When the summer finally arrives, think about spending your lunch time on a 45 minute guided walk around the Midtown area – it’s good exercise, you’ll learn some interesting things about the surroundings that you take for granted and discover hidden pubs and tranquil gardens. Or perhaps put on those walking shoes to spend an hour or so after work de-stressing and taking in some of London’s history.
On Tuesday at 530pm, after a day locked up inside at an accountants conference whilst the sun shone warmly outside, I joined a group of 25 other people (a mix of office workers, retirees and tourists – some alone, some in pairs and a couple in groups of three or four) outside Holborn tube station at that bright orange information box.
We met the jolly Aly Mir (helpfully attired in bright orange for recognition purposes and with a microphone so we could hear him easily) for a free one and a half tour walk on the theme of “The Bloomsbury Group”. (For those who are unaware this was an influential group of English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists – originally a sort of secret society called “The Apostles” including authors Virginia Woolf and E M Forster, economist John Maynard Keynes and Victorian biographer Lytton Strachey. As well as their passion for the arts they were also associated with feminism and sexuality).
We set off through the commuter crowds to Theobald’s Road where Aly explained that Bloomsbury was an area within Tottenham Court Road, Theobald’s Road, Euston Road and Gray’s Inn Road – somewhat larger than I had thought. Aly kept us walking – off down St James Street – ensuring that we crossed the roads safely and providing regular short updates on the buildings we were looking at and explaining their historical interest.
We passed “The Rugby Tavern” and continued down Lamb’s Conduit Street – I was thinking that this would be an excellent way to identify routes for pub crawls and then we came to Great Ormond Street – not to hear about the famous hospital but to watch a fabulous impression of eccentric civil servant Saxon Sydney-Turner standing on one leg. Aly might pursue a career as a comedian if he ever tires of sharing his passion for history.
Trotting on, with tales of the devastation caused by war and with occasional quotes from relevant literary works, we passed “The Lamb” pub (built 1831) and learned of its links to Woolf’s novels. At Guilford Place I eyed up the parked ice cream van but remained rooted to the spot as Aly told us about the HMS Dreadnought hoax and the embarrassment caused to the Royal Navy.
It was lovely to then walk alongside Coram’s Field and hear the distant sounds of children having fun in the evening sunshine and delightful to walk along in the shade of the huge trees in Mecklenburgh Place – past the Goodenough College and to inspect the sites of further Bloomsbury locations. We wandered down a twisty turny lane with playing fields on one side and huge hedges on another and reached The Foundling Museum and more greenery in Brunswick Square and learned of the links to Hogarth Press.
The final leg of the walk was down Marchmont Streeet and into Tavistock Square where we enjoyed more greenery whilst joining in a quiz as to how many of Virginia’s Woolf’s novels we had read. I loved Aly’s last choice of quotes “they lived in Squares and loved in triangles”. Then we moved to Gordon Square to see a few more plaques and hear the last of Aly’s fabulous tales. He was careful to finish just before 7pm as some of our group were keen to rush away to watch the football.
My friend and I then wandered back towards Holborn through yet more lovely garden squares until we reached Truckles wine bar where we enjoyed a glass or two of wine in the al freso courtyard to reflect on the things we had learned during our walk. It really was a pleasant and relaxing way to end a day of working in London.
Other walks include the museum mile, statues and monuments, Highwaymen, surface access to underground networks and London 2012 festival. Apart from the museum mile you don’t need to book – just turn up and walk.
Further information at www.gotomidtown.co.uk