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.
There were healthy turnouts for all three walks this weekend, starting with Saturday mornings regular wander from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's cathedral. Here are the group in Covent Garden with another St Paul's behind them, otherwise known as the 'Actor's Church'.
Yury, who joined the morning walk was obviously at a bit of a loose end, as he returned in the afternoon to complete a rather mega group, which included Jinglei who was also doing her second walk with me. I took a photo of them just before our brief stop off at Borough Market. Yury obviously likes being on the left hand side of photos.
We kicked off June with an international group (not that they all aren't) hailing from the States, Canada, Germany, India, Italy and exotic Canterbury. Sunday is the east London walk that begins in Old Street, taking in the areas of Shoreditch and Spitalfields. Usually we stop off at Columbia Road Flower market. Look ... the sun was even out.
Most snazzy coat - Syvlie
Best moustache - No winners
Most prolific photographer - Deborah
Special award for being International jet-setters - Corina & Jeff
Last weekend, clement(ish) weather prevailed and there was a reasonably robust turn out for all three walks. James actually booked the Saturday morning walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's cathedral at about 12:15am that morning (or the night before). I received the email whilst driving with my friend Dave in a van back to London from Newbury having seen our friend Adam in Arthur Miller's play 'All My Sons' at the Watermill Theatre, which is very good as it happens and on until the end of the month, should you wish to see it. Anyway ... James directed his mum Rona and two aunts to find me on Saturday morning, although it turned out they had no idea what we were going to do. Luckily for everyone involved, the idea of a walk, guided by myself didn't seem to strike them as too offensive an idea. Either that or they were very polite. James turned up too and they were joined by Renata and Tufan. Here they are in Covent Garden, shortly after passing St Paul's church, sometimes known as the actor's church.
On Saturday afternoon, a group of ten joined me for the walk from St Paul's cathedral over to Bankside. Ever since I started pointing out the plethora of bits of tiny masticated street art on the Millennium Bridge; miniature canvases painted by Ben Wilson (the chewing gum man), the walk has started taking much longer. If you are mildly intrigued, then you can watch a short film about Ben Wilson painting chewing gum on the Millennium Bridge if you like. Here are the group on the south side of Norman Foster's 'wobbly bridge'. As you can see, Johanna there at the front is having a whale of the time, whilst John was keen to show his best side.
Sunday was another pretty big group, which included one of my sisters, Sarah, on her first ever walk ... with me, in an official guided type capacity. I would say they were a pretty international bunch, with a smattering of English and Northern Irish, peppered with Russian, Mexican, German and Australian. Quite often as we wander around east London on Sunday mornings, we stop off at Columbia Road Flower Market, and I've realised that I often take the group photo here before everyone heads off to have a mooch around. This is probably in case they don't come back. On Sunday, they did, and we headed down to Spitalfields where we finished the walk. I recently watched a fascinating programme online about the restoration of the incredible Georgian houses in Spitalfields, which happened in the 1980s, and also one by Dan Cruickshank about the rather eccentric Dennis Severs and his house at 18 Folgate Street, entitled 'The House That Wouldn't Die'.
Tallest - Sam
Best moustache - No winners
Best trainers - Alfonso
Highest visibility jacket - James
Most sisters on one walk - Rona, Alison & Sheila
If you find yourself in Covent Garden, which let's face it, is quite likely if you visit London ... then to the west side of the piazza is the grand entrance to a church. The church is St Paul's and upon closer inspection, you'll discover that there is no discernible way in. The rather large door, set back behind the portico is completely blocked up. The area, instead serves as a daily haunt for circus and street performers.
