This is why you go with a great guide

The last night – the grand finale – of our London A to Z Virtual Tour was very special indeed. Throughout the series the five guides* who put together and presented the A to Z Virtual Tour were there every Sunday evening, but only two of them “were up to bat” on any given Sunday. The two of them who were “up to bat” would cover, between them, three letters for that night’s episode. One of them would do two letters, the other one letter. But on the last night, with five letters left to go – V, W, X, Y, Z – the full company was there and performing. All five of them were on, in succession. One letter each. The evening – the episode – was a tour de force, a triumph. It’s invidious making comparisons because they were all equally dazzling, equally brilliant. So here I have more or less picked a name out of a hat. Karen. Karen’s letter was Y. She did several London Y’s. The one I’ve picked here, for this podcast, was Y for Yevele, the great mediaeval master-mason. Well, part of her presentation on Henry Yevele.

The excerpt reveals so much. Much about Karen. Her vivacity and liveliness and sense of fun and pleasing voice and penetrating intelligence. But also, of course, much about what she’s guiding: in this case Westminster Abbey and that mediaeval master-mason.

In short, this excerpt, brief though it is, illustrates perfectly why Karen won the Guide of the Year Award. And, for that matter why the august American travel publication Travel & Leisure crowned her “The World’s Greatest Guide.” Why, finally, you go with a great guide (if you’re making good choices, if you’ve got your wits about you). I’m talking specifically about how the exterior of the nave suddenly comes into focus, the way Karen suddenly makes us see it, the way she teaches us to “read it.”

“We see nothing until we truly understand it” said the great artist John Constable. Karen makes us understand that great exterior (and much else). And because we understand it we see it.

Or to put that another way, this great guide makes the familiar new – and the new familiar. 

Yes, bears repeating this, this is a truly great guide working right at the top of her form.

*For the record, this was “the batting order” on that triumphant last night.

V – Simon W. (award-winner)

W – Russell (award-winner)

X – Fiona (Guide of the Year Award-winner)

Y – Karen (Guide of the Year Award-winner)

Z – Adam (award-winner)

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