Always drink upstream from the herd, that's why
Translation: ours are different – we've got a much better way of doing it
Vive le difference! It makes it much more enjoyable – a better experience
Vive le difference!
That's the first thing. And the second thing is this: give yourself a pat on the back. Precisely because you've found your way here. In short, you're already part way over the wall – about to break the surly bonds of the "package", the motorway, London traffic jams, the coach!
If you want it short and sweet, what's just been said will more than suffice. Especially if you close it out by watching this little film of our Cambridge Tour
. Along with its shorter sidekick – The Cambridge Walk (Here's How It Works)
. Together they'll give you a very good idea of what a London Walks Day Trip from London is like, what happens, what you get, how you go on one, etc. On the other hand, if you want to drill down deeper, well, by all means watch the films – and then read on. Because further down this page I'm going to close with some of the "differences" that make "the way we do it... better".
Okay, now, as promised, let's close with some of those "differences". And make no mistake, these are really important, fundamental matters – structural differences as opposed to window dressing 'differences'. As such they go right to the heart of the thing. It's all just common sense, really – but it never gets said. So let's get it said.
Hotel pick-ups. We don't do them. We meet you at the ticket office of the "designated railway station."
You just take the tube
there – eeezy peezy (as my sprogs used to say). What are the parameters – and implications – of that modus operandi
? Well, for starters coaches aren't our thing. We don't go by coach. We don't own coaches. We're not locked into them – don't have a huge capital investment dictating where and how we go. End of story? Hardly. Chew on this: London traffic moves at an average speed of about 6 mph these days
. (Horse drawn hackney cabriolets a century ago got you there faster than the internal combustion engine does today. ) That's average speed
. You can imagine what central London is like in the crush hours – hotel pick-up time, in other words. Making the rounds of those hotels can take up to two hours. (Talk about having your time fly straight into nothingness.)
And that's just to get everybody rounded up. It's the practice run, if "run's" the mot juste
. Perfect to get you in the mood for the crawl
out of town to the motorway. Crawl through town. Crawl out of town. Don't know about you, but that would work wonders for my irritability quotient. Well, each to his own. But if I were a visitor I'd rather have a bit of a lie-in and a leisurely breakfast; then stroll to the tube
and do as they do in London: go by tube. Not only is it a lot quicker and a lot less stressful – it's a taste of ordinary, work-a-day London. It's how Londoners do it, how they get around – and it's something I'd want to experience if I were a visitor to London.
Do yourself a huge favour – do a few "distance calculations".
It's eezy peezy on the Internet. Add up those miles – put a figure on it and then use your common sense. Work out for yourself how far it is from London to Wherever. And then from Wherever to Wherever (and perhaps to Wherever) to back to London. How many miles is that? If it's, say, 230 miles – how long's that going to take, how much of your day out's going to be a day in – in a coach, on the road?
Particularly when you factor in the London crawl
and the 20 or 30 mph limit – not that you'll ever hit those speeds – in "built-up areas".
Time for an analogy. Think of a "day tour" of New York City that "takes in" Yankee Stadium, Central Park, the Rockefeller Center, Times Square, the Empire State Building, Greenwich Village, Wall Street, the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge. How much of Greenwich Village do you think you're going to see on that tour? And that's just one city on a tiny (13.5 mile-long and 2.5 mile-wide) island. As opposed to two or three or four "destinations" separated from each other and London by a motorway journey that in total comes to a couple of hundred miles or more. Again, maybe it's just me, but that's my idea of doing hard time.
That's one way of doing it. It's certainly not our way. "It" for us is a very different cup of tea. "It" for us is only one or two destinations. We get to them a lot quicker. And we spend a lot more time in them. We see them properly. You want tourist hell holes don't go with us. You want quaint little back streets, you want to go where coaches can't go, you want to reach the parts other tours cannot reach (because of time constraints - let alone road width!)...well, then we're going to be right for you.
And that's all by way of saying, we do a walking tour – or two – of each of the places we go to. Proper walking tours – not just sad little get-out, stretch-your-legs, take-the-obligatory-photo affairs. To go back to the New York analogy, our way of doing "it" would be to do a walking tour of Greenwich Village and one of Wall Street. We'd save Times Square and the Rockefeller Center for another day. And do them justice on their day.
Niche is the mot juste
, who masterminds the Day Trips
strand of our programme, has found (though created
is probably a better word) a very special little niche here. And niches are almost always delightful. Not least because by definition they've got their own highly individualised character – they're not one-size-fits-all.
Goes without saying that coach tours are the way most people get to see these places for the first time. (Yes, you can do it on your own of course, but that's got its own downside.) At the other end of the cost spectrum is hiring your own driver-guide and being chauffeured. Or hiring a car and doing your own driving. Which is also frightfully expensive – let alone stressful.
I said the other end of the cost spectrum – implying that coach tours and driver-guide tours (I suppose you could have yourself helicoptered if you really wanted to play silly buggers with your bank balance) were the two ends of that spectrum. They're not. No question about it, going the chauffeured, driver-guide way is what's out at the expensive end. But it's London Walks that's there to greet you at the pocketbook friendly end! ("Spectrum" will do, but rainbow isn't bad either. At the far end you fork out a pot of gold, at our end you find one – an experiential p. of g!) But tracking back to the main point: just get Googling and you'll see what I mean. Coach tours cost more.
