Ed Potton takes a guided stroll
"Looking to entertain some relatives recently, I opted to drag them on a tour of Shakespeare's and Dickens's London by the London Walks company. At £7 a head (£5 for seniors and students) it was certainly a cheap way of spending two hours. But I didn't have high hopes. Surely it would be one of those soul-destroying affairs in which you wander, slack-jawed, between overcrowded, underwhelming tourist hell holes accompanied by a monotonal commentary? When we met at the appointed hour at St. Paul's tube station and bought our tickets, I was even more perturbed to find that we had been saddled with an American guide. What could a Yank possibly tell me about the city I have lived in all my life?
"Well loads, as it happens. David, it turned out, was a literary historian, university lecturer, journalist and 'lifelong thanatophobe' (look it up), who has forgotten more about the Big Smoke's history than 99 per cent of those who consider themselves genuine Londoners will ever learn.
"We listened, rapt, as he led us through corners of Clerkenwell and Aldersgate I had never seen, despite working in the area for almost a decade. He sonorously reeled off lines from Hamlet, pointed out the shrapnel scars in the wall of St Barts hospital and reminded us that Smithfield meat market was where men once came to sell their wives as well as their mutton. Not only that but he knows at least ten [51 actually] other routes around the capital off by heart, including the legendary Along the Thames Pub Walk. What a guy. And he's not alone: among his colleagues are a Tony-nominated actor and world experts on Jack the Ripper, Oscar Wilde and riverside beachcombing. So bite the bullet, pick a walk and pitch up. You'll be dining out on the anecdotes y ou learn for many moons to come."
Ed Potton, The Times