Best local knowledge ever & why Brits drive on the left

London calling.

London Walks connecting.

This… is London.

This is London Walks.

Streets ahead.

Story time. History time.


Good morning, London. It’s April 16th, 2024. I’m boiling everything right down today. Starting with today’s pin. It’s a London headline. Here it comes:

London Marathon: Islington Man to run dressed as giant brain.

Nobody does daft like London. But this isn’t just daft. Isn’t just a bit of fun. Islington resident Jess Walklin will be wearing a giant model of a brain over his head, shoulders and chest over the 26.2 mile Marathon marathon because two years ago his mother was diagnosed with a rare and incurable cancerous brain tumour and he wants to raise as much money as he can for the charity brain tumour research. Look out for Jess. Not that he’s going to easy to miss. His brain costume – it weighs 11 pounds – is the size of a seaman’s chest. And it’s pink.

Moving on, today’s Random. Another distillation. We make a lot of play about local knowledge. How important it is. And when you go on a London Walk, that’s one of the important benefits that goes with the package. Local knowledge.

And I can now say, hand on heart, that I’ve experienced the quintessence of local knowledge. Experienced it in its purest form. We were on a busman’s holiday yesterday. Went on a walk with our opposite number in Sevilla – Sevilla Walking Tours. Concepcion and her team are the gold standard of Sevilla walking tours. The Andalusian capitol’s equivalent of London Walks. Toward the end of the walk, guide Mercedes said, “Sevilla is a very safe city but this neighbourhood I’m about to take you into, you have to be careful because there are pickpockets operating in these narrow alleys.

And sure enough, no more than minutes later she said to us, “you see that couple up ahead of us, in black. They’re pickpockets. We all know them. They look like tourists but they’re professional pickpockets.”

It was a Eureka moment for me. I thought, that’s surely the distillation, the purest form of local knowledge I’ll ever encounter. None of us would have been any the wiser. Mercedes, Sevilla bred and born and a top-flight Sevilla Walking Tours guide, she knew. And gave us a heads-up.


Moving on, today’s Ongoing.

Yesterday, I promised a bit of historical anecdotage about why Brits drive on the left-hand side of the road. In the event, though, the podcast had a mind of its own, took its own course – like a river found its own way to the sea – and that way didn’t include any of that promised historical anecdotage about Brits driving on the left-hand side of the road. So you’re going to get it today.

But to start with, let’s get off the road. Let’s get into a castle. Into the Tower of London, for example. And let’s find our way to a staircase. For example, the ancient and very steep steps that spiral up the White Tower. Now I want you to clock the direction in which they spiral. If you’re going up the steps it’s toward your left. So to your right the steps are cramped, narrow and confined. Now imagine that the Tower is being attacked. And some of the bad guys have breached its walls, got inside and are attacking the stronghold of strongholds – the White Tower. The good guys – the front line for the defenders is that staircase. They can’t let the attackers get up that staircase. Get up to the citadel, the very top of the Tower. Because of the direction in which the staircase spirals, the defenders have the open, spacious side to their right. They’re right-handed. Their sword is in their right hand. They’ve got freedom of movement with their wielding of their sword. They can slash at will. Different story for the attacker. He’s clambering up those steps. Those steps are spiraling to his left.  To his right – where his sword hand is – the steps are impossibly narrow and he’s got no range of movement for his weapon. He has to pass the weapon to his weak hand, his weak arm. His left hand. And that’s why steps in castles always spiral to the left going up.

Now, let’s go outside. Outside all kitted up in our armour. And let’s manage – with a lot of help from a couple of pages – to get up on our horse. Our lance is in our right hand. If we’re right-handed that is, and most of us are. And that’s why, approaching an enemy knight, we’re going to be to our left, so he’ll be to our right. We don’t want to have to reach across our body to bring our lance to bear against him.

And that, it is said, is why Brits drive on the left-hand side of the road. It goes back to the days of the knights in shining armour and how they aligned themselves should they encounter an opponent.

All right, so what about the rest of the world. Driving on the right-hand side. Enter Napoleon. A military genius. What does he do, he recruits an entire regiment of left-handed cavalrymen. He can spring tactical surprises with that unit. Launch an attack from an unexpected quarter precisely because they’re all left-handed. And now ask yourself, where did Napoleon get. And where didn’t he get. He got all over Europe. But he didn’t get here. Well, almost all over Europe. He also didn’t get to Sweden. And until quite recently, the Swedes also drove on the left-hand side of the road. Well, it makes a wonderful story. But whether it’s true or not… who knows? Who cares? It’s fun to bat it about.

Anything else? Yes, there’s one street in the United Kingdom – and sure enough it’s a street in London – we’ve got a couple of walks that go to it – there’s one street in the United Kingdom where we drive on the right-hand side of the street. And that’s a trailer, I’ve turned into that street just to whet your appetite. I’ll take you along it in a future installment of London Calling.

You’ve been listening to This… is London, the London Walks podcast. Emanating from –

home of London Walks,

London’s signature

walking tour company.

London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size

walking tour company.

And as long as we’re at it,

London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative.

That’s the key to everything.

It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science:

you get what you pay for.

And just as surely,

you also get what you don’t pay for.

Back in 1968 when we got started

we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question:

Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world?

You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world

you do whatever you have to do

to attract and keep

the best guides in London –

you want them guiding for you,

not for somebody else.

Bears repeating:

the way we’re structured –

a guides’ cooperative –

is the key to the whole thing.

It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following,

a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases

distinguished professionals:

By way of example, Stewart Purvis, the former Editor

(and subsequently CEO) of Independent Television News.

And Lisa Honan, who had a distinguished career as a diplomat (Lisa was the Governor of St Helena, the island where Napoleon breathed his last and, some say, had his penis amputated –

Napoleon didn’t feel a thing – if thing’s the mot juste – he was dead.)

Stewart and Lisa –

both of them CBEs –

are just a couple of our headline acts.

Or take our Ripper Walk. It’s the creation of the world’s leading expert on Jack the Ripper, Donald Rumbelow, the author of the definitive book on the subject.  Britain’s most distinguished crime historian, Donald is, in the words of The Jack the Ripper A to Z,“internationally recognised as the leading authority on Jack the Ripper.” Donald’s emeritus now but he’s still the guiding light on our Ripper Walk. He curates the walk. He trains up and mentors our Ripper Walk guides. Fields any and all questions they throw at him.

The London Walks Aristocracy of Talent – its All-Star team of guides – includes a former London Mayor. It includes the former Chief Music Critic for the Evening Standard. It includes the Chair of the Association of Professional Tour Guides. And the former chair of the Guild of Guides.

It includes barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, a former Museum of London archaeologist, historians,

university professors (one of them a distinguished Cambridge University paleontologist); it includes

criminal defence lawyers,

Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre actors,

a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the big one, the Guide of the Year Award)…

well, you get the idea.

As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament,

every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar

and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…

come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks.

And that’s by way of saying, Good walking and Good Londoning

one and all. See ya next time.

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