Yesterday I went on one of the ‘Bowl Of Chalk‘ London in a nutshell walks, which are led by Jonnie. Our group did the first half of what can be a full day affair – the morning route, which takes you from statue of Charles I on Trafalgar Square on a circuitous journey through the City of London to St Paul’s Cathedral.
Our small group learned a great deal on the walk as we went along, in fact right at the start I found out some interesting new facts about Trafalgar Square. Were you aware, for example, that the height of Nelson’s Column reflects the height of the mast of his flagship during the Battle of Trafalgar, the HMS Victory, or that the four reliefs around the base are made from French cannons captured during the battle? Venturing into Covent Garden we came across another London oddity – the only police station in the city to have a white light outside it rather than a blue one. The now disused Bow St police station changed the colour of its light out of deference to Queen Victoria, a regular visitor to the Royal Opera next door, who remarked that the characteristic police station light reminded her of the blue room where Prince Albert had died.
After Covent Garden we headed down past St Clement Danes, the official RAF church with its imposing statue of the controversial ‘Bomber’ Harris outside, and then moved on to the Royal Courts of Justice for a few more anecdotes before passing the Temple Bar with its heraldic dragon and thus entering the City of London. A little further on from here is Fleet St (named after the river that still runs beneath it) which became synonymous with printing and newspapers – there are oddities at every turn along this street, and also two interesting retail establishments – Jonnie imparted the fact that the Twinings teashop here is the oldest in the world and that the Tipperary is London’s oldest Irish pub and the first place to serve Guinness outside of Ireland. After this we got to hear about two of the area’s most colourful characters as we walked – Dr Samuel Johnson, the creator of the modern dictionary (whose favourite cat Hodge is immortalised in a statue that sits opposite the townhouse where the first volumes were penned), and the entirely fictitious Sweeney Todd, whose house we also visited at number 184A…
The next part of our tour took us through the doors of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese for some fortification against the cold weather (mind your head if you pop to the loo because you’re going back several centuries as you descend the stairs – back to the low vaulted ceilings of the 13th century Carmelite monastery in fact!) and then past St Bride’s church. Given its name you won’t be surprised to learn that it’s multi-levelled tower is the inspiration for the tiered wedding cakes that appear at almost every wedding to this day. Winding through several more narrow streets found us at tent city outside St Paul’s, and we maneuvered way around that to end our three and a half hour long walk taking in the view from the top of One New Change next door to the Cathedral.
I really enjoyed going along for the Bowl Of Chalk (cockney rhyming slang for ‘walk’ by the way) yesterday – Jonnie is a great guide and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of London that puts mine in the shade. The nice thing about his walks is that you won’t ever feel short-changed if you go on one, because you can pay what you like at the end. Personally, I handed over what I believe to be the going rate for a half-day walk – it was tremendous value for money and my knowledge of London is now much enhanced.
If you’re interested in joining Jonnie you can find out dates and times of upcoming walks at the Bowl of Chalk website or on their Facebook page. All the other photographs from the day can be found here.