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.
London Bridge Alcoves
London Bridge was originally completed in 1209, a huge structure spanning the Thames with 19 arches and festooned with buildings and houses. In the early 1800s, the houses were removed and replaced with 14 niches or alcoves until the whole thing was eventually replaced in 1831 by a new bridge designed by John Rennie. Four of those niches have survived; one on the Courtlands Estate (Richmond), another secreted in Guy’s Hospital, just south of London Bridge and the remaining two can be found occupying sites to the east of Victoria Park in East London (pictured).
These niches were familiar to Charles Dickens when he was a boy, as he would have undoubtedly crossed the bridge to visit his father, incarcerated in the Marshalsea Prison, just to the south. His novel, David Copperfield is regarded as perhaps his most autobiographical, based on his experiences of this time. In fact, the title character, David Copperfield, can be found “lounging … in one of the stone recesses, watching people going by”.
Duke of Wellington’s Horse Block
One of our favourite things, here in England, is to go on about beating the French at battles. Second only to that is then remembering and celebrating those men responsible for winning those battles. Topping that exclusive list is Arthur Wellesley, perhaps better known as the Duke of Wellington, or ‘the Iron Duke’, responsible for defeating Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815. Anyway, aside from the expected statues in his honour or streets, buildings, railway stations, bridges all eulogising his wartime efforts, on the aptly named Waterloo Place in Westminster is a smaller, altogether less significant reminder of the man who made Wellington Boots so popular. On either side of the wide street, outside the rather grand looking Athenaeum Club are two sets of stone steps, each bearing a plaque telling us it was ‘erected by the desire of the Duke of Wellington, 1830’. They are horse blocks and quite simply were put there to make it easier for the Iron Duke to get on and off his horse when visiting his favourite club.
In many places, the River Thames used to be far wider than it is now. The gate (pictured) once stood on the banks of the river, but now occupies the north end of Victoria Embankment Gardens, some 450ft from the river. It’s called the York Watergate, a window back in to the early 17th Century when in 1623 George Villiers (1st Duke of Buckingham) bought a large mansion (York House) which had been built in the mid 16th century after the King, Henry VIII had granted land here to the Bishop of York. Villiers set about having a snazzy Watergate built (finished in 1626) giving both him and his visitors access to the river, which of course at that time was a super highway. The land was sold off and developed in the late 17th century, and again in the mid 19th century, meaning that this structure (along with some paintings of it in situ) is the only reminder of a time when the Thames used to creep right up to the steps inside the gate and the land surrounding it, dominated by rather fine mansions.
Philpot Lane mice
On the corner of Eastcheap and Philpot Lane in the City of London is a building, the ground floor of which, is occupied by one of the many generic epidemic coffee shops in London. On the side of the building is a curious little relief sculpture of two mice nibbling on a piece of cheese. It’s minutia like this that are the stuff of urban legend, spawning all sorts of stories as to what they represent and how they came about. The most ubiquitous of these relating to two builders employed in the construction of the building (it was finished in 1862) and that an argument had begun, when one man accused the other of stealing his lunch (which of course included cheese). A fight ensued, resulting in the death of one of the workers, plunging to his death from the building, whereupon it was later discovered that the cheese eating culprits were in fact mice. Whether the mice were added as a memorial or are actually simply a builders mark, might never be known. Either way, they remain one of London’s many curiosities which people pass every day without noticing.
We were a day late for Sir Paul McCartney's impromptu-ish gig in Covent Garden, but there were still the usual street performers, musicians and general hub-bub as we passed through on our way from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's cathedral. There were 8 in the group, including Jane and Peter who'd previously joined my Sunday walk, and also Jean and Andy who were using one of the Bowl Of Chalk Christmas vouchers from last year. Here they all are standing on the Strand outside the Royal Courts of Justice, with Temple Bar just behind them.
Temple Bar of course, used to be one of the City gates and can now be found next to St Paul's cathedral.
In the afternoon there were a few more people who were back for their second walk with me. Cordula and CJ brought with them Klaus and Ute over from Germany, and Archie, who had also done the Sunday walk previously brought along Phoebe from the States. They were all joined by Dean and Maria, and here they are standing on the Millennium Bridge in the Shadows of the Tate Modern, with the dome of St Paul's cathedral in the distance behind them.
Now ... as we were nearing the end of the walk, we passed over London Bridge and I mentioned the fact that the second London Bridge (we're on the third) was bought by an American called Robert P. McCullough, who had it shipped back home and rebuilt over Lake Havasu in Arizona. This fact usually ignites the question as to whether Mr McCullough thought he was buying Tower Bridge and in fact bought the wrong bridge, something that Londoner's would like to think is true. Saturday was no exception and a short while later, we finished the walk and after everyone except Phoebe and Archie had left, Phoebe said she had something to tell me, which was, that Robert P. McCullough was her Great Uncle.