To understand why, involves unraveling numerous historical threads, right back to when the land was a walled garden, belonging to a Convent in which vegetables were grown for Westminster Abbey. Convent Garden, over time became Covent Garden. When Henry VIII took away land belonging to the church in the 1530's it was given to one of his advisors, John Russell, the Duke of Bedford. Almost 100 years later, the 4th Duke of Bedford decided to use the land to develop an area where the wealthy of London could reside. He enlisted the help of Inigo Jones, who fashioned an Italian style piazza (a complete anomaly in those days) to the west of which would be the church. Not wanting to waste too much money on the church, the Duke of Bedford is said to have asked Inigo Jones to provide something "not much better than a barn", to which the architect replied "Then you shall have the finest barn in England". However, tradition dictates that the Altar be placed at the east end of church, but Inigo went against convention, placing his front door there instead. The church was finally consecrated in 1638 (the first new Anglican church built in London for 100 years), but at the request of the Bishop of London, the door was blocked up, the Altar placed in its rightful place, and to this day, the back door, is the front door.
Access to St Paul's now is through a rather tranquil garden on the other side of the church, far removed from the hustle and bustle of the piazza. At night (and even during the day sometimes) you'll be greeted by an array of twinkling gas lamps, leading you up in to the church. The garden of course, was once a burial ground and in fact, during the fatal year of 1665 when 60,000 Londoners are thought to have died from the plague, the first casualty of that epidemic, was buried there. With that cheery thought you'll enter in to a church, often (and perhaps more frequently than it's actual name) referred to as 'The Actors' Church'. The building is of course slap bang in the middle of the West End or theatre land (as it is often known) and has for centuries been affiliated with actors and those working in the profession. As I have mentioned before, many churches, like St Clement Danes, (further down the Strand towards Fleet Street) have associations with particular groups of people.
The inside of St Paul's was badly damaged by a fire in 1795, but rebuilt to Jones' designs and as you wander around will undoubtedly spot numerous plaques and memorials to actors, playwrights, designers and the like who spent much of their careers entertaining either on the stage or screen. There are many, like Sir Charles Chaplin (above) who will be familiar, and many who will not, but are never-the-less remembered here inside The Actors' Church. At the front left of the church, you can see a model of a theatre, made in the 1920's and used by members of the Actors' Church Union (ACU) to illustrate talks promoting the workplace of actors and theatre staff. The talks were in effect a fundraising effort, to drum up support for a hostel the ACU ran for the children of actors away on tour.
One of the many things I like about London is the fact that you can pretty much always guarantee that there is a reason why streets, pubs and areas have their name. You've just discovered how 'Covent Garden' got its name, but this short post will also shed some light on why you approach the church via 'Inigo Place' and you have 'Bedford Street', 'Bedford Place', 'Bedford Court' and of course 'Russell Street' all in the vicinity. If you stand under the church portico and look out across the piazza, in front of you is the Punch & Judy pub. On the 9th May 1662, diarist Samuel Pepys noted that he saw on the same spot the first performance of an Italian puppet show, now known as 'Punch & Judy'. Also, if there are any fans of the musical 'My Fair Lady' out there, it derived from a play by George Bernard Shaw called 'Pygmalion', the opening of which is set under the very same portico.
St Paul's, the Actors' Church in Covent Garden is of course open for prayer, reflection and services, but they also host a massive amount of events, concerts and theatrical productions throughout the year.
It seemed that even a bit of a drop in temperature wasn't going to deter people from turning up this weekend, and I did all three walks, beginning with the usual Trafalgar Square to St Paul's jaunt which takes us through a rather festive looking Covent Garden.
Nestling in one corner of Covent Garden is the tardis like Royal Opera House. An art work by Yinka Shonibare was recently installed on the side of the building, showing a ballerina, rather like a giant version of the kind you might expect to pop out of an old music box. Her head is a hand made globe, made by ace globe makers Bellerby & Co and jutting out horizontally inside an orb, the plan is that the ballerina twirls majestically on the hour. On Saturday however, it seems that the 'Globe Head Ballerina' had endured an unfortunate accident, and lost a couple of limbs and was clunking and bashing around less majestically than usual, high up above intrigued on lookers. Hopefully she'll get fixed and be back to her graceful best soon.
