Dare I say it but it is that time of year that people are starting to think about what to do for their work Christmas party.
The walk starts in a cosy Sam Smiths pub in Marylebone (with a fire) then meanders through the back streets of the West End (where the best lights can be found), through Mayfair and into Soho. The walk includes hidden passages, posh shops (usually with the best decorations) and lots of historical snippets along the way. As with most of my walks there is a food/drink theme plus Christmas traditions and decorations throughout. The walk finishes in Soho close to Piccadilly Circus tube in a freehouse that serves hot toddies and also does very good food.
|Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/denis57/sets/72157628338866113/|
St James’s is one of London’s most exclusive areas and is particularly pretty at Christmas with decorations along Jermyn Street and in the various arcades. It is also gaslit which makes for a very atmospheric walk. Famous for its gentlemen’s clubs which were originally coffee and chocolate houses St James’s also houses one of the oldest and most expensive restaurants in town and Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant not to mention the Queen’s grocery store and a 200 year old cheese shop. We will hear about the Jamie Oliver of the 19th Century, the cook that inspired the TV series the Duchess of Duke Street and the man who invented the sandwich.
Save the date – Saturday 11th October is this year’s Local London Guiding Day. This is the fifth year running that London’s four local guiding associations – City of London, Westminster, Clerkenwell & Islington and Greenwich have got together to offer a day of free walks on a specific theme.
This year’s theme is The Georgians. Each guiding association has created an hour long walk in their respective area which they will repeat throughout the day from 10am until 4pm. No booking is required – just turn up!
The walks are free but there will be a collection for the Royal British Legion at the end of each walk.
You may need quite good eyesight to read the flyer below, so details of each of the walks are as follows:
City of London: Georgian Life in the City
What was it like to live in Georgian times? Learn a little bit more about daily life in the City, see buildings from the time and hear stories of those who lived and made their mark while a George was on the throne.
Meet: Bank station, exit 3, Royal Exchange
Clerkenwell and Islington Guides: Bad, Sad, … and Mad!
A fascinating walk through the Georgian streets and squares of Islington exploring the world of the Four Georges.
Meet: Angel station
Greenwich Tour Guides: Inheritance, Indulgence and Infighting
Follow in the buckled shoe footsteps of England’s Hanoverian monarchs and their dysfunctional families amid more grand Georgian architecture than you can shake a powdered periwig at.
Meet: Cutty Sark DLR station
Westminster Guides: Through a Fanlight Darkly
Sometimes the most secret places are closest to the busiest streets. Join us to explore one such area and to meet its Georgian inhabitants.
Meet: the forecourt of Charing Cross station, in front of the hotel.
In the meantime like this page on Facebook with some tantalising teasers about the walks!
I am rather obsessed with social media and I’m always going on about how Twitter or Facebook and of course blogging are good for getting your name (and business) known. You may wonder how Twitter can help you so much as you are limited to 140 characters per tweet but it is amazing once you know how.
Click on the picture of the bell and you will see who has re-tweeted you, followed you, favourited you etc. I have set it up so that I receive a text too which is useful if you are away from internet access. Click on the picture of the cog to the left of the quill and then click on “Settings” to choose your notification preferences.
I started off by following lots of museums, London themed websites such as Ian Visits, Londonist and London Historians, hotels, London enthusiasts and also fellow Westminster Guides. As my walks are mainly food and drink themed I also follow lots of cafes, cocktail bars and restaurants. Since Summer 2013 I have been doing local walks too so now follow lots of Walthamstow and Chingford based businesses.
People use Twitter in different ways. I dip in and out, others try to read every single tweet in their timeline. This is impossible. Yes I do follow over 2000 accounts but I have managed somehow not to get addicted to constantly reading my timeline.
An automatically generated email is sent to Twitter users each week which usefully lists your best performing tweets. It is sometimes surprising what is the most popular and therefore helps improve your output.
This tool only works for tweets written after you sign up to the service which is why my statistics are so low at the moment.
