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'm going to roundup two sets of weekend walks in one go here, beginning with the weekend of the 6th & 7th September. I've had quite a few repeat offenders or customers as I should perhaps call them over the last few weeks. It's always nice to see people coming back and trying a different walk, or in some cases, doing the same walk again. This was the case with Libby on the Saturday morning walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's. She brought along her friend Elizabeth (visiting from Texas) and were joined by Tony from the Netherlands and Liz and her son Tom from England. You can see them on the left standing in front of the church of St Martin within Ludgate, a possible candidate for one of the churches that feature in the nursery rhyme 'Oranges and Lemons' and the verse "You owe me five farthings, say the bells of St Martin's."
Top right is the afternoon group just by the original site of the Globe Theatre on Bankside, made famous by a certain William Shakespeare. Matt and his mum Sue were back for their second walk with me, as was Lucy. Tony who had done the morning walk and hadn't planned on coming along on the afternoon walk joined us too. He obviously had nothing better to do.
Sunday was a bit of a weird one with loads of people dropping out and then Angela (back for her second walk) and John from Glasgow arriving a bit late. All credit to them for making it at all. You can see Monica from Germany, Rachel from America and Geiche from Germany standing next to Daniel DeFoe's grave in Bunhill Fields Cemetery.
For the weekend of the 13th & 14th September, we begin with Andrew and Cassy from the States on our way through Guy's Hospital. It's an area of the hospital I learned from Matt the week before (he'd studied there to become a doctor) that is known as 'the spit' due to the amount of tuberculosis patients it once housed.
Top right is the Sunday group on our usual jaunt around east London which featured Heidi who was back for her second walk. Finally the bottom photo is the group from the Saturday morning walk outside Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, which featured Chris and Caroline back for their second walk with me.
Stripiest top - Sue
Best moustache - No winners
Tallest - Chris & Matt (joint winners)
Most Irish group - Sun 14th (feat. Brian, Lianne, Nicola & Dermot)
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.
On Saturday morning I had the pleasure of meeting Victor and Arancha from Spain. It turned out that after a few cancellations, it was just the two of them for the walk from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's cathedral. It was Victor's first ever visit to London so in a way was quite nice they got to have their own private tour. Here they are outside Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, having just passed by Dr Johnson's House.
In the afternoon, Viv, Sue and Karen came along for the St Paul's to Monument walk. I've mentioned a guy called Ben Wilson before, who paints on to discarded pieces of chewing gum and we found him on the Millennium Bridge, where he is currently painting a series of tiny previously masticated pictures. Funnily enough, I had spoken to him the previous day and he said that he has about 60 miniature works of art on the bridge at the moment. Here he is at work, and also a view of St Paul's cathedral with people walking across the bridge, painted on to a bit of squished chewing gum.
Having crossed the river, we then made our way along Bankside to Borough Market, where I took the below photo of Saturday afternoon's walkers.
For Sunday's east London walk there was a rather larger contingent, bolstered by a group of friends from Coventry, Flora and Andras from Hungary, Samantha from New York, and Erin and Susan from Australia. It was in fact, Erin's third walk with me, so she is a veritable Bowl Of Chalk veteran. Here they all are in Shoreditch, standing in front of street artist Eine's 'Scary' bridge on Rivington Street.
Most Spanish - Victor & Arancha
Best moustache - No winners
Smallest - Samantha
Most Londony - Viv & Sue
Most flowery name - Flora
If you're in London for the Olympic and Paralympic Games and fancy exploring the city in between visiting the venues and watching copious amounts of sport, why not come on a fun, informal and informative walking tour ... with me (as recommended by Time Out in their list of 101 Best Things To Do In London).
You can either choose from one of my three 'pay what you want' weekend walks which are taking place every weekend throughout August, or, if you have a spare few hours during the week, get in touch and I'd love to show you around this amazing city. I can either suggest an itinerary, or if you have some sights or areas that you'd particularly like to see, let me know and I'll build a tour around them.
