It seems Ralph McTell was right: walking through the streets of London can help change your mind about stuff, although it transpires that handholding isn’t compulsory.
I discovered all this on Sunday – having seen a mention on Londonist, I joined a group of around 20 to participate in one of the weekend’s many Autumn Ambles, which were organised by Walk London and funded by TfL.
The aim of the free (that’s FREE) walks is to help you learn more about the city and get a bit of exercise into the bargain. There are three of these weekends over the course of the year and for most of them, you can just rock up on a whim and take part.
I chose to do the Gleaming Spires tour, which started at the Royal Exchange. That’s where I met Ian, who conducted the tour, and Olga, who acted as a sheepdog to ensure we didn’t lose any of the group. Resplendent in fluorescent yellow tabards, they were welcoming, enthusiastic and ever so helpful as the tour progressed.
Once we left the Royal Exchange, we wended our way through a number of alleys, past numerous old chophouses, including the George & Vulture, where the Pickwick Papers were penned. The group was also introduced to London’s first coffee house, which wasn’t actually a Starbucks. Mind. Blown.
Passing two of the City’s many churches, we headed through the atmospheric Leadenhall Market towards the glass and steel monuments that we associate with London today – the Walkie Talkie, Lloyd’s of London, the Cheesegrater and, of course, the Gherkin.
At 30 St Mary Axe (to give Norman Foster’s phallic masterpiece its true title), Ian told us the poignant story of the Roman girl whose remains were found during the building’s construction and how it was the architect himself who badgered the reluctant authorities to allow her remains to be reinterred near where she had lain for nearly 2,000 years.
Although death and destruction is a constant theme in London’s history, so too is regeneration and even though our walk didn’t go that far, we were inundated with freshly finished buildings and those still under construction, including Angel Court, which is recycling its predecessor’s concrete core to help cut costs and its carbon footprint.
Our tour ended passing St Mary Le Bow (of bow bells/cockney fame) and Cheapside before finishing off in One New Change – which apparently changes its colour to blend into its surroundings – looking towards St Paul’s; a finer microcosm of London’s contrasting architecture you could not hope to discover.
My only disappointment about the tour was that I only managed to do one – laziness prevented me from joining one on Saturday, which I now regret. Suffice to say, I’ll be joining the next Walk London tour in spring – you could do a lot worse than jumping on one too.