There is also a separate page where you can analyse your followers ie where they come from and who they follow ie 82% of my followers are from the UK and 30% follow @LondonHistorian (a very worthwhile organisation to follow and to join – but I digress).
Dos and Don’ts
Don’t just re-tweet other people’s tweets. Give yourself a voice, have something to say. I personally am unlikely to follow people who don’t have their own identity.
Until a friend moved to Geneva earlier this year the city didn’t have a place on my “to visit” list. It had been somewhere I had passed through on my way to various ski resorts but I had never thought to stop. However after a 4 day visit last week my opinion has changed and I would definitely recommend a trip.
Geneva is an expensive city but many of the museums are free and the biggest bonus of all is free transport for tourists which surely cancels out some of the other expenses incurred.
Free transport for tourists
All travel on the extensive network of buses, trams, trolleybuses and even taxi boats on various routes across the lake is free as is transport to and from the airport by train (around 6 minutes). When you check into your hotel/hostel/campsite you are given a dated card for the duration of your stay.
Getting around isn’t limited to these forms of transport either as from mid April to October you can hire bikes for free (up to 4 hours) too.
You might wonder how you can initially get from the airport to your hotel for free. In the baggage collection hall is a ticket machine that dispenses free transport tickets valid for 80 minutes. There is a big sign saying “Public Transport to Geneva – Free Ticket” but I witnessed several tourists paying for tickets at the machine next to it. Scroll down on this link for a picture so you know what to look for. All you need to do is press the button and a ticket will emerge from the slot.
You can even use your free transport card to go over the border into France but don’t forget to take Euros.
There are two things that you need to be aware of in Geneva – firstly that the Old Town is at the top of a very steep hill (although bus no. 36 can transport you up there should you wish). Secondly the town is sometimes on two levels which makes reading a one-dimensional map difficult.
What to see
Whenever I go abroad I tend to seek out the smaller attractions rather than the big museums which in some instances are similar to those we have in London. After enjoying Secret London and Secret Brussels I bought a copy of Secret Geneva which gave a lot of historical details about some of the odder things around the City. You can read my review here. One thing that I didn’t get to do was count up exactly how many statues there were in the city which depicted people in the nude – there certainly seemed to be a lot! For other suggestions of things to do in the City this website (which also covers other cities) was useful too.
This was my first museum visit in Geneva and was definitely my favourite. It is the oldest house in Geneva and houses the Museum of Urban History and Daily Life. The museum is free but it is definitely worth investing in 5 CHF for an audio guide which really enhanced my visit.
The tour starts outside where you gaze up at the mysterious heads on the outside of the building. I have never seen anything quite like this before. These heads are replicas, the originals were removed to prevent further decay and can now be seen within the museum. No-one knows exactly why they are there. I would love to be able to go back in time to find out the real story. It was incredibly hard to get a good picture of the outside as it is a very narrow street but if you scroll down to the last page of this booklet you can see where the heads are situated.
Every single floor had something of interest to me and it really was a place full of surprises. The vast cellars are from the original house pre-1334 which destroyed the rest of the building. Originally these cellars wouldn’t have been connected to the main house; access was via a set of enormous doors from the street.
The other highlight from the house was the amazing Magnin relief map which showed the City prior to the removal of the defences in 1850. I spent at least 10 minutes looking at this model in all its intricate detail.
Before you leave it is definitely worth watching the video about the history of Geneva from the Ice Age onwards which lasts 12 minutes.
The museum is in the Old Town and bus no. 36 stops nearby if you want to avoid the steep climb up the hill.
There were two reasons I wanted to visit this museum the first of which was to see a number of rooms that had been transported from Lower Zizers Castle – quite bizarre. Again my photos aren’t up to much but hopefully they will give you an idea. Within these rooms were some enormous china central heating structures complete with a seat on the top!
