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.
I've visited the Barbican Centre many times and and got lost wandering the surrounding residential housing estates, but until last week I'd never set foot inside one of the City of London's few remaining medieval churches, which stands like a little island in the midst of a vast sea of brutalist architecture; St Giles' Cripplegate.
Officially, the church should be known as St Giles 'without' Cripplegate, as it originally stood just outside the city walls (churches inside the wall, being known as 'within') and one of the original six Roman gates, Cripplegate, which gave access out to the village of Islington and surrounding countryside. (The seventh gate, Moorgate was a 15th century addition). The name Cripplegate is sometimes said to refer to the cripples who used to gather outside the gate for alms, but is more unanimously understood to derive from the Anglo-Saxon word 'crepel', meaning a covered way or underground passage, which lead from the gate to the Barbican, a fortified watch tower built in to the city wall. The name Barbican is of course used for the area today.
A church has stood on the site for a thousand years, but not without incident. It survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, but was badly damaged in a fire in 1897. The biggest change occurred during the Blitz in World War II when the entire ward of Cripplegate was utterly destroyed. The church suffered a direct hit in the summer of 1940 and was then gutted by incendiary bombs at the end of that year, leaving a shell consisting of the outside walls, tower and some structural supports inside.
The church has some famous connections. John Milton, who wrote (or dictated) 'Paradise Lost' nearby, was buried in the church. Daniel Defoe, probably most famous for writing 'Robinson Crusoe' was born nearby. Oliver Cromwell was married in the church in 1620 and John Bunyan is said to have visited occasionally. You will find references and monuments to them all, and many others inside the church.
The most arresting thing for me upon visiting, was a small display of photographs, showing the area after the bombing of World War II. I think it's easy to forget just how much of London was turned to rubble, and if you imagine that the current Barbican Estate and the arts centre cover a 40 acre site, it was all a largely residential area that was eradicated by German bombs. The Barbican Estate (built between 1965 - 1976), currently houses about 4,000 residents, but after WWII it was apparently just 48. Now, as I have mentioned, the church stands in the middle of high rise buildings, walkways, schools and a world famous arts centre, but in the photos below, St Giles is as much of an island, but standing in the middle of a huge, bombed out wasteland.
When you step out of the church today, you are greeted by a quite different view from the one the people above would have experienced.
This weekend, the groups were small, but each one a minor delight to wander around and chat about London with.
On Saturday afternoon, I met Ben and Jess for the St Paul's to the Monument walk and almost forgot to take a photo of them, which would have been a double shame, seeing as I've just had my camera fixed after it broke on a walk a couple of weeks ago. Here they standing by the Monument, which is, as I have undoubtedly mentioned before, a Monument to the Great Fire of London, a rather horrific fire which burned down most of the medieval City of London in 1666.
I admit, that in the photo, it just looks like Ben and Jess are standing in the middle of a building site, which unfortunately, at the moment is kind of true. As with much of the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire, the Monument is largely the work of Christopher Wren. It stands 202 feet tall, the distance from the bakery on Pudding Lane where the fire began. Daniel Defoe described the top of the structure as having a "handsome gilt flame like that of a candle." It also happens to be the tallest isolated stone column in the world, and as such, for the small fee of £3, you can climb the 311 steps to a public viewing gallery, and enjoy a rather splendid view of London.
There was no snow this Sunday for the My neck of the Woods east end walk, and I was joined by Mandy, Richey and Dylan. Mandy, who was on her second Bowl Of Chalk walk, writes a blog called 'emm in London' which is well worth a read anyway, but last year, she wrote a rather nice and detailed account of the Saturday afternoon walk she did with me entitled '9 Things I learned on a Bowl Of Chalk'.
Here they are standing in front of one of street artist Stik's large scale stick figures. You'll find this particular one on Great Eastern Street. Mandy is quite a fan of the various street artists whose work you find daubed around the walls and buildings of east London, and if memory serves me correctly, Stik is her fourth favourite. Might be wrong about that though.
Shortly after this, Dylan spotted a quite incredible bike, locked to a lamp post, which was so big (the bike, not the lamp post) that at first I didn't even notice it was a bike. I'm now quite intrigued to see the person who owns it, riding it around London.
Anyway, at the end of the walk, Richey suggested going for a curry at one of his favourite curry houses on Brick Lane ... so we did.
Most surprised - Jess
Best moustache - No winners
Best beard - Richey
Most American - Dylan
Most amount of flat caps on one walk - Sunday
Veteran Bowl Of Chalker - Mandy
Most 'Avid' - Ben
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.