On Sunday, there were just three people to join me on the wander around east London; Nancy from L.A and Niki and Gabriella, originally from Arkansas. Here they are standing in front of one of the few remaining and still visible Banksy's in east London, which is nestling inside the beer garden of Cargo. The artist himself has been in the news a great deal recently, due to his self imposed 'residency' on the streets of New York.
Best hat - Klaus
A BIG joint award for coming on their 2nd walk - Jane, Peter, Cordula, CJ & Archie
Most likely to have a Great Uncle who bought London Bridge - Phoebe
Best moustache - No Winners
Most camouflaged bag - Nancy
Most likely to take photographs - Dan
Last weekend I did all three walks, encompassing the full spectrum of group sizes, beginning with what is officially known as a 'biggish' group on Saturday morning for the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's. It was also London Open House weekend, so we took the liberty of sticking our noses in to the entrance hall of the Royal Courts of Justice, a quite formidable building on the Strand, officially opened by Queen Victoria in 1882.
Nicole and Drew were back for their second walk and the rest were newbies hailing from India via the UK, Australia via Switzerland and the States.
In the afternoon it was just Barbie, all on her own, so could officially be termed 'an incredibly small group'. She had joined the Sunday walk the previous week, when there had been a somewhat larger contingent. Here she is on London Bridge.
The building just behind Barbie, to the left of her head has been in the news recently. It's 20 Fenchurch Street, previously dubbed the 'Walkie Talkie' and now renamed the 'Walkie Scorchie' because during a rather more clement day the other week, the sun's glare had apparently reflected off the windows and melted parts of a car, amongst other things. Londoners of course love nothing better than to bestow nick names upon the city's buildings, as the Gherkin, Cheese Grater, Razor and Wobbly Bridge can testify.
Sunday's east London walk was a 'medium sized group' and saw the return of Eric and Gail from Saturday morning. They were joined by John, Christopher and Elika. Here they are standing by one of street artist, Stik's pieces on Princelet Street, just off Brick Lane.
Youngest - Sophie
Best new sensible haircut - Drew
Best moustache - No winners
Biggest family group - The Lynch's
Most Kevins in one group - Saturday morning (x2)
Saturday - St Paul's to Monument
On Saturday I was joined by three siblings from Germany; Julian, Vanessa and Valentine. They came along for the afternoon walk that begins at St Paul's cathedral and finishes by Monument, via Borough. Vanessa has been living in Borough, so in a way it was her own 'neck of the woods' walk.
Here they are standing on London Bridge, which is what many tourists actually call Tower Bridge, because I suppose it's a bit more iconic. You can see Tower Bridge in the background with the Olympic rings hanging underneath.
Sunday - 'My neck of the woods' east end walk
Vanessa and Valentine returned on Sunday for the east end walk and were joined by 11 others. For the first time in ages, we've had a few days of sun, so it was nice to wander around without getting rained on. Huzzah. They were a lovely group and a mixture of ages, interests and countries. I took the below photo just after they'd had a look around Columbia Road flower market and we have Valentine, Richard, Irina, Mary, Michael, Roana, Cat, Gail, Anis, Kim, Andrew, Kirsty and Vanessa.
Oh yes ... it's really interesting to find out how people hear about the walks and it's generally a complete mixture. I was delighted to discover that Michael had spotted a poster in his favourite sandwich shop in Smithfield that I must have put there about 6 months ago.
Most German - Julian, Vanessa & Valentine
Most Bostonian - Cat
Most recently historically qualified - Kim
Most well preserved American accents despite living in the UK for decades - Richard & Mary
Best Moustache - No winners
Most Glaswegian - Roana & Anis
Bits of london at night
Here are some photos of London at night. Not because I'm a photographer of any note, or can take night-esque photos, but purely because I really love London at night ... as well as most other times of day. No doubt I'll do more at some point.
Very Confusing Bridges
I've been walking and talking people around London for a while now, but it very quickly became apparent that the two bridges pictured below, which are next to each other, are very often confused. More to the point, people actually seem disappointed that London Bridge is London Bridge, like it's somehow a bit of a let down. The current London Bridge was built in 1973 and was completely paid for (at a cost of £4m) by a pot of money that has been floating around since the first bridge was built there in 1209. Not bad. Anyway, I took these photos on Monday night after a walk when a brilliant wintery fog was descending. If you'd like to know why London Bridge has that very distinctive red light at night or see a bit of the original one, come on a Bowl Of Chalk. Innit.
Bits of London bridge in victoria park
It was a lovely autumnal day in London today, and as I was wondering around Victoria Park in east London, I thought I'd take a couple of photos of bits of London bridge. That's right. London Bridge.
In the early 1800's the shops and houses that lined the bridge were taken down and replaced with alcoves or shelters. I think there were 14 in all. A few years later John Rennie completed the next London Bridge (1831) and 4 of the alcoves were saved. One is in Guy's hospital with a sculpture of John Keats sitting in it, another is in a council estate somewhere in south London, and the remaining two were deposited in Victoria park in 1860. They look like this:
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.