The second reason to visit this museum was to see the exhibition on Geneva and English Satire which is on until the end of August. I discovered that it was in a separate building in Promenade du Pin which I eventually found when I discovered that I was on the wrong level and looking at a park on the map that didn’t seem to exist in real life – there was several lanes of traffic where the park should have been – until I discovered that the park was actually above me! I didn’t quite succeed in getting my head around this aspect of Geneva.
Both exhibitions were free.
The building housing the Cabinet d’arts Graphiques was quite anonymous looking and seemed to be deserted. However I soon discovered the exhibition was on the 3rd floor. The exhibition compared the satirical cartoons of London and Geneva; it was fascinating for me.
Visiting this museum on my last morning in Geneva, I didn’t quite have enough time to do it justice. It is an amazing building. It was built to house the collections of Gustave Revilliod and today holds an amazing collection of ceramics and glass. There is a small tea room with a lovely balcony too. I got there via tram no. 15 from Gare du Cornavin to Nations the last stop on that route, right next door to the United Nations building.
I was a bit anxious about getting back in time for my flight so I really must return at some point in the future for a proper look.
My second to last recommendation is to visit the tower of St Pierre Cathedral. It is free entrance into the cathedral but well worth paying 5 CHF to go up to the top of the tower. Quite by accident I ended up halfway up the tower at 12 midday and it was amazing to hear all the bells of Geneva chiming out of sync. If I had been really organised I would have been at the top of the tower where I could have seen the bells too.
When I came back down from the tower I went to the back of the Cathedral and down a steep flight of steps – Passage des Degres-de-Poules which emerges opposite the Lutheran Church which doesn’t look anything like a church from the outside. The reason why is in the Secret Geneva book but I don’t have it to hand at the moment. I was at the church for one of their regular free lunchtime recitals. On the way down I passed a shady garden.
Finally, whilst unexpectedly taking a black cab from London City Airport right through Central London to Heathrow at the start of my trip (as my flight to Geneva was cancelled) I couldn’t help but share a few London tips with my fellow passengers. In exchange I discovered that there was free live music at sunrise at the Bains des Paquis by the lake in Geneva and free outdoor cinema too. Unfortunately I ran out of days to do either of these things but they are definitely on my to do list for next time.
When I started working as a tour guide I tended to avoid Soho with its narrow streets and busy pavements. However over the past 18 months or so I have developed a couple of foodie themed walks and now love guiding in the area. It is busy – especially on a Saturday afternoon – but some streets are quieter than others and Soho has such a fascinating history that it is now one of my favourite places in Central London.
|Goodwins Court WC2. Photo by Jenny Pedler|
There has been an unexcusable gap in my blog postings recently mostly because I am doing too much. I am still looking for the perfect work/life balance – a part-time job rather than ongoing temping (which I have too much of) so I can have more time for guiding and for relaxing too!
|Roupell Street, SE1. Photo by Banalities via Creative Commons|
|The King’s Arms, Roupell Street, SE1. Photo by Ewan Munro via Creative Commons|
|Photo by Ewan Munro (who was on this same pub crawl but earlier in the day) via Creative Commons|
On Tuesday night this week, rather by accident, I did something I’ve never done before – I took part in a singalong around the old Joanna.
I arrived at the Coach & Horses, Greek Street just as the pianist was starting. She rattled off a few well known tunes – My Old Man, Roll out the Barrel etc but at 7.30pm most people in the pub ignored her.
|Photo courtesy of https://twitter.com/London_Nut|
Only an hour later it was a different story. Although it turned into a bit of a karaoke session at one point – with groups of work colleagues singing along to tunes from the Jungle Book and Oliver (words provided) – after a short break she was back on the traditional songs. Soon loads of people were singing along (including me); not needing words to the famous Londony songs. I can’t sing that well so really hope she was attracted to our table by the much better voices of @London_nut and his girlfriend A.
We were amazed to discover that Lili Davies – or to give her her stage name, Magic Betty, was from Romania! She said she had learned all the songs from scratch. I must admit I initially felt a bit cheated. I wanted her to be London born and bred. However she is very entertaining and I will definitely return.
