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.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a pub in London that people often ask me about, and in fact, we regularly pass by on the Saturday morning walk. It would appear to be one of those old or historic drinking holes that has managed to wedge itself in to the public consciousness, as it is a name familiar with many visitors, either through guide books or a friend of a friend who suggested they should visit. In my opinion, there are many good reasons for this, and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese's reputation as a place to literally soak in history is well justified.
You can approach 'The Cheese' from a couple of directions, but if you are walking down Fleet Street, you turn off in to Wine Office Court, a narrow alleyway that gets its name from the wine licences that were once granted in a nearby building. Next to the well worn front doorstep to the pub is a sign listing all the monarchs that have reigned since the pub was rebuilt in 1667 (yes, it's the 'new' pub), having burned down during the Great Fire of London the previous year. There's actually been a guest house on the site since 1538, and prior to that it is thought to have been a guest house for the Carmelite monks who in the 13th century occupied much of the area. If you have a look around the surrounding streets, you'll discover, there's a nearby Carmelite Street and also a Whitefriars Street and a small part of the old monastery is hidden, but visible beneath a much newer building on the other side of Fleet Street.
Stepping inside the pub, you'll be plunged in to near darkness, but once your eyes grow accustomed to the light (or lack of it), you'll notice the floor is covered in sawdust. To your left is the old chop room, and to your right, you can enter in to an atmospheric, wood paneled room, that was once the domain of 'gentlemen' only, but is now a cosy bar, complete with a fire place, above which is a painting of a former waiter William Simpson, who began working at 'The Cheese' in 1829. The painting gets passed down through successive landlords and in the photos below, you can see him on the right of each picture gazing down on customers in 1919, and still there today in the same place.
Being careful not to bang your head, you can venture down another couple of floors in to the old cellars, where there is another bar, and depending on how busy the pub gets, they can open up further rooms at the back, and have another couple of floors above which are used mostly for private functions. Perhaps not surprisingly, due to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese's proximity to Fleet Street, the pub has a long line of literary connections, including Samuel Johnson, who compiled his dictionary in the mid 18th century just around the corner in Gough Square (now Dr Johnson's House), Oliver Goldsmith, who lived opposite at No. 6 Wine Office Court, Mark Twain, E.M Forster, Alexander Pope and George Bernard Shaw. Perhaps the most often asserted literary connection is that in Charles Dickens' novel 'A Tale Of Two Cities', Sydney Carton leads Charles Darnay along Fleet Street and 'up a covered way, in to a tavern' and invites him to dine. Although not mentioned by name, it is thought that the scene takes place in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.
The pub is now run by the Sam Smiths brewery and the food they do is what I call 'no nonsense bog standard pub grub', so don't expect too much. It does the trick and to be honest, you'll find that most people go there for the atmosphere, as it's perhaps the nearest you'll get to feeling like you've gone back in time to the 18th century or 19th century if you'd prefer that. Like I suspect many people, the little bar on the right as you go in, is my favourite and as you sit there you can almost sense all the people who have sat, just like you for the last three hundred odd years. It's a great place to while away a few hours on a cold, wintery evening, much like the ones we have now, and much like the ones they had back then.
If you've ever been down (or up) Clerkenwell Road, you would have passed a big gate way just up the hill from Farringdon Road, and if you'd spied it, would have probably thought 'Jeepers ... that looks like it's straight out of a film set ... of a period film of some sort ... like a film that's set ages ago, maybe one that Cate Blanchett's in.' You would be quite correct in this assumption, because it's been there since 1504 and for me is just the tip of the iceberg. The metaphorical iceberg is formed of the rich history of the area that has so many stories, so many facets and such a wide reach spanning centuries, that to write about it here would do it an injustice. Instead, I shall furnish you with a few bits of information and leave it up to you whether you visit or not. Oh yes, the gate is called St John's Gate and looks like this.
So, in an unsatisfactory nutshell ... up until the point when Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic Church and began taking away land that belonged to them (often referred to as the Dissolution of the monasteries) much of London (and the rest of the country for that matter) was dotted with huge swathes of land that belonged to various monastic orders. The area around Clerkenwell belonged to the Order of St John, the Hospitallers, whose origins date back to the late 11th century in a role caring for pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem. The gate I just mentioned was a later addition, which lead in to a Priory that included a couple of large halls, dormitories, buttery, refectory, counting house, kitchen, stables, orchards, gardens, fish ponds and unusually for a monastic precinct, an armoury (those pilgrimages often got violent). After the Dissolution, I think Henry VIII used the Priory as a store house before giving it to his daughter Mary, who used it as a private palace.
