walks ever. Chris, Craig, Alexis and Bailey were on a stop over at Heathrow airport. It was going to be short anyway, but then they were delayed, so I think after I met them in Westminster, we had about an hour and a half to whizz round all the sights in that area. They even managed to fit in a pint in a pub before getting back on the tube ... which had been one of the criteria. Lastly, we have Kelly and Jacqui visiting London from New Zealand before heading off around the UK on motorbikes. They're standing in Trafalgar Square with the National Gallery behind them.
On this lot of photos you can see Tess in the Dean's Yard at Westminster School. She was visiting from Canada, so when she told me that her grandfather had been in the RAF during WWII, we made a detour to visit the church of St Clement Danes, otherwise known as the RAF church. Standing on Hungerford Bridge with the City of London behind them is a lovely group of ladies who were visiting from Sweden. Outside Westminster Abbey we have the Troy family from the States, and last but not least Robin and Denis standing by the original site of the Globe Theatre, down on Bankside.
June is completely booked up now for private walks, but if you're interested in having a wander around London in July or August, do get in touch and we'll see if we can sort something out.
As well as my regular weekend 'pay what you want' walks around London I do 'private walks' during the week (and sometimes on weekends too) which can pretty much entail going anywhere and doing anything. You'll see from the ones below that it's a real mix and very much depends on the people, their interests and what they'd like to see or hear about.
Below left is Margo, Linda, Maureen and Brenda in Arnold Circus, east London. Hiding amongst some telephone boxes are Jill and Jody from the States. They literally had 3 hours to kill, whilst on a layover en route to South Africa. They jumped on the tube at Heathrow, I met them in Green Park and we whizzed around Westminster taking in Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and wot not. It was their first time in London, so I think they figured that rather sitting in an airport for a few hours, they might as well try and explore a bit. We certainly did that. I deposited them back at a tube station, and they made it back to Heathrow in time to get their next flight.
I met Mitzie, Chip and Corey down at their hotel in Waterloo and headed up in to Westminster. You can see them in China Town in the West End. Below right is Craig and Teresa from Los Angeles who I met at their hotel in Smithfield. It's a fascinating area, and the meat market which has been in the area for over 800 years is still hanging on there, whilst Covent Garden, Billingsgate and Spitalfields have all left their central London homes for the outskirts. We made our way in to the City of London and you can see them standing inside the courtyard of the beautiful Apothecaries' Hall.
I met Aneil and his son one Friday morning by Monument, so we headed over London Bridge to Southwark. Borough Market food market is full swing on Fridays and they both stopped off to get some mussels I think ... or maybe it was oysters. Finally we have Larry, Sam and Ryann from New York in Westminster, between the Abbey and the Houses of Parliament, with Big Ben in the background.
So, if you fancy doing a private weekday walk around London, do let me know. I'm very happy to suggest possible itineraries, spend just a few hours exploring a particular area, or the whole day doing what I call an 'All Day London Extravaganza'.
There's an area just south of Fleet Street known as Temple and comprises of two Inns of Court; Inner Temple and Middle Temple. During the week, the gates which lead down to the 12th century Temple Church and the maze of alleys buzzing with lawyers are open and you can just nip down and loose yourself amongst the streets and lanes. On weekends, as everyone has gone home, it's a bit trickier, but on Saturday morning, I was just mentioning this fact and a guy who happened to be passing said 'I have a key' and let us in ... which was nice of him. So, below is a photo of the group standing outside the round chapel to Temple Church.
On Saturday afternoons walk from St Paul's cathedral to Monument, we pass through Borough Market, which although now a busy food market (on Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays), has had its ups and downs in its 1000 year history. Paul and Elaine who joined us, actually used to live in the area 20 or so years ago when the market was on a down turn, and the area was used reasonably frequently for film locations. The buildings behind them were used the 'hideout' for two of the gangs in Guy Ritchie's 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels'.
On Sunday I squeezed in two walks. The first with Mehul & Neha from the States. They were staying by Leicester Square in London's West End, so we spent a few hours wandering around Westminster, which has a plethora of sights, all within walking distance. I haven't been around that area on a Sunday for ages, and although Westminster Abbey is closed to 'visitors' for services on Sundays, we were able to pop in and see the beautiful cloisters and the quite incredible 13th century Chapter House. Here they are next to one of the cloisters.
In the afternoon, I met Josh, Janet, Robin, Oci and Alexis to explore a quite different area, around Spitalfields and Shoreditch in east London. It gets pretty busy on Sundays with the various markets going on, and we also discovered that the local residents from Arnold Circus, England's first council estate were having a bit of a get together. Here they are on the steps leading up to the centre of Arnold Circus.
