This coming Sunday (10th July at 4pm) I'll be running my first ever 'Hampstead' walk.If you're unfamiliar with the area, Hampstead was once a small country village, which although only 4 miles from central London stands about 440ft (134 metres) above sea level. It remained largely undeveloped until well in to the 18th century when people were drawn there by the clean air, large open spaces and abundance of springs. It became known as the 'Vale of Health'. It has managed to retain its village feel and stands next to 800 acres of heathland which is open to the public and enjoyed by Londoners, especially the fantastic views of the capital from Parliament Hill.
Hampstead attracted a huge amount of writers, artists and well known historical characters, and as such has about 75 commemorative plaques on their former homes. We'll pass by quite a number, including the houses of H.G Wells, Peter Cook, John Constable, Daphne du Maurier, Marie Stopes, Robert Louis Stevenson and John Keats to name but a few. Today's residents of Hampstead include the likes of Ricky Gervais, Liam Gallagher, Helena Bonham Carter and Jonathan Ross.
As well as a fine array of 18th century houses, winding streets and also the impressive Fenton House built in the late 17th century, Hampstead also has quite a number of modernist houses built in the 1930s, including 66 Frognal, the 'sun house' (the first modernist concrete house to be built in London) and No.2 Willow Road which is now a National Trust property. We'll also pass Admiral's House, which was not only painted by local artist John Constable but is said to have been P.L Traver's inspiration for 'Admiral Boom' in her Mary Poppins stories. You'll have to come on the walk to find out the whole story.
Although we won't be breaking out on to Hampstead Heath itself, we will have the opportunity to glimpse a small part of the Heath as we walk up 'Judges Walk' to Whitestone Pond, the highest point in Hampstead. If you would like to join one of my Hampstead walks, please check the schedule on the Home Page for upcoming dates. I'll be running them on Sunday afternoons so you can combine it with a visit and perhaps Sunday Roast in one of Hampstead's many gorgeous pubs, or perhaps a visit to the nearby Kenwood House or maybe just a stroll around Hampstead Heath. If you're brave enough, you could go for an outdoor dip in one of the Hampstead Ponds.
This coming weekend I'll be starting my new regime of Weekend London Walks, including some entirely new adventures in parts of London I've not previously covered on group 'pay what you want' walks. This coming Sunday (3rd July) at 3pm I'll be doing my inaugural 'Holborn, Clerkenwell & Smithfield' tour, so thought I'd write a brief post describing a little bit about what you can expect.
If you've been on walks with me before you'll know I'm quite keen on the etymology of words and place names, so we'll talk about 'Chancery' (we'll meet outside Chancery Lane underground station) and the legal 'Inns' that used to be in the area. We'll meet right by the impressive Staple Inn, a black and white Tudor building which is still standing and dates back to 1585. We'll pass by the gothic Victorian Holborn Bars, which was once Furnival's Inn, where Charles Dickens lived when he began writing the Pickwick Papers. We'll move on to Hatton Garden, today, London's 'jewellery quarter', once London residence of the Bishop's of Ely from the 13th century and part of which was grant to Christopher Hatton in the 16th century. We'll pass through a little alley way to discover a lovely little pub, Ye Olde Mitre, the origins of which date back to 1546 and a delightful little church which has managed to survive from the reign of Edward I (1272 - 1307). From there we'll move on to Smithfield.
Smithfield has an intriguing, gruesome and varied history as a jousting ground, the site of a yearly fair which began in the 12th century, St Bartholomew's Hospital and a monastery founded in 1123, part of which the church of St Bartholomew-the-Great survives today, a meat market which has been on the site for 900 years and amongst other things ...executions. Queen Mary I ('Bloody Mary' had over 200 Protestants executed there, many of whom were burned at the stake. Perhaps the most famous execution at Smithfield was Scottish patriot William Wallace in 1305. We'll pass by the 'oldest house in London', walk over a Black Death burial site, stop outside another ancient monastery, which gets used regularly as a film set and currently houses about 45 'brothers'. We'll also talk about the meat market and its changing fortunes over the years before heading on to Clerkenwell.
There was another 12th century monastery in Clerkenwell, parts of which still survive today, not just physically, but in an organisation that everyone will be very familiar with. We'll pass through the Tudor gatehouse and by the old Norman church to Clerkenwell Green which features in Charles Dickens 'Oliver Twist' and take a look at some of the buildings, old and new. At the end we'll go in search of the original 'Clerk's Well' which gives its name to the area.
Please Note - This walk might change a bit. The purpose of this blog post is to just give you a taster of what you can expect.
This weekend on Sat 2nd July I'll also be doing 'The Great Fire' walk, 'Around St Paul's cathedral' and 'Fleet Street'.
If you'd like to join the walk listed here, or any of my other walks, please book first, by sending me a message via the Contact Form. Thank you.
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.
There's a festival on in London at the moment, encouraging Londoners to explore their own city. It's called Find Your London, and began last Friday (18th March) and runs up until the end of the Easter weekend (28th March), offering a host of activities, talks, walks, cycle trails and treasure hunts to get people out of the house and explore the capital.
My own London walking tours are part of Find Your London, so last weekend I welcomed a plethora of people who already live in London, and those visiting to join me on my regular London wanders. Here are the Saturday morning group on the walk that took us from Trafalgar Square, through Covent Garden to Fleet Street, finishing at St Paul's cathedral.
When I began my London walks I just offered the three 'pay what you want' weekend walks and for the first year, it was pretty much solely Londoners who came, beginning with three people who saw a poster I'd stuck up in a bike shop in Old Street. The idea of offering walks to people who already lived in London was met with a certain amount of scepticism, as those who live and work here often don't consider the city to hold any secrets, to provide them with anything of interest or be worth exploring at all. How wrong they are. The perception is that if you live somewhere, then you know it. It's your city. If those same people were to take a weekend break to say Prague, they'd probably choose to go on a guided walk, perhaps with the wonderful team at The Naked Tour Guide. They'd very possibly know more about Prague in two hours than they do their own city.
Many Londoners tend to map their city by the London Underground; a series of connected dots on a map, often without knowing what is above them or what it looks like. They go to their nearest Underground station, disappear underground for half an hour, pop out by their office and have no idea what is in between. I was doing a walk once, and we were standing by The Monument, Christopher Wren's monument to the Great Fire of London, marking where the fire began in 1666. It was erected in the 1670s, about 186 years before the first Underground line was dug. Not surprisingly, the underground station next to it is called ... Monument. A Londoner in the group said "What a coincidence ... there's a big Monument by Monument Station". Last year TFL produced a new London Underground map, marked with walking times between stations as a for a number of them, it's actually quicker to walk than take the tube. I've had many people on walks amazed that we were able to walk to point A to point B in a matter of minutes, a journey which they'd previously only completed (in a much longer time) by tube.
As well as British people, the groups last weekend included many people from France, Brazil, Spain, Russia, Bulgaria, Germany and a number of other countries. They weren't all on holiday, but people living and working in London, and using the walks as a way of discovering new places and learning about their adopted city's history. There are six days of the Find Your London Festival left, and you can browse the activities on their website either by date, type of activity or simply what kind of mood you're in; active, curious, playful, relaxed or inspired. My own walks are fully booked for the coming weekend, but I do them every weekend; two central London walks on Saturdays and a walk around east London (which includes a great deal of street art) on Sundays. If you're reading this, have missed the walks this coming weekend, but would like to join one of the weekend 'pay what you want' walks in the future, then you'd be most welcome. The current dates are are listed on the homepage of this website. This was the group last Sunday as we passed through Arnold Circus in Shoreditch.
So ... why not get out, get exploring and ... Find Your London.
Most weekends I do three regular 'pay what you want' walks around London; two in central London on Saturdays and an East London walk on Sundays. Over recent months I've been a bit lapse at writing up these walks, but every now and again I get people who are returning for a second walk, or even their third ... for ...'The Trilogy'.
Last Sunday Geoff and Desne who first joined me for a walk last year, returned to complete 'The Trilogy'. They brought it to my attention that friends of theirs who have also been on my walks, got mentioned on the website and had their picture included. They seemed a little despondent that for no particular reason, I had never included either of their previous walks in this manner. So, to make amends, here is Geoff and Desne on the Sunday East London walk. They were joined by a nice young chap from New Zealand called Brendan and I took their photo on Rivington Street, with one of street artist Stik's stick figures behind them.
At the beginning of the year I did a few walks with a lovely couple from Australia, Berni & Louise. They also came on the first Saturday morning walk of 2016 from Trafalgar Square to St Paul's and were joined by Angelina & Michael from Germany. You can see them below standing in Wardrobe Place in the City of London. To their right, standing by the main front door to St Paul's cathedral is Brigid, who was the only person on that particular walk.
For the last few years I've done a walk with a group of American and Singaporean students. They came along for a wander around the east end one Sunday. I took their photo in Corbett Place, part of the Old Truman Brewery building, which is festooned with street art, including work by Invader, Shepard Fairey, Ronzo and D*Face to name just a few.
I mentioned earlier, Geoff & Desne completing 'The Trilogy'. Often this momentous occasion is achieved over a number of months or usually years. However, every now and again a real keeno emerges from nowhere, intent on doing all three walks in a single weekend; an ordeal ... sorry ... pleasurable activity that involves listening to me warbling on for about 9 or more hours, whilst doing a fair bit of walking, very possibly in not particularly great weather. On the second weekend in January, Susi from Germany rose to the challenge and did all three walks in a single weekend. Below, you can see her on her second walk, with Linda, David and Andrew who were visiting from the States. We were down on Bankside, next to Shakespeare's Globe Theatre and you can see the magnificent dome of St Paul's cathedral behind them.
The following day, Susi returned to take on the final leg of 'The Trilogy' around East London. She was joined by Jane & Dan. Jane is a London based life coach, so if you're at a career cross roads or think a life coach might be useful, then maybe Jane's a good person to get in contact with. I wasn't going to include their photo because I was trying to be a bit arty farty by taking their picture under a railway arch, with the sun behind them. All it achieved was that you can't see Susi, Jane or Dan, but it looks like Dan is wearing a pair of stick on glowing ears. He actually had perfectly fine ears, what could be called 'normal' ears. I just wanted to make that clear.
I've included the next photo below because it includes Tim & Sarah, also completing 'The Trilogy' as well as Sue and Anne (aka Petal) back for their second walk and Lucy who had also been on a few walks with me, as I'd done some walks with the charity she works for. It was all go. They were joined by a lovely bunch of friends having a bit of a reunion, as well as Tim, a hardcore Aldershot Football team fan. Here they are clustering around the area that was the original site for the world famous Globe Theatre, which opened in Bankside in 1599.
So there we have it, a few of the first weekend walks I've done in 2016.
Special Award to Geoff & Desne for no particular reason - Geoff & Desne
Recipients of the much coveted 'Trilogy' Award - Geoff & Desne, Tim & Sarah and also Susi
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.