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.
weekend roundup - 25th/26th Feb '12
Trafalgar Square to St Paul's
It was a a hive of activity around Trafalgar Square on Saturday morning, as the Faberge Big Egg Hunt had just kicked off, with Londoners trying to locate the 200 plus giant decorated eggs that have been secreted around the city offering the chance to win a £100,000 jewel encrusted egg. Unfortunately for Katrine and James, there wasn't quite such a prize for joining me on a London walk. However, I was intrigued to see the new sculpture that had been unveiled just two days earlier on the forever mildly redundant Fourth Plinth. The latest temporary offering is by the sculpting duo of Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset and is called 'Powerless Structures, Fig 101'. It depicts a boy on a rocking horse and I think the idea is that unlike the other equestrian statues that celebrate past war heroes, it's supposed to celebrate the expectation of the future.
As you can see from the photo, it was a gloriously sunny day, ideal for exploring London. This is Katrine and James outside St Bride's church, which we passed after stopping at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese for a drink.
St Paul's to Monument
In the afternoon I met Vicki, Lucy and Helen-Marie. Just before we headed over the Millennium Bridge, I took a photo of them standing outside the City of London School, which boasts a rather enviable location between St Paul's cathedral and the Thames. If you look closely, you'll notice that the President of the United States, Barack Obama is standing behind them. For those of you that follow my exploits with unflinching interest, you'll be aware that I'm still awaiting a reply from Prime Minister David Cameron, whom I invited on a Bowl Of Chalk. Mr Obama was keen to join us for the rest of the walk, but was very understanding when I informed him that a prior booking was essential.
My neck of the woods
Despite a plethora of cancellations for Sunday's walk, there were still five explorers eager to uncover bits of the east end. None of them had visited Columbia Road flower market before and came armed with a healthy interest in street art. They were a pretty international bunch and my marketing team were delighted to hear that word of Bowl Of Chalk has reached Spain, with Juan and Antonio over on a weekend break. Otiena had arrived from Canada on Friday and already managed to pack more in to two days than most Londoners do in two months. Here they all are, including Lisa and Kara, standing in front of one of Roa's giant animals.
Best hat - Otiena
Best beard - Juan and Antonio (joint winners)
Most Spanish - Juan and Antonio (joint winners)
Most Norwegian - Katrine
Most happy sitting in a pub - Vicki, Lucy & Helen Marie
Best moustache - No winner
Most Canadian group - Sunday (Kara, Lisa & Otiena)
Thanks to everyone who came on walks last weekend. The next Bowl Of Chalk walks take place on the weekend of the 10th/11th March.
St Bride's - through the secret door
If anyone reading this has been on one of my walks, you'll know I'm a fan of exploring places and uncovering things, going inside buildings and the like. The day I walked into St Bride's just off Fleet Street was a good day. It's famous for its spire, and often people just gawp up at it from outside, then move on. The church, although massively re-built after a couple of German incendiary bombs plunged through the roof during the blitz is a treasure trove of history; a Roman pavement (discovered thanks to the bombs), a mini museum in the crypt, associations with the printing industry, Samuel Pepys was born next door and lots of other fascinating bits and pieces.
However, I've spotted on a couple of occasions, people coming in and out of a locked door in the crypt, not open to the public. The other afternoon, I went along to one of the guided tours the church does on select Tuesdays in the hope that aside from learning some more stuff about the church, we might be taken through the secret door.
We were. Basically, after walking through a kitchenette, boxes and general paraphernalia accumulated over the last few hundred years, a door opens into a room, which is laden with skulls and assorted bones, some half buried in the earth. Apparently estimated at nearly 7000 human remains.
Then, the next room is much more ordered. Some 200 remains have been collected, identified, boxed, labelled and stored in cardboard boxes and stacked from floor to ceiling.
A detailed register is also on hand which gives names, dates, occupation, abode and cause of death for those now residing in the cardboard boxes. It's a fascinating, if not slightly morbid glimpse of London's past and one which has been important for research; forensically, medically and historically.
After only a cursory glance at the register, I noticed one unfortunate gentleman named John Lucas, a coal merchant who died in 1790. According to the cause of death, his demise was ... 'suddenly, by getting up in a hot night and refreshing himself at his chamber window.'
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