Most Brazilian - Daniel
Best hats - Josh & Robin
Most German - Anne
Best footballing injury - Brian
There are just two walks to roundup up after this weekend due to a rather wet Saturday afternoon, a couple of people who evidently left their hotel without waterproofs and a guy who just didn't turn up.
On Saturday morning, the weather was fine though. Laurie and Ben were down in London to see Bruce Springsteen play at Wembley that evening so I can try and kid myself that I was a sort of warm up act for Bruce Springsteen. I get quite a few people who are over in London for a few months or a year working and have that healthy appetite for exploring the city, which people who have been here for longer, or are from England often don't. Anyway ... Ali was one such person, over from the States and brought along Jared, her brother who was visiting.
Here they are standing in front of Dr Johnson's House, the 300 year old townhouse, where the first definitive English dictionary was compiled.
It was the Queen's Official birthday on Saturday, so Trooping the Colour had been taking place that morning down in Westminster and a short while after the above photo was taken, we saw the 'fly past' where by a number of planes ranging from a WWII bomber, helicopters, to fighter jets and the Red Arrows flew across London and over Buckingham Palace. Jared felt it was a little excessive for one persons birthday, but then again, maybe it's a bit excessive to have two birthdays in the first place.
For Sundays east London walk, there was a rather splendid group, which included Elodie over from Germany who was back for the second time, Barbara and Andrew visiting from Scotland and a number of others who had read about my walks in the Guardian article last week about 'pay what you want' tours.
Here they are standing in the middle of Arnold Circus, England's first Council estate, built at the end of the Victorian era.
Veteran walker - Elodie
Most American - Ali & Jared
Most likely to have an in depth knowledge about the price of sugar - Archie
Most likely to respond positively to the question 'Are you a clown?' - Sandra & Elodie
Most Scottish - Barbara & Andrew
Most medical knowledge - Laurie & Ben
I was incredibly impressed that people actually bothered or were able to turn up this weekend, what with all the snow and general coldness. Top marks for effort everyone.
On Saturday morning, I met Mackenzie, Wendy, Erica and April for the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's. Just to give you an idea of the temperature, or lack of it, the fountains in Trafalgar Square looked like this:
Here are the group, standing in front of the statue of George Washington, which is situated outside the National Gallery (the building you can see above). Seeing as they were a group of American's, and George Washington was the first President of the United States, it seemed an appropriate place to take the photo.
There's a nice little story about that statue, which is that Washington apparently said that he never wanted to set foot in London again, so when the statue was given as a gift in 1921 by the people of Virginia, they sent over a load of American soil with it to be laid underneath, so that he never would. A bit cheeky perhaps.
On Sunday it snowed non stop for the entire My neck of the Woods walk, but Zuzana, Guglielmo and Mary still valiantly turned up to wander around the east end, Mary (from the USA) incidentally, was on her second Bowl Of Chalk, after coming on one last year. It was my first ever walk in the snow, so was interesting to see how everything looked under a blanket of white. Here they are at Arnold Circus, the first council estate in England, completed in 1896 and featured not long ago, in a BBC2 series called The Secret History of Our Streets.
Here are a few other snowy scenes we saw along the way.
Not surprisingly, Columbia Road Flower Market was pretty sparse but it at least meant that Mary and the other two were able to have a good look around the many independent shops that line the road and are pretty much only open on Sundays. Incidentally, the pub you can see there in the photo, The Royal Oak has featured in a few TV shows and films, including 'Goodnight Sweetheart' (with Nicholas Lyndhurst, best know for playing Rodney Trotter in 'Only Fools and Horses') and Guy Ritchie's 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels'.
Many of the houses in the area of Spitalfields where I took the above photo were built in the early 1700's to house the influx of French Huguenots who had settled in the area in the 17th Century. Also, whilst I'm thinking about it, there's a great blog called 'Spitalfields Life' written by The Gentle Author who has set himself (or herself?) the challenge of writing 10,000 stories about the area, the fascinating characters that live there, shops, customs, history and much more. The project should be completed in the year 2037, but one volume has already been published as a book. It's well worth having a read if you are of even a mildly curious disposition.
Most Italian - Guglielmo
Most likely to be celebrating her 40th birthday - Wendy
Best moustache - No winners
Best named person to meet in Old Street - Mary Young
Most bobbly hat - Zuzana
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.