And consider the particulars
of the bill of fare. 1) You pay more for less comfort. It's incontrovertible, that. There's just more room on trains, you can get up and move around, there's the food trolley, there's a table for your book or laptop, there's any number of decent-sized loos, etc. Case closed. 2) You pay more for worse "visuals": the train goes through the countryside, the motorway's the motorway – great for spotting lots of lorries. 3) It takes a lot longer to get there. For that you pay more? 'Fraid so. Basically, you're paying more for more hard time and a lot less quality time – i.e., time in the places you're paying to visit. 4) The counter argument of course is "multiple destinations". But boy is that ever debateable. You get right down to it it's a "category confusion" – quantity and quality. Lots of motorway and very little time in each of several destinations doesn't float our boat. Our position is that time is of the essence. If you really want to get to know a city you have to walk it.
Follow the money is always good advice. And again, this is just common sense, but it's common sense that doesn't often get a look-in. The money trail in one case leads back to huge infrastructure costs – vehicles, drivers, repairs, a London office (London rents!), support staff, etc. Print and distribution of course.
And as for commissions...
Well, put it this way, in the solar system of big hotels London Walks is an undiscovered planet. Your asking the Concierge for a London Walks leaflet is akin – in Norman Nicholson's wonderful poem – to "the wry retarding of Uranus...[your request] speaks of the pull beyond the pattern: The unknown is shown only by a bend in the known". (The C. reaching under the desk for "the distinctive white London Walks leaflet"!)
In short, "their" brochures have pride of place – and all of the rest of the places! Ours are conspicuous by their absence. And there's a reason for that of course: business is business. Or I suppose you could say: vigorish is vigorish. Vigorously so!
Add all that together and what do you get? A juggernaut, that's what you get. London Walks is a much much lighter operation. Lighter on your pocketbook follows from that. As does more light in your mind! Precisely because all the axial lines converge where they should: on you and the guide and "doing" a day trip from London to Bath
or Hampton Court
or Royal Winchester
or The Cotswolds
, etc.) in the best possible way! (In the summer we go to Hampton Court
by boat: it's a riverside palace and was meant to be approached by water: that's the best possible way to do it, so, naturally, we do it that way!)
But the clincher, surely, is the gap between price and value that you get with London Walks. It's enormous. It's what makes the thing a no-brainer
. But let's brain it
– let's think about it for a minute. Yes, common sense, again. For £16 (or the £14 or £12 concessionary rates) – about what you'd pay for a main course in a middling restaurant – you've got the services of the guide for the day. You get two different walking tours. You get lots of added value - on the cost of the train ticket and any admissions (to the colleges in Oxford or Cambridge, for example). You get a day that's exquisitely crafted and works like a fine Swiss watch. A day where all the component parts are enjoyable and interesting – and fit together beautifully
. A day where there's no "yuhk" time – no stretches of motorway (or London traffic jam) purgatory. A day that takes all the worry out of the thing.
Take – as an example – Richard's
trip to Oxford & The Cotswolds
. Picked more or less at random, I hasten to add. Put any of the London Walks Day Trips
under the same mircoscope and you're going to get much the same result. But let's "consider" the Oxford & Cotswolds trip. The start time is a very civilised 9.15 am (at the moment, Summer 2013). That's when you meet Richard by the main ticket office of Paddington Railway Station. The train journey to Oxford takes about an hour. It's quick. And it's comfortable. When we get off the train at Oxford there's a coach there to meet us. Yes, we do use coaches occasionally. In spot roles. And that's the key. Used sparingly – judiciously – they're just the ticket. This is a case in point. There's no train service to the Cotswolds. You need a motor vehicle to get there. And to get around once you're there. So Richard charters a local coach to get over the ground from Oxford to the Cotswolds and back to Oxford. And the joy of the thing is 1) it's not at all a long trip – the train did the serious mile crunching for us! and 2) the journey actually "adds value" rather than sapping it. It adds it because having bought time – lots of it – with the quick and comfortable train journey, Richard can now spend some of it on an extremely picturesque – and very interesting – back roads route. Rather than motorwaying it. A back roads route that he guides. Indeed, he even does a spot of guiding on the way out of Oxford. Everything adds value. In effect the whole day is a performance
. It's orchestrated. Which is another way of saying that everything
contributes to the performance
– every component is a plus. Including the short coach journeys! It bears repeating – there's no yuhk time, no "will this purgatory ever end" time.
In the Cotswolds themselves, Richard and his "lucky few" explore two of the world's most beautiful villages. A walking tour in the first one – including (weather permitting) a walk across fields, some horse whispering (okay, we slip them some sugar lumps), a stream-side stroll, negotiating a kissing-gate, etc. What's more – it's a village no coach tourist ever gets to see. Because you can't drive a coach through it. You have to get out and walk. And we do. And then lunch in the second village – and, yes, time for some more on-foot exploring. And then it's back to Oxford – by a different route. In Oxford itself Richard does a superlative – to use the term Visit London used to describe what we do – walking tour. One that includes some college interiors. Then there's some free time. And then we meet up, hop on the train and we're back in central London at about 6.30 pm. Everything about it works – works a treat.
That's what you get for the price of a main course in a middling restaurant. Yes, sure, to that you have to add the cost of the fares – and admission to the colleges and a piffling little bit of dosh for the coach he charters. We call those costs – added altogether – the Tariff. They're indicated by this
symbol. But the point is that you try to do that on your own – either by hiring a car or a driver-guide or by taking the train yourself and hiring a taxi to get you out to and through the Cotswolds you're going to find yourself seriously out of pocket. There's no price-value gap there at all. The price you pay will pretty well correspond to the value.
And that's why going with us is a no-brainer. Because of that astonishing gap between price and value
. Some people know
. Boy, do they ever know!
I'm talking about the "lucky few" who have found us. There's a 24-carat measure of that. It's this: once people find the good ship London Walks they stay with it, come back year after year. Which – if you think about it – pretty well says it all!