In the afternoon, 13 people joined me for the walk from St Paul's cathedral to Monument via Bankside and Borough. It was a heady international mix hailing from Holland, the States, Bombay, Liverpool and the Isle of Wight to name a few. Ali who had done 2 walks with me previously was there to complete 'the trilogy' and Pete was on his second walk with me. Here they are standing in front of the remains of the 12th century Winchester Palace, once the London residence of the Bishop of Winchester. The 'Rose Window' which adorns the western wall of the great hall can be seen above them.
On Sunday, another healthy sized group came along for my east London walk including Glen and Norma who despite doing a walk with me a few weeks ago in torrential rain, came back for another. Here they all are on our way through Bunhill Fields Cemetery, home to Daniel Defoe and William Blake and stands on the other side of City Road from Wesley's Chapel, built in 1778.
Best ear warmers - Katie
Best moustache - No winners
Special award for completing the Bowl Of Chalk Trilogy - Ali
Best hat - Mel (came with room for ears - on the top)
Most Davids in one group - Sunday (David & David)
Most difficult name to remember & pronounce - Irgan & Vanechka (joint winners)
On Saturday, it was the Lord Mayor's Show. It happens each year when the new Lord Mayor of the City of London is officially welcomed in to their new year long post, and this year was the turn of Fiona Wolfe, only the second female Mayor in the history of the City of London ... the first being in 1983. When considering this fact, you should also bear in mind that last Saturday was the 798th Lord Mayor's Show. The City of London closes down for much of the day, and the streets are lined with thousands of people watching the parade go by, so I therefore decided to change the usual itinerary and instead, we stayed around Westminster.
Unfortunately for us (and everyone involved with the Lord Mayor's celebrations) it rained non stop for the entire morning. Despite the dismal weather I was joined by a hardy group, all from England, who weren't going to let the rain dampen their spirits. There were 7 in all; Carole from Blackpool, Dermot and Theresa from the Midlands and Glen, Norma, Judy and Ken all from London.
Quite early on, Ken made the excellent suggestion that I should furnish them with information under cover and out of the rain, so for the rest of the walk we darted from one bit of shelter to the next, under umbrellas, doorways, arches, markets and wot not. We ended up taking in a bit of Whitehall, including Banqueting House, Horse Guards and St James's Park.
Sunday, although a bit cold, was a lovely day for a walk around east London and I was joined by 10 people, or 10.5 if you include Lara who was just 18 months old. At about midnight on Saturday night / Sunday morning I had an email from a guy saying that him and his son were sitting in an airport in New York, (en route) from New Zealand and realised it was late notice, but could they come on the walk the next morning at 11am. I replied, giving him the meeting point details, and sure enough, they there were, Ryno and Francois, just arrived from the States. It's quite incredible really.
It was a pretty South African heavy group, sprinkled with a couple of Americans, a Canadian, an Australian and even Alex from Wolverhampton. Here they all are on Leonard Street, just near Old Street with Ian Stevenson's 'JUST LOOK AT THIS' mural behind them.
Least waterproof waterproof - Judy
Second least waterproof waterproof - Ken
Youngest - Lara
Best moustache - No winners
Most American - Kaidi & Wendy
Name most likely to conjure an image of a large, horned, odd toed ungulate - Ryno
Six people braved the cold December air to join me on my regular Saturday morning wander from Trafalgar Square to St. Paul's. Seeing as there were two Italians in the group (Annalisa & Miro) it seemed only right that I take a picture of them in Covent Garden, where the 17th Century diarist and ladies man Samuel Pepys watched the Italian puppeteer Pietro Gimonde perform what is now regarded as the first recorded performance of 'Punch and Judy'. It was the 9th May 1662 and every year, on or around this date, Punch and Judy puppeteers descend on Covent Carden in what has become the unofficial, official birthday of Mr Punch. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a pub (hiding behind the Christmas tree in the photo) called the Punch and Judy.
So, here are the group, also including Helen, Gemma, Kirsty and another Helen. There was a double Italian-ness about it really, as the piazza, originally designed by Inigo Jones in the 1630's, was based apparently on a similar one he had seen in Livorno in northern Italy.