The Coach and Horses has singalongs around the piano every Tuesday and Saturday at 7.30pm. I expect Saturday evenings will be a different crowd entirely. There are a number of different performers; Magic Betty will next be performing there on Saturday 22nd March.
There are lots of other good reasons to visit the pub. They only serve vegetarian food, upstairs there is a “secret” tea room and they sell at least 5 varieties of pickled egg! (I have to confess I have never eaten a pickled egg – maybe I should try one here.) Any recommendations for a particular flavour?
The pub has got a fascinating history too and if you want to discover that why not book on my Soho Sunday Pub Themed Stroll – a new public date coming very soon.
Where in London can you find this sculpture?
I posted this picture on Twitter at lunchtime today with that very question. I’ve had a couple of re-tweets but no correct answers so wonder if I should give you a clue.
Clue - I found this sculpture on one of the tube strike days when walking between London Bridge and Westminster Bridge on the south side of the river.
Does that help?
First person to respond with the correct answer – either on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments below will win 2 places on one of my walks. I am planning to add some walks into my calendar very soon so watch this space!
It’s only since qualifying as a tour guide in 2009 that I have realised just how much there is to see and do in London, and how much of it is free. In the past few years I have discovered Londonist, Ian Visits, Tom Tired of London, Tired of Life, and many other London blogs all with ideas of unusual things to do in the capital and of course London Historians which has introduced me to many other London obsessives and I would thoroughly recommend joining.*
As fast as I discover places I have new ones to add to the list. It’s great! These are some of my best finds over the last few years.
Cafes in unexpected places
Their “small tea” consists of a toasted tea cake, a portion of scones with cream and jam and a pot of tea; all for £9.10. With the addition of mini bagels the cost is just over £14 and even with a glass of Champagne you are left with change from £25. It’s not the grand affair that you would get at some of the Mayfair hotels – and not as much food – but taking afternoon tea at a hotel with a glass of Champagne you would be looking at least double that! Sotheby’s cafe is only open Monday to Friday – 9.30am-5pm and you do need to book. Whilst there have a wander around their galleries to see what is coming up for auction.
Also discovered on my exam walk is the cafe within Dover Street Market. This isn’t a market in the usual sense of the word but a very expensive clothes shop selling designer brands. I have to admit when I first visited the shop I found the shop assistants rather scary but now I just head to the lift to make my way to the top floor where the cafe is situated.
The Rose Bakery is the London outpost of a British cafe which opened in Paris in 2002. It was founded by Rose Carrarini who is sister-in-law to Rei Kawakubo founder of Comme des Garçons the principal designer within Dover Street Market which is probably how the cafe has ended up in this location. Tokyo and Seoul now have Rose Bakeries of their own too.
The cafe is light and airy with a small outside terrace. The food is good too and comprises salads, sandwiches, soups and cakes. It’s open every day but it’s best to check the opening times first. I am quite surprised to find that it now has its own page on the DSM website as previously there has been barely anything online; it really is a word of mouth type of place.
I thought I knew Mayfair pretty well having studied there for my guiding exam, based my course project on it and been guiding through it since qualifying. So I was very surprised last year (when taking a short-cut) to discover a set of 3 sculptures commemorating the famous photographer Terence Donovan close to his old studio. These 3 sculptures – depicting the photographer, the model (Twiggy) and a shopper who has stumbled across the “photo shoot” – really are in deepest Mayfair.
The sculptures are by Neal French and can be found in Bourdon Place which is parallel with Grosvenor Hill and Grosvenor Street. Incidentally Brown’s Hotel in Albemarle Street nearby have named their bar after him – Donovan’s – where they display some of his photographs; the more risqué photos can be found in the “Naughty Corner”! (See my blog post here about Browns’ Bloody Mary.)
Both my Belgravia and St James’s walks also include hidden sculptures – some of these are so tucked away I sometimes wonder if the only people to see them are those on my walks!
