First time in London

Date post added: 9th February 2020

Setting this out for anybody who might find it helpful. Or even just of general interest.

(It’s also, I think, and I’m not going to be coy or falsely modest about this, a pretty fair measure of the kind of customer care we aim for and more often than not are able to deliver at London Walks. You get in touch with us you get a real person on the other end of the line, whether it’s email or the phone or whatever. We all know how it’s almost impossible – sometimes it is impossible – to find a phone number to talk to a real person – a living human being – at, nowaday, myriad mighty corporations. That ain’t the case at little London Walks. We don’t hide our phone number. You ring it you don’t get five minutes of recorded press this button or press that button stress-inducing corporate disrespect for your time. You get me or Mary or Fiona or Noel, answering, listening, doing our best to answer your qy.)

Its – to get back to the main matter at hand – genesis was an email we recently had in from “Kate from Portland, Oregon.” She said she and a friend are making a 10-day, first-ever visit to London in the second half of August, have heard good things about London Walks but really don’t know where to start and could we make some recommendations.

I’m sure Kate won’t mind if I quote her, by way of laying down some moorings for what I wrote back. Here’s what she said:  “Lisa and I are up for any adventure. She’s an awesome travel partner and simply loves to explore as do I. I have a fascination for crime/mobs etc so your walks revolving around Jack the Ripper, Seven Deadly Sins pique the interest. My father told me about the nighttime Tower of London visit [I’m assuming she’s referring to the Ceremony of the Keys] which sounds amazing! We both love our beer so certainly any local pub tour would be enjoyed. Otherwise, we are truly open to most anything. Not picky in any sense, nor do we have any expectations except to enjoy the journey. Laughter please, fun stories always welcomed.”

My – well, London Walks’, though I (David) authored it – reply follows.

Hello Kate,

David of London Walks here. In response…

Maybe start by moseying around www.walks.com a bit more – probably use the calendar, take a look at each day (date).

First off, I might just mention that we’ll be doing four out of town trips while you’re here [August 21 – August 31]. I say that because it’s entirely possible to have a trip to London – anchor in London as it were – and at the same time leaven (or punctuate) your London visit with some wonderful bits of England – countryside, villages, second cities, the ancient university towns, etc.

Anyway, we’ll be going to the Cotswolds on the first Sunday. Stonehenge & Salisbury on the Tuesday. Oxford & the Cotswolds on the Wednesday. And Canterbury on the second Saturday.

They’re great fun – very high-quality excursions (because of the way we do it – i.e. by train instead of – yuck – coach). You could, if you wanted, profitably do both Cotswolds excursions because they don’t overlap at all – different villages. The Sunday one is all day in the Cotswolds (four villages). The Wednesday one is a half-day in the Cotswolds (two villages) and a half-day in Oxford.

Otherwise, well, I’d recommend going on Mary’s (she’s the London Walks boss and, into the bargain, a world-class guide) Westminster Abbey tour and Brunel’s London (it runs daily) with Robert and starts with that great (guided) boat ride down the Thames. There’s the V & A and the National Gallery tours on Friday (must see places whether or not you go there with us). Ditto the British Museum (we do that one thrice weekly).

Others I rate very highly: the Old Palace Quarter, Hampstead (I guide it every Sunday morning), Legal London, Kensington (I do it on alternate Thursdays and Sundays), Old Westminster, a Village in Piccadilly, Inside Covent Garden, St Paul’s (Mary often guides it), Greenwich (special place), etc. And that’s just a selection – not in any way intended to take away anything at all from the others – there are no duff walks in the London Walks programme – they wouldn’t be in it if they were.

You’ve already singled out the Ripper (nightly at 7.30) and Ulrike’s Monday Seven Deadly Sins outing. We also do a Crime & Punishment walk. And of course there are several superb pub walks (for many years the Along the Thames Pub Walk was my favourite walk of all, the great – in my estimation – must-do London Walk.

You could plan it by area – coordinate that with the day offerings. London’s an egg with a double yolk – London and Westminster – so you should do at least one in each of those two “yolks”. It’s also “the city of a hundred – sometimes today they say a thousand – villages”. So you could “pick off” its “villages”: Greenwich, Soho, Kensington, Hampstead, Highgate, Bloomsbury, Marylebone, Clerkenwell (we call it the Secret Village), Rotherhithe (the Brunel outing), Knightsbridge, Little Venice, etc.

There are “theme” walks: literary ones obviously but also, say, canals and architecture and meaty history and biography and botanical (though you’ll be too late for the three main ones) and spies, etc.

Those are just emphases – those walks don’t pass over or ignore other points of interest on their respective routes. But if a walk is titled Sherlock Holmes’ London you’re obviously gonna get a fair old whack of SH. Ditto the Beatles. Ditto Harry Potter, etc.

If you want to “read yourself in” maybe start with V. S. Pritchett’s London Perceived (in my view, the best book ever written about London). For straight-up, honest-to-goodness (and brilliantly written) London history there’s Robert Gray’s History of London (out of print so you’ll have to get a copy from ABE books). The splendid Simon Jenkins has a new history of London just out. For the underside of today’s London – the today’s London tourists are clueless about – try Ben Judah’s This Is London.

You want a brilliant reckoning (analysis, portrayal, penetrating insight after penetrating insight) of where England (England, not the UK) is today as a country, a culture, a people – a profound understanding, really, of our times, the seas we’re tossing about on) you can’t do better than Jonathan Coe’s Middle England.

Anyway, that should be enough to get you started.

Don’t hesitate to get back to us if we can be of any further help.

Albestest,

David
London Walks