There was nothing particularly Italian about the afternoon walk, but I was joined by Lorrie from New York, who had come on the very kind recommendation of a friend of hers Mary (also from America) who had been on a walk with me back in the summer. Thanks Mary. Here is Lorrie outside The George Inn, just off Borough High Street. It was pretty dark by this point, but fortunately my photographer (who comes on most of the walks) had remembered to bring his studio style lights with him.
We managed to fit in quite a few bits n bobs including stopping off at the Rose Theatre (the first Elizabethan theatre on Bankside), the remains of which were uncovered in the 1980's and largely responsible for shaping the current Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Whilst there, we watched a fascinating video narrated by none other than Gandalf (Sir Ian Mckellen) who I discovered today, co-owns The Grapes pub in Limehouse, which is well worth a visit anyway if you happen to be in the area.
Most Physiotherapists in one group ... ever - Saturday morning
Most Italian - Annalisa & Miro (obviously)
Most last minute booking straight off the plane from the States - Lorrie
Saturday was pretty incredibly cold. I was joined in the the morning by Robb and Evelina. Robb had actually come on the first ever Saturday walk I did, just over a year ago, so had come to complete the trilogy, whilst also looking to secure his third 'Best Moustache' Award, a post walk award he in fact instigated.
As it was the first day of Advent, we thought we'd take a look at the world's largest Lego Advent Calendar that had just arrived in Covent Garden Piazza. It's the work of a guy called Duncan Titmarsh (and others I'm sure) of 'Bright Bricks' who specialise in building stuff out of Lego (not surprisingly).
Made using 600,000 Lego bricks, it's a pretty impressive feat, and if you happen to be in the area at 4pm each day between now and Christmas, then you'll see them opening one of the doors to undoubtedly reveal a lego based surprise.
After the walk, I bumped in to a man with an Owl on Cheapside in the City of London. The owl was called Lunar, but forgot to ask the guy what his name was.
It was a real life owl, and as I took the photo, Lunar was busy eyeing up a small pug type dog, standing just out of shot with its owner. The man holding the owl was real too.
After the excitement of seeing a real life owl, I met Rick, Bryan, Ray, Ben, Fiona and Branwen for the walk from St Paul's to Monument. Here they are in Borough Market trying to stave off the bitter cold.
As you can perhaps see from the photo, Ray there on the right was destined to give Robb a run for his money for the 'Best Moustache Award'. Nice selection of hats too. Anyway, thanks to everyone who braved the cold to join me on Saturday.
Most Russian - Evelina
Best moustache - Ray (after a hotly contested public vote)
The 'Denise Rhodes Award' for the best Scarf - Robb
Wooliest green bobble hat - Bramwen
Most likely to be siblings 'cause they are - Rick & Fiona
Weekend Roundup - 12th/13th May '12
Last weekends London walks got off to a flyer on Saturday morning with a great group who were a mixture of people who had been on previous walks (Nathalie, Tamsin and Rowan), some Americans, Andrew and Sharon (who was visiting London for the first time ever), another, Mary, who had arrived from Boston that morning and hadn't even been to sleep yet (pretty hardcore), some Londoners, two of whom (Elly and Alan) live in Soho so literally just had to step out of the front door to begin the walk, Amy who seemed to have worked at some point in most of the areas we walked through and Luana and Manuela from Brazil.
Covent Garden was overflowing with 'Punch & Judy' performers as it was the annual Maye Fayre and Puppet Festival. I think the main reason being that on the 9th May 1662 a guy called Samuel Pepys recorded in his now rather famous diary that he'd seen his first performance of the show there, so it's regarded as Mr Punch's birthday and a celebration is held as near as possible to that date each year. If you've ever visited, you'll perhaps have noted that there's a pub, also called the Punch & Judy overlooking what was originally intended as the grand entrance to St Paul's church on the west side of Covent Garden piazza.
Here's the group a bit later on standing outside the entrance to the Royal Courts of Justice. If you're wondering why Elly is holding up a pair of pants and Manuela is actually wearing a rather fetching pair of orange undies over her jeans then it's because we encountered an open top bus laden with scantily clad blokes, showering the unsuspecting public with pants. As you do.