Here are just a few of the people who came on walks during July:
Simon & Fion from the U.S.A in St James's Park, (which is right by where the beach volley ball is currently being played) with Buckingham Palace in the background.
Colin & Co. over from LA, enjoying a well deserved drink in the 17th Century pub, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.
Valerie, Vladamir & Polina from the U.S.A via Russia and Ukraine, with a very life like statue in Piccadilly on our way to St James's Palace.
Sheree and Cortney were over from Wisconsin and should probably get an award for putting up with me for a whole three days. However, they did visit the Tower of London, St Paul's Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Kensington Palace, Buckingham Palace, The Churchill War Rooms and Harrods ... to name but a few.
Silke and Simone from Germany who explored Spitalfields, Brick Lane, Shoreditch and Hoxton.
Margie, Luca, Bianca, Alma & Anita from Italy outside Dennis Severs' House near to Old Spitalfields market.
One of the Sunday groups, having just had a mooch around Columbia Road Flower Market.
I look forward to hearing from you, and if I don't, then I hope you have a great time in London during the Olympics anyway.
The other week, I was asked to do a three day London walking extravaganza. Sheree and Cortney were visiting London for the first time, over from Wisconsin before heading off on a cruise, and wanted to pack in as much as possible in to their three days.
We spent the first day around Westminster, and aside from passing by Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, 'Big Ben', Downing Street, Horse Guards Parade. Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, St James's Palace and much more, they also spent some time in both Westminster Abbey and The Churchill War Rooms.
The second day began at the Tower of London (which they visited), and of course Tower Bridge, which is currently adorned with the Olympic Rings.
Then, after a minor detour through the City, including Leadenhall Market, the old Royal Exchange and the Bank of England we headed over London Bridge to Borough, taking in the 17th Century George Inn, Borough Market, Southwark Cathedral and of course Shakespeare's Globe Theatre before heading over to St Paul's cathedral.
After Sheree and Cortney had finished having a look around St Paul's we headed through Fleet Street taking in lots of places including Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Dr Johnson's House and Twinings Tea Shop, before finishing off at Covent Garden.
The final day was split between east and west London. It was pouring with rain in the morning. East London was grey and miserable, so I don't think it ingratiated itself with my two London explorers, but we did manage to pop to Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross Station, a constant source of delight for Harry Potter fans from all over the world.
In the afternoon, we headed west and Sheree and Cortney had a look around the recently refurbished Kensington Palace, where Queen Victoria was born and Princess Diana lived.
I think I'm still a bit undecided as to my thoughts on it, but it's certainly a different way to impart information in a museum setting, with the emphasis less on information boards and artifacts behind glass and more on exploration and uncovering information through emotion led stimulus, activities and participation.
Anyway, by this time I think we were all pretty knackered after three days exploring London, so on the way back to Victoria, where Sheree and Cortney were staying, we passed by the Royal Albert Hall and had a quick stop off at Harrods.
That's them pretending to be interested in the Albert memorial. We did a lot of walking over the three days and saw absolutely loads of stuff, and I should also add that Sheree and Cortney had both bought The London Pass before coming to the UK, so all the museums, cathedrals, palaces and wot not they visited had already been paid for, they didn't have to queue for a ticket and it also included all public transport travel for the three days.
Thanks to them both for putting up with me for three whole days.
Due to either people not turning up, or cancellations I only have one walk to report on from this weekend, which was Saturday morning's Trafalgar Square to St Paul's wander. But, what a splendid group they were, so I thought I'd splash out and furnish you with a few more details than I normally do. How lucky you are.
So, there were five people in all. Tess and Monique from Holland, Rita from Lithuania, (who came on the Sunday east end walk a few months ago), George who came from a variety of places, but predominantly Austria and last by no means least, Dave who came from London, via London.
I missed a trick here, because right before I took this photo we'd walked past the 12th Century Temple Church, which nestles just off Fleet Street. The whole area is pretty much closed off on weekends, but fortunately Monique happened to be really strong and somehow effortlessly pushed open an otherwise locked gate. Naughty.