The Order of St John, the Knights Hospitallers, had an unexpected renaissance in the 19th century, when it became apparent that there was little or no provision for the aid of injured people in civilian life, particularly those succumbing to fatal injuries in the work place, at public events or indeed at home. For this reason, in 1877, the St John Ambulance Association was founded, continuing the same ethos that the original order begun, all those centuries earlier. As you know, St John Ambulance still very much exists today, continuing to carry out what the Victorian's called rather aptly 'Ambulance Crusades'.
You can uncover this fascinating history over two sites. St John's Gate houses a museum (free to enter, and free to exit) detailing all of this stuff, and if you cross over the road you will find hiding beneath the facade of a reasonably modern building, the 12th century Priory crypt, one of London's few remaining Norman structures along with another small museum, garden and church, which was rebuilt after being completely destroyed in WWII.
Also, just as an aside, William Hogarth (well known pictorial chronicler of debauched 18th century London) lived for 5 years in the east tower of St John's Gate, as his father ran a coffee shop there. Samuel Johnson wrote parliamentary reports there long before anyone approached him with the idea of compiling a dictionary, Charles Dickens visited the Jerusalem Tavern which popped up there in 1760 (of course he did) and the west tower currently houses one of the few remaining Tudor spiral staircases in England (although you can only see this if you join one of their tours at 11am or 2.30pm on Tuesdays, Fridays or Saturdays). Also, if that's not enough name dropping, in the 16th century, the Priory housed the office of the Master of Revels (which sounds like a pretty cool job) responsible for licensing and organising all court entertainments and plays, and 30 of William Shakespeare's plays were licensed there.
The museum is open from Monday to Saturday (10am - 5pm), so if you're in the area or work nearby then why not pop in.
Aside from doing my regular 'pay what you want' weekend walks, I also do weekday walks if people enquire and would like me to do a special walk for a group. They don't have to be any of the three I do on Saturdays and Sundays and actually, the walks I've done just recently have all been completely different.
An epic stroll through the City of London - Peter, Liesbeth and Ezra were over for a few days from Holland, and were very kindly put in touch with me via Dutch blogger in London right now who not surprisingly writes about what she would do if she was in London ... right now. I put together a few suggestions for walks based upon various things they wished to see and they chose a walk that began in Covent Garden, moved down the Strand, taking in the 12th Century Temple Church, nipped in and out of the streets around Fleet Street, then after a brief stop off at St Paul's Cathedral cut through the City of London, through Leadenhall Market and down to the Tower of London. Here they are standing by the statue of Hodge, the beloved cat of Samuel Johnson who was responsible for compiling the first definitive English dictionary in 1755. Samuel Johnson compiled the dictionary, not his cat ... as far as I'm aware.
Fire of London walk - Just last week, I was asked to do a walk that followed the path of the Great Fire of London, a catastrophic event that occurred in 1666 and in just four days burnt down a vast swathe of the City of London. We began at the Monument, just a short distance from where the fire began in the bakery belonging to Thomas Farriner (or sometimes Farynor) and walked through the City towards Bank and then up to St Paul's Cathedral, which was engulfed in flames on the third day of the fire. Here you can see the group with the new St Paul's Cathedral in the background, the masterpiece of Sir Christopher Wren, who was responsible (along with a lot of help) for rebuilding the City after the fire.
A Westminster Wander - On Monday I had the pleasure of taking a school group on a walk around Westminster. We met in Trafalgar Square, then headed down Whitehall past the spot that was used as the entrance to the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix film, saw Banqueting House which was the real location for the execution of King Charles I in 1649, had a few photos taken with Horse Guards on their horses and ordinary guards without their horses, then nipped through St James's park to Buckingham Palace (which is currently hidden behind a recently erected temporary stadium for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations) then past St James's Palace and up to Piccadilly. Here they are outside the Royal Academy of Arts where I left them in time for the next activity on their schedule.
So there you have it. If you'd like me to do a weekday walk at some point, then let me know. The next regular weekend walks are on the 9th & 10th June.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.