Sunday - My neck of the woods
On Sunday for the east end walk, I was joined by a massive group that was also massively international. Out of the seventeen people who came along, only two were English and the rest arrived via France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Germany, Holland and the USA.
It was a glorious day for exploring the east end, with Columbia Road flower market in full swing and loads of other fragments of history and bits of street art to uncover along the way.
So, here are the group who I will endeavour to name. Apologies if I've spelt anyones name incorrectly. From left to right - Tim, Ana, Lisa, Eva, Michela, Olga, Sabrina, Esther, Alexandra, Sheila, Bruce, Miguel, Carolin, Kate, John, Marie and Ruth.
Following on from this walk, I also did a special birthday walk for Charlie and her friends, but completely forgot to take a photo. However, thanks incredibly to everyone who came along for walks.
The BOC Trilogy of walks Award - Tamsin and Rowan
Most Eastern european named Portuguese person - Olga
Best moustache - No winners
Highest jumper in a photo - Tim (see above)
Best translator - Alexandra
Most jet lagged - Mary
Weekend Roundup - 14th/15th April '12
There are three walks to roundup today, so I'll try to be reasonably concise, which might in itself be an oxymoron ... if that's the right word.
Trafalgar Sq to St Paul's
On Saturday morning I was joined by Natalie, Sam, Leah and Anne or maybe Anna (she didn't seem too sure herself) and we set off from an abnormally busy Trafalgar Square, due to the Holland House Dutch Festival, which according to their official blurb, is a 'full on party of orange proportions' to celebrate the Dutch Queen Mother's birthday. I'd have thought that a party of 'orange proportions' would be a very small and round party that could fit in the palm of your hand. Anyway ... we headed through Covent Garden, where we were joined by the fashionably late Darren. Here they all are in Covent Garden.
We then weaved our way through Fleet Street and managed to pop by a bit of 14th Century priory and also St Bride's church amongst other things en route to St Paul's cathedral.
St Paul's to Monument
Anna (or Anne) and Darren returned after lunch for some more Bowl Of Chalk action to complete the Saturday 'double whammy' and with the new recruits Della, Elise and Laura we set off from St Paul's and after a minor detour headed over the wobbly bridge to Bankside to be joined by Syreeta (I think that's how you spell it) who had been trying to find somewhere to park her car. That's beside the point really, but the next stop was the recreated Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. If anyone of a mildly foreign disposition is reading this, I feel compelled to mention that the Globe have been busy putting together a quite incredibly adventurous and exciting festival which runs from the 21st April until the 9th June and every one of Shakespeare's plays will be performed in a different language by 37 international theatre companies. Not surprisingly they have called it the World Shakespeare Festival 2012. Check it out.
Here are Saturday afternoons group sitting inside one of the few remaining pieces of Old London Bridge which is situated in Guy's Hospital. The guy on the left (with whom Elise seems to be getting rather familiar) wasn't actually on the walk, but is a statue of John Keats who studied at the hospital before embarking on a rather short lived career as a romantic poet.
My neck of the woods - east end walk
I was fortunate enough on Sunday to be joined by another great bunch of people keen to explore Old Street, Hoxton, Shoreditch and the like. It was actually a bit nippy on Sunday and Rita who had come along on the walk decided that she'd like to invite the whole group to tea (which was incredibly nice of her). So, we popped in to I made It For You, a small, recently opened independent tea and cake type place on Pitfield Street. Here are Rita, Ivan, Nathalie, Gemma and Matt just before the soda bread arrived.
From here, we made our way to Columbia Road Flower market, scooted around the busy Brick Lane Market, shimmied through a snippet of the City of London before finishing by Spitalfields Market.
Most fashionably late - Darren and Syreeta
Most German - Anne (or Anna)
Most generous Lithuanian hot beverage provider - Rita
Best beard - Ivan
Best moustache - No winners
Tallest - Matt
Most knowledgeable about Alfred Hitchcock - Nathalie
The Della award for the whitest teeth - Elise
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.