Just around the corner from the Mayfair sculptures can be found another favourite place – Hedonism Wines - an amazing shop, really worth visiting.
My favourite small house museum
The next place I am going to share in this post isn’t in Mayfair; in fact it’s not even in Westminster but in Hammersmith.
Some time ago I signed up to receive email newsletters from London Shh, Small Historic Houses which keep me updated about museums such as the Handel House Museum, the Benjamin Franklin Museum and, a new one on me 7 Hammersmith Terrace, home to Emery Walker. I am ashamed to say that not only had I not heard of the museum but I had no knowledge of typographer and printer Emery Walker either. When I discovered that 7 Hammersmith Terrace is the last Arts and Craft interior left in Britain and that it is practically untouched I had to visit. I took the opportunity in May 2012 to arrange a visit for the Westminster Guides and I have to say we were all practically blown away by the interior.
Emery Walker was a friend and colleague to William Morris and because of this the house contains many Morris originals – wallpaper, wall hangings even William Morris lino. The architect Philip Webb was also a friend and left his possessions to Walker and these are also to be found throughout the house. There is so much more than this though – it is like a time capsule. The house has remained virtually unaltered because Walker left the house to his daughter who in turn left it to her companion who then formed a trust to preserve it for the future. More details about the house can be found on the excellent Londonphile blog.
I have been to many historic houses over the years and am sometimes dismayed that the houses are bare and lacking in possessions; I have now been completely spoiled with this one and would thoroughly recommend a visit. Each tour is limited to 8 people so you do need to book in advance. They are currently looking for volunteers to help out this summer so if you live in the area maybe you could help.
A walk along the Thames afterwards with lunch at the Dove is a great way to complete your visit to Hammersmith.
A hidden church
Lastly, this unusual shaped church is a recent find and I hope to include it in a mainly pub-themed walk around Fitzrovia soon.
This is only a small selection of places I have discovered in the past 5 years or so and I’m continuing to discover more many of which will end up on one of my walks. All my walks include hidden tea shops, pubs and anything else I may have discovered along the way together with of course the historical narrative.
This post is just about London but there’s so much more to discover in the rest of the country. I’ve just nominated a couple of my hidden London favourites on this map but you may want to look at what else has been suggested around the country or even add some yourself.
*London Historians hold a monthly pub meet for members and non-members alike. It’s held upstairs at the Windsor Castle pub, Francis Street SW1 from 6.30pm usually until closing time on the first Wednesday of every month – next one is Wednesday 5th February. There’s no obligation to join if you go along and it’s just a social so turn up any time. Maybe see you there!
I am sure it was via Twitter that I kept seeing the area of St Martin’s Courtyard cropping up. As a Westminster Guide I was ashamed to say I didn’t recognise the street so set out earlier this week (in the rain!) with a mission to find it.
It turns out that St Martin’s Courtyard is a new name for Slingsby Place – an enclave bordered by Mercer Street, Long Acre and St Martin’s Lane in Covent Garden.
Within it can be found a number of shops, bars and restaurants. Some of the shops were unfortunately out of my price range but there are a number of restaurants that look worth visiting.
There is another reason to visit as from now until Christmas Eve the Courtyard have a special Random Acts of Kindness event where random shoppers, diners and even browsers are given amazing prizes such as a meal, a makeover or a wine tasting! Definitely worth dropping in if you’re nearby.
And tonight from 5pm to 7pm (Thursday 19th December) and this coming Saturday there will be live music and mulled wine too.
Thursday 19 December, 5pm-7pm – English National Opera Community Choir
Saturday 21 December, 2pm-4pm – Roo Savill
There are also some fabulous Christmas decorations! Worth another wander I think!
The location of St Martin’s Courtyard can be found on this link.http://www.stmartinscourtyard.com/FindUs
Find out more on Twitter from @smccoventgarden or follow the hashtag #RAOK.