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Guided by Karen
Short version: Arts & Crafts Utopia. Guided by "the world's greatest tour guide" Karen
Long version: Ah. yes. Karen's tour of little known Hampstead Garden Suburb. It, in a word, is a homecoming for The London Tourist Board's Guide of the Year winner. A homecoming because conducting that walk Karen is leading a tour of the corner of London in which she was raised. Here she is…
“There are those – the great Peter Ackroyd among them – who would deny the existence of ‘village London’. A conceit, others say, concocted by estate agents to pass off downmarket areas as quaint and cultural.
"And there’s a part of this Village London concept that I, too, would quibble with. The enclaves and quarters, the different 'manors' (to use Cockney parlance) and neighbourhoods are often too complex to be encapsulated by the boundaries of a mere village.
"The famous square mile, the City of London is, despite its diminutive size, is obviously not a village – from some angles it even seems more than a mere City, coming over more as some independent city state. In turn, the myriad exoticisms of Soho could never fit into a village. That fabled quarter – also roughly a square mile – is more a Peoples’ Republic – i.e. a quarter that welcomes the peoples of the world of all creeds, colours and sexualities – than a village.
"If you want a citadel, we’ve got one of those to spare here in London, too: the rarefied academic halls and spires of Harrow on the Hill, especially when approached on foot from the east via the Capital Ring, resembles nothing less than a stronghold. Viewed thus it’s little surprise that Harrow brought forth Churchill.
"There’s one more for the 'more-than-a-village' category: Hampstead Garden Suburb. Conceived as a retreat from the onset of the urban sprawl in the early 20th-century, this deliberately well-hidden corner of north London is undeniably ‘villagey’ in both feel and look – and that, indeed, was one of the founding principles of the place, foremost in the mind of its creator Dame Henrietta Barnet.
"The result – the quiet lanes, the proximity of the Heath, the veritable festival of English domestic architecture, the fruit tree in every garden, the world-renowned girls’ school, the parish church by Lutyens – surpasses even the original high ideals of its conservationist foundation.
"More than a village, more even than London’s most beautiful village (for such a term is too subjective), Hampstead Garden Suburb is nothing less than the Model Village.
"Such village perfection as was only imaginable in 1907 made real – and never yet surpassed.”
The Golders Green & Hampstead Garden Suburb walk takes place at 2.30 pm on Saturday, April 27. Meet Karen just outside the exit of Golders Green Tube.
Want a preview of the walk and the guiding? Watch the video.
"London's best walking tours" Travel & Leisure
N.B. Since this was written Travel & Leisure has run a major article on The World's Greatest Tour Guides. Out of the thousands of guides in this country Karen was Travel & Leisure's pick for England's greatest guide and inclusion in its pantheon of the World's Greatest Tour Guides.
David here, chiming in. I've been known to describe Karen as The Figurehead of the Good Ship London Walks. The figurehead because she was the guide we chose for the very first film we made of one of our walks. Chose her for the same reasons that Travel & Leisure gave her the ultimate accolade: "the world's best tour guide". Chose her for the same reasons the London Tourist Board crowned her with its Guide of the Year Award. Chose her, in short, because she's a spellbinding guide: soaringly intelligent, consummately professional, vivacious, great sense of humour, fun, warm – a real sparkler. When Karen guides it's rainbow, rainbow, rainbow. The plodders in this industry think a guided walk is a route and some memorisation. They don't get it. Aren't capable of getting it, let alone doing it. Virtuoso guides like Karen operate on a completely different level: they understand that a great guided walk is a composition – and a performance.
It all comes down to the guiding – but don't just take it from us and Travel & Leisure and the London Tourist Board and Discovery World Canada (Karen was the presenter for their multi-part series Next Stop London).