Soon after this, we went for a drink at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, which is what is generally referred to as a 'historic pub'. We were sitting in the new pub because the old pub burnt down in a massive fire. So, this one was built in 1667 and if you look at the photo below, you'll see a small list of the various Monarch's that have reigned since the new pub was built.
A short while later, we were passing the Bridewell Theatre, which stands in the shadows of the infamous steeple of St Bride's church. I won't go on about it too much, but the building survives from the late Victorian period and was once a swimming pool, wash room and general education and P.E type place for the children who's parents were busy keeping all those printing presses on Fleet Street going. The swimming pool has since been made in to a theatre, and quite craftily, we managed to get down to the bar, which was once the wash room. (by-the-way, it's not actually a pub/bar tour). Here we met a very nice bar manager who very kindly explained the history of the place to us, complete with photos they'd recently found of its transformation and previous Victorian life.
Whilst the group were talking to the nice bar manager I took this photo of an old wooden washing machine which still stands rather obtrusively in the bar. They've also got a pretty antiquated dryer and some industrial size Victorian drying racks/radiators.
Anyway, we saw lots of other things along the way, and gradually wound our way up to St Paul's cathedral where we finished. Thanks very much to the group. I really enjoyed it.
Bowl Of Chalk veteran - Rita
Tallest - George
Most Dutch - Tess & Monique
Most Snap Happy - Dave
Weekend roundup - 11th/12th Feb '12
Well, well, well ... what an interesting weekend, with all three London walks taking place and spanning the whole spectrum of Chalker numbers, all of whom courageously braved the near Arctic conditions. Perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration, but Saturday certainly was pretty nippy.
Trafalgar Square to St Paul's
One of the group on Saturday morning was evidently thwarted by TFL and unable to make it, so myself (obviously), Pete, Stacey, Harriet and Emily set off through London's sun-kissed but really, really, really cold streets. Here they are outside Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, rebuilt in 1667.
After managing to drag them away from the warmth of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese's Ye Olde fire I took them to see a bit of 14th Century priory (a Bowl Of Chalk first) that once stretched from Fleet Street all the way down to the Thames and belonged to the Carmelite order known as White Friars. It now sits behind glass looking mildly out of place amongst a plethora of towering modern office buildings.
Pete very kindly wrote a rather lovely review of his experience of the walk (along with loads of photos) on his London-centric blog, the Londoneer.
St Paul's to the Monument
At 2.30pm I met Denise outside St Paul's tube station and off we went because on Saturday afternoon she was the only Chalker. Denise was great company and we basically wandered about Bankside, Borough and Southwark and chatted about stuff, had a coffee in the George Inn next to the fire, no doubt exactly where Charles Dickens sat too and generally mooched around whilst I imparted fascinating snippets of information ... obviously. I would highly recommend other tour guide people to try and entice Denise on to their walks because she is so much fun and an incredibly interesting person too. Here she is outside the re-created Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.
My neck of the woods
Sunday moved effortlessly from one extreme to the other with the arrival of the largest ever Bowl Of Chalk group, keen to explore a bit of the east end with me. What a lovely group they were too and featured (amongst others) three generations of one family and a handful of Yeah! Hackney (ers), an online community, discussion forum and news type place started by Emily Webber for people who live and work in Hackney.
Anyway, seeing as it was such a monster group I thought it only fitting that I should take a photo of them standing in front of the Hoxton Street Monster Supplies shop, which I will endeavour to write a small piece about in the not too distant future.
So, there you have it, all that remains are a few awards.
Some Awards (in no particular order)
Smallest ever group - Saturday afternoon (Denise)
Largest ever group - Sunday (see photo above)
Most generations from one family - Ann(e), Karen & Laura
Most Argentinian - Malu and Sol
Best moustache - No winner
Best English accent for a non English speaker - Stacey (Bulgaria) just wins, but Violaine (France) & Maarten (Belgium) are hot on her heels. Theoretically Malu & Sol could also be up for this award, but they've already got one.
Biggest Stik enthusiast - Natalie
Most likely to say 'Yeah, Hackney' - Emily
Thanks once again to everyone who came on walks this weekend.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.