Here's Why...
Here’s Why...
London Walks aficionados know the score...but for someone who's very green, well, here's a rather fuller picture than the home page "Dictionary definition" of London Walks. So by way of "setting out our stall", here are the 5-Ws...Who? What? Where? When? and Why?


WHO?

"London Walks guides are a bunch of bonhomous Brits
extending the hand of welcome to the strangers in their midst"

That's a delightful way of putting it...but it doesn't go far enough. The "killer application" - so to speak - is that in addition to all that bonhomie, Shaughan, Don, Angela, Judy, Tom, Brian, Hilary, Stephanie, Sue, Richards 1, 2, 3, and 4, Helena, Chris, Molly, Charles, Gillian, Grahm, Alan, Steve, Peter, Jean, June, Margaret, etc. etc. etc. are - by a very long chalk - the best walking tour guides in London. As somebody else once put it, "if this were a golf tournament, every single name on the leader board would be a London Walks guide". London Walks guides come from all sorts of backgrounds. A lot of them are top flight Blue Badge Guides. We "cherry pick" the best of the Corps. of Blue Badge Guides. No fewer than three London Walks guides have won the London Tourist Board's Guide of the Year Award. In fact, several of our Blue Badge Guides are instructors on the course. Indeed, Tom, as well as being an instructor on the Blue Badge course - and a barrister! - is, into the bargain, the Chairman of the Guild of Guides. But "the best of the Blue Badges" is just part of the story. Other London Walks guides are authors, journalists, a City of London banker, a former fashion model, a former elephant tamer, etc. etc. And - finally - a lot of the guides are actors. We like what actors bring to the party in terms of "presentational skills" (in that naff phrase). Timing, presence, the superb voice, being completely at ease in front of a crowd of people, etc. Those are gifts. You can't teach those things. People have either got those abilities - or they don't...end of story. The "material" - the history and all those wonderful London tidbits and stories that are our stock in trade can be taught - or picked up - iron filings to a magnet.

And that's just one leg of the stool. It is of course famously true that tri-partite structures - three-legged stools, mother-father-child/children families, etc. - are very strong. So what are the other two "legs" of the London Walks "who" structure? Well, one of them of course is the walkers, the people who go on the walks - you guys! And who are they? Who are you? Well, for starters, it's the most wonderfully motley group. All nationalities - well, more or less all nationalities. All ages. All walks of life. And this might come as a bit of surprise - and an agreeable one, I daresay - there are a lot of Brits, including Londoners! - going on the walks. Which adds some very special flavouring to the thing. It's a commonplace that it can be hard to find someone who's English - or British - in central London. The waiters are all Italian. the pub stuff are all Ozzies. The hotel receptionists are Swiss. The porters are Polish. Okay, I'm simplifying - caricaturing, really - like crazy. But there's a measure of truth to the general point. And the splendid fact is that a London Walk is the exception that proves the rule. It's not at all unusual to have a third or more of the group be Brits and among that highish percentage there's always a sprinkling of Londoners! I did a Shakespeare's & Dickens's Old City walk a couple of years ago that had seventeen people on it in total - and all of them were Brits. Sixteen of them were English and the "wild card" was a Scot.  

Now, are any of these "demographics" important? Well, of course they are. The point being that it's not always easy to "meet the natives" in London. That can and does happen - and regularly - on a London Walk. A London Walk is not a "tourists only" zone. And it's that much more satisfying and enriching for not being a "tourists only" zone. Again, it comes down to that all important matter of "local knowledge". A "local" brings to the party stuff that a tourist can't bring - by definition. Recommendations, pointers, just plain old - and "plain old" is selling things way way short of course - experience and memories and know-how.

And not at all to be gainsayed on this count is the "social element" of a London Walk. It's a completely natural social situation. And, hey, people meet, they talk, the compare notes, etc. That's a good thing. It's a happy state of affairs. And  equally to the point here, there's nothing forced - nothing "singles bar" tacky - about the set up. Obviously there's more "social interaction" on a pub walk than on a regular walk - because built in to the pub walks are those briefish - 20 minutes or so - stops at pubs, the which are perfect opportunities for "hellos" and "my name is ___, what's yours?" and "what do you do's?" and "first walk or been on others?" etc. colloquies. But that happens on the other walks as well. And it's a good thing. Sad and lonely - the "bowling alone" syndrome - London Walks ain't!

Narrowing this particular focus ever so slightly, we get lots of single women going on the pub walks. They might be in London on business or whatever - and they might well not go into a pub of an evening on their own - so a pub walk is absolutely perfect. It provides a natural, "unforced" group. No bad thing at all.

And you get the same sort of mix in terms of why people are going on a London Walk. What brings them out on a given walk - what they're looking for. Some are just out for a stroll - some fresh air and exercise - and if they happen to pick up some bits and bobs of interesting information en route...well, that just jollies the whole thing along, makes for quite a nice bonus, really. Others are dead keen on the subject - whether it's the history of a given area or the topic covered (as per our "themed" walks - e.g., Spies' & Spycatchers' London, Shakespeare's London, Oscar Wilde's London, Scientific London, etc.).

And the third leg? Well that of course is the locals in the neighbourhood we're exploring. They're friendly, often interested themselves. Sometimes they'll be on a walk as a walker, rather than just pausing for a moment in passing to kibbitz. And if you think about it, at least in part they're as agreeable as they are precisely because it's low intensity tourism. There's no goldfish bowl "effect". We're not in a huge, polluting coach gawping at them from behind a window. That arrangement by definition means both "parties" are in a sense in a goldfish bowl. Yuk. Who needs that? Who would want it?

And what you'll find is that because we walk - because we breathe the same air they're breathing - the groups and the guides become part of the furniture, so to speak. Part of the warp and woof of any given neighbourhood. Indeed, it's not just a case of the guide knowing the neighbourhood - the neighbourhood knows the guide! Which has all kinds of very positive knock-on effects. Because the guide's known - and trusted - he or she will be made privy to neighbourhood stuff that's just not a matter of "published record". So in some cases you're really getting the "inside gen". I'm always stressing "connections connections" in terms of the rich historical "texture" of London - but the other kind of "connections" are also extremely important in this instance. Those kind of connections "open doors". Literally as well as figuratively. I'm thinking, for example, of the Little Venice walk and Shaughan and Emily actually having the key to a beautiful old church that's normally closed to the public. You go on that walk you get a very special experience - a behind closed doors experience - that no "normal" visitor to that area can get - by definition. That church is closed to the "normal" visitor. It isn't closed to the people who go on Shaughan's and Emily's Little Venice walk. And that happy state of affairs is simply a matter of Shaughan and Emily putting in the years, getting known, getting accepted.- getting "connected".


WHAT?
What's a London Walk?

Well, pared right down it's walking and story-telling and, in consequence, finding out about - figuring out - your surroundings. Which is why it's such a satisfying way to while away a couple of hours. Because walking and talking and scoping out where you are - and marvelling - is what we've all been doing since we were ankle-biters...since "Time let us hail and climb golden in the heydays of his eyes...in the lamb-white days when we were young and easy and Time held us green..."

Or as Keats put it,
                       Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
                       When a new planet swims into his ken...

 
And because a great London Walk is a series of stunning discoveries, of frissons, of "eureka moments", of cork poppings, of making connections, of being there in your mind's eye ("in such places and with such a guide the past becomes our present")...well, wide-eyed, child-eyed wonder does take hold from time to time. Or to put it another way: then and there and here and now dovetail on a great walk...and that's heady stuff.

In short, a brilliant London Walk is a white knuckle ride - okay, stroll - through history...and architecture...and biography...and archaeology...and geography...and whatever else is of interest - everything from London's weather to its geology to the latest gob-smacking gossip to the signature of the American Revolution on London bricks to great shops, shows, and shindigs. And white knuckle is the mot juste - because a great guide conducts historical lightning!

What else? Well, a London Walk is...fun. It's fresh air. It's exercise. It's anecdotal. It's low-intensity, ecologically friendly "tourism". It's exploration. It's getting keyed in to a London neighbourhood...and feeling that you're a local, that you belong, if only temporarily.  

And, hey, there's even a very agreeable social element. A London Walk is a completely natural social situation...which means that people meet and chat and compare notes: "have you seen this show/that exhibition?"..."we discovered the most wonderful little restaurant yesterday"...that sort of thing.

Bottom line: London Walks will change the way you see the city. As a journalist once put it, "London Walks makes the new familiar and the familiar new."
 

WHEN?

London Walks operates 365 days a year. The only days that are ever significantly different for us are Christmas Eve and Christmas Day itself. On those two days we do throttle back quite considerably. I.E., on Christmas Eve we only do three or four walks. And Christmas Day itself we only do two walks. The other 363 days of the year, though, it’s full speed ahead for us: i.e., on weekdays we run anywhere from a dozen to fifteen different walks. And over the course of the weekend we run something like 40 different London Walks – 20 on Saturday and 20 on Sunday. We have walks every morning, every afternoon, and every evening. For example, every evening - with the exception of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day itself - we do two pub walks at 7:00pm (Saturday night is the exception that proves the rule: i.e., The Other Saturday Night Pub Walk takes place at 7:15pm), a ghost walk at 7:30pm, and the Jack the Ripper Haunts walk at 7:30pm. And on Saturday night, there's a fifth evening walk, because at 6:30pm on Saturday nights we run Classic Murders & Crimes. And on Bank Holiday Mondays - and Boxing Day, e.g. - we run an even fuller schedule. I.E., on Bank Holiday Mondays - and Boxing Day - we lay on some "special walks" in addition to our regularly scheduled outings. See the Special Walks section for the particulars.


WHERE?
There are over 300 different walks in the London Walks repertory. Tons of great walks in central London of course...but we also explore "village London". I.E., Hampstead, Highgate, Strand-on-the-Green, Bethnal Green, Chiswick, Dulwich, etc.
 
And of course we range still further afield in the all-day, out-of-town Explorer Days to Hampton Court, Oxford, The Cotswolds Canterbury, St. Albans, Stonehenge & Salisbury, etc.


An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness...
"The rhythm of walking generates a kind of rhythm of thinking, and the passage through a landscpe echoes or stimulates the passage through a series of thoughts. This creates an odd consonance between internal and external passage, one that suggests that the mind is also a landscape of sorts and that walking is one way to traverse it. A new thought often seems like a feature of the landscape that was there all along, as though thinking were traveling rather than making...every walk [is] a tour leisurely enough both to see and to think over the sights, to assimilate the new into the known. Perhaps this is where walking's peculiar utility for thinkers comes from. The surprises, liberations, and clarifications of travel can sometimes be garnered by going around the block as well as going around the world, and walking travels both near and far. Or perhaps walking should be called movement, not travel, for one can walk in circles or travel around the world immobilized in a seat, and a certain kind of wanderlust can only be assuaged by the acts of the body itself in motion, not the motion of the car, [bus], boat, or plane. It is the movement as well as the sights going by that seems to make things happen in the mind, and this is what makes walking ambiguous and endlessly fertile: it is both means and end, travel and destination." Rebecca Solnit