Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Original London Walks
As we are “inbetween games”- the main Olympics are over and the Paralympics is about to start, that’s an opportunity to explore parts of London other than the Olympic Park. I know that a lot of tourists and visitors to the capital like to do their sightseeing from the comfort of an air-conditioned coach, or from the tops of an open top bus, but for me you’re always be missing something.

Walking is the best way to explore London, and to get up close and personal with some of the well-known, and many of the not so well known, buildings, sites, people and views. There are scores of companies and even individuals offering regular walking tours of London, and many of these go “off the beaten track” and away from the traditional walks, revealing parts of London you didn’t know even existed. Not only will you hear interesting information about what you are walking by, but there are some brilliant photo opportunities. All the walks mentioned can be searched on the Internet to get details of times and bookings (although for many you just show up!)

London Walks do a number of interesting walks over and above the usual ”Jack the Ripper” tours. One that I’ve been on was called 500 years of Black London. I didn’t know that London’s black community actually began in earnest in the 1500s, and continued right the way through to the 1950s, when the post-war shortage of workers tempted thousands to come over from the Caribbean.  

If you’re a fan of Victorian Gothic design, there’s a great walk that explores the iconic structure of St Pancras station, including access to parts of the station normally closed to the public. You can marvel at the clock tower and the abundance of spires, and the large statue of Britannia. Moreover the area boasts the oldest church in Christendom Britain plus an extraordinary churchyard), all capped off with a stunning roof-top view. I used up a whole 4MB disk of digital photos on this one walk!
Britain has had as love affair with the High Seas since Henry VIII built up a navy that rules the waves for the next 450 years. One of the most famous ships was Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hinde. You can join actors dressed in period costumes on board an exact replica at St Mary Overie Dock to discover what life might have been like sailing around the world. The most shocking thing for me was the size of the boat. It was minute- only slightly larger than a London double-decker bus! Must have been cramped spending the best part of three years on board in all weathers and in all seas from 1577 to 1580. This floating museum is open all year round.
If you like your walks weird and wonderful, you can’t do any worse than join the Quirky London Tour. Highlights include (and brace yourself for this…) streetlamps fuelled by sewage, men chopping off their penises in public… a ballroom turned into a Venetian canal, Britain’s only street where cars drive on the right and Britain’s smallest police station. If you like the baroque, the bizarre and the frankly bonkers, then this is a great tour.

As a regular user of London’s underground transport system, I’ve always been fascinated by the closed and abandoned tube stations, structures and tunnels across London. There are a number of walks that take in some of these.
If violence and crime is you bag, then I recommend Smithfield: Murders, Monasteries and Martyrs. Starting off at Barbican tube station, this walk encompasses executions, bodysnatchers and a plague pit. The painter, Hogarth, the adviser to Henry the 8th, Sir Thomas More, and the Peasants’ Revolt leader, Wat Tyler are all mentioned. The painting here is of Wat getting the chop!
Finally you can just wander around London yourself- only yesterday I noticed some stunning photos to be had around Elephant & Castle where massive 1960s housing blocks have all been mothballed awaiting demolition as part of the area’s regeneration.
That’s just a taster of the many organised walks across London that you can join. Don’t forget to take your camera with you, if you don’t have one or want to upgrade, take a look at take a look at this selection of cameras- you’ll get some great pictures and have a tale to tell behind each one.